|Topical Bible Study||March 1953|
Know Your Bible—Part III
Trial, Praise, and Wisdom
IN LAST month’s examination of the books of the Bible, we concluded with the Book of Esther. This is the last one which is devoted largely to history; although, as we saw, even the historical portions of the Bible contain many helpful assurances of God’s care for his people, as well as revealing statements pertaining to his plan for human redemption and restoration.
Next is the Book of Job. It contains the story of a wealthy and godly patriarch who stood high in the esteem of his fellowman, and was greatly blessed by God. As the story unfolds, we find Satan accusing Job before God, insisting that this rich man’s piety and his loyalty to God was based wholly upon self-interest—that if God’s blessings were taken away he would curse God.
The narrative reveals that Satan was permitted an opportunity to try to prove his accusation by bringing calamity upon Job. His flocks and home were destroyed and his children killed. He was stricken with a loathsome disease, and then his wife, thinking that God had withdrawn his favor from her husband, turned against him. But in spite of all this, Job maintained his integrity before God. The question raised by Satan was answered, proving that it is possible to serve God without material reward, and in spite of great loss and severe pain.
With Satan’s accusations proved false, three friends of Job visited him—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. Finally a fourth appeared—Elihu. These first three are sometimes referred to as ‘Job’s comforters,’ although they said little to console him. They endeavored, however, to convince the patriarch that the calamities which had befallen him were proof that he had committed some gross sin for which he was being punished. Job argued with his comforters that this was not true. The eloquence of Job and those who reasoned with him has no parallel in literature for beauty, style, and the clever use of words. While the discussion is based upon the personal trials of Job, in reality it points up the larger question as to why any of God’s intelligent creatures are permitted to suffer; or why evil is permitted.
Job refused to admit that he was guilty of any special sin. Nevertheless, neither he nor his friends succeeded in reaching a definite conclusion as to why so much evil had befallen him. The story relates that then God spoke to Job out of a storm, and set the real facts before him. This part of the book—chapters 38 to 41—is superb in its style. In language of incomparable grandeur God silences Job, making him realize that while he was able to refute the charges of his comforters, he actually was a sinner and stood in need of God’s grace.
The lesson learned, Job was restored to health, and again became a rich man. One of his calamities was the loss of his children, but God gave him another family, and at the end he was far richer in every way than he was before Satan asked for the privilege of testing him.
Many Bible students see in this wonderfully interesting narrative a beautiful illustration of the permission of evil as it relates to the experiences of the entire human race. All mankind has suffered because of sin, but in God’s providence, and as a result of the loving provision he has made through the Redeemer, Christ Jesus, they are to be restored to health and life. This means that ultimately the human race will be in a much more favorable position than our first parents were before they transgressed God’s law.
After God spoke to Job, and he realized more clearly the meaning of his trials, Job said to him, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.” (Job 42:5) This will be true in the experiences of the human race. Millions have heard about God, but when the lessons are learned from the experience with evil they will ‘see,’ that is, truly know and appreciate their Creator and loving God. This, the Bible reveals, will be at the close of the thousand-year reign of Christ.
Even while passing through his great suffering, Job expressed full confidence in his God, and in so doing gave us one of the most sublime expressions of trust to be found in the Bible. He said concerning God, “He knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”—Job 23:10
At one stage in his experience Job, although still trusting God, wondered if life under such painful circumstances was really worth living, so he asked God to let him die. In the Lord’s providence, Job used language on this occasion which has served to help reveal the state of the dead. He prayed, “O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, … until thy wrath be past.”—Job 14:13
The Hebrew word here translated ‘grave’ is sheol. This is the only Hebrew word in the Old Testament which is translated ‘hell.’ Job’s use of it in this connection proves that the righteous go to the Bible hell at death, as well as the wicked. It is simply the state of death from which the Lord has promised a resurrection. Job stated his faith in the resurrection saying, “All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands.”—vss. 14,15
The Book of Psalms
Next in order comes the Book of Psalms, the major portion of which was written by King David. It is sometimes called the songbook of the Bible. Many of these psalms were set to music and used in the ancient Temple services. In fact, some of the psalms are still used in Jewish religious services, and also in Christian churches.
Due to the nature of his writings, David is usually referred to as a psalmist, although in the Bible this title is applied to him only once. The writings of David are frequently quoted in the New Testament, and there he is described as a prophet. The two titles, psalmist and prophet, are quite in keeping with the two outstanding characteristics of the Book of Psalms, for many of the psalms are poetic and devotional in nature, while others contain some of the outstanding prophecies of God’s Word.
The second Psalm contains a prophecy telling of Jesus being established as earth’s king.
The eighth Psalm refers to the original creation of man in the image of God, and of his being constituted king of earth. It prophesies a ‘visit’ to earth by a messenger from heaven. The New Testament refers to this, and identifies Jesus as the visitor, and explains that the purpose of his visit is to restore man’s original dominion.—vss. 3-8
The sixteenth Psalm is a prophecy concerning the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The prophet personifies Jesus, and expressing his hope in a resurrection, writes, “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” (vs. 10) This text is also translated in the New International Version of the Bible, “Because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.” The Hebrew word sheol is translated ‘hell’ in the King James Version of the Bible and ‘grave’ in the NIV and many other translations. This prophecy shows that Jesus went to the grave when he died.
The twenty-third Psalm is the beautiful shepherd psalm in which David, a former shepherd boy, draws from his background of experience in tending sheep, to pen a beautiful and reassuring description of God’s care for his people. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want,” writes David. Then he enumerates the needs of the people of God as a shepherd sees the needs of his sheep, and expresses confidence that God will supply those needs.
The forty-sixth Psalm is another prophecy of our time, combined with the promise of God’s presence with his people to care for them in this time of the world’s distress and trouble. “God is our refuge and strength,” writes the prophet, “a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.” (vss. 1,2) The word ‘earth’ is here used to symbolize a social order, or what is styled today as civilization.
The seventy-second Psalm is a marvelous prophecy of the kingdom of Christ and the rich blessings of peace and security, which it will assure to all nations. Concerning Jesus, the new king of earth, David wrote in this psalm, “All kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him. For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper.”—vss. 11,12
The ninety-first Psalm is a song of assurance that God will care for his people regardless of the strength and cunning of enemies who may seek to injure them. It is couched in beautiful, symbolic language, the opening verses reading, “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.”—vss. 1,2
The ninety-sixth Psalm is one of thanksgiving to God for the establishment of righteousness and judgment in the earth through the medium of Christ’s kingdom. In this psalm we have one of the many assurances given us in the Bible that the future judgment day of the world is not to be a doomsday, but one of rejoicing and deliverance. The last two verses of the psalm read, “Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice Before the Lord: for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth.”
The opening psalm in this songbook declares, “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.”—Ps. 1:1,2
This theme is reiterated in various ways throughout the book, and associated with songs of praise for the marvelous manner in which God blesses those whose delight is in his law. The whole book rings with thanksgiving and glory to God, closing with the grand hallelujah crescendo, “Praise ye the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power. Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness. Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp. Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs. Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals. Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord.”—Ps. 150
Next of the Old Testament books is The Proverbs. The greater portion of this book was written by King Solomon. To Solomon is attributed the possession of much wisdom, which he received when very young as a special favor from God, in response to his personal request. This wisdom is well displayed throughout The Proverbs.
There seems to be no special theme running through the book, unless it be the wisdom of obeying God’s law, and living a just, honorable, and peaceful life. Many of the proverbs emphasize the importance of wisdom, declaring that it is much more valuable than gold or other riches. Perhaps the best conception of the contents and style of the book can be had by quoting some of its sayings and admonitions:
“A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels.”—Prov. 1:5
“The Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.”—Prov. 2:6
“Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart.”—Prov. 3:3
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”—Prov. 3:5,6
“Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.”—Prov. 4:7
“These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.”—Prov. 6:16-19
“The righteous shall never be removed: but the wicked shall not inhabit the earth.”—Prov. 10:30
“There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty.”—Prov. 11:24
“Lying lips are abomination to the Lord: but they that deal truly are his delight.”—Prov. 12:22
“A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.”—Prov. 15:1
“Better is little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble therewith.”—Prov. 15:16
“How much better is it to get wisdom than gold! and to get understanding rather to be chosen than silver!”—Prov. 16:16
“Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.”—Prov. 17:28
“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the Lord pondereth the hearts.”—Prov. 21:2
“A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.”—Prov. 22:1
“If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink.”—Prov. 25:21
“Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth.”—Prov. 26:20
“The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe.”—Prov. 29:25
Chapter 30 was written by “Agur the son of Jakeh,” and chapter 31—the last in the book—lists “king Lemuel” as its author. Agur is an unknown Hebrew sage; nor is the identity of Lemuel very certain; but both are generally accepted as being among the Lord’s inspired writers.
ECCLESIASTES means ‘the preacher,’ and this title was probably given to the next book of the Old Testament because of its opening verse, “The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.” David had but the one son who reigned as king in Jerusalem, who was Solomon. Although Solomon’s name is not mentioned in the book, he is evidently its author. During his reign Solomon became very rich, and he surrounded himself with much glory and pomp. God had blessed him with great wisdom, yet he was most unwise in his personal life. He writes much in the Book of Ecclesiastes to indicate that in his latter years he realized the folly of his ways, so seeks to admonish others not to follow his foolish example.
The book is a reminder that despite riches, pleasure, honor, and glory, life is vain without God. Solomon had learned this, and wrote, “In the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God.”—Eccles. 5:7
The last chapter opens with an admonition for the young: “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them.” (Eccles. 12:1) Then follows a symbolic description of approaching old age, and finally of death, concerning which Solomon writes: “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.”—Eccles. 12:7
The word ‘spirit’ in this text translates a Hebrew word, which simply means the breath of life. In Solomon’s description of death he is telling us that every part of man, both his body and his breath, returns to its original condition, which leaves one who has died exactly as before he was born.
Incidental to his general theme of regret for the wrong course he had taken, Solomon furnishes valuable information concerning the earth and the estate of man. In chapter 1, verse 4, he declares that “the earth abideth for ever.” This is in full keeping with the plan of God, as revealed throughout his entire Word, to restore the human race to live on the earth forever. It refutes the traditional theory, which has come down to us from the Dark Ages, that the earth was to be destroyed by fire at the Second Coming of Christ.
Solomon must have heard of the theory, even in that ancient time, that man does not really die at all, that when he seems to die he is merely being translated into a spiritual realm—the claim being that man has a ‘spirit’ which is immortal and cannot die—for in chapter 3, verses 19-21, he writes, “That which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knoweth [who can prove that] the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that [it] goeth downward to the earth?”
In chapter 9, verse 10, Solomon furnishes us with a concise definition of the Hebrew word sheol, which is the only word in the Old Testament translated ‘hell.’ This same word, however, is in many places translated ‘grave,’ but the meaning is the same. In his use of the word sheol Solomon wrote, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, [sheol] whither thou goest.”
In Solomon’s day all writing was done by hand, and on parchment scrolls—a tedious procedure. Reading these scrolls was also difficult and laborious, so ‘the preacher’ concludes his ‘book’ with a summary of his findings, saying, “By these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”—Eccles. 12:12-14
The Song of Solomon
This book is the last of Solomon’s writings which appear in the Old Testament. It is sometimes called “Canticles.” The entire book may be styled a drama. Some scholars claim that it is the story of Solomon’s love for, and marriage to, either Pharaoh’s daughter or an Israelitish woman, the “Shulamite.”—Song of Sol. 6:13
We think it is more likely that the Lord directed it to be a general picture of the love of Christ for his church, which ultimately becomes his ‘bride.’ In keeping with this, how beautifully stated is the adoration of the church, when she says concerning Christ that he is “the chiefest among ten thousand,” the one “altogether lovely.”—Song of Sol. 5:10,16Go to Part IV