Apr

20

2014

Don Carson|5:00 am CT

Leviticus 25; Psalm 32; Ecclesiastes 8; 2 Timothy 4

Leviticus 25; Psalm 32; Ecclesiastes 8; 2 Timothy 4

FEW PASSAGES HAVE PROVED more popular at evangelical ordination services than, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2).

We reflect, first, on the charge itself. It may be broken down into four components. (a) The focus of the charge: “Preach the Word.” This is central to all gospel ministry—the heraldic declaration of the content of God’s gracious self-revelation. (b) The urgency of the charge: “be prepared in season and out of season.” It is one thing to be prepared for the stated meetings, the ordinary scheduled obligations to speak, to preach; it is another to be ready to declare the whole counsel of God at the drop of a hat. Paul demands both kinds of readiness. (c) The scope of the charge: “correct, rebuke and encourage.” Preaching the Word means more than the mere conveying of information. There is information, of course, but it is so shaped and applied that it functions in one or more of these transforming ways. Thus the minister of the Gospel is necessarily a spiritual diagnostician, discerning the ailment and knowing what remedies to apply. Pity the minister of the Word who applies encouragement when rebuke is called for, or the reverse. (d) The manner of fulfilling the charge: “with great patience and careful instruction.” Paul’s view of the ministry demands a focus on the long haul, on personal patience, on great care with the substance of what is preached. This is not simply a job to be done, a job by which to support yourself and your family. This demands strong Christian character traits and a mind devoted to thinking through and implementing all that is embraced by “careful instruction.”

In the second place, we observe some of the themes surrounding this charge. (a) This charge to preach the Word Paul solemnly delivers in the name and presence of God and in the light of Christ’s return to judge the living and the dead and to consummate his kingdom (2 Tim. 4:1). It is difficult to imagine a weightier introduction. (b) Paul delivers this charge in the expectation that many “will not put up with sound doctrine,” but will prefer teachers who say what they want to hear. There are more “itching ears” (2 Tim. 4:3) within evangelicalism than we would like to admit. The proper response is to “keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:5). (c) Paul’s charge is uttered in a context that insists on how important godly mentors are (2 Tim. 3:10-11), how bad the world can be (2 Tim. 3:12-13), and how unshakable the Scriptures are that must be preached (2 Tim. 3:15-16).

 
 

Apr

19

2014

Don Carson|8:00 am CT

Leviticus 24; Psalm 31; Ecclesiastes 7; 2 Timothy 3

Leviticus 24; Psalm 31; Ecclesiastes 7; 2 Timothy 3

IN ECCLESIASTES 7, THE BOOK’S FORM changes, taking on the more typical structure of Wisdom Literature: a string of proverbs. But these proverbs do not, by and large, adopt the stance of the person who holds that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (cf. Prov. 9:10). Rather, Qoheleth maintains his quest, searching out the meaning of things explored “from below.” These “common sense” proverbs are touched with an edge of cynicism that is brutally honest but not leavened with godly faith.

The first six are provocatively gloomy. Nothing in the first line prepares the reader for the rabbit punch of the second: e.g., “the day of death [is] better than the day of birth” (Eccl. 7:1b). This is not the confession of faith as in Philippians 1:21, 23. The most positive thing that could be said about this proverb is that it is bluntly realistic, and all of us would benefit from learning to live in light of the fact that we too must die—as the second part of verse 2 makes explicit: “for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart” (cf. Ps. 90:12). The line of thought to the end of verse 6 is similarly cheerless, but its brutal frankness has cautionary value.

The proverbs in Ecclesiastes 7:7-22 are harder to categorize. There is a kind of practical attempt to make sense of the world, but it is the attempt of the worldly person. Verses 8 and 9 are doubtless good counsel in the life of the believer, but in this context they have a merely pragmatic tinge. “Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions” (Eccl. 7:10). This annihilates self-indulgent nostalgia, for the Teacher is unlikely to be impressed by the hazy glow that surrounds the past: he has already shown his hand on this point (see Eccl. 1:9). True, Qoheleth praises wisdom (Eccl. 7:11-12), but with a cool affirmation of its utilitarian value—it has advantages, just as money does. In this mood Qoheleth can fluctuate between pious resignation (Eccl. 7:12) and outrageous cynicism (Eccl. 7:13-18)—what F. Derek Kidner labels “the shabby and self-regarding side of common sense.” So also verse 18 is moral cowardice tarted up with stoicism.

The ultimate failure of such wisdom, which does not begin with the fear of the Lord, is acknowledged in the closing verses of the chapter (Eccl. 7:23-29). The Teacher is determined to be wise, but his brand of wisdom “from below” leaves him unable to glimpse much of the real meaning of life; true wisdom is still beyond him (Eccl. 7:23-25), and his own wisdom is clothed with a cynicism regarding human relationships that says more about him than about the people he describes (Eccl. 7:27-28). Only when he returns to the pattern of Creation and Fall (Eccl. 7:29) does he begin to approach a more stable answer.

 
 

Apr

18

2014

Don Carson|5:00 am CT

Leviticus 23; Psalm 30; Ecclesiastes 6; 2 Timothy 2

Leviticus 23; Psalm 30; Ecclesiastes 6; 2 Timothy 2

IN ECCLESIASTES 5:13-6:12, the Teacher enlarges upon two or three grievous evils “under the sun.” Here we focus on those described in Ecclesiastes 6.

One of life’s immense frustrations involves people who receive from God “wealth, possessions and honor” (Eccl. 6:2) such that they lack nothing their heart desires—yet they lack the ability to enjoy these things. The power to enjoy things (first introduced in Eccl. 5:19) is itself a great gift from God. To have so many other gifts and not this one is immensely troubling. The Teacher does not spell out what exactly has foreclosed on the ability to enjoy all the other gifts. It might be a business failure (Eccl. 5:13-15). But it might be chronic illness, or war, or the evil manipulation of someone more powerful, or even some form of insanity. One might die prematurely, and a “stranger” will enjoy all the things one has accumulated (Eccl. 6:2). Or perhaps a person will die not only unfulfilled and barely noticed, but unlamented (“not receiv[ing] proper burial,” Eccl. 6:3). Qoheleth insists that “a stillborn child is better off than he” (Eccl. 6:3). Such a child “comes without meaning, it departs in darkness, and in darkness its name is shrouded” (6:4). But even if someone should live ten thousand years and yet never enjoy all the prosperity God has graciously given him (Eccl. 6:6), his life is meaningless. And in the end he goes to the same place as the stillborn child (Eccl. 6:6).

The chapter ends with a series of blistering rhetorical questions, all designed to substantiate the thesis that, under the sun, everything is “utterly meaningless” (Eccl. 1:2). We work to eat, and eating gives us the strength to go on working: what is the point? (Eccl. 6:7). But if someone replies that a person may not only work and eat, but become a “wise man” (Eccl. 6:8), is it all that clear that the wise are better off than fools? After all, much wisdom may simply bring much frustration and grief, as Qoheleth has already pointed out (Eccl. 1:18). Moreover, isn’t it better to be satisfied with the material world—with what one can touch and hear and see and feel, with “what the eye sees”—than to pursue “the roving of the appetite,” i.e., all the things hidden from view that we hanker after? For this, too, “is meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Eccl. 6:9).

Is this too wretchedly pessimistic to be realistic? But for those who are “under the sun” (Eccl. 6:12) and nothing more, what else is there? We talk too much and know too little (Eccl. 6:11-12). God help us! We need a deliverer from outside our myopic horizons.

 
 

Apr

17

2014

Don Carson|5:00 am CT

Leviticus 22; Psalms 28-29; Ecclesiastes 5; 2 Timothy 1

Leviticus 22; Psalms 28-29; Ecclesiastes 5; 2 Timothy 1

THE TEACHER PAUSES IN HIS ARGUMENT to offer some reflections and home truths regarding how to live in the world as we find it, including the religious world. His argument now takes a pragmatic turn that runs from Ecclesiastes 4:9 to 5:12. Here we focus on Ecclesiastes 5:1-12, which can be divided into two blocks of material.

In the first, Qoheleth describes and condemns the merely pious man. His target is not the full-blown hypocrite so often denounced by the prophets, but the subtler hypocrite who likes to participate in worship services, chatters piously, and who rarely keeps his promises or performs what he has volunteered to do for God. “Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools” (Eccl. 5:1), the Teacher counsels. “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few” (Eccl. 5:2). But if you do make a vow to God, “do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it” (Eccl. 5:4-5). “Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God” (Eccl. 5:7).

Corporate worship is not a time for daydreaming, a retreat for mental scribbling. This is the worship of a fool. All the pious words and corporate expressions and confessions of faith are reduced to meaninglessness. As you pick your way through the apparent meaninglessness of life, remain steady at least on this point: stand in awe of God.

The second block warns against the meaninglessness of riches. In a fallen and broken world, we should not be surprised by corruption that rips off the people at the bottom of the pecking order (Eccl. 5:8-9). Of course, we should support government administration; officialdom is better than anarchy. Nevertheless in many cultures corruption is so endemic that the predators higher up the ladder are constantly scrambling to grab bigger and bigger pieces of the pie. The Teacher’s comments are dry and entirely in line with cynical secularism.

The sad fact is that love of money creates greater love of money (Eccl. 5:10). Inevitably it attracts a range of parasites, people who fawn over you, whom you cannot really trust (Eccl. 5:11). And at the end of the day, money leaves you with sleepless nights—unlike the nights of the laborer, who works his shift, tires himself out, and enjoys a good night’s sleep (Eccl. 5:12).

The arguments are pragmatic as the Teacher works his way through life pictured from below.

 
 

Apr

16

2014

Don Carson|5:00 am CT

Leviticus 21; Psalms 26-27; Ecclesiastes 4; 1 Timothy 6

Leviticus 21; Psalms 26-27; Ecclesiastes 4; 1 Timothy 6

ONE OF THE INTRIGUING FEATURES OF 1 Timothy 6:3-19 is the way Paul’s argument cuts back and forth. There are four blocks. In the first (1 Tim. 6:3-5), Paul warns against those who teach false doctrines and describes the character of the false teachers with whom he is dealing. One of their motives is “financial gain” (1 Tim. 6:5): they are less interested in the Gospel and in genuine godliness than in sporting an assumed “godliness” to rake in a good living. That introduces the second block (1 Tim. 6:6-10), which warns against the love of money. It is “a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10). The proper Christian attitude should be committed contentment, for “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6); moreover, at the end of our lives we take out exactly what we brought in (1 Tim. 6:7). Focusing on the transient things of this life serves only to plunge people into “ruin and destruction” (1 Tim. 6:9). By contrast, Paul tells Timothy what sort of man he should be: that is the third block (1 Tim. 6:11-16). The apostle then moves to the fourth block (1 Tim. 6:17-19) and tells Timothy to command those who are rich how to conduct themselves. They are to repudiate arrogance, to put no confidence in wealth “which is so uncertain” (1 Tim. 6:17), but to put their confidence in God, “who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Tim. 6:17). They must use their wealth to do good, to be generous, to share. In this way they will really be laying up treasure for themselves in heaven (1 Tim. 6:19), as the Lord Jesus taught us (Matt. 6:20). Thus Paul insists not on asceticism but on committed generosity as the best Christian response to greed.

So the four blocks deal with, respectively, false teachers and their conduct, the dangers of wealth, a true teacher and his conduct, and the dangers of wealth again. Thus the section that tells Timothy what kind of man he should be (1 Tim. 6:11-16) must be seen, in part, as an antidote to both false teaching and greed.

What is striking about this paragraph is what Paul places over against false doctrine and love of materialism. Paul tells Timothy, in effect, that a focus on eternal things will drive a far healthier Christian ambition. If Timothy is to flee from “all this” (1 Tim. 6:11)—from the crass materialism Paul has just condemned—he must set himself to pursue “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” (1 Tim. 6:11). While he maintains his “good confession”—as Christ maintained his—(1 Tim. 6:12-13), he is to take hold of “eternal life” and persevere until “the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Tim. 6:12, 14)—living and serving in the glory of God’s unapproachable light (1 Tim. 6:14, 16).

 
 

Apr

15

2014

Don Carson|5:00 am CT

Leviticus 20; Psalm 25; Ecclesiastes 3; 1 Timothy 5

Leviticus 20; Psalm 25; Ecclesiastes 3; 1 Timothy 5

NOW QOHELETH, THE TEACHER, looks at time (Eccl. 3:1-17). In isolation, verses 2-8 could be taken in several different ways. They might relativize everything: there is a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to love and a time to hate, and so forth. For some this means that no moral distinctions are to be made. Others might hope to shape their own “times.” But in the context, it is better to read these verses as a mark of futility for those who live only “under the sun,” and a mark of God’s sovereignty for those who embrace a broader perspective.

The reader who has followed the book as far as Ecclesiastes 3:8 might well think that the poetical section of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 is another way of saying, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless” (cf. Eccl. 1:2). The seasons pass away and return; so much of what we experience is generated by the situations we face, so few of which we control. The happy person loses a spouse and dissolves in tears; the peaceful nation finds itself at war; the bereft mourner marries again and dances at her wedding. We preach love, and learn of the Holocaust, and insist that justice demands that we hate. And it is all part of the same meaningless fabric: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven” (Eccl. 3:1). This is nothing but “the burden God has laid on men” (Eccl. 3:10).

But the rest of the passage suddenly changes the flavor. The Teacher will not allow us to remain in this miasma. God “has made everything beautiful in its time” (Eccl. 3:11). We see so little of the huge tapestry God is weaving. Qoheleth is not thereby relativizing evil. He of all people knows this is a broken and fallen world. But he insists that, far from meaningless repetition and boring cycles, what takes place “under the sun” can be seen instead as a reflection of God’s design, with a “beginning” and an “end” (Eccl. 3:11) to the pattern. We sometimes glimpse the spectacular, kaleidoscopic glory, but our horizon is so small and our trust in God so paltry that such visions are rare. But God “has also set eternity in our hearts.” Unlike dogs or chimpanzees, we know we are immersed in eternity, and we long to see more of the pattern than we can; we “cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (Eccl. 3:11). Meanwhile, it is a “gift from God” to eat and labor and find satisfaction in one’s own patch, all the while happily aware “that everything God does will endure forever” (Eccl. 3:13-14). The cycles that the unbeliever finds meaningless and despairing incite the believer to faithfulness and worship.

 
 

Apr

14

2014

Don Carson|5:00 am CT

Leviticus 19; Psalms 23-24; Ecclesiastes 2; 1 Timothy 4

Leviticus 19; Psalms 23-24; Ecclesiastes 2; 1 Timothy 4

BEFORE PROBING THE ARGUMENT OF Ecclesiastes 2, I must pick up one line from chapter 1. Setting himself to explore by wisdom “all that is done under heaven,” the Teacher concludes, “What a heavy burden God has laid on men!” (Eccl. 1:13). Some might think this utterance springs more from bitterness than from faith, but at least it demonstrates that Qoheleth never descends into atheism. Yet those who read Ecclesiastes within the framework of the whole Bible cannot fail to see something more. This side of the Fall, God has indeed imposed on the created order an intentional discipline, a purposeful curse. Paul understands this and may be thinking of Ecclesiastes when he writes, “For the creation was subjected to frustration [or futility, or vanity, or meaninglessness], not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay” (Rom. 8:20-21).

So now the Teacher begins his exploration of various domains:

(a) He pursues pleasure and wine (Eccl. 2:1-3). It is not that pleasure is never pleasurable, but that the more you chase it the more it disappears before your face, and you are “chasing after the wind” (Eccl. 1:17). It is such an ephemeral and unsatisfying thing for people to pursue “during the few days of their lives” (Eccl. 2:3).

(b) So he turns to building a vast estate, with all the pleasures tied to success and money. He is honest enough to testify that his heart took delight in his work, and this delight was the reward of his labor (Eccl. 2:10). Yet he looks back on his projects, at everything he had “toiled to achieve” (Eccl. 2:11), and he knows they have no eternal significance; they too are “meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Eccl. 2:11). He has to leave them all behind, whether his heir is a wise man or a fool (Eccl. 2:19).

(c) Even the pursuit of wisdom seems futile (Eccl. 2:12-16). Both the wise and the fool end up dead; neither will be remembered very long after death. Qoheleth does not deny that wisdom is better than folly (Eccl. 2:13), but insists that death swamps both. Wisdom and folly do not exist by themselves; there are only wise human beings and foolish human beings, and all human beings die.

Yet the preliminary evaluation at the end of the chapter (Eccl. 2:24-26) anticipates arguments still to come. There is God-given pleasure in work and food and drink. Part of the problem lies in trying too hard, in trying to extract from these pleasures more significance than they can provide. They are genuine pleasures from God, and to “the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness,” while the sinner’s life is profoundly meaningless.

 
 

Apr

13

2014

Don Carson|5:00 am CT

Leviticus 18; Psalm 22; Ecclesiastes 1; 1 Timothy 3

Leviticus 18; Psalm 22; Ecclesiastes 1; 1 Timothy 3

THE AUTHOR OF ECCLESIASTES IS (in transliterated Hebrew) Qoheleth, pronounced Ko-hellet or Ko-helleth. The word is connected with the idea of assembling, and “Qoheleth” probably means something like “leader of the assembly” or even “one who addresses the assembly.” Probably the assembly was religious (we would say “ecclesiastical”), yet Qoheleth is also an academic, collecting and formulating sayings (Eccl. 12:9-12). As a result, some Bibles render the expression “the Preacher”; the NIV supports “the Teacher.” One commentator suggests “the Professor.”

Qoheleth refers to himself as “king over Israel in Jerusalem” (Eccl. 1:12). But which king? He claims, “I have grown and increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me” (Eccl. 1:16), which seems to rule out everyone but Solomon. On the other hand, it would be very strange for Solomon to write such words, since there was only one Davidic king over Jerusalem before him. So while some commentators think Qoheleth is Solomon, others point out that Solomon is not named and suggest this may be a religious leader who, as part of the dramatic argument he sets forth, stylizes himself as a super-Solomon: the wisest conceivable man, on a search for self-fulfillment, would still return destitute, crying out that everything is meaningless (Eccl. 1:2).

Just as many parts of Job cannot be insightfully or wisely read without grasping the flow of the book as a whole, so also with Ecclesiastes. Qoheleth sets himself to explore the significance of everything “from below,” looked at from the vantage point of fallen humanity. In short, his stance is “under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9) or “under heaven” (Eccl. 1:13). He is a defender neither of naturalism nor of atheism, but he ruthlessly explores what can be said of various ostensibly “good” things when looked at one by one, “under the sun.” His theme is set out in the introduction (Eccl. 1:1-11). “ ’Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!’ ” (Eccl. 1:2). This gets at the heart of the expression traditionally rendered “Vanity of vanities … all is vanity” (KJV). The word suggests a wisp of air, the merest vapor, utterly without significance. In this book the Teacher probes domain after domain of life, domains that so many people value and cherish and even worship, and concludes, from his stance “under the sun,” that everything is meaningless. By the end of the book, after scraping away the detritus of life, he hits bedrock—God himself. And here and there along the way he allows us glimpses of a divine perspective that transcends meaninglessness. But he takes his time getting there, for we must feel the depressing weight of all questing visions that do not begin with God.

 
 

Apr

12

2014

Don Carson|5:00 am CT

Leviticus 17; Psalms 20-21; Proverbs 31; 1 Timothy 2

Leviticus 17; Psalms 20-21; Proverbs 31; 1 Timothy 2

PROVERBS 31 FOCUSES, IN TWO different ways, on women.

In the first part (Prov. 31:1-9), the text offers us the “Sayings of King Lemuel” (of whom we know very little)—but although these sayings are “of King Lemuel” in the sense that he authorized them or made them known, they are alternatively described as “an oracle his mother taught him” (Prov. 31:1).

These sayings touch on three subjects. (a) Lemuel’s mother strongly encourages her son to avoid fornication. He must not spend his vigor “on those who ruin kings”—and presidents, for that matter. In addition to the ordinary lusts of the flesh, those in power doubtless have additional opportunities to satiate those lusts, along with additional responsibilities. So the right resolve must be taken as a matter of principle early in life. (b) She tells Lemuel to avoid intoxication. In an age before morphine, beer and wine were fine to help those dying or in terrible anguish (Prov. 31:6), but the “help” provided is of the sort that makes you forget yourself and even lose consciousness. Rulers have no right to opt for such escapism, for they are responsible for upholding the law and assisting the oppressed (Prov. 31:4-5). (c) That brings the queen mother to her last theme: King Lemuel must “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves” (Prov. 31:8). High officials should not use their office to feather their nest and grow detached from ordinary people, but to administer fairly and especially to help the neediest and poorest members of society.

The second part of chapter 31 (Prov. 31:10-31) is well known and describes a “wife of noble character.” (It would be easy to show that the book of Proverbs also says quite a bit about the husband of noble character, but the relevant proverbs are not drawn together into one place, as here.) This woman of noble character is someone in whom her husband has full confidence (Prov. 31:11) and who constantly seeks his good (Prov. 31:12). She is industrious, so much so that she contributes to family income and has more than enough left over to help the poor and needy (Prov. 31:13-22). She plans for the long haul, speaks with wisdom, and manages the household well. In the end she is the praise of her children and husband alike. But above all, and beyond the culturally specific descriptions (e.g., she works with wool and flax, and as a farmer’s wife considers a field and buys it), she fears the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge. “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised” (Prov. 31:30).

 
 

Apr

11

2014

Don Carson|5:00 am CT

Leviticus 16; Psalm 19; Proverbs 30; 1 Timothy 1

Leviticus 16; Psalm 19; Proverbs 30; 1 Timothy 1

SEVERAL TIMES IN THIS BOOK there is a formula of the sort, “For x things such-and-such, and for x+1 this-and-that.” For instance, Proverbs 6:16-19 begins, “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him.” Then the list begins: “haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers”—seven items, always the “x+1″ number of items. This way of introducing a list with two lines—the first with a number one less than the number of items in the list; the second with the precise number of items in the list—builds anticipation and is part of the Hebrew parallelism that does not like to have exactly the same thing in both lines.

Proverbs 30 has several instances of this formula. It is not necessary to use the formula if a list is being introduced (Prov. 30:24), but it is common (Prov. 30:15b, 18, 21, 29). The five lists in this chapter are grounded in thoughtful observation of highly diverse phenomena, and each of the five makes a different point. Here I reflect on two of them.

The first is the list (without introductory formula) of small things that are extremely “wise”: ants, coneys (probably rock badgers), locusts, and lizards (Prov. 30:24-28). This use of “wise” is bound up with the skill to survive (see meditation for March 14). An individual ant is nothing, easily crushed, without intelligence, yet ants store up food for the winter and survive. Rock badgers are small and relatively defenseless, yet they have the ability to make their homes in crags where others could not live. Lizards are so slow and stupid that children can catch them in their hands, and yet they have whatever it takes to live even in palaces. All these skills, all this “wisdom,” God has graciously granted. In the larger context of the book, the lesson is obvious. We too are like stupid little ants or lizards, yet God has graciously given us the wisdom to survive. Two more thoughts are not far behind: (a) our wisdom, like that of the ant, is derived from God; (b) it is shockingly rebellious not to acknowledge him with gratitude as the source of our life.

The second list itemizes the thing Agur the author does not understand: “the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a maiden” (Prov. 30:18-19). Thus sex is a created function, gloriously mysterious, to be treated with respect and neither cheapened nor abused.