Bible Topics In The Christian Library

This has been called the age of anxiety, although it is unlikely that we have more to worry about than any past generation. Anxiety is widespread, I believe, because there is a widespread loss of faith - loss of faith in both God and mankind. And lost faith encourages fear and despair. In desperation some are looking to the stars. In fact, our own government has already spent several billion dollars on projects designed to probe the heavens for signs of intelligent life with the possibility that might give us answers to restore our hope.

Moreover, a number of conferences have been conducted by scientists on the subject of life in outer space. The consensus appears to be that other life forms exist out there (in spite of the total lack of what is currently considered to be scientific evidence) and that they include creatures who are (in their words) not only "non-human" and "incredibly alien," but are also "vastly more intelligent than we." The director of one conference, sponsored jointly by Boston University and NASA, expressed the hope that contact with these creatures " might also lead us to better social forms, possibly to ways to solve our environmental crisis, even improve our own social institutions." Another participant hoped that these beings can give us " the means by which we can control the application of our knowledge. This is where we have, I think lamentably failed."

I find all of this incredibly ironic. Modern atheistic science is looking toward heaven for salvation! As a matter of fact, the ancient Israelites recorded many encounters with non-human creatures of vastly superior abilities who provided them with information vital to their survival and prosperity. Many of their great men told of having personally received knowledge from beyond earth. For example, Moses credited both his power to lead the people out of Egyptian bondage and all the details of his great law to an ongoing encounter with an extra-terrestrial being. Joseph was a Hebrew slave who rose to the highest administrative position in ancient Egypt. And Daniel, another captive Jew, was a chief adviser to Nebuchadnezzar, who was king of the great Babylonian Empire. Both of these men achieved greatness because of special knowledge personally provided to them by non-earthlings.

Ancient Hebrew documents contain many similar reports. Indeed, from the time of their founding father, Abraham, the Israelites were told by heavenly beings that they had been chosen for a special role in the development of the human race. Through the Israelite people the entire world would gain access to special knowledge needed to promote the progress of civilization and to combat our destructive tendencies. It is noteworthy that this heavenly knowledge contains very little technological information, or knowledge about physical science. What was revealed includes knowledge relevant for understanding ourselves and for telling how we can live together peacefully; which is the most critical knowledge we need.

It is, of course, an old familiar story told in an old familiar book - the Bible. The Bible tells of another world in another realm or dimension in the heavens inhabited by superior creatures and ruled by a Supreme Being whose unimaginable power and intelligence created not only this universe but all things. From time to time in the past, communication was made from that realm to some select citizen. Sometimes these creatures simply materialized in human form and were recognized only by their superhuman powers. But more often the contact was made through a form of mental telepathy by means of a spectacular vision or a dream.

Soon after Solomon inherited the throne of Israel, about three thousand years ago, he experienced one of those rare visitations in the form of a dream. Israel had entered into its golden age, and Solomon was troubled about his ability to lead that great nation. It was then that the Creator Himself offered Solomon what no other man had ever been offered - a gift of his choosing from him who could make all things possible. Solomon asked not for power, wealth, or such like; instead, he asked for a mind capable of making good decisions to help him rule his people (1 Kings 3:6-9). God was pleased with this response and granted his request. Furthermore, He gave him what he did not ask for - wealth, power, honor - because, you see, Solomon had asked for wisdom, which happens to be the key to all prosperity and success.

Solomon's wealth, power, honor, and glory were certainly very great, but he is best known for his wisdom. Indeed, his very name has been synonymous with the word wisdom ever since he lived. We can read the record of Solomon's life primarily in the first eleven chapters of 1 Kings, the last two chapters of 1 Chronicles, and the first nine chapters of 2 Chronicles.

Solomon's legacy consists of three books in the Bible: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. (The short Psalm, 127, may also be his.) In the opening words of each book Solomon is mentioned as its author. The only exception to this concerns two chapters of Proverbs which are attributed to two other men who are otherwise unknown. It is, however, quite possible that Solomon added the two chapters to his collection, acknowledging their authorship, just as any writer might do today.

The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel (Proverbs 1:1; KJV).

The proverbs of Solomon (Proverbs 10:1; KJV).

These are also proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied out (Proverbs 25:1; KJV).

The words of Agur the son of Jakeh (Proverbs 30:1; KJV).

The words of Lemuel, king of Masse. The advice which his mother gave him (Proverbs 31:1; NAB).

The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem (Ecclesiastes 1:1; KJV).

The song of songs, which is Solomon's (Song of Solomon 1:1; KJV).

Solomon recorded information and advice about many things in his three books. Ecclesiastes contains, primarily, his conclusions about the nature of life in this world. The first nine chapters of Proverbs have been called its introduction because the focus is upon the importance of wisdom and the dangers of folly. Chapters 10 through 29 of that book contain many proverbs about various aspects of life. Its remaining two chapters contain the advice of Agur and Lemuel. Song of Solomon presents a dialogue between Solomon and his wife. There is some disparity between its theme - one man, one wife - and the fact that he ended with seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. Although Solomon is addressed as King in that beautiful book, it is quite likely that (although transcribed much later when he was king) it tells the story of his first marriage, in his youth, perhaps before he was enthroned, during a time when his heart was close to God, long before his many foreign wives turned his heart.

There have been many fine commentaries written about these three books. My chief goal in writing this one has been to help show the relevance of Solomon's wisdom for life in today's world. I have chosen a type of topical analysis in order to organize the textual material for the purpose of clarifying many of its lessons. As in Nave's Topical Bible, verses, parts of verses, and series of verses are quoted as often as they were seen relevant to each topic; although no attempt was made to include every possible topic. The handling of topics, however, is quite unlike that of Nave's digest. After compiling various topics, I then compared, subdivided, and integrated them in an effort to uncover their latent patterns and interrelationships while drawing attention to the harmony of its knowledge.

The analysis begins with the book of Ecclesiastes, presenting what Solomon discovered about the nature of human existence. There the story is told of how he both experimented with his own life and observed the lives of others in his search for the way to happiness. He also tried to understand the nature and meaning of the world with its mysterious mixture of good and evil. All that he found deeply troubled him, yet he remained convinced that God rules the world with great wisdom and purpose. Chapters two and three deal with Solomon's meaning of wisdom using material taken primarily from the first nine chapters of Proverbs. His concept of wisdom is complex, and, in its broadest sense, includes the whole of God's plan for creation. Included there are his words about the importance of wisdom for mankind and its relevance to our personal freedom, responsibility, and destiny.

The next four chapters present what Solomon said about his most often mentioned personalities: the wise, the righteous, fools, and the wicked. Chapter 4 contains his advice on how to become wise, which begins with what is involved in discipline and the development of a love for knowledge. It includes an analysis of the basic qualities characteristic of all wise men. Chapter 5 explains the relationship between wisdom and righteousness and presents those special qualities of the righteous. Chapter 6 describes the meaning of folly with its basic processes. It also reveals the characteristics of various kinds of fools and the penalties they receive. Chapter 7 deals with the wicked. This type of man mixes folly with his wisdom to create a perverted mentality. Unlike a simple fool, he is the man who lives a devious life of hypocrisy. From Solomon's various descriptions a composite is also formulated about this type of man to reveal his basic nature. He also mentioned in considerable detail what can be expected from his manner of life.

The remaining five chapters contain Solomon's advice about some of the common aspects of our lives: controlling our feelings, using our language, managing our finances, developing marriage and family relationships, and finally, advice about friends, neighbors, and society in general. Chapter 8 gives Solomon's advice about such emotions as anger, envy, and pride. It also deals with the problem of regulating our various appetites. Chapter 9 tells of the power of language for good and evil, and how best to use it. Chapter 10 is about work and money. It contains Solomon's advice about how best to manage our business and occupation, including information about the care and maintenance of our possessions. It also contains what he said about the rich and the poor: what they are like, how they relate to one another, and a discussion of those factors responsible for poverty and wealth. Chapter 11 is about marriage and family. It is primarily based upon the Song of Solomon which is treated as a model marriage demonstrating how best to succeed in promoting that most beautiful and intimate human relationship. It also contains Solomon's advice about the relationship between parents and children. The last chapter presents Solomon's advice about living with our friends and neighbors in the most peaceful and constructive way. Also included there is advice for and about rulers and high officials together with information about those qualities that best promote the national health. The book concludes with a brief epilogue showing something of the relationship of Jesus with the wisdom of Solomon.

The words of Solomon found in these three books of the Bible are rich with useful information and helpful advice which is as relevant for these times as it was during his day. However, much of the text is difficult for modern man to interpret and understand. I have sought to clarify both its major meaning and its current relevance by means of this type of analysis.

To the best of my knowledge the entire text of all three of Solomon's books has been included in this work. In addition to these I have also added some passages from other parts of the Bible when I felt that they would add support and clarity. The Bible is collectively the Word of God, and just as a physiologist must at times refer to other related parts of the body when discussing a particular organ, so too, Solomon's advice is better understood when related to the entire Word of God. I also wish to point out that in some instances I have emphasized certain topics more than he did. I have taken this liberty because of the particular mentality I have perceived in today's world. There are some popular ideas so far afield from his advice that I thought more needed to be said.

Finally, I wish to offer some suggestions for those unfamiliar with Bible study. Interpreting the Bible involves a search for the meaning of its words. It may help the reader to first recognize some characteristics of words themselves and the various ways that they convey meaning. Words are a vehicle of thought. Of course, in themselves they are meaningless vibrations in the air or scribbling on paper. Words are designed to convey a message. There is a danger, however, in becoming bogged down in the words themselves to the neglect of the message they were intended to convey. For example, none of the original "words" of the Bible now exist. That is to say, the original documents are lost. God has His own good reasons for this - one being, perhaps, to insure that men would not worship the paper and ink, and thus shed blood over its possession. Nevertheless, the Bible message is very much alive and well, preserved first within several ancient documents in their original Hebrew and Greek languages, and (since most of us cannot understand those) later translated by scholars into most of the languages of the world. Thus the Bible message, passing from one word vehicle to another, remains available to us all. But, like everything else in this imperfect world, the process is not without its problems, and we find Paul saying:

For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us (2 Corinthians 4:6, 7; KJV). Paul said that the Bible treasure is in "earthen vessels." That is, the knowledge of God we have here on earth is carried by an imperfect medium. The message is God's truth (which is certainly without error), but it is contained in documents that are imperfect. Part of our job is to search for God's pure and perfect truth which is contained in these imperfect "earthen vessels." Thus we find comments from Bible scholars such as by Curtis Vaughan found in his introduction to The Old Testament Books of Poetry From 26 Translations: The reader will observe that the translators at times differ sharply in their renderings of the same passage. Often this simply indicates a difference of opinion in their understanding of the meaning of the original text. In other cases, however, the difference may be accounted for by the fact that the translators were not rendering the same text. Monsignor Ronald Knox's version, for example, is based on the Latin Vulgate, and George N. Lamsa has translated the Aramaic text. The Septuagint, of course, is a Greek translation of the Hebrew text, and what has been used in this volume is an English rendering of the Greek.

Wide divergences of rendering are much more frequently found in the Old Testament than in the New. The reader should remember that at many points the Hebrew Old Testament presents great and ancient textual difficulties. Lacunae in the earliest form of the Septuagint reveals that even the Jewish scholars of Alexandria found some of the text baffling. Where such uncertainty exists, each translator must decide for himself which reading is nearest the original. "A translator of Holy Scripture," wrote Henry Alford, "must be absolutely colorless; ready to sacrifice the choicest text, and the plainest proof of doctrine, if the words are not those of what he is constrained in his conscience to receive as God's testimony."

Thus, a little "noise" can be expected in the signal of any "earthen vessel"; but such things should not discourage those seeking God's truth in the Bible any more than scientists are discouraged by similar problems from searching "the scriptures of nature" for God's truths about it. Truth does not hang by a single thread, and a troublesome verse here or there is by no means critical. Vastly more Scriptures are clear and easy to comprehend.

Consider another characteristic of words. Particular words in almost any language can have either a single meaning or multiple meanings. When a man interprets the Bible, confusion can result if this is not recognized. Just as the word hand can refer to (1) that part of the body at the end of the arm, (2) the pointer on a dial, (3) a pledge, (4) a round of applause, (5) a worker, etc., so Bible words such as sinner, life, law, love, and heart all have at least two, and often more than two, meanings. Therefore, they can be properly understood only in the larger context. On the other "hand," single concepts or ideas may be reflected in many different words. For example, terms such as sinner, evildoer, and transgressor often refer to the same kind of man, whereas others such as greed, avarice, and covetousness all refer to the same kind of attitude. Also multiple meanings can go beyond the simple word level. Parables are one example of this; each has both a superficial and a deeper meaning.

The interpretation of God's Word, like every other human enterprise, takes time and effort. One thing is certain: God cannot contradict Himself, and although paradoxes abound both in nature and in holy Scripture, and although both nature and holy Scripture reveal conflict in the world, neither the laws of nature nor the truths of the Bible contradict themselves. Therefore, in my judgment the most accurate interpretations of any Scriptures are those that most harmonize with the rest of God's Word; especially with those clear, obvious truths, for Jesus said: the scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35; KJV). This has been my chief criterion when searching for meaning and understanding in the Bible; and I have quoted from several translations depending partly upon which I judged best satisfied that standard.

The words of the Bible were intended to convey vital messages from God for our welfare. Peter said that Bible interpretation should seek for the true message intended in the words:

First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you (2 Peter 1:20, 21; RSV). Paul admonished the younger man, Timothy, saying: Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15; KJV). And Agur gave this warning: Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you, and you be found a liar (Proverbs 30:5, 6; RSV). In an effort to heed that warning I have chosen to restrain my own comments, choosing to risk saying too little rather than too much. Above all, it is and has been my most fervent prayer to God through Jesus Christ that I have been faithful to his message and that this effort will bear much fruit for good, and so aid in bringing to God, our Creator and Heavenly Father, and his Son Jesus, our Lord and Savior, the glory and honor they so justly deserve. Amen.

Copyright 1997 by Walter L. Porter may be reproducted for non-commercial purposes at no cost to others.

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