This is the penultimate message in our study of Ecclesiastes; we have but one more. We are told, “of making many books there is no end,” and that is equally true of the making of sermons. But with “much study is a weariness of the flesh.” This makes variety important – variety not only in subjects and scriptures, but in teachers as well. What a blessing it is to all of us to have Bro. Fulton minister to us from time to time.
Although it might have seemed endless, we have only scratched the surface in this series. For example, we could make at least two more messages out of the text we just read. But tonight we will just focus on the wise words of goads and nails. And are no wiser words than verses 13 and 14 – “Fear God and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment.”
Let’s begin with this question: why is there such sin in this world? It is because there is no fear of God before men’s eyes. Mankind has been trying its very best to forget that God shall bring every work into judgment. But if there were only two verses in all of God’s Word … If God only revealed two things to the souls of men – and these were they… if these were fully understood and respected… we would have another garden of Eden on this planet. But because these are neglected, we have a world of vanity and vexation – Solomon’s recurring theme. For example, we have a continual onslaught of new BOOKS, but not much addition to the words of the wise.
A few weeks ago, my neighbor asked me to read a book, on the back cover of which we are told, this is called by some “the best book for men ever written.” By the time of this particular printing, and there may have been more, 3 million copies have been printed. This bestselling book has “challenged and encouraged men worldwide and was selected as one of the 100 most influential Christian books of the twentieth century.” Because my neighbor asked for my opinion, I read it, jotting down comments as I went along. When I finished I had two pages of type-written notes. My conclusion was that so much error was mixed in with the truth that I couldn’t recommend it to anyone. And such is the case of most of today’s Christian best-sellers. Any book which says of itself this is “the best book for men ever written” immediately sends up a red flag, because it discredits the Word of God. It is indeed sad that there is a fantastic book of wisdom which few want to read – the Word of Lord.
Tonight, we could reiterate all that we’ve looked at thus far – the wise counsel of God. But let’s think about the NATURE of God’s wise words rather than the wise words themselves. The words of the wise are as goads and nails.
First of all, words of wisdom are stimulating, if we will permit them to be, or need them to be.
The word “goad” is found in the Old Testament – three times, but there is a synonym in the New. When Saul, the persecutor was traveling toward Damascus to arrest the saints of God, he was arrested by Christ, who pointed out how difficult it was to kick against the “pricks,” or the ox-goads. The Hebrew farmer, before days of Case, Ford and John Deere tractors, would have an ox or perhaps a yoke of beasts to pull his plow or wagon. Whereas in some societies that farmer might have had a whip to drive them, the Israelite had a goad. It was a long, straight pole of some sort of strong wood. The bark was stripped off and the smaller end was sharpened to a point. The other end, the wider part of the branch, sometimes would be made flat or spoon-shaped. That part of the goad could be used to scrape mud off the plow. But the sharp, pointed end would be used to prick the rump of the plow-animal to remind him that he had work to do – move forward, move to the right or left.
I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to hold that pole, which got heavier and heavier throughout the day. But it made boys into men, and ordinary men into exceptionally strong men. In Judges 3:31 we read of Shamgar, the son of Anath. He “slew of the Philistines six hundred men with an ox goad, and he also delivered Israel.”
“The words of the wise are as goads.” And a good illustration of that fact is found in the preaching of a man who wasn’t a preacher. Stephen was a deacon in the Jerusalem church, but he loved his Saviour and often opened his mouth to praise His Name. This got him into trouble with the Pharisees who claimed that Jesus was a deceiver, a fraud. Stephen so provoked those Pharisees that he was arrested and forced to defend himself. This deacon’s defense was the Word of God, the goad of the Spirit which he wielded quite skillfully. Every word Stephen spoke was like a sharpened stick on the rear-end of Saul of Tarsus. He kicked and bucked, he denied, he reasoned within himself, he fought
everything Stephen said, but the words of Stephen’s “apologia” sank deeper and deeper into his soul. Those words drove the poor Pharisee crazy, until he and his friends felt compelled to stone the deacon to death. Oh, they justified themselves, trying to hide the vision of the death of Stephen. They even patted themselves on the back for “doing the work of God,” but it was only to ease the pain brought on by the goad of Stephen’s indisputable arguments.
Friday, I was reading a biography of Thomas Goold, the first pastor of the first Baptist church in Boston. He was often arrested and often had to defend or explain himself before the Protestant dictators of Massacheusetts.. 90% of the time, his only explanation for his Baptist doctrine was the unequivocal Word of God. And whenever he defended himself, his words poked, prodded and goaded Christ’s religious enemies.
Sometimes wise words are attractive, easy to listen to, thrilling or wonderfully entertaining. Like the words of Peter to Cornelius. Sometimes as was the case of Stephen and Goold, those words are harder to swallow than cod-liver oil. They are pointed, and they are not pointless. That ox may kick, rebel, complain bitterly, trying to go on down a road of his own choosing, but he does so while in pain.
The words of the wise stimulate some men to hatred and opposition . There was Ahab who came under the words of the Prophet Elijah. And there was the king who took out his pen-knife and cut the wise the Words of God into fuel for the fire.
Sometimes sweet words, encouraging words, promising words can produce positive effects. We saw an example of that this morning. I suppose that it depends on the animal – OR the man. It depends on the preparation which the Lord has made in the heart of that Cornelius and eventually in Saul. But some creatures cannot be moved without pushing and prodding.
Have you ever seen a positive outcome from a carrot on the stick or is that mere fiction? The little boy is ting in his wagon with the goat or calf tethered out in front. He has a long pole with a string tied to one end with a carrot dangling from the string. He keeps it a foot in front of the animal, who pulls the wagon in an effort to get to the carrot. How long is that going to work? How far is that boy going to get down the road. I am not saying that Christians can’t be motivated by the promises of God’s blessings. But when those blessings are anchored in eternity rather than here and now our Christian motivation sometimes flags. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth rebuking them for their tolerance of sin. The goad dug deeply into their sides, until finally they over-reacted to the situation. Then it took another letter calling for moderation, to bring them into proper balance.
Every word of the Word of God is a wise word and therefore a stimulating goad to our souls. But like Saul we have often kicked and bawled when they’ve been driven home. Is that why so many don’t take time to read the word during the week? Is that why the Sunday morning service is enough for the average professing Christian?
The words of the wise are as goads. And they don’t have to come in lengthy volumes to produce their good results. The Lord’s prayer contains wise words and that prayer lasts for 56 words. And the 10 Commandments are made up of 297 words, and only half a chapter. The Declaration of Independence has only 300 words. Why is it that the document explaining Obama Care was so long that hardly anyone had the endurance to read it? With reading such documents “is a weariness of the flesh.”
And then there are statements like Proverbs 16:24 – “Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul and health to the bones.” I heard of a church service where this scripture was being preached. During the message a woman in the congregation leaned toward her husband and whispered – “I love the way that your muscles ripple when you are taking out the trash.” Obviously, wise words sometimes have the bee-enticing flavor of honey, once in a while
Wise words are also as nails fastened by the masters of the assemblies.
Isn’t that word “assembly,” interesting under the circumstances? By definition and in fact, WE are an assembly this evening. A church is a called-out assembly, an “ecclesia.” And we are gathered together as an assembly. Then there is the fact that you are listening and looking to me for a few minutes. It might be said that I am the master of this assemble for a while. This master of the assembly has opened up the greatest book of Wisdom ever published. Perhaps not so much tonight as this morning, but from time to time, we have some nails to drive.
Not only does a nail pierce the wood into which it is driven, but it is relatively hard to remove. Saul of Tarsus found that the wise words of Stephen, just would not slide out and leave his mind. They kept hanging around, sticking in, irritating his soul, like a sliver in finger or a nail in the shoe. Every time he stepped there was a pain in his soul. Every time he grasped something that sliver demanded attention. It made him angrier and more mean. The degree of his persecution was a reaction to the conviction of the Holy Spirit through the Word. Wise words abide, forcing us to pondered and considered them. Like Mary they need to be kept in our hearts and re-studied again and again And wise words abide in order to be acted upon, they ought become guiding principles regulating lives
Solomon said, “I’ve read a lot of books that weren’t worth being kept or loaned out. So much of this world is nothing but vanity.” And the number of vain things increases exponentially with every passing year. But real words of wisdom, like the wisdom that is based upon the Word of God is transcendent and eternal. Scripture declares that they shall never pass away. They are like goads pricking the heart; and nails piercing the soul. Very likely they will abide the flames of hell, residing in the soul forever. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that part of the pain of Hell will be the burning remembrance of wise words ignored.
In concluding his book, Solomon tells Cornelius to pay attention to Peter’s words of wisdom. He tells us all to listen to the words of God. And when it is the Holy Spirit speaking, the spirit of the child of God, reverberates with a harmonizing tone. “Fear God and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man For God shall bring every work into judgment.”