One of the benefits of studying history is that it helps to keep one’s current situation in proper perspective. That is, history SHOULD keep things in perspective. But like everything else, people have a tendency to look at things through prejudiced eyes. For example, how many think that their grandparents had life so much better than we do today? “Oh, for the good old days. The days of the Waltons, ‘Father Knows Best’ and ‘Leave it to Beaver.’” Back in the 50s life was easy and smooth. “Oh, to have been a part of the birth of this nation, when life was good – any time but this time.”
This little paragraph from Solomon suggests the subject of “the good old days”’ from a couple of angles. The most obvious is verse 10 – “Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this.” This evening, let’s consider three days – today, the former days (or yesterday) and someday.
“Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad.” In modern English the word “mad” can have two related meanings. It can mean “angry” – as in “I am mad at you.” Or more classically it can refer to some degree of insanity – “I am madly in love with you.”
In this verse, how does the Holy Spirit intend for us to use the word? The Hebrew in itself doesn’t help to answer our question, so we have look around and think about it. We see that verse 9 reminds us not to be quickly angry about things. “Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools.” Assuming the second verse is related to the first, and perhaps comments upon it, we have our answer. Then once we have an idea in mind, we might turn to a scholar or two, discovering that Jn. Gill agrees. “Surely oppression maketh a wise man insanely angry.”
All right then, what is “oppression” and what is it to oppress someone? The Hebrew word is used 37 times and it is usually translated “oppress,” “defraud,” “wrong” or “deceive.” Once it is rendered “violence.” With these words in mind, is there any oppression in the world today? Was it dark at 2am last night? It is obvious that we are surrounded by oppression of various kinds. But in our confused world, oppressors are calling themselves “victims” and the oppressed are “criminals.” Oh, for the good old days when this wasn’t true.
Is a Christian baker oppressing a potential customer by refusing to bake him, or her, a wedding cake? Can’t that hungry buyer turn to a dozen other bakers in order to have a caked for his wedding? In a city of 100,000 is there only one florist who can make a wedding bouquet? The only person hurt by the refusal to bake a cake is the baker himself, losing a sale and customer. There is no oppression, wrong, or violence inflicted upon the homosexual, when he hears a respectful, “Sorry, my conscience won’t permit me to bake you a cake or to make you a wedding bouquet.”
But on the other hand, when that homosexual sues the baker for discrimination or whatever other charge he contrives…. When he attempts to extort money from that baker through lawyers and the media …. When he tries to destroy the man’s business, take from him his livelihood, or put him in jail…. When the rebuffed buyer attacks the baker or the florist, he becomes the one who commits fraud, violence and oppression. Surely, such oppression should make every wise man mad.
Is there oppression in the world today? As we listen to the unreported news from across the country and around the world, we see that oppression is rampant. The military officer is demoted and censured for having Bible quotations posted in his office or quarters. The teacher is fired because she used God’s word to substantiate a point to her class. The professor is denied tenure because he recognizes the evidence for a world-wide flood, rejecting the unsubstantiated claims of the evolutionist. The judge is suspended because he puts a copy of the Ten Commandments on the wall of his courtroom. A small town is ordered by an oppressive court to remove the 3 crosses it placed in the town square. The lawmaker is unduly influenced by promises of financial support, receiving gifts which “destroyeth the heart” – verse 7. And on the other side of the globe, societies and governments often oppress believers in Christ. They steal from them their Bibles, forbidding the sale and even the free-distribution of the truth of God. They close Christian churches and schools because Christianity is considered to be a foreign religion. Rarely does the nightly news report the slaughter of church members by government forces or demon-possessed neighbors – but it occurs regularly in third world countries. “Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad.” Oppression should not have to fall on the wise man personally – just to hear about it should be enough. And if he is not made angry, then the man in question is not really wise.
But be careful – very careful – not to be angry toward providence. It is easy for the observant person, but the one lacking proper faith, to become angry with God. Could Elohim bring the oppression of the wicked to a stop? Certainly He could. So why doesn’t He? For the same reason He didn’t a hundred years ago and a thousand years ago. Despite our unsound human logic, God can bring Himself glory out of the wickedness of the oppressor. Yes, we live in the midst of a world of oppression, and “surely oppression maketh a wise man mad.”
Now consider today to yesterday or some other day in the past.
“Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this.” Is today much worse than yesterday? Only when we ignore the majority of the facts. Generally, we are far better off today than our grandparents were. We have access to more information and knowledge than ever before. And despite GMOs and processed foods, we have access to better diets than even our parents had. And how many of our friends are alive today, because of advances in medicine and health, who wouldn’t be if they lived a century ago? These are tremendous blessings…. BUT this is not the point.
Is oppression worse today than it was in our parents day or a thousand years ago? Our near-sighted blindness might suggest so, but a study of history suggests otherwise. For example, our society’s current fear and hatred of Middle-eastern terrorists is a recent replacement for the fear and hatred of the Jews in our grandparent’s day. You might despise the taxes the government wants you to pay today, but remember that your fathers, 250 years ago, had to pay similar unfair taxes to support wicked kings and even more wicked priests. Read the histories of our Anabaptists brethren and then try to tell me you have lives harder than they did. Look at the saints being devoured by lions and gored by bulls under the Roman Emperors and tell me that you have it worse today. Our Baptist forefathers in Kentucky and Tennessee went to church with muskets and tomahawks to protect themselves against of oppressive neighbors. It may happen tomorrow, but as yet, we have not been forced to flee into the mountains to protect our Bibles and our children from Satan’s religious leaders. That is not just the history of the Waldensians, but of the Baptists in New England 250 years ago.
“Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this.” It appears that John the Apostle survived being boiled in oil, but the closest we have come to that is the spitting of the bacon we fry. Yes, a few Christian people are being beheaded today in Asian and African countries, but none of us have felt or even seen the sword. Are people being crucified in this country as the Apostle Peter was? When was the last time you were stoned for speaking of your Saviour? Who do you know who was pulled nearly limb from limb – besides the Apostle Paul.
Despite our problems today – persecutions affecting Christians both near and far from us – we are not worse off than our forefathers.
But with that we come to someday.
I won’t take you to those scriptures which speak about the upcoming seven-year Tribulation. But he books of Revelation, Isaiah, Ezekiel and others describe unspeakable hardships which will both fall from heaven and bubble up from wicked hearts still on earth. The Bible clearly declares in cryptic terms – “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” But I am firmly convinced that today’s Christian, while experiencing the wind and showers preceding the cold-front, he will be caught away before the hurricane-force winds of God’s fury fall upon the earth. So that particular “some day” doesn’t directly apply to you and me.
But there is another “some day” than the Tribulation or the Great Tribulation. “Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof.” As Paul says, “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” How can Solomon say that the end is better than the beginning, considering all the oppression there is in the world? What he says, doesn’t tell us that we are now at the end. Is this the conclusion of human history? Have the books been finally balanced?
Solomon doesn’t say so here in this scripture, but there is still a God who is sovereign over all things. There are still hundreds of divine promises which speak of a myriad of good things to come. The last book in the Bible still ends on a bright and positive note.
What should be our attitude and outlook in the light of current conditions and future fulfilment? First, “Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools.” We are limited in what we can do amidst the persecution and oppression of our day. Yes, you have divine permission to “be angry, (but) sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”
Every day should end with acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty and a recommitted resignation to His will. Let the Lord deal with that wicked government on the other side of the world, because there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Furthermore, there is little you can do about the painful oppression which is in your own backyard. So take your anger, your depression and your broken heart and give them to that same Sovereign God. Yes, do what you can to protect yourself and call for the help of others; enlist the prayers of the saints. But ultimately, the matter lays in the hands of the Lord who has blessed and protected our Christian forefathers for centuries. While being “sober (and) vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour…” While “resisting Satan stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. Cast all your care upon (Jehovah,) for he careth for you.”
And while casting upon God all our cares and concerns, we must ask for His gift of patience. “Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.” “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” As Moses said to Israel, one day “thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no. And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.” And He “fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee, and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end; And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth.”
II Corinthians 4 – “All things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”