The Difficult Thing about Wisdom

September 24, 2021

The book of Proverbs was written to make us wise. Yet Proverbs itself indicates that more information is insufficient to produce wisdom. For example, wise words, a rebuke, and even a proverb on the lips of a fool may be to no avail.

Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words. Proverbs 23:9, ESV

A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool. Proverbs 17:10, ESV

Like a lame man’s legs, which hang useless, is a proverb in the mouth of fools. Proverbs 26:7, ESV

So what is so difficult about wisdom?

Proverbs lays the foundation for wisdom and identifies the difficult thing for us. We must trust God more than ourself. We must fear/respect/reverence God, so that we go His way rather than our way.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. Proverbs 3:5-8, ESV

More information won’t help if the attitude is wrong. It’s like the Tree of Life in the center of the garden all over again for each of us (see Genesis 3). Will we listen to God, or will we listen to our own lusts and the Serpent’s call?

Someone has noted the different approaches people take to the Bible, God’s word.

Some people accept none of it.
Many people accept part of it.
A few people accept all of it.

Some people live none of it.
Many people live part of it.
A few people live most of it.

Which approach describes you? It’s precisely at this point that Proverbs and the rest of the Bible challenges us. The difficult thing about wisdom is that it requires us to trust the Lord with all of our heart. The prerequisite for wisdom is faith.

The Bruise

September 16, 2021

I bruised myself. It was a deep purple bruise, the size of a half dollar on the inside of my right wrist. I wasn’t aware at the time, but I think I know what I was doing when I got it. Three days later I broke the fifth metatarsal bone in my left foot.

It took a week before I saw the orthopedic doctor for my foot. Although my foot hurt some, it was my right knee that was the most painful from walking as to protect my foot. I saw the orthopedic doctor in about a week and viewed the damage in an X-ray. He even took an X-ray of my old arthritic knee. An injection in my right knee helped that pain to go away in a few days. I was put in a boot for the duration. The bruise didn’t seem to get better for about two weeks. During that time I was pretty laid up with my foot and knee. The pain lessened at the end of my second week.

Then the bruise began to heal. It was slow at first, and then the evidence of the bruise began to disappear. And then the bruise was gone. I took comfort in the bruise. It was evidence of the God-given, healing properties of my body. The healing I could see on my wrist, I could trust was also going on in my foot.

Five weeks after the break, I am out of the boot with pain as my guide to activities. I saw the second X-ray, and it was much different than the first one. It reminded me of the body’s marvelous ability to heal. I had a retired dentist friend who I used to visit. He would always greet me with Psalm 139:14 “… for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” And the psalm is true.

The broken foot gave me a couple of difficult weeks with the pain. I’ve faced difficulties before. But I’m also aware of the many blessings even in those difficult weeks. You can take comfort even in a bruise.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6–7, NIV)

— Russ Holden


September 10, 2021

What was wrong with Cain’s sacrifice in Genesis 4? The honest answer is that we don’t know for sure. We are told what Cain and Abel sacrificed, and we are told that God accepted Abel’s and rejected Cain’s. What we don’t know is whether God had given any commands about sacrifice, and if so, what they were. Later reflection in the Bible provides few clues.

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. Hebrews 11:4, ESV

We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. 1 John 3:12, ESV

Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. Jude 11, ESV

Some have speculated that the problem was that Cain didn’t offer an animal sacrifice, but even under the law there were grain offerings, and we aren’t given enough information to know if this is the problem. Josephus speculated:

They had resolved to sacrifice to God. Now Cain brought the fruits of the earth, and of his husbandry; but Abel brought milk, and the firstfruits of his flocks; but God was more delighted with the latter oblation, when he was honored with what grew naturally of its own accord, than he was with what was the invention of a covetous man, and gotten by forcing the ground… Josephus, Antiquities 1.54.

Somehow, I don’t buy his explanation, but it illustrates that speculation could be endless. Maybe it was a matter of his heart. Maybe it was in the kind or quality of his sacrifice. Maybe it was both. What is important for us to know is that Cain could have pleased God but didn’t.

What was the mark of Cain? The honest answer is we don’t know. The mark served its purpose in sparing Cain from vengeance, but there is no reason for us to assume that a mark on Cain would have been passed on to his descendants. In fact, that would seem to counter its purpose. I’m old enough to have even heard some racist interpretations of the mark of Cain. Such speculation really comes to a dead end when we realize that after the flood, humanity traced its genealogy through Noah back to Seth not to Cain. Racism is evil, for we are all one in Adam, and we can all be one in the Second Adam – Jesus Christ.

–Russ Holden


Archaeology’s Fraction

September 3, 2021

Archaeology provides significant insights to our understanding of the Bible. Insights into culture can help bring a passage to life. Yet, archaeology has limits. Many people, places, and events of the Bible will be unnoticed by archaeology. That should not be surprising, because our knowledge of the ancient world is very limited. Archaeologist Edwin Yamauchi explains that fragmentary nature of the evidence with a number of facts.

  • Archaeology deals with material remains, which include writings, daily items, buildings, utensils, etc. Only a small fraction of these materials remains exist due to erosion and the destructive nature of human beings. Further, theft has stripped many archaeological sites.
  • Palestine had 300 known archaeological sites in 1944. That number grew to 7000 by 1970. Yet archeologists have surveyed only a fraction of the sites available.
  • Of the sites that have been surveyed only a fraction have been excavated. Palestine had 5000 sites in 1963. Of those, 150 had been excavated in part and 26 had become major sites.
  • Of the sites that become archaeological digs, only a fraction of the site is actually excavated. This is due to the enormous costs, the amount of time, and also to preserve the possibility of future archaeological research. Hazor is a site of 175 acres. Yigael Yadin estimated that it would have taken 800 years to clear the site.
  • Only a fraction of the discovered material has been published. For example, 25,000 cuneiform texts were discovered at Mari, but only 3,500 to 4000 have been published.

Grant Osborne summarizes the above survey, “Yamauchi estimates that being supremely optimistic we could have one-tenth of the material in existence, six-tenths of that surveyed, one-fiftieth of that excavated, one-tenth of that examined, and one-half of that published. This means that we have only .006 percent of the evidence.”* The above exercise is not to minimize archaeology, but to interject some humility into discussions about what moderns know.

The Bible itself is a major source of information about the ancient world. We can appreciate the insights that archaeology provides, but we can’t expect it to confirm all the details of the Bible. The absence of archaeological information about a particular person, place or event doesn’t mean that the person or place did not exist or the event did not happen. Our knowledge of the ancient world is valuable but partial and but a fraction of the past.

–Russ Holden