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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Nebuchadnezzar's Insanity

Nebuchadnezzar, William Blake (1795)

Hey, readers—I'm on vacation so I haven't blogged for a while.  God willing, the frequency will increase again in September.

I read Daniel 4 today, in which Nebuchadnezzar is driven insane by God because he was so proud of his glory and because he failed to acknowledge God.  God did this so that Nebuchadnezzar would learn that only God's dominion is eternal and that he sets whomever he wants over the kingdoms of the earth by his own whim and not due to the merit of the kings themselves.

Sadly, as I look at much of the United States today, I wonder if we are under God's curse on Nebuchadnezzar, because much of what I see in our self-governance can be so well defined as insanity.

Yesterday my high school political science teacher told me two stories.  First, he said he was watching CNN and saw someone who confidently asserted that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is unconstitutional (which happens to be, as I vaguely understand it, the same sort of argument used by the judge that struck down Proposition 8, an amendment to the California Constitution).  How a law can be called unconstitutional that by definition alters a constitution is very puzzling to me.  (Lawyers who can instruct me on this, please leave a comment.)  Second, my teacher said that he was recently approached by a woman with a petition to put someone's name on the ballot for governor in order to oust the incumbent—except that the incumbent isn't even running for reelection.

I could go on and on about the gaffes of ordinary citizens or our public servants.  But the worst and most prominent part of our insanity is the overall level of anxiety in this country.  People are just plain freaked out, and it takes almost nothing to send people into hysterics.  If you think about it, when you're highly anxious, it becomes really hard to think, right?  That's why people who are panicking either freeze up or do something entirely irrational.  There's nothing inherently immoral about that; it's just what happens.  But what is the result if an entire society does that at once?  Mass insanity.

I wouldn't mention this here except that my own personal anxiety is how Christians so often participate in the mass insanity.  In everything from offhand comments to Facebook posts to statements from Christian celebrities I see a mass of freaked out believers.  In terms of policy substance, I largely agree with them.  I believe that a number of policies either recently enacted, potentially enacted, or established by judicial fiat will be disastrous for our country long-term.  But here's the thing, beloved: Even if everything the United States did was perfectly God-honoring (which because of human depravity has never and will never occur), our nation and government are still going to be burnt to a crisp when Jesus comes back.  Remember Nebuchadnezzar's earlier vision in Daniel 2 in which he saw a "stone cut out without hands" that represents an eternal kingdom that crushes all (that is, all) others.

Should we care about the health of our nation?  Of course!  God tells us to seek the peace of the city in which we are in exile.  That's loving our neighbor as ourselves.  But if any of us believers have more gut-level passion for this country than for our heavenly one then we are way off-base.  I would like to see believers in this country exhibit more holy zeal for evangelizing Muslims than for determining the location of a mosque in Manhattan, a church that has more passion for whether we are giving to God what is God's than for how much Caesar demands of us.  And though I believe that the consequences of the state indulging the fiction of same-sex marriage will begin devastating our society after many of us are dead and it's too late to do anything about it, I still wish that Christians were even more intolerant of our own stubbornness toward our own spouses that feeds our outrageous divorce rate sanctified by easy remarriage.

Even if our policies were perfect, a failure to put our passion in the right place prioritizes the wrong kingdom, which is a subtle version of the pride in his kingdom that Nebuchadnezzar exhibited.  God's response is to strike us with insanity, an obsessive freaking-out that cements our missing the point.  If that really is what is happening now, I pray that God is merciful and only allows it to last for seven years and then restores us, as he did to Nebuchadnezzar.  If we are now only seeing the warning signs, we would be wise to "break away from [our] sins by doing right, and from [our] iniquities by showing mercy to the poor.  Perhaps [our] prosperity will be prolonged" (Dan. 4:27).

(For more on being a citizen of our heavenly kingdom and our earthly kingdom, watch here.)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Do you find that when you try to pray or concentrate on Scripture that your mind goes every which way?  Have you noticed in yourself difficulty doing one thing for an extended period of time?  Do you have this feeling of constant noise within the walls of your mind even if you are completely alone in physical silence?  For that matter, are you ever alone in silence?

If at one moment you lost all your electronic communication devices, would you still exist?  Who would you be?

Bill Powers has written a book about living in a ceaselessly connected world based on the examples of people in the past who grappled with the same psychological disarray as a result of the new communications technologies of their eras.  (Apparently this is not a new problem.)  His insights may be very useful to today's Christians as we try to cultivate our relationship with God in the word and prayer.  Here's an overview:

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

How Hard Should We Work to Avoid Conformity? (with an Example from Youth Sports)

Let me summarize Daniel 1 for you.  Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Chaldeans of Babylon, has punished his rebellious client-state Judah by successfully besieging it for the first of what will become three times.  He takes some of the precious implements in the temple and a small group of highborn youths to hold as hostages against Judah's political elite (probably) and to work on assimilating Judah into his empire by Chaldeanizing the Jewish youths and employing them in his civil service.  Four of these youths are Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.  These four are under great pressure to assimilate to Babylonian culture in language, learning, and worship.  They are even renamed after Babylonian gods.  Even their diet consists of the same stuff that the king himself eats.

These four youths are willing to put up with most of this and excel at becoming thoroughly Chaldean.  But they remember that underneath at all they are still Israelis and worshipers of Yahweh.  The sticking point for them is the food, which was certainly not kosher and was probably (with the wine) offered to a false god before they were given their share.  For them to eat that food was to leave their fidelity to the only God and his commands and participate in the worship of false gods.  So Daniel has a plan.
[Daniel] asked the overseer of the court officials for permission not to defile himself.  Then God made the overseer of the court officials sympathetic to Daniel.  But he said to Daniel, "I fear my master the king.  He is the one who has decided your food and drink.  What would happen if he saw that you looked malnourished in comparison to the other young men your age?  If that happened, you would endanger my life with the king!" (vv. 8-10).
Well, so much for that, right?  Daniel tried his best, but no cigar; pass the bacon.  But wait, there's more!
Daniel then spoke to the warden whom the overseer of the court officials had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: "Please test your servants for ten days by providing us with some vegetables to eat and water to drink.  Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who are eating the royal delicacies; deal with us in light of what you see."  So the warden agreed to their proposal and tested them for ten days (vv. 11-14).
Well, as it turns out, God performs a miracle and the four Jewish youths actually look fatter and better fed and healthier than their counterparts.  And not only that, but when their education is completed, Nebuchadnezzar quizzes them and finds that they are not only at the top of their class but far more learned and insightful than all of his advisors who have already been in his service for some time.

There are a number of lessons from this passage, but what struck me today were the lengths that Daniel was willing to go to stay pure and honor God.  The overseer won't help?  Let's go to the warden.  Don't want to go to the trouble or risk being caught slaughtering animals for kosher meat for us or sneaking wine that hasn't been poured out as a libation?  No problem; just give us the veggies and water you would give us anyway and withhold the rest.  Concerned about our physical appearance?  That's all right; we'll just do this on a trial basis.  In addition to showing what a quick study he is in politics, the "art of the possible," Daniel shows that he and his buddies will work hard, explore every option, and inconvenience themselves considerably (for example, they ate this diet for three years) to resist conforming to their world if that would make them unfaithful to their God.

I wonder if I've ever gone to lengths that great to avoid conforming to worldly patterns that would result in my sin or unfaithfulness.  There have probably been lots of times that I've just conformed automatically, maybe other times that I've resisted conformity if it was convenient.  But how much have I really put out to remain faithful when the current is toward faithlessness?  I know for sure that like the recipients of the Epistle to the Hebrews I haven't resisted sin to the point of my blood being shed, but I also haven't resisted sin as much as they did when it resulted in their abuse, imprisonment, and the confiscation of their homes and property.

Here's a real-life situation the saints in my church are grappling with now.  I live in a sports-obsessed town in a sports-obsessed area.  I enjoy this because I really like sports, and I love that my kids get all kinds of opportunities to play in well-run leagues on nice fields with (for the most part) great, loving coaches.  But the youth sports programs are becoming more demanding all the time.  I discovered this when I found that a wrestling program for 1st- and 2nd-graders involved practice five nights a week plus a meet on Saturday for several months.  This year my 3rd-grade son's coach-pitch baseball league unexpectedly expanded its season by a month and slightly intensified its demands each week, and so many kids had signed up requiring so many teams to be formed that the league's games were scheduled seven days a week because of a shortage of field space.  I can't count the number of times that a kid of any age did not attend a church event and whole families were absent from Sunday worship even for weeks at a time not out of lack of interest but because of the demands of whatever team they happen to be on at the moment.

I've talked about this with fellow clergy, with parents in my church, and with unchurched parents of my son's teammates.  A lot of people believe that this is way too much.  Even a number of the coaches, including members of my church, believe that it's gone over the top.  But parents believe that they are powerless to stop it.  They believe that especially as their children get older, if they pull them out of a practice or a game to prevent their overprogramming and/or to prioritize church, then their children will get benched or kicked off the team and/or won't fulfill their potential and/or won't get a scholarship and/or won't be happy.  The coaches believe that if they don't coach then someone else who won't care as much for the development and welfare of the kids will (and they're probably right).  So they keep going with the flow.

What would Daniel do if his son or daughter played a sport in my town that would take him and his child away from opportunities to worship the Lord and grow in their faith with other believers?  How might he tactfully identify and tilt levers of influence and broker compromises with people in charge that allow him to make no compromise for his convicted obedience to God?  How hard would he be willing to work at it, and how many options would he explore to make it happen?  Are we willing to do those things?  Are you willing in your town, school, or company?  And if we've exhausted all avenues to make it work and we are forced either to conform or to suffer (as Daniel and his three friends each had to do at one point), which would we choose?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Worship Music Trivia

Our church picnic was yesterday, and we always worship and hear the word beforehand.  We tend to do more singing and be more informal than usual.  Here are the songs that we sang to God and each other:
  • "Everlasting God"
  • "Wonderful Grace of Jesus"
  • "We Fall Down"
  • "I Will Serve Thee"
  • "Heaven Came Down and Glory Filled My Soul"
  • "I'd Rather Have Jesus"
So here's the quiz: arrange these songs in chronological order by original copyright date.  You might not know all of these songs, but do your best with the ones you know.  (Answer below.)

(He'd get it.)

And the answer is . . .
  • "Wonderful Grace of Jesus" (1918, words and music by Haldor Lillenas)
  • "I'd Rather Have Jesus" (1922, words by Rhea F. Miller, music by George Beverly Shea)
  • "Heaven Came Down and Glory Filled My Soul" (1961, words and music by John W. Peterson)
  • "I Will Serve Thee" (1969, words and music by Gloria and William J. Gaither)
  • "We Fall Down" (1998, words and music by Chris Tomlin)
  • "Everlasting God" (2005, words and music by Benton Brown and Ken Riley)
What is less trivial about this trivia is this observation: all of these songs are less than 100 years old.  With our extremely short memories and rapidly fleeting tastes, it is easy to get worked up about our preferences for "new" music or "old" music.  But in the grand scheme of things (almost two millennia of Christian music, not counting the [lost?] Psalm settings that the apostles used that go back even further), this is all new music.

Make you think?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Esther and Mordecai and Survival in Exile

The Book of Esther is a curious book.  For one thing, it is the only book in the Bible that never mentions God.  For another, it is high up in the running for the most artfully constructed book of the Bible.  The author's handling of plot is absolutely brilliant, and with my extremely limited knowledge of ancient literature I wonder if there is anything older that does the short story genre so exquisitely.  (If you happen to know an example please enlighten me in the comments.  And for clarification I don't believe that the story of Esther is fictional, but it is composed in a beautifully stylized fashion that resembles a fictional short story.)

One of the most important questions you can ask when studying the Bible, whether looking at a single word or an entire book, is, "What is it doing here?"  In other words, the author could have written anything or even nothing, but he chose to write this particular thing, so why did he do it?  The answer to that question often goes a very long way to understanding what is written.

There are probably a few reasons that Esther was written and then included in the biblical canon.  One is to explain and/or commemorate where the Jewish holiday of Purim came from, especially since it was not one of the original national holidays that God ordained through Moses.  Another reason is to give glory to the silent but ceaselessly working God who so orchestrated the entire series of events not only to save his people but also to elevate them in the eyes of the king of a vast empire.

But the reason for Esther that I want to explore a bit, which I happen to think is the principal reason that the book was written and preserved, is that Esther and Mordecai serve as a model for how the Jews are to survive the exile in which most of them have lived for lo, these many years.

Esther and Mordecai did three things that ensured their survival and the survival of their people in extreme circumstances.

1. They were careful about their identity but refused to compromise it.  There is an interesting contrast early in the book when Mordecai warns Esther not to let anyone know that she is a Jew, but he himself defiantly disobeys the king's command to pay homage to Haman because Haman is descended from the Amaleki King Agag, whom the Israeli King Saul was supposed to destroy.  Surprisingly, for Mordecai showing respect for Haman was a deal-breaker, a fundamental compromise of his Jewishness.  (Incidentally, this reveals the regal character of Mordecai the Jew—that is, a man of the tribe of Judah—because he resembles David of the tribe of Judah in his faithfulness instead of Saul.  It is no accident that the very last chapter of Esther sounds a lot like the summaries of reigns of kings of Israel and Judah in Kings and Chronicles [like this one].)

2. They loyally served the government where they found themselves.  So what that the Medes and Persians were (for the time being) continuing the Babylonian policy of keeping the Jews out of their homeland.  Esther not only showed the utmost submission to the king—think very seriously about what I'm talking about and read ch. 2 if you're not sure—but Mordecai saved his life.

3. They used their influence to benefit their people even at risk to their own lives.  This is probably the motive that underlay Mordecai's refusal to bow down to the descendant of the enemy of his people despite the retribution that he knew he would get for it (but apparently didn't know that all the Jews would get).  But of course, this behavior is what the entire book is about, encapsulated most dramatically in the conversation between Mordecai and Esther after Haman's decree culminating in Esther's resolve.  Mordecai is praised for taking the same approach in his governmental service in ch. 10.

I've written (and more importantly, the Bible has written) about how we Christians are living in exile and therefore have much to learn from the Jews of the Diaspora.  I admit, though, that this is complicated in the United States because it's hard to know whether we are exactly a minority as the Jews in the Persian Empire (and others) were.  Is the number of Holy Spirit-regenerated believers less than half the total American population?  Probably.  Is the number of self-identified Christians in America a minority?  No.  Likewise, is Christianity the state religion in the U.S.?  I would say no.  Do concepts that stem from Christian-influenced philosophy form much of the basis of our system of government?  I think they do.  So it might not be appropriate us to parrot the example of Esther and Mordecai unthinkingly.

But I still think that there is much to learn from the three behaviors that they exhibited.  As exiles, it is not okay for us to compromise our identity as servants of Christ, but it is okay for us to be judicious and careful about how widely to disclose that fact.  For example, there could be workplaces where openly proclaiming your relationship to Christ is the best thing for the spread of the gospel there but others where doing so is likely to wall you off from any opportunities to share your faith and be taken seriously at all.

Also, I think it is important that we give Christians who serve the government loyally their due, especially in this anti-institutional age.  Mordecai was a civil servant, which is why he was always hanging out at the gate of the palace (2:19; 3:2; 4:2).  If you happen to be a conservative whose blood pressure rises at the thought of government bureaucracy, guess what: Mordecai was a bureaucrat.  (Incidentally, so were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, and Nehemiah.)  Christians can serve the state and honor Christ in the bureaucracy (tough though it may be).  And if you happen to be a liberal, have you prayed and thanked God for Christians in our armed forces today?

It's the last principle that I'm not sure what to do with.  If Christians are continually in a precarious position where a momentary shift of hostility to us in the powers that be will result in our annihilation, then believers in positions of influence should look out for the rest of us.  But if we compose a very large portion (even if not outright majority) of the population, then mightn't that agenda be unjust favoritism that does not honor God and actually hurts our witness to Christ?  That's a tricky one in our situation I think.

But bottom line, we can learn a good deal from Esther and Mordecai and the other biblical Jews of the exile about how to live as aliens and strangers in this world that is not our home.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Telling the Truth

This is a new painting by my cousin, Alison Stephen.  It illustrates a quote from George Orwell: "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act."  I hope the picture edifies you as it did me.

If you're interested in purchasing or to see Alison's other work click here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Evangelical Ecumenism: Fantastic Posts by Zach Bartels

Let me throw some props to my buddy Zach Bartels.

You may have read my post back in December about the tricky, uncomfortable dance I try to do as a committed Evangelical Protestant who feels constrained by the Bible both to (a) reject Catholicism and its adherents because of its doctrine of salvation (among other teachings) and (b) embrace Catholics who show the marks of being born again.

I've known Zach for a little while now, but it's only been more recently that I've discovered that he is basically the only person I know besides myself who possesses a weird combination of traits: (1) Evangelical Calvinist, (2) American Baptist pastor, (3) passionate about ecumenism.

Anyway, Zach wrote a couple of blog posts on being committed to the doctrine of the Reformation and committed to the breadth of Christ's Church that I thought hit it out of the park.  These are posts that I wish I had written.  So please read "This Is Me Painting a Bullseye on My Head . . . " (with illustration) and its second part and pretend that I had written them, especially if you like them.

And also, please listen to Pastor Zach's song on this subject that brought tears to my eyes.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Dual Nature of Christ, the Wisdom of God

When I started talking about Ecclesiastes a few posts ago, I described ancient Hebrew wisdom as being very much focused on this life.  It is very practical and not very speculative.  To risk a gross overgeneralization here, ancient Hebrew wisdom sharply contrasts with ancient Greek philosophy (which comes from a Greek word meaning "love of wisdom").  Greek wisdom was (or at least became) highly speculative about abstract concepts in the world of pure thought.  In Plato's view, these concepts/ideals become more or less debased when they show up concretely in this tangible world that we live in.  For example, on some weekday afternoon in 4th-century B.C. Athens, you might run into some men earnestly debating what is essential to the concept of "chair."  What makes a chair a chair?  What is the universal form of The Chair from which all earthly, imperfect, not-entirely-representative-of-the-whole chairs derive their chairness?  And after you ran into these guys, if I were you, I'd say, "Sorry, I didn't see you there," then go get a kebab and find some philosophers talking about something much more interesting.

Now to nuance this a little bit, I should admit that ancient Greek wisdom did explore ethics, which is practical.  I should also admit that ancient Hebrew wisdom did incorporate the view that the world in which we live came into being from a higher, spiritual source.  A particularly prominent example of this is Proverbs 8.  In this passage, wisdom is personified as a woman who calls out in the marketplace about how important she is and encouraging the passers-by to acquire her.  In vv. 22-31 she describes herself as "the beginning of [God's] works" and asserts that God used her to make everything else.  Makes sense, right?  God employed his wisdom to make the universe that he made wisely; therefore he created it "through" wisdom.

Now it just so happens that the Stoic philosophers of the 3rd century B.C. had a similar concept that they called the Logos, from the Greek word meaning "word," "saying," "argument," "reason," etc.  The Stoics believed that the universe itself is God.  The Logos is the active part of it, which we might think of as reason and energy combined.  Brute matter (the passive part of the universe) is what it is because the Logos made it that way.  What distinguishes humans from animals is that humans have a little spark of the Logos, which is exhibited in our ability to reason.  Even though the Stoics didn't believe in a transcendent Creator like Israel did, we still see the same general idea as Proverbs 8 that reason/wisdom itself is a sort of living blueprint for everything else that exists.

So if you're like me, maybe it excites you at least a little bit that the New Testament calls Christ both the wisdom of God and the Logos (Word) of God.  Let's review.

As the Father's wisdom personified, Christ is the one through whom God created everything else, just like wisdom in Proverbs 8.  And Christ's life is the very depiction of wisdom, so much so that he defines living wisely as both hearing his words (which are perfectly coordinated with his actions) and doing them.

As the divine Logos, Christ is the living pattern for the created universe as well as its spark of energy.  He is the only Light and Life for people dying in this otherwise dark material world.  As the Word of God, he is the one that God spoke to make all things come into being (remember "Let there be light"?).  He is also the living communication of God to the human race to turn and be saved.

(I know this is some crazy, mind-bending stuff, but I'm just trying to tell you what the Bible says.)

But what might tickle me the most is that in his living dual nature Christ reconciles ancient Hebrew wisdom and ancient Greek wisdom.  As Hebrew wisdom has mainly to do with the stuff of earth, so Christ carries in himself everything that it means to be human, body and all.  And as Greek wisdom has mainly to do with the stuff of the spiritual heavenlies, so Christ carries in himself everything that it means to be God.

James says that "the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, accomodating, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and not hypocritical" (3:17)  This wisdom comes down from heaven, but its characteristics are all features of good behavior among other humans on earth.  Here we see in the wisdom of God the heavenly and the earthly combined.  Isn't this statement about wisdom also a beautiful characterization of Christ?

I think it is gloriously fitting that the one who perfectly personifies both Hebrew and Greek wisdom and reconciles them in himself is the same one who reconciles Jew and Gentile in his body, slain on the cross, risen in glory, constituted again in the Church, reflected in the bread of his Supper.  It makes me giddy just thinking about it.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Ecclesiastes' Postscript

I promise that I'm almost done talking about Ecclesiastes.  Really.

By Ecclesiastes' "postscript" I'm referring to these last words of the book (12:9-14):
Not only was the Teacher wise,
but he also taught knowledge to the people;
he carefully evaluated and arranged many proverbs.
The Teacher sought to find delightful words,
and to write accurately truthful sayings.

The words of sages are like prods,
and the collected sayings are like firmly fixed nails;
they are given by one shepherd.
Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them.
There is no end to the making of many books,
and much study is exhausting to the body.

Having heard everything, I have reached this conclusion:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
because this is the whole duty of man.
For God will evaluate every deed,
including every secret thing, whether good or evil.
Most scholars, whatever their commitment to orthodoxy, regard this section as written by someone other than the person who wrote the bulk of the book—an editor, if you will.  Unfortunately, as scholars so often overconfidently do, they argue that it is written by a later editor because it cannot have been otherwise.  And that's stupid.  A former professor of mine, Duane Garrett (who happens to be the most reliable biblical interpreter I know), concisely describes in his commentary on Ecclesiastes how it is very possible for Solomon himself to have written the introductory and concluding material in a different voice (262-264).  On the other hand, just because Solomon could have written this section doesn't mean he did.

There are two reasons why I think that 12:9-14 were written by a later hand.  The first is that 12:8 ("Absolutely futile! . . . all these things are futile!")—which is an echo of 1:2 immediately after a final word of advice and a relentless, poetic depiction of death—is a more fitting ending to this book as a literary work than anything I can imagine.  The second is that the substance of the summary advice in the postscript (i.e., the last paragraph quoted above) seems to be careful to highlight part of the Preacher's message and neglect the rest.  In other words, it's the summary that someone else wants us to see in the book, not a summary of what all is there.

However, even if the postscript is written by someone other than Solomon, the book as we have it is the only version we know, and this is the version that was considered to be the inspired word of God by the rabbis whose tradition the early Christians followed.  That means that even if the last two verses of Ecclesiastes are a skewed summary, they are a divinely inspired skewed summary, which means we had better pay close attention to why God skewed it.

In several places in the book the Preacher urges his listeners to fear God (3:14; 5:7; 7:18; 8:12).  I think the most illustrative is in 7:15-18.  There the Preacher gives the surprising instruction not to be too wicked but also not to be too righteous, to hold on to both extremes and stay in a murky moral middle, neither too bad nor too good.  And this is what he says the person who fears God will do.  It's hard to think of any parallel for this definition of fearing God anywhere else in the Bible.

However, it might make more sense if we think of why the Preacher thinks God is worth fearing.  God is the one who has ordained both a time to kill and a time to heal (3:3, 11).  That means that it is God who chooses when people return to the dust from which they were created (3:17-20).  So if death is something to fear and avoid for as long as possible to try desperately to enjoy life under the sun, then God must be feared as the one who chooses the day of one's death that he might prolong it as long as possible.  To be excessively wicked is to risk his wrath (8:13).  But to stand out in society as more righteous than everybody else is a death wish too—enough prophets have been killed to prove that.  So "fearing God" for the Preacher means keeping your head down, humbly trying to avoid conspicuous and dangerous behaviors on all sides that could bring about an untimely death.

But you don't get this sense in the postscript.  That author urges us to fear God by keeping his commandments—the latter a pervasive biblical concept that appears nowhere else in Ecclesiastes—because it is incumbent on everybody.  This is foundational wisdom teaching (see two posts ago).  The postscript's author also warns us that God brings every act to judgment.  This is an idea that Solomon stresses in this book as well (3:17; 11:9).  But Solomon defines God's judgment as death that comes upon every person; no one can avoid it, at least in part because there is no one who hasn't sinned (7:20).  The implication in the postscript, however, is that the reason we are to keep God's commandments is to avoid his condemnation and live, which is also a concept shot through Hebrew wisdom literature (see e.g. Ps. 1).

In Ecclesiastes Solomon pushes Hebrew wisdom to its fullest extent and exposes its limitations.  The author of the postscript, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, brings the discussion back to the core of wisdom by identifying the elements of the Preacher's teaching that connect to traditional wisdom and interpreting those elements in traditional ways.  As I argued in my last post, Solomon's exploration in Ecclesiastes helps us to see more clearly the need for the New Covenant and point out the fatal flaws in any philosophy without meaningful eternal life.  But the postscript reminds us of the value of Hebrew wisdom itself—if we humbly trust God and obey him, we will live, though it took the work of Christ to show us how that could be and what it would mean.