Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Poor Wise Man

"There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siegeworks against it. Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man" (Eccl. 9:14-15).

In this passage Solomon gives an instance, which probably was a case in fact, in some neighbouring country, of a poor man who with his wisdom did great service in a time of public distress and danger (v. 14).

There was a little city (no great prize, whoever was master of it); with few men living within it, to defend it, and men, if men of fortitude, are the best fortifications of a city. These few men were feeble, fearful, and ready to give up their city as not tenable.

Against this little city a great king came with a large army, and besieged it, either in pride, or covetousness to possess it, or in revenge for some affront given him, to chastise and destroy it. Thinking it stronger than it was, he built great bulwarks against it, from which to batter it, and doubted not but in a little time to make himself master of it.

This great king needed not fear this little city; why then should he frighten it? It would be little profit to him; why then should he put himself to such a great expense to gain it?

Did victory and success attend the strong? No; there was found in this little city, among the few men that were in it, one poor wise man-a wise man, and yet poor, and not preferred to any place of profit or power in the city.

Places of trust were not given to men according to their merit, else such a wise man as this would not have been a poor man. Now,

1. Being wise, he served the city, though he was poor. In their distress they sought him (Jud. 11:7) and begged his advice and assistance. By his wisdom he delivered the city, either by prudent instructions given to the besieged, directing them to some unthought-of strategy for their own security, or by a prudent treaty with the besiegers, we are not told. However, he did not upbraid them with the contempt they had put upon him, in leaving him out of their council, nor tell them he was poor and had nothing to lose, and therefore cared not what became of the city; but he did his best for it, and was blessed with success.

2. Being poor, he was slighted by the city, though he was wise and had been an instrument to save them all from ruin: No man remembered that same poor man; his good services were not taken notice of, no recompence was made him, no marks of honour were put upon him, but he lived in as much poverty and obscurity as he had done before. Riches were not showered on this man of understanding, nor favour to this man of skill. Many who have well-merited of their prince and country have been ill-paid; such an ungrateful world we live in. It is well that useful men have a God to trust, who will be their bountiful rewarder; for, among men, great services are often envied and rewarded with evil for good.

Great usefulness and excellency of wisdom is a blessing, it makes men acknowledge that Wisdom is better than strength, (v. 16) and prudent mind, which is the honour of a man, is to be preferred. A man may by his wisdom effect that which he could never compass by his strength, and may overcome those by out-witting them who are able to overpower him.

Therefore, wisdom is better than weapons of war, offensive or defensive,( v. 18). Wisdom is better than all military endowments or accoutrement, for it will engage God for us, and then we are safe in the greatest perils and successful in the greatest enterprises.

If God be for us, who can be against us or stand before us?

In our modern world where the poor is being despised, Solomon recommends wisdom to us as necessary to the preserving of our peace and the perfecting of our business, notwithstanding the vanities and crosses which human affairs are subject to.

He advocates this principle, that wisdom excels folly as much as light excels darkness (ch. 2:13), and we ought to love and embrace it, and be governed by it, for the sake of its own intrinsic worth, and the capacity it gives us of being serviceable to others.

This wisdom that Solomon describes, enables us to serve our country out of pure affection to its interests, while we gain no advantage by it, no, not so much as thanks for our pains, or the reputation of it." This is the wisdom which, Solomon says, "seemed great unto him," (v. 13).

Wise and good men must often be contented with the satisfaction of having done good, or at least attempted it, and offered it, when they cannot do the good they would do nor have the praise they should have. Wisdom capacitates a man to serve his neighbours, and he offers his service; but, it is observed that often, if he is poor, his wisdom is despised and his words are not heard, (v. 16).

Therefore, we conclude that private interests and personal resentments must always be sacrificed for the public good and forgotten when the common welfare is served.

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