Short-Term Setbacks, Long-Term Gain

The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.”

- Ecclesiastes 9:17–18

Wisdom, in the long term, cannot fail. This is the sure promise of God’s Word, grounded in the fact that Christ, who is Himself “wisdom from God” (1 Cor. 1:30), is King of kings and Lord of lords, and He will have the final victory (Rev. 19:11–21). Insofar as our plans and actions reflect this wisdom from above, they will be finally beneficial and bring us great reward and success.

In the short term, however, we must realize that divine wisdom is not always heard and that it does not always seem to win out. God’s enemies have been defeated at Calvary and are living on borrowed time, as it were, but until His plan is consummated in the new heaven and earth, they remain mighty and able to deceive many people. Satan continues to prowl like a lion (1 Peter 5:8), and sometimes he captures his prey. Divine wisdom cries aloud in the streets, both through what is clearly revealed in nature and by the proclamation of the gospel (Prov. 8; see Rom. 1:18–32; 10:14–17), but sometimes the fools in this world scream so loudly that few seem to hear it.

Ecclesiastes 9:17–18 describes this reality, considering those times when the shoutings of a ruler among the fools who walk this earth seem to drown out the quiet wisdom that God speaks to His people and to the rest of creation. At such times, the rantings of ungodly leaders might seem to win out; nevertheless, the truth of the Lord spoken in quiet is still better (v. 17). God never promises His people that others will hear and obey this wisdom in the short run. In fact, as history tells us, the cacophony of foolishness and evil might gain the upper hand for a season. However, because this dissonance is opposed to all that is good and holy, it is sure to be finally silenced. We need to be reminded of this precious truth as God’s ways are shouted down and people love the darkness rather than the light. When the darkness appears to be ascendant, it remains true that the light is shining in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it (John 1:5). Standing for the truth might bring suffering in the near term, but in light of eternity, receiving and believing the wisdom of God in Christ Jesus will lead to eternal blessing (3:16).

Divine wisdom is stronger than the mightiest weapons of war, but sinners may inflict much harm on God’s people with these weapons (Eccl. 9:18). Yet any “victory” they achieve is short-lived, for all who are in Christ will one day judge even the angels (1 Cor. 6:3).

Coram Deo

Scripture repeatedly encourages us to take a long-term perspective. Divine wisdom will on many occasions bring success in this world; however, there is no guarantee that following the Lord will make life easy on this side of glory. Sometimes we will suffer greatly for doing what God says. When this happens, we are to remember what the Lord actually promises, namely, that serving Him brings eternal blessing (Matt. 19:29).

Passages for Further Study

Proverbs 16:16; 30:24–28
Ecclesiastes 10:10
Matthew 5:11–12

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