Saturday, June 08, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (62)

Entropy is pretty much the governing principle of our present universe. Systems and sub-systems are not independently or permanently functional. They require replenishing from other sources.

The earth cannot survive without sunlight. The sun could not warm the earth were it not fueled by both hydrogen and helium. And without the collapsing clouds of interstellar gas and dust we call nebulae, there would be no stars.

The Oracle of Agur (Proverbs 30:15-16)

Two Daughters

As for human beings, what we have today never seems to be enough. Sometimes that’s just perception. Other times it’s reality.
“The leech has two daughters: Give and Give.”
The Hebrew `aluwqah, rendered “leech” in modern translations and “horseleach” in the KJV, occurs only once in scripture. Its meaning is more than a little obscure. Outside of the text of scripture, says Genesius, it is often used figuratively to indicate a female monster or spectre, an “insatiable sucker of blood”. The word “daughter”, then, is surely also figurative, likely meaning something along the lines of “product” or “consequence”. We are probably not considering small, parasitic water-worms but rather something for which they are an allegory.

Since this is likely not a biology lesson, my favorite reading is the Contemporary English Version, which goes: “Greed has twins, each named ‘Give me!’ ”

The sort of person for whom discontent is occupational can never find rest. He or she is perpetually chasing the next object of desire. Once it has been successfully acquired, they immediately discard or ignore it, moving on to something else for which they feel a compelling need. We have all met this sort of person. They are operating in a closed loop of cause and effect that never results in a happy ending.

Meanwhile, the follower of Christ discovers that “godliness with contentment is great gain.”

Can’t Get No Satisfaction

The leech proverb is followed directly by another of Agur’s lists, this one of things that are never satisfied. As always, the list has four items: the grave, the womb, the earth and fire.
“Three things are never satisfied; four never say, ‘Enough’:
[1] Sheol, the [2] barren womb, the [3] land never satisfied with water,
and the [4] fire that never says, ‘Enough.’ ”
These may be taken literally, or occasionally allegorized:
  • Sheol speaks of neither Hell nor Hades specifically, but of death generally for the good and the bad. If there’s one thing we can say about death in this fallen world, it’s that it does not discriminate and that it comes to all eventually. It is certainly never sated, and never will be until Christ does away with it. Paul calls death “the last enemy”.
  • In the Bible, the barren womb is never content. Scripture is full of women who could not bear children and were deeply distressed by the fact, from Sarah to Rachel to Hannah to Elizabeth. They rightly valued the rewards of God. Today we are told a barren womb is no big deal, and that in fact we ought to make more wombs barren so women can go about their business untroubled by the natural consequences of fertility. Still, women who accept this lie into their forties are more often than not found shortly thereafter in obstetricians’ offices trying to make the near-impossible happen at great cost. Reality doesn’t pay much attention to the popular narrative.
  • Land never remains permanently moist and fertile. It requires constant replenishing, whether natural or manual. But land does not drink up rain to no purpose. It does not serve itself, but the one who farms it and looks for a harvest. It serves as an apt spiritual illustration explored in Hebrews: “Land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.” Those who are spiritually thirsty have an obligation to make proper use of the “living water” available freely in Christ.
  • Speaking of burning, fire will burn so long as it is fed. In this world, all fires eventually flicker out when their available fuel is gone. Perhaps the natural world is all Agur has in mind here, but scripture also speaks of a fire that will never be quenched, and that is the fire of God’s judgment. Both Death and Hades will one day be thrown into this fire. It will never say, “Enough.”
One thing we may certainly observe about the Bible’s proverbs is that while some are fairly obscure to modern readers due to cultural and language barriers, others may at times be more meaningful to Christians looking back at them than they were to all but the most faithful Israelites who meditated on them over the years. In terms of spiritual application, we simply have a great deal more to work with than they did.

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