The Golden Bowl

A cup of coffee on a beach

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“Remember your Creator before the silver cord is severed, and the GOLDEN BOWL is broken…Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:5,13-14 

This blog is about wisdom and light. If it is wisdom you seek, then I encourage you to stop for a moment (yes, now, before you read any farther) and ASK God to fill your mind with the light of His wisdom. In doing so, you will likely better understand what is written here for your edification and learn to walk in a more significant measure of God’s power.  

The Lord is ever willing to enlighten the minds of His children, but we are required first to ASK Him for this wisdom. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” James 1:5. Why does the Lord require that we ASK for wisdom first instead of just giving it to us when He knows we need it? When we ASK before it is given, we are not confused when knowledge comes from thinking that perhaps it came from ourselves. Humans tend to give credit to one’s flesh for the wisdom we have and the good we do as if we possess these abilities apart from the power of life’s Author and the One who sustains us with His breath. “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” 1Corinthians 4:7 

Now, for just one more moment, stop once again to acknowledge where you perceive the power of God in your life. PRAISE Him for His many blessings. PRAISE Him for the spiritual gifts He has anointed you with and the talents he has entrusted to you. Why is this important? Perhaps all you can see is your pain and the needs ever before you? Nevertheless, if it is the light of wisdom you seek to know how to proceed, be mindful that giving thanks is the pathway into heavenly wisdom and empowering grace. Withholding thanksgiving from God is the surest way to more futility thinking and the darkening of your understanding. “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Romans 1:21  

Who doesn’t need more wisdom and truth in the inward parts of their soul to run their race in God with more extraordinary measures of strength and perseverance?

We know we need wisdom, so let’s look now at acquiring the understanding we need. First, we will look at 1 Kings 3:5-12, where we find Solomon’s Biblical account being endowed with God’s wisdom. Ecclesiastes 12 is where the book’s writer (likely Solomon) expresses what He deems to be the only meaningful aspects of human existence. He calls the “conclusion of the matter” and the only thing that is not considered vanity. 

Second, I will seek to give some insight into the Biblical concepts of doing “good” versus doing “evil” by inviting you to look through the lens of ancient Hebrew and its sacred symbols. These symbols are called the OTIOT, which means “sacred symbols” in Hebrew. I believe Biblical Hebrew that God gave was meant to be understood in this form; and that this understanding is what further edified the forefathers of the faith. In Exodus 31:18, we find God using His very own fingers to write upon the stone “Tablets of the Testimony” using these sacred symbols. Through these symbols, Moses and the other Old Testament writers were given God’s instructions to pen His Holy Word. These ancient Hebrew symbols are far more than simple letters. They were endowed with multi-layered kingdom principles that speak volumes to those who want to experience them. I encourage you not to be intimidated as we take a more in-depth look at just a few of the OTIOT as they relate to wisdom and right living in the sight of God. The Lord will make things clear to those desiring an unencumbered soul and an enlightened mind (or golden bowl).  

Have we not been called to the same occupation as Solomon? To build God’s temple, to preside over our households, and care for the well-being of His great people until He comes again? “Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?” 1 Corinthians 3:15. If anyone does not know how to preside over his household, how will he take care of God’s church?” 1 Timothy 3:5. When God’s children can grasp these concepts, they understand more fully how to use the Holy Spirit’s internal compass. This understanding is not only for the building up of their own lives, just as Solomon was empowered to build God’s temple, but also as a way to fulfill their role in presiding over the people whom God has entrusted to them. God has entrusted to us children, friends, co-workers, students, family members, and neighbors for whom we are to care. We are meant to learn how to discern what is right and what is evil in the Lord’s sight for the sake of conducting our lives according to God’s ways.

Here is the account of when God anointed Solomon with wisdom. 1 Kings 3:5-12 says that “Yahweh [God as the One who causes His children to become like Him] was seen by Solomon in a dream, and Elohim [God as the supreme magistrate presiding over all mankind] said to Solomon, ‘ASK [inquire or request] what you will, and I will give it to you.’ Solomon replied, ‘Give to your servant a mind able to understand [hear intelligently] and a heart [which includes the feelings and the will] able to govern your flock by discerning [separating mentally] between what is good and what is evil. For who can determine justice and preside over such a great people as yours?’ [The Lord replied to Solomon,] ‘Behold I have done according to your words. Behold, I have given you a heart wise and understanding so that like you, not anyone there has been before you and after you nor shall any arise like you.” 

The Maker of heaven and earth declared that Solomon would always be the wisest mortal ever to live. The goal in seeking wisdom is not to become more intelligent than Solomon but to possess and implement godly wisdom in our own lives by the power of His Spirit living within us. Now that we’ve read the circumstances surrounding the onset of Solomon’s wisdom let’s take a look at what Solomon when nearing the end of his life, considered to be the conclusion of this whole matter of learning in human existence. 

I must admit that for years, the book of Ecclesiastes seemed incredibly depressing to me. I didn’t see the author as a “wise guy” but rather a sad pessimist. The word “vanity” occurs in this book at least 37 times; the word “toil” 22 times; “under the sun” 29 times; and striving after the wind 7x. Again and again, the writer shares how every bit of toil that men do under the sun is vanity. Biblical vanity is not talking about extreme care for one’s physical looks. Instead, it refers to when a man’s works are examined, in light of eternity, how they will prove to be mere vanity in themselves when done apart from God’s leading.  

Although Ecclesiastes does not explicitly tell the Good News but instead proclaims the bad news of the foolishness and emptiness of materialism, I have learned through my study of the OTIOT that hidden within the words for “Evil,” “Fear God,” and “REMEMBER,” we find the GOOD NEWS.   

Let’s take a look at the OTIOT for the terms HONORING GOD versus DOING EVIL IN HIS SIGHT. 

יִרְאַ֣ת (fearing/honoring God) versus רעע (doing evil) 

*Hebrew is a language read from right to left. 

The Hebrew letter RESH (ר), which is found in both the word “evil” and the word “fear,” literally means “head” and embodies the idea of the “main thing” or the “control center of a person’s life.”  

This makes sense because whatever we TURN our RESH (head) towards, the rest of our body will naturally move towards it as well. My 6-year-old daughter Annika was in front of me riding her bike on the bicycle path today, and every time she would glance back to see if I was still there, she would swerve off the road. This bike riding image reminded me that our bodies follow that to which our faces are focused.   

We will find that both of these ideas of good and evil are connected to the things upon which we fix our gaze, represented by our head which is the control center of our lives, and specifically the eyes, the control center of our heads.   

The Hebrew word for EVIL is constructed using one letter Resh (head-turning symbol) and two Ayins (רעע) (which is the symbol for the material world)- (RA’A). Using Hebrew symbolism, this word means to turn the control center of one’s life towards the material world and then remain fixed upon the material world. (to become carnal) 

The OTIOT that makes up the word “evil” represents the idea of staying fixated on the material world. Whether that be a person or a thing, keeping one’s focus thereupon the creation, instead of turning the focus (head) back to honor and praise the One who made the creation and who authors all good gifts in the first place, is the essence of setting up idols. Essentially, the Hebrew symbols which make up RA’A speak of the movement of the center of one’s life towards what is material and then remaining fixated on the carnal world to set these things up as a source of energy, light, identity, or power. Yet, there is no life source to be found in the creation. The creation is merely a reflection of the ultimate Source of all things, God Himself.  

If we keep our focus on material things, symbolized by AYIN (ע) (be it people, things, or concepts) to be our source, then we are choosing idolatry in God’s sight instead of wisdom through PRAISE.

יִרְאַ֣ת (fearing/honoring God) – YIRAT YHWH 

But suppose instead of staying focused on the creation, we turn our heads RESH (ר) back towards God, looking to Him as the influential Author, symbolized by the Alef (א) in the Word, which is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and the Perfecter and Protector of Life, represented by the Tav (ת), which is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In that case, we are doing what is considered reverence before God and good in His sight. We are looking to Him, and so we are moving towards Him, who continues to perfect and sustain all the parts of our lives.

 The only letter I have not yet explained is the first letter in the word “Fear or Reverence,” as in holy fear of God. This is the letter YOD. The Hebrew letter Yod (י) points to the potential power that has been made manifest. Yod means hand. Yod (י) declares that former possibilities and potentialities now exist by the work of the hand. It says that someone or something eternally made possible by God’s word now is.” The question in all this is who gets the credit for the created work (YOD) – all the manifest power and wisdom. Will I turn my head and the power of my work towards God or toward the creation looking to create things to save, protect, credit, or praise instead of God? Alef is to Ayin as the Sun is to the Moon. 

The Bible says that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, 

and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10 

 The Hebrew letter Tav (ת), which is the Hebrew alphabet’s final letter, is symbolically translated as “in the midst of,” or an enclosed space as in a safe community. To be enclosed symbolizes protection and, therefore, life, which is why Tav (ת) carries with it the meaning life, alive, or “to mark.” If we want proper protection for our communities, if we wish for useful and active life and blessings for our nation, we must turn to the One who is TAV! He is the ALPHA and OMEGA (in Greek), which in Hebrew are the ALEF and the TAV! The beginning and end of every good thing. “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.” Philippians 1:6 

The One who authored all that is and the only One who can protect, empower and perfect all that is valuable to you is the Lord! To honor God is to see all the good that is before us (YOD) and to credit God in whose power it was made manifest in the first place. When we do this, the scriptures teach that we become enlightened more and more.  

Wisdom turns its face away from idols and back toward Him, who is the author (ALEF) and the only One who can properly perfect (TAV) and complete that which concerns us and empowers us to do the things to which we have been called! 

In concluding the deeper meaning of “Fear God” or to be in awe of God – יִרְאַ֣ת – (pronounced Yi’rat YHWH), essential means “The Power of God that has become manifest – YOD (י) has caused the power of my life, represented by my head RESH (ר), to move towards the All-powerful One Alef (א) whose life protects my life and perfects all that concerns me. 

Ask yourself where are you “headed” in 2021? On what have you fixed your gaze, and where is that source leading you? 

As a leader in your family or community, when you look towards God, then what you are doing is referred to as “GIVING FOCUS.” My actress-producer friend, Julia O’Brien, taught me this acting term, “GIVE FOCUS,” and I have found it extremely applicable for our lives in ministry. People around you are reading your life, just as an audience reads the actors’ faces upon a stage. If we will “give focus” to Jesus by looking unto Him, Who is the right center of this great stage of life, then we will be pointing people towards the only One who can save and perfect their lives as well. In GIVING FOCUS to JESUS, you will be walking in wisdom and become increasingly filled with light and pointing people unto the same. If your eyes are looking to the source of all light and understanding, then you will remember Him while you are still able and consequently filling the golden bowl of your soul with light. 

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light.” Matthew 6:22

 Looking to anything other than God as your Source, Sustainer or Perfecter is a form of idolatry that not only angers God but will ultimately hurt you and your relationships. Every idol you set up in your life will inevitably become the object or your disdain when they fail to be all you seek them to be! Only God can be your all-in-all. 

 The reason for such a definitive view of seeing any form of turning away from God and becoming fixated on people or things in the creation as evil is based on God’s perfect love for us – or better said, His perfecting love for us. You see, His desire for us is to become stronger, more joyful, more healed, more insightful, more peaceful, more powerful, and more useful for our blessing and His glory. And only in continually returning our gaze to Him in praise is our cup or bowl always filled with the light of wisdom.

When we begin to fix our eyes on the creation rather than the Creator, looking to it as a source of anything, the light starts to dim because the design is not a source of light at all; rather, it is meant to be a mere reflector of light. This is why looking unto anything in the material is considered vanity! The difference between the Creator and the creation is the difference between the sun and the moon. One is a source of light, heat, and life; the other a reflective vessel of that same source’s light, heat, and life. When we stop running towards the light and begin to fix our eyes on a reflection rather than a source, we eventually lose our sense of light, love, and warmth, and our minds become darkened. (Eph. 4:18) This state is when we begin to lose our sense of hope, strength, joy, peace, and power. This is how we have become so afraid, confused, weary, lost, and powerless as a people. And when many people do this, we end up with a community of fearful, lost, joyless, powerless, angry, and contentious people. 

The sun is a star, but the moon is merely a rock; and according to my son, Cole, it seems unfair to compare a star to a rock. Doing so is the epitome of foolishness and the definition of vanity. But in understanding this point, we can more clearly see the stupidity of turning towards people to be our sources of happiness. People are meant to be image-bearers, reflections of God’s light. It’s like demanding that rock give off enough light and warmth to make the flowers grow. Even our leaders are just rocks compared to the God who is in this parable as the SUN! 

It is truly out of God’s love for us that He allows these created things to fail us quickly and fall short of our expectations. Marriage is a perfect example of this. Husbands and wives continually set one another up to be each other’s sources of happiness and, therefore, become resentful when expectations are not met. To draw us away from the prisons of darkness that we have created for ourselves in being this way, God will cause our reflected sources of light to fail us time and again. The Lord knows that as soon as we return to fixing our gaze on Him, we will also be filled with wisdom, light, joy, power, and love for the benefit of the creation. When this happens, we are filled up with the mercy and forgiveness necessary to once again live in joyful, reconciled, forgiving relationships with other people.

This concept is the basis for the Hasenbalg dinner practice of asking, “How has God loved you in the last 24 hours.” This practice reminds us daily to look back at our recent narratives to find the good that came from the creation and then to actively and among witnesses testify to the glory of God that flowed through created vessels. The Hasenbalg dinner practice is our attempt at teaching our children how to keep themselves from making idols for themselves of people or things. The other thing that this practice does is keep them from always having to be humbled by the hand of God unnecessarily. For God, out of His love, will be faithful to bring down our idols before our eyes by allowing them to fail us. This is truly an active way to help keep our children from experiences unnecessary “crosses” in their lives. Because every idol set up in a believer’s life will be followed by a loving “cross” from the One who is jealous for all of our hearts, minds, and strength. 

“Do not turn aside to the right or the left from any of the words I command you today and do not go after other gods to serve them.” Deuteronomy 28:14 

Ecclesiastes chapter 12 begins with an appeal to REMEMBER our Creator before it is too late; before our body starts to deteriorate and the golden bowl cracks.

It reads, “Remember Your Creator before the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the foundation, and the wheel is broken at the well, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Quohelet (Assembler, Gatherer, or Integrator). Everything is meaningless!” Not only was the Teacher wise, but he also imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. The Quohelet (the one who Assembles) searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and honorable. The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails – given by one shepherd. Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. Of making many books, there is no end, and much study wearies the body. Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”  

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