Compare and Combine (2)

Look for similar things that can reveal the wisdom of God.

Growing in the Knowledge of Christ (6)

All Your works shall praise You, O LORD,
And Your saints shall bless You.
They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom,
And talk of Your power,
To make known to the sons of men His mighty acts,
And the glorious majesty of His kingdom.
Psalm 145.10-12

There are four things which are little on the earth,
But they are exceedingly wise:
The ants are a people not strong,
Yet they prepare their food in the summer;
The rock badgers are a feeble folk,
Yet they make their homes in the crags;
The locusts have no king,
Yet they all advance in ranks;
The spider skillfully grasps with its hands,
And it is in kings’ palaces.
Proverbs 30.24-28

Seeking wisdom
Like Solomon, Agur must have been a man committed to learning the wisdom of God. As the end of his days approached, he shared his longing for wisdom with two men, Ithiel and Ucal, who evidently wrote down Agur’s words, which are preserved for us in Proverbs 30.

Where can he find wisdom? Agur knew the Word of God is a reliable source of wisdom: “Every word of God is pure” (v. 5), and he must have made recourse to as much of that Word as was available to him. But what he read there turned his eyes to the works of God, that he might learn more of God’s glory and power, and make known to others what the Lord revealed to him.

Thus, most of what he learned about wisdom, as expressed in Proverbs 30, consists of a report of observations he made from the works of God in creation, and the conclusions he drew from these. In verses 24-28, he notes four things which share two common features: they’re all small, and they all teach something about wisdom.

As Agur contemplated the ants, the conies, and the locusts, which he could observe in the creation around him, and a solitary spider weaving its web, perhaps in his room, he noted their diminutive size. They were small, he reasoned, but they must have something to tell us about wisdom. Agur persisted in concentrating until insights concerning wisdom emerged from his comparisons: All these small creatures had something of wisdom to share with those who take the time to concentrate on them, and to consider what God would teach us through them. Plan ahead! Shelter in the Rock! Hang together! Hold on tight!

By combining his observations of these creatures, and comparing them with each other – as he did in other sections of this same chapter – Agur gained insights to wisdom, which he wanted to pass on to those who would succeed him. He didn’t know much about wisdom, but what he had learned from God’s Word he combined with his observations of the creatures around him, comparing them to discover a measure – albeit small  - of the wisdom God wants us to know.

Concentrate, combine, compare, celebrate
The 19th century English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins kept notebooks of the many observations he made during walks in the countryside, or through the city where he served as a priest. He wrote down what he observed, made sketches, and drew preliminary conclusions. These became the fuel for long seasons of contemplation, as Hopkins sought to learn the wisdom of God, so that he might draw closer to his Creator, Savior, and Lord.

Some of his greatest poems came from these Agur-like experiences, including one of my favorites, “Pied Beauty” (“pied” means having two or more different colors):

Glory be to God for dappled things – 
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow; 
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; 
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings; 
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough; 
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.  
All things counter, original, spare, strange; 
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) 
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; 
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: 
                                Praise Him. 

(Note: “brinded” is a corruption of the Middle English, “brindled,” meaning a tawny coat of skin mixed with other colors.)

This is a poem of sheer joy. Hopkins was delighted by the great variety of things in his world – creatures, fields, people at work, tastes, and so forth. The world, he observed, is full of variety and change, and he was filled with joy to contemplate it. So filled, in fact, that he combined all his observations into one brief poem; and, as he compared them with one another, he was struck by what they in common reveal about God: The God Who “fathers-forth” all this change and variety is beautiful beyond all change, and therefore worthy of praise. His poem begins and ends in blessing and praise to our all-beautiful and unchanging God and Savior. 

Our Father’s world
The hymn, “This Is My Father’s World,” captures the variety of creation, and celebrates the greatness and beauty of God, Who made and keeps it all. Rocks, trees, birds, grass, sunlight, skies, seas – everything in creation calls us to consider the greatness of God, and to manifest His glory in song.

Don’t you think your life would be richer, fuller, and more consistently joyful by taking the time to concentrate on the things around you, comparing and combining them to discover the knowledge of Christ hidden in them? 

As we bring together in meditation and prayer our observations of the things around us, we’ll begin to see ways of comparing and combining things that will yield insights to the beauty, majesty, greatness, goodness, wisdom, and love of our Lord Jesus Christ. That insight can lead us to praise Him for some aspect of His Being or work, and add spice and wonder to our witness for Jesus.

As we concentrate on individual things, making notes in a journal, or just mental pictures and reminders, we will see many ways that He Who “fathers-forth” all of creation is making Himself known to us. And as we increase in the knowledge of our Savior, comparing and combining like Solomon, Agur, and Hopkins, our joy will increase, our love the for the Lord will grow, and we will be more ready with a word of praise or witness to Him as opportunities for such arise.

Praise Him!

For reflection 
1. Have you begun observing and concentrating on the things around you? What are you learning that is helping you to grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ?

2. Can you see how this comparing and combining of observations is a way that the Holy Spirit “compares spiritual things with spiritual” (1 Cor. 2.12, 13)? Explain.

3. How does Psalm 145.10-12 encourage us in this effort? What will doing this work of concentrating on creation and comparing and combining our observations do for us?

Next Steps – Transformation: Make a point to jot down some observations of the world around you today. Before retiring tonight, meditate on these observations. Do they have anything in common? How do they lead you to bless and praise the Lord?

T. M. Moore

Our book, Consider the Lilies: A Plea for Creational Theology, provides much more guidance in practicing the disciplines outlined in this article. Order your copy by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore