Nails, Goads, and One Shepherd

“The words of the wise are like goads — like fixed nails are the gathered sayings; they are given by one Shepherd.”

(Ecclesiastes 12:11)

This is perhaps one of my favorite verses in all of Ecclesiastes. Words and sayings form ideas in our lives and these ideas sometimes prod us to action (the work of a goad) and they sometimes fix us in place when we are challenged (the work of a nail). How essential these fundamental ideas are to a person in general, but especially so to a Christian. Yet, Solomon does not end with this observation. He ends with the observation that all of these words and sayings ultimately come from one Shepherd — the Good Shepherd himself, our God. Here is just one more testimony to the inspiration of Scripture — the Word of God is the testimony of one Shepherd though it was written through many individuals.

A question sometimes comes up as to the phrase, “collected sayings.” The word used here for “sayings” is בַּאַל (ba’al), which is most commonly a reference to a lord or master in the Old Testament (hence the Baals that the people worshiped). The word, though, has a pretty broad usage and we should think about it this way. Do not guiding principles essentially act as lords over our lives? Indeed, they do (and should!). And thus, to speak of them as lords or masters should not bother us too greatly.

The question we really ought to be asking, though, is which sayings? Certainly we are all filled with little proverbs and wise sayings that we have heard over the years, but do they all come from the One Shepherd? If not, they are likely not reliable and will not goad you or fix you in place when you need them to do so. One must be wise as to the source of such sayings and ensure that they indeed do come from the One true Shepherd.

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