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The Crook in the Lot — Revised[1]

             Ecclesiastes 7:13 comes after a series of proverbs and observations which seem inexplicable in light of normal experience. However, when viewed in light of God’s working in the world,  the conclusions make sense. For example, the day of one’s death is a great evil  (Eccl. 7:1b), unless God, by his power and grace, transforms death into a blessing.

            Thus, the paradoxes and contradiction of Ecclesiasts 7:1-12 resolve when one considers the propositions from the point of view that God is sovereign and good.  In short, we cannot think rightly about the world unless we think rightly about God.  Or, to put the matter differently, we must walk by faith and not by sight.

            We come to the text:

Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked? Ecclesiastes 7:13 (ESV)

This proposition calls for wisdom; indeed, the verse tells us to think. First, God himself bent the straight that it may be crooked. Second, no one can undo the work of God.

            Having made some initial observations, let us consider the matter further.

Doctrine One: Whatever crooked runs through your life, God did it.

            We must first consider the nature of crooks

            Crooks Are Everywhere

            Let us call the crooked line, the crooked circumstance, the crooked life the “crook”.  What can know generally about crooks?

            First, God makes crooks.  Christians must begin with the sovereignty of God. God exercises a providence over the entire universe from the smallest to the greatest events[2].  God knows the future, and the past perfectly. Everything which happens from first to last happens because he determined that it would be true.[3]  Consider the words of Joseph to his brothers, when Joseph revealed himself to them:

5 And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Genesis 45:5–8 (ESV)

 The brothers certainly laid a crook through Joseph’s life – and yet Joseph laid the crook to God’s overarching providence.

            Second, there will be difficulties and there will be comforts in this life; we will see them all (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

            Third, there will be crooks for everyone; there is no perfection this world:

12 I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 14 I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. Ecclesiastes 1:12–14 (ESV)

            Fourth, no one has a life which is only pain and misery and crook after crook. Even in the most miserable of lives there can be moments of comfort or even joy.  This, of course, depends an explanation rather than the sorrow of this life. Crooked places are the norm. Why then do we ever experience joy? Where could joy in this life find its source?

            All the trouble in this life came in through sin. Death is the great crook of our existence (Romans 5:12), and since it makes all things here temporary, it makes all things vain (Ecclesiastes 1:2).  But the trouble is actually worse than that. The results of sin – from rebellion against God, to shame, damage to all our relationships (including to our own bodies), exile from the Garden –all these followed hard after sin (Genesis 3).

            And so, as long as we will be in this world, we will be within gunshot of sorrow, pain, misery – there will be a crook which runs through our lot.

            Crooks Cause Trouble

            By crook we mean every adversity which runs through life. We also do not mean momentarily troubles, like the sun in one’s eyes. Rather the crook refers to a matter of distress and continuance.

            Think of it: some crooks may only take a few moments to experience, but the damage continues for months, days, years:  it takes less than a second for a car to strike a child, but lifetime of sorrows remain. 

            Other crooks come, one right after the other: like the messengers who brought Job story after story of his losses (Job. 1:16-18). Such an overwhelming rain of sorrows feels like waves continually crashing over one:

Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. Psalm 42:7 (ESV)

            Sometimes crooks come in more slowly, stay longer – but then a second comes along behind. This world is a wilderness – not a pleasant pretty picnic, but a distant, cold brutal wilderness where one’s life is in constant danger and sorrows wait at every hand.

            What Makes it a Crook?

            First, it disagrees with our expectations:  there is a fairly common gap between one’s desire and one’s possession; between one’s expectation and one’s reality.  It really does not matter how badly we desire a thing – we cannot have it merely because we want it. Incidentally, it is this distance between expectation and reality which typically makes space for sin to enter.

            We should know something here:

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, Ephesians 1:11 (ESV)

While the crook may cross our will – it meets God’s will. This should be a means of comfort to us: No matter how great the crook in our life and from our perspective; from God’s perspective, the line is straight and nothing has “gone wrong”.

            We need to understand this so that we may respond rightly: The distress of a crook comes in part from the belief that the crook is “wrong”.  This may be true and not true:  The crook, when it is a matter of sin is “wrong” in that is contrary to God’s law. But, it still may be “right” from a another perspective, because God uses even sin for his ends (Psalm 2).

            That is the paradox of the Bible telling us that we should rejoice in trials and tribulations. Now trials and tribulations are of themselves evil – they are certainly crooks. But we can rejoice in a trial (or rather despite the trial), knowing that God will produce good:

3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3–5 (ESV)

            Second, since it disagrees with our expectations, a crook will look “wrong”.  Viewed with our natural sight, crooks necessarily look “wrong”.  The good in a crook can never be seen with the eye of sight – it will always and only be seen to possess a good end when viewed with the eye of faith.

            Third, a crook in our path makes it very difficult to walk – if you will. It gets in our way; it trips us up. This is another way in which temptation finds an inlet to our soul. All our stumbling about due to the crook leaves us open and suggestible to sin. Satan waited for Jesus in the wilderness before he plied his trade. When Jesus had been crossed with hunger, weariness, thirst – then the Devil made his advance.  It is the wounded deer which attracts the lions and wolves.

            Fourth, you could also think of the crook like a net – not only do we stumble, we can easily get caught and dragged down by a crook – and that net may come from anywhere. In Psalm 73, Asaph found his path twisted by his frustration with God and the ease of the wicked. He wrote, “My feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped” (Ps. 73:2).

            The distress caused by the crook is one its principle powers:  is the means by which the tempter can draw out and expose what lies hidden in our heart.

            You Will Find  Crooks Anywhere

           The crook may show up anywhere in your life. It may show up in your body: sickness and pain. It may be your surroundings: weather, earthquakes. 

            Crooks came in with sin. Indeed, we first see crooks with the Fall. Thus, Adam and Eve knew they were naked: shame came in with sin (Genesis 3:7).  With sin there was the loss of sweet fellowship with God which is the most sore crook of all (Genesis 3:8-11). With sin came blame-shifting and loss of ease in marriage and all human relationships (Genesis 3:12 & 16). Now crooks may lay across our relationships.

            With sin came pain of childbirth (Genesis 3:16) and physical death (Genesis 3:19); thus, crooks will run through our body. All nature has been cursed because of sin (Genesis 3:17-18; Romans 8:19-22); thus, crooks will criss-cross all the physical world. Our labor has become toil, and thus, crooks will be abundant in our work (Genesis 3:19; Ecclesiastes 1:2-3).

            Crooks may come from supernatural causes, in that Satan has now become “ruler of this world” (John 14:30).

            The crook may damage your reputation. The crook may ruin your work and savings. Think of it: Sometimes even the most careful and diligent business owner or work finds themselves ruined:

Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. Ecclesiastes 9:11 (ESV)

            The crook may fall in between your relationships. Crooks have lain across marriage, between parents and children, on the backs of friends.  The Bible is filled with such examples – perhaps the most bizarre being the betrayal of Jesus by Judas.

            Crooks are From the Hand of God

            We cannot deny that crooks are from the hand of God even though the crook itself is painful or disastrous. This is a hard thing to say – and we often try to get God “off the hook” at this point. But God does not want off the hook:

Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it? Amos 3:6 (ESV)

We must understand that all crooks come from the hand of God.

            In fact the Bible everywhere teaches that God sovereignly controls the good and evil. Consider these passages:

Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. Psalm 135:6 (ESV)

The operations and homes of people across the world are in the hands of God:

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, Acts 17:26 (ESV)

His care also extends to the smallest things:

29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Matthew 10:29–30 (ESV)

God controls the heart of the king – thus politics are in his control:

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will. Proverbs 21:1 (ESV)

The doctrine is spread out across the Scripture: Jeremiah 10:23, Deuteronomy 19:5, Genesis 45:7, Exodus 21:13.

            Thus, we must live in light of that truth. We see it in Job’s response to his wife. Job had suffered greatly through robbers, storms, disease. Yet, when he speaks with his wife, Job ignores all the obvious causes and points to the ultimate cause:

10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. Job 2:10 (ESV)

We must realize that all our straight and crooked paths come from the same God and that God

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, Ephesians 1:11 (ESV)

He works all things.

            The sovereignty of God is the great key to any good coming from a trial. If crooks comes without the will of God, then the thing means nothing (except perhaps that God cannot stop it or will not stop it). We have low thoughts of God and lose our good in the trial.

            But, when we know the trial comes from the hand of God, that the crooked line is straight in heaven, then we can seek for the  good the Father has planned.  And let us realize that “good” is not ease or comfort – but conformity to Christ:

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Romans 8:28–29 (ESV)

            The Two Types of Crooks

            There are two basic types of crooks. We need to understand the difference between the crooks if we are to understand their use. A crook which comes without sin comes for a different reason than a crook which flows out sin.

            First, there are crooks which are painful but are not the result of any particular sin. Some men are born into poverty – which is one of the most common and painful crooks of this world. However, poverty is not a sin – nor is it necessarily the result of sin. Some men and women are simply born into lives of poverty (Luke 19:19).  God is called the “maker” of the poor (Prov. 17:5).  It is God who makes poor and rich (1 Sam. 2:7).

            Jesus specifically rejects the idea that all sorrow, all crooks are the direct result of sin:

1 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” John 9:1–2 (ESV)

And God is the one who makes deaf (Exodus 4:11). Thus, when we see a crook, we must not immediately be certain that a sin was the cause. Now it may be, and it is wise to seek a basis for repentance. But, we need not determine that sin has caused the trouble.

            Second, there are crooks which do result from sin. David’s sins lead to generations of sorrow for his family and the death of his baby (2 Sam. 12:10-14).  David’s sin in the matter of the census lead to all of Israel suffering (2 Sam. 24).

            But we must realize that even when God permits sin to give rise to crooks, to pain for the sinner and others, God has not given over his sovereignty.  When one sins and brings on a crook, God has merely permitted the sinner to have his desire. God does not force the sin even when God permits the sin. Read Romans 1:18-32 and note that God “gave them over” (v. 24); “God gave them over” ( v. 26); “God gave them over” (v. 28). These sins they willing chase and encourage others to follow suit (v. 32).

            Yet, when God gives them over to their desire, he still maintains the reigns. In Job 1-2, Satan is permitted to afflict Job – but only to the extent which God permits. Not even Satan can sin without any restraint.

            Finally, even in the greatest sin and the most wicked crooks, God maintains control. Consider the example of Psalm 2. First comes the decision to rebel against God and murder the Lord’s anointed:

1 Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, 3 “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”

 

Such evil determinations, however, do not last. God actually mocks and laughs at the rebellion. The act of murder becomes an enthronement; and the one whom they desired to destroy has become their king:

 4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. 5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, 6 “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” 7 I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” 10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

 

Why Does God Make Crooks?

            Firstto test our state to see whether we are in the faith or not?

5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! 6 I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test. 7 But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. 8 For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. 9 For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. 2 Corinthians 13:5–9 (ESV)

An example of such a trial of faith may be seen in Job’s life. Satan denies that Job is what he seems. Job’s friends then accuse Job of hypocrisy. Or in the matter of the Israelites in the wilderness: God left in need and want to try their faith – at which they grumbled. But Joshua and Caleb persevered in trial.

The rich young ruler came to Jesus and sought the key to eternal life, at which point Jesus uncovered the hypocrisy of his life:

17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Mark 10:17–22 (ESV)

The young man would not submit to the crook of God at that point. He was his own master in the end. Would not agree to God’s determination but rather sought his desires.

            Second, to wean us from this world and seek the happiness of the age to come

            When Hamlet realizes that he must revenge his father’s death and thus bring his own life into jeopardy, Hamlet turns on his love Ophelia to send her away. He brings pain into her life to drive her to a better life.

            In the same way, God will lay crooks across our lot to drive us off from a sinful love of this world. Our hearts are so prone to make idols of comforts and seek an endless life in a land of death, that God will lay crooks upon that we may see the foolishness of our grasping.  Pain in this life can wake us to the reality of this age and force us to seek a true and lasting happiness.

            This is the great theme of the first six chapters of Ecclesiastes: there is nothing truly satisfying to be had here. Even when Solomon had gained the whole world he had realized he had nothing:

11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. 12 So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly. For what can the man do who comes after the king? Only what has already been done. Ecclesiastes 2:11–12 (ESV)

Thus, the pain of the crook contains its blessing.

The Prodigal Son, when he could drink deeply of the pleasures he could buy had no thoughts of home. Only when pain began to invade his life did he “come to himself” (Luke 15:17).

            We are built to seek rest and happiness, yet in foolishness and sloth we easily seek permanent rest in temporary things. God lays a crook across rest and the straight path of comfort we sought becomes twisted and painful. Like a thorn in our pillow, it pricks us to consciousness and we seek a better rest. Thus, God uses the crook to set us off on the errand of seeking him.

            The pain of the crook is one of the great mercies God shows those who are his.

            Third, the crook brings us to see our sin: the sting awakes us to conviction.  This is a great theme of the prophet:

12 Go, and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, “ ‘Return, faithless Israel, declares the LORD. I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful, declares the LORD; I will not be angry forever. 13 Only acknowledge your guilt, that you rebelled against the LORD your God and scattered your favors among foreigners under every green tree, and that you have not obeyed my voice, declares the LORD. Jeremiah 3:12–13 (ESV)

It is the realization of the Psalmist:

Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. Psalm 119:67 (ESV)

Sin contains its own poison, and often as we continue in unrepentant sin we feel the sting and corruption of sin:

3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah 5 I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah Psalm 32:3–5 (ESV)

There is a point here which must be made clear: Sin is of such great evil that any suffering is better than any sin. Our Lord in love remained obedient to the Father’s will and suffered death – but the Lord would not in the least instance sin. This is not to say that sorrow, suffering, trial and tribulation are small things – rather the comparison magnifies the evil of sin. 

            Fourth, God may bring the crook as the punishment for sin.

            This is of two sorts. God may simply bring a judgment upon a sin. For example, David sinned in the matter of Uriah and Uriah’s wife. Although God forgave David’s sin – that is, David was not damned for his fault – correction came:

9 Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ 2 Samuel 12:9–10 (ESV)

God sent punishment upon nations:

3 Thus says the LORD: “For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they have threshed Gilead with threshing sledges of iron. 4 So I will send a fire upon the house of Hazael, and it shall devour the strongholds of Ben-hadad. 5 I will break the gate-bar of Damascus, and cut off the inhabitants from the Valley of Aven, and him who holds the scepter from Beth-eden; and the people of Syria shall go into exile to Kir,” says the LORD.Amos 1:3–5 (ESV)

            A second way in which sin brings punishment is that consequence is often inherent in sin:

17 For in vain is a net spread in the sight of any bird, 18 but these men lie in wait for their own blood; they set an ambush for their own lives. 19 Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors. Proverbs 1:17–19 (ESV)

This principle of sowing and reaping, sowing sin and reaping the consequneces of sin run throughout Proverbs:

1 The proverbs of Solomon. A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother. 2 Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death. 3 The LORD does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked. 4 A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. 5 He who gathers in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame. 6 Blessings are on the head of the righteous, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence. 7 The memory of the righteous is a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot. Proverbs 10:1–7 (ESV)

As the Lord warns through the prophet Jeremiah:

Your evil will chastise you, and your apostasy will reprove you. Know and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the LORD your God; the fear of me is not in you, declares the Lord GOD of hosts. Jeremiah 2:19 (ESV)

            Fifth, God lays crooks across our lot to bar us from sin.  It is the sorry fact that people have been ruined by wealth.  Access to money leaves us free to our own devices; while a tighter budget may keep us from indulging in some sin.  There are many people who can thank the crook in their lot for keeping them from sin. Sin always seeks opportunity. It was the devil who left Jesus until an opportune time (Luke 4:13). The Lord may act to keep a man from evil, “that he may turn aside from his deed” (Job 33:17). Such preventing grace is a great good to the Christian – though crossing flesh may be painful for the moment.

            Hazael could not kill until he was king (2 Kings 10:12). David did not lust after Uriah’s wife until he gained ease and was at rest as king (2 Samuel 11:1-2).  Ease and comfort make way for sin.  We make think our crook of labor all of trouble – but it may very well protect us from sin:

It was the speech of Mr Greenham, sometimes a famous and painful preacher of this nation, that when the devil tempted a poor soul, she came to him for advice how she might resist the temptation, and he gave her this answer: ‘Never be idle, but be always well employed, for in my own experience I have found it. When the devil came to tempt me, I told him that I was not at leisure to hearken to his temptations, and by this means I resisted all his assaults.’ Idleness is the hour of temptation, and an idle person is the devil’s tennis-ball, tossed by him at his pleasure.

‘He that labours,’ said the old hermit, ‘is tempted but by one devil, but he that is idle is assaulted by all.’

Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, Volume 2, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1866), 278.

            Sixth, a crook may expose the sin which lay hidden in our heart.  A temptation does not put sin into the heart; rather a temptation or trial merely draws sin out of the heart.  A temptation punctures the heart and lets the corruption within pour out. Thus, a crook may expose the sin we harbor:

1 “The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the LORD swore to give to your fathers. 2 And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. Deuteronomy 8:1–2 (ESV)

We do not know impatience, until our desire is delayed. We do not know our anger until our will is denied. 

            Consider Moses: the meekest man on earth (Numbers 12:3), also harbored a strike of pride and anger which was only exposed when the people again demanded water from him (Numbers 20:13; Psalm 106:32-33).

            Now such crossing is a positive good to the believer, for sin being exposed can be repented of. David complains, “Who can know his errors? Declare me innocent of hidden faults”(Psalm 19:12).  Often pride covers a mass of sin which cowers unexposed until a suitable season. Such a mass of sin poisons our heart, though we do not see it distinctly. Therefore, exposure of such sin does us much good – if only in the humility which it brings to us.

            Seventh, the crook in our lot gives us grounds to exercise the grace of God.  There are many graces which we cannot exercise until faced with trials. We cannot exercise our faith until we must wait upon the Lord. We cannot exercise patience, until we do not receive that for which we hope. We cannot bear with one another until live with those who fail.

            This was a thing true of our Lord:

For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. Hebrews 2:10 (ESV)

Now if this is true of our Lord, it must be true of us:

16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. Romans 8:16–17 (ESV)

The crook in our lot, the suffering we face does us good. Not for the suffering itself, but for the end it obtains:

3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3–5 (ESV)

In fact, such trials will not merely do us good for the present, but eternal good:

6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ., 1 Peter 1:6–7 (ESV)

            Eighth, to show that only God has power over the crook. In Ecclesiastes 1:15, we read,

            What is crooked cannot be made straight,

            And what is lacking cannot be counted.

In Ecclesiastes 7:13 we learn what the crooked cannot be made straight:

            Consider the work of God:

            Who can make straight what he has made crooked?

The crook in the lot displays the power of God – and that is for our good:

I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. Ecclesiastes 3:14 (ESV)

 Now it is a good for us to fear God. First, it is the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7). Second, it is the beginning of wisdom (9:10). Third, the fear of the Lord prolongs life (Proverbs 10:27; 19:23; Ecclesiastes 8:12-13).  Fourth, the fear of the Lord gives confidence (Proverbs 14:26). Fifth, the fear of the Lord is a fountain of life (Proverbs 14:27).  Sixth, by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil (Proverbs 16:6).  Seventh, the fear of the Lord brings honor (Proverbs 22:4).  Eighth, the one who fears the Lord is blessed (Proverbs 28:14). Ninth, the fear of the Lord delivers one from the fear of man (Proverbs 29:25). Tenth, a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised (Proverbs 31:30). Eleventh, one must fear God (Ecclesiastes 5:7, 12:13; Isaiah 8:13).  Twelfth, one who fears the Lord will rightly balance his life (Ecclesiastes 7:18). 

            It is the one who trembles at the word of the Lord is one who will receive the Lord:

1 Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? 2 All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. Isaiah 66:1–2 (ESV)

Indeed, those who fear the Lord will be remembered by the Lord:

16 Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name. 17 “They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. 18 Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. Malachi 3:16–18 (ESV)

Thus, when we are faced by the crook in the lot it should bring us to the blessing of fearing the Lord.

            Ninth, the crook in the lot gives us grounds for praise and faith. Since God alone can remove the crook, the crook displays the power of God.  And, God displays his power in overcoming every obstacle. Psalm 105 recounts the crooks which fell across the lot of his people – and how God delivered his people. The Psalm begins:

1 Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! 2 Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! 3 Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice! 4 Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually! 5 Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered, 6 O offspring of Abraham, his servant, children of Jacob, his chosen ones! Psalm 105:1–6 (ESV)

Then the Psalm recounts the history of the patriarchs through the exodus. Thus, we read one example of how could unbent a crook:

16 When he summoned a famine on the land and broke all supply of bread, 17 he had sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave. 18 His feet were hurt with fetters; his neck was put in a collar of iron; 19 until what he had said came to pass, the word of the LORD tested him. 20 The king sent and released him; the ruler of the peoples set him free; 21 he made him lord of his house and ruler of all his possessions, 22 to bind his princes at his pleasure and to teach his elders wisdom. Psalm 105:16–22 (ESV)

The greatest act of unbending the crooked way was made in the coming of the Lord:

1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. 3 A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” Isaiah 40:1–5 (ESV)

And in the coming of Christ, the greatest crooks – sin and death – were undone:

50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:50–58 (ESV)

It is fitting that Paul notes that our labor will not be in vain. Ecclesiastes recounts how vain, how futile, how disappointing life under the sun necessarily is due to the unbending crooks of our lot. And yet, with the resurrection of Christ, sin and death have been undone and the crooked is made straight – therefore, our labor will not be in vain.

            Application of the Doctrine

            First, Don’t be a Deist. This point applies to both the believer and the atheist.

 

            Thus, the foolish are rebuked.  “The fool says in his heart, ‘No God!’” (Psalm 14:1).  And thus, having put God out of all his thoughts, he cannot see God – even when God lays a crook across his path. Romans 1:18-20 notes that God has displayed his power and wrath for all to know:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. Romans 1:18–20 (ESV)

If one questions what this means, think of something as common as death. Nothing displays the wrath of God more plainly and nothing is so well known. God gives warning of the coming judgment, because God is patient and in kindness seeks repentance (Romans 2:4).

            The foolishness of the rebellious is so great that even when God removes all secondary causes (the means which God uses to effect his ends), the rebellious will still seek to deny God (Revelation 6:12-17).

            To refuse to acknowledge the hand of the Lord, is to court his wrath:

Because they do not regard the works of the LORD or the work of his hands, he will tear them down and build them up no more. Psalm 28:5 (ESV)

To refuse to acknowledge God in the work is to make the creature a god: it is as if some person, some object, some animal, some high or low pressure system, could act independently of God. Note that even in the case of men and nations God takes credit for their actions:

5 Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger; the staff in their hands is my fury!

6 Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of my wrath I command him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.

Isaiah 10:5-6.

For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own.

 Habakkuk 1:6.  God not only stands behind judgment but also behind the great blessings wrought by human beings to one – another:

1 Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed:

2 “I will go before you and level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron,

3 I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.

4 For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me.

Isaiah 45:1-4.  Indeed all rises and falls of human beings lay in the hand of God

6 The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.

7 The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts.

8 He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s, and on them he has set the world.

1 Samuel 2:6-7.  The reason that God so works in the world – whether for ease or calamaity – is that God may be known as the only God:

5 I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me,

6 that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other.

7 I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.

Isaiah 45:5-7.

            When the Philistines had taken the ark of God in battle, they found themselves struck with various plagues and troubles. They thought perhaps the God honored by the ark lay behind their troubles – but they were not sure – and thus, they devised a test:

7 Now then, take and prepare a new cart and two milk cows on which there has never come a yoke, and yoke the cows to the cart, but take their calves home, away from them. 8 And take the ark of the LORD and place it on the cart and put in a box at its side the figures of gold, which you are returning to him as a guilt offering. Then send it off and let it go its way 9 and watch. If it goes up on the way to its own land, to Beth-shemesh, then it is he who has done us this great harm, but if not, then we shall know that it is not his hand that struck us; it happened to us by coincidence.” 1 Samuel 6:7–9 (ESV)

The story ends that the cow took the ark home to Israel – but even with the miracle, the test devised by the Philistines, they did not change. They could not see God without the miracle, and they could not see God even with the miracles, the plagues, the destruction of their idols. In the end, they remained fools unable to see God.

            They were chastened by the Lord, but they despised his call to repentance (Proverbs 3:11).  The fool is called to see his sin and repent.

 

            The believer must not be the fool.

            Now we have no unequivocal evidence that Jacob’s sons – except Joseph – were godly men – but they certainly knew of the true God. Yet even after Joseph had spoken to them and shown that God lay behind their deeds, they came to Joseph again with a plea – and Joseph again had to inform them of God’s sovereignty:

19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. Genesis 50:19–21 (ESV).

We see the contrast plainly between Moses and the Israelites: Note that the Israelites blame Moses but Moses looks to the Lord:

20 They met Moses and Aaron, who were waiting for them, as they came out from Pharaoh; 21 and they said to them, “The LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

 

22 Then Moses turned to the LORD and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? 23 For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.” Exodus 5:20–23 (ESV)

Jacob’s exasperation in the face of his wife’s demands is sad, and funny and yet demonstrates a profound understanding of God’s work of lay crooks:

1 When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister. She said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” 2 Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel, and he said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” Genesis 30:1–2 (ESV)

Believers can easily look upon the secondary causes, the people, the circumstances, the history – or whatnot – and miss the true point: it is God who rules over all things. This foolishness is “natural” to us, and thus we must continually remind one-another of this truth.

 

            We must not refuse the chastening of the Lord:

11 My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, 12 for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights. Proverbs 3:11–12 (ESV)

When the Lord lays a crook across our lot, we must look to our own hearts and see the cause for God’s attention in this matter: Have we loved the world? Have we refused to repent? Have we forgotten the power of God to save – even from his creatures?

 

3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:3–11 (ESV)

 

It is a foolish and dangerous thing to be cross by the crook of God and yet to see his good purpose. God brings a rod to awaken us from stupidity and slumber. Sometimes it is pain which opens our eyes so that we may come to ourselves:

The voice of the LORD cries to the city— and it is sound wisdom to fear your name: “Hear of the rod and of him who appointed it! Micah 6:9 (ESV)

 And in hearing the rod, do not forget God’s end:

30 If his children forsake my law and do not walk according to my rules, 31 if they violate my statutes and do not keep my commandments, 32 then I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with stripes, 33 but I will not remove from him my steadfast love or be false to my faithfulness. 34 I will not violate my covenant or alter the word that went forth from my lips. 35 Once for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David. 36 His offspring shall endure forever, his throne as long as the sun before me. 37 Like the moon it shall be established forever, a faithful witness in the skies.” Selah Psalm 89:30–37 (ESV)

            Second, don’t miss the Lord’s comfort. If one forgets the fact of God behind the crook in the lot, then one misses the comfort which can come from Christ.  We can this if we assume the opposite: Imagine that the trouble which has befallen you has come for no reason beyond chance. God did not bring this sorrow, but it is has come.  That would mean that this loss, this death, this trouble and trial means nothing. It has no purpose, point – yes, perhaps God will intervene to stop some of the pain (provided that we manipulate and beg sufficiently) – it has no good purpose.

            To think in such a way is to cast off all the comfort of God.

            First, the temptation has come from the Lord, therefore, it will not overwhelm us:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13 (ESV)

If God has brought the temptation, then will measure and fit to the temptation to you. He will not crush you without mercy:

18 “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. 19 He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; 20 a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; 21 and in his name the Gentiles will hope.” Matthew 12:18–21 (ESV)

God will match the trial to the heart: he will bruise, but not break.

            Second, God will work all things for good:

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Romans 8:28–29 (ESV)

Thomas Watson explains:

This is as Jacob’s staff in the hand of faith, with which we may walk cheerfully to the mount of God! What will satisfy or make us content, if this will not? All things work together for good. This expression “work together” refers to medicine. Several poisonous ingredients put together, being tempered by the skill of the apothecary, make a sovereign medicine, and work together for the good of the patient. So all God’s providences being divinely tempered and sanctified, do work together for the best to the saints. He who loves God and is called according to His purpose, may rest assured that everything in the world shall be for his good. This is a Christian’s cordial, which may warm him—and make him like Jonathan who, when he had tasted the honey at the end of the rod, “his eyes were enlightened” (1 Sam. xiv. 27). Why should a Christian destroy himself? Why should he kill himself with care, when all things shall sweetly concur, yes, conspire for his good? The result of the text is this—all the various dealings of God with His children, do by a special providence turn to their good. “All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant” (Psalm 25:10). If every path has mercy in it, then it works for good.

            Third, God himself will bring comfort in the midst of trials:

1 “Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. 2 After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. 3 Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” Hosea 6:1–3 (ESV)

In bringing us to trials and through trials, God himself is fitting us to come to him. It is to the throne of grace that he calls us;

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14–16 (ESV)

As Richard Sibbes explains:

For the concluding of this point, and our encouragement to a thorough work of bruising, and patience under God’s bruising of us, let all know that none are fitter for comfort than those that think themselves furthest off. Men, for the most part, are not lost enough in their own feeling for a Saviour. A holy despair in ourselves is the ground of true hope. In God the fatherless find mercy (Hos. 14:3); if men were more fatherless, they should feel more God’s fatherly affection from heaven, for the God who dwells in the highest heavens dwells likewise in the lowest soul (Isa. 57:15). Christ’s sheep are weak sheep, and lacking in something or other; he therefore applies himself to the necessities of every sheep. He seeks that which was lost, and brings again that which was driven out of the way, and binds up that which was broken, and strengthens the weak (Ezek. 34:16). His tenderest care is over the weakest. The lambs he carries in his bosom (Isa. 40:11). He says to Peter, `Feed my lambs’ (John 21:15). He was most familiar and open to troubled souls. How careful he was that Peter and the rest of the apostles should not be too much dejected after his resurrection! `Go your way, tell his disciples and Peter’ (Mark 16:7). Christ knew that guilt of their unkindness in leaving of him had dejected their spirits. How gently did he endure the unbelief of Thomas and stooped so far unto his weakness, as to suffer him to thrust his hand into his side.

            Fourth, this is all of grace. We may forget and look to the creature and miss the comfort which God has offered. God will never act but for our good:

10 For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. 11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. 12 O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you! Psalm 84:10–12 (ESV)

He will never break us nor bring trouble but for our good. No parent in love would punish a child a malice; but, with a heavy heart the parent corrects and crosses the child for the child’s good. The parent stands ready to comfort and encourage the child. Why then do we think our Father full of less grace than we ourselves stand ready to give?

            The grace of God in all crooks – when seen and when the good work of God is complete – will lead us to greater love of our Savior and a deeper hope than we previously knew:

3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3–5 (ESV)

            When the crook lies most plainly through our lot, we must then walk by faith and know that God is a God of mercy and grace:

4 The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens! 5 Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, 6 who looks far down on the heavens and the earth? 7 He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, 8 to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people. 9 He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD! Psalm 113:4–9 (ESV)

 


[1] “The Crook in the Lot” was a sermon of Thomas Boston (1676-1732).  I have retained the basic outline but I have rewritten the sermon throughout. The original of the sermon is available online in several locations.

[2] Q. 11. What are God’s works of providence?
A. God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful, preserving  and governing all his creatures, and all their actions. Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 11.

[3] This, of course, does not make us puppets. Christianity is not fatalism. The interaction between human moral freedom and God’s sovereignty has vexed and puzzled Christians at least since Justin Martyr’s First Apology.