The Crook in the Lot is a wonderful sermon by Thomas Boston. However, Boston style and the progress of time and language make the sermon difficult to follow. Therefore, I have undertaken to revise the sermon to make it more accessible. Below is the first section of that revision:
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. God knows the future, and the past perfectly. Everything which happens from first to last happens because he determined that it would be true. 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.