by Al Maxey

Issue #677 ------- October 1, 2015
The American people are a very generous
people, and will forgive almost any weakness,
with the possible exception of stupidity.

Will Rogers (1879-1935)

Idiots and Wild Donkeys
Reflective Analysis of Job 11:12

Jesus declared, "The poor you have always with you" (Matt. 26:11; Mark 14:7; John 12:8), but Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) gave this well-known statement a new twist when he wrote in his journal, "The stupid you have always with you." Sadly, both statements reflect the reality of the human condition. Puck, in Shakespeare's play "A Midsummer Night's Dream," got it right when he said, "Lord, what fools these mortals be!" One of my favorite sayings within the Jewish rabbinical writings known as the Midrash is: "If one man says to thee, 'Thou art a donkey,' do not mind; if two speak thus, purchase a saddle for thyself." Let's be honest with ourselves: we have all, at one time or another (and some more frequently than others), acted foolishly, thus portraying ourselves to others as idiots. This is so common that such a thought is even presented proverbially within the Scriptures: "A stupid man will get understanding when a wild donkey's colt is born a man" (Job 11:12, English Standard Version).

An "idiot," according to Webster's New World Dictionary, is "a very foolish or stupid person." The Bible is filled with hundreds of references to fools and their foolishness, and they are never portrayed in a positive light. Years ago I saw a cartoon portraying God as a Chef, and He was pouring various "ingredients" into His mixing bowl as He was creating His master concoction of humanity. He was putting in the various races, rich and poor, young and old, and then He grabbed a container labeled "idiots," and as He poured it out liberally into His mixture He said with a smile, "Just to make things interesting!" And yet, God's true feelings are accurately and succinctly stated in Ecclesiastes 5:4 -- "He has no pleasure in fools." Ignorance can be remedied by the acquisition of knowledge, but there is no cure for stupid. This thought is portrayed powerfully and proverbially in the statement made by Zophar to Job (Job 11:12) quoted at the end of the first paragraph above: "An idiot will become intelligent when the foal of a wild donkey is born a man" (New American Standard Bible). This is an extremely difficult passage to translate from the original Hebrew, and scholars have debated for centuries exactly how the words should be rendered and what they might signify. For example, notice the wide diversity of the following renderings (which are in addition to the two versions already quoted above):

As one can see, "there is no end to the translations of this verse, and conjectures relative to its meaning" [Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, vol. 3, p. 63]. Part of the reason for this is: "The original is difficult and uncertain" [ibid]. "It is extremely difficult because it is hard to distinguish subject and predicate" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 4, p. 24], and thus this text "has been variously misinterpreted" [Drs. Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 4, p. 183]. Most scholars, however, agree on the intent of the passage: it describes the great difficulty of ever turning away a fool from his folly. You have about as much of a chance of accomplishing that as you would in finding a wild donkey giving birth to a human (or being born tame and domesticated). In other words, some things are extremely unlikely, if not altogether impossible, because it goes against the nature of the thing involved. The wild donkeys of the Judean desert were by nature strong-willed and untamed, and were so commonly regarded as such that it became proverbial among the people of Israel. "The wild ass is a striking image of that which is untamed and unsubdued. ... the proverbial image of wildness and an unsubdued spirit" [Albert Barnes, Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. This is "a proverb for untamed wildness" [Drs. Jamieson, Fausset, Brown, Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 373]. Matthew Henry stated than "an idiot is like an ass, the most stupid of animals" [Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. John Wesley (1703-1791) described the wild desert donkey as "ignorant, dull, and stupid, and yet heady and intractable" [Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, e-Sword].

The two major schools of thought with regard to this proverbial passage from the book of Job is that the latter half is speaking of (1) a wild donkey giving birth to a human, or (2) a wild donkey being born docile and domesticated. The second view is probably the most likely understanding, for it speaks to the inherent nature of the creature. Fools are foolish and donkeys are wild, and it is about as hard to make a fool wise as it is to tame a wild donkey, for in both cases one seeks to completely transform their nature. Though not impossible, it is improbable. Thus, this "emblematic proverb suggests the one will happen not earlier than, and as little as, the other" [Drs. Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 4, p. 185]. "Zophar labeled Job a witless, empty-headed man with as much chance to become wise as a wild donkey has to be born tame" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 917]. Dr. Paul Kretzmann suggests: "A witless fool should be filled with understanding, and he should be regenerated, though by nature he is as untamed as the colt of a wild ass" [Popular Commentary of the Bible: The Old Testament, vol. 2, p. 16].

In Genesis 16:12, the Angel of the Lord informed Hagar that the child she would bear (whose name was to be Ishmael) would "be a wild donkey of a man" (the literal Hebrew is: "a wild-ass man"). It was a reference to his nature. Zophar, "the third, and possibly the youngest of the friends of Job" [The Broadman Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 63], was convinced that Job possessed and was displaying an insubmissive spirit: that he was not submitting to God as he should, and thus Zophar was rather harsh with Job for what he perceived his nature to be. In effect, Zophar "attempted heavy-handed shock treatment to get through to Job, and the sharpness of his sarcasm is demonstrated in verse 12" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 917]. Sadly, "like Bildad, he lacked compassion and was ruthlessly judgmental. He thought Job, who was suffering to the point of despair, was getting much less than he deserved" [ibid, p. 916]. Adam Clarke said of Zophar, "In sour godliness he excelled all the rest" [Clarke's Commentary, vol. 3, p. 63]. The truly tragic thing about this whole scenario with Zophar and Job is that the former had completely misread and misunderstood the situation before him, and as a result he did nothing to alleviate Job's suffering, and in fact added to it. In a far more general sense, however, Zophar had a point: those who live as fools, behaving foolishly, are indeed a difficult bunch to try and convert to a wiser and more noble existence. It can be done, but it is about as frustrating as taming a wild donkey, or the colt of one. The Bible is filled with accounts of the foolishness of fools, and of the willful stubbornness of such "wild-ass men/women" who are determined to "do as they please" regardless of who gets harmed in the process.

Yes, the spiritually stubborn, and all those steeped in foolishness, are always with us, and like God we find little pleasure in them. The prophet Jeremiah characterized his people as being too much like "a swift young camel entangling her ways, and a wild donkey accustomed to the wilderness who sniffs the wind in her passion" (Jeremiah 2:23-24). They are stubborn, senseless creatures, dwelling in the wilderness of this world, and sniffing the wind to find whatever it takes to satisfy their worldly passions. How does one change the nature of a wild donkey? How does one change the nature of a fool? With regard to the latter, some will say, "Teach them." Yet, "fools despise wisdom and instruction" (Proverbs 1:7), and "fools hate knowledge" (vs. 22). "Wisdom is too high for a fool" (Proverbs 24:7). "Though you grind a fool in a mortar, grinding him like grain with a pestle, you will not remove his folly from him" (Proverbs 27:22). "You stupid ones, when will you become wise?" (Psalm 94:8). Sadly, most never will, for changing their nature is about as difficult as changing the nature of a wild donkey and/or its colt romping in the desert. It can happen, but it is rather rare. God didn't call me to tame wild jackasses (figuratively speaking), and I bear the hoof prints of my few efforts to do so! He has called me, however, to help the willing seeker to be transformed into the image of our Lord. Fools and idiots we always have with us, and they will continue to persist in their folly. Thus, I will waste no time on them. My efforts will be focused on sharing the wisdom from above with those genuinely desirous of a relationship with the Lord through faith in His Son Jesus. All other doctrine and dogma I'll leave to the desert donkeys, a hard-headed herd who do far more braying than praying.

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Colorado:

Our CD we purchased from you on The New Covenant Church arrived today. Thanks again for your prompt service. My husband and I listened to the recording of the first class in this series today, and it was great! We really enjoy listening to your style of teaching. Even Jeff (the one in your class who makes such good comments) seems like an old friend. (LOL) Have a nice weekend.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

I can just imagine the legalistic brethren ranting over your new Reflections article: "The Paradox of Dying to Live" (Reflections #676). You are killing off their entire herd of sacred cows! They will surely be heating the tar pots and collecting feathers for you! We love you, brother. Keep tearing down the walls of legalism.

From a Reader in Georgia:

"The Paradox of Dying to Live" is outstanding!! I get so weary of listening to people manipulate Romans 6 for the purpose of elevating water above blood. I am so glad you point this stuff out for folks who just haven't had the time to study on their own to the level it requires to properly distinguish Truth from tradition. Keep at it, brother! Love and Best Wishes to you!

From Ray Downen in Missouri:

I received your latest Reflections article ("The Paradox of Dying to Live") in today's email. You seem determined to rewrite the gospels and apostolic writings in order to remove from the Way the baptism commanded by Jesus. In Romans 6, Paul makes clear that the way we enter into fellowship with Jesus is by baptism. You imply that Paul is just mentioning baptism as an aside from the main thrust of his message. But Paul couldn't have been more clear. Baptism is the burying of a man of sin and resurrection into new life of a repentant believer in Jesus (Romans 6:1-6). Try as you might, you can't erase what the apostle wrote. But you do your best to say he didn't mean what he was saying. And you claim to love Jesus and want to serve Him. Baptists mean well, but they are NOT serving Jesus by teaching contrary to what Jesus commands and what His apostles taught and practiced. Your conversion doctrine is Baptist doctrine. It is NOT Christian doctrine. I wish you would be honest and tell all your friends that the doctrine you now teach is Baptist (not Christian) doctrine. Thousands are being led astray by your teaching. You hooked us by teaching against legalism, and in that you were right. But your present teaching is false teaching, and it is no accident. It's on purpose. It's Baptist doctrine. I would be glad if you would quote my response in full in a future Reflections article. I waste no words.

From a Reader in Louisiana:

In reviewing a Christian book catalog, I came across a book by Dr. Everett Ferguson titled "Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries." In reading some of the reviews, one person stated that it was just a book in defense of Church of Christ teachings on baptism. I was considering purchasing it, but am now a little hesitant since I do not want to pay $37 to read a 984 page defense of the traditional Church of Christ teachings on this topic. I already know what they are, having grown up in this tradition. I would rather reread your book Immersed By One Spirit instead. Thank you for all of your weekly writings in Reflections. They are a blessing to all who will read them with an open mind. I for one have been spiritually enriched by your writing ministry, and I periodically pass your articles on to friends. Peace and blessings to you and your family.

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