“Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.“
Thus saith Solomon, who wrote three books of the Bible.
What does that word do to you?
Personally, I love books. I read books all the time. I read 90 books last year. I have a spreadsheet cataloging all the books I have read in the last 12 years. It includes my rating, review, and critique. It has 1077 books in it and does not include multiple readings of the same book.
Books are awesome. I do not find them to be a weariness to my flesh. In fact, I would consider many of them to be life-giving to my soul.
Over my years in Christianity I have met Christians who fall into three camps on books.
Books are central to faith
This group sees intellectual pursuit as the cornerstone of faith. They love scholarly volumes and talking over your head about them. You can’t help but feel intellectually puny in their presence. They don’t so much believe the Gospel as they believe academic achievement IS the Gospel.
Books are anathema to faith
This group thinks books are wrong. “I just read the Bible” is frequently said by them. They are convinced that they have it figured out, no one has anything else of value to add to my understanding. In fact, you can understand too much, and thus eliminate faith itself. The love of knowledge is the root of all evil.
Books can be helpful but not always
This group likes to learn. They know they don’t know everything and that other believers may have valuable insights to offer. At the same time, no one is perfect. There is no one author who has it all figured out. Take what you can from each book and forget the rest. But keep reading for those gems that are out there.
I obviously consider myself to be in category three. There is no point in being intellectually superior and lording over others your ten volume systematic theologies. Glad you read it (if you actually did). Glad it helped. But condescend to men of low estate.
There is also no point in delving into Christianity’s anti-intellectualism. Much danger lies here. Ignorance is not bliss; ignorance is dangerous. There are people who can help you. Take their help.
So what was Solomon talking about? Was he suggesting not reading or studying? Look at the context:
Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. 10 The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth. 11 The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. 12 My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
Solomon is warning his son to not get carried away. Solomon did lots of work to find, study, and arrange wise proverbs. Stick with those. It’s God’s Word. Don’t think you can find inspired words elsewhere.
Lots of people write. Lots of people claim inspiration. But be careful. Don’t go after people. Learning their stuff will wear you out. Stick with God’s Word. Read people to the extent they help you understand God.
I think Solomon would read books; he’s merely warning his son not to make reading and academics his main drive in life–it will wear you out.
But a good dose of reading, along with a good dose of applying God’s Word and growing, will do wonders. Sitting in a room all day studying books isn’t the point. That doesn’t mean books can’t help; it means using books aren’t the sum of Christian growth.
As in all things: moderation. There is a season for everything. If you find yourself getting worn out by books and learning and the rat race of intellectual pursuit–chill and stick with God’s Word.
If however, your reading helps you enjoy God’s Word even more and it’s not wearing you out–by all means, read away!