We have spent almost two weeks in Ecclesiastes, and now that we have reached the end, Solomon provided a basic conclusion for us to remember the entire book by.
Ecc 12:13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
Ecc 12:14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
If you think about it, the first part is really the first great commandment given by Jesus. He said to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and as we have explored previously in Proverbs, a large part of loving God is by recognizing and respecting how great He truly is. That kind of fear combined with a life of obedience to the commandments we have been given from God is our entire duty.
It is easy to say that, but think about the implications. For example, we are called by Jesus to love our enemies. We need to do that. It might not be easy to do, but we need to keep the commandments of God. We can’t have some kind of selective following based on what we want to do. It is our duty to do what God tells us to do.
Verse 14 is somewhat ominous, but as Christians we ultimately have nothing to worry about. God does see our entire lives, and I don’t know about you, but I deserve an awful lot of judgment for a lot of stuff I have done. It is not as if our secrets remain hidden. When God is judging the human race, all of our actions will be known. What if we get what we deserve? It won’t be pretty.
It wouldn’t be pretty unless someone had already paid the penalty for all the sin of humanity. If Jesus Christ did not come to earth and ultimately die after living a perfect life, we would need to pay our own debt, but realistically we could never do that. Only Jesus Christ could do that, and He did do that. It is one of the most fundamental verses of Christianity, but it lays out the scenario quite clearly.
Joh 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
If we believe in Jesus and that He did what He said He did, we will not be condemned. Even those works that were done in secret can be washed clean. It really is a remarkable gift when you think about it from that perspective.
Ecclesiastes 11 uses some figurative language that might seem a little bit bizarre to all of us today, but I think that it can tell us something about our faith in the work of God.
Ecc 11:5 As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.
Ecc 11:6 In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.
Verse 5 caught me off guard because we do know how bones develop for unborn children. Is the Bible wrong? It is important to remember that the Bible was written for a particular audience at a particular time, and it must have meant something to them at that time.
Neither Solomon nor his audience understood anatomy in the sense that we do nowadays, so it is not that the Bible is wrong here. At the time of writing, he was right. This does not affect the inerrancy of the Bible in any way, but it is actually a historical piece of data that tells us about the scientific understanding of people in Biblical times.
With that out of the way, we can really look at this verse and see what was being communicated with that example. Basically, we don’t know a lot of things about the world, and we don’t even understand whether or not our crops will prosper. How do we expect to understand the works of God entirely?
I think that is something that people still struggle with extensively today. We live in a world that is motivated by scientific and technological progress. We know more and more about the world around us, but I don’t think I would be exaggerating to say that there are more things we don’t know about the universe than we actually do know. Now, what if the Christian God exists? He created the universe, and He is much bigger than the universe. How can we expect to understand Him perfectly? We can learn things, but learning everything is simply not possible.
We might have a better understanding of the scientific mysteries that Solomon used in his example, but the point is still valid. We still do not perfectly understand our universe, and that is okay. We continue learning. However, it is not surprising that there are some things about God that we just don’t understand. We might be able to learn them, or we might never find out the particular answer we are looking for, but we need to trust that God is still in charge and still working.
The Bible has a lot to say about how we relate to each other, and in Ecclesiastes 10, we hear about how important it is to make sure we choose our words wisely.
Ecc 10:11 Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment; and a babbler is no better.
Ecc 10:12 The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious; but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself.
Ecc 10:13 The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness: and the end of his talk is mischievous madness.
Ecc 10:14 A fool also is full of words: a man cannot tell what shall be; and what shall be after him, who can tell him?
It is very similar to the basic message that we have been hearing from Proverbs among other places. People who are wise are gracious with their words. Fools tend to get themselves in trouble by what they say. It begins with simple foolishness, but if it goes unchecked, it can turn into madness.
The obvious lesson for us today is that we need to strive after wisdom. Notice that how we speak is related to if we are wise or foolish. Our words will be a consequence of the person that we are. It makes me think about how people know we are Christians. One way should be in our words. We should be wise in what we say. We should be gracious. We should not be saying things that swallow us up.
I am not talking about some kind of works-based salvation, but as a Christian, there ought to be evidences of a changed life, and our words are one thing that can be an evidence.
This was a review, but it cannot be emphasized enough. It is amazing how many Christian leaders or just average Christians like you or me have had their testimonies destroyed by what they say. We don’t need that to happen anymore.
I like the fact that Ecclesiastes 9 ends with a kind of parable.
Ecc 9:13 This wisdom have I seen also under the sun, and it seemed great unto me:
Ecc 9:14 There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it:
Ecc 9:15 Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man.
Ecc 9:16 Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength: nevertheless the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard.
Ecc 9:17 The words of wise men are heard in quiet more than the cry of him that ruleth among fools.
Ecc 9:18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war: but one sinner destroyeth much good.
I think most of us have probably lived through something like this. We had a great idea that made a big difference. Maybe we haven’t literally saved a city, but we have all done something at some point that made a difference for someone.
However, I assume that most of people who are going to be reading this are pretty normal people. I doubt I have any international power players among my readership. If you are just an average person, even though you might do something great, you fade back into the shadows. That is the end of verse 15, and experientially, we know it is true. You hear about it on the news. Someone is a hero and saves the life of another person. Perhaps he or she even displayed a great deal of wisdom in figuring out how to save that person. After a day or two, that story is old news, and the average person goes back to being an average person.
That’s verse 17. Those of us who are average do things quietly, but we that doesn’t mean we are not important. God uses people who work in quiet to do great things. He has given us all abilities, and we are all supposed to use them. It is interesting how some people become famous while others do not, but when we use the wisdom that God has given us, we can do great things.
Ecclesiastes 8 presents a potential problem, and this was a lot of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer must have gone through when he was in Nazi Germany.
Ecc 8:2 I counsel thee to keep the king’s commandment, and that in regard of the oath of God.
Ecc 8:3 Be not hasty to go out of his sight: stand not in an evil thing; for he doeth whatsoever pleaseth him.
Ecc 8:4 Where the word of a king is, there is power: and who may say unto him, What doest thou?
Ecc 8:5 Whoso keepeth the commandment shall feel no evil thing: and a wise man’s heart discerneth both time and judgment.
Here on earth, there are people who are given powerful positions. We might really support some of them, and we might really disagree with others. How then do we handle this passage in Ecclesiastes?
On the surface, it seems pretty obvious. We submit to those who are put in authority. God put them there. Verse two seems to point that out clearly.
Verse three seems similarly wise. Don’t go away from the king and do something evil. Notice that there is something implied here. This implies that the king will not lead you down the bad path, but in actuality, there have been kings that do evil. As I mentioned above, Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived under one of the worst rulers of all time. Was he obligated to do everything that Adolf Hitler wanted?
I think that the important thing to remember about this passage is that it was written at a specific time for a specific purpose. Certainly, the rulers of Israel were not perfect on the whole, but their law was based on the word of God. The people themselves had problems, but the law was not the problem. The same cannot be said for laws that are created today without regard for the Bible.
I think that the essence of the rule is still the same. We ought to submit to our rulers. God has put them there for a purpose. There are other places in Scripture that support that argument as well. However, there is also something to be said for the case of Daniel. It was illegal to pray, but he still prayed. Why is there some kind of exception here? Shouldn’t he have listened to the commandment of the king?
Our commitment to God needs to be higher than our commitment to man. Daniel could have stopped praying, but then he would not have been doing what God wanted. God’s law was more important.
I said in the beginning that this could be a potential problem. I can certainly see the world we live in becoming less and less hospitable to Christianity. There are places in the world where our faith would be illegal right now. Say I lived in North Korea, and I was distributing Bibles. People have been killed for doing it, and it is clearly against the law. Should I stop distributing Bibles? Should the law of the country rise above the Great Commission which tells me to take the Gospel of Christ everywhere? I think the answer is rather obvious.
I know that some people will deny this, but I think it’s pretty fair to say that most of us have had quite a bit of praise in our lives. It might not be as much as we want, but all of us can at least think of a time where someone praised us for doing something really well.
Why did that praise mean anything?
I guess I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, all praise is not created equal. Sometimes, it means an awful lot when someone gives me a compliment, and other times, while it is certainly appreciated, it doesn’t mean quite as much.
Why is there a difference?
I think that for me, when I receive a compliment from someone who I know is sincere, it means more. When I receive a compliment from someone I respect, that means a lot. When I receive a compliment from someone who doesn’t hand out compliments easily, it means a lot.
I think this is what we are supposed to understand from Ecclesiastes 7. Obviously, we should be grateful for whatever praise people are willing to give to us, but I think that some praise means more than others.
Ecc 7:5 It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools.
Ecc 7:6 For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity.
It is interesting that this passage even goes one step further. We might like praise, but it is better to be rebuked by the wise than praised by the foolish. Why? The praise of the foolish is basically worthless. There is really nothing for you to gain from that praise. On the contrary, even though it might not be as pleasant to be corrected, when that comes from the wise, you are going to be better off than you were before.
In Ecclesiastes 6, we are back to the problem of vanity and worthlessness. Today we have strong words for people who aren’t able to enjoy what God has blessed them with. It kind of follows from what we talked about yesterday. God has given us things for us personally to enjoy.
Ecc 6:3 If a man beget an hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years be many, and his soul be not filled with good, and also that he have no burial; I say, that an untimely birth is better than he.
Ecc 6:4 For he cometh in with vanity, and departeth in darkness, and his name shall be covered with darkness.
This man has a lot of reason to be very happy. He has been blessed with a large family, and he has lived many years. Those are great things, and they are gifts from God. However, this guy doesn’t have his soul filled with good. The translation is a little bit awkward, but after reading the alternate translations for this word, it is more kind of like if his soul is not satisfied with the good in his life. In other words, he doesn’t realize what he has and has not been enjoying it.
Basically, he might as well have not been born. That is certainly a strong charge, but I think the point is well taken. God has blessed us in so many ways. There are good things all around us, and we need to be grateful for them. If we miss out, that leaves us with a pretty empty life. The enjoyment that we could have had simply wasn’t good enough. We were looking somewhere else or simply did not want to enjoy what we had been given for some reason.
I guess the obvious application for all of us is that God is good. However, it is really important for all of us to not be like this man. We don’t want to miss everything good that God has given us. Otherwise, we will have a very tragic life.
I think that we can sometimes run into a dilemma on the concept of charity. On one hand, we know that we are supposed to help people. We talked yesterday about social justice. It is a good thing to help people who are in need. We can find plenty of Biblical justification for being a good neighbor and helping those in need. Think about the parable of the Good Samaritan. He didn’t think about his own inconvenience; he helped with whatever he had.
Ecclesiastes 5 might seem to run into a bit of a contradiction then.
Ecc 5:18 Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion.
Ecc 5:19 Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God.
I don’t know about you, but I have occasionally wondered how it is possible to do both. For example, I know that all of us here in America have been incredibly blessed. I don’t mean to make light of poverty, but when you compare poverty in America to poverty in other places in the world, there really isn’t very much of a comparison.
How then is it possible for me to justify keeping anything for myself? After all, even if I have one decent sized meal a day, I have more than so many people throughout the world. How can I possibly justify having another one? I should be more concerned about giving that away and using it to help those who have less than I do.
I think that Ecclesiastes 5 is able to help put this in perspective though. Whatever God has given to you, you should enjoy it. You should enjoy your portion. However, God defines that portion. That is what is vital to remember.
Let’s say I became a millionaire. I became incredibly good as an insurance underwriter and brought in quite a bit of money. I would certainly have the ability to buy a Ferrari. I could pick up a pen and write a check. That wouldn’t be a problem.
However, if I only looked after my own desires, that would be wrong. All of that money that I hypothetically made belongs to God and is available for His use. He decides what portion of it I should have. That is why we need to be very prayerful with our finances. God certainly wants us to use some of it because if we gave away everything, we would certainly die of starvation. Jesus tells us not to worry about what we will have to eat, but when that physical need is provided, we certainly do not need to give that gift from God away.
I know this is a difficult topic, but we need to work very hard to find a balance. We certainly have an obligation to be charitable. We have an obligation to help people. However, on the other hand, God has given us things that we are told to enjoy. The biggest thing to remember is that all of that really belongs to God. We cannot fall in love with our money. We follow God, and He directs how we use what we have.
Eternity is a difficult concept to grapple with. We all experience time in a linear fashion. Yesterday happened before today and tomorrow hasn’t happened yet. That is the only way that we know how to understand time, and our knowledge is constrained by that type of time. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow because we haven’t been there yet.
God is different, and in Ecclesiastes 3, we learn that His time is different than our time.
Ecc 3:14 I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him.
Ecc 3:15 That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past.
There are at least two differences between God and man illustrated here. First, God can do what He wants. It is not as if God will do something and we can overrule Him. Like the verse says, we can’t add anything to it or take anything away from it. That is certainly different than how we operate. I can do something, but it is possible for you to change it somewhere down the road.
The second main difference is in verse 15 and is rather hard to grasp. The past and the future seem to be one in the same. To make it even stranger, both the past and the future exist simultaneously with the present. As a result, it seems as if everything for God is experienced simultaneously which is somewhat mind blowing for those of us who are constrained by linear time. This concept certainly adds comfort to the idea that God holds the future. How does He know the future? He knows it because He is experiencing it as the present right now. That’s just one example, but it is an important implication.
I think that these two examples demonstrate two very important differences between God and humanity. The read this chapter talks about how there is a time for every purpose. That is the human side. For God, every time is right now, so it is not as if God will be happy today and sad tomorrow. Personally, this is a very tough concept to even think about, and I don’t know if I am communicating it very well at all, but the reality of an eternal God certainly has different implications than having a God who has to be constrained by linear time like we are.