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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

- Ecclesiastes

by Multiple Authors

The Book of Ecclesiastes

Ecclesiastes is a negative, when once developed, produces an unbelievably sharp picture of modern man. Once the message of the book is sufficiently grasped and perceived, one is astounded at how crisp, up to date, and relevant the pictures are. Little would we suspect that such graphic word photographs were taken nearly three thousand years ago! It is possible, as Robert L. Short has demonstrated, to capture today’s various moods of work and play through the lens of his camera, and set the picture along side the corresponding truths of this marvelous book. There is nothing new under the sun!

The untiring and resourceful experiments of “the Preacher” are proposed and carried out with a single objective: to discover if man is capable of finding joy, fulfillment, and lasting satisfaction in things which are purely of a sublunary nature. His conclusion is that not only is such a pursuit futile, it is like “feasting on the wind.”

His photographs reveal the true picture of life. He does not attempt to hide selfishness, hypocrisy, greed, oppression, tyranny, ambition, or social inequities. He tells it like it is. He has at least this much in common with the present generation.

He recognizes that God has control of His world. He senses a providential influence in all of life. It is just that his photography never brings God into sharp focus. He is always in the distance. He is there, but one can never quite make out His form. His influence and power are felt but no word is forthcoming to give one direction to life or an interpretation of the pictures of life. It isn’t that the Preacher is disinterested in the answers, he simply cannot find them on his own. He writes, “Even though man should seek laboriously, he will not discover” (Ecclesiastes 8:17).

From the beginning, man has had to earn his living by the sweat of his brow. This labor takes on many forms. It is evident from the Preacher’s observations that even when one does not have to resort to physical labor for his daily needs that he still must labor with his mind. The advantage appears to be with the man who labors with his hands. He discovers his sleep to be sweet and peaceful as compared to the man who increases his wisdom and knowledge and at the same time increases his sorrow.

The basic question of the book is: Is there any profit in all of man’s work which he does upon this earth?

Hard work! That is the key. Every man who has ever lived can identify with that. Labor and reward, labor and reward. This is the age-old principle, but does it really work? The paradox of life is that the richest men are often the lonliest men and those with the greatest wealth are the ones who possess the greatest need. This is the puzzle that must be sorted out and put together.

When the book is completed, the reader has discovered that no new road can be traveled. Man has traveled the road before. Each new generation appears to discover something new, but they are merely inventing new names to define and describe ancient pursuits.

The Preacher has succeeded in putting his finger on the emptiness of man. He has actually photographed the vacuum. His greatest contribution, however, is to lead the reader to see that the “want” of man is in the form of Jesus. The vacuum is Christ-shaped. It is important that we see in Ecclesiastes more than the woe of a disappointed preacher.

The book has been variously interpreted through the years offering vastly different “keys” to unlock its hidden meanings. Keys are important in interpreting much of the Bible, but they must always be in harmony with the immediate and greater context of the writer. They must never contradict the overriding purpose of God’s revelation. Keys, therefore, must fit the lock before they are of value. Many approaches to the book have been discarded simply on the basis that the key did not work. It may be impossible to discover the exact key that satisfactorily reveals every nuance, or meaning, or hidden lesson contained in Ecclesiastes. It would be presumptuous to offer one’s interpretation as the “only” workable key. However, there is a certain amount of confidence that must be demonstrated in writing a commentary on a book of the Bible. At the same time one comes to such a responsibility with humility and gravity of mind. It is this author’s prayer that nothing offered will be contrary to the greater purposes of God or hinder His blessings on those who study.

The following limited examples of some of the themes pursued in the interpretation of the book run the gamut of human imagination and experience. These include such alleged “keys” as epicurean philosophy, fatalism, hedonism, pessimism, cynical materialism, sensuality and license, and existentialism. “To some it has presented itself as merely the sad outpouring of the deep melancholy of a world-weary monarch, sated with all that life can offer." Others see in it the expressions of a repentant Solomon reconciled at last to the God whom he had forgotten. So divergent have been the interpretations that even skeptics and infidels have rejoiced over the fact that such a book is in the Bible. They see only the superficial meaning of some phrases, when taken out of context, which appear to contradict the rest of the Bible. In addition they hope to see in the book a humanistic and secular approach to life that excludes the necessity of God, and places emphasis on pleasure as the object of man’s greatest good.

The purpose of the book is clearly stated in Ecclesiastes 12:13 : “Fear God and keep His commandments.”

Secondary purposes or themes are numerous. One prominent idea is that everything of this world is cursed to a transitory nature and thus one cannot find true enjoyments in either the collection of the earth’s goods or the pleasure derived from them. To divorce one from a love of earthly things is a worthy endeavor. Another minor theme calls attention to the inequities of life and teaches that the godly ones should not be discouraged when they are caught by them. Numerous lessons may be derived from a study of the book but each should be kept subservient to the major purpose.

There is little dispute over the destiny of the book. It was primarily written to the godly in Israel, Like all other books of the Bible with the qualities of practical application, it must be accepted in the Christian age for its contribution to our understanding of and participation in the redemption process. It has been stated that Ecclesiastes asks the questions that the rest of the Bible answers.

If the book did nothing more than demonstrate the futility of living apart from God’s grace and revelation, it would have a pertinent place in every age. If the average non-Christian individual would but read it today, it could bring him much more quickly to Christ. It would save him the difficult, arduous journey of a wasted life. He could see immediately that God is the only alternative to this world and its offerings, and that Jesus is God’s first and last argument to man’s claim to genuine fulfillment and peace.

The immediate recipients of the book were those godly people of Israel whose needs were to be met by the ministry of the Preacher’s words. More than this, there is a message for the Christian and the non-Christian today.

Although there is general acceptance that the book was written to the godly in Israel, there are more important questions on this subject: to the godly of what age and by whom?

Opinions on these two questions generally center in two camps. The one holds the more traditional view that Solomon is the author and that he wrote to those of his own day. The other view, more widely accepted since the middle of the seventeenth century, subscribes to the theory that the book was written by one who impersonates Solomon, choosing to refer to himself as “the Preacher,” or by the Hebrew term “Koheleth.” They would say that the godly of Israel were those who lived under Persian or Greek rule from 400–200 B.C. For an example, let us give the words of Robert L. Short who maintains this view. He writes, “So, then, who was Ecclesiastes really? Ecclesiastes was an upper-class teacher of wisdom who lived in Jerusalem about three centuries before Christ. Beyond this there is little more about the man that we need to know—or indeed can know—in order to appreciate his book." Although during the last three centuries the consensus of writers has been against the Solomonic authorship of Ecclesiastes, a new trend is developing in favor of ascribing the book to him. It is a well accepted fact that the universal consent of antiquity attributed the authorship of Ecclesiastes to Solomon. The traditional Jewish view subscribed to Solomonic authorship.

Our discussion shall assume Solomonic authorship. The date, therefore, would be approximately 985 B.C., or toward the end of his life. The original readers of his words would be those of his own day. Throughout the book Solomon may be variously referred to as the Preacher, Koheleth, Ecclesiastes or Solomon. Ecclesiastes is a transliteration in the English of the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew title. The Hebrew name for the book is Koheleth. It means to assemble as a congregation, and many believe for the purpose of receiving a message. Martin Luther rendered the title, Der Prediger, which simply means The Preacher. This title is consistent with the fact that in Ecclesiastes 1:1 the Preacher has certain words to communicate to his audience and in Ecclesiastes 12:10 the Preacher “sought to find delightful words and to write words of truth correctly.”

Ecclesiastes falls into two equal parts. The first six chapters establish the premise that all earthly things are futile and that the only way man can have personal satisfaction is to live within God’s providential blessings. The last six chapters, or second half of the book, assume this premise and therefore proceeds to demonstrate that man can still reap earthly benefits regardless of environmental circumstances. Once man is led to see that earthly values cannot satisfy, he is ready for the conclusion of the book. The conclusion is really a three-fold admonition: (1) to work in harmony with God through the words of one Shepherd; (2) to fear God and keep His commandments; and (3) to realize that God will bring every work into judgment.

Ecclesiastes:

It’s Author and Contents

The Hebrew word Koheleth was translated by the Greek Septuagint translation to Ecclesiastes which means “one who speaks in the assembly.” The English word “Preacher” is used throughout the text of the book in place of the Hebrew (Koheleth). The book sets out to answer the question found at Ecclesiastes 1:3, “What profit hath man of all his labor wherein he labors under the sun?”

Some believe the author of Ecclesiastes to be anonymous. Keil and Delitzsch contend that the author is a man living in the Persian Empire (i.e., anywhere from 464 to 332 BC) in Palestine and dwelling near the temple of God (cf. Ecclesiastes 1:12; Ecclesiastes 8:10). Some believe the author of Ecclesiastes to be one who merely claimed to be Solomon. Most believe; however, that the book was written by Solomon. The author of Ecclesiastes claims to be the “son of David” (Ecclesiastes 1:1 and applied to Solomon at 2 Samuel 12:24). He is the “king in Jerusalem” (Ecclesiastes 1:1 and applied to Solomon 1 Kings 1:43). The author of Ecclesiastes is one of “great wisdom” (Ecclesiastes 1:16 and applied to Solomon at 1 Kings 3:5-15). Furthermore the author of Ecclesiastes was one of great wealth (Ecclesiastes 1:16; Ecclesiastes 2:7-9 and applied to Solomon at 1 Kings 10:23) and a builder of great structures (Ecclesiastes 2:4-11; 1 Kings 6 all; 9:17). It seems very clear that Solomon is the true author of this book and thereby dated between 970 and 930 BC.

Solomon had set out to “apply his heart to seek and to search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven:” (Ecclesiastes 1:13; Ecclesiastes 8:9). Solomon wanted to know the “reason” for all things (Ecclesiastes 7:25) and to “Lay to my heart even to explore” (Ecclesiastes 9:1). His objective was to find the answer to the question posed at Ecclesiastes 1:3, “What profit hath man of all his labor wherein he labors under the sun” (see also Ecclesiastes 3:9; Ecclesiastes 5:16). Man lives a life (some short and some long) (Ecclesiastes 2:16; Ecclesiastes 3:2; Ecclesiastes 8:12-14; Ecclesiastes 11:8), labors for sustenance (Ecclesiastes 2:11), experiences heartaches, sorrows, pain, and sickness (Ecclesiastes 5:17; Ecclesiastes 7:4; Ecclesiastes 7:10), suffers oppressions (Ecclesiastes 4:1 ff), seeks out things such as wisdom (Ecclesiastes 1:13), pleasure (Ecclesiastes 2:1), and happiness (Ecclesiastes 2:3). All these things occur in life yet Solomon’s quest is to answer the question of why and what profit can come of these things? The Preacher said, “For what hath a man of all his labor, and of the striving of his heart, wherein he labors under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 2:22 see also 3:9). Solomon eventually concludes that the endeavor of attempting to understand why things happens is itself a vain exercise because no man can know God’s providential ways (Ecclesiastes 8:16-17). The book bears out the fact that the “profit” sought after is not earthly but rather eternal.

Ecclesiastes is a book that sets out to record Solomon’s observations in life. He has observed that some live good and others live evil yet good and bad things happen to all (i.e., there is no divine preferential treatment toward the righteous or discrimination against the unrighteous) (see Ecclesiastes 9:1 ff; Ecclesiastes 2:14; Ecclesiastes 8:12-13). Furthermore, the Preacher takes note that righteous men suffer as wrong doers and evil men live a peaceful life (Ecclesiastes 8:14). The preacher has observed some “evil” things in life. That is, things that are unnatural, just not right, or do not seem fair and further identified as “error” at Ecclesiastes 10:5. He considered it evil that a man may labor diligently all his life and gain wealth and wisdom yet when he dies his portion goes to a sloth and a fool (see Ecclesiastes 2:21). Again, the preacher notes that it is an evil thing for a man to gain much riches only to have them taken away by an “evil adventure” so that he has nothing to leave his son (Ecclesiastes 5:13-14). The Preacher considered it evil that a man comes into the world naked, works hard and gains much, yet then dies not being able to take anything with him (Ecclesiastes 5:15-16). Then again Solomon considered it an evil thing to be blessed with riches yet die too soon to enjoy them (Ecclesiastes 6:1-2). Furthermore the Preachers sees evil when the wicked are viewed with dignity while the rich sit in low places and princes walk rather than ride (Ecclesiastes 10:5-7). Solomon observes the fact that a righteous man may find himself suffering serious sickness, early death, sorrows due to the loss of a loved one, an unfortunate event that causes him to loose his life’s savings and all simply because he is a man upon the earth. Such a one does not suffer because of evil or good but rather all events happen to all walks of life (Eccl. 9:23). The point is that anything can happen to anyone at any given moment (Ecclesiastes 9:2). The Preacher wants to know why that is.

These thoughts cause a man to contemplate the same question that Solomon poses. What profit is there in all of these events under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:3; Ecclesiastes 2:22; Ecclesiastes 3:9)? Ecclesiastes leaves its readers with a real picture of life. The rich suffer as do the poor. The righteous man experiences calamity just as the wicked. Solomon reveals to us that through all our experiences on earth God’s providential hand is there (see Ecclesiastes 9:1). The Lord is playing an active role in all of humanity’s life (Ecclesiastes 6:1-2). He has no preference, prejudice, or discrimination when it comes to allowing calamity and prosperity in a man’s life (Ecclesiastes 9:2; Ecclesiastes 9:11). Solomon reveals that there is no way for man to know what the hand of God will do next in one’s life (Ecclesiastes 7:14; Ecclesiastes 8:16-17; Ecclesiastes 11:5). Man cannot predict (Ecclesiastes 7:10) nor change (Ecclesiastes 7:13) God’s providence. Solomon’s advice for man is to thereby work hard upon this earth, even though a calamity may befall us, (Ecclesiastes 11:6).

Though “all is vanity” and man cannot calculate or predict God’s providence we can nonetheless understand that there is a purpose to all events in this life. Man is being proved while walking through this life (Ecclesiastes 3:18; Ecclesiastes 8:14; 1 Peter 1:6-7; James 1:2-3). Let all humanity know that as we experience calamity, adversity, wealth, happiness, love, and all that life throws at us God is watching our reactions and knows the very thoughts of our mind (see Deuteronomy 31:21 b; 32:18-19; Jeremiah 23:24-25). The wicked and foolish will experience great sorrows as a reaction to calamity because their hope is in this world (2 Corinthians 7:10). The Christian ought to say as Job, “aked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: Jehovah gave, and Jehovah hath taken away; blessed be the name of Jehovah” (Job 1:21 see also 2 Corinthians 4:16-18; Hebrews 10:32-39). A secondary purpose found in the vain things of life is joy. Though all is vanity not all is without purpose (see Ecclesiastes 3:1). God intends man to enjoy the blessings of this life while we are among the living (Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:12-13; Ecclesiastes 5:18-20; Ecclesiastes 8:15; Ecclesiastes 9:7-9).

Ecclesiastes gives us a panoramic view of life itself. We are born into this world and experience pleasures, heartaches, love, hatred, desires, wealth, and calamity. The entirety of life does not last long at all (James 4:14). When the end comes one may truly say that “all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2; Ecclesiastes 2:17; Ecclesiastes 4:4; Ecclesiastes 9:9; Ecclesiastes 11:8; Ecclesiastes 12:8). The word vanity means to be worthless. Why would Solomon conclude that all things done under the sun are “vanity?” The book of Ecclesiastes positively infers that the profit the Preacher searches for and contemplates is eternal value. To attempt to gain some eternal value from any of the earthly things mentioned in this book is truly to grasp after the wind (Ecclesiastes 1:14). He thereby concludes that the whole duty of man, while living this short and vain life, is to “fear God and keep his commandments” (Ecclesiastes 12:13; see Deuteronomy 5:29; Deuteronomy 6:2; Revelation 14:6-7 as compared to John 15:5-10). All of life is likened unto a race wherein man is proved by fiery trials (see 1 Corinthians 9:24 ff). Those with a “perfect” approach to life will patiently endure the calamity of life and grow stronger day by day (see Philippians 3:13-15; James 1:2-4). While God authorizes that there is “no better thing under the sun than mirth” (Ecclesiastes 8:15) He also warns man to be mindful of judgment and eternity (Ecclesiastes 3:16-17; Ecclesiastes 11:9; Ecclesiastes 12:14; Revelation 20:13). The message of Ecclesiastes is that there is no eternal profit in the things done under the sun; however, man should enjoy this life while being mindful of God’s laws, eternity, and judgment. What will God see in you and where will you spend your eternal existence?

The Nature Of This World (Ecclesiastes 1:1-18)

The book of Ecclesiastes is unusual in several respects, and it is often misunderstood or even avoided for that reason. But it deals directly with some of the most crucial spiritual questions that believers face. In particular, it examines the consequences and implications of our position as spiritual beings who live in physical, mortal bodies and inhabit a physical, temporary world.

Introduction (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2)

Even in the opening verses, there are some ideas and terms that should be clarified if we hope to get the most out of studying Ecclesiastes. As one of the books of poetry or "wisdom literature", Ecclesiastes deals with many of its topics in a distinctive style that can easily be misunderstood. Before moving further into the text, we shall first briefly discuss the author, the purpose, and the content of Ecclesiastes.

The author of Ecclesiastes refers to himself as the "Teacher" or the "Preacher", depending on the version one is reading (Ecclesiastes 1:1). Both words are rough translations of the Hebrew word "Qohelet", which is also the title of the book in Hebrew. Our title "Ecclesiastes" simply comes from the Greek translation of this Hebrew word. The word more exactly refers to an assembly leader (or to someone who calls or summons an assembly). Either a teacher or a preacher would, of course, fit this description.

The author identifies himself as the son of David, and king in Jerusalem. Other personal details about the author are found in Ecclesiastes 1:12-13; Ecclesiastes 1:16; Ecclesiastes 2:1-9; Ecclesiastes 12:9-12. These descriptions of the author’s position, activities, and knowledge rather obviously fit Solomon and no one else*. Many of the details in these descriptions can be matched with Solomon’s life and reign, as described in 1 Kings 1:28 to 1 Kings 11:43 (and 2 Chronicles 1-9).

  • ·    Many present-day commentators deny that Solomon could have written the book himself, because of some rather speculative theories about the vocabulary and other internal features. Such commentators often assume that the book is still supposed to represent Solomon’s thought, as written down by a later-day author or editor. Even if an assumption such as this were correct, it would not materially affect the actual message of the book.

Solomon’s life and perspective are very instructive. As a young man, Solomon was faithful, humble, and wise, as several passages in Kings and Chronicles tell us. But as he grew older, his own splendor and blessings became a source of pride and complacency to him, and his later years were characterized by self-indulgence and idolatry in numerous forms. It is this perspective that we see in Ecclesiastes. Read all by itself, Ecclesiastes might at first seem like the account of a man searching for meaning in his life. In actuality, there is a subtle but significant difference: Solomon was a man who had found the meaning of life, but who then became distracted by the world and had to try to find it all over again.

Ecclesiastes is known for its recurring phrases, one of which is its author’s statement that "everything is meaningless (or vanity)" (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Here is another Hebrew word that is difficult to translate into English with precision. The word is "Hebel", and it literally means "vapor" or "breath", or in some contexts, "air". It is meant above all to connote insubstantiality and impermanence, which are (from God’s perspective) intrinsic characteristics of this world.

This recurring statement of the author is not mere pessimism*, but rather is part of the search for truth that defines the perspective of Ecclesiastes. The book is written to describe life "under the sun" (that is, in this world), and to compare and contrast it with the search for something greater, something with lasting meaning. From a philosophical viewpoint, determining that something is "meaningless" can be a step forward, in that it eliminates one possible source of meaning, so that new possibilities can be examined. This searching causes Solomon much anguish of heart, not because of the truth itself, but because of the author’s own inability to cut through worldly influences so that he can grasp it. His struggle simply exemplifies what we all must go through if we wish truly to know and understand the living God who created us.

  • ·    Some commentators see only the pessimism in Ecclesiastes, and thus misinterpret the book entirely. Sometimes it is pointed out that Ecclesiastes bears obvious similarities to some other ancient literary works that emphasize the meaningless nature of life. Such works include the Egyptian The Man Who Was Tired of Life, Song of the Harper, and the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, all of which pre-date Solomon’s lifetime. Some skeptical commentators have even gone so far as to suggest that Ecclesiastes was based on those books. There are indeed strong parallels, for the simple reason that these authors all simply realized the same truths about the world. If anything, such works show that the nature of the world is obvious even to unbelievers. The crucial difference in Ecclesiastes, though, is that it points higher, to a spiritual reality that is elusive but still completely real. The other works simply end in pessimism or in something resembling "existentialism".

Questions For Discussion or Study:

Why does Solomon refer primarily to himself as a preacher/teacher/assembly leader?

How does he want us to receive his thoughts?

What general lessons does Solomon’s life hold for Christians?

How might these come into play in the search that we shall see in Ecclesiastes?

The More Things Change, ... (Ecclesiastes 1:3-11)

One of the significant insights in Ecclesiastes is the author’s observation of the sameness of life in this world, both from day to day and from generation to generation. Although the world goes through many outward changes, these are generally superficial, while the spiritual needs of humanity remain the same. These verses put this idea in simple but memorable terms.

The author describes the constancy of nature with a series of suggestive images (Ecclesiastes 1:3-7). In looking around, Solomon questions what human beings gain from their constant striving and toiling, since the essentials of the world change little from generation to generation. Many things and many persons come and go, but the earth remains largely the same from one age to the next. His images of the sun rising and setting, the wind’s perpetual turning and shifting, and the endless flow of water to the sea are all intended to emphasize the natural processes that go on as they have for millennia, regardless of human activity. If pondering this small physical world reminds us of how tiny we really are, how much smaller would we appear when compared with God and with spiritual reality.

One of the best-remembered sayings in Ecclesiastes is that there is "nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:8-11). Once again, this is by no means mere pessimism or boredom, but rather it is an important spiritual insight. Nor is it simply a reflection of its author’s own time, because the world saw many changes, upheavals, and innovations during Solomon’s lifetime, just as it has during almost any era of recorded history. Seeing all these changes, Solomon has simply come to see them as superficial.

One of the realizations that led to this insight was his recognition that neither earthly activity, nor earthly progress, nor accumulation of earthly possessions can bring lasting satisfaction or peace. No matter how much the eye sees, it always wants to see more. No matter how much fame, wealth, or pleasure our flesh has, it wants more. Another key lesson that the author shares is that there is little or nothing really new in the world. In every era, there are ways of sinning that are particularly popular, new inventions that everyone thinks will change the world, new accomplishments of courage, strength, or skill that seem astounding, and much more. But all that differs are the details. Each generation forgets those that have gone before it, and then in turn is itself either largely forgotten or taken for granted by later generations (Ecclesiastes 1:11). And so the same processes repeat over and over, always seeming new to humans who see only short-term developments and superficial implications.

Questions For Discussion or Study:

What basic aspects of this world does Solomon describe in these verses?

How do they contrast with the way that human logic looks at the world?

What would the author say about the earthly events, changes, or inventions that our own generation considers new or exceptional?

The Limits of Wisdom (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18)

The "Teacher", or Solomon, now describes his attempt to make sense of the world through study and wisdom. He had devoted himself to careful study, and he accumulated more wisdom and knowledge than anyone before him, only to find that the whole exercise was "a chasing after the wind". While wisdom is never without value, human logic and wisdom are severely limited in what they can tell us about matters of spiritual importance.

Solomon had devoted himself to study, out of a desire to understand the world (Ecclesiastes 1:12-15). In his youth, of course, Solomon prayed for and was granted great wisdom, which he used to govern his people well. But here he seems to be describing a somewhat different, later effort, which brought not joy and inner peace but discouragement and even restlessness. He even describes it as a "burden" from God, an idea that will come up again later in the book. Rather than finding his search for earthly wisdom to be rewarding, it simply re-emphasized the meaningless, insubstantial nature of "all the things that are done under the sun". He describes all of our earthly activities as "chasing after the wind", that is, a completely unproductive and ineffective use of time and energy.

Solomon now considers wisdom and folly (Ecclesiastes 1:16-18), and finds them to be less different than he expected. The more he learned, the more he realized how much he did not know. To attempt to accumulate all knowledge is an endless and impossible pursuit, a form of madness not very much different from outright folly. Solomon’s wisdom ended up bringing him sorrow, because it was a constant reminder not only of all the sorrow and trouble in the world, but also of the impossibility of humanity solving their problems through their own wisdom.

Solomon’s wisdom fell far short of his expectations for it. The problem was not that wisdom itself is bad or useless, but that Solomon was seeking the wrong kind of wisdom, and had the wrong expectations of it. Earthly wisdom works only for very limited, short-term needs. True, lasting understanding, spiritual peace, and inner contentment can only come from a different kind of wisdom. As James 3:13-18 describes, worldly wisdom brings worldly fruit, but spiritual wisdom brings spiritual fruit.

Questions For Discussion or Study:

What did Solomon seem to hope that he would gain through his attempts to accumulate wisdom?

Why weren’t his expectations fulfilled?

What lessons are there for us?

How can we apply it to our own study and learning?

How can it help us in the way we view those in the world?

Selected Bibliography

Following are a few of the books on Ecclesiastes that might be of use in doing further study. Each of these has its own strengths and weaknesses. Let me know if you would like some suggestions on references to use in studying Ecclesiastes on your own.

William P. Brown, Ecclesiastes (Interpretation Commentary)

Michael Eaton, Ecclesiastes - An Introduction & Commentary (Tyndale Commentaries)

Frank Gaebelein (editor), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 5

Derek Kidner, The Message of Ecclesiastes (The Bible Speaks Today)

Tremper Longman III, The Book of Ecclesiastes (New International Commentary)

Choon-Leong Seow, Ecclesiastes (Anchor Bible)

- Mark W. Garner, September 2004

The Search For Meaning (Ecclesiastes 2:1-26)

At the end of the first chapter, Solomon told how he sought to find meaning by accumulating wisdom, only to find that it did not bring him satisfaction and peace. In the second chapter, he tells us about several other things that he pursued in the hope of finding meaning in this life. Though he did not find what he wanted, his experiences provide several valuable lessons for us.

Pleasures & Projects (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11)

olomon’s position gave him the rare opportunity to be able to have anything he wanted, and to do anything he wanted. If pleasures and projects could ever bring lasting joy and peace by themselves, they would have done so for Solomon. In these verses, he describes how everything turned out when he attempted to fulfill himself with these things.

The "Teacher" describes how he indulged himself in pleasure* (Ecclesiastes 2:1-3). He calls this "testing his heart", intending to use his heart or feelings as a signal to tell him what is good. In choosing this course, he is hardly alone. Many persons use short-term feelings to determine their behavior, putting their feelings ahead of morality. Solomon thought he could do better, since he used his wisdom - of the earthly sort - to guide him. Here again, it is far from uncommon for those with high earthly intelligence to think that they can indulge their flesh with fewer risks because they are so "smart". Yet Solomon knew at the time that he was embracing folly, and it should have been no surprise that these activities did not bring him anything of lasting value.

  • ·    While the word used here in the Hebrew does not always refer to sinful pleasures, it is clear from the context, and also from the accounts of Solomon in Kings and Chronicles, that he is referring to sensual indulgence.

Solomon also describes the undertaking of great projects (Ecclesiastes 2:4-9). He talks of building houses, gardens, parks, and much more. As king, Solomon indeed initiated not only the building of the lavish temple, but many other projects as well*. Not only that, he acquired large numbers of slaves, servants, and women. He built up vast herds and flocks, as well as large hoards of gold and silver. Indeed, from the outside, Solomon appeared to be a dazzling person, to his own subjects as well as to others. But his brilliance was all on the outside.

  • ·    The building of the temple is described in 1 Kings chapters 5-8 and 2 Chronicles chapters 2-7. Some of his other activities are described in 1 Kings 9:10 to 1 Kings 11:13 and 2 Chronicles 8:1-18. For his later years, see especially the description in 1 Kings, which describes both his splendor and his spiritual decay.

After all this activity, the Teacher stops to survey things (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11). He had taken and done all that he desired, so if he was not content, he could not blame it on lack of opportunity. His heart (feelings) took delight in everything as he was doing it, but when it was all done, he realized that nothing had been gained. Once fleshly pleasure is over, it leaves behind nothing of tangible value, and in fact it usually leaves a renewed desire for more of the same. Likewise, all of Solomon’s accomplishments could not bring him enduring peace or satisfaction. In just one verse (verse 11), he uses no fewer than three different expressions to express his disappointment.

Questions For Discussion or Study:

What parallels to Solomon’s indulgence in pleasurecan we see in human behavior today?

How do the results compare with Solomon’s results?

What parallels can we see to his numerous projects, and his accumulation of wealth?

Why did all of this fail to satisfy the Teacher?

If this way of finding meaning in life does not work, why do so many persons still believe that it can?

Why do Christians even find it tempting at times?

Reconsidering Wisdom (Ecclesiastes 2:12-16)

After his disappointing experiences with pleasures and projects, Solomon turned back to wisdom, sensing that there was something in wisdom that was at least more promising than the other things he had tried. In the thoughts that he shares in these verses, we can see him struggling to make sense of things, and coming so very close to some important realizations.

This passage shows us the Teacher’s further thoughts on wisdom and folly, light and darkness (Ecclesiastes 2:12-16). Earthly wisdom is at least superior to folly. It is not difficult to think of numerous aspects of life in this world in which the wise person is at an advantage compared to someone foolish, at least in terms of pursuing earthly goals. But, just as the Teacher starts to think that perhaps wisdom can solve his problems after all, he runs into an insurmountable obstacle.

Regardless of how well things go for us in this world, regardless of how much we know or have, regardless of our successes or failures, everyone’s earthly biography ends in the same way: with death. The wise cannot escape this any more than can the foolish. The absolute certainty of death is thus a barrier and a limitation* to the value not only of earthly wisdom, but of anything that has value solely in this world. And so, for the moment, Solomon is stuck in despair. But there is a missing piece in his viewpoint. Earthly wisdom and knowledge are indeed limited by death, but earthly wisdom is not the only kind of wisdom. Godly wisdom - that is, looking at things from God’s perspective - puts things in an entirely different light.

  • ·    We won’t discuss it in class, since it leads into a whole different set of ideas, but Hebrews 2:14-15 makes an excellent comparison study with these verses in Ecclesiastes. See also the discussion questions below.

Questions For Discussion or Study:

Why might Solomon have turned back to wisdom, even though it had disappointed him earlier?

What parallels might we see in the thinking of ourselves or others?

What advantage does Solomon see to wisdom?

Is this really an advantage, and if so, how valuable is it?

What did the Teacher then see that showed him the limitations of wisdom?

What missing ideas might help him out of his frustration?

Are there New Testament Scriptures that could help the Teacher with his perspective?

Toiling Under the Sun (Ecclesiastes 2:17-26)

Having tried so many things, the Teacher looks back on all of these efforts that have proved to be so disappointing. Since he has worked so hard and felt so little reward, there seems to him to be no reason to make any efforts at all in this life. In his frustration and despair, he finally arrives at an insight that can also be of great practical value to us.

Solomon is now so frustrated and disappointed that he literally hates life (Ecclesiastes 2:17-23), and hates even all the things that he worked so hard to achieve and acquire. His experience is a striking example, which we should remember whenever we think that our lack of peace is due to a lack of opportunities or blessings. Solomon had more than any of us could even dream of having, and yet he is more unhappy than anyone else. A good part of this unhappiness came from the simple realization that he would not be able to keep any of his worldly goods when he died.

The flesh hates the familiar expression "you can’t take it with you". As the Teacher considers this irrefutable fact, it fills him with pain, grief, and restlessness. All that he has will someday be owned by someone who did not work for it, and who may well squander it or take it for granted. All that he worked so hard to collect will have at best an uncertain future, and he has no firm hope that even he and his personal qualities will mean much to anyone after he is gone.

The reason for his discouragement does not lie in any of his possessions or achievements in themselves, but in his own wrong expectations of these things. He had hoped to find meaning, security, and hope in objects and in accomplishments, but the fruits of the Spirit can only come from God. This leads him at last to an important step forward. He is about to realize something that his flesh will dislike*, but that his soul will welcome.

  • ·    Indeed, his conclusions in the next few verses, especially in Ecclesiastes 2:26, are often misinterpreted even by otherwise careful commentators.

The Teacher at last realizes how to find some form of satisfaction in the things of this world (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26). The Teacher concludes that "a man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work." By no means is he recommending that we give up trying to do anything of significance, but rather he is telling us to have the right expectations and the right perspective on the things of this world. Rather than trying to find an unrealistic level of blessing or meaning in material things, accomplishments, honors, relationships, and all the rest, we should accept them as blessings from God, and should enjoy them for what they are.

We should conscientiously pursue the work God has assigned to us, and should take satisfaction in a job well done for its own sake, not trying to find any deeper significance to it. We should accept our food, our homes, our families, and everything else in this same way - being grateful for what we have, valuing it as a blessing from God, and enjoying it for that reason. Once we stop making idols out of the things of this world, then we can truly enjoy them as God intended.

It is not what we have that determines our contentment. Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes 2:26 that the same things can bring different results to different persons if they have different perspectives. This verse by no means teaches that those who please God will get all good things, and those who do evil will lose their good things. Rather, it tells us that those who please and love God will be able to enjoy and understand the blessings God sends them, while sinners who oppose God will never enjoy even the good things they receive from God - it will be as if they are only holding them for a short time before God can give them to someone who will appreciate them.

Questions For Discussion or Study:

At the beginning of this passage, how does the Teacher feel?

What is so upsetting to him?

Is he upset by things that also discourage or frighten us, or others today?

What does this reveal about his expectations and perspective?

What answer does he find?

Can this lesson also be helpful to us?

How can we apply it?

In your own words, what is he saying in Ecclesiastes 2:26?

- Mark W. Garner, September 2004

What God Has Done (Ecclesiastes 3:1-22)

To this point, the Teacher has sought understanding through his own actions and wisdom. He now considers more carefully how things look from God’s perspective. He does not yet entirely understand what God has done, but he does find that looking at things from this perspective helps him better to make sense of some of the dilemmas that have been troubling him.

A Time For Everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

This is probably the best known passage in Ecclesiastes, and it has even been quoted in many secular contexts. We shall try to understand its message within the context of Ecclesiastes and the Teacher’s search for understanding. It presents a picture of this world that can help free us from many of the worldly concerns and constraints that make life unhappy for so many persons.

The Teacher tells us that there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). The general theme in these verses is that, in our daily lives, we should not expect life to reduce itself to a firm list of dos and don’ts. There are few strict rules for our behavior, other than to avoid those things that are sinful. It is a common human longing to have rigid rules and regulations to follow in our lives and relationships, so that we can easily judge when we are right and when we are wrong. But real life does not work this way. We should accept the Teacher’s suggestion to free ourselves of such worldly thinking.

Rather than go through the entire list item by item (which is a good topic for group discussion or personal study), we shall survey some of the specific applications that the Teacher makes. If you consider the list as a whole, you will see that most of the things he mentions fit into some general groups. For example, several of his statements refer to the fact that there is a time for every action: tearing down and building, scattering and gathering, searching and giving up. It is part of spiritual growth for us to learn when each action is appropriate, and no rules can make it easier. Judgment and discernment come only through experience, study, and prayer.

There is also a time for every emotion, from weeping and mourning to laughing and dancing. Each of us have certain emotions that come more easily to us than do other emotions, and these are not the same for every person. As a result, we sometimes emphasize those emotions that we understand the best, rather than striving to understand those that are hard for us. Emotions can, of course, easily be misused, but they came from God, and thus God has a purpose for them. It is again part of spiritual growth and maturity that we learn to use our emotions in the way that God intended.

Several of the Teacher’s sayings also have to do with relationships. There is a time to embrace and a time to refrain, and even a time for war and a time for peace. In our relationships, there are also no fixed rules for how to handle every possible situation, and again we must learn through experience and spiritual growth how to respond to the many different kinds of needs and situations that arise in our relationships. Human beings are not machines that can be managed by referring to a manual; they are living souls that require thoughtful, personalized treatment. In saying there is a time for "everything", the Teacher does not mean to be literal to the point of including sin. Even his most unexpected examples, such as war and hate, are appropriate on certain occasions, rare though they may be. But he does not say, for example, that there is a time to have faith and a time to doubt, or that there is a time to worship God and a time to worship idols. He does not mean that we can choose any activity and be guaranteed that there is a time when it is right. Rather, his concern is to establish a general perspective, so that we can relieve ourselves of false expectations and fleshly logic. Then we can see our daily lives as a gift from God, not as a constant struggle to avoid disaster and humiliation.

Questions for Discussion or Study:

Consider each of the specific things that the Teacher mentions here. Can you think of times when each is appropriate?

For each one, consider why Solomon might have included it.

What lessons about daily life do all of these teach us?

What general attitudes and perspectives can they teach us?

A Foundation For Understanding (Ecclesiastes 3:9-15)

The Teacher now considers some basic ideas that provide a foundation for understanding many of the questions and struggles that we face as we seek God. Humans are by nature spiritual, eternal creatures, yet we must live for a time in this physical, mortal, imperfect world. If we consider these facts carefully, rather than denying them, we can reach some helpful conclusions.

Solomon is now ready to establish a basic perspective for thinking about many of the questions and dilemmas in our spiritual lives (Ecclesiastes 3:9-13). Because he himself is still working through these things, he considers it a "burden" that God has put on us. Understood properly, we know that God does not burden us with things that we cannot handle. But we also know that God does want each of his people to accept individual responsibility for seeking him, and for responding to his call. This is what the Teacher presently finds to be a "burden", and before we criticize him too strongly, we should remember the times when each of us has become frustrated or even angry because of our struggles to get answers to our spiritual questions.

The Teacher then outlines the most important and most basic facts about what God has done with his creation. He sees that God has made everything beautiful in its time, just as (see above) he has set a time for so many different kinds of emotions and activities. Everything that God created has a purpose, and is therefore beautiful, even though it may not be "beautiful" in worldly terms. But everything is also only beautiful for a time, because this world is by its nature perishable and mortal. At the same time, God has set eternity* in our hearts - that is, every human has an innate awareness that there is something to each of us that goes beyond our physical selves. This awareness is built into us because we were made in God’s image. Many humans deny their awareness of eternity, because it frightens them, but it is still there.

  • ·    It is a commonly asked question whether the ancient Jews believed in eternity, and if so, what they believed about it. As this passage points out, the awareness of eternity is inside all of us, so it would be strange indeed if God’s own people did not believe in it. The ancient Jews believed in a place called Sheol, where human spirits went after the body died. Just as Christians today believe in heaven, but have different and often ill-defined ideas as to what it is like, so also the ancient Jews had different ideas about Sheol, and did not claim to have a good understanding of it. But as this shows, they did believe in eternity, and they believed that the soul survived after the death of the body. In some versions of the Old Testament, the world "Sheol" is translated "grave". This makes the word more familiar to present-day readers, but it obscures the meaning.

Because of this combination, we will never be able to understand everything that God has done, or everything that we want to know about God, as long as we live in this world. No matter how many questions we can answer, there will always have to be an element of faith in our relationship with God - and this is exactly how God wants it to be. One of the reasons that Solomon is struggling in his relationship with God is that he, like so many learned or intelligent persons, wants desperately to be able to figure it all out for himself, to be able to rely exclusively on the seen and known. But we live by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

If we view these facts from the perspective of faith, we can see what the Teacher now realizes. It is a gift, not a burden, that we do not know everything. Since we are not expected to know everything, we are able to live our lives as God has called us to, and to take satisfaction in the things we do and experience for their own sake, each one as another gift of grace. Even in studying God’s Word and in learning more about him, the goal is not someday to know everything, but to enjoy the time we spend with God, as we also allow him to teach us those things that we can understand and that will have some importance at some point in our lives.

Solomon then points out some of the implications in terms of God’s nature and God’s purpose (Ecclesiastes 3:14-15). All that God does will endure as long as he wills it to endure. There is no comparison between the works of God and the works of men. Nor can our finite minds hope to comprehend something that lasts forever; we can only approach it in terms of analogies and illustrations. God’s hope for his people is not that we try to figure out things that we cannot understand, but rather that we should see his transcendent nature and his unimaginable wisdom and power, so that we shall revere, trust, and love him.

Questions for Discussion or Study:

Describe in your own words the basic facts that Solomon acknowledges in Ecclesiastes 3:10-11.

Why does he call this a "burden"?

What conclusions does he draw from these ideas?

Why is this actually a gift from God?

In your own words, what is God’s purpose for arranging things like this?

The Nature of Humanity (Ecclesiastes 3:16-22)

Although humans were created in God’s image, they also live in a fleshly body that is subject to weakness, sin, and death. In these verses, Solomon ponders some of the issues raised by the nature and behavior of human beings. Some of his concerns are surprisingly similar to those that are often raised by atheists - but the Teacher knows enough to realize that these questions do have answers, if looked at from a more spiritual perspective.

The Teacher knows that God created the world, but it is all too obvious to him that the world is filled with wickedness and injustice, and that the world stands in need of justice and judgment (Ecclesiastes 3:16-17). Again using his expression "under the sun", he laments the rampant sin and pain that characterizes so much of human life. This is in fact a common claim of atheists, who frequently assert that the horrors of the world "prove" that there is no God. But instead, it simply tells us something about God. As we are assured in other Scriptures (for example, 1 Timothy 1:15-16, 2 Peter 2:9), God is patient towards sinners because he prefers repentance and grace to condemnation and punishment.

Solomon realizes that there will indeed be a day when God brings everything to judgment, at a proper time that he himself shall designate. So many human objections to God really come down to their insistence that God accept their standards, rather than the other way around. It simply bothers many persons to realize that God is not obligated to consult them or to do things their way. They deny God in order to avoid submitting to him.

Solomon also echoes his statement from Ecclesiastes 3:1 that there is "a time for every activity". Here it takes on a different meaning, and this meaning also clarifies what he meant in the earlier part of the chapter. Here he refers to God’s absolute knowledge of all that we do and think, so that no deed or thought will escape judgment. Nor will God’s judgment be limited by any time constraints. He will have all of eternity to bring everything to account.

Next, the Teacher addresses another common spiritual question: are we made of spirit or made of dust (Ecclesiastes 3:18-22)? Since neither soul nor spirit is tangible in an earthly sense, those who demand literal proof of everything choose to deny their existence. Solomon instead sees this as a test from God. While there is no tangible evidence for the soul, there is great intangible evidence, and it only takes a little faith to believe that our essential personal nature will still exist after our body dies. On a purely physical level, we are no different from animals*, in that our earthly bodies will eventually die and decay. But we have a spiritual hope that is also confirmed for Christians by God’s many promises to us. In fact, we anticipate that the next life will be far better than this one.

  • ·    Note that, in context, some of Solomon’s statements in these verses are simply rhetorical. He knows that there is a difference between humans and animals, since humans were made in God’s image. Any doubt in his expressions here reflects his state of mind and his struggles to return to God, not any theological doubts about whether there is an afterlife.

The Teacher also sees that these ideas re-affirm a previous conclusion. As long as we live in this world, we should simply take satisfaction in our daily blessings and our daily work. For those who think that this world is everything, each aspect of earthly life becomes crucial, and a cause for worry, rivalry, or unquenchable desire. But those who realize that something better awaits them can take the things of this world as they come, enjoying the good things as gifts from God, and patiently enduring the bad things that they know will not last forever.

Questions for Discussion or Study:

How is it possible for a world that God created to be filled with sin and injustice?

What, if anything, does this prove about God?

Can we learn anything from this about how to respond to the sin and injustice around us?

What reasons do we have for believing that our souls will survive after our bodies die?

What implications to this does the Teacher see?

Why would this realization affect our daily lives in the way that Solomon indicates?

- Mark W. Garner, September 2004

Living Under the Sun (Ecclesiastes 4:1-16)

The Teacher now turns his thoughts back to our daily lives in this world. This time, he specifically considers our interactions with each other. Whether in Solomon’s day or in our own, we see many disorders in human relationships, yet we can also see that the way God designed them holds great potential for mutual strengthening and support.

Evil Under the Sun (Ecclesiastes 4:1-3)

This passage paints a bleak picture of humanity and of life in this world. Neither Christians nor unbelievers can deny the ways that humans mistreat, oppress, and hurt each other. Without God, life in this world is hopeless and frightening. In these verses, the Teacher looks closely at this depressing picture, in order to dissuade us from putting our hope in things of this world.

The Teacher first describes the tears of the oppressed (Ecclesiastes 4:1), a feature of the world in every era. There have always been a few humans that held disproportionate power over others, and all too often those with power use it to exploit others rather than to serve them. It is an unfortunate part of human nature that within so many of us is a desire to hold authority over others. And all too often, the oppressed have no comforter, no one to speak for them or deliver them. Solomon offers no solution to this, and indeed at the moment he is paralyzed by his discouragement over how rampant this is.

Because of all the evil and injustice "under the sun", the teacher tells himself that it is better to be dead than alive (Ecclesiastes 4:2-3)*. This pessimistic evaluation comes as a shock at first, but it is simply a reflection of the Teacher’s discouragement with the world. Having become so engrossed in the things of this world, and having put so much hope in them, he now sees one more very obvious reason why they cannot give him the security and peace that he wants. It is the nature of the world for human governments and human organizations to grab power for themselves at the expense of others. All this simply demonstrates once more why this world cannot satisfy our deepest needs, nor can it provide lasting security.

  • ·    The Teacher will return to this idea soon, and we shall discuss it later at more length. See, for example, Ecclesiastes 6:3-6 and Ecclesiastes 7:1-4.

Questions For Discussion or Study:

What kinds of examples might Solomon have seen that moved him to make the observations in these verses?

Would there be any similarities to the injustices and oppression in the world now?

How should we apply Ecclesiastes 4:1-3?

What is missing from the Teacher’s perspective in these verses?

The Variety of Human Relationships (Ecclesiastes 4:4-12)

Our daily relationships with those we know can follow several different paths. In these verses, Solomon eloquently and succinctly describes some of these paths, both the negative and the positive. One of the most common of all discouragements, even for Christians, is a lack of good relationships with others. The Teacher has seen and felt this keenly, and he now shares his experiences with us.

The competitive instinct is another nearly universal part of human nature (Ecclesiastes 4:4-6). Solomon has observed that so many accomplishments that might otherwise be worthwhile have come about primarily because of the motivations of envy and selfish ambition. While the direct results may even be good, those who are motivated by these things will never feel the security and lasting joy that they hoped to attain with their toil. (James 3:13-18 shares similar thoughts.)

The Teacher also points out the opposite extreme: a fool who folds up his hands and does no work at all, leading to his own ruin. Solomon’s point is that, as in so many other things, humans go to one extreme or the other, without finding the right balance. Here, that balance is described in verse 6, which echoes some of the Teacher’s earlier conclusions. We need to work diligently at whatever task God has given us, and then should be content with the things we have. To desire two handfuls when we need only one is simply to set ourselves up for a lifetime of frustration and pointless toil.

The Teacher next considers one of the most common and most hurtful of human misfortunes, the misery of loneliness (Ecclesiastes 4:7-8). The man that he sees, left alone with no one close to him, living only to work and accumulate, is not simply one individual. Solomon here describes with wisdom and efficiency the lives of a great many persons in this world. Even those who know many others, and who have frequent social interactions with others, are often isolated in the ways that matter most. Being made in God’s image, we cannot be content or joyful for long without some strong, genuine relationships, yet that is exactly what most humans lack.

In this case, this man has devoted himself to amassing wealth by his hard work, and in so doing, has sacrificed opportunities for closeness with others. The Teacher sees clearly how miserable this man is, because he himself had fallen into the same trap. Building strong relationships takes time, communication, and understanding. Those who want them must be prepared to lower their standards and expectations in areas such as the accumulation of wealth, power, or possessions.

Following these discouraging examples, Solomon now provides an uplifting and motivating description of those who stand together (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). In just a few sentences, he points out the many benefits that come from keeping close to one another. We can give each other mutual support when we fall or struggle, whether spiritually or in secular terms. We can encourage and motivate one another, simply by being together and letting one another know. There is also a mutual security, especially in a spiritual sense, from knowing that others with the same beliefs and the same needs are standing close by. The cord of three strands is an interesting illustration, because one interpretation of it is that it represents two persons together with God. Making God the foundation of our relationships is, of course, the most important and most fundamental step in building better and stronger relationships with each other.

Questions For Discussion or Study:

What illustrations or examples can you find of the various kinds of relationships that Solomon describes?

Why do so many persons have relationships based on envy and competition?

What can we do to reduce the role that these play in our relationships?

How does materialism produce loneliness?

What other things cause loneliness?

What might the Teacher say about these other things?

How do we start building the kind of strong relationships that he describes in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12?

Another Warning (Ecclesiastes 4:13-16)

Because the Teacher knows how easy it is to fall into the trap of allowing our relationships to become characterized by competition, ambition, and people-pleasing, he now adds another, very specific warning. Solomon again speaks from experience as he cautions us against the temptations of advancement, status, and authority.

The trap of advancement has a number of aspects that the Teacher describes (Ecclesiastes 4:13-16). He contrasts a poor but wise youth with an old, foolish king. This ruler may not always have been foolish, but he has long since ceased to grow in genuine wisdom, and so his position no longer means very much. Solomon may well have seen himself in this example. He had once been the wise youth, a spiritual king, and loved by the people. Years later, he was the older, more weary and worldly ruler, of whom the people had grown tired.

The youth*, though, is still on his way up. His ascent to the top may take any number of forms, but the end result is that he replaces the older king both on the throne and in the hearts of the people. For a time, he enjoys the position that the old king once had. But there comes a time when a new generation arises, with their own opinions and their own heroes. Thus the successor, who is no longer young by this time, begins to travel down the same road of gradual deterioration that the old king had followed. The Teacher realizes that this pattern is just one more reason why it is meaningless and futile to put our hope in ambition or advancement.

  • ·    There is again a partial parallel with Solomon, who was so wise even as a youth. But he was never poor, of course. So this side of the illustration is probably not meant to correspond exactly with any one person.

Questions For Discussion or Study:

What is the Teacher’s point in giving the illustration of the old king and the wise youth?

Where might he have seen himself in this illustration?

What kinds of examples of this pattern might we see today?

What does this illustrate?

What other reasons could we find to demonstrate that ambition and advancement do not provide lasting hope?

- Mark W. Garner, October 2004

Towards A More Godly Perspective (Ecclesiastes 5:1-20)

The Teacher now tries to put together some of the lessons he has learned, in order to build a more godly perspective. To do this, he first emphasizes the importance of keeping our commitments to God. He then follows this with some general observations and perspectives on our daily lives in this world.

Honesty & Respect Before God (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7)

To have a strong relationship with God, we must have an awareness and an understanding of his spiritual, divine qualities. The Teacher describes in these verses some of the most indispensable aspects of a good relationship with God. If God means anything to us, we must be honest with him, and we must honor him. We must fulfill the promises we make to him, out of appreciation and respect for God’s nature and God’s being.

When we approach God, we should remember that when we go near to him, we should first of all listen to him (Ecclesiastes 5:1-3). The Teacher cautions us to avoid what he calls "the sacrifice of fools", that is, talking without listening. When we are more eager to tell God what we think than to listen to what he says, this is a lack of respect. God knows more, sees more, and understands more than we can even imagine, so we should always be quicker to listen than to speak, and we should learn to let our words be few. Even in prayer, Jesus warns us (for example, in Matthew 6:5-13) not to think that an excess of words or an outward display will win us favor with God.

The Teacher follows this with an exhortation to fulfill our commitments to God (Ecclesiastes 5:4-7). This also is a demonstration of our respect for him. He has extraordinary patience, and he has already forgiven us for our many broken promises and unfulfilled commitments. But that is no reason not to strive to be more true to our words in the future. Whenever we make a promise, a vow, or a commitment to God, we should waste no time in fulfilling it. Nor is it an excuse if we find it harder to fulfill than we expected. Should we get any praise or credit for doing something easy? And if we only intended to fulfill the promise if it turned out to be easy, why did we make it in the first place?

The Teacher describes both dreaming and talking as meaningless. Even Christians spend too much of their time talking about what they want to "do for God", and too little time drawing close to God so that he can tell them what he really wants from them. God already knows what is in our hearts, and he cannot be deceived. We should stand in genuine awe of him, and remember that he has the answers, he has the power, and his will is the one that matters. And when we are ready to do what he wants from us, we should do it, not talk about doing it.

Questions For Discussion or Study:

What does the Teacher mean by the "sacrifice of fools"?

Why is it foolish?

In what ways might we be tempted to make this mistake?

What kinds of vows or commitments might we make to God?

What excuses or obstacles might stand in the way of us fulfilling them?

What does it truly mean to respect God?

What does it mean to stand in awe of God?

The Rich & The Poor (Ecclesiastes 5:8-12)

The Teacher comes back to the ways that the rich and powerful exploit and oppress the poor and the weak. But here he also points out an aspect of the situation that is often overlooked. Although those who harm and oppress others may often seem to avoid punishment in this world, their possessions do not profit them nearly as much as they or we might think.

Having learned so much about the world, Solomon tells us not to be surprised whenever we see oppression or injustice in the world around us (Ecclesiastes 5:8-9)*. He has come to realize, as should we, that the world will never be a perfect place, nor will human nature ever be free from flaws. It is the nature of power and authority to have a corrupting effect on many of the persons who possess them, and in every era of history there have been many ways in which justice and rights were denied to large portions of humanity. Not only that, but as the Teacher observes, even the oppressors are themselves usually oppressed by someone higher and/or stronger.

  • ·    The subject of oppression and injustice appears frequently in the prophetic books, as it is one of the common offenses for which God rebukes or disciplines his people. This passage is interesting in that it looks at these social ills from a different perspective. Whereas the prophets denounce these sins and call for change, the Teacher is trying to understand why these things exist in a world that God created. Both the Teacher and the prophets have things to say on the subject that remain quite relevant, even in very different eras of history.

This situation is further aggravated by the fact that the flesh is never satisfied (Ecclesiastes 5:10-12). The love of money, wealth, and power is all the more meaningless for this reason. When those who love money or power get what they want, it only makes them want more. The more they own, the more they use and consume. Those who fall into this trap (see also 1 Timothy 6:6-10) can never be contented, peaceful, or restful. We see countless examples of this every day, in the self-important rushing around of humans who are slaves to the clock, to their bank accounts, and to their machines. As soon as they accomplish one goal, they race off to work on the next.

On the other hand, the sleep of the contented is sweet. When the Teacher uses the example of a laborer to represent contentment, he is not suggesting that only the poor are contented, or that only the rich are miserable. On the contrary, there are some poor persons who crave money and are even more miserable because of it, and there are some who have comfortable lives who do appreciate their blessings and who are content with what they have. It is not what we have or how much we have that brings contentment, but rather our attitude, both towards what we have and towards what we do not have.

Questions For Discussion or Study:

Why does the Teacher return so many times to the subject of wealth and contentment?

When he tells us not to be surprised at oppression or injustice, does this mean that we should excuse or condone them?

How should we respond?

Compare 1 Timothy 6:9-10 and Philippians 4:11-13 with these verses.

In what practical ways can we put all of these principles into practice?

The Path To Contentment (Ecclesiastes 5:13-20)

The Teacher comes back once again to some previous conclusions about contentment, and he adds to them some new lessons. Once again he remarks upon how frustrating it is to live for our desires, and once again he emphasizes how important it is to be content with what we have. To these basic teachings, Solomon now adds some additional thoughts.

The Teacher describes two different ways in which human nature wastes the very wealth that it so often covets (Ecclesiastes 5:13-14). The folly of hoarding is one to which Solomon can testify personally. The hoarder or miser loses all perspective, even losing sight of why he or she initially sought so much wealth, and becomes obsessed not only with acquiring as much as possible, but with clinging to as much as possible. Such folly does indeed do great harm to those who practice it; the damage to their own soul is even greater than the damage that their greed does to others.

The other way that wealth can be wasted is through loss (compare also what Jesus said in Matthew 6:19-21). Many have done exactly what the Teacher describes, counting on their wealth to be there, either for them or for their descendants, only to lose it through some misfortune. Even if such a misfortune does not actually happen, the worry over such possibilities can be equally debilitating.

Contrast this with the wisdom of the simple, familiar saying that "you can’t take it with you" (Ecclesiastes 5:15-17) . No matter how much we might deny it or argue against it or try to block it out of our minds, it is indisputable that we shall leave this world just as we came into it: with nothing. Those who fight against this truth thereby sentence themselves to a lifetime of toil and frustration. Even irresponsible hedonists may be better off and less miserable than those who zealously hoard and covet their wealth, thinking vainly that it can save them from death.

The Teacher once more comes back to the fact that accepting one’s lot is an essential prerequisite to contentment and peace (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20). Taking satisfaction in daily living helps us to appreciate God, to accept ourselves, and to have healthier relationships with others. The Teacher says that this is good and proper. As we learn to live this way, we soon find that simple daily living holds many joys and satisfactions for those who refuse to let the world make them jaded or cynical. Many are afraid to adopt this perspective, because they think that if they become content with what they have, God will never give them more - a subtle but silly mental trap. Those who learn to be content receive many more blessings, in the sense that they enjoy and appreciate many simple pleasures that the covetous and greedy neither notice nor value.

Besides all this, when we accept everything good as a gift from God, it most of all it prepares us to leave this world someday. Those who know how to recognize real value and real treasure will be the ones best prepared for that day.

Questions For Discussion or Study:

What examples can we see of the two ways of wasting wealth that the Teacher describes in Ecclesiastes 5:13-14?

Are there ways in which we also can fall into these temptations?

Why are we so resistant to accept that "you can’t take it with you"?

How should this affect our lives and attitudes?

How can we help each other to take more satisfaction in the blessings we already have in our daily lives?

- Mark W. Garner, October 2004

Humanity, Mortality, & Uncertainty (Ecclesiastes 6:1-12)

The sixth chapter of Ecclesiastes closes out the first part of the book. It re-emphasizes several of the main themes discussed so far, and then poses some questions that arise from the Teacher’s observations to this point. The perspective in this chapter still reflects the Teacher’s struggle to find something more substantial in this world, despite his awareness that no such thing exists.

Still Meaningless (Ecclesiastes 6:1-6)

In these verses, the teacher re-iterates several of his earlier perspectives about the meaningless, vaporous, or insubstantial nature of this world. As in some previous passages, we see the despair and the pessimism that come from looking at this from a worldly perspective. It is as if the Teacher, still drawn to things of this world despite his wisdom, has to check back once again to see whether the nature of this world is still the same.

He describes what he calls another evil under the sun (Ecclesiastes 6:1-2), although it is really just a problem with his perspective. In considering the things we have in this world, the Teacher realizes that they all come from God, and that they are all gifts from God. Yet he realizes how hard it is for us to enjoy the many blessings we receive from God. Indeed, in our own time we can see many who have much more than they can ever need, who nevertheless feel empty and frustrated. Like Solomon, they lack nothing material, but lack the ability to enjoy everything else that they have.

When the Teacher says that "a stranger enjoys them instead", he could either mean through inheritance (as he has mentioned earlier in, for example, Ecclesiastes 2:18-19), or this could also refer to the way that the same things can be enjoyable to one person and unappreciated by another. In either case, he is referring in large part to himself, having worked so hard to accumulate so much, and finding no satisfaction in it. From a worldly perspective, this is indeed a sad thing.

This leads the Teacher into some thoughts on mortality (Ecclesiastes 6:3-6). His perspective in these verses is quite distorted and excessively morbid. The things he says seem to him to be true, from the negative, worldly viewpoint into which he has fallen, but they certainly do not reflect a godly view of things. Yet his honest thoughts are recorded in the Scriptures because they are quite instructive, if viewed in context*.

  • ·    This is one of several such examples in Ecclesiastes. The Teacher is honestly sharing his thoughts and feelings in these verses, but they are his own, not God’s. It seems rather likely that he himself realizes how far off-track he is, because of his exaggerations (for example, his reference to living for 2000 years in verse 6). There are similar examples in the Psalms, where one of the psalmists expresses perceptions that are not true, and which he knows God does not agree with, in order to allow God to help him see things more clearly.

Solomon’s thoughts in these verses - the pre-occupation with a "decent burial", the strange envy of a stillborn child, and the overall lack of peace and contentment - reflect most of all his yearning for rest. He is so frustrated by the world that he can even envy someone who has never lived in it. His struggle is, again, caused by his perspective. He is a challenging example to us, because we can easily find ourselves in a similar mode. He has lacked the humility to trust completely in God, and as a result has searched desperately for something in this world that can do for him what God does. Yet at the same time, he just knows too much of the truth to be able to deny it in his heart. He could have been so much better off if he had never wandered off after worldly pleasures and possessions. Even now, if he only turns back whole-heartedly to God, he can find what he wants.

Questions For Discussion or Study:

How does a worldly perspective create the kinds of negative perceptions that we see in these verses?

What can the Teacher do to deal with these things that discourage him?

Is there any truth at all to any of his statements here?

What lessons should we draw from this passage?

The Longing For Fulfillment (Ecclesiastes 6:7-11)

The thoughts in these verses all reflect the Teacher’s longing for fulfillment, satisfaction, and contentment. He once again comes back to the realization that the things of this world cannot bring him those things. Although he does not want this to be true, he cannot deny it. He knows that he must look beyond the things of this world to find fulfillment.

The insatiable appetite of the flesh is responsible for a great many human problems (Ecclesiastes 6:7-9). Neither the rich of this world nor the wise of this world draw any real spiritual benefits from their worldly advantages, and even the earthly benefits that they gain often prove to be disappointing. Solomon realizes, better than anyone else, that when we indulge our desires and appetites they are not satisfied, but enlarged. He has come to realize that peace and contentment can only come to those who tame their desires, in order to ward off what he calls the roving of the appetite, and instead to be satisfied with what God gives to us (in his words, "what the eye sees", that is, what we have now).

The Teacher also shares some thoughts on the uncertainty of things in this world (Ecclesiastes 6:10-11) . He returns to one of the first themes in Ecclesiastes, saying once more that there is nothing truly new. Human nature is the same as it has always been. The things around us, while they often change on the outside, are really just superficially different forms of things that past generations have known. We are at the mercy of forces stronger than us, and we cannot fight effectually against the basic nature of this world. For all that we want to feel in control of things, in reality our lives are filled with uncertainty and anxiety - that is, from an earthly perspective.

Even those who are wisest in earthly terms cannot change this. "The more the words, the less the meaning." The world’s best minds have battled basic problems like poverty, oppression, hatred, crime, and the like for millennia, with only limited, short- term successes to show for it. Human wisdom and effort and goodness cannot make much of an impact on this world, because Satan is stronger. Only through God can we make enduring, spiritual, meaningful changes.

Questions For Discussion or Study:

How has the Teacher become convinced of the futility of trying to satisfy all of our fleshly desires?

What other reasons might we have for believing and accepting this principle?

How can we apply what he tells us in Ecc 69?

Name some of the ways in which our existence in this world is uncertain.

Accepting the Uncertain (Ecclesiastes 6:12)

To close out this portion of the book, the Teacher reaches and accepts some conclusions that he has been very reluctant to receive. For all his wisdom, wealth, and power, he really has very little understanding of what is most important in life. He can neither predict nor control the future, and he even has very little influence over his own happiness in the present. While in one sense these are negative conclusions, in a more important sense this is a spiritual breakthrough.

The Teacher now sees that, no matter how hard he tries, neither he nor anyone else really knows what is good, or knows what will take place in the future (Ecclesiastes 6:12). Many humans like to think that they can at least be certain of what would be good for them, or for others, and yet we see many ways in which this is disproved. So many times God uses negative or hurtful things to teach us or bless us, and so many times Satan is able to use earthly blessings to lead humans away from God. Human opinion is so weak and unreliable that, from a spiritual perspective, it is practically irrelevant.

As the Teacher says, we pass through this earth like a shadow, and we really know very little about anything in it at all. While it can be constructive, in itself, to learn more about the things of this world, we should make sure that our knowledge is of the kind that humbles us, rather than the kind that puffs us up. Knowledge that makes us think that we ourselves, or humans in general, know all the answers is not knowledge from God. Everything in the future of this world is prone to uncertainty, and once we are able to accept this with humility, we have made a big step in getting closer to God.

From an earthly viewpoint, it may seem negative or even ignorant to accept the world’s uncertainties. But spiritually, this is an important conclusion. There are indeed certainties, and there are indeed guarantees, but the only ones of real value come from God, not from the world. Only when we accept the inadequacy of the world to meet our spiritual needs can we really understand and appreciate the ways that God wants to lead us.

Questions For Discussion or Study:

How can we help ourselves better to accept the uncertainty of life in this world?

If we do accept it, how does it help us spiritually?

What certainties does God offer us? How do they differ from the certainties that the world tries to promote?

- Mark W. Garner, October 2004

The Search For Wisdom (Ecclesiastes 7:1-29)

In the seventh chapter of Ecclesiastes, there is something of a shift of emphasis. The Teacher steps back, to some degree, from his persistent search for meaning and purpose. Using some of the conclusions he has drawn so far, he now looks for practical wisdom in several areas of life. In doing so, he combines some of his previous conclusions with some new thoughts.

Wisdom & Daily Life (Ecclesiastes 7:1-12)

The Teacher continues with thoughts on the ways that godly wisdom can influence our daily lives. Some of the thoughts here will recall earlier statements in Ecclesiastes, and some of these will show us the Teacher’s continuing struggle to develop a godly perspective. These verses also contain several new ideas, which connect with the general themes of the book.

Before looking at the text of Ecclesiastes 7, there are some significant preliminary thoughts that are illustrated in James 3:13-18. In studying passages that discuss "wisdom", it is usually important to make a distinction between godly wisdom and earthly wisdom. This is a topic that could itself be fruitfully studied at length, but there is one point in particular that relates closely with the Teacher’s statements and experiences in Ecclesiastes.

One of the key ideas that the passage in James brings out is the fruit of wisdom. Earthly wisdom is valued for its earthly benefits, and therefore, like all other means of seeking worldly profits, its end results are often envy, rivalry, selfish ambition, and competition. Godly wisdom, on the other hand, does not bring these bad fruits, but rather produces positive, spiritual fruit. James’s statements provide us with one possible way of distinguishing between the two types of wisdom, and that passage is worth careful consideration.

Returning to Ecclesiastes, we find that the seventh chapter opens with some thoughts on wisdom, folly, mourning, and laughter (Ecclesiastes 7:1-6). After a brief statement that a good name is more valuable than tangible riches, the Teacher makes some of the seemingly negative kinds of statements that he has made before. This time, though, when he makes statements like "the day of death is better than the day of birth", he is primarily emphasizing the virtues of the sober heart.

In the right context, there is of course nothing wrong with joy or even laughter. But we live in a world with serious needs, and none are more serious than the spiritual needs. Those who follow Jesus must learn to discern when it is time to laugh, and when it is time to mourn (recall Ecclesiastes 3:4). We should not be like fools who laugh at inappropriate times. Solomon compares such persons to the crackling of thorns under a pot* - making incoherent sounds, quickly burned up, and no longer useful.

  • ·    In the Hebrew, there is also a play on words, in that the word for "thorns" is very similar to the word for "pot" or "kettle".

The Teacher goes on to tell us how godly wisdom protects us (Ecclesiastes 7:7-12). Honesty and patience, two of the virtues that godly wisdom teaches us to nurture, protect us from doing harm to ourselves. The dishonest person exposes himself to needless risks of shame and punishment, and even worse, he corrupts his heart, making it vulnerable to even worse temptations. Honesty, on the other hand, is rarely rewarded immediately, but in the long run its fruit becomes clear to others. The proud are quick to take offense or to allow themselves to be provoked into rash acts that will cause regret, but the patient and humble are able to act consistently with what they really believe to be right.

Wisdom also teaches us not constantly to look regretfully at the past. Paul said something similar in Philippians 3, stating that he forgets what is behind and strains towards what is ahead. There is often some truth to our feeling that there was good in the past that we cannot bring back, but dwelling on it will not make the present or the future any better.

In all of these ways, wisdom is a shelter that protects our hearts and minds from much of the damage that the world can do to the unwary. The teacher says that wisdom is better than money, because wisdom can protect us spiritually, not just physically.

Questions For Discussion or Study:

Study James 3. Give practical examples that illustrate James’s main points about the fruits of wisdom.

How do these ideas fit in with Ecclesiastes?

Why does the teacher emphasize so strongly the virtues of a sober heart?

How can we learn to distinguish when laughter is appropriate, and when seriousness is appropriate?

Give practical examples of the ways that godly wisdom protects us, both spiritually and in daily life.

Wisdom & Perspective (Ecclesiastes 7:13-22)

The Teacher also tries to use godly wisdom in his efforts to build a better perspective on his life, on others, and on the world. He has already learned the limits of earthly wisdom, but now he sees that godly wisdom can have a great effect on our lives. In particular, it can help us to abandon fruitless pursuits and to focus our energies on more productive matters.

One of the most basic lessons of godly wisdom is the realization that the world and everything in it comes from God (Ecclesiastes 7:13-15) . While every Christian believes this, even we often fail to consider even the most obvious of its implications. Knowing that the world comes from an all -powerful and all-knowing God, of a nature much greater than ours, first of all implies that there are definite limits to our understanding. We can only dimly grasp the answers to some important questions, such as God’s reasons for creating the world, or God’s willingness to allow both good and bad in the world. The Scriptures provide us with basic assurances about matters such as these, and we must be content with them. We must nurture our faith in God so that we do not demand answers to questions that we can never fully understand in this life.

God’s design for humanity is that, as long as they live in this world, they should seek to know him and to serve him. This is more important than any other concern that he may have about us. For believers, this means that they often must endure disappointment or even persecution, either for the sake of their own spiritual growth, or so that others can learn about God. For unbelievers, this means that God may give them blessings that they do not deserve, in order to show his love for them, in the hope that they will someday see his hand at work. From a worldly perspective, it seems meaningless or unfair when our blessings do not match our behavior, but to God this can be a means of accomplishing important spiritual goals.

Just as there are limits to our understanding, there are also limits to our own righteousness (Ecclesiastes 7:16-22). When the Teacher advises us not to be "overrighteous", this is what he means. We must not fall into the trap of thinking that we can defeat our flesh solely by our own efforts and goodness, by using our own strength and ingenuity to subdue the flesh and its desires. This leads only to a self-righteous pride or to a desperate sense of failure. We must learn that it is only God who is truly righteous, and that it is through his grace and his love for us that we can be declared righteous, in spite of ourselves. On the other hand, we must not go to the other extreme, by taking God’s grace and love for granted, and becoming "overwicked". As the Teacher tells us, avoiding these kinds of extremes is an important part of spiritual maturity.

Just as the New Testament writers often tell us, the Teacher here proclaims that no one on this earth is righteous in God’s eyes. It is part of our human nature that we so often seek to define righteousness on our own terms, and then begin to evaluate ourselves and others with them. The Teacher warns us against this, too. Paying undue attention to the opinions of others - even their opinions of us - can quickly lead to trouble of many kinds.

Questions For Discussion or Study:

If we accept that God created the world and everything in it according to his own designs, what are some of the implications of this in our daily lives?

Which aspects of this are the hardest for us to accept?

How can we learn better to accept them?

What does the Teacher mean by "overrighteous" and "overwicked"?

How can we avoid them?

When we realize that no one on earth is truly righteous, how can this affect our lives and our thoughts?

Wisdom & Righteousness (Ecclesiastes 7:23 to Ecclesiastes 8:1)

Once before, the Teacher hoped to find meaning and purpose through the accumulation of wisdom and knowledge. But now he tries to do something different and more promising, as he looks at the connection between godly wisdom and righteousness. When we understand more fully the difference between the teachings of God and the temptations of the world, we then find it much easier to live as God calls us to live.

Within every human being is the desire to understand (Ecclesiastes 7:23-25): the desire to understand who we are, where we came from, and what else is out there. We can try to satisfy this desire either through a worldly approach, or through a spiritual approach. The worldly, fleshly approach is to try to discover things we cannot fully understand, and to try to demonstrate our own brilliance through our studies and theories. Thus - just to give one of many possible examples - the world comes up with the theory of random evolution, which is a laughable attempt to exalt human thinking in explaining something (the process of creation) that is far beyond our grasp.

There are, though, things that we can understand. We can understand that the world was created at God’s command. We can understand the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, wisdom and folly. We can understand that we are saved by grace, through faith. We can understand that God sent his Son to die on a cross in order to make atonement for the sins that we have committed. We can and should seek to understand these and other spiritual things.

Choosing wisdom over folly is not only the right thing to do, it is also the best thing for us in the long run (Ecclesiastes 7:26 to Ecclesiastes 8:1). The snare of the seductive woman, which the Teacher describes here, is only one of many such traps that await the ungodly and those who stray spiritually. To fall into such a snare may be momentarily pleasurable, but it soon leads to harmful consequences, both in this life and in our relationship with God.

Although humanity was made in God’s image, we all have a tendency to follow our own wills instead of accepting ourselves as God’s creations. Solomon here describes with regret how hard it is to find anyone who lives an upright and godly life*. How sadly true is his statement that human beings "have gone in search of many schemes". Yet those who do apply themselves to seeking what is truly of value will find that their hearts, minds, and personalities will benefit greatly from the true wisdom that God reveals to those who desire it.

  • ·    When the Teacher says that he found one upright man among a thousand, and no upright women, this is simply a literary device, stressing how rare it is to see someone who truly devotes his or her life to God. It makes no sense to interpret this as some kind of comparison between the righteousness of males and the righteousness of females. Some commentators go way off track on this verse because they misinterpret it, and they then accuse the writer of being "misogynistic", which is just silly. As a literary technique, it is very similar to, for example, the common construction in the Proverbs, "Under three things the earth trembles, under four it cannot bear up (Proverbs 30:21, see also verses such as Proverbs 30:15; Proverbs 30:18; Proverbs 30:29). Yet another similar figure of speech is used in Amos - for example, see Amos 1:3; Amos 1:6; Amos 1:9; Amos 1:13, &c.

Questions For Discussion or Study:

What signs can we see that within us is a desire for understanding?

Where does this desire come from?

What is its true purpose?

How do humans misuse this desire?

What benefits do we get from choosing godly wisdom over worldly folly?

Do any of these benefits help us in this life?

Why are those who live godly lives so rare?

- Mark W. Garner, October 2004

Justice & Injustice (Ecclesiastes 8:1-17)

As he did in the previous chapter, here the Teacher continues to reflect on some important subjects, using the perspectives that he has tried to develop. In this chapter, he turns to a number of examples that involve questions of justice and injustice. This is yet another topic on which God’s perspectives and human perspectives sometimes differ greatly.

Justice & Common Sense (Ecclesiastes 8:2-6)

Dealing with earthly authorities is an inherent and unavoidable part of our lives in this world. We know that we are spiritual beings, and we know that the rulers and authorities of this age are often wrong, sometimes even deliberately so. Solomon probably realized that he himself had engaged in misrule during the later years of his reign, and here he offers some general suggestions for God’s people in dealing with authorities in their lives.

The concept of justice, like so many other topics in Christianity, can be viewed either from an earthly perspective or from an eternal perspective. In this world, there will never be, and can never be, perfect justice. Further, even the limited ways in which we can attain justice in this world are only possible because of God’s grace. But from an eternal perspective, God is the administrator of justice, and we do not have to make the decisions; we just need to have faith that God will judge justly. Of course, even as Christians we are often concerned for matters involving justice in this world.

The Teacher applies the idea of justice first to the king’s authority (Ecclesiastes 8:2-4). He advises his hearers to be obedient to the king, linking this obedience to our relationship with God. His ideas here bear some similarities with Paul’s points in Romans 13:1-7. Paul tells the Romans to obey the governing authorities both because of possible punishment for disobedience, and also because our consciences tell us to obey out of respect for the order that God has established*.

* See also Peter’s comments in 1 Peter 2:13-17.

There will, of course, be times when rulers make decisions that oppose God’s word or will, and that we therefore will be forced to oppose. But, as the Teacher says here, we should not stand up for a bad, or purely selfish, cause, since such a stand not only risks punishment, but spiritual damage as well. When we do resist authority, we should consider whether it really does involve a spiritual principle of importance to God, or something that is important only to the flesh.

The Teacher then offers further practical wisdom, telling us that there is a proper time and procedure for everything (Ecclesiastes 8:5-6). When we are obedient to authority, we gain at least an earthly sense of security in return, a point Paul also raises in Romans 13. When the time does come for us to stand in opposition to an authority or a ruler, God will provide the proper time and place, and he will make it clear in our hearts. Solomon says that the wise heart will be able to discern the time and place. It may take patience and waiting, and there may be times when we must suffer under injustice for a time, until the proper occasion to deal with it arises.

Questions For Discussion or Study:

Since we do not live under a king, in what kinds of situations would these verses apply to us?

What would they tell us about these situations?

How might we be able to discern when to resist or oppose an earthly authority?

What kinds of issues might this involve?

How might God make clear to us the proper time and place?

When, on the other hand, might we simply have to endure something displeasing for a time?

Justice & Uncertainty (Ecclesiastes 8:7-13)

A common stumbling block to faith is the perception that there is no justice in this world, and that indeed, often the wicked almost seem to be rewarded. The Teacher here considers this problem in view of some of the lessons that he has previously learned. The uncertainty of justice, like uncertainty in the other areas of life that he has considered, can be either a stumbling block to faith or a building block to faith, depending on our perspective.

As spiritual beings, we should always remember that things in this world may not be what they seem (Ecclesiastes 8:7-10). For all that human beings so frequently become arrogant and think that they can do anything that they wish to do, we really have an astonishing lack of wisdom and power. The humanist myth of ever -advancing human progress is hollow and false. We usually do not know what will happen even a very short time into the future. Humanity is powerless to control all but the smallest forces around them. Most of all, no amount of wisdom, money, or power can exempt any of us from death.

For this reason, those who seem to be powerful or rich in the world’s eyes are invariably disappointed by their wealth and power, if that is where they have placed their faith. Because the world fears death above all, their view of oppressors exaggerates the oppressors’ power, and fails to see the deep insecurity and fear in the hearts of those who exploit or persecute their fellow beings. No one truly strong, truly confident, or truly secure has any need to harm others in order to feel strong or confident or secure. The most notorious villains of history are also the most pathetic, hopeless, miserable souls in history.

The Teacher also considers various incentives to sin or not to sin (Ecclesiastes 8:11-13). Again, this can be looked at from either of two perspectives. From the worldly perspective, we can easily see that in this world there are often incentives to sin. When we see so many sinners and evil-doers who "get away with" their misdeeds, it can easily arouse in ourselves the desire to commit evil acts. This is why so much of popular culture glorifies and romanticizes sin, because there is a part of our flesh that is thrilled by the possibility of committing sin and getting away with it. It is quite easy for the purveyors of mass-distributed trash to exploit this by creating motion pictures, songs, and stories that cater to this objectionable and ungodly part of our nature.

The godly should learn to see through all this, and to place their hope in something better. As the Teacher says, a person can commit evil acts and yet flourish by this world’s standards, but all the same such an individual pays a high price inside. Once again, popular culture loves to portray evil-doers as dashing, romantic heroes, but this is a lie that Christians should see through. Those who live by constantly sinning can indeed easily cause great damage in the lives of others, but they themselves are not genuinely interesting persons. They are shallow, insecure, desperate losers. We should model ourselves on Jesus, who "for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God" (Hebrews 12:2). The lasting reward for godliness is incalculably greater than the tiny, temporary pleasures of sin.

Questions For Discussion or Study:

Give examples of things that demonstrate how little wisdom and power humans really have.

What implications does this have?

Why do the worldly not want to admit their lack of wisdom and power?

What kinds of apparent incentives does this world offer to induce us to sin?

Can Christians fall into this kind of temptation?

In what ways does the Teacher imply here that we could make ourselves less vulnerable to temptation?

Justice & Joy (Ecclesiastes 8:14-17)

Our earthly human nature intuitively feels that doing good should be rewarded, not just by material things, but by happiness. Likewise, human nature feels that doing evil should lead to unhappiness. Yet again, it does not seem to happen this way from an earthly point of view. Here the Teacher carefully considers the possible ways of looking at this question.

The Teacher starts by acknowledging that often there does not seem to be any relation between our actions and the rewards we earn for them, calling this meaningless (Ecclesiastes 8:14-15). The righteous often seem to get what the wicked deserve, and vice versa. Rather than denying this, or trying to change things that we cannot change, we should once again return to the Teacher’s recurring advice that nothing is better than to enjoy and appreciate what we have. As so often before, he returns to this not out of despair and frustration, but out of relief and humility. He tells us that those who learn to be content will find their lives accompanied by the kind of joy that so many lack. The godly do not receive more or better things than others, but they have the rare opportunity to enjoy what they do have.

The chapter closes with some thoughts on justice and wisdom (Ecclesiastes 8:16-17). Because our human perspectives will always be incomplete and imperfect, we can never really know what is best for us or for others, and therefore we can never know for certain what justice really is. God knows more and sees more than we ever can, and it is simply unwise for us to critique his ways of judging and acting. The final verse of the chapter recalls Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 8:2, "the man who thinks that he knows something does not yet know it as he ought to know." If we remember to be humble, and remember how little we really understand, it can help us to build our faith and to live the kind of godly lives that can attract others to God.

Questions For Discussion or Study:

What kinds of examples make it seem as if humans often do not get what they deserve?

In a worldly sense, will this ever change?

Does God want it to change?

What unseen penalties do the wicked pay?

What rewards do those who live godly lives receive?

Is there any reward in this world for godly living?

Why is it important to our concept of justice to realize that there is much we don’t know?

Is there anything about which we can be certain?

Give practical examples of all this.

- Mark W. Garner, October 2004

Discarding Our Illusions (Ecclesiastes 9:1-18)

Having learned and experienced so much, the Teacher has come to accept some difficult lessons about living under the sun. Time and again, his assumptions have been proven false, and his illusions have been shattered. In this chapter, he calls us to discard our own illusions about life in this world, and to accept the realities that God has revealed to us.

The Implications of Mortality (Ecclesiastes 9:1-10)

Several times in Ecclesiastes, the Teacher comes back to the concept of human mortality, and the limitations that it imposes on our lives under the sun. The awareness of our mortality can also affect our ability to enjoy the things of this world. In once again dwelling on the sometimes frightening thought of death, he is by no means being morbid, but rather is making an honest and courageous attempt to understand the way God that has made things.

As the Teacher has already noted, from an earthly viewpoint all of humanity shares a common destiny (Ecclesiastes 9:1-4). Our lives are in God’s hands from the moment we are born, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. Moreover, from an earthly perspective, we have no sure way of determining what comes next. Earthly science and philosophy are powerless to tell us about the afterlife. It is for that reason that so many persons who consider themselves to be wise by the world’s standards choose to deny or ignore the existence of eternity, because it is so frightening and humbling to them.

Yet all rational and honest humans know that we face an inevitable fate. Since our flesh rebels against the idea that it will someday cease to be, it influences our hearts to deny death, and to turn to sin or selfishness in the hope of running from the truth. A great many of the fancy-sounding rationalizations for sin, the pretentious philosophical fallacies of atheists, and the numerous forms of rampant indulgence in sensual pleasures, all really come down to the simple wish to deny the truth about the fleeting nature of our lives.

The Teacher says (in Ecclesiastes 9:4) that the living have a hope that the dead do not. The worldly have a false hope, in that as long as they are alive, they can continue to delude themselves about spiritual realities. But the godly have a true hope. And even those who have not yet turned to God can have the hope of salvation if they do turn to him, no matter how many sins and mistakes they have previously committed.

The Teacher thus exhorts us to make the best use of the time that we do spend in this world (Ecclesiastes 9:5-10), or as Paul says in Colossians 4:5 (KJV), to redeem the time. The worldly spend so much of their time on pleasures that will not last, or on attainments that will soon be forgotten. That does not mean, of course, that we should never do anything that does not have an obvious eternal significance. Rather, as the Teacher has so often said, it means that we should learn to appreciate what we have while we have it, rather than coveting, envying, or desperately striving for more. Whatever we do in our days under the sun, the Teacher tells us to do it with all our might.

Once again, we can compare this with the New Testament teaching to work at everything we do with all our heart, as if we were doing it for Jesus (Colossians 3:23). To be able to do this consistently calls for a deeper faith in God. When we trust God to guide us, and trust him to place us where he wants us to be, this can keep us from becoming restless or dissatisfied. It enables us to make use of opportunities we already have. Then we do not become unduly upset about the way things work out in this world, because we already know our final destination.

Questions For Discussion or Study:

Why does the Teacher so often think about death?

Are there any positive implications to death?

How does this fit in with the Teacher’s constant encouragement to enjoy what we have?

What is the difference between his advice and the attitudes of the worldly who indulge themselves in sin?

What can we do to make ourselves more content with our daily lives?

Time & Chance (Ecclesiastes 9:11-12)

In these verses, the Teacher returns to another topic that has interested him throughout the book, the concept of uncertainty. His thoughts here are timeless, in that they confront the kinds of assumptions that are made - perhaps in slightly different forms - in every era. Most of what happens in this world is not subject to mathematical calculation or logical proof. We must therefore accept the role of time and chance in our own lives and in the lives of others.

In saying that the race is not to the swift (Ecclesiastes 9:11), Solomon is simply reminding us that there are no guarantees. Sometimes the slower or weaker side wins, for many possible reasons. There are countless examples in which speed, strength, talent, or wisdom do not prevail, either because they were taken for granted, or because they were misused, or because God intervened, or because some less-appreciated factor proved more important.

Nor should we underestimate the role of time and chance, especially in worldly affairs. There are many things in our lives that have spiritual importance that we barely recognize, and we know that God often works in ways that we barely notice. Yet we also should remember that much of what goes on in life has little or no spiritual significance, and in such matters, God will often simply allow time and chance, along with the human wills of those involved, to determine the outcome. Our responsibility is not so much always to try to deduce or calculate when this has occurred, versus when God has acted, so much as to accept that everything is in God’s hands, and that he will always care for us and will use everything for the good, no matter what the people of this world may do with their own earthly power and wisdom.

This also implies that we should expect the unexpected (Ecclesiastes 9:12), both good and bad. Because of our limited foreknowledge and our earthly perspective, most of the time we have only a dim idea of what will happen in even the very near future. Once again, we should not try desperately to get more control over things, but rather should strengthen our faith in God, knowing that he will guide us through uncertain times, as long as we allow him to do so. The sudden and the unexpected will come, but they do not need to damage our relationship with God.

Questions For Discussion or Study:

Why is there so much uncertainty in this world?

Why does chance play such a large role in human affairs?

Is there a way for us to tell when God has acted, versus when something has happened by chance?

What kinds of sudden or unexpected things may happen to us (or have happened to you)?

Are there some general ways we can keep ourselves prepared for such things?

Human Inconstancy (Ecclesiastes 9:13-18)

Yet another common illusion is the notion that our good and helpful deeds will always be remembered by those we have benefitted. Or, in a more general way, we might simply assume that others have our best interests at heart. Solomon now exposes this misconception, as he has done with the others, not in order to discourage us, but rather to try to keep us from being hurt unnecessarily by human ingratitude and inconstancy.

The Teacher shares with us a memorable example* of what can happen (Ecclesiastes 9:13-16). He tells us of a city that was in a desperate plight, besieged by a much more powerful army. A poor but wise man in the city devised a means of saving the city, but the man was soon forgotten in the joy of victory. Such situations are quite common on a less dramatic level. One implication of this story is that we should not count on being rewarded or even thanked for services we give to others. From the worldly viewpoint, this seems terribly unfair, but from a spiritual viewpoint, this is a helpful reminder. We are always freer, and we always serve more joyfully, when we do so out of a desire to serve God and to give to his people, rather than being motivated by a hope of reward or recognition for ourselves.

  • ·    It seems most likely that this is an incident that happened elsewhere, and that Solomon heard about it, rather than something he experienced first-hand. It is also possible that it was merely a story, similar to the parables.

Next, the Teacher considers the impact of wisdom (Ecclesiastes 9:17-18). He contrasts the quiet words of the wise with the loud shouts of the foolish. Wisdom does not always jump out and aggressively call itself to our attention, but it is always worth heeding. Foolish thoughts, on the other hand, are often stated boldly and loudly, and they often promise quick satisfaction if we heed them. The ability to distinguish between the constructive power of godly wisdom and the destructive power of worldly wisdom is an important aspect of spiritual growth and maturity.

Questions For Discussion or Study:

Why does the Teacher share the example in Ecclesiastes 9:13-16?

Can you think of other similar examples?

If humans are often ungrateful, should we then not serve them as much?

Or is there a better way to apply the lessons of this example?

Why does Solomon describe the words of the wise as quiet, and the words of fools as being shouted?

What parallels to this can we see? How can we learn better to distinguish wisdom from folly?

- Mark W. Garner, November 2004

Wisdom in Practice (Ecclesiastes 10:1-20)

In this chapter, the Teacher follows up on his thoughts from the end of the previous chapter, in which he considered the real value of wisdom. Wisdom does not always bring earthly rewards, due to the uncertain nature of this world. But godly wisdom is always of value in keeping our hearts pure, and in nurturing spiritual fruit in our lives.

Folly Cannot be Hidden (Ecclesiastes 10:1-7)

Towards the end of the previous chapter of Ecclesiastes, the Teacher compared the quiet words of the wise with the loud shouts of the foolish. While godly wisdom is often subtle, and must be sought after, worldly folly is generally not hard to find. In these verses, Solomon takes this idea further, discussing how hard it is to hide most forms of folly for very long.

He shares an analogy relating flies and folly (Ecclesiastes 10:1). Dead flies ruin everything from perfume to soup to coffee to almost anything else they fall into. Folly is the same way. When we indulge ourselves in even a little folly, it can undo a lot of good and wise things. How many dead flies would have to be in your drink before you would decline to drink it?

The next illustration describes two hearts going in different directions (Ecclesiastes 10:2-3). There is no particular significance to right and left*. Rather, the point is that the wise heart and the foolish heart are going in exactly opposite directions. Just as Jesus spoke of the sheep and the goats, as Paul talked about those led by the Spirit and those led by the flesh, so Solomon says there are two basic directions in which our hearts can go. And those who choose folly cannot hide it. Even as they go about their normal daily business, their way of life soon becomes clear.

  • ·    In particular, there is no political significance to "left" and "right". The use of those terms to describe political positions came into being many centuries after Ecclesiastes was written.

Nor should we be surprised to find folly in high places (Ecclesiastes 10:4-7). No matter how powerful, famous, or popular someone is, he or she is still a human, and still fallible. We should remain calm even when leaders or authorities seem to be failing us, or when they take actions that work against us. The Teacher reminds us that "calmness can lay great errors to rest". By our peace and contentment, we can often convict the insecure or selfish of the emptiness of their way of life, and by our calmness we can also save ourselves additional trouble.

We live in a confused world. While some of the sin and hurt in the world come from someone’s deliberate desire to do evil, much more comes from the confusion, insecurity, anxiety, and desperation of humans in the face of a world that is so large and so uncertain. That the foolish often have influential positions, while the wise and capable are often ignored, is simply a consequence of the nature of this world. Humans all too often look for conspiracies or plots to explain things that simply reflect the uncertain nature of the world in which we live, and in which people make a lot of mistakes and try a lot of things that do not work out. As Christians, we can be a source of calm, peace, and light in a world filled with turmoil, conflict, and darkness.

Questions For Discussion or Study:

What is the point of the Teacher’s analogies in Ecclesiastes 10:1-2?

What should we learn from them?

How does the Teacher advise us to deal with folly in those who have authority or influence over us?

Why is this such a common problem under the sun?

What specific problems might the Teacher have in mind?

Wisdom & Reality (Ecclesiastes 10:8-15)

One of the benefits of godly wisdom is that it helps us to accept things the way they are, without denying or rebelling against the ways that God has made things. These verses suggest just a few of the many possible ways in which the godly can benefit from having a realistic view of the world around them, compared to the ways in which the foolish will harm themselves by failing to accept the world as it really is.

First come some ideas involving wisdom, planning, and risk (Ecclesiastes 10:8-11). It is not possible to do anything worthwhile in this world without risk, and those who live their lives seeking only to avoid risks will soon find themselves incapable of doing anything rewarding. Solomon emphasizes this with several everyday examples. First, he points out that the digging of a pit, essential in many kinds of projects, involves the risk that the digger himself may fall in. The second one referred to a familiar problem of the era: it was a common hazard for those who tore down or renovated old buildings to find snakes that had made their homes inside the walls. The snakes would naturally disapprove of having their homes torn down, and they were likely to lash out at the nearest target*. Two more examples follow in verse 9, regarding the risks inherent in quarrying stones or splitting logs, jobs that again are essential in many kinds of undertakings.

  • ·    Some commentators interpret Ecclesiastes 10:8 differently, thinking that it refers to someone digging a pit as a trap or knocking down a wall as an act of vandalism. In that case, verse 9 still refers to constructive, necessary acts, so that under this interpretation the Teacher is making a slightly different point: that constructive and destructive acts both involve a similar degree of risk. It is more likely, though, that all of the examples in Ecclesiastes 10:8-9 refer to the risks involved in honest, constructive actions, as described above.

Then come two illustrations of another point. A dull axe requires the user to expend more of his own strength, suggesting that time and effort used to sharpen it beforehand would be well spent. This practical piece of wisdom again applies in many types of situations. The Teacher follows this with a similar example about a snake charmer who finishes the job too slowly.

Following these examples, the Teacher shares some thoughts on wisdom, speech, and work (Ecclesiastes 10:12-15). As James also wrote centuries later, the Teacher reminds us of the power of words, particularly foolish ones. It is an unfortunate fact that the same mouth that God gave us to praise him and to build up one another can also be used to hurt and to destroy. Since it is much easier to say foolish, pointless things than it is to say wise, helpful things, an important part of spiritual maturity is learning to use our words more wisely.

We must also learn to live with uncertainty, as the Teacher has pointed out before. The wise live responsibly, knowing that God is in control, but the foolish respond to the world’s uncertainty in the wrong way. Ecclesiastes 10:15 is similar to the proverbs about sluggards. Here, Solomon describes a fool whose desire to avoid work leads him to make weak excuses - he claims that he does not know the way to town, just as the sluggard in Proverbs 26:13 claimed that he could not go out because there was a dangerous lion roaming the streets.

Questions For Discussion or Study:

Why can our words have such a great effect, either for good or for bad?

Compare Ecclesiastes 10:12-14 a with James 3:1-12.

What lessons do they have in common?

What does James add to what Solomon says?

See if you can find other Scriptures that deal with these same ideas.

Give examples of the kind of excuse that the Teacher describes in Ecclesiastes 10:15.

Find the verses in Proverbs that talk about "the sluggard", and compare those verses with this one.

Wisdom & Leadership (Ecclesiastes 10:16-20)

Solomon next considers wisdom, or the lack thereof, in leaders and authorities. While many of the illustrations in Ecclesiastes refer to kings, the principles are still useful as regards many forms of leadership, whether in the community, the church, or the family. Most of us will actually find ourselves both as leaders and as followers at various times in our lives. He compares two kings and their lands (Ecclesiastes 10:16-17). Woe to the land, he says, that has an unfit, unprepared king*. The princes and other leaders of that land will begin to indulge themselves as soon as they wake up. A bad example from the king will often be imitated by those just below him - to the detriment of the nation as a whole. But blessed is the land, says the Teacher, with a worthy king* who is ready for the position. The princes of that land will follow his example, and will serve others ahead of themselves. These principles apply at all levels of leadership, and anyone who is a parent, a teacher, a supervisor, a deacon or elder, or a leader in any other capacity should take note of the effect that his or her example will have.

  • ·    This is what the passage implies by referring to one king as a servant or child, and the other as being of noble birth. The Teacher refers to their character and preparedness more than to their literal social status.

Some general applications then follow (Ecclesiastes 10:18-20). The Teacher particularly warns against laziness. Those who will not attend to small problems will soon have bigger problems. Solomon uses the example of a lazy man whose house falls gradually into disrepair, as a parallel for the way that our lives can fall apart if we do not take responsibility for them. Verse 19 describes the mind of a lazy ruler or rich man, who indulges himself at every opportunity, and who tries to solve all of his problems with money. The powerful or privileged are no lazier by nature than anyone else, but they have more opportunities to pursue a life of slothfulness.

The Teacher finishes his thoughts with another exhortation to accept those in authority, even to the point of holding off on unnecessary or unconstructive criticism. This does not at all imply that those in authority do not deserve to be criticized - rather, the Teacher advises us to be cautious not to do so without proper reflection first.

Questions For Discussion or Study:

In what contexts, other than actual kingdoms, could Ecclesiastes 10:16-17 apply?

What specific lessons can we get from them?

In what ways should we apply the Teacher’s warnings about laziness in Ecclesiastes 10:18-19?

How does Ecclesiastes 10:20 compare with Ecclesiastes 8:2-6?

In what kinds of situations should we apply Ecclesiastes 10:20?

- Mark W. Garner, November 2004

Life As It Was Meant To Be (Ecclesiastes 11:1-10)

As the Teacher nears the end of his book, he begins to share some broad advice on how to live our lives. In the last two chapters, he describes how the godly can live their lives in this world without many of the fears and internal struggles that plague the worldly. Here, he discusses some basic perspectives that will help us to be more at peace during our lives under the sun.

Living With An Uncertain Future (Ecclesiastes 11:1-6)

Our lives under the sun are made more complicated and stressful both by things that are uncertain and by things that are certain. In these verses, the Teacher advises us how to live in a world in which so much is uncertain. His advice is meant to be general, so the examples and analogies he gives are meant to provide perspectives that can be applied in many areas besides those specifically mentioned.

In one of the more memorable verses of Ecclesiastes, the teacher tells us to "cast your bread upon the waters" (Ecclesiastes 11:1-2), in the expectation of seeing it again after many days. This somewhat obscure but evocative image is primarily meant to encourage us to be unafraid in pursuing the opportunities that God gives us under the sun. We shall often see little immediate return on our efforts, because spiritual fruit often takes a long time to ripen. But the lasting satisfaction that spiritual fruit gives us makes it worth the wait.

The Teacher’s next exhortation (in Ecclesiastes 11:2), is similar. He calls us to distribute or to make use of what we have, not holding back*, for we never know how long we shall retain what we have now. As simple as this advice is, it hits at the root of many instances of human indecision and fear. So often, it is difficult for us to act when we do not know what the future holds. The Teacher’s message is that even if we thought we knew the future, we could very well be wrong anyway - so we should simply do what we know to be right and good in God’s eyes. We should sow seed whenever we have the chance.

  • ·    The expression "to seven, yes to eight" is another example of a common construction in Hebrew. The numbers are not meant to be taken literally. It simply means, "to as many as possible". That is, the verse is simply telling us, in a general sense, to make use of the things and opportunities that God gives us, rather than waiting until we feel assured of success.

The Teacher also reminds us that, most of the time, what will be, will be, and most of the time we will have at best limited control over it (Ecclesiastes 11:3-4). When the clouds are dark, it’s going to rain, and we can do nothing to stop it. If a tree falls, we have no control over where it lands. The Teacher goes on to give an illustration of a fearful farmer, who is afraid to plant because the wind might blow away his seed, and who later is afraid to reap because it might rain. If we live our lives trying to avoid everything bad or dangerous, it quickly becomes a form of paralysis. There will be times when we will get hurt or disappointed, even if we have taken wise precautions. As believers, we should most of all make sure that this does not prevent us from making use of the opportunities that God gives us to serve him.

Further, we must also accept many things that we cannot understand (Ecclesiastes 11:5-6). Christianity was never meant to be based on logic and study alone. Faith will always be an essential part of any genuine relationship with God. The skeptics who claim not to accept anything that cannot be proven are simply deceiving themselves. No one could live for more than a few moments without taking many important things on faith. There is no one who understands everything about how our bodies work, yet we believe that they do work in certain ways. No one understands every piece of machinery and technology that we use in our daily lives. Many more examples could be given along the same lines. Relentless skepticism is not sophisticated; it is foolish and pretentious. Furthermore, skeptics are not consistent - they merely reject those truths that make them uncomfortable, and accept the ones that they like.

It is interesting that, in connection with this, the Teacher exhorts us not to be idle. When he says that we should sow seed in the morning when we have the chance, and that we should find something constructive to do in the evening (when sowing cannot be done), what he means is that we should not do only those things that bring guaranteed results. We never know for certain which of our actions will really have an effect, so we should simply do any and all of those things that we know are right and constructive, and let God work to produce spiritual fruit. The world is full of excuses for idleness, selfishness, and self-indulgence. Many of these excuses have a phony philosophical tone to them, but they are still just excuses.

Questions For Discussion or Study:

In what practical ways could we apply the Teacher’s advice to "cast our bread upon the waters"?

What are some of the uncertainties of life that we must accept every day?

How can we make them easier to accept?

What are some of the things that most persons accept on faith every day, even if they are not believers?

What spiritual lessons can we draw from these examples?

Living With A Certain Future (Ecclesiastes 11:7-10)

In other respects, our lives under the sun have a certain future. It is the nature of everything in this world to be beautiful in its time, and then to pass from the face of the earth. It is also the nature of most living things to be young and full of energy, then to become mature, and then to weaken and grow old. The Teacher advises us not to fight against this destiny. This is even easier to accept when we remember that as Christians we also have a certain future in eternity.

In thinking of our lives under the sun, the Teacher tells us that light is sweet (Ecclesiastes 11:7-8) . There is no reason not to find enjoyment and contentment in the blessings that God gives us under the sun. God gives us many things in this world to show us that he cares. We simply have to remain conscious of the much longer time that we shall live in eternity. The Teacher calls this "many days of darkness" because of the uncertainty involved. For those who are separated from God, of course, eternity will be dark indeed. For us, those days are dark, or obscured, in that we cannot know exactly what heaven* will be like, but we can be assured of being with God, so that we know it will be much better than any situation we could have in this world.

  • ·    For the beliefs that the Jews in Solomon’s time would have had of eternity, see the notes to chapter 3, the footnote at the bottom of page 2.

The Teacher then tells us how to live in the present (Ecclesiastes 11:9-10). Those who are in the days of their youth should take joy in what they have, being careful only to do nothing that displeases God. As long as we live in the consciousness of God, there is no reason not to enjoy his blessings. Nor is it all that difficult to enjoy his blessings responsibly. There are many blessings given to us that we simply have to look for in order to appreciate.

As we grow older, we tend to become more weighted down with troubles, responsibilities, and anxieties. The Teacher gives us advice similar to Peter’s: "cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares about you" (1 Peter 4:7). In both cases, these inspired authors do not believe that you can quickly and easily relieve your anxieties just by deciding to do so. Rather, they are telling us not to let these things dwell in our hearts unchallenged, but instead through prayer, study, and sharing them with others, to allow God the chance to heal and comfort our troubled hearts.

When the Teacher next says that "youth and vigor are meaningless", he is not telling us not to appreciate them when we have them (since he has just told us to be grateful for them), but rather he is reminding us that, like everything else in this world, they simply do not last. We should thus accept the future when it comes, instead of fighting against it. So many unbelievers make an idol out of youth, and in our society whole industries are built around catering to the desperate desire that so many persons have to look and feel young. It is God who put in us the tendency to grow old, and we should accept it just as we do everything else that he has done.

Questions For Discussion or Study:

How would the Teacher advise young persons to live their lives?

What cautions does he give them?

How should we deal with growing older? Give some examples of things that provide particular challenges at each of these stages of life. How might the Teacher have learned from his own experience?

- Mark W. Garner, November 2004

Remember Your Creator (Ecclesiastes 12:1-14)

As the book of Ecclesiastes comes to its end, the Teacher focuses his concluding thoughts on God. He exhorts his readers to remember God, to remember the nature of their lives under the sun, and to be aware of God’s control over everything. He himself has returned to some vital lessons that he once knew and then forgot, and he wants us to learn from his past mistakes.

Learn It While You Can (Ecclesiastes 12:1-8)

The Teacher realizes that if, when he was younger, he had held more closely to the truths about God that he knew, then he could have saved himself many misfortunes. He wants us to learn from this. There is never a better time than the present to strengthen our relationship with God and our devotion to God. But the world also wants our attention, and if we become too engrossed in this world, we can easily miss better and more important spiritual opportunities.

In calling us to remember God our Creator, the Teacher particularly urges us to remember him while there is time (Ecclesiastes 12:1-5). He appeals first of all to those who are still young. Youth is the best time, but in some respects the hardest time, to develop a strong relationship with God. Those who devote themselves to God while still young will experience the blessings of God’s wisdom as they make the crucial choices in their lives, and faithful young persons will spare themselves many griefs. Yet youth is also the hardest time to persuade someone to live for God, because the world worships youth, and it dangles an enormous variety of temptations in front of the young. Those young persons who do choose God should receive our constant encouragement and appreciation.

After his exhortation, Solomon then describes at length the process of growing old, using numerous images of decline and decay. He is rather graphic and melancholy in describing what it is like to see one’s years under the sun slipping away, and from a worldly viewpoint this is a depressing topic indeed. His purpose, though, is not to discourage, but to persuade. We cannot avoid aging, just as we cannot avoid passing away. Yet what a different prospect it is to know that we can face our declining years with God close by us, rather than facing the possible discouragements of old age all on our own.

For the day will come for all of us when we go to our eternal home. When it does come, our time under the sun will seem to have slipped away too quickly, and we may never get the "last chance" to turn to God that so many in the world are counting on. It is so common for humans to think that they are too busy to turn to God, or that they have too many worries to be able to improve their relationship with God, or that they are just not ready yet to take God seriously. All of the things that make us busy, all of the things that worry us, and all of the things that distract us or demand our attention come from the world and Satan, who do not want to let go of our souls. We’ll never stop being busy or worried or pre-occupied until and unless Satan and the world decide that they are ready for us to turn to God. When do you think that will happen?

Continuing with similar thoughts, the Teacher reminds us that the spirit eventually returns to God (Ecclesiastes 12:6-8). He is talking here not about the Holy Spirit, but about the personal spirit that God put in each one of us. In pointing this out, he is adding another dimension to what he has frequently said about our mortality, and about the inevitability of each of us passing away. The difference here is that while our bodies will pass away forever, the Teacher reminds us that there is a part of us - the spiritual part - that does not at all cease to exist when the body dies. But for us to benefit from this, we must nourish and nurture our spirits before physical life ends.

The Teacher gives several evocative images of the end of our physical existence. The most familiar is his expression that the "dust" of which our bodies are made will itself return to the ground and the dust. But the spirit in each of us will live, and will - if we have prepared it properly - seek to return to the God who created us and our spirits. Therefore he says one more time that everything in this world is "meaningless", or insubstantial, or temporary*.

  • ·    See the notes to Lesson One for more details on the meaning of the word that is translated "meaningless" or "vanity" in most English-language Bible versions.

Questions For Discussion or Study:

Why is it so much better for us to remember God and turn to him while we are still young?

Why doesn’t every young person then turn to God?

What about those who are no longer young, and who have never sought God?

Is it too late? Is it harder?

Why does the Teacher give such graphic descriptions of aging and death?

What lessons are we meant to get from them?

Of what significance is his statement that "the spirit returns to God"?

The Conclusion of the Matter (Ecclesiastes 12:9-14)

These verses are in the nature of a closing exhortation, rather than a continuation of the book’s main line of thought*. The Teacher returns briefly to his own experience, exhorting us to consider what he has said, and to weigh carefully all that we hear or read. How right he is in referring to the vast number of books and experts in this world, and how wise he is to call us to hold all of them up to God’s truth, for ultimately God alone determines truth.

  • ·    In fact, some commentators believe that Ecclesiastes 12:9-14 is an epilogue that was written and added to the book by a different, later author. They base this conclusion on the wording and style of the verses, as compared with the rest of the book - so this theory is really just a speculation, but you may find it in commentaries on Ecclesiastes.

These closing verses describe the Teacher and his diligent efforts to search for the right words to explain what he wanted to pass on to us (Ecclesiastes 12:9-12 a). Indeed, Ecclesiastes uses many vivid phrases to express some deep and sometimes difficult concepts. The Teacher also collected and wrote numerous proverbs* in the course of his many studies. Between his studies and his personal experience, he has many upright and true lessons for us. Yet the mere fact that a teaching is wise and important is in itself not enough to convince everyone to heed it. Therefore the book concludes with another strong exhortation to heed the Teacher’s message.

  • ·    Many of Solomon’s proverbs are, of course, collected in the book of Proverbs. The reference to proverbs here in Ecclesiastes 12:9 probably refers both to these and to many other proverbs that are not included in the inspired writings of the Old Testament.

In fact, the words of the spiritually wise can be rather unsettling to the flesh, and they can seem like goads, as Ecclesiastes 12:11 implies. Such sayings can also feel like "firmly imbedded nails". By this, he means that when we know in our hearts that a teaching is true, it can be hard or impossible to put it out of our minds, even if we don’t want to believe it or think about it. Except for those who have completely hardened their hearts and seared their consciences, spiritual teachings ring true somewhere inside, even for those who do not want to accept them. Note also that we are cautioned not only against rejecting spiritual wisdom, but also against adding to it. The desire to add our own opinions to those of God can be just as much of a danger as the desire simply to ignore God’s Word.

For God is the source of truth (Ecclesiastes 12:12-14) . How true verse 12 is in describing the world’s capacity for making many books, yet only a fraction of them have real spiritual value, and none matches the wisdom and authority of the Scriptures. Other books can indeed be quite helpful, even spiritually, if used properly, but they are not substitutes for God’s own Word.

In conclusion, we are told that "the whole duty of man" is to fear God and keep his commandments. Indeed, we were created to seek, know, and serve God. What we have seen throughout the book of Ecclesiastes is that those who live like this will find the kind of security and peace that eludes those who choose to live instead for themselves. This does not mean that our lives will be free from trial - far from it. Instead, it means that the faithful will find spiritual fruit in their lives that will sustain them even through the worst of times under the sun. God does not make up arbitrary rules. Rather, since God made us, he knows what is truly good for us. In his great patience, he allows us to choose whether or not to seek him.

Yet it is certain that one day we shall go before God for judgment, along with everyone else who has ever lived. God knows all things, and so everything will be brought into the light. We can deceive the rest of the world, and even ourselves, but not God. Nor should we want to deceive him. While he does not always give us what we ask for, he always gives us what we need, and he always loves us. After years of hard experience, and much careful consideration, the Teacher has returned to the conclusion that he really knew in his heart to be true all along. He has shared his honest, wise thoughts with us in the book of Ecclesiastes, in the hope that we will take his message to heart and benefit from it spiritually.

Questions For Discussion or Study:

Why does Ecclesiastes 12:9-11 emphasize the effort to which the Teacher went to share his thoughts with us?

How are we meant to respond to this?

In what ways are the words of the spiritually wise like goads or nails?

Does this mean that they can harm us?

Is there a way to make them less "painful"?

What does it mean to "fear God and keep his commandments"?

When we are aware of the reality and certainty of God’s judgment, how will it influence our thoughts and actions?

- Mark W. Garner, November 2004

Introduction to Ecclesiastes,

Is The Grass Greener On The Other Side?

By Brent Kercheville

Introduction:

I think that every person questions their purpose in life. Everyone seeks the meaning of life and what to know why he or she is here. Further, we try to do things in life that will give us fulfillment and satisfaction. Many times we think that we cannot find satisfaction because we do not have enough resources. For example, we may think that if we had more money we would be able to do more things in life which would make us happier and we would find life to be fulfilling. If we only had more knowledge we would find life more satisfying. If we only had more power and control then we would be content with this life. In essence, our belief is that the grass is always greener on the other side, but we have no way of experiencing the other side. Life could always be better, but I do not have enough to get to where the grass is greener. So we find our lives frustrating, unrewarding, and unsatisfying. So we strive harder in life to get to the greener grass, but always coming up short.

The book of Ecclesiastes is interesting because we are presented with a person who was able to experience the greener grass. Not only was this person able to find the greener grass but he wrote a journal recording his experiences. The name of the book should not confuse us. Ecclesiastes is from the Greek meaning “the speaker to the assembly.” If fact, remember that “assembly” or “church” in the Greek is ekklesia, and you can see that root word in the book’s title. Therefore, the book begins with the following words:

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem. (Ecclesiastes 1:1)

Though the author is a king, this is not the capacity in which he writes. Instead, he wants to share with the assembly what he experienced when he got to the greener grass on the other side. Identifying the author is somewhat important to us because we want to know that his journal is valid. If someone is going to tell us about life, we want it to be a person who truly did experience riches, power, and success. Verse 1 does not tell us who the author is, simply describing himself as “son of David, king in Jerusalem.” Of course, every king of Judah was a descendant of David, ruling in Jerusalem. But verse 12 gives us more information.

I, the Teacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. (Ecclesiastes 1:12)

Now we know who is speaking to the assembly. There were only three kings who ruled over the entire nation of Israel from Jerusalem: David, Solomon, and Rehoboam until Israel is divided into two nations. Since Rehoboam was a fool it becomes easy to identify that Solomon is the teacher to the assembly in this book.

Why should we listen to Solomon? Why would Solomon be a good person to speak to us about the meaning of life and the greener grass that we long for? As we investigate the life of Solomon we find out that Solomon had everything. Solomon had vast amounts of wisdom:

29 God gave Solomon wisdom, very great insight, and understanding as vast as the sand on the seashore. 30 Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. 31 He was wiser than anyone—wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Calcol, and Darda, sons of Mahol. His reputation extended to all the surrounding nations. 32 Solomon composed 3,000 proverbs, and his songs numbered 1,005. 33 He described trees, from the cedar in Lebanon to the hyssop growing out of the wall. He also taught about animals, birds, reptiles, and fish. 34 People came from everywhere, sent by every king on earth who had heard of his wisdom, to listen to Solomon’s wisdom. (1 Kings 4:29-34)

When it came to wisdom and knowledge, Solomon was unsurpassed. God gave Solomon great wisdom like no person who had come before him nor like any person who came after him (1 Kings 3:12). No human ever had more wisdom than Solomon. The wisdom of Solomon was so recognized that people all over the world came to Israel to hear the wise words of Solomon (1 Kings 10:24). But Solomon had more than wisdom. He also had great wealth.

In addition, I will give you what you did not ask for: both riches and honor, so that no man in any kingdom will be your equal during your entire life. (1 Kings 3:13)

King Solomon surpassed all the kings of the world in riches and in wisdom. (1 Kings 10:23)

Solomon took the nation of Israel to its greatest state of wealth. Solomon has authority to speak about having all the wealth of the world at one’s disposal. His wealth surpassed all of the riches that the others kings had. Not only did Solomon have great wealth and great wisdom, but he also had great power.

Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River to the land of the Philistines and as far as the border of Egypt. They offered tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life.(1 Kings 4:21)

Israel was the most powerful nation during Solomon’s reign. He subjugated nations and the world paid their tribute to Solomon during his reign. Solomon did not rule at a time when Israel was weak. Rather, Israel never had more power and influence than it did under the reign of Solomon.

Absolute Futility!

The point is that Solomon did have it all. He is the perfect person to read his reflections about life. Solomon is going to tell us about all of the things he tried in life and tell us what he found. But before going into the details, Solomon begins by giving us a summary of what he found. What do you think he would say about these pursuits? What do you think he found being as rich as one could be, being as wise as one could be, being as powerful as one could be, and pursuing every pleasure possible? I believe we think he would find happiness, joy, contentment, satisfaction, and/or peace. But notice the words that he declares as a summary of what he found in these pursuits.

“Absolute futility,” says the Teacher. “Absolute futility. Everything is futile.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)

Solomon tells us it was pointless and empty. It was not what he thought it would be and it is not what we think it will be. The NIV uses the word “meaningless,” but I believe that this translation misses what the teacher is saying. The teacher did not find satisfaction and lasting pleasure for these things. Everything was fleeting, empty, pointless, or senseless. This is not at all what we expected him to say about the “greener grass” on the other side. We expected him to tell us the opposite. How could this be? Why would the accumulation of power, wealth, and wisdom be futile? How could the grass not be greener on the other side?

Examples of Futility (Ecclesiastes 1:3-11)

The teacher sets up this conclusion with a question: What does a man gain for all his efforts he labors at under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:3). Notice the key phrase “under the sun.” We will read this phrase repeatedly throughout the teacher’s journal. The phrase “under the sun” describes a horizontal, strictly human point of view. The key is that the teacher is looking at life from a human perspective alone. He is not trying to apply God’s answers to the problems or difficulties. He simply reveals what life looks like without God from a human vantage point.

Now read Ecclesiastes 1:4-11 and see the answers that the teacher gives. I think we can summarize these points into some concise arguments:

1. Nothing is changed. A generation comes and a generation goes, but nothing changes. The sun rises and the sun sets. It happens every day. Nothing changes. Life goes on. The wind blows one way and then it blows another way. The mechanisms of life are simply futile. In fact, it can be argued that life is monotonous. Every day is the same old thing.

2. Nothing is satisfied. Rivers flow into the sea, but the sea is never full. The ocean never has too much. Even our eyes are never satisfied. Even having more, we still want more. Having the wealth of the world does not bring satisfaction because we will continue to want more. Having great wisdom does not bring satisfaction because that is our nature. We always want more.

3. Nothing is new. There is nothing new under the sun. What has been done will be done again. It is the same old thing, just repackaged and presented as new. The Roman Empire is a great reminder of that for us. Most of the things we have done in this society has already been done by the Romans.

4. Everything is transitory. In fact, “vapor” or “breath” is the literal meaning of the word “futility” in verse 2. Nothing lasts. Generations do not last but they pass on. In verse 11 we read that there is no memory of those who came before. There will be no memory of us by those who will come after us. We think things right now are so important, yet no one will remember us or what we did.

The point is that having more only exacerbated the problem. The more Solomon had, the more he realized how futile life really is. In our next lesson, we will examine in more detail the frustrations he encountered by plunging himself into everything there was to experience in life.

Concluding Thoughts

The lure of something better tomorrow robs us of the joys offered today. The good life, the one that truly satisfies, exists only when we stop wanting a better one. We always have heard people deny the thought that the grass is greener on the other side. But now we really need to believe it. The grass is not greener on the other side. The teacher has been to the other side and he found futility and emptiness, not satisfaction and fulfillment. This is a powerful warning to us today who seem to always want more and are not content with what we have and where we are now. Savor what is, rather than longing for what might be.

Nothing in life brings satisfaction. We can plunge ourselves into filling the voids in our lives with pleasures, wealth, power, and knowledge. But at every turn we will not find satisfaction, fulfillment, or lasting happiness. We do not want to believe this. We want there to be more in this life. But take it from a person who tried it. You will not find your happiness in the things of this world.

This sets the stage for reading the journal of Solomon’s efforts. I hope you will continue in our journey as we watch Solomon try to find satisfaction in all that there is in life. Each week we will learn from what he found since he was able to go to the greener grass on the other side.

Footnote: Targum (Aramaic translation of the Hebrew scriptures): “The words of the prophecy, which Qoheleth prophesied; the same is Solomon, son of David the king, who was in Jerusalem. For when Solomon, king of Israel, saw by the spirit of prophecy that the kingdom of Rehoboam his son was about to be divided with Jeroboam, the son of Nebat; and the house of the sanctuary was about to be destroyed, and the people of Israel sent into captivity; he said in his word- Vanity of vanities is all that I have labored, and David my father; they are altogether vanity.”

Life Is Chasing The Wind

Ecc 1:13-2:26

By Brent Kercheville

I have never seen anyone do this, but I will be sure to keep looking. I am looking for someone running down the street with a net, swinging it in the air, trying to catch the wind. What a crazy concept! You would think a person was completely insane to attempt to catch the wind. But this is the picture that Solomon paints concerning life under the sun. Solomon reminds us that he is taking a journey and he is recording us what he found. We like to think that the grass is greener on the other side. But Solomon had the opportunity and resources to find out for himself. In this journey he is ignoring any impact that God may have. The writer says that he is looking at life “under the sun.” This means that his examination is completely horizontal, looking at life merely from a human perspective.

Ecclesiastes 1:13-14 reminds us of Solomon’s purpose: I applied my mind to seek and explore through wisdom all that is done under heaven. God has given people this miserable task to keep them occupied. I have seen all the things that are done under the sun and have found everything to be futile, a pursuit of the wind.

Solomon has seen all the tasks that people have to do. Solomon applied himself to every task, yet he still found all the things that are part of the physical world to be futile. In fact, he says that these things are like chasing the wind. Quite simply, just like chasing the wind is ridiculous, so are the tasks that humans are given to do. Now Solomon is going to prove his assertion.

What is crooked cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted. (Ecclesiastes 1:15)

Notice this umbrella statement: nothing gets fixed in life. What can we really fix in this world? We want to make ourselves so important and give ourselves these important life purposes. But what are we really fixing? There are these grand statements of purpose that we are here on this earth to make the world a better place and to give back to society. Is the world getting better? Is what is crooked being made straight? This reminds me of politics every four years. Every four years we have people running on the platform of all the things that will be fixed. Yet, what changes? Nothing. The promises of things being so much better in the future are empty promises. It does not happen and has not happened. Solomon will now identify five specific areas showing the futility of this world and how it is like chasing the wind.

Futility of Wisdom (Ecclesiastes 1:16-18)

Solomon decides to amass wisdom, so much more than those who had ruled before him. Solomon did it as he applied his mind to thoroughly understand wisdom and knowledge. But he found that putting one’s life purpose in increasing one’s knowledge and wisdom to be chasing the wind. Why?

For with much wisdom is much sorrow; as knowledge increases, grief increases. (Ecclesiastes 1:18)

More knowledge and wisdom only increases frustration, heartache, and grief. We even have sayings in our society that reflect this knowledge. “Ignorance is bliss” and “What you don’t know won’t hurt you.” There are a number of reasons for the increase of wisdom causing pain and frustration.

1. You know what to do, but no one else pursues the wise path. There is great frustration in knowing what people ought to do, but those people choose not to do, not listen to wise counsel.

2. Knowledge is not fulfilling. Many times knowing more causes pain. Consider watching the local news. I find myself far happier in life by not knowing about all the problems and violence in our community. Some may think this is foolish and ignorant, but I find greater pleasure not watching and not reading much about those things.

3. Acquiring knowledge/wisdom is a futile task because we will never find all the answers. For all of the questions there are in this world, the world does not contain the answers.

4. Great wisdom does not fix life’s problems. What is crooked still cannot be straightened. There are many problems that cannot be solved even with great knowledge and wisdom. In short, worldly wisdom does not bring joy and fulfillment, but pain and frustration.

Futility of Self-Indulgence (Ecclesiastes 2:1-3)

Solomon tries to find satisfaction in the pleasures of this world. Some have had difficulty understand what Solomon is trying. But “laughter” is not speaking about having a pleasant time. This laughter is talking about merry making and partying. Solomon is going to try the party scene. These are the pleasures that he is talking about. Living for the weekend. Staying up all night and sleeping all day. In fact, we can see this more clearly by noting that he says he was trying to enjoy life by drinking wine. Solomon is trying the party scene. He is drinking and partying, trying to find satisfaction in these things. But note the parenthetical that he points out “my mind still guiding me with wisdom.” Solomon was not become a drunk. We do not have to experience drunkenness to know that there is no value in such activity. But Solomon is testing rationally controlled indulgences.

But Solomon also found this to be madness and that it accomplishes nothing. Why was there no value?

1. Parties and drinking do not take away the pain. So many people think they can forget their problems and wash away their sorrows through drinking. But it does not. The pain remains and our problems remain. We need to stop thinking that these things can kill the pain. If you have problems in life, you must address those problems and not think that debauchery is going to fix it.

2. Further, Solomon points out that these things are a waste of time. When you get done, you have not accomplished anything. Your life is not better and nothing has been done.

Kids, you will be tested especially in college to enter the nightlife, the drinking scene, and the party world. Learn from Solomon. There is no value there. There is not happiness but emptiness. You will be wasting what little time we have in this world pursuing emptiness and chasing the wind.

Futility In Wealth and Women (Ecclesiastes 2:4-11)

Solomon then plunges into the rest of life’s pleasures. He amasses silver and gold. In fact, Solomon says, “All that my eyes desired, I did not deny them. I did not refuse myself any pleasure…” Notice that he does this in a careful, calculated way: “My wisdom also remained with me.” Not only this, he had many concubines. We know that Solomon had 1000 women, wives and concubines combined. Now this is probably the greatest lure of the American society. I believe our society glorifies the business person who makes a lot of money and can have any woman or man you want. Solomon says there was no satisfaction or lasting happiness here. He points out that there was pleasure in these things. But it was still futility and chasing the wind. There was nothing to be gained from this kind of living. We think more money and more stuff will bring happiness. But it doesn’t. There was no fulfillment. Solomon will speak more to this shortly as to why these things are futile.

More Thoughts About Wisdom (Ecclesiastes 2:12-17)

After showing the futility of wisdom, Solomon does make the point here that there is advantage to having wisdom instead of folly. Wisdom is not meaningless or useless. The person who has wisdom sees where he is going. The fool walks in darkness. So there are benefits to wisdom. The wise know where they are going even if they only know they are headed for trouble. Solomon points out that your life will be better.

But the conclusion remains the same. Wisdom alone is futile because both the wise and the fool will die. The wise will not have a different fate than the fool. Neither the fool nor the wise will be remembered after death.

Futility In Being A Workaholic (Ecclesiastes 2:18-24)

Solomon concludes by point out that overworking is also futile for a number of reasons. We live in a society that glorifies the workaholic. Men are made to believe that there is something wrong with them if they only work 40 hours a week. Women are made to believe that there is something wrong with them if they do not have a secular job along with all the work of caring for the home. But Solomon is now going to tell us why plunging ourselves into our work is foolish.

1. All our gain from work is left to another who has not worked and may be a fool. You cannot keep what is gained from working. Why try to accumulate wealth when you cannot take it with you? You still must die. All we are doing is giving the wealth to someone who did not work for it and who may simply be foolish with all of your hard work.

2. Overworking brings grief and a lack of rest. Read Ecclesiastes 2:23 and see if this sounds like what you are experiencing: For all his days are filled with grief, and his occupation is sorrowful; even at night, his mind does not rest. This too is futile. You will not find true happiness and satisfaction in your work. Why do we think we will find our meaning and purpose in work? It is work! We have to be paid to do it. We do not pay others so that we can work! Notice the rest of the statement: even at night, the mind does not rest. We become consumed with work. We cannot even rest because we are so focused upon our jobs. We are so focused on the things we have to do that we cannot enjoy life.

Solomon gives us very important counsel: enjoy the fruit of your labor. Do not overwork. Work enough to take care of what you need so that you can enjoy life and enjoy your earnings. We work so much we cannot even enjoy the reason we work: the earnings. No, we think that we must have more. Solomon says that we need to do enough to be able to enjoy life. Understand that life does not consist of work. Work is not our purpose for existence. You will not find lasting satisfaction in your work.

Conclusion (Ecclesiastes 2:25-26)

Here is Solomon’s first important realization: life cannot be enjoyed apart from God. With God, you can have wisdom, knowledge, and joy. You can have a good life when you are pleasing to God. You can enjoy life and appreciate the fruit of our labor. But to the wicked, life is simply monotony, working and accumulating for no purpose at all. It will be given to someone who is pleasing to God. The work of the wicked is futile and like chasing the wind.

Apart from God, life is futile. Wisdom, pleasures, wealth, and work have no value without God. Life simply becomes the grind without God. Has life turned into a grind, a monotonous chore for you? If you feel this way then it reflects that you do not have a good relationship with God. You are doing things pleasing to God. Instead, you are living according to worldly wisdom. You are listening to what society says in best rather than what God says is best. Lay your burdens down today and put your trust in God.

Enjoy today. Enjoy what you have. Satisfaction is not here. Satisfaction is with the Lord.

Time For Everything

Ecclesiastes 3:1-20

By Brent Kercheville

Let’s play pretend. Let’s pretend that your banker called you late last Friday and said he had some very good news. He told you that an anonymous donor would loves you very much has decided to deposit 86,400 pennies into your account each morning, starting the following Monday morning. That’s $864 a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year.

He adds, ‘But there’s one stipulation. You must spend all the money that same day. No balance will be carried over to the next day. Each evening the bank must cancel whatever sum you failed to use.’

With a big smile, you thank your banker and hang up. Over that weekend you have time to plan. You grab a pencil and start figuring: $864 times seven equals over $6000 a week…times fifty-two. That’s almost $315,000 a year that you have available to you if you’re diligent to spend it all each day. Remember, whatever you don’t spend is forfeited.

So much for ‘Let’s Pretend.’

Now let’s play ‘Real Life.’ Every morning, someone who loves you very much deposits into your bank of time 86,400 seconds of time–which represent 1440 minutes–which, of course, equal twenty-four hours each day.

Now you must remember the same stipulation applies, because God gives you this amount of time for you to use each day. Nothing is ever carried over on credit to the next day. There is no such thing as a twenty-six hour day (though some of us wish there were). From today’s dawn until tomorrow’s dawn, you have a precisely determined amount of time. As someone has put it, ‘Life is like a coin. You can spend it any way you want to, but you can spend it only once.’” (Charles Swindoll, Life On The Ragged Edge, pg. 67)

All of us have the same amount of time allot to us. It does not matter if we are dirt poor or have great wealth, we have the same amount of time. Young or old, single or married, all of us have the same amount of time. Time is the easiest thing wasted, yet is the one thing we often say that we do not have enough. Let us read the first eight verses of chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes and read what the Teacher has to say about “time.” We will continue to use the Holman Christian Standard Bible because of its literal rendering of the Hebrew words in this text.

There Is A Time For Everything

The point the wise writer wants to make is that there is a time and place for everything in life. The circumstances of life are always changing and there is a need for us to ready for those changing occasions. Nothing in life stays in its current state. There is a time to give birth and there is a time for death. Life situations change. Consider plants. There are times when it is time to plant, but there are other times when those same plants must be uprooted for a new planting. There are time when buildings are being built and times when the beautiful building must be torn down. Think about the historical Orange Bowl in Miami. There was a time when it was a wonderful facility, full of meaning and memories. But now it is being torn down. It was time for the building to be destroyed. Its time had come. I believe the Teacher is asking us to look around and consider life. Everything has its time. There is a season for everything and nothing remains permanently.

This concept is now applied to the life of humans. There is a time for weeping and there is a time for laughter. If you are having a very difficult time in your life, understand that life will not always be like this. There are times of great difficulty, but it will not always be this way. If you are enjoying laughter as things are going well, enjoy it because life will not always be like this. There are times of enjoyment but know that life is not full of only good times. Life is always changing and there is a time for everything. Think about how quickly life circumstances can change. There is a time for embrace and a time not to embrace. There is a time to keep things and a time when we must throw things away. Life is a vapor. Life is transitory.

There is a time to keep silent and there are times to speak. There is a time for love and a time of hate. There is a time for war and a time for peace. Life is always changing. Circumstances are always changing. Be ready for life to change.

Lesson #1: Never assume life will be like it is now. We have the tendency to assume that the way things are now is the way things will continue to be. This leads to an obvious conclusion: appreciate what you have now. It may not be this way tomorrow. Grace’s diagnosis stands as like a turning point of time in our lives. One day, great happiness. The next day was crushing news. Such is the nature of this world. The time given to you will have many ups and many downs. In fact, verse 11 seems to be teaching that this is the way God set the world. Don’t expect things to be different. God has made everything appropriate in its time.

Eternity In Our Hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

There is a lot of discussion about this conclusion that the teacher draws. He says: “He has also put eternity in their hearts.” In light of the context, I believe the conclusion being drawn is this: despite the knowledge of the brevity of life and the ever-changing nature of our circumstances, we have within us an innate feeling that there is something more to life. God has placed that innate feeling within us. Everyone ponders the meaning of life. Everyone considers life after death. Nearly everyone thinks that there is something more that will happen to us when we die. Now, what happens may be under debate. But it seems that everyone has the sense that there is some more to life than this. Therefore, humans set themselves to the task of finding out what more there is to life.

At the beginning of the lesson we talked about the one thing that is equal to all humans each day: time. Each of us have a set amount of time. You cannot save today’s time and use it tomorrow. The teacher has pointed out the ever-changing nature of life. God has placed eternity in our hearts. Put these three things together and you have the conclusion that we need to use our time to plan for our future. All of us know that there is something more to life. Yet we only have a set amount time which throws us on life’s roller coaster. What are we doing to prepare for the eternity we know lies ahead? There is no slowing down the inevitable.

Time has begun for each of us, but our time has not ended yet. Are you ready for time to end and eternity to begin?

God’s Gifts (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13)

The teacher returns to the theme of this book, a point that we have made in the past two lessons. Enjoy the fruit of your labor. Enjoy life. But there is a little bit more added to this wise counsel. YOU HAVE TIME TODAY. ENJOY THE TIME YOU HAVE TODAY. Circumstances will change. Enjoy the moments you have now. It is not necessarily that life will be better or worse. But life will be different. There was a time when I was single and there were special things about that time, like no responsibilities and living fairly carefree. There is the time when you are married and you are able to enjoy time with your spouse without outside interference. It is a great time to build a marriage and share time together. There is a time when you have children and you enjoy them when they are so little and completely dependent upon you for everything. There is a time when the children are no longer completely dependent, but completely independent. You see that life keeps changing. We must enjoy what is because what is will change and we will have something different to appreciate.

Do we see life as a gift of God? Do we see the activities of life as a season to enjoy?

Our Time Is Fleeting, God’s Is Permanent (Ecclesiastes 3:14-15)

The futility of life points us to God. This seems to be the final conclusion of this section of the teacher’s writing. The futility of this world makes us want eternity. Even though there is life to enjoy here and now, the lack of lasting satisfaction points us to God whose actions are not futile and whose work lasts forever. Nothing in life is permanent and nothing in this life is perfect. But God’s work is permanent and perfect. Our futility should lead us to God’s perfection.

The final verses of chapter 3 reminds us of our fate. “All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return” (Ecclesiastes 3:20). But we must understand: “God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work” (Ecclesiastes 3:17).

Conclusion:

1. Life is always changing. Do not expect the way things are today to stay the same tomorrow.

2. All of us have time. Time is God’s gift to us. How are you using your time: in futility? Or toward the God who judges the righteous and the wicked.

3. Enjoy your life, maximizing the time allotted to you.

The Sorrow of Success

Ecclesiastes 4:1-12

By Brent Kercheville

We have been reading the journal of a wise man who had the resources to see if the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. We often like to think that our lives would be better if we only had more success, more power, more wealth, or more time. Now the Teacher is going to turn his attention toward success.

Acts of Oppression (Ecclesiastes 4:1-3)

How often do we look at the world and consider the future, believing the future is grim? It seems that every generation looks to the future and has concern for their grandchildren and great grandchildren. These are also the thoughts of the Teacher as he observes all of the acts of oppression that takes place on the earth. Consider the tears of the oppressed and how there is no comfort for them on the earth. Power is not with the oppressed, but with the oppressors. Here again is the futility of this world. We try to ignore and not think about how oppressive and evil the world is. In fact, the Teacher points out that with God, it would be better off to be dead than it would be to try to understand oppression and power in this world. How can someone be so evil as Saddam Hussein who killed his own people that he ruled over? How can there be someone so powerful and use it for such evil like Adolf Hitler? How could people be so evil to plan to use airplanes to crash into buildings, killing thousands? How could people strap bombs on their backs, walk into a public facility, and blow themselves up along with everyone else? You see that these are things we try not to think about because these things are depressing and nonsensical.

The Teacher is giving us a reality check. The world is evil in its acts. If the onslaught of evil was not so great in this world, we would not have needed to command to put on the whole armor of God to be able to withstand such evil (Ephesians 6). If the onslaught of evil was not so great in this world, then Satan would not be called the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2). Unfortunately, power often leads to oppression rather than alleviating oppression.

We must remind ourselves that we have been charged to fight oppression, to help the innocent, and assist the downtrodden. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27; ESV)

Labor or Lazy- A Proper Balance (Ecclesiastes 4:4-6)

The Teacher has already told us not to be workaholics. He pointed out the futility of overworking- all our earnings are left who did not work hard and may be a fool. Further, overworking causes a person to not enjoy the fruit of one’s labor. There is no rest as the workaholic is always thinking about more work that needs to be done. In verse 4 the Teacher points out why we have the tendency to overwork: “a man’s envy of his neighbor” (ESV). What an accurate assessment! Our excessive work comes from rivalry.

We want to keep up with the Joneses. We work harder because we see other people with things that we want. We see their success and we want to have the same success, or more. No one is happy for another’s success. We our a society built on envy and greed. We want to outdo our neighbor, not just keep up with them. We are not happy for what another has. We complain about what they have because we should have it too. But the Teacher tells us that this also is futility and chasing the wind. Such thinking is just plain foolish. Why? Why would this be chasing the wind? The reason is because you can never stay ahead. There is always going to be someone who has something you do not have. There will also be a newer, nicer possession that someone has that you do not have or cannot afford to have.

Further, why care? Who cares if someone has something you do not have? It does not have any meaning or any bearing on your value as a human being! Why are we so interested in the things that other people have? Why not be glad that they are able to enjoy the fruit of their labors? We should simply be excited that others are able to have things. For some reason we act like we would be happy only if our neighbor or friend was destitute.

Should we quit working because being a workaholic is futile? Verse 5 answers the thought that a fool folds his arms and consumes his own flesh. Rather than working, the fool draws his hands in and does nothing. Laziness brings poverty. Refusing to work is not the answer. But verse 6 draws out the first point.

Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind. (Ecclesiastes 4:6; ESV)

The good life is about balance. It is better to have one hand full of quietness that to have two hands full of toil and chasing the wind. Rather trying to keep up with the Joneses, simply enjoy what you have. Why over work? Two handfuls of toil will not bring lasting satisfaction or joy. By implication, two handfuls of quietness is not the answer for lasting satisfaction. One hand working, one hand with quietness, and one has the balanced life. Work what you need and enjoy the fruit of your labor. Stop looking at what others have and enjoy what you have.

Excessive Work Leads To Being Alone (Ecclesiastes 4:7-8)

The Teacher is going to expand upon this concept of living a balanced life of work and quietness.

Again, I saw futility under the sun: There is a person without a companion, without even a son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” This too is futile and a miserable task. (Ecclesiastes 4:7-8; HCSB/ESV)

Here is a person who works and works and works. There is no end to all his struggles. Even with all the work that he does, he is still not content. This is the problem with placing our life purpose in work. We will never be content. Riches do not bring lasting satisfaction. We will always want more. But there is a great sacrifice that is made by seeking after wealth and being a workaholic. Notice that this person is alone. He has no companion, not even a family. He has no friends. You cannot be friends with a workaholic because they never have any time for you. You can’t spend time together because the person is always working. Work excessively and you will have no friends and you will have no family. Your family will not care about you because you have not cared about them.

The most foolish decision people make is believing that they will over work now so that they can spend time with their family later. The problem is that the family will not be there later. They have been neglected. Even if you do not end in divorce, you will not have a good relationship with your spouse, your children, your parents, or any other relatives. The worst part is the workaholic never stops and asks why he or she is doing this. Why are you working so hard? Your family does not want money, but time with you. You will have friends when you are available to spend time with others. There is no end to your struggles and toil and you have nothing to show for it. You are not content with what you have and you have no one with whom to share your life.

Better To Have Companions (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

The Teacher concludes by pointing out that people are better companions than wealth. There is no joy in living alone because your bad life decisions. Solomon says to pity the person who falls down but has no one to lift them up. Two are better than one. We want to think that the good life is about being self-sufficient. But this is simply another lie fed to us by the world. Self-sufficiency is not the ultimate life goal. It is better to have companions, friends, and family and be dependent upon them. Life is better with more people. Do not isolate yourself by throwing yourself into work. Do not be a workaholic. Work what is necessary, enjoy quietness, and spend time enjoy life with others.

Conclusion:

Jesus told a parable about a rich fool who was a workaholic, consumed with building bigger barns for all his possessions. Note Jesus’ warning: “He then told them, “Watch out and be on guard against all greed because one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15; HCSB). The sorrow of success is great. Have a proper balance in life, recognizing that life is not about stuff. The one who dies with the most toys does not win. The one who dies with the most toys still dies. He dies alone, with a life full of toil. Do not make the same mistake.

The Emptiness of Wealth

Ecclesiastes 5-6

By Brent Kercheville

The Teacher returns to the topic of wealth. Perhaps we have not believed the lessons that he has taught concerning the pursuit of wealth and the abundance of wealth. As we have noted in many lessons, this is a journal recording the Teacher’s observations about life under the sun. Through more observations, the Teacher feels compelled to speak to us again about our perception of wealth.

No Satisfaction

The one who loves money is never satisfied with money, and whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with income. This too is futile. (Ecclesiastes 5:10; HCSB)

There is no satisfaction in wealth. A person who loves money and loves wealth simply will not be satisfied. The Teacher has repeatedly told us that we will not be happy by having more wealth. We will not be happy by having a higher salary. If you think that you would be happier by having more total wealth or by being paid more each year, you are sorely mistaken. Notice that the Teacher deals with both aspects: total wealth and income (what you make). The increase of either will not bring happiness.

The Teacher wants to help us see our problem. Are you unhappy with the amount of wealth you currently have? Are you unhappy with the amount of income you are currently receiving? Then here is the big warning: you are at high risk of being a lover of money. The red flag has been raised that you could have a problem.

Money can buy the comforts of earth, but not contentment. This is futility because you never will be happy. You will never find lasting satisfaction by having more wealth. When you acquire more wealth, you will realize that you want even more. When we get a pay raise, does that make us content? Perhaps for the moment, but then we want more. When will we say that we have enough? How much does it take to satisfy us? It is always “a little bit more than what we have.” There is no satisfaction in wealth or income. The thing that the person loves brings no lasting joy.

Frustration

When goods increase, those who eat them increase; and what gain has their owner but to see them with his eyes? (Ecclesiastes 5:11; NRSV)

There is another problem with wealth. Acquiring more money means that more is spent. There are two reasons for this. One reason is that more people eat the increase. People come out of the woodwork needing gifts and loans because you have money. This is a grievous thing because the person who has increased in wealth is not able to enjoy it. Leeches comes out with their hands extending wanting money. The owner simply gets to watch the money leave his pocket.

The second reason is that the more money we make the more we spend. As humans, we often do not enjoy the cushion of a pay raise. Rather, because we have a pay raise, we decide we can buy more things, placing ourselves under more monetary obligations. I will never forget what happened in the National Basketball Association about 10 years ago. There was a lockout in the basketball league as the players wanted the salary cap raised while owners did not want to give out such lofty pay increases. At that time, Patrick Ewing, a great basketball center for the New York Knicks, was the players’ representative. He was asked in an interview why the players’ association was asking for so much more money. His response: “As players we make a lot of money, but we also spend a lot of money.” This perfectly represents the problem. Here are people making millions of dollars each year. We would like to think that if we had millions of dollars that this would be all we need. But those who make a lot of money spend a lot of money. As goods increase, the expenses increase. We do not maintain our current standard of living and enjoy the excess. Instead, we increase our spending and increase our standard of living so that we are just as “broke” as we were in previous years. As we should see, acquiring wealth is futility and chasing the wind. More wealth will not change your life. You will spend more and people will ask for more, and you will have nothing more.

Solomon said made this point in a different way in his Proverbs: “Don’t wear yourself out to get rich; stop giving your attention to it. As soon as your eyes fly to it, it disappears, for it makes wings for itself and flies like an eagle to the sky.” (Proverbs 23:4-5; HCSB)

The sleep of the worker is sweet, whether he eats little or much; but the abundance of the rich permits him no sleep. (Ecclesiastes 5:12; HCSB)

The Teacher addresses another misconception. We think that if we had more wealth that we would have less worries. But carefully read Solomon’s observation. The average worker is the one who is able to rest and relax though he may have little or much. But the rich, these are the ones who cannot relax. Their lives are full of worries brought on by riches. Life is simpler when we have less things to take care of, less things to worry about, and less things to keep up. The simple life is a far more enjoyable life. For the rich, there is always more to do. There is not time to rest and enjoy life. More must be done.

13 There is a sickening tragedy I have seen under the sun: wealth kept by its owner to his harm. 14 That wealth was lost in a bad venture, so when he fathered a son, he was empty-handed. 15 As he came from his mother’s womb, so he will go again, naked as he came; he will take nothing for his efforts that he can carry in his hands. 16 This too is a sickening tragedy: exactly as he comes, so he will go. What does he gain who struggles for the wind? 17 What is more, he eats in darkness all his days, with much sorrow, sickness, and anger. (Ecclesiastes 5:13-17; HCSB)

This lacks of rest and sleep leads into the next point. How often people are hurt by riches. Notice all that this rich person goes through. He has wealth but then loses the wealth in a bad business venture. He has a family but has lost everything and is empty handed. Because of his workaholic attitude, he eats in darkness. This is the Hebrew way of saying that he spends the rest of his life alone, in sorrow, in sickness, and in anger. We mentioned last week how the desire to be rich will cause a person to lose his family. You will not have friends and you will not have family if you have the desire to be rich. Why would someone make these kinds of great sacrifices? You cannot take your wealth with you. Naked we all came into this world and naked we will return. No one can use his wealth after death. What a sicken tragedy to see people plunge themselves into the pursuit of wealth, only to be harmed by the pursuit, lose your family in the process, and lose all of your money when you die. You will either lose your money now through bad ventures or lose your money when you die. What a tragic ending! Do not fall into the love of money. I think a great example of this is Donald Trump. Many have forgotten that there was a time when through his bad business ventures he had to file for bankruptcy. He has had a number of wives. He is proof of the problem of riches. Wealth does not bring the good life.

18 Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. 19 Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. 20 For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart. (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20; ESV)

These verses seem to summarize much of what we have learned through our lessons thus far. Enjoy what you have because you do not have much time given to you by God. Accept your circumstances, be content with your situation, and enjoy what you have. Then you are experiencing the gift of God. You will not worry about the problems of life because you are enjoying your earnings, sharing it with your friends and family, realizing that we need to take advantage of the short time we have been given.

I think we need to accept this useful admonition to eat and drink and find enjoyment. I think a 21st century way to say this would be: spend what you have. Don’t kill yourself to have wealth. Make what is necessary. Don’t be wasteful but don’t be a scrooge. Enjoy what you have because God has given us these things to enjoy. You will not have the times in the future that you have now to enjoy your wealth and possessions with your spouse and children. As we learned in chapter 3, we will move through the seasons of life. Enjoy the time because this time will not be this way later.

1 Here is a tragedy I have observed under the sun, and it weighs heavily on humanity: 2 God gives a man riches, wealth, and honor so that he lacks nothing of all he desires for himself, but God does not allow him to enjoy them. Instead, a stranger will enjoy them. This is futile and a sickening tragedy. 3 A man may father a hundred children and live many years. No matter how long he lives, if he is not satisfied by good things and does not even have a proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than Hebrews 4 For he comes in futility and he goes in darkness, and his name is shrouded in darkness. 5 Though a stillborn child does not see the sun and is not conscious, it has more rest than Hebrews 6 And if he lives a thousand years twice, but does not experience happiness, do not both go to the same place? 7 All man’s labor is for his stomach, yet the appetite is never satisfied. (Ecclesiastes 6:1-7; HCSB)

Simply, what is the point if you are not enjoying your life? All of us will end up in the dirt. We are all going to die. It is silly to waste our lives in meaningless and unsatisfying pursuits. Enjoy what you have. Be content.

Better what the eyes see than wandering desire. This too is futile and a pursuit of the wind. (Ecclesiastes 6:9; HCSB)

Look at what you have and stop desiring something else. Be happy with the car that you have. Be happy with the home that you have. Be happy with the possessions that you have. Find enjoyment in what you have. Do not look with distain at what you have. Sheryl Crow, pop singer, said it well: “It’s not having what you want; it’s wanting what you’ve got.”

Conclusion:

But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. (1 Timothy 6:9-10; HCSB)

1. Life is wasted when it is spent in a quest for more wealth. In fact, it is a life filled with anger and gloom.

2. The gift of God is to rightly and fully enjoy the things of this world. You will have joy in your heart by just enjoying your time now.

3. Nothing is more pitiful than to be rich and be unable to enjoy it. No amount of prosperity can make up for a life without joy.

4. “It is better to be content with what the eyes can see than for one’s heart always to crave more. This continual longing is futile- like chasing the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 6:9; NET)

“Better” Wisdom

Ecclesiastes 7:1-14

By Brent Kercheville

Up to this point the Teacher in Ecclesiastes has revealed his observations about life under the sun. He has taught us about the futility of wealth, work, pleasures, and possessions. In chapter 7 the Teacher offers a change of pace teaching useful wisdom for life. After speaking about all the futility in this world, there are some things that have value. These are not merely his observations recorded in a journal but wise proverbs that help us place life in its proper perspective.

A Good Name Is Better Than Fine Perfume (Ecclesiastes 7:1)

A person’s reputation has great value. Fine oil or perfume was an expensive luxury item to ancient peoples. There are a few stories in the New Testament that describe the usage of fine oil/perfume. One notable instance is where the sinful woman is washing the feet of Jesus. Fine perfume was an extravagant gift. However, the Teacher tells us that one’s reputation is even better than having such fine perfume.

A reputation is of great value and needs to be cared for properly and carefully. Once one’s reputation is broken, it is very difficult to repair, if it can be repaired at all. Repeated sins and significant sins are ways that we damage and destroy our reputation. Sexual sins are especially damaging to a person’s name. I can name a number of Christians, preachers, and elders whose reputation has been forever damaged because of sexual sins. Even in repentance the stain often remains. This is certainly a point that we must impress upon our younger people. When you commit sins, especially sexual sins, you are ruining your own reputation. Not only your name, you are also destroying your parents’ reputation. Not only that, you are destroying the reputation of the church where you attend. Finally, you do damage to the name of Christ since you claim to be a disciple. This damage should be easy to see. There is no doubt that reputation of the parents (whether fair or unfair) is damaged. I know of one Christian who was caught in fraud so that the 900 numbers he was calling went on other people’s phone bills. This brought a terrible stain against the local church where he had been attending. Obviously, our sins are ultimately against God and we give a cause for unbelievers to blaspheme the name of the Lord, just as the sins of Israel caused the nations to blaspheme God. A reputation is fragile in the face of these sins. Young people, when you are engaged in sexual activities, when you are drinking, doing drugs, or engaged in other unseemly activities, the consequences are not only upon yourself. You have let people down and your reputation is broken. But the reputation of your parents and of the local church are also broken. Be wise and see the value of a good name.

The Day of One’s Death Is Better Than The Day of One’s Birth (Ecclesiastes 7:1)

It Is Better To Go To A House of Mourning Than To Go To A House of Feasting (Ecclesiastes 7:2)

Grief Is Better Than Laughter (Ecclesiastes 7:3)

The next three “better” statements center around death. The day of death is better than the day of birth, the house of mourning is better than the house of feasting, and grief is better than laughter. These seem like puzzling statements. Why would these days of sadness be better than the days of joy and laughter?

One reason pointed out by the Teacher is “that is the end of all mankind, and the living should take it to heart.” Along these lines, the Teacher also argues that “when a face is sad, a heart may be glad.” The day of death causes reflection. Too often we go through life not thinking, taking our time of life for granted. Too often we are not appreciating the fragile nature of life. Every person is sober, thoughtful, and reflective at a funeral. Death causes deep thought, especially about how a person has been living life. The day of death reminds us of the lessons learned in Ecclesiastes 3 : that we only have a short amount of time and the need to appreciate the time we have.

This is why the Teacher draws the conclusion: the heart of the wise is in the house of mourning but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure. Fools only want to think about the good times. Fools want to mindlessly enjoy life without realizing that days will not always be like this. Fools do not want to appreciate the good times with others because they assume the future will be the same. The wise keep life in perspective, understanding that we need to regularly be re-centered so that we do not take life for granted and so we will appreciate the seasons of life that we have been given. Pleasure forgets that there will be days of mourning, days of grief, and days of death.

Better To Listen To The Rebuke of the Wise Than The Song of Fools (Ecclesiastes 7:5-6)

In our language we would say that fools say things that are music to our ears. Thus, “the song of fools.” The words of those who tell you what you want to hear will make a lot of noise (the crackling of thorns), but there is no lasting value to their words. Their words will not be useful to your life. How often we like to listen to people who agree with us! We do not want to listen to the correction of those who tell us that we are not doing well. We cannot only listen to those who make music to our ears. It is better to listen to correction and take those words to heart.

The End of the Matter Is Better Than Its Beginning (Ecclesiastes 7:8)

There are many people who enjoy talking about starting new projects. Many people like to start new things. But very few people last to the project’s conclusion. People have great ideas but will not do the work to make the idea come to pass. While not lasting satisfaction, it seems that the Teacher acknowledges there is limited satisfaction in accomplishing a task. Further, what is the point of the work if the task will not be accomplished? The wisdom is that we put our nose to the grind and complete the tasks that we beginning.

A Patient Spirit Is Better Than a Proud Spirit (Ecclesiastes 7:8)

Patience is required to be able to finish the task and get to the end of the matter. Patience is required to bring things to completion. Pride is easily bruised when things go wrong and we abandon the work. If things go easy and go the way we want it to go, we will keep on going. But when things get tough, rather than exhibiting patience, we exhibit pride.

Final Quick Hits of Wisdom (Ecclesiastes 7:9-14)

Control your anger (Ecclesiastes 7:9). Unrestrained anger is foolish. How do we feel foolish for allow our anger to get away from us? We need to show self-restraint and when we fail at self-control, we need to be apologetic and repentant.

Don’t long for the past (Ecclesiastes 7:10). Don’t think the past was better. We have selective memory! We forget the bad times and remember the good times pretty easily. The human mind is amazing in its ability to let go of life’s difficulties of past days. A great example of this was the people of Israel leaving Egypt. When in the wilderness they longed to go back to Egypt. They had forgotten that the Egyptians were killing their male children and oppressed them with harsh labor. But we forget the past.

Further, longing for the past has no value. The past is past and the past will not return. Wanting the past is futile. Time cannot stop. Enjoy today instead.

Wisdom is more valuable than wealth (Ecclesiastes 7:11-12). Earlier the Teacher criticized worldly wisdom and found it to be futile. However, godly wisdom has great value, more value than wealth. Worldly wisdom is not help, being filled with platitudes, cliches, or circular statements. But godly wisdom helps. Don’t long for the past because it is a waste of time. Keep your anger under control. Keep in mind the value of a reputation. Take the sad days of life to reflect and learn about our own mortality.

Accept the day as it comes: prosperity or adversity (Ecclesiastes 7:14). God has made one day as well as another. Wisdom realizes that we regularly shift between both. When you have the days of prosperity, we need to enjoy those days. However, the days of adversity will certainly come. These are the times for learning. The teacher has already told us that the wise abide in the house of mourning not the house of feasting. When we have good times, enjoy them. When we have bad times, learn from them. These are the cycles that will occur in our life. If we think that we will not experience the other cycle, we are wrong.

The Strength Wisdom Produces

Ecclesiastes 7-8

By Brent Kercheville

Introduction: These are wise words that will help you get through life today

In my futile life I have seen everything: there is a righteous man who perishes in spite of his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who lives long in spite of his evil. (Ecclesiastes 7:14; HCSB)

Sometimes a righteous person dies prematurely in spite of his righteousness, and sometimes a wicked person lives long in spite of his evil deeds. We just have to deal with this reality. We expect the world to operate on different terms. We think the more the righteous one is, then the longer life one will have. The more wicked one is, the shorter life one has. Then, one of our righteous loved ones die early and we are thrown by this event. Sometimes people become followers of Christ believing that this is going to change their bad luck in life. But we are opening ourselves to disappointment because bad things can still happen to us. There are times when doing bad things brings bad results. The Proverbs teach us this reality. But we must also accept that bad things will happen to us regardless of our righteous decisions. I have seen a number of people give up on God because of this reality. We are not in some sort of contract with God stating that as long as we serve God, God must keep all bad things from happening to us. So do not live your life thinking that excessive righteousness is going to change the nature of life. Bad things happen to good people. This is simply the way the world operates and is not a judgment that there is no God. In fact, the Teacher revisits this point latter.

There is a futility that is done on the earth: there are righteous people who get what the actions of the wicked deserve, and there are wicked people who get what the actions of the righteous deserve. I say that this too is futile. (Ecclesiastes 8:14; HCSB) Understand the world operates this way and do not be dismayed.

Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others. (Ecclesiastes 7:21-22; ESV)

We have done the same thing. Don’t get so upset when someone says something against you. The Teacher is not condoning the situation. He is simply reminding us that we have made the same mistake. Do not be so crest fallen when people say things. You have done the same.

I think we need to keep in mind is that we often get caught up in the moment. All of us have said thoughtless things. We say dumb things and often the intention is not malicious. We often put sinister motives on people who are doing nothing more than making foolish mistakes. The point: before we get in a tizzy about what someone has said and begin to react, think. We have done the exact same thing. We have said things in the heat of the moment. We have said things that we wish we could take back. We are not perfect and we are not going to say things perfectly, as much as we would like. Things do not come out like we think will come out.

When someone says something hurtful, let it go. Do not get offended. Most of the time those words were just an accident. Most of the time those words are simply thoughtless words, being caught up in the moment. Do not assume malicious intent. Realize that you and I have done the same thing and it was not done with malicious intent.

But we need to be sure that this does not excuse our thoughtless words. We are commanded to be careful and thoughtful about what we say.

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-37; ESV)

And I find more bitter than death the woman who is a trap, her heart a net, and her hands chains. The one who pleases God will escape her, but the sinner will be captured by her. (Ecclesiastes 7:26; HCSB)

Many read these verses as we concluded chapter 7 believing that the Teacher is slandering women. Clearly, Ecclesiastes 7:26 reveals that we are talking about the seductress. Notice the similarity of these words to the wise words of the Proverbs and it will become clear that the seductress is in view.

My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways. For a harlot is a deep pit, and a seductress is a narrow well. She also lies in wait as for a victim, and increases the unfaithful among men. (Proverbs 23:26-28; NKJV)

This is a warning against seduction and affairs. The Teacher tells us that affairs are traps and snares. The idea of an affair seems so wonderful. But the affair is not built upon reality but fantasy. Responsibilities are being ignored. The dishes don’t have to be washed. The kids do not have to be put to bed. It is not a real world, but pretend. This is why so many remarriages end in failure. The unhappy person finds another and leaves the original marriage. Now the responsibilities of life are placed upon a new person which becomes a second marriage. Guess what? All of those hardships and challenges did not leave. People jump from fantasy to fantasy not realizing that happiness cannot be found in the fantasy world.

If you want the good life, then listen to these wise words. Rather than taking the extra time to find another person, run around having fun with that other person, dating the other person, do those things with your current spouse. Find extra time to be with your spouse. Run around having fun with your spouse. Date your spouse. You say that you can’t because you do not have time and you have too many responsibilities. You are lying because if you have the time for an affair then you that time can be spent alone with your spouse. Escape the trap. Put the effort into your marriage. Go on dates together. Do things together. We must find the time.

Only see this: I have discovered that God made people upright, but they pursued many schemes.” (Ecclesiastes 7:29; HCSB) This is a sad thing. We have been made to be able to do the right thing. However, most people choose not to. Few people choose to follow the wise path of the Lord.

Submission (Ecclesiastes 8:1-9)

These verses describe the relationship between a king and his subjects. We may want to pass by these instructions believing that they are not applicable to us. However the principles can be applied to two circumstances that are applicable to us.

The first circumstance is that of citizen to government. Submit the government and life will be simpler. Notice Ecclesiastes 8:5, “The one who keeps a command will not experience anything harmful, and a wise heart knows the right time and procedure.” This is also the teaching of the apostle Paul in the New Testament to obey the government.

1 Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. 2 So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do good and you will have its approval. 4 For government is God’s servant to you for good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. (Romans 13:1-4; HCSB)

The second circumstance is that of employer to employee. I think one statement is particularly applicable.

Do not be terrified; go from his presence, do not delay when the matter is unpleasant, for he does whatever he pleases. (Ecclesiastes 8:3; NRSV)

We have a new generation that does not want to work and do not want to do what they are told because the matter is unpleasant. Just do the work. Do not delay. When we are told to do something, we are not in the position to decide if it is a good idea. The boss will do whatever he wants. We just need to do what we are told, even if the task is unpleasant.

Hypocrisy of Death (Ecclesiastes 8:10-13)

The Teacher concludes with some observations about the hypocrisy of death and the wicked. In verse 10, the Teacher describes a situation that we have seen at every funeral. I believe the NLT captures best the hypocrisy the Teacher is witnessing.

I have seen wicked people buried with honor. Yet they were the very ones who frequented the Temple and are now praised in the same city where they committed their crimes! (Ecclesiastes 8:10; NLT)

I have never seen a funeral where the wicked where called out for their wicked deeds. Rather, only the good things are highlighted and the person is buried in honor, rather than the distain deserved. The Teacher describes a person who is so rebellious against God that he walks into the temple frequently. Though committing crimes, the people still praise him at his death. What a foolish situation!

The Teacher goes on to describe the fact that justice is often not swift against the wicked. After pointing out that the wicked will still receive an honorable burial, the Teacher goes on to say:

Because the sentence against a criminal act is not carried out quickly, therefore the heart of people is filled with the desire to commit crime. (Ecclesiastes 8:11; HCSB) Understand that justice is not always carried out quickly. This is simply another fact of life. We cannot be disturbed or believe there is no God when justice is delayed. Unfortunately, delayed justice often causes others to be wicked because they believe that they will not be brought to justice. Though delayed, justice will come.

Concluding Point:

Although a sinner commits crime a hundred times and prolongs his life, yet I also know that it will go well with God-fearing people, for they are reverent before Him. However, it will not go well with the wicked, and they will not lengthen their days like a shadow, for they are not reverent before God. (Ecclesiastes 8:12-13; HCSB)

Even though the fact of life is that justice is not always swift and the wicked are praised, the Teacher reaches an important conclusion. All in all, things go well with God-fearing people. There is great wisdom in going along God’s path rather than our own. The reason is the point made earlier by the Teacher.

God has also given riches and wealth to every man, and He has allowed him to enjoy them, take his reward, and rejoice in his labor. This is a gift of God, for he does not often consider the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with the joy of his heart. (Ecclesiastes 5:19-20; HCSB)

Note the point that the righteous will not consider the days of his life because he is occupied with the joy of his heart. Knowing these facts of life will help us remain even-keeled during the good and bad times. We understand to not get too high during the good times and not too low during the bad days. We can enjoy life as it comes to us, fearing God, trusting in him to help us through any circumstance.

Have A Blast While You Last

Ecclesiastes 9:2-18

By Brent Kercheville

The Absolute Certainty of Death (Ecclesiastes 9:2-3)

2 Everything is the same for everyone: there is one fate for the righteous and the wicked, for the good and the bad, for the clean and the unclean, for the one who sacrifices and the one who does not sacrifice. As it is for the good, so it is for the sinner, as for the one who takes an oath, so for the one who fears an oath. 3 This is an evil in all that is done under the sun: there is one fate for everyone. In addition, the hearts of people are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live—after that they go to the dead. (Ecclesiastes 9:2-3, HCSB)

The thing we all know, yet the thing we try to forget: all of us must die. For all of the frustrations that exist in life (like the wicked prospering while the righteous suffer), there is one great equalizer of life. Every person must die. There is nothing a person can do to avoid this reality. People live their lives forgetting that everyone must face the day of death. Our lives would drastically change if we constantly lived under the awareness that death can await us at any moment. Humans like to assume a long life, but such has not been promised to us. James states well the nature of our lives:

What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. (James 4:14; ESV)

Many of us would make different decisions in life if we kept in mind that at any moment we would stand before God’s judgment seat.

Enjoy Life (Ecclesiastes 9:7-10)

7 Go, eat your bread with pleasure, and drink your wine with a cheerful heart, for God has already accepted your works.

Enjoy life while you can. This has been the repeated admonition of the Teacher. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the fruit of our labor. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the things that life has to offer. There is so much to appreciate and experience. Enjoy the life you have been given.

8 Let your clothes be white all the time, and never let oil be lacking on your head.

Live your life in purity. God has not said that you can live your life recklessly or wickedly. Enjoy life, but know that you will be held accountable. Keep your clothes white. Keep your life pure.

Further, never let oil be lacking on your head. Money is made to be spent. Enjoy your wealth. Spend money on your family. What is the point of hoarding? What is the excuse for being tight with money? Who are you saving it for? Spend responsibly and enjoy the blessings that God has given.

9 Enjoy life with the wife you love all the days of your fleeting life, which has been given to you under the sun, all your fleeting days. For that is your portion in life and in your struggle under the sun.

Spend time with your family. Enjoy your spouse. Enjoy your children. Enjoy your parents. Your time is short. The days are fleeting. Appreciate the time that you have because that is the task that God has given each of us.

10 Whatever your hands find to do, do with all your strength, because there is no work, planning, knowledge, or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.

Since life is short, do not do things half-heartedly. Do things with all of your heart. You are going to die. Maximize your time. Maximize what your put your efforts into. In light of our lives being merely a mist for a little while, we need to do things to the best of our abilities, enjoying our work and pleasure fully.

Understand: Time and Chance Happen To All (Ecclesiastes 9:11-12)

11 Again I saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift, or the battle to the strong, or bread to the wise, or riches to the discerning, or favor to the skillful; rather, time and chance happen to all of them. 12 For man certainly does not know his time: like fish caught in a cruel net, or like birds caught in a trap, so people are trapped in an evil time, as it suddenly falls on them. (Ecclesiastes 9:11-12, HCSB)

I believe the Teacher instructs us in something that is very important to understand in life. A critical piece of teaching that most of the religious world ignores. Sometimes in life there is no rhyme or reason to events.

Notice carefully how the Teacher words the argument. Sometimes the swift do not win the race. Sometimes the battle is not won by the strong. Sometimes the wise do not have food. Sometimes the discerning do not have riches. Why does this happen? Did God cause this? Is there some cosmic reason for these events taking place? The Teacher tells us: NO! Time and chance happen to all.

Notice Ecclesiastes 9:12, which further amplifies the point. The fish is caught in the net. The birds are caught in a trap. We are trapped in an evil time and bad stuff suddenly happens. All of these things are without reason. Not everything in life has a reason. Not everything in life has a purpose. Time and chance happen to all of them. The race is not always won by the swift because there are other variables in life.

Please let me impress upon you the necessity of understanding this principle of time and chance. God does not cause everything to happen. Nor does everything happen for a reason. This false teaching is destroying the lives of people who lose their faith during difficult times. If God causes everything to happen, then God is to blame for a lot of evil in this world. When your loved one is stricken with a disease or dies prematurely, God is not the cause. God does not cause everything in this world to happen.

We need to hear these words. Time and chance happen to all. There is such a thing as being in the right place at the right time and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Just the other day my wife found a nice, expensive alarm clock that has an iPod connection for only $20. Should we think that God wants us to have a new alarm clock? No, it was simply being at the right place at the right time. If she had shown up a couple hours later and the clocks were gone, would that have been a sign from God that he did not want us to have an alarm clock? Of course not. The whole idea is absurd.

But if it is absurd with the small things, then why do we think that God is doing the bigger things? People will do the same thing with houses, jobs, and cars. “If God wants me to move, then someone will buy my house.” Why? Why think that God is controlling this? Guess what, if you lower the price enough, someone will buy it. If our car breaks then we need to buy a new car. If I get a flat tire, then God did not want me to go where I was trying to go. If I get a toothache, God is trying to tell me to change my life.

Friends, much of life is left up to time and chance. God does not control every aspect of the universe. God has created a system and order for this world. We must understand that there are many factors in life. We can simply be experiencing the thrust of time and chance in this world. We can be in the wrong place and the wrong time and that is why we happen to experience bad things. We are directly affected by our environment. The decisions of our parents, family, and friends greatly affect the future of our lives. Even the decisions of complete strangers directly affect our lives. A person chooses to drive drunk affects many other people. God is not causing such an evil to happen. We are affected by our genetics. I am not going to blame God because I am losing my hair. I am not going to find a deeper spiritual meaning in hair loss. My genetics have dictated this to be the case. I am not going to question or blame God concerning our daughter’s chromosomal syndrome. God did not cause it. 1 in 10,000 births bring about Prader-Willi Syndrome. It is simply the product of time and chance. God is not telling me that we are sinners. Remember, the error of Job’s three friends was the thinking that God caused the bad things in Job’s life because Job had done something wrong. However, we learn through Elihu in the book that this thinking is false.

Everything does not have a reason. God does not cause everything to happen. Time and chance are powerful factors in this world. We will do better in life and better be able to deal with life difficulties when we remember that God does not cause everything to happen. Time and chance are at work.

Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner can destroy much good. (Ecclesiastes 9:18; HCSB) We also need to remember that sinners cause much evil also. Much suffering takes place because of a person’s sin, either our own or someone else’s.

Live Wise, But Don’t Expect People to Listen or Understand (Ecclesiastes 9:13-18)

13 I have observed that this also is wisdom under the sun, and it is significant to me: 14 There was a small city with few men in it. A great king came against it, surrounded it, and built large siege works against it. 15 Now a poor wise man was found in the city, and he delivered the city by his wisdom. Yet no one remembered that poor man. 16 And I said, “Wisdom is better than strength, but the wisdom of the poor man is despised, and his words are not heeded.”

Wise living is better than worldly wisdom. The frustrating problem is the world does not recognize godly wisdom. In the story the poor wise man is the one who knows what to do to deliver the city. Though his wisdom saved the day, no one cares. You will not receive a ticker tape parade for making good decisions in life. You will not receive glory for using godly wisdom on a daily basis. But a life guided by wisdom is far better than a life guided by worldliness.

3 For there has already been enough time spent in doing the will of the pagans: carrying on in unrestrained behavior, evil desires, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and lawless idolatry. 4 In regard to this, they are surprised that you don’t plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation—and they slander you. (1 Peter 4:3-4; HCSB)

Conclusion:

1. The certainty of death and our need to take advantage of life now.

2. Understand that time and chance happen to all.

3. Live the wise, godly life even though the world will scorn you.

The Meaning of Life

Ecclesiastes 11:9 to Ecclesiastes 12:14

By Brent Kercheville

Chapter 10 and the beginning of chapter 11 contain single proverbs much like what can be read in the book of Proverbs. After speaking these proverbs the Teacher presents his final conclusions concerning his observations about life under the sun.

9 Rejoice, young man, while you are young, and let your heart be glad in the days of your youth. And walk in the ways of your heart and in the sights of your eyes; but know that for all of these things God will bring you to judgment. 10 Remove sorrow from your heart, and put away pain from your flesh, because youth and the prime of life are fleeting. (Ecc 11:9-10; HCSB)

Enjoy Your Life (Ecclesiastes 11:9-10)

Enjoy life, but know that you will brought into judgment. Enjoy life, especially while you are young. Enjoy the days of your youth. There is a whole world of possibilities and opportunities. There are many things you can do with your life. There are many places you can go. Enjoy life. The older you get, the more responsibilities you have and the less you can do. The older you get, the less you want to go and do things. The older you get, the harder it is on the body to go and do the things that are available to enjoy in life. The Teacher’s council is to do things in life while you are young because those opportunities will not be available later in life. But as you go into this world never forget that for all that you do you will be brought into judgment by God. Too often the young go and enjoy life but forget that their actions are going to be held accountable to the Lord.

The second admonition given is to not let the human condition cause grief. Do not be weighed down with grief and consternation over the human ills that consume people. A person can waste one’s life, the days that are meant for enjoyment, by being sorrowful about the plight of the conditions of life. The point that we learned last week is that stuff happens. Things happen in life that cannot be controlled. Things happen in life that do not have rhyme or reason. So do not be consumed by the troubles of life that happen to yourself or to others. These things are simply the nature of life. Your life is a vapor and your time is short. So do not waste your precious time grieving and worrying about life’s troubles.

Start With God Early (Ecclesiastes 12:1-10)

This section of text has some beautiful imagery about aging. Let’s enjoy the figurative language used-

Ecclesiastes 12:2 : The eyes begin to fail. A person’s vision begins to become cloudy.

Ecclesiastes 12:3 : The guardians of the house refer to the hands as they begin to tremble. The strong men refer to the muscles of the arms and back. The muscles are no longer strong. The grinding ceases because they are few refers to the loss of teeth. The windows of the eyes grow dim.

Ecclesiastes 12:4 : The doors of the street are shut while the sound of the mill fades refers to the loss of hearing. Rising at the sound of a bird refers to the aged sleeping lightly and how the slightest disturbance is enough to take away sleep.

Ecc 12:5 : The aged begins to be more fearful about things that are common in life and things that one used to do without thought. The blossoming of the almond tree refers to the hair turning white. The grasshopper losing the spring in its step refers to the greater difficulty of walking. The caper berry has no effect is a Hebrew idiom referring to the loss of sexual desire. The body is failing as he is preparing to go to his eternal home.

Ecclesiastes 12:6-7 : These are all images of the coming of death. The dust is going to return to the earth, that is, our bodies will be buried. Further, our spirit will go back to God who gave it.

Typically, these verses are understood to be saying that a person needs to come to the Lord before one’s death. While this is true, and has been a point that has been made by the Teacher, I do not think that is point being made here at this moment. Carefully read the first verse of chapter 12 again and see the point the Teacher wants us to know.

So remember your Creator in the days of your youth: Before the days of adversity come, and the years approach when you will say, “I have no delight in them.” (Ecclesiastes 12:1; HCSB)

Start with God early before life grows difficult. Get close to God early in life to help you get through all of the adversities and troubles that will come in life. Develop a good relationship with God while you are young and it will help when the difficult days arrive. I believe one of the implicit points is that it is easier to turn to God when you are young than when you are older. Like any habit, the longer you are away from something the easier it is to stay away. In the same way, the longer a person remains away from God the easier it becomes to stay away from God. The longer one goes without praying, the easier it is to continue not praying. The longer one goes without reading and studying the scriptures, the easier it is to not read and study the scriptures. The more often you miss services, the easier it is to continue to miss services. This is just human nature. Therefore, get close to God while you are young. God’s wisdom will keep you away from foolish mistakes. God’s wisdom will help you through life’s difficulties. A relationship with God will help you keep from being completely demoralized and depressed when problems in life arise. Start with God early in life.

Pay Attention To These Teachings (Ecclesiastes 12:11)

The sayings of the wise are like goads, and those from masters of collections are like firmly embedded nails. The sayings are given by one Shepherd. (HCSB)

A goad was a pointed stick to keep cattle going in the right direction. These wise sayings by the Teacher are goads. These words are to be pointed sticks that keep us going in the right direction. These sayings are not in question. They are teachings that are firmly embedded nails that you can rely on your life. These teachings are God’s wisdom, the one Shepherd. Consider what we have learned from the Teacher in his journal writings:

1. The lure of something better tomorrow robs us of the joys offered today.

2. Nothing in life brings satisfaction.

3. Apart from God, life is futile. Wisdom, pleasures, wealth, and work have no value without God.

4. Life is always changing. Do not expect the way things are today to stay the same tomorrow.

5. Excessive work leads to being alone. Better to have companions.

6. “It is better to be content with what the eyes can see than for one’s heart always to crave more. This continual longing is futile- like chasing the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 6:9; NET)

7. Enjoy the fruit of your labor. Enjoy what life has to offer.

8. Time and chance happen to all.

These are useful, powerful words of wisdom from God to help us endure the challenges of life.

Ignore Worldly Wisdom (Ecclesiastes 12:12)

But beyond these, my son, be warned: there is no end to the making of many books, and much study wearies the body. (HCSB)

God has given you the words that are useful. But anything else is not useful. There is no end to the making of self-help books and books about “wisdom” and “spirituality.” But these things are not useful. God has given you the owner’s manual on how to live your life. Everything else is not going to help. A couple of months back we look at what Oprah and Eckhart Tolle are doing with their new “spirituality.” Again, there really is no end to the making of books that try to give you the meaning of life. No end to books of philosophy. Just listen to God and follow his scriptures and you will do well.

The Meaning of Life (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

After having heard it all, this is the conclusion: Fear God, and keep his commands, for this is the whole of humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil.

This is the conclusion to all of the Teacher’s observation. Here is the meaning of life. Here is where true satisfaction can be found. Fear God and keep his commands. After this life journey the Teacher realizes that this is what life is all about. Life is about doing God’s will. Submitting one’s self to God will bring lasting satisfaction. This is the whole of mankind. Many translations read that this “is the whole duty of man.” But the word “duty” is inserted for clarification. But I do not think the teaching is at all about what our “duty” is as humans. Rather, the teaching is that this is what life is all about. The satisfying life that avoids futility is the life that fears God and keeps his commands. Lasting satisfaction and value cannot be found anywhere else. Thus, obeying God is the “whole of humanity.” Fearing God is what life is all about.

The final thought by the Teacher is this. Do not forget that God will bring every act into judgment, even the hidden things. You and I need the grace of God. You and I need to obey God because one day we will be held accountable for our decisions and actions.

 
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