But it is Fleeting – so Live Wisely!
Growing Throughout the Year
“An example of wisdom that greatly impressed me.” Wisdom that greatly impressed the man that chose wisdom over all of the world’s riches? Okay, you have my attention. It was wisdom that impressed him and saved a city from a superior force. But fools neglect and forget the wise. In times of trouble the wise find themselves surrounded by the lost and afraid, looking for direction. But as soon as they feel safe again they cast off the wise and get back to their hollow lives.
Forget about the wise. Besides it only seems to take a little bit of foolishness to nullify all that the wise do. Whether it is a wise man doing himself harm from his own stupidity or being harmed from someone else, we have seen this and have likely experienced it firsthand. “One sinner destroys much good.” Foolishness is so common. It almost seems incomprehensible that people continue to act the way they do. But I guess that it is easier to believe the unbelievable, to follow the fools way that appears flat and smooth rather than to face the hard truth, to take the difficult path of wisdom and honor. Jesus said it best when he said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few will find it.” Matthew 7:13-14. The great value of wisdom is lost on the foolish.
Despite what many might think, verse 2 has nothing to do with our modern political party system or whether you are conservative or liberal. The people of Israel understood that the right hand of God is a place of authority and protection. The wise, who we have described as godly, would seem to naturally be inclined toward the right while fools go in the opposite direction. What’s more, the fool flaunts his stupidity. It says he “walks along the road” and “shows everyone how stupid he is.” If you doubt the truth in this I suggest you take an objective look at social media! “Preach it brother!”
Solomon spends a lot of time in these passages reminding us that life is not fair. We may work hard and not get the results that our works merit. Someone else may get all the benefits of what we do while not contributing to it themselves. And of course there are dangers all around us, accidents do happen after all. He urges us to see the dangers, to be aware of them. Preventing us from falling into a pit, literally and metaphorically. The fool though will walk himself right into a pit, into “wicked madness.”
I want to take a moment to address 10:19, specifically “money is the answer for everything.” This is how my NIV puts it and this is a great example of a red flag moment in Bible reading. I personally look at this and I am stunned by most of the commentaries I read concerning this verse. At best they say this is Solomon’s wry humor or his attempt at sarcasm. At worse it is a passage that feeds all the prosperity preachers out there. “You may be struggling to pay your bills right now but God will provide a great bounty, a time of plenty. God knows what you need.” Yes, God does know what you need! We need a relationship with Him, with His son Jesus, and with one another. We need to be like the flowers of the field and be content with what we have. So why does Solomon say this? The original Hebrew reads something more like the NEB version, “money is behind it all” or the NIrV, “people think money can buy everything.” I find it interesting that the young reader version of the NIV is so dramatically different from the standard version on this passage. Apparently kids can handle this truth better than adults can.
Solomon urges us to be diligent and trust in God else we find our heads in the clouds and daydreaming. We cannot get caught up playing with “what ifs” and “what could have been”. We can only affect what we can and trust God to handle the rest.
God has asked His people to trust Him from the very beginning. He has made promises and He has kept those promises. He has worked in and through various people and revealed Himself in many ways. And then the world went dark. For 400 years God was silent, still working but not revealing as He had been. That all changed when an angel of the LORD appeared before Zechariah letting him know that his wife Elizabeth would give birth to a son. That son, known as John the Baptist, would herald in the time of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus, the son of God, knew what he must ultimately do. He could only go to the cross with confidence if he fully trusted in God. After he ascended to the right hand of God the world once again seemingly went dark. …
Indeed it is dark for those who lack trust in God, who do not have a hope through His son Jesus. God calls for trust. Solomon wrote God’s words to teach us how to trust. Jesus’ sacrifice was a display of trust. We remember that sacrifice and know that his was the only death that actually has meaning, for Jesus’ death is the one that gives life.
Solomon begins here with examples of improper decorum before a king. In his great authority he can do whatever he pleases, his word is law. So who in their right mind would say to him. “What are you doing?” We see this same idea applied to God in Job 9:12 and Isaiah 45:9. So Solomon says to obey the king, be loyal and not rebellious. Do not do something that is bad or wrong just because you do not like or agree with someone. Seems like common sense but we see it every day on the street level all the way up to those with the greatest wealth, power, and influence. There is even a saying that goes with it, “You cut off your nose to spite your face.”
So do not ask, “What are you doing?” but submit, for “whoever obeys will come to no harm.” This is the way of the wise. The wise person has a better chance of knowing the best course of action and when to act, knowing the proper time and procedure. And yet they still find misery as none knows what the future holds. Misery because we do know that there are consequences for our wickedness. And just as no one can control the wind or delay death, no one can escape the consequences for our wicked, sinful ways.
Life is not fair! … Solomon talks about the wicked being buried. In this context it implies that they receive undeserved respect. A proper burial given to an undeserving wretch. False believers who say the words and make a show of faith. So much so that they receive praise, but they are wicked none the less. They reach this status when justice is not dealt out in proper time. He may commit a hundred crimes and yet live a long life. Worse, he is adored by others who wallow in their own sin, rejoicing that this glorious example has been set for them to work towards. But there will be judgment! The righteous, God-fearing man will have life and the wicked … death!
Life is not fair! … Righteous men get what the wicked deserve and the wicked get what the righteous deserve. Circumstances and choices can lead to what might appear to be unrighteous judgment. Verse 13 tells us that justice will come … in time. Until then, verse 15 points to the wisdom of trusting God and enjoying the many ways in which we are blessed. See, we do not see the “big picture” that God does so we cannot fully understand why things happen when and in the ways that they do. It is better to accept what we are capable of and not stress ourselves with what we are not.
We are in God’s hands. He alone knows what awaits the righteous and the wise and all that they do. “All share a common destiny – the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.” … Death! Death is the destiny we share and the answer to the question, “What does the future hold, what awaits us?” Solomon refers to this as “the evil in everything.” It cuts down the young and old alike. Death does not care whether you are good or bad. Some believe that because death is so arbitrary that it is excusable to rush into sin, to relish in it all their days. It is where we get sayings like, “Live like there is no tomorrow, live life to the fullest” and of course the most popular one in recent years, “YOLO, you only live once.”
For the wicked I guess this is pretty much true. They have no hope for the eternal life promised by God through His son Jesus so this is all that they have. But the living, those who have life through Jesus, they have hope. But in death we will know nothing. No longer able to learn or grow and in time we will be forgotten. God will not forget you though. We can believe this, we can trust it. He did not forget Saul who became Paul. He did not forget Peter, who denied Jesus. He did not forget Ezra, Nehemiah, Joseph or Job. He will not forget you!
Life is not fair! … I hear this all the time from people of all ages. I used to say this myself in frustration, thinking of the ways that I have been hurt or wronged. I stopped saying it when I took Romans 6:23 to heart, “For the wages of sin is death.” If life was fair and was as immediate as our impatience would hope it was, we would be dead the moment we sinned for the first time. In other words, man-kind would be extinct! If we got what we deserved we would not exist! Instead we have received mercy and compassion that goes beyond our comprehension and that we do not deserve.
I for one am grateful, not for what I deserve but for what I do not.
In Solomon’s time, perfume or oil was a symbol of joy and prosperity and often used as a metaphor for one’s reputation. Solomon combines these ideas with birth and death. He suggests that it is better to have a good name or reputation at the end of your life than to have a joyful and favorable beginning which, by one’s own actions could result in nothing. “The day of death is better”, in his second letter to Corinth and in his letter to Philippi, Paul reminds us of how true this is for those found in Christ. But Solomon’s point is valid for everyone as he explains that we generally learn less from the good times than the bad.
Solomon was pretty big on wisdom so he wrote about the wisdom of reflecting on the brevity of life, “Death is the destiny of every man.” He said that the “living should take this to heart.” or reflect on it. The heart was considered the seat of reflection and of moral decision and action. Seems like the opposite of what most people think today. Anyway, here he recommends that we not only reflect but do so soberly rather than delving into foolish pleasures. Through serious reflection we may achieve some level of moral and spiritual growth or maturity. Moses understood this as he said “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” These words, this message, is desperately needed in this day that emphasizes and encourages self-centeredness. It is common for us to laugh at troubles rather than face them, to joke about what we should take seriously. People are living life like it is an all-you-can-eat buffet that will never run out. This is the fool’s way but the wise live life in light of life’s brevity. Not cautiously or in excess but with purpose and meaning. There is also wisdom in listening to and taking to heart the warnings, corrections, and rebukes of the wise. It is in this that we learn and grow.
With that being said, let us heed the words of a wise man. Solomon warns against adversity and prosperity bringing temptations – temptations that draw us away from wisdom and God. Drawing us into foolishness. Adversity and prosperity alike may lead one to become impatient or be provoked to anger, or complain about where they are, longing for the “good old days.” Each of these is contrary to the trust we ought to have in God. But he was not condemning either of these. He had already made a case for how we can learn more from adversity than times of plenty and he was also in favor of prosperity. In both cases though, wisdom is present. The wise learn from adversity and enjoy the fruits of their prosperity.
It is the wise who would “consider what God has done.” Some try to find fault in God’s ways. The fool is blinded to the ways in which God works through the good and the bad. It is a matter of perspective and … ours is limited. Solomon warned against depending on our perceived righteousness while living wickedly. Those who become “holier-than-thou”, the “high and mighty”, are often the first to fall. Over righteousness occurs when we begin to think too highly of ourselves. We lose the humility that helps balance our relationships … with God, Jesus, and each other. He suggests that we try to strike a balance in life. “Did Solomon just tell us to be a little wicked?” not at all. He is just acknowledging that we are already wicked by our fallen nature. We cannot escape it but we can work to counteract it.
We are not righteous in and of ourselves. The great part about being on this side of the cross is that we know that we can be made righteous through the blood of Jesus. This knowledge brings wisdom. Wisdom makes one powerful but it does have limitations. In itself, wisdom is inadequate to provide us protection or offer salvation. Additionally, we are not able to gain full wisdom. Solomon, yes that Solomon, said that true wisdom was far beyond him.
What he did discover though is that true righteousness and true wisdom does not exist among men. In his searching he finds that there is only one upright man among a thousand it says and none among women. This speaks to the rarity of such a person but if Scripture and experience have taught us anything it is that such a person is all but nonexistent. In fact I question whether this statement was more prophetic than observational. Could Solomon’s one upright man have been speaking of the coming Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus the Christ? The reason for man’s universal depravity is his own doing, not God’s. “God made men upright.” He made us perfect and we screwed it up. We follow our own schemes thus we lack true uprightness, true righteousness, and true wisdom. And we fail to please God.
Solomon asks many questions in this book. Some that we find in this reading will be answered when Jesus returns. At his return we will have true righteousness, true wisdom. Then we will be changed and made new. Into the glorious creations that He intended us to be. In knowing God, pleasing Him, we gain wisdom but in growing closer to Him through His Son we gain life everlasting. Do you see the wisdom in this?
To be continued …
Do not be surprised if you lose the fruits of your labor to a higher authority. Solomon lays out a hierarchy of power and thus was born the phrase, “there is always a bigger fish.” Well I doubt that phrase came from Solomon but you get the picture. Some actually use verses 8-9 of chapter five to say that Solomon did not write this book, that he would never paint his own rule in such a poor light. Have these people ever read the rest of the Bible? It is full of people acting stupid and not sugar coating it. They fully disclose the heights of their idiocy because they were compelled to write the truth. Solomon may have been generalizing but we see in 1 Kings 12 how the Israelites demand Rehoboam to reduce their oppression, to lighten their load. This suggests that Solomon’s governors made financial demands of the people in order to support Solomon’s extravagant lifestyle. So I am thinking that his government was not excluded from this ugly truth.
But what did his wealth gain him? What does it gain anyone? The covetous are characterized as never satisfied. The more they have, the more they want. They never have enough. It is like trying to fill the Grand Canyon with water using a teaspoon with a hole in it. Additionally, the more you have the more avenues by which you could lose it. When one suddenly comes into a large sum of money they instantly find themselves surrounded by relatives that they never knew existed. It is no wonder that Solomon says there is no sleep in the abundance of a rich man. Between striving for more and keeping an eye on what you have to protect, it sounds like a miserable life to me. Solomon argues that the only results for increased wealth for a covetous person are increased anxiety and increased vigilance, not increased enjoyment.
All of this striving is meaningless! You chase after it and you protect it yet it could be the very reason you lose your life. And if all of that did not suck enough, Solomon realized that you cannot take any of it with you when you die. We all enter the world with nothing and we all leave it with nothing. The realization of this can cause great “frustration, affliction, and anger.”
But Solomon realized that God gives us life and labor and the fruits that each produces. God also gives us something that we cannot find anywhere else, true joy! This is a gift from God: that He enables us to enjoy the fruits of our labors and to be happy in our work. He grants us contentment as nothing else on earth can. However, he warns us that God can provide the materials but not grant the ability to enjoy them. It is a blessing from God, a gift, not a right or guarantee.
Solomon pities the one who does not know joy from their work. He characterizes it as a life devoid of meaning. And yet there numbers are great. So many have appetites that are never satisfied. Constantly searching, impatiently looking for something new, something better or something that is not certain. In contrast “what the eyes sees” is at hand. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” never made sense to me until I read this. (Go ahead and get the “nothing makes sense to you” jokes out of the way now.) Ready to continue? Good. This continues Solomon’s theme that is woven throughout the book; that of being content with what God has blessed us with.
Solomon ends the chapter with a number of questions, all of these point to the One True God. He created the universe and every living creature. He has blessed us above all the rest of creation. Blessed us with an awareness of our Creator and knowledge of the promise of salvation for those who come to Him through His son Jesus. He knows what was, what is, and what will be. He alone is the Almighty, the All-powerful God Yahweh. None can stand against Him and none can hope to change His mind with many words. He knows what is good and He has revealed this to us through His word and the life, ministry, sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus.
All of this points to the gift from God who enables us to enjoy our works and that which we have produced. To be content with what we have and not striving after the hollow and decaying things of this world. This is the legacy that we have access to. To draw closer to God through His son and see every moment and circumstance of this life as a blessing. To enjoy life and labor with gladness in our hearts.
To be continued …
Solomon, as cheerful as ever, writes about what he witnessed around him; the tears of the oppressed, power on the side of the oppressor, and no comfort for the oppressed. Who are the oppressed today, in our world, our country, our community? People are oppressed based on ethnicity, religious beliefs, economic status, gender, you name it. Some appear to less oppression than others but it is an illusion. We are all subjugated to one great oppressor, sin! Solomon rightfully says that we have no comforter … here on earth at least. He reminds us to look at what role we each play in the oppression of others for we cannot be a comfort if we are part of the problem, whether we realize it or not.
The dead! The dead are free from oppression … and happiness … and joy … and living. Peter wrote that it is only those who trust in God that may see the good that can come out of suffering. Thank you Peter for being a ray of sunshine! He says this though because we have a hope in Jesus of an eternity where sorrow and suffering will be no more. Peter was, as we are, on the other side of the cross so to speak so we have a better understanding of the impermanence of this life and its troubles and of the future promise of life in the coming kingdom.
But for today, greed and envy are tremendous motivators for oppression. When people strive for more wealth and power they rarely care for who gets pushed aside, trampled on or abused. It is a grabbing after that which will only give momentary happiness. Solomon suggests that it is better to have one handful with tranquility. … Yeah I read that and did not get it at first either. He is saying that we should not over reach or overextend ourselves. His wisdom guides us to be content with what we have, with what God has provided.
In chapter four Solomon gives two examples. The first is of a rich man whose insatiable thirst for more isolated him to the point that he had no partnership. He did not share with anyone and one day realized the immensity of that loneliness. In contrast, Solomon commends sharing in relationship. There are advantages in this as he points out. In companionship we find greater profit, a good return from our labor. We are able to help one another in difficult times when we are together. He pities those who have no one to help them when they fall. Together we can provide each other with comfort but there is no one to comfort the selfish and greedy. Companionship also affords greater protection when facing dangers. He goes further with that by saying that two is good but three is even better.
The second example is that of a poor but wise youth who succeeds the foolish king. He comes from nothing and it is implied that he was imprisoned at one point. But he rose to power and everyone followed him. He had it all! In time the people grew tired of him and he lost everything. All of his striving after money, power, and adoration was ultimately meaningless. It all comes and goes like the wind.
You might look at the opening verses of chapter five as advice or instruction on proper worship, the proper attitude, appropriate practice of prayer, and the respectful payment of vows. The reality though is Solomon is warning against straining our relationship with God. He warns against making rash vows. Rash vows become the “sacrifice of fools” and the “speech of a fool”. He advises us to be thoughtful before coming to God with an oath or vow. To consider our own limitations and our motivations. We ought to weigh all things against God’s word so that we know that it is good according to His perfect will. “What is the big deal about making vows?” A vow is a promise and for the God who always keeps His promises, breaking our promise is detestable to Him.
Whether facing oppression or battling against the sins of greed and envy, trying to stay humble enough to be content with what we have or avoiding quick words and rash vows, Solomon always returns to our Creator God. ”Therefore stand in awe of God”, trust in Him and His providence. In awe of Him rather than standing in awe of ourselves. Then we can face the troubles and strife with great endurance. Then we can rise above our baser nature. We can find contentment and dare I say … meaning!
To be continued …
And now another exciting episode from the book of Ecclesiastes. “Everything is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”
Here we find Solomon, as cheerful as ever, saying that he “hated life” and all the work that he had done. Not only does it not bring lasting satisfaction but anything that lasts beyond our life will likely end up going to some schmuck who does not deserve it, has not earned it, and will not appreciate it. A great misfortune indeed!
Verses 22-23 are kind of an “ah-ha” moments though. He uses the phrase “anxious striving” and states that “all his days” there is “pain and grief” and at night “his mind does not rest.” Solomon is talking about the drive that pushes many of us. It is a drive to provide a “better” life, to have more, to do more, and to never be … satisfied. This drive causes anxiety, pain, and grief. What does it get us though? We are never satisfied because we are never where we want to be and we never will be. Not here in this world at least. It frustrates our days and disrupts our nights. Think about it. When you set a goal, where you want to be or accomplish in a year, what happens once you have met that goal? You set another goal! “A chasing after the wind.”
Now Solomon is not condemning ambition or general goal setting. As a matter of fact he says in verses 24-25, “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without Him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” He goes on to say that the godly will be granted wisdom, knowledge and happiness. To the sinner… a consolation prize of fruitless labor! He will not have satisfaction in his work and may not even see the fruits of his labor. We see examples of this type of judgment throughout Scripture as well as in and around our lives. This is a temporal judgment though, in the here and now. A giving and taking away of that which will ultimately perish.
Then Solomon says “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” He says activity for a reason and it is because an activity is something deliberate. It is a willful act and so for every willful act there is a time, a point in time, and a season, a duration. This opening line gives way to a poem on fourteen opposites, each of which happens in its own time. He illustrates this in a multiple of seven, which is the number signifying completeness. Additionally, he utilized polar opposites in a poetic form known as merism that suggests totality. In this way Solomon affirms that all activities, both constructive and destructive, and all responses to all things happen in their time. Too deep? Then let me break it down.
The poem begins with life and death, the beginning and end of life. Two events over which we have little to no control over. He continues with deliberate acts of one who begins and ends plant life, takes and saves human life, and constructs and destroys buildings. All concepts of life and death. From these thoughts he writes of our responses to such events: weeping and morning and their opposites, laughing and dancing and all of the joy found in them. He then switches from life and death to man’s interest in things and his affections towards people. This is followed with a period of mourning and the completion of the mourning, when one would begin again to move forward in life. Of course it all ends with concepts that are as significant as the ones he began the poem with. They are two of life’s basic emotions with war and peace being the most poignant expression of each one.
Truly, the burden laid upon us is that we have knowledge and understanding. We see this great big world around us and realize its satisfactions are too small for us. He has placed within us knowledge of eternity but we cannot fully grasp it yet. We know that we likely play a role in God’s plan but do not fully understand what God’s plan is for our lives. Despite this we can trust that He will “make everything beautiful in its time.” This is the burden God has laid upon us.
For those who do not know God, they may see Him as arbitrary but Solomon described the nature of God’s plan and what the appropriate response of men should be. He has seen it all from beginning to end. He knows the choices we make and the consequences of those choices. And to all will come His righteous judgment. For the wicked and the righteous, for the just and unjust, a time will come.
“But he says that we are like animals? That we have no advantage over them?”
We were all dust and have received life from God. To the dust we will all return so in that he is correct. We are like animals with no advantage. Verse 21 however shows us a difference. The fact that we are capable of contemplating what happens to our spirit is an advantage. This awareness is an advantage. To wonder at the awesome power of God and to be inquisitive enough to seek after Him. Again though, it is an advantage that is also our burden. To ask why we are here? What is our purpose in His plan?
The answers to all of this will come … in its time.
To be continued …
Ecclesiastes does not exactly seem like the perfect book for uplifting and encouraging one another but let us take a look at it anyway.
We can assume from the titles the author gives himself and other clues that Solomon wrote this book. The wisest man, excluding Jesus, to walk the earth and he begins by saying that “everything is meaningless!” What is meaningless? From the third verse of chapter one and a number of arguments made throughout the book, we can understand Solomon to mean that all human endeavors are meaningless. With the number of times he repeats the word meaningless several translations/versions read as “utterly meaningless”. Our labors are totally and completely useless. So he asks the question, “What does man gain from all his labor?” It is almost like he is daring us to give a positive answer to that question.
He argues in broad strokes that our efforts can have no permanent value. “Generations come and generations go” speaks of how short life is and the insignificance of our efforts. He contrasts our efforts with the earth which will remain and yet even the things that happen on earth are without meaning. Solomon gives examples of the sun, wind, and water to illustrate his point. Each of these cycling around in ceaseless activity. But what does the sun, wind, or water gain from their activities? Nothing! It is all monotonous and wearisome without effecting any progress or reaching some goal.
“But there are so many advances every day. In technology, medicine, industry, you name it. With everything we have and what is coming, Solomon obviously had no idea what he was talking about when he said there is nothing new under the sun.”
Cell phones – just an update on old technology which in turn is just two people talking only over greater distances. The computer – just a dumbed down version of our own brains. If you know me you will find it difficult to believe that a computer is a dumbed down version of my brain but it is true. Computers only mimic the pathways and impulses of our brains. Space travel – it is still just traveling from one place to another, adventuring into the unknown. So Solomon is correct, there really is nothing new under the sun.
Let’s not forget either that Solomon was not only incredibly wise but he was insanely rich and powerful. With all of that he tried to discover something, anything that had not been done before. He even sunk into madness and folly. The conundrum to this endeavor however is that he did so under the guidance of wisdom. He did not indulge blindly or in uncontrolled excess. He denied himself nothing and undoubtedly gained some measure of satisfaction from his experiences but he discovered that it was all fleeting, gone in an instant. Nothing was truly gained from any of it.
Solomon’s verdict on all of this is that wisdom enabled him to enjoy both pleasure and the fruits of his labor sensibly, to cherish them rather than to pass numbly through them. So there is an advantage to wisdom over foolishness. Yet both the wise and foolish share the same fate. So what does wisdom gain us? What is the point?
Paraphrasing Proverbs 2:1-8, “my son, if you accept my words, turning your ear to wisdom, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom, He holds victory in store for the upright, He is a shield, He guards and protects the way of His faithful ones.”
There is a glorious purpose; Trust in Him and His plan, His power. We can gain knowledge and understanding from God’s Word but it only becomes wisdom when we apply it to our lives. When we live out what we have learned from Scripture we will be able to enjoy this life and all of our “meaningless” endeavors. Without God, everything is meaningless.
To be continued…
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18
Each day is a new day to live, work, and accomplish new things. Everyone has goals and ambitions for what they would like to do and achieve. But it is important to remember that all our earthy success and money and goods are not long-lasting—they are not eternal. As C. S. Lewis remarked, “All that is not eternal is eternally useless.” Now, is it true that money and goods and other physical things are completely “useless” in all respects? No, not exactly. But what Lewis is getting at is that when it comes down to what really matters—only eternity matters. And as such, only those things which will last for eternity are of any true significance.
Paul exhorts his readers to realize that everything we suffer and go through in this life is just the precursor to the beautiful glory that is to come. There is a glory that is “beyond all comparison” waiting for God’s people. Everything that is in this world is perishable and will be destroyed one day when a new heavens and earth will be formed in its place (2 Pet 3:11-13). And the glorious, resurrection bodies and heavenly city of Jerusalem that God has prepared for his people surpasses any imagination of such glory that we could ever have (Phil 3:21; Rev 21:10-11).
But while on this earth during the present age, what do we get from all the hard work we labor in? The author of Ecclesiastes has a rather pessimistic outlook on all the hard work of life.
As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind?
What do we get for all our “toils”? Ultimately….nothing! It would be a terrible mistake to make prosperity, success, or fame the goal to which you set you eyes in life. These things have no eternal value, everything we have earned and accomplished in this life will come to nothing in the coming age. 1 John 2:17 says, “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”
The popular slogan, “Live for Today!” has both truth and error in it. While we don’t want our mind to be anxious and preoccupied about tomorrow that we forget to live in the moment and enjoy what is happening in our lives “now,” the problem is if all a person ever does is live for the “here and now.” Life is ultimately not about the “here and now” but about the destination of where everything is going. If we never raise our eyes to the horizon, then we will never gain an eternal perspective on life and understand the final objective to everything in life.
We must work and live in this world, but that is only what we are doing now. Life is not only about “now” but also about “then.” And “then” is what is truly important and eternal. So while we “toil” in this life, let us keep our eyes on the horizon and realize what actually is the true meaning of life. It is not what we see, but what we do not see. The unseen is eternal. If we live by faith, and not by sight, we will come to know the everlasting glory that is beyond all compare to anything in this world. Look to the things that are unseen and the spiritual reality of the life we have in Christ, awaiting the “riches of the glorious inheritance in the saints” (Eph 1:18).
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So you’ve read today’s reading and are thinking, “Maria, you said King Solomon was going to give us uplifting counsel!” On the face of it, these last four chapters do not seem very uplifting. But I read a couple of things along with these scriptures that made me realize that what he is saying is in fact, very uplifting, practical, and real.
The first thing I read, you may have read before. It is a version of a poem that was originally written by Dr. Kent M. Keith but was rewritten as a spiritual poem, presumably by Mother Teresa.
Do It Anyway
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you.
Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten.
Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.
Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.
This poem sums up exactly what King Solomon was saying! Verse 9:11 is a prime example of this idea that life isn’t fair. You may work hard but not receive any rewards but verse 12: 13-14 says do it anyway! God knows your works.
The second thing I read was the commentary in my study Bible, which I thought, wrapped up the book of Ecclesiastes quite well.
“God has not told man how to comprehend all the frustrating futilities of life, but He has instructed man to enjoy life as His gift (2:24), to make the most of every opportunity (9:10), and to live life with reverence toward God (12:13), accompanied by an awareness of future judgment (12:14), Solomon learned to live with life’s paradoxes by maintaining a proper attitude toward life and God.”
Solomon is saying life is rough and it doesn’t always go the way we think it should, but we need to do the best we can anyway and everything in this life is in God’s hands.
That sounds like pretty uplifting and practical counsel for all of us!
Tomorrow we will delve into Song of Songs, Song of Solomon, or Canticles. No matter what you call it, Solomon is clearly in a better mood in this book!
See you tomorrow!
(Photo credit: http://www.slideshare.net/drrickgriffith/eccl-12v8-14-finishing-well62)