Ecclesiastes Chapter 12

underthesun(Last in a series of 12 insights into Ecclesiastes) by Gene Whittum

SoWhittumlomon continues his warning about death. He has spoken of it many times in his journal and again is imploring the readers to avoid severe judgment by calling to mind their duty to “remember their creator” while they still have the strength, mind and will to do so. The call to recollect has more significance than to just bring something to mind—it involves embarking on a course of action. It is the same as the association between the words “obedience” and “trust”, or “belief” (faith).

When one is presented with the Gospel, there is an interaction between the belief, or faith in the word and the acceptance (obedience) to the word. Obedience is the effect of the presentation of the gospel. Hebrews 4:2 illustrates this principle: “For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.” This principle is also reflected in the parable of the sower in Matthew 13 and Luke 8. For this reason, many who call themselves Christians and who have no evidence to support it, may not be true believers. The Epistle of James emphasizes this throughout the book. Much more could be said about this but we will leave it to your own personal study.

Bear in mind that Solomon, here, appears to be approaching the end of his life. When we read of his history, with his hundreds of wives and concubines, we can conclude that he was a very gifted man with untamed passions. He never had any recorded contact with a prophet (as his father David did with Nathan), and as a result, had no accountability with anyone. He was the king, after all. His testimony is given, in part, in chapter two. His experience of life is recorded in much of the remainder of the book and his wisdom concerning righteous living is delineated in the Proverbs, some of the Psalms and the book called the Song of Songs.

So what does one say when facing the end of life? Death is nothing new to the human race and, here, Solomon is about to expire but he has some final things to say to us. He is telling us to fear God today because old age and death come upon us quickly. He uses the word “before” three times (12:1,2,6) and then he says “when” several times and closes with “then” (verse 5), which appears to be the time of death.

In these verses he mentions several bodily ailments which, collectively or singly, are enough to cause one’s death. Scholars differ somewhat on what these verses mean in the progress of dying, and I can only attempt to sort them out knowing that others may disagree with the conclusions. That is okay. Some of the best scholars disagree with each other. One thing can be said as being certain: it is a description of a body dying. I shall number the verses and offer a brief comment.

Verse 1. “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble (difficulty) come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them.’” Old age is debilitating to say the least and many pleasures are no longer pleasurable because they are not possible or worth the effort. Verses 1 through 7 consist of one long sentence which is difficult to break up into an interpretation of the whole passage—therefore the semi-colons interspersed in our descriptions of the passage.

Verse 2. “Before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain;” Many dark days come with a note of the reality that the past is past, emphasizing the transitoriness of life. The dark days may also include some amount of depression. In any case, there is a contrast between the vigor of youth and the incapacitation of old age, life lived in a minor key.

Verse 3. “When the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop, when the grinders cease because they are few and those looking through the windows grow dim;” Here the arms and hands begin to tremble, perhaps with palsy or feebleness; the legs become weak and unsteady; the back begins to stoop over; the teeth (usually molars) are few and chewing becomes difficult; and finally, the eyes begin to lose their sight and simple tasks of years gone by become arduous. The picture of the teeth is of female mill-grinders in the ancient world. The literal meaning would refer to the teeth.

We begin to observe the approaching frailty of old age. Because of these impending weaknesses of getting older, the author encourages the young to learn and practice godliness before the onset of advanced years. The habits formed in earlier years, become hardened and in later years are difficult to remedy without great deliberation.

Paul writes about this condition in Ephesians 4:18 where he states: “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” The verb ‘darkened’ is in the perfect tense—‘being darkened in the past with results that they are presently darkened’. It is a process of life that culminates in their hearts being ‘hardened’ by ignorance and carnal practices (We get our word ‘sclerosis’ from this Greek word). It results in a sad spiritual condition and robs old age of much happiness and spiritual peace, hope and satisfaction.

Verse 4. “When the doors to the street are closed and the sound of grinding fades;” “The lips (to quote Walter C. Kaiser Jr.) swinging or folding doors, as the jaws of leviathan are called the ‘doors of his face’ in Job 41:14 fall into the mouth for lack of teeth. (A street is a cleft between two rows of houses.)” The ancient world did not have dentists as the modern world does, so teeth were missing (or all gone) and chewing does not make much noise, thus, the ‘grinding fades’.

The next phrase: “when men rise up at the sound of birds, but all their songs grow faint” indicates the inability to get a full night’s sleep due to being awakened by every little noise. It seems that the hearing is also included when “all their songs grow faint”. The person, or persons, described here do not have all the infirmities mentioned in this passage. Every individual will have different ailments with which to cope. Authors differ in their interpretation of these verses. However, the context indicates that there is a slow or fast disintegration of the body and each of us can fill in our own disabilities as we age.

Verse 5. “When men are afraid of heights and of dangers (terrors) in the streets;” Many elderly people are afraid to go outside or walk along the streets and consequently remain inside. Ladders, also, are a common phobia. “When the almond tree blossoms (white hair) and the grasshopper drags himself along.” This would describe the hobbling walk of one with a cane.

The last part of verse 5 requires some additional translation. The NET Bible renders it “and the caper berry shrivels up”; the ASB reads “and the caper berry is ineffective.” The Complete Jewish Bible says “and the caper berry has no (aphrodisiac) effect”, and the Tanach (another Jewish translation does not mention the phrase. Another Jewish translation expresses it “and the caper berry shall fail.”
The significance of the verse is similar to Genesis 30:14-15 where mandrake plants were commonly thought to be an aphrodisiac in the culture of the time. Here, in old age, sexual virility may become a distant memory and even aphrodisiacs fail; the caper berry shrivels up as it remains on the branch beyond its period of ripeness.

An interesting series of words and phrases lead up to the conclusion of verse five that we mentioned earlier. Four times the word “before” is used in verses 1, 2 and 6; six times the word “when” is used in verses 3-5, and then a concluding word “then” is given at the end of verse five. “Then man goes to his eternal home and mourners go about the streets.” The ‘eternal home’ is an idiom for the grave as one’s final resting place and the “mourners (who) go about the streets” are referring to the common practice in funerals of that day. Mourners were often hired to advance before the funeral procession.

Verse 6. Solomon is not yet done with his description of the hazards of old age. He once again gives an admonition to “remember him”– the Creator mentioned in verse one. He wants to emphasize again the theme of the passage that it is always best to serve the Lord when one is young, fresh and able. The word “before” appears again to introduce more conditions that attend the elderly.

The occurrence of death is, as the prior verses, explained metaphorically and commentators differ as to what is meant by the silver cord, the golden bowl, the pitcher and the wheel. One thing is certain—it is a reference to the dissolution and the frailty of life. The “silver cord” seems to refer to the spinal cord; the “golden bowl” may be the skull or brain; the “pitcher”, which is used at the well and drawn up by a rope, may refer to the heart or stomach; the “wheel” at the cistern perhaps refers to the heart or circulatory system that transports the blood continuously throughout the body. When that breaks down, it is then terminal as mentioned in the following verse.
Verse 7: “and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” To interpret the prior verses, different translations do not help a great deal in the unraveling of the meaning. Authors differ and what I have written seems to be more of a common thread of agreement with many writers. In this verse, however, it is much easier to discern what is being said. Solomon is referring to the death of a person who has grown old. The life has been lived, admonitions and examples have been given, and now the individual must await the judgment of God as to how the life was spent.

Verse 8. “Meaningless! Meaningless!’ Says the Teacher. ‘Everything is meaningless’ “. This is a strange conclusion to what he has just said regarding “remembering” and “death”. This was the theme of his introduction in chapter one. In the context of the chapter, he seems to be saying how vain it is to have lived a full life and not learn the meaning and solution to righteous living. We can all say that to live and die without having the joy of life and the fellowship with God is indeed meaningless—a great tragedy.

Solomon now gives the conclusion to the matters of life. He has told us to enjoy life in spite of all the hurdles we may face. He has looked toward the God who is above the sun and who is intimately involved with His creation. Life is seldom free of various kinds of obstacles and problems and mysteries.

What qualifies a person to set down a dissertation such as this? He was certainly wise and throughout history has plainly taught many, especially those who take time to contemplate his words. He has not trifled with his readers; he researched and wrote thousands of proverbs and anyone who spends time in what he has written elsewhere (Proverbs and Psalms), receive much benefit from learning and observing his counsel and exhortations.

In his admissions in this journal, he too has learned right from wrong. Therefore he can say–verse 10, that “what he wrote was upright and true.” It is wisdom that has withstood the ages, and we still acknowledge that fact because what he has written became a part of our Scriptures. It has been written for our admonition. If we are honest in our assessment, we will have to agree that he was wise.

Verse eleven is critical to his conclusions. He writes: “The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one Shepherd.” Shepherd is capitalized and therefore refers to one much superior to Solomon, the teacher. In Genesis 48:15 Jacob, in blessing his sons, says: “May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my Shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm—may he bless these boys.” God was Jacob’s Shepherd. We all know Psalm 23 “The Lord is my Shepherd . . .”and Isaiah 40:11 “He tends his flock like a Shepherd; He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young.” See also Jeremiah 31:10 and Ezekiel 34:11-12.

Solomon in effect is giving credit for his words to the “Shepherd” when he notes that they were “given by one Shepherd.” He is not necessarily calling himself wise—his words were ‘given’ by the Wise One. He is using the third person (the Shepherd) rather than the first person, himself. The revelation of the book came from God. The words he sought were “delightful words” but they were also like prods to make the individual think. His work was not that of a pessimist or defeatist; he did not advocate artificial happiness nor did he deny the existence of God. He learned, perhaps too late, the same lessons that he is trying to help us to learn.

We must believe that his sincerity was real, albeit very difficult in places. Goads and nails are designed to prod and fasten—prodding towards righteous living and fastening us onto truth. Much of life is still enigmatic and puzzling, but with the guidance of the Shepherd, we are under gracious, tender and merciful care. The “words of delight” are words that he (Solomon) took delight in. Recall verse nine where he tells us that he “taught, heard, investigated, and put in order” his writings.

Verses 12: “Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.” Moffatt translates this to read: “My son, avoid anything beyond the scriptures of wisdom.” I believe he is speaking of anything beyond the scriptures as being a final authority for life. All true bible teaching, hearing (others), investigating (checking them out) and putting in order (writing it down) is truly a wearying process.

Verses 13 and 14 are his concluding exhortation: Fear God, and obey His commands. “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. (14) For God will bring every deed into judgment, (see 3:17, 11:9) including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” He has been inserting just enough warning throughout the book to keep us obedient.

The word “fear” has many connotations. It means to fear from an understanding of who God is and from a sense of our own weakness and dependence, joined by trembling in certain instances. It is to venerate God, praise and worship him in the knowledge of him. The more we know about God, the more we are able to worship “in spirit and in truth.” In this verse, the word is an imperative—a command, not just a suggestion (Moses did not go up on the mountain just to get a few suggestions from God. They were the Ten Commandments).

The word “evil” has many connotations in Scripture, everything from hating God to being mean to someone. It is always a negative word, meaning that anything that is not righteously based, may be said to be ‘evil’. As far as the judgment is concerned, the first line of judgment is the written word, the Scriptures. They should be the ‘goad’ that spurs us on to further investigate the Word of God.

There are several judgments in the bible and we cannot deal with them all here. Just one passage will be dealt with. It is 2nd Corinthians 5:20, a passage that deals with the judgment seat of Christ, or the Bema Seat. The verse reads: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body (that is, while living), whether good or bad.” The Greek word is kakos, which essentially means ‘worthless’ as does the Hebrew word rah, or rawah–to spoil or be good for nothing. The words do include sinful activity of many sorts but when dealing with the judgment of believers, the deeds we perform will be either “good” or “bad”.

In 2nd Corinthians, Paul is speaking to believers about pleasing the Lord and exhorting the believer to fear the Lord while working for him in the vineyard. When the believer appears before Christ at the judgment seat, our sins will not be an issue. All sin will be left in the grave and our deeds done in the body will be judged—whether good or bad (worthless). Are the things we do motivated by our love of Christ, or are they just out of a sense of duty? Are we filled with the Spirit as we live and labor, or are we carnal? When we worship in our churches, are our minds focused on the Lord or on ‘carnal’ things?

As an illustration: There is nothing wrong with a wheelbarrow of sand but you do not take a bucket of sand to the grocery store to pay for groceries. The sand is worthless. It is the same with our ‘spiritual’ deeds—are we motivated by the flesh or the spirit? It is a thin line at times as we gather together or walk around in the market place of life. Do we serve the Lord with a pure motive to honor him?
This does not answer all the questions that may be raised about these verses, but my desire is that we stop playing games with God and begin to get serious about our spiritual state. I think that when we appear before the Lord and he ‘wipes away all tears’, I believe the tears will be tears of sorrow, regret and shame that we did not do all that we could and should have done for the Kingdom while alive on earth. All that we have and all that we have done will seem insignificant as we stand in His presence.

These words on Ecclesiastes are from my heart; they are in no way complete or perfect. I trust that the reader will have received some instruction from this difficult book along with a blessing or two and that your own study of the Word will be enhanced and encouraged.
May the blessing of the Lord be with you.this old house

May I add one thing to this chapter. Some liken the description of the ailments of old age to an old house falling apart. Following is the song written by Stuart Hamblen in 1954 which he named “This Ole House”. Note how it fits someone who is becoming decrepit.

“This ole house once knew his children This ole house once knew his wife. This ole house was home and comfort as they fought the storms of life. This old house once rang with laughter This old house heard many shouts Now he trembles in the darkness when the lightnin’ walks about.

Chorus: Ain’t a-gonna need this house no longer Ain’t a-gonna need this house no more Ain’t got time to fix the shingles Ain’t got time to fix the floor Ain’t got time to oil the hinges Nor to mend the windowpane Ain’t a-gonna need this house no longer He’s a-getting’ ready to meet the saints.

This ole house is a-gettin’ shaky This ole house is a-getting’ old This ole house lets in the rain This ole house lets in the cold On his knees I’m getting’ chilly But he feel no fear nor pain ‘Cause he see an angel peekin’ Through a broken windowpane.

This ole house is afraid of thunder This ole house is afraid of storms This ole house just groans and trembles When the night wind flings its arms This ole house is getting’ feeble This old house is needin’ paint Just like him it’s tuckered out But he’s a-gettin’ ready to meet the saints.”

I just thought many of you would appreciate the subtle (or not so subtle) truth of this old classic.

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Ecclesiastes Chapter Eleven

Copy right to the author-Posted with his permission Gene Whittum

Gene Whittum

How does one get through life when very little is guaranteed? Solomon has been telling us that the one thing that is guaranteed, is death. And after death, there is a judgment. He also talks about the God who is above the sun and that He is able to give wisdom in this “meaningless” life we experience. He never leaves us in a deplorable condition, but tells us that the hand of God is with us (2:24-26) and that we can distinguish ourselves from the “sinner” by being fulfilled and happy in life.

He also tells us that we will have difficulty understanding the providence of God and how to navigate the circumstances we may find ourselves in. In chapter ten he advises being industrious and involved in all of life. We are here, so let’s make the best of life in the confidence that God will provide strength and wisdom for all that we do. Discouragement is a course of little resistance and must not be the pattern of one’s life.

Chapter eleven continues the proverbial pattern of ten but without the pressure and involvement of the government, fools and their foolishness. It starts out with a perplexing verse which reads: “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.” Solomon’s intellect doesn’t reduce this to feeding the ducks on the pond. A better rendering reads: “Send your grain overseas, for after many days you will get a return.” (The NET Bible, LXX, NEB et al). Solomon was in the maritime business as well as many other trades. First Kings 9:26 tells us that he “also built ships” and sent them out. His businesses encompassed everything from agriculture to gold.

Further advice is given in verse two: “Divide your merchandise among seven or eight investments, for you do not know what calamity may happen on earth.” (NET Bible) What he is saying is comparable to one of our common sayings of “do not put all your eggs in one basket”. Diversity of capital is being advised here since we cannot predict what will happen in the future. Common sense is the issue, just as in chapter ten. Again, there is no assurance given that anything we do will succeed. We do have to deal with those above us, all around us, and those below us. Much of the Bible deals with money. The admonition in James 4:17 can be applied here.

uncertainityThe next few verses reflect the same uncertainty of life. We do not know when certain things will occur in our individual journeys through life. Solomon is approaching the end of his journal and the conclusion that judgment and death is certain so we are admonished to “remember your Creator . . .” With all the uncertainties of life, our attention to the details of life are important. The phrase “you do not know” is pertinent to the passage and is further warning to us to be observant, diligent and wise.

The fall of rain drenching the earth is inevitable. But when will it rain? When will the tree fall? When it falls, it will be a random act of nature—unchangeable and final. If we are inordinately fixated on trying to predict future events, we may never get anything done. Clouds come and go; the wind is fickle. We cannot control either and we can only live with the effects. Solomon lived in an agricultural society and the wind and rain could be beneficial or contrary. Also, being overly cautious may be hazardous to what we are trying to accomplish in this life. Sometimes nothing appears to be “safe”, but we cannot stand around and do nothing.

Verse five repeats the phrase “as you do not know . . .” This passage extends the analogy of the wind and rain to the development of a fetus in a mother’s womb. We must learn to deal with what actually is and at the same time, learn to live with it. It is God who makes everything.

Verse five is a difficult verse. Verse four talks about the wind, which is literal. “Wind” can also be translated “spirit” and mean something entirely different. Craig Bartholomew translates is thus: “Just as you do not know the way of the spirit (in) the limbs in the mother’s womb, so you do not know the work of God, who does all things” (page 337). Psalm 139:13-16 speaks about a child in the womb—“I am fearfully and wonderfully made . . .” The Psalmist lends credence to the interpretation of “wind” to read “spirit”. How does the life breath of the mother pass into the life of the infant inside her?

(With all of the modern wonders in the science of reproduction, we must still stand amazed at the development of a child in the womb. We do not know the character of the child, the health, the intellect, the future, and a host of other issues about the child, but we know the Creator. The beauty and wonder of the formation of a human being makes the problem of abortion all the more hideous and evil).
Whatever interpretation one takes, the idea of uncertainty in the passage is the same. The conclusion is also the same—that God is the Maker of all things and our faith and trust in Him must be grounded in His Sovereignty. We are to find our meaning of life in the knowledge that He is true and good—not always safe, but good. We do not always know how He works, or why. He does not always reveal the details to us. If He did, we would no longer need faith.

Verse six continues the theme of uncertainty and diligence. Since we do not know, we must be watchful of what we do and plan and expect. It is like the return of Christ; we do not know when it will occur, but we are enjoined to be vigilant. I John 3:3 says “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he (Christ) is pure.” In this verse, all of life comes into its sphere. Both morning and evening are in view here and “you do not know” whether success or failure will follow. We find, however, in the mercy and grace of God, that much of what we do is good. A song I love repeats the phrase “fear not tomorrow, God is already there.”

In verse seven, Solomon begins the conclusion to his “journal” of life. We noted earlier that the colors of his diary began with very dark colors (chapter one), but as he poked holes in the “canopy” under the sun, he began to reveal the God Who is above the sun. While life was “meaningless”, his perspective of existence was to enjoy all that God had provided; he ultimately saw God as Providential in the life we live.

Here, he notes that “Light is sweet, and it pleases the eyes to see the sun.” It is as if he had been feeling his way through life with scales on his eyes that gradually fell off to allow him to see life clearly. He does not deny that there will always be dark days, but the apparent absurdity, complexity and paradoxes of life will always have a silver lining when one acknowledges the attendance of God to all of our pilgrim experiences. The ultimate “dark day”, the day of death, it ahead of all who walk the face of the earth.

He has learned that the journey is serious and fraught with dangers, but it will be rivaled with great joy and gladness and peace of mind. Verse 8 tells us: “However many years a man may live, let him enjoy them all. But (a conjunction of contrast—a warning and caution) let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many. Everything to come is meaningless.” If we do not face these facts, we will be fragmented by it all. (A better translation of the last phrase would be “all that is about to come is obscure”, not “meaningless”. It harks back to the idea of the uncertainty of life spoken of earlier.)

The Teacher has brought us along through many experiences of living and much admonition. The peril of it all is if we do not heed what he has been saying, our final conclusion will be that “everything to come is obscure,” (NET) or “nothingness” (Jewish Study Bible). To not learn the lessons of life is risky.

This section of the discourse involves one’s youth and its demise all in a few verses. His caution spans the whole of one’s life, and gives a final counsel to enjoy life but be aware of the pitfalls because there will be a judgment of all activity. Hidden behind all this admonition would be his teaching that one must pursue godliness in all of one’s endeavors.

Quoting from the NET (New English Translation) we read: (Verses 9-10) “Rejoice, young man, while you are young, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Follow the impulses of your heart and the desires’ of your eyes, but know that God will judge your motives and actions. (10) Banish emotional stress from your mind, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the prime of life are fleeting.”

The passage is one of mixed feelings and emotions; of good news/bad news; joy and sorrow; rejoicing and dismay; expectancy and disappointment—an entire gamut of the emotions of one’s biography. Where does one go for solace after the course of life has been run? After everything has been said and done, what is there, by way of substance, left? Everything tangible will be left; everything insubstantial must be sent on ahead to the care of our Redeemer. Rewards for our activity will be given out by the One Whom we have honored with our lives.

A poem by William Laud expresses it well:

“Grant, O Lord, that we may live in thy fear, die in thy favor, rest in thy peace, rise in thy power, reign in thy glory; for thine own beloved Son’s sake, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Also, I Cor. 15:54 & 58: “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ (58) Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
We must all carefully evaluate our own lives, not someone else’s. Do you ever wonder where all the past years have gone? What was accomplished? Was it worth the effort? Time can be a friend or an enemy. It is what we do with it that gives it value. I’m afraid there will be many who will go into eternity with great fear of what it holds for them. That need not be the case because provision has been made for us all—it is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who both left us an example, and provided and escape for all who would confess Him.

Ecclesiastes Chapter Six

Copy right to the author-Posted with his permission Gene Whittum

Copy right to the author-Posted with his permission
Gene Whittum

Solomon continues his discourse concerning money and, again, calls it an “evil under the sun”. However, he progresses from a deep love of money to some of the hazards of actually having a substantial amount of it. At the end of chapter five, he noted that when God gives wealth, the riches are able to be enjoyed because God “enables him to enjoy” wealth and to have “gladness of heart”.

In this whole discussion, it is easy to conclude that God is arbitrary in His dealings with mankind. We must not act as if God is not in control or that He plays favorites. To “remember your creator in the days of your youth” implies that there have been lessons learned along the way that govern ones worship and appreciation of God’s provisions. The latter chapters of the Book of Job illustrate that no matter how “blameless and upright” a man may be, (Job 1:2) time and circumstances often blunt ones memory of better days. It is always critical to keep a close connection to the God Who is above the sun.

Enjoyment of God is the highest goal to be sought. Apart from that principle, there is very little that will satisfy mankind to any extent. God’s plans extend to every member of the human race and unless, and until we embrace that idea and treat it as a trust, we will not enjoy it to the fullest degree.underthesun

The man in 6:1 lacks nothing, yet the “evil under the sun” weighs heavily on him. The fault does not lie with
God. The man is unable to enjoy the bounties of the Creator simply because he approaches all of life from
a humanistic or secular mindset. A “grievous evil” implies and includes burdensome, turbulence and an
uneasy commotion of the mind which can include anger and grief. How sorrowful is such a condition in the
human psyche.

No one knew better the potential evils associated with money than Solomon. To the unprepared, it can be easy come, easy go. Success and affluence are not always beneficial. The next few verses twice mention the failure and inability to enjoy prosperity. On the other hand misfortune, grief and sorrow cannot always be considered malevolent. A man must not be judged by the outward affairs of his life.

The next few verses mention long life with many children, the honor afforded men of distinction, wealth and much evidence that one should be content with that kind of life. Children, in the ancient world, were considered great blessings along with the other signs of well being mentioned. A “proper burial” was also a mark respectability and honor.

If one has all of that, yet cannot enjoy it, he is compared to a stillborn baby that “comes without meaning and departs in darkness.” This comparison underscores the condition of the “grievous evil” spoken of earlier. It emphasizes his emotional and mental plight and in Solomonic analysis of the circumstance, he once again states that there is no enjoyment and that, in the end, we all are destined for the grave. Such is the tragedy of the man who has it all but remains “under the sun”.
Sadly, all of the significance of life is lost to the one who persists in living a secular life apart from the Giver of life—the Lord Jesus Christ. It is He who imparts life and gives it meaning and definition and purpose. It is not easy to fully describe the immense loss of enjoyment and reward to a person who lives only for the moment. The challenge is to “be everlastingly at it”–the enjoyment of God’s provisions.

Other passages in the wisdom literature of the Bible echo the sentiments of chapter six. Job, chapter thirty four, is part of a dissertation by Elihu who was present with Jobs three friends when they sought to condemn Job by stating (in several chapters) that the reason Job suffered was because he had some secret sin. The chapter is a powerful refutation of the three men but still not a vindication of Job, who had defended himself. However, in the final analysis by God, Job acknowledged the complete Sovereignty of the Almighty. It is a fascinating book.

Psalm 10 also illustrates the condition of the men who cannot see the God above the sun and wonders about the sinner’s condition until verse 14 when he, the author of the Psalm, says: “But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless”. Psalm 73 also illustrates the same questions that faced Solomon and in every case and situation, the Lord is with those who suffer the “grievous evil” of Ecclesiastes six and vindicates the one who trusts in God. Hebrews 13:5 (quoting Deut. 31:6) states: “I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. (I will) not, (I will) not, (I will) not in any degree leave you helpless, nor forsake nor let (you) down, (relax My hold on you), Assuredly not!”  (from the Amplified New Testament). The Greek has six negatives, which means “I will never, never, never, never, never, never leave you nor forsake you”, which is a rather powerful promise to the believer. (See Joshua 1:5)never

So, how does a man cope with life? He is either a believer or an unbeliever. However, the circumstances of both may be quite similar even though one may have riches and the other in poverty. Verse seven states: “All man’s efforts are for his mouth, yet his appetite (gullet) is never satisfied.” The “mouth” is the entrance for all that goes into his stomach which, ultimately, is to be satisfied with food. It is an analogy to a man’s labor which is constantly directed at his voracious appetite for the good things of life.

The question is asked: “What advantage has a wise man over a fool?” The next question: “What does a poor man gain by knowing how to conduct himself before others?” Whether a man is rich, poor, wise, or a fool, he cannot appease his craving on his own. “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21b).

Interesting side note a information souirce of Ecclesiastes and Job [added by this web editor]: http://carm.org/bible-difficulties/job-song-solomon/do-job-121-and-ecc-515-teach-reincarnation

The mouth represents the basic things of life and we all work to provide the essentials of existence. The appetite is the soul, or the physical portion of our being. We get up to go to work to get food to keep us going, and round and round. We often live on a treadmill. However, there is more to life—there is a spiritual side that also needs to be fed. God knows the beginning and end of life and has made adequate provision for our relationship and communion with Him. He is stronger than we are and we must trust that He will do right for us. Life is a trust that we, as mortals, cannot afford to violate. God is the Master of our lives and has given us the capacity to enjoy life; it is more than just “chasing after wind.”

The pauper learns how to get along in life. He can window shop and dream of achieving, but all his fantasies and illusions are just that—they are “meaningless and a chasing after wind”. It is the same with the rich man who may build bigger and better barns but true happiness and pleasure evade him. All men may dream, but dreams are not reality, nor can dreams create anything material or psychological to satisfy the fancies of life. Our estimates and interpretations of life must be biblical.

Solomon now, verse ten, introduces the Law of God and how it works and applies to man’s existence under the sun. Verses 10-12 seem to reflect the experience of Job and amplify the mysteries of life. Who knows what will happen tomorrow? Chapter seven and verses 13-14 ask the same question: “Who can straighten what he (God) has made crooked?” It is kind of “go with the flow”. Chapter nine, verse one ponders the same question: “. . . no man knows whether love or hate awaits him.” We do not know the future.

Life has many troublesome questions. We can debate what befalls us (as Job did with his friends), but in the final analysis, God has the final word (as indicated in Job 38-41). Life is often an argument with God, nevertheless, God is unalterable and the more we argue and talk, the emptier and more unsatisfactory we become. We all have severe restraints and our best attempts fall woefully short. The world does not have the power to satisfy or provide happiness—only emptiness and continuing wonder. The wisdom literature admonishes us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning (chief part) of wisdom”.

In this mystery of life and our quandary about it, we often remain skeptical that God really cares. Isaiah puts it succinctly in 49:15: “Can a mother forget her baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” The answer to the question in verse 12 is that no one “can tell him what will happen under the sun after he is gone.” All accounts must be settled in this life, short as it may be.

The question “what is good” is answered in chapter seven. Solomon gives a series of proverbs in which he provides the answer to what is “good” or “better”. These proverbs show that there are many things that are more profitable than prosperity, fame or authority. So, verse twelve is not the climax to Solomon’s quest to find answers to the question of how to act and respond to “what will happen under the sun” when we are all gone. The ultimate answer is to look “above the sun” where God dwells.

 

ECCLESIASTES – Chapter Four

Copy right to the author-Posted with his permission Gene Whittum

Copy right to the author-Posted with his permission
Gene Whittum

Chapter three began with the idea that there can be a purpose in life but also tells us that after we have been born, there is a time to die. Following that declaration, there follows a litany of seemingly opposite accounts of issues that face most of us, and it goes back and forth from one kind of action to another so that we realize that even the most brilliant (as Solomon) do not have a perpetual single episode in life that can confine us to boredom. Who would want a perpetual stay in the hospital or a continuous Spring or Winter?

This movement to and fro is “better” (a word he uses some twenty-three times in different ways) then the endless circling of chapter one. However, it does have some unsettling implications for life. Some- times we must dance to a tune that we do not like. Someone else may call for a song we do not know or recognize.

For the believer, all of life’s experiences can have meaning, purpose and will define life. The guy next door may sing a tune or dance or have an experience, but for him it will be meaningless because he is living life “under the sun”. His life offers no final fulfillment even though he may be enjoying his activity while “going in circles”.

A time for this and a time for that may become oppressive if what he pursues has no permanence. Our responses to life may be no freer than our responses to the weather. How freely can we choose what happens to us? Our choices and their ultimate satisfaction must be related to the One “above the sun” in order to not be oppressive.

Sometimes we have very little to say in the circumstances which tend to move us to laugh or cry or to mourn or dance. We may tend to try to find reality in a realm beyond the constant change we face.underthesun

That is the position the author finds himself in chapter four. “Again, I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun.” (Verse 1) Life is harsh no matter where we see it. His complaints of “I saw” (used four times here) seem to threaten the Sovereignty of God. Isn’t there anything God can do to alleviate to oppression and the oppressors? Is the Sovereign God, whom he admonishes us to “remember” in our youth, powerless to end earthly rivalries, hardships, conflicts and isolation? (Chapter 12:1)

Is our experience to be that of Job who was condemned by his friends? Is our righteousness meaningless also? The scenarios in chapter four outline many of the things each member of the human race faces in the quest for happiness and satisfaction. It all seems to work against us. He gives some solutions but they appear quite inadequate to satisfy us in our quest for safety and happiness. In the end, death seems to be the only solution to life’s enigmas.

In this section of his journal (3:16-4:12), Solomon notes that there is wickedness in the courts (3:16-17); men and beasts all die alike (3:18-21); men are oppressed (4:1-3); men are contentious (4:4-6); men are isolated (4:7-12); and popularity and fame are tenuous at best and one can ‘go down’ faster than one can ‘rise to the top’ (4:13-16).

The hint in verse 5 that to drop out is a solution is quickly assuaged (softened) by the mention that to do so is to think and act as a fool. His “better” solutions in the passage do not, mostly, appear to be much different in the final analysis. The entire text of chapter 4 fails to poke any holes in the canopy “under the sun” in order to display any presence of a God above the sun.

The truths, suggestions and advice of the chapter fail to offer any satisfaction at these different levels. If any of them offered even a minimal amount of gratification, none of them would survive the acid trial of death. Even the “better” solutions offer nothing but meaninglessness (verses 4,7,8 and 16).

In spite of all the advantages of the 21st century, we still live in a society that is filled with sorrow and pain and suffering. The ancients did not have near the conveniences and comforts that we enjoy. The question so often raise: “How can there be a (good) God with all this going on?” It is one of the oldest questions the skeptics raise.

It is no accident that Jesus was called a “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief”. When God sent His Son into the world, He sent Him to those who were lost; those who were in pain; those who were suffering. We have been redeemed to minister to those people and we have been ordained as priests before God. We must not forget that the very road to our redemption was the “via de la rosa”, the way of sorrows that our Savior walked to redeem us.

We all have a measure of sorrow and tribulation but God has ordained that we enjoy what we receive from Him. We are not to look for or exalt sorrow, or make it meritorious, but we are to minister to it. We are to acknowledge the ultimate victory of Jesus over death, sorrow, sin and grief.courage

Jesus said: “Be of good courage, for I have overcome the world.” That is not blind courage, He gives us a reason for our joy and we can recommend His salvation to the whole world without hesitation, doubt or apology. It is not just one of many remedies, it is the only remedy for sin, sorrow and suffering.