Observe: Ecclesiastes 7-12
The seventh chapter of Ecclesiastes is a contrast between wisdom and folly and indicates that wisdom is good with an inheritance and a protection. It acknowledges that God is in charge of both the day of prosperity and the day of adversity, and laments the fact that the wicked flourish while the righteous suffer.
Chapter eight gives a subtle allusion to Moses having had a face that shone after speaking with God, saying “A man’s wisdom makes his face shine, and the hardness of his face is changed.” There is an assurance here that those who fear God will ultimately do well, even though the evil person does well for a time yet has to one day stand before Him.
The author then goes on in the ninth chapter, encouraging the reader to eat bread and drink wine and enjoy a merry heart since there is none of this in Sheol: our destination if we live for ourselves and do not fear God or seek His wisdom. This is followed by the assertion that wisdom is better than might or power or riches or the strength of youth, that indeed wisdom once saved a besieged city which thought itself great.
The last chapter comes to a rough conclusion in an aside to the reader, saying “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”
Plato once famously wrote “The unexamined life is not worth living,” to which Kurt Vonnegut wittily replied “Plato says that the unexamined life is not worth living. But what if the examined life turns out to be a clunker as well?”
Ecclesiastes does exactly that: beginning with an exhaustive search and examination of all of life’s qualities and trials, it threatens to conclude that all of man’s toiling and struggle and pursuit of wealth and fame is “vapour,” a mist that vanishes. This book portrays the very real frustration facing those who try and find meaning in the work of their hands or their riches and power, as Dave pointed out the other day.
There are some key developments in the author’s thinking around chapters seven to twelve as he slowly start to drive home the truth that to seek and fear God is the duty of mankind, the only worthwhile pursuit under the sun. The final chapter begins with an exhortation to “remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them,” … and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who have it.”
There is a sense of acceptance in the last two verses which I quoted in the above section – a bowing of the head and bending of the knee to the truth that, after all has been said and done, we must all “fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”
Take a moment to picture Solomon, whose words this book is based around. He was the wisest of the wise, the richest of the rich, had one thousand wives, and was the king of Israel, God’s chosen people, yet he was in a major crisis. It was clear that he was granted the fulfilment of every human earthly desire, however it was not enough to satisfy his very soul. Nor could it. If we approach this problem from a logical perspective, it is clear our immaterial souls can never be satisfied by material goods. C.S. Lewis puts it more succinctly (obviously): “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
Ecclesiastes, therefore, shines a light on the foolishness of those who would try to replace God Almighty with anything under the sun. Jesus Christ summed it all up when, in the Gospel of Matthew, He was asked what the most important commandment was – so let us go forth with these words written on our hearts and minds: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
If I might add a personal note here, if you have heard my testimony, you’ll know I came to a very similar place as this Teacher in Ecclesiastes. I found that nothing really mattered. I was at the end of myself, the end of my abilities, and was shown the fruit of my life being lived selfishly. In the face of such futility, and to cut a long story short, the only, and I mean the only way for my life to have any meaning whatsoever is to give it to God for Him to do with it as He pleases.
If we could apply Ecclesiastes in any way, and if my former dire situation could serve as any help at all, let us not come to a breaking point before we decide to put Jesus first and foremost in our hearts and minds. Let us not put Him on a shelf as we pursue other things. Let us not ignore Him as a task or a burden but let us run to Him as the giver of life and love and light and meaning! Do not wait! Take time each day in prayer before Him and allow His loving presence to guide you on – for nothing done for Him is ever meaningless!
Lord Jesus, thank you for bringing us out of darkness and into your marvelous light. Thank you for putting your Holy Spirit in us so that we might please you and grow as your sons and daughters. Thank you especially for making a way when there was no way and for running to us while we were still a long way off! We pray that you might convict and guide us if we have put anything above you in our lives and hearts. Teach us to put you first and to live that out, so that others may see that we live and work not in futility or darkness, but for our Good and Loving Father whose return we anxiously await. Amen!
Song: Pat Barrett - Build My Life (feat. Chris Tomlin)
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.