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Ecclesiastes 6-12

HOW TO LIVE A FULL LIFE IN AN EMPTY WORLD
(ECCLESIASTES 6:10-12:14)

by LARRY CORY

 

A SUMMARY OF THE MESSAGE OF
ECCLESIASTES

 

Life – God = Emptiness?  Life + God = Fullness!!

 

Life – God = emptiness (1:1-2:23)

Life + God = Fullness! (2:24-3:22) (God adds His enjoyment, proper timing, eternity, and purpose to our lives.)

Life + sin = misery (4:1-5:9)

Riches – God = emptiness (5:10-6:9)

How to live a full life in an empty world (6:10-12:7)

1. Choose humility (6:10-12)
2. Choose sobriety over frivolity (7:1-6)
3. Choose patient endurance (7:7-10)
4. Choose wisdom over money (7:11,12)
5. Choose contentment (7:13-14)
6. Choose the fear of God (7:15-18)
7. Choose the wisdom that gives power (7:19-22)
8. Choose the wisdom that will humble you (7:23-24)
9. Choose the wisdom that will watch over you (7:25-26)
10. Choose the wisdom that will replace disappointment with joy(7:27-8:1)
11. Choose a wise response to those in authority (8:2-17)
12. Choose a God-fearing approach to the future (9:1-10:3)
13. Choose to keep your composure when ruled over by the foolish (10:4-20)
14. Choose a life of service (11:1-6)
15. Choose to live life to the full (11:7-12:7)

CONCLUSION

1. Life is meaningless if all there is to life is to grow old (12:8)
2. But, Solomon has much more to offer us (12:9-14)

 

INTRODUCTORY INFORMATION ABOUT EPHESIANS

1. The author:  Solomon or………?

a. Qoholeth means someone who gathers or assembles.  In the Septuagint it is translated ecclesiastes, which became the title of the book. It is the Greek word for "church"—it describes those who have been called out or those who have assembled. The NIV translates this word as "the Teachers"— some-one who gathers people together to speak to them or to teach them.

b. Arguments that Solomon was the author (my choice):

(1) The author refers to himself as the "son of David, King of Jerusalem."  After Solomon, the nation of Israel was divided into Israel and Judah.  Only the southern Kingdom of Judah had its throne in Jerusalem.  So, it would appear that the author was Solomon, for the only son of David who ruled in Jerusalem was David's son Solomon.

(2) The author's description of himself also fits Solomon: a man of great wisdom (Eccl 1:16 & I Kings 3:12); a man of great wealth (Eccl 2:4-10 & I Kings 10:14-29; II Chron. 9:13-27); a great builder (Eccl 2:4-6 & I Kings 10:14-29); and a man who wrote many proverbs (Eccl 12:9 & I Kings 4:32; the book of Proverbs - Prov 1:1).  Compare also Eccl 7:20 & I Kings 8:46).  Certainly, the Bible does not describe another son of David who was King in Jerusalem and who matches Solomon's wisdom, wealth, building prowess, and who was known for writing Proverbs.  Again, the only one we know of who fits these descriptions is Solomon.

(3) Jewish and Christian tradition says that Solomon was the author.

c. Arguments that Solomon was not the author.

(1) There is no Biblical record that Solomon repented at the end of his life (unless, of course, Ecclesiastes is that record).

(2) The description of governmental corruption does not fit Solomon's reign of peace and prosperity (I Kings 4:20, 25), but better describes Israel in the time of the prophet Malachi (Eccl 7:10 & Mal 2:17, 3:13-15; Eccl 8:9 & Nehemiah 5:15; Eccl 5:1,5-6 & Mal 1:8,14)  See also Eccl 4:1-4, 5:7,8, 8:1-4,10, 10:5-7, 20.  Also he speaks like one who is not the king – 4:1-2, 5:8-9, 8:2-4, 10:20.

In Ecclesiastes 1:12 the author says that he "was king over Israel in Jerusalem," implying that he was no longer king when he wrote Ecclesiastes (It can, though, describe someone who was king and continued to be king).

Leupold believes that the author is someone at a later time (600 yrs after Solomon) who, as a literary device, impersonates Solomon.

2. The date:  Solomon appears to have written this later in his life: after he tried unsuccessfully to find meaning and happiness from what was bountifully made available to him by God.  In Ecclesiastes he describes what happens to man when he grows old.  It seems to be likely that Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes when he was already personally experiencing the old age that he describes in chapter twelve.

3. The purpose:  He appears to have written the book so that we can learn from his experience—that all that the world offers will not satisfy us.  He learned this lesson from personal experience.  The wise are those who take to heart his words and do not have to learn this lesson in the hard school of life.  Fools are those who learn everything the hard way.

2. The theme:  Some believe that Ecclesiastes is primarily a pessimistic book; demonstrating that life without God is devoid of meaning and satisfaction.  But, the purpose of the book is not merely to show us that life without God is empty, but, more importantly, its ultimate purpose is to show us that even a simple life with God is meaningful and satisfying.  The title given to this study summarizes the theme of the book: How to find a full and meaningful life in an empty world.

a. In the epilogue (12:9-14), the author states that his purpose was not to show that life has no meaning (nihilism), but to show that only by fearing God will man find a life that has meaning: "Fear God and keep his commandments for this is the whole [duty] of man." (12:13b)

b. 12:13 – "the sum of the matter" is the purpose of the book: to show that a simple life with the fear of God will fulfill us.

c. The "one Shepherd" in 12:11 who gives these words of wisdom is God.

d. Is there one theme in Ecclesiastes?  At least we know that all of the words
Ecclesiastes lead to the one conclusion that is given in 12:9-14.  Also, someone who thought so deeply about the meaning of life, certainly also must have thought deeply about the plan and order of his book of Ecclesiastes.

e. The repetition of the "life under the sun" (29 times) is Solomon's description of seeking to live a full life apart from considering the God who is above the sun.  His conclusion is that life without including God is "Meaningless!  Meaningless!" (1:2) (37 times in Ecclesiastes) (1:2,14,2:1,11, 17,19,21,23,26,3:19, 4:4,7-8,16, 5:10, 6:2,9,11-12, 7:6, 8:10,14, 9:9, 11:8, 12:8)

f. His conclusion is that life – God = emptiness, and life + God = fullness! He describes how we can find a full life in an empty world!

 

THE MESSAGE OF ECCLESIASTES

The theme of Ecclesiastes can be put into the following two mathematical formulas:  Life – God = Emptiness; Life + God = Fullness!!  Someone has said that the poor have it better off than the rich, for they still think that riches will satisfy.  The rich, like Solomon, have learned that riches are not enough to fill up the emptiness inside of us.  Solomon tells us what life "under the sun" has to offer us.  Life "under the sun" describes seeking to find happiness only by seeking that happiness "under the sun"—without seeking to find happiness in a relationship with the One who is above the sun and who created all of this that we see all around us.  Let us gain wisdom from Solomon who tried it all and found emptiness along with it all; but who also found what eternally satisfies.  May we learn from him and his book, so that we will not also need to spend our whole lives learning a lesson that we can learn from reading and heeding his words.  In the earlier chapters, Solomon establishes that we live in an empty world; the majority of this portion of Ecclesiastes focuses on how to live a full life in this empty world!

HOW TO LIVE A FULL LIFE IN AN EMPTY WORLD (6:10-12:7)
1. Choose humility. (6:10-12)
"Whatever exists has already been named, and what man is has been known; no man can contend with one who is stronger than he.  The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone?  For who knows what is good for a man in life, during the few and meaningless days he passes through like a shadow? Who can tell him what will happen under the sun after he is gone?"

Thought Question:  What do you believe is the wise message of these verses?

 

 

a. Face reality, for we cannot change the way things are, nor can we argue successfully with God. (6:10)
"Whatever exists has already been named, and what man is has been known; no man can contend with one who is stronger than he."

One direction that our society is moving toward is the elevation of man and the elimination of God.  In Psalm 2, we discover what God thinks about this humanistic trend toward declaring God dead:  "The one enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them." (Psalm 2:4)

There are those who choose to break the law for a living.  They shake their fist in defiance against the system of law.  Ultimately, the great majority of these law-breakers stand before a judge for their foolish and arrogant choices.  The highest foolishness and arrogance is to defiantly shake our fists at God.  In the book of Revelation, the Antichrist and his people have their day for a while.  But, from heaven, the Almighty One waits for His day!

In light of the reality that Almighty God always observes us, we should humbly choose not to contend with Him.  Instead of coming up with our cleverly and personally designed plan for our life, we should humbly seek His plan for our life—the plan that has already been designed and "named" by God.  The following illustration explains this teaching of Solomon.  We cannot defy the law of gravity; we instead need to work with it.  So, also, it is foolish to choose to ignore God's commands and His instructions; instead, we need to work with them.  One more illustration will further help us to grasp Solomon's teaching.  The successful farmer learns to work with the seasons that God has ordained to occur on earth, rather than foolishly ignoring them.  The wise man, then, learns God's ways so that his life will experience God's blessing.  The foolish man feels like he can make his own rules and do it his way.  He is foolish, for "no man can contend with one who is stronger than he."

b. Many words do not change reality. (6:11)
"The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone?"

Solomon describes a typical pattern that we all tend toward.  We begin to justify and intellectualize when we are doing things our way and ignoring what God has to say.  But, our many words do not change a thing, we are still making bad choices and our attitude is still wrong.  Our many words do not change the reality of what we are doing.  Our many words only tire us out and cloud up everything.

c. Only God knows the meaning of life. (6:12)
"For who knows what is good for a man in life, during the few and meaningless days he passes through like a shadow? Who can tell him what will happen under the sun after he is gone?"

Humility will lead us to do what Solomon proposes here.  We need to acknowledge that we do not know it all.  God does; we do not.  God's Word provides us with God's guidelines for life.  Our daughter's favorite verses are Proverbs 3:5,6: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight."  Leaning not on our own understanding; but relying upon Him is the proper application of this verse in Ecclesiastes.  We do not know what the future holds, but God does!

2. Choose sobriety over frivolity. (7:1-6)
"A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth. It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure. It is better to heed a wise man’s rebuke than to listen to the song of fools. Like the crackling of thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of fools. This too is meaningless."

Thought Question #1:  Why do you believe he says that "the day of death better than the day of birth."?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Why do you believe he says it is "better to go to a house of mourning that to go to a house of feasting"?

 

 

Thought Question #3:  Why do you believe he says that, "It is better to heed a wise man’s rebuke than to listen to the song of fools."?

 

 

It seems like the first words of 7:1 do not fit the rest of the verse:  "A good name is better than fine perfume,"   Then, he says, "and the day of death better than the day of birth."  How do these two thoughts fit together?  Here, I believe, is the explanation.  A good name, at your death, is much more significant and lasting than a fine perfume that is beautiful for a short time, but then it is gone.

Ray Stedman points out that there is a play on words in the first part of verse one: "The Hebrew word for 'name' is shem and the Hebrew word for 'ointment' or 'perfume' is shemen.  The Searcher is saying that a good shem is better than precious shemen.  The Searcher declares that a good name is truly influential.  It is not like a perfume which does not last long (even if it is costly).  A good name endures."  "Taken from Is This All ThereIs to Life? by Ray Stedman.  Copyright 1985 by Multnoman Press."  As Stedman points out, any of us can develop a good name, even though we cannot afford expensive perfume.  See Proverbs 22:1

Notice the word "better" is used a number of times in these verses.  Solomon is speaking of what will best lead us to experiencing what life is all about.  During most of my college years I was not a Christian.  The focus of my heart was on my life in my college fraternity.  The focus of the fraternity was on our weekend parties.  In graduate school I became a Christian.  I went from thinking as little as possible about the meaning of life to thinking very deeply about the meaning of life.  I went from escaping reality to facing reality.  Which was better?  I have not gone back to the party life; I have chosen that which is better!

A few weeks ago a longtime friend died.  I knew him almost thirty years and he died at 52 years of age.  It was my privilege to officiate at his memorial service.  It was a time when those who attended thought deeply about the meaning of life.  It drew me closer to God and to our purpose on this earth.  By contrast, my fraternity parties left me empty.  And they grew emptier and emptier right up to the day I became a Christian.

The birth of a baby is a wonderful time.  But, Solomon says that "the day of death is better than the day of birth."  One commentator thought that Solomon was saying that the reason that "the day of death is better than the day of birth" is that the new baby still has to go through a tough time in this sin-infested world, but the person who dies goes to heaven.  His conclusion, though, does not fit the context of Solomon's line of reasoning.  Solomon is saying that it is at the death of someone that we think more about our purpose in life than at the birth of a child.  Which would be the best time to share the gospel, at the celebration of a new birth in the hospital or at a funeral of a friend who has just died?  We are more reflective at a funeral than at a birth.  Which place are we most able to talk about serious subjects such as the purpose of life?  The sharing by the friends of the person who died is some of the most reflecting thinking done on this earth.

As Solomon says in verse four, the wise are present at a funeral, but fools are interested only in shallow pleasure and fun.  The wise face death and the other sober realities of life like sin.  Fools avoid all that is not fun. See II Corinthians 6:10, 7:10; Matthew 5:4

Solomon concludes this section with these words:  "It is better to heed a wise man’s rebuke than to listen to the song of fools. Like the crackling of thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of fools. This too is meaningless."  People are more likely to listen "to the song of fools" than to "a wise man’s rebuke."  "The song of fools" tells us what we want to hear, and the rebuke of a wise man tells us what we do not want to hear, but what we need to hear.  There is a song titled, "I Did It My Way," and a line in another song that says, "It's my life and I'll do what I want."  These are the songs of fools.  The wise man would tell us by contrast, that we should stop doing things our way and begin to do things God's way!

In verse six, Solomon tells us why we should not listen to the song of a fool.  His words are "Like the crackling of thorns under the pot."  Thorns, at Solomon's time had very little value, but they could be burned to provide a quick, but short-lived, heat for cooking.  They made a lot of noise, but they only provided a little heat and were soon burned up and gone.  So, the songs of fools make a lot of noise, but provide nothing of lasting worth; whereas, the rebuke of a wise man can have lasting and even eternal value to those who benefit from it. See Proverbs 17:10

This quote from Robert Browning Hamilton is a good commentary on Solomon's words in these verses:
"I walked a mile with pleasure.
She chattered all the way,
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.
I walked a mile with sorrow,
And not a word said she;
But oh, the things I learned from her
When sorrow walked with me."

3. Choose patient endurance. (7:7-10)
"Extortion turns a wise man into a fool, and a bribe corrupts the heart. The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride. Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools. Do not say, 'Why were the old days better than these?' For it is not wise to ask such questions."

Thought Question #1:  What are some poor practices that Solomon warns us against in these verses?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Which of the poor practices that Solomon warns us against is one that you most need to work on not doing right now?

 

 

a. The proper response to waiting is patience; the improper response
is to try to hurry up things through bribery (7:7)
"Extortion turns a wise man into a fool, and a bribe corrupts the heart."

Even wise men can become fools if they lose their patience.  Two reasons a wise man may be tempted to lose his patience and give in to what is foolish are as follows: (1) We can become impatient and do what is foolish when someone is stealing or extorting money from us.  (2) We can also become impatient and choose that which is foolish when someone offers us money to do something illegal—when someone bribes us to do wrong.

"Extortion" occurs when we are being mistreated. James 5:1-12 describes the type of oppression that occurred in Bible times.  The people of those times were often paid after a day's work.  The workers often needed that money to get by for the next day.  The rich knew that there was little the poor could do to them if they chose not to pay them for their day's wage.  When this type of thing happened to them, and when it happens to us, it is easier for us to do something foolish than at other times; and it is difficult for us to be patient. See Habakkuk 2:6-8

 A "bribe" occurs when someone tries unfairly and even illegally to speed up or change the outcome of something in his favor.  It happens quite frequently in some countries.  In fact, in those countries, government officials expect to be bribed.  Once one begins to do this type of thing, as Solomon states, one's heart becomes corrupt.  Society's rules become something one can selfishly manipulate around for one's own selfish purposes.

How does this apply to our society?  We participate in this type of maneuver any time we do something that gets us around having to do what everyone is legally required to do.  An example of this type of behavior is taking a salary "under the table."  The government requires that taxes be paid on all income.  Someone offers to pay us without him recording the paperwork on our income and ultimately without us having to pay taxes on that income.  We need the money, so rather than trust God and do what is right, we take the money.  If we go along with this type of thing, we become corrupted by it.

Instead, we need to go through the legitimate process that the government requires that we do with all of its tedious aspects and with all of the time it takes.  If we do what is right, though, we will have resisted the temptation for easy money and we will continue in a wise lifestyle.

b. In our pride, we can think that we are too important to wait. (7:8)
"The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride."

Many of us can remember situations in our lives where we lost our patience and endurance.  One year out of seminary, my wife and I were house parents in a Christian Boys' Home.  The young men we worked with were very draining emotionally.  We usually worked five 24-hour days and had weekends off.  But, we came to a place where we were not able to get anyone to work for us on weekends.  At first, I was doing pretty well, just taking it a day at a time.  We got some relief each day when the boys either attended our on-campus school or went to the local public school.  But, one day I decided working seven days a week was unfair.  It went quickly down-hill from there.  My pride got in the way.  "Who were they to treat me like this?  What would have been much better is if I had remained patient to the end.  Then, it would have gone better and I would have felt much better in the end about my experience at the boys' home.  I did, however, learn a good lesson from that experience.  It became a reminder to me, whenever I consider losing my patience. See I peter 1:6-7; Hebrews 10:36; James 5:7-11

c. We can resent being made to wait. (7:9)
"Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools."

The section in Ecclesiastes that we are considering right now describes how to live godly and wise in a very imperfect world. There are many verses in the Bible that warn us not to quickly get angry. See Proverbs 10:19, 17:27, 20:23; James 1:19-20

d. We can complain about waiting. (7:10)
"Do not say, 'Why were the old days better than these?' For it is not wise to ask such questions."

Here we have what some today call getting on our pity pot: "Poor me, why isn't it wonderful like it was in the old days?"  The grass tends to be greener on the other side, and it also seems to have been greener in the past than it is today.  We tend to remember the good old times and push out of our memory what was unpleasant in those same "good old days."  As a result, we become despondent as we compare the past with the present, and go into a "poor me" depression.  Ray Stedman observes that our present days will some day be the "good old days."  As Solomon states here, it is not wise to do this type of thinking.  It is also not accurate thinking.

4. Choose wisdom over money. (7:11-12)
"Wisdom, like an inheritance, is a good thing and benefits those who see the sun. Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter, but the advantage of knowledge is this: that wisdom preserves the life of its possessor."

Thought Question:  Why do you believe that gaining wisdom is better than gaining a rich inheritance? (or do you believe it?)

 

 

Few people would reject the offer of an ample inheritance from a relative.  We all can easily see the value of money.  But, few recognize that gaining wisdom has more value than gaining money.

Both money and wisdom is of benefit to us.  Both also provide shelter for us.  But, as William MacDonald points out, whereas money can protect us in the financially and physically, wisdom protects us morally and spiritually.  Money cannot give us God's type of spiritual life; wisdom can give us this type of abundant life.  Therefore, wisdom has more value to us than money! See Proverbs 3:18, 8:11,34; Colossians 2:2-3, 3:16,20

5. Choose contentment whatever the circumstances. (7:13-14)
"Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what he has made crooked? When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future."

Thought Question #1:  What are some of the "crooked" things that are happening in your life right now?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Does Solomon's wisdom help you with these "crooked" things that are happening in your life right now?

 

 

The "crooked" are all the things in each of our lives that we do not like.  The snow storm with the blizzard winds that resulted in power outages throughout the region where I live that is taking place at the time that I am writing these words is part of the "crooked."  It is the new boss who is a bully.  It is the new tax on gasoline.  It is the demanding person who selfishly expects much from you and is resentful that you are not measuring up to his or her expectations; that person may even be a family member, co-worker, or even a fellow member of your church.  It is the sudden onset of an incurable illness.

What is Solomon's counsel?  Remember that God is the one who made it "crooked" for higher purposes than we can understand.  Also, we need to realize that we cannot straighten it out.  Listen to David's counsel:  "Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways when they carry out their wicked schemes.  Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret---it leads only to evil." (Psalm 37:7-8)  Listen to James' exhortation:  "Brothers as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.  As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered.  You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about.  The Lord is full of compassion and mercy." (James 5:10-11)  We are to be happy when times are good, but when it gets tough we need to realize that the bad times are also designed by God for our ultimate good.

Solomon is not talking here about a passive resignation to the difficulties of life.  Instead, he is speaking of actively choosing to believe that God is still in charge and still working good in what is unpleasant and difficult. See Romans 5:3-5, 8:18-21, 28; James 1:2-4; Hebrews 12:1-13

What does does Solomon mean by: "Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future."?  Within the context, it appears that Solomon is saying that we should recognize that we are not the master of our own fate.  It is as Isaiah states:  "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways…As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9)  We do not know how what is happening to us could possibly bring good results, but that is not our business.  The wise way for us to look at our troubles is leave the future in God's hands and to trust Him in the meantime.

6. Choose the fear of God. (7:15-18)
"In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: a righteous man perishing in his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his wickedness.  Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise— why destroy yourself?  Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool— why die before your time? It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all [extremes]."

Thought Question #1:  What do you think Solomon means by: "Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  How can we as Christians avoid the two extremes and neither be "overrighteous" and "overwise" nor "overwicked" and a "fool"?

 

 

Most of us have been surprised what happens to some people that we have known.  For example, I know of men of God that I have respected who have died at an early age.  The obvious question: "Why did not God who is the Sovereign Ruler of the universe arrange it so that these who were shining lights for Him live long lives and be used even more for His purposes?"  On the other hand, I have also known of ungodly men who have lived long lives and who continued to promote their wickedness throughout their lives. What Solomon describes, though, is not always the case and not even usually the case.  See Psalm 55:23; Proverbs 10:27, 23:18-21; Ecclesiastes 8:15

What, then, is Solomon's conclusion?  He starts out by saying: "Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise— why destroy yourself?"  How can we be "overrighteous" or "overwise"?  There have been some obvious examples of this type of thing.  These perverted extremes result in someone actually being neither truly righteous nor wise.  The "righteous" Pharisees of Jesus' time looked down at others whom they believed were not as righteous as they were. See Luke 18:9-12  See also Romans 2:17-24  Another example of being "overrigtheous" are the monks, Roman Catholic nuns, and  Roman Catholic priests. See Romans 10:2-4  They are "overrighteous" because they deprive themselves, when God does not want them to deprive themselves. We have seen some tragic results of seeking to be "overrighteous" by the sins that have become public recently of some Roman Catholic priests. See I Timothy 4:1-5

Walter Kaiser describes how distasteful it is to be "overrighteous" or "overwise" in the following words:  "The danger is men might delude themselves and others through a multiplicity of pseudoreligious acts of sanctimoniousness; ostentatious showmanship in the art of worship; a spirit of hypercriticism against minor deviations from one's own cultural norms, which are equated with God's righteousness; and disgusting conceit and supercilious, holier-than-thou attitude veneered over the whole mess."  "Taken from Ecclesiastes Total Life by Walter Kaiser.  Copyright 1979 by Moody Press."In Proverbs 3:7, Solomon expresses being "overwise" as being "wise in your own eyes." 

Extreme righteousness leads to a false righteousness.  But, Solomon quickly says that the opposite also is not the way to live:  "Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool— why die before your time?"  The Gnostics of New Testament times and beyond fell into both of these two extremes.  Some were like the monks and were "overrighteous" and others felt that they could sin in fleshly ways all they wanted for it would not affect the spiritual side of them.  It appears that Solomon is describing the difference between legalism and sinful license.  The life of grace leads to one humbly relying upon God's wisdom and strength to obey God resulting in a true righteousness that comes from God.  This type of life is neither legalism nor is it sinful license.  It is not "overrighteous" nor is it "overwise;" neither is it "overwicked," nor is it foolish.  It is not sinful self-righteousness nor is it sinful unrighteousness.  Solomon also points out that unrestrained sinfulness often leads to an early death.

Solomon concludes this section with what will enable us not to go to either extreme:  "It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all [extremes].Fearing God is a key theme of the book of Ecclesiastes. See 3:14, 5:7, 8:12-13  Solomon's conclusion to the whole book of Ecclesiastes is found in 12:13:  "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."  The fear of God will protect us from becoming righteous and/or wise in our own lives.  A proper fear of God will humble us.  As Paul says in I Corinthians: "…knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.  The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know." (I Corinthians 8:1-2)  The fear of God will not lead to us being puffed up or exalting ourselves over others, but to us being humbled and grateful for God's grace to us.  We, then, will reach out in genuine love to others in need of love and grace.

7. Choose the wisdom that gives power. (7:19-22)
"Wisdom makes one wise man more powerful than ten rulers in a city. There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.  Do not pay attention to every word people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you— for you know in your heart that many times you yourself have cursed others."

Thought Question:  What principle do you see here that helps us to experience greater serenity and acceptance of others while we are living in a world full of selfish people?

 

 

Solomon states that "Wisdom makes one wise man more powerful than ten rulers in a city."  Then, he gives an application of how wisdom gives us power.  When we recognize how sinful we each are, we are not defeated or shattered when someone else acts sinfully.

Being a member of a church has its disillusioning side.  We know how Christians should act, and then we see how they do act.  A Christian may hold a grudge rather than forgive immediately as he should.  But, as Solomon points out, do we always forgive immediately as we should?  What helped me to forgive is when I realize the fact that I do the very same things to others that others do to me.  Others are critical of us; but we are also critical of others.  We will not be crushed by criticism if we understand that it is a very human trait that we also participate in.  Others are arrogantly critical of others; we also can be arrogantly critical of others.  DeHaan gives the advice that we should be concerned primarily with doing what is right, rather than being concerned about what people are thinking or saying about us.

Solomon's words; "There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins." is a conclusion that will keep us from seeking after a false righteousness; a self-righteousness.  Self-righteousness is an attempt to appear righteous when we who are always deeply flawed can never actually be righteous on our own.  In Romans 1-3, Paul exposes this self-righteousness in the Jewish religious leaders, concluding with these words:  "Therefore, no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin." (Romans 3:20)  Solomon came to the same conclusion as Paul came to, none of us are righteous and all of us are sinners.

Solomon concluded this section with these words:  "Do not pay attention to every word people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you— for you know in your heart that many times you yourself have cursed others."  Someone very wise (my wife) has said we cannot control what others do and say, but we can control how we respond to them.  We cannot control what people say, but we can control our attitude toward what they say.  Here Solomon gives us advice on how we can control our attitude when we hear that someone has spoken harshly, critically, and/or unjustly about us.  We can remember that we have said the same type of things about someone else.  This will help us in at least two ways: (1) We are not the only one who has had someone speak critically of us.  Everyone has gone through the very same unpleasant experience that we are now going through.  (2) We have done the very same thing to others.  It will help us to acknowledge that the person who is speaking ill of us is a sinner just as we are.  Jesus forgave us and we should also forgive them.

8. Choose the wisdom that will humble you. (7:23-24)
"All this I tested by wisdom and I said, “I am determined to be wise”— but this was beyond me.  Whatever wisdom may be, it is far off and most profound— who can discover it?"

Thought Question:  What, do you believe, is the practical application of these verses?

 

 

We saw in the last section of verses that we are "overrighteous" when we think that we are righteous when truth is that no one on earth, including us, is righteous.  In these verses we see that we are "overwise" when we think that we have come to the place where we think that we know it all.

What Solomon discovered is what many who have searched to understand God have discovered.  It is all "beyond" us.  For example, scientists who seek to understand God's creation discover that the more they learn, the more they realize how little they know, and the more they realize how much more there is to learn.  The astronomer probes deeper into space only to learn there is much more beyond what his new telescope has discovered.  In the same way, the searcher for wisdom realizes that there is so much more to wisdom that he does not understand.

A search for wisdom that results in a puffed-up pride shows that the searcher has not discovered true wisdom.  True wisdom always produces humility, as we learn how little we know and how little we apply what we know.

Solomon refers to this ultimate wisdom as "far off and most profound."  The words Solomon used literally mean "deep deep." See Romans 11:33  In I Corinthians 2:6-16, Paul explains that we are incapable of knowing God's great depth of wisdom, but God chooses to reveal His wisdom to the Christian.  James teaches that God loves to give His wisdom to those who call on him from a pure heart (James 1:5-8).

9. Choose the wisdom that will watch over you. (7:25-26)
"So I turned my mind to understand, to investigate and to search out wisdom and the scheme of things and to understand the stupidity of wickedness and the madness of folly.  I find more bitter than death the woman who is a snare, whose heart is a trap and whose hands are chains. The man who pleases God will escape her, but the sinner she will ensnare."

Thought Question:  How will the wisdom that Solomon gives us in these verses help you not to give in to temptation?

 

 

Solomon, though he realizes that he will never fully understand the depth of wisdom, nevertheless seeks to understand what he can understand of the wisdom of God.  Here, he seeks to understand why the wicked ways of men are not only wrong ways to live, but also foolish choices for us to make.  He begins by pointing out that yielding to a woman who entices you toward evil is a snare.  Solomon makes the very same point in much more detail in Proverbs 5, 6:20-35, and 7. See also Proverbs 2:16-19, 9:1-6  It appears that in these verses and the verses in Proverbs that Solomon is using the adulterous woman as a picture of the way the world sensuously lures us toward sin and foolishness through our desires; whereas, on the other hand, wisdom appeals to us through our minds and consciences.

Solomon wants to learn how stupid it is to do what is wicked.  Alcoholics who go through treatment for alcoholism and are in recovery are taught to do something very similar.  They are encouraged to go "fast forward" in their minds, when they are tempted to drink, to what will inevitably occur after they begin drinking again.  They are encouraged to consider all the wreckage that will come from their drinking, as it did before.  Considering the "madness" of doing what is foolish will help prevent us from doing what is foolish.

10. Choose the wisdom that will replace disappointment with joy
(7:27-8:1)
"'Look,' says the Teacher, 'this is what I have discovered: “Adding one thing to another to discover the scheme of things— while I was still searching but not finding— I found one upright man among a thousand, but not one upright woman among them all. This only have I found: God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.” Who is like the wise man? Who knows the explanation of things? Wisdom brightens a man’s face and changes its hard appearance.'"

Thought Question #1:  Does the fact that Solomon found "one upright man among a thousand, but not one upright woman" show that he was what is today called a "sexist"?  Please explain your answer.

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What Solomon discovered from his search, is called "total depravity" by today's theologians; why is this doctrine important?  

 

 

Thought Question #3:  How does "Wisdom brightens a man’s face and changes its hard appearance."?

 

 

We immediately wonder why it appears that Solomon had a lower view of women than he had of men.  But, before we write off Solomon as a woman-hater, remember that probably the greatest tribute to a woman was written by Solomon – Proverbs 31.  He also uses a woman to personify wisdom in the book of Proverbs. See Proverbs 4:5-9, 8:1-3  See also Proverbs 12:4, 14:1, 18:22, 19:14  But, it is also true that Solomon had 700 wives 300 concubines.  So, he did have intimate knowledge of 1000 woman (if that is possible).

What, then, does Solomon mean by saying that "I found one upright man among a thousand, but not one upright woman among them all."?  First of all, we need to first realize what Solomon's main point in these verses is:  He found only one person in 1000 who was like what he was searching for: one who was upright and wise.  Earlier, Solomon said, "There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins."  So, the one person he found in 1000 that he found in his search described in these verses could not be someone who never sinned; for there is not anyone like that on the whole earth.  He is talking about someone like Noah or Daniel, who were genuinely God-fearing men.  So, Solomon's main point is that there are very few men or women like this on earth.

Secondly, he said the following in 7:23: "I am determined to be wise---but this was beyond me."  Solomon did not appear to see himself as being one of those in the 1000 who was wise.

We see also in these verses how the wisdom that he wrote about in the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes was attained.  He searched for it diligently.  He did exactly what he encourages others to do in the early chapters of Proverbs: search after wisdom in the same way as one searches for gold, silver, and hidden treasure. See Proverbs 2:1-6  In these verses, he says both that we should search for wisdom and that God enjoys giving us the wisdom that we search for. See also James 1:5

Next, we see in these verses why mankind is so lacking in upright and wise people.  Man has devolved from what God created us to be like:  "God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes."  Romans 1:128-32 describes man's devolution.  We all were born into this world knowing God, but "exchanged the truth of God for a lie." (Romans 1:25)  It has been my observation that the non-Christian intelligentsia are continually creating their own versions of the world, which the populace tends to follow after as the rats followed after the Pied Piper.  We become Freudians, existentialists, post-modernists, scientific materialists, Buddhists, New-agers, evolutionists, and many more.  Adam and Eve started the devolution.

Next, Solomon describes how we can recognize a wise man:  "Who is like the wise man? Who knows the explanation of things? Wisdom brightens a man’s face and changes its hard appearance."  The person who fears God and is growing in wisdom will be softened by love and humility.  You have seen, as I have seen, people's faces change who have come to Christ late in years out of a life chemical dependency or some other sinful pattern.  As they choose Christ and His ways, their faces soften and begin to have a glow that they never had before; as they start to forgive rather than stay embittered, as they choose pure ways rather than choose corruption, and as they pursue getting to know Christ over following the ways of the world.

Finally, then, was Solomon a male chauvinist?  No, that was not his point.  He did not say that most men are better than women.  He said that it is very rare to find a wise and upright man, and in his ongoing search he was yet to find a wise and upright woman.  He did not search the whole world.  He is just describing the results of his search up to that time.  It is sort of like our polls today.  They do not poll everyone.  But, you can get some idea of what the whole populace is like from these polls.  We can get some idea from Solomon's 1000 what the world's society was like at his time.  There were very few that Solomon found in a large population that measured up to the qualities that he was seeking.

11. Choose a wise response to those in authority. (8:2-17)
(a God-fearing response)
a. Submit to those in authority. (8:2-5a)
"Obey the king’s command, I say, because you took an oath before God. Do not be in a hurry to leave the king’s presence. Do not stand up for a bad cause, for he will do whatever he pleases. Since a king’s word is supreme, who can say to him, 'What are you doing?' Whoever obeys his command will come to no harm,"

Thought Question:  Seek to summarize in one sentence and in your own words what you believe Solomon is saying in these verses.

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What does Solomon mean by, "Do not be in a hurry to leave the king’s presence. Do not stand up for a bad cause. . . ."?

 

 

We have all heard the truism: "You cannot fight city hall."  In short, that is Solomon's point in these verses.  He gives us, instead, instructions about the wise way to consider government and to work with government.  He is here talking about the king; but it applies to working with government in its many forms; for those in government are those who have king-like authority in our world today.

Instruction #1:  "Obey the king’s command, I say, because you took an oath before God."  Each time we say the pledge of allegiance to our American flag, we are restating, "before God," our oath to our country.  We are not a bunch of anarchists who have no allegiance to anybody or anything; we are citizens of the United States.  For this reason, we should obey our government leaders. See Romans 13:1-2; II Peter 2:13-14

Instruction #2:  "Do not be in a hurry to leave the king’s presence. Do not stand up for a bad cause, for he will do whatever he pleases. Since a king’s word is supreme, who can say to him, 'What are you doing?'"  We should obey our government leaders because God has given them the authority to enforce their rules.  As Paul says in Romans 13:4: ". . . he does not bear the sword for nothing."  Today, we might say of the policeman, "  "He does not bear that pistol for nothing."

What does Solomon mean by, "Do not be in a hurry to leave the king’s presence. Do not stand up for a bad cause . . ."?  An example of what can happen in a public school classroom helps us to understand what Solomon is talking about here.  A school teacher directs his class to be quiet during a reading time.  Two trouble-makers in the back of the room decide to talk to each other about what is more important to them than reading their textbook.  The teacher needs to be more forceful.  The two students, in rebellion, stomp out of the classroom.  They are standing "up for a bad cause."  They will discover in the long run that it was foolish to challenge the authority of the government in this way, for their action may very well start a long downhill road for them.  They may not graduate, they may end up standing in front of a judge for any manner of reasons, and they may end up incarcerated. See Romans 13:3-5

Instruction #3: "Whoever obeys his command will come to no harm,"  One major role of government is to protect us.  In Romans 13:3, Paul says, "For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong."  Now, we know that where there is a totally corrupt government, this statement about government does not apply.  It did not apply when Nebuchadnezzar threw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into a fiery furnace for not bowing down and worshiping him. See Daniel 3  It did not apply in Nazi Germany when Hitler slaughtered thousands of Jews, just because they were Jews.  Solomon himself acknowledges in Ecclesiastes 8:9 that there are times when government is corrupt like it was in these examples that I have given:  "There is a time when a man lords it over others to his own hurt."  Surely, we have our little Hitlers in government today as well.  But, government's proper role is to punish wrong-doers.  When government is fulfilling its proper role, whoever seeks to obey the government will come to no harm.  For example, it is true almost without exception, that if one drives the speed limit, he or she will not receive a speeding ticket.

b. We are to submit to governmental authorities, though it can lead to us feeling powerless and uncertain about the future (8:5b-8)
"and the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure. For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter, though a man’s misery weighs heavily upon him. Since no man knows the future, who can tell him what is to come? No man has power over the wind to contain it; so no one has power over the day of his death. As no one is discharged in time of war, so wickedness will not release those who practice it."

Thought Question:  What do you believe is the main message of these verses?

 

 

One of the problems with submitting to government is that we can feel that when things are out of our control, they are out of even God's control.  Circumstances are often out of our control.  In Acts 21:27 and on through to the remaining chapters of Acts, this book describes a time when the Apostle was under arrest.  He was falsely charged.  As a Roman citizen, he appealed to Caesar.  During this whole period of time, Paul was submitting to the Roman government.  But, it was also a time of great uncertainty.  Notice, that Solomon says that "there is a proper time and procedure for every matter, though a man’s misery weighs heavily upon him."  Today, we call the procedures that result in "misery" weighing "heavily upon" us as "red tape."  Court cases can take forever; or at least that is the way it seems.  At these times, "no man knows the future," or how it will all turn out.  Ultimately, as we submit to government, we are putting our trust in God's justice.  We are not in control:  "No man has power over the wind to contain it; so no one has power over the day of his death."

Finally, in the end, righteousness will win out and wickedness will lose:  "As no one is discharged in time of war, so wickedness will not release those who practice it."  As Psalm 37 points out, it sometimes appears as though the wicked who flaunt the law and flaunt God are winning, but they are actually slaves of their own wickedness!  Solomon, in the next section of verses, deals with the reality of injustice in a world governed by fallen man.  We will discover that obeying God and government will always be the best way in the end.

c. But, God will bring justice to all in the end. (8:9-13)
"All this I saw, as I applied my mind to everything done under the sun. There is a time when a man lords it over others to his own hurt. Then too, I saw the wicked buried—those who used to come and go from the holy place and receive praise in the city where they did this. This too is meaningless. When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong. Although a wicked man commits a hundred crimes and still lives a long time, I know that it will go better with God-fearing men, who are reverent before God. Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them, and their days will not lengthen like a shadow."

Thought Question:  List four observations that Solomon makes about what happens in life that he gives us in these verses.

 

 

Solomon tells us what we know:  "There is a time when a man lords it over others to his own hurt."  Saddam Hussein was an almost absolute ruler for a time in Iran.  He was also wicked and like the Herod of Jesus' babyhood, he was brutal in the way he ruled.  But, he also did it to his eventual "own hurt."  At the time I am writing this, it has been determined that he will die by hanging, probably in a few days.  When rulers rule in an ungodly way, they will ultimately receive justice from the Righteous Ruler who rules over them. See James 5:1-6

"Then too, I saw the wicked buried—those who used to come and go from the holy place and receive praise in the city where they did this. This too is meaningless."

What has been perplexing to me about Saddam Hussein, and certainly it has been troubling to many others, is that there are some who want him to return to power.  He has portrayed himself as a religious man.  He, like many evil dictators before him, did whatever it took to stay in power.  He murdered and he also used organized religion for his own wicked purposes.  When he dies there will be undoubtedly some who will see him as a martyr for a just cause rather than see him as the wicked dictator that he was.  As Solomon says here, this is another part of the meaninglessness of life as we know it.

It is common in our country for politicians to go to church, even though it turns out that they are immoral, deceitful and corrupt.  Their trips to church were not made because of a truly pious heart, but were only a useful way to get themselves votes and political influence.  We often are astounded at how many do not seem to see through their empty charade.  We are astounded in our time about these empty religious gestures just as Solomon was astounded about this type of thing in his time. See Psalm 73 for Asaph's perplexity over the success of the wicked.

"When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong."

This verse describes what usually occurs; for we rarely see swift justice executed in our world.  Instead, we see wicked dictators, terrorists, bullies, drug peddlers, and more appear to be succeeding in their evil without any type of justice quickly stepping in to right their wrongs.  Most everyone likes to watch a movie where the villain gets what he deserves in the short time it takes for the movie to spin out its plot and reach its just conclusion.  But, what we see in the movie is not what we usually see in real life.  And, because we do not see quick justice, many are emboldened to also pursue after evil gain.

God's Word, here, tells us that a certain and quick punishment is a deterrent to crime.  Crime will increase when it appears that there will be no consequences or very little consequences if one is caught.

"Although a wicked man commits a hundred crimes and still lives a long time, I know that it will go better with God-fearing men, who are reverent before God. Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them, and their days will not lengthen like a shadow."

Although, at one point in time it may appear that the wicked are getting by with their evil, their day of judgment is inevitably in their future!  Also, God-fearing men and women at one point in time may seem not to be succeeding, but their day of reward is also inevitably in their future!  Saddam Hussein appeared to be succeeding, but he was not successful when he climbed out of a hole in the ground and was taken away to prison.  And even the wicked man who goes to the grave without facing any type of judgment will one dayface God's judgment. See Romans 2:2-6

What does Solomon mean when he says of the wicked: "their days will not lengthen like a shadow"?  Did he not also say in these verses: "Although a wicked man commits a hundred crimes and still lives a long time…"?  He seems to saying both, that they will live a long time and that their lives will be short in the same section of verses.  The point that Solomon is making is that the wicked only appear to be succeeding.  It is only a temporary success.  Some will face judgment very soon and some will face judgment later, but they will all ultimately receive their just judgment. See II Thessalonians 1:4-10

d. So, enjoy your God-fearing life. (8:14-15)
"There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: righteous men who get what the wicked deserve, and wicked men who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless. So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun."

Thought Question:  What do these verses tell us about how we can enjoy life even though "righteous men…get what the wicked
deserve, and wicked men…get what the righteous deserve"?

 

 

How can we enjoy life when "righteous men…get what the wicked deserve, and wicked men…get what the righteous deserve"?  The key for us is for us to recognize it is God who has given us this life.  He gave us the purpose that we have for living.  He is there with us as we live out this life, and He will be there when we end this physical life.  He is the only reason we can have joy in this meaningless world.  He gives life meaning.  Walter Kaiser points out that the "gift of enjoyment" that God gives is better than all the empty pursuits that the worldly strive after.

The major theme in Ecclesiastes is the emptiness, disorder, injustices and meaninglessness of life, and how we as believers in God can find fullness, order, and meaning in the midst of it all.  When everything is all mixed up, and the righteous get what the wicked deserve and visa versa, why not give up on trying to do what is right?  Solomon encourages us to live in this godless world with our focus on God, appreciating all He wondrously provides for us.  As John the Apostle states, faith is the victory that overcomes the world. See I John 5:4-5

An example of the mentality that Solomon encourages was demonstrated by Paul and Silas when they were in prison in Philippi.  They had been very unjustly imprisoned, but their response to that dark moment in their lives was to sing praises to God. See Acts 16:16-25

e. So, enjoy your God-fearing life…even though you cannot figure out why God is allowing what is happening to you to happen. (8:16-17)
"When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe man’s labor on earth—his eyes not seeing sleep day or night—then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it."

Thought Question:  What do these verses tell us about the many philosophers through the years and their many philosophies about life?

 

 

One of the reasons that we can find enjoyment in this world, with all its many forms of emptiness and all its inequities, is that we see this world plus the infinite God.  And we believe that He has a purpose for all that is going on; even though we do not why He is doing what He is doing.  We cannot explain why this happens and why that does not happen, but we believe that God has His reasons for everything.  To the godless, life is meaningless; but to us who believe in God, we see and believe that everything that happens in life is always being directed toward His purposes.  Man's finite mind cannot figure out God's infinite mind, but God's infinite mind has worked it all out for the ultimate good. See Romans 8:28, 11:33

Ray Stedman points out, though, that nowhere in Ecclesiastes does Solomon discourage anyone from pursuing wisdom and knowledge, he merely says that we will not, by the tireless pursuit of wisdom and knowledge, ever be able to understand it all.  Scientists are learning that the more they learn, the more they realize how little we really know.  Some of the most intelligent in our society have come to the conclusion that we will never understand the reasons for what happens in this life.  Ecclesiastes was written over 2500 years ago, but he was right; we still have not been able to understand, by our own intelligence, what life is all about.  Our most intelligent remain unable to figure out what is in God's mind as he works out His purposes in this mixed-up world.  Even our amazingly complex computers cannot find answers for what is in God's mind. See Isaiah 55:9

What Solomon concludes here is very similar to what those who are in the camp of postmodernism have also concluded: finite man is incapable of being certain about life's big questions.  But, though we cannot figure out ourselves what life is all about, the infinite God has revealed to us in the Bible what He wants us to know about life's purposes.  Although we cannot be certain about what God has not revealed to us, we can be certain about what He has revealed to us and wants us to be certain about. See Deuteronomy 29:29; Romans 11:33-36

12. Choose a God-fearing approach to the future. (9:1-10:3)
a. Our goodness or evil will not determine our future destiny on this earth or the day of our death, God will. (9:1-3)
"So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God’s hands, but no man knows whether love or hate awaits him. 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. As it is with the good man, so with the sinner; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them. This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead."

Thought Question:  We all are going to die; according to these verses, what are some ways the realization of that fact can affect us?

 

 

The most evident aspect of the meaninglessness of life under the sun---life as we see it---is death.  What we see is that we live and then we die.  No one escapes this reality; although it is a part of reality that we would most like to ignore.  Solomon chooses against the denial of death and faces this reality squarely.  He even "reflected on" it.  What he saw is that none of us knows what is ahead of us.  We tend toward seeking to find formulas that will determine for us our futures.  We have a plan for financial success and then the market crashes.  We can become so discouraged when our formulas fail that we can want to throw in the towel on life.  But, Solomon gives us, in the coming verses in chapter nine, a wise approach to this disconcerting reality about death.

Are we headed toward those who will love us or toward those who will hate us?  Solomon also noticed that both those who seek to please God and those who choose to do evil all face death: "the same death overtakes them all."  What we would like to happen is that all who do good would live long enjoyable lives and those who do bad would quickly get what they deserve and die early in life.  But, what we wish would happen is often the opposite of what does occur.  Each of us can probably think of someone who lived a godly life who died in the prime of his or her life.  Years ago I worked as a recreational director for a Christian camp in the mountains near Sacramento, California.  My primary boss was the regional director for our association of churches.  His name was David Kraft.  He was one of the most genuinely loving Christians I have ever met; he had a fine marriage, family and ministry.  Yet, he died of cancer as a fairly young man; shortly after I worked for him.  Why??  This is Solomon's point.  Life is completely unpredictable in this way.

Solomon is not charging God with being unjust, he is instead saying that God does things differently than we would do them because He has reasons for what He does that are far beyond our ability to understand.  We once had a very cute and vivacious little dog.  We have a large backyard that our dog Princess, loved to romp around in.  Sometimes, though, I would put "weed and feed" on the lawn.  During those times, we did not let her out in the backyard for at least 24 hours; until the poison had done its job and we had watered the lawn.  Our little dog was eager, as usual, to go out and run in the lawn during that 24-hour period as ever, but we did not let her go out until the poison was off the grass.  She did not understand what had changed; just as we often do not understand why God does what He does.

Because unbelieving men do not understand that God is in charge even when it appears that there is no real justice in all that we see happen, men often become embittered, cynical, evil, and live lawless lives: "are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts."  "God is not going to do anything, so why not do whatever is in our hearts to do?"  But, Solomon calls this "madness."  For after all of this choosing of evil, they shall die; and as it says in the book of Hebrews, "…man is destined to die once, after that to face judgment." (Hebrews 9:27)  The world's outlook is to live as if there is nothing beyond what we can see in this world, and that there is nothing beyond the grave.  This godless outlook leads to men and women thinking that there are no consequences for what we do.  So, they live lawless, evil, and ultimately mad lives.

b. Do not focus on how short a life we have, but on how much we have to enjoy in the life that we are living. (9:4-10)
"Anyone who is among the living has hope—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion! For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten. Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun. Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun— all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom."

Thought Question:  What, according to Solomon in these verses, is the wise way for us to live in light of the fact that we will one day die?

 

 

What we immediately ask after we read these words of Solomon:  "Did Solomon believe in life after death with God in heaven?"  Yes, he did for he expresses his belief in life after death a number of times in this book. See Ecclesiastes 3:11,17, 11:9, 12:5b, 14  But, here he is speaking from the perspective of those who only see life as it is lived "under the sun"; living as if what we see is all there is to life.  And what we see from our totally human perspective is that those who die, go to the grave, and cease to exist.

He says: "Anyone who is among the living has hope—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!  Here, he is comparing the scavenger dogs of his day to the kingly lion.  We would rather be alive and in poverty than be a dead millionaire.  Solomon gives the hopelessness of the grave in verses five and six:  "For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten. Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun."  Something is better than complete nothingness. See I Samuel 24:14; II Samuel 3:8; Matthew 15:26; Revelation 22:15

What is Solomon's conclusion?  The very fact that we will someday die should motivate us to want to live our lives to the full.  He is not advocating, though, "Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die."  In other words, he is not saying that we should live totally for ourselves.  But, instead, he is saying that we should enjoy to the full what God has given to us to enjoy.  He says that we can do this to the full because "it is now that God favors what you do."

For example he says: "Enjoy your wife, whom you love."  Within this meaningless and empty world there is that which God has given you that you can fully enjoy.  And what is even more important, God wants you to enjoy it!  He says, eat and drink what God has given you to enjoy.  We are even to enjoy our work to the full.  Work is not a curse.  The weeds that make it hard for your work to be beautifully productive are a curse, not the productive work itself.  For example, I am now working at writing.  I am enjoying my productive labor. See Ecclesiastes 2:24, 3:12-13,22, 5:18, 6:12, 8:15; Colossians 3:23; John 9:4

It is possible, according to Solomon, to recognize that all that is around us is empty and meaningless, and at the same time enjoy to the full that which has been given to us by God.  As one who has been blessed by a wonderful wife, I can easily apply what Solomon says in 9:9: "Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love…"He says that we are to do all that we do "clothed in white" and anointed with oil.  In short, rejoice always. See Philippians 4:4; I Thessalonians 5:16  See also Ecclesiastes 10:19  White garments were worn at times of celebration and festivity.  As Kaiser says: "White garments become emblems of joy and festivity." "Taken from Ecclesiastes Total Life by Walter Kaiser.  Copyright 1979 by Moody Press." See Psalm 45:8; Isaiah 61:3  "Clothed in white" may also speak of being righteous and pure before God. See Revelation 3:4-5, 19:8

We can see here that there is no question that Solomon's purpose for writing this book was not to lead us to a fatalistic pessimism about life.  The very opposite is true.  His desire is that we, instead, embrace fully the life that God has given to us to enjoy.  Although the world that is without God is completely empty of any real satisfaction; life with God has unending depth, meaning and satisfaction.  He also does not encourage us to drop out and become some type of hermit.  God has given us strength and creativity.  We should put our abilities fully into whatever work we do.  For, it will not be long when we are no longer alive, and then, we will not be able to do anything. See John 9:4

c. And never forget that we are not in control, God is! (9:11-12)
"I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all. Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them."

Thought Question:  What examples can you give of people who were the best in their field who because of some unexpected circumstance were not successful? (that circumstance may be an early death)

 

 

Anyone who has had a plan that did not work out as it was planned can identify with what Solomon says in these verses.  Those of us who have been around long enough can easily tell story after story of the dashed dreams of those who were the swiftest, strongest, wisest, and/or the smartest.  Bo Jackson, a very gifted two-sport professional athlete injured his hip and became very quickly unable to compete in either sport.  Our best distance runner was tripped by another runner at the Olympics and though she may have been the fastest runner in the race, she experienced her deepest and most bitter discouragement.  Very intelligent politicians have said something out of line at the wrong time and quickly became a target for ridicule.  The reason for these quite common occurrences is what Solomon states here: "time and chance happen to them all."

Some even die at the very height of their fame: John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Elvis Presley, Jimmy Hendricks, Marilyn Monroe, and the list goes on and on.  A very brave soldier who chose to fight for his country rather than pursue a very lucrative professional career is shot to death in Afghanistan by a bullet from one of his fellow soldiers.  What has troubled me is why did one of Jesus' inner circle, James the brother of John the Apostle, die at the very beginning of the church.  Also, there are those whom I thought were key people in the church who died long before their time – Keith Green and James Montgomery Boice for example.  The inevitable conclusion that we must come to is that God is in control and not us. See Psalm 31:15  Secondly, we can conclude that human abilities do not guarantee success. See Psalm 33:16-22; Proverbs 21:30-31; I Samuel 17:47

d. Choose wisdom even if it is not appreciated. (9:13-18a)
"I also saw under the sun this example of wisdom that greatly impressed me: There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siegeworks against it. Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man. So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.  But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded. The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war..."

Thought Question:  We all would like for our world to be a place where the wise are respected and where their wisdom produces peace.  Instead we live in a world as Solomon describes in these verses where wisdom is often rejected.  Has your wisdom ever been rejected?  Give one or more examples when this has occurred.

 

 

This parable points out a reality in life.  Just because someone possesses wisdom, does not mean that he or she will be respected for it; even if it is helpful to those who listen to it.  Not everyone benefited from Jesus' wisdom; nor does everyone benefit from His wisdom today.  Popular rejection is no sign that something is wrong or ineffective.

It appears that this man's wisdom was rejected because he lived in a city that was ruled and dominated by fools.  Otherwise, of course, the people would have continued to recognize his wisdom and benefit from it.  "The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools." 

There is an obvious application of this to our world and time.  At the time I am writing these words; Iraq is hopelessly divided; Iran is seeking to develop atomic weapons; the Israelites and the Palestinians are divided; and war is breaking out once again in Lebanon.  What is the solution?  We need someone with great wisdom to provide us with a peaceful solution to all of this.  What seems more likely is that war will continue.

e. Choose wisdom even though a little foolishness can destroy much good. (9:18b-10:3)
"but one sinner destroys much good. As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor. The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left. Even as he walks along the road, the fool lacks sense and shows everyone how stupid he is."

Thought Question:  What is Solomon warning us about in these verses?

 

 

As Solomon said, in the first part of verse 18: "Wisdom is better than weapons of war, . . ."  But, it is also true, as Solomon says in the last part of this verse: "but one sinner destroys much good."  Years ago my wife and I worked as house parents in a Christian boys' home.  The boys we worked with had troubled backgrounds.  We found out that it was much easier for them to produce disorder than it was for us to produce order out of the chaos.  It is always easier to mess things up than it is to keep things neat.  This is true in the church also.  It is much easier for one person who is sinful and rebellious to create ugliness than it is for the leadership of the church to keep things moving in a good direction.

Solomon makes two points in this section: (1) wisdom and righteousness are powerful forces for good in society; (2) but, evil is also a powerful force for bad.  "As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor."  One dead fly in an expensive perfume can cause the odor of the perfume to be altered from a pleasant sweetness to a sickening stench.  So, an act of foolishness can completely alter a person's reputation.  Just recently our country learned that the leader of the National Evangelical Association was involved with a male prostitute.  This former leader of one of the foremost Christian organizations in the country also admitted that it was true.  Suddenly this fly in the ointment changed not only the reputation of this man, but the reputation of everyone who calls themselves an evangelical.  ". . . one sinner destroys much good"! See I Corinthians 5:6, 9:26-27  Solomon's life contained both wisdom and folly: "He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines, and his wives led him astray." (I Kings 11:3)

"The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left."  The right hand symbolizes the place of honor and it is the hand that is most favored as the hand that we usually use. See Luke 1:11; Matthew 25:33,41  Solomon is simply saying that the wise and the foolish are complete opposites from each other.  We should want to be on the side (the right) that leads us to honor and favor.

Note also, that Solomon says, "The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left."  He is speaking of a person who is wise in his heart, meaning that he is a wise person.  We should not concentrate on seeking to do what is wise, but on seeking to become a wise person.  Solomon is not describing what we do, but who we are

It becomes immediately obvious to everyone that the fool is on the wrong side of thing: "Even as he walks along the road, the fool lacks sense and shows everyone how stupid he is."  It is easy to recognize someone is a fool.  He or she shows it immediately.  I chose to write this portion of this study in the Student Union Building at the local university.  A middle age lady has been talking on her cell phone at the next table to someone about something related to her business.  She has been talking so loud that it has been impossible to ignore what she is talking about.  I just heard her tell the person that she is talking with on the phone that she is in Spokane, Washington; while she is actually in Ellensburg, almost 200 miles away.  Her words have told me a great deal about her.  So, it does not take us long to tell whether or not someone is acting foolishly.

Conversely, the wise person should also be evident to others.  As Moses instructed Israel:  "These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)  Who we are as a person will show and should show in every part of our lives.  Therefore, we should seek in our hearts to be one who is wise.

13. Choose to keep your composure when you are ruled over by the
foolish. (10:4-20)

a. Choose to keep you composure, because a quiet, composed answer is more powerful than a loud, un-composed answer. (10:4)
"If a ruler’s anger rises against you, do not leave your post; calmness can lay great errors to rest."

Thought Question:  Most of us have been in a situation where someone in authority has spoken to us in anger; can you think of a situation where it happened to you?  Why is Solomon's advice the best way to handle these types of situations?

 

 

Here, Solomon gives an example of how we are to apply wisdom to our lives.  How should we respond when someone who is over us is out of line?  How do you handle it when your boss is having a bad day and decides to take it out on you?  We are not to storm off in anger or to resign; "leave your post."  Instead, we are to keep our cool – "calmness."  If you can keep your head, there will be only one person that is acting wrong: the boss.  He is acting wrong, it is of no value if you also do wrong. As the old saying goes, "Two wrongs do not make a right."  Also, no one can make you do what is wrong.  If your boss chooses to do what is wrong, that does not mean that you have to choose to do what is wrong.  Paul said the same thing to Timothy, his disciple: "But you, keep your head in all circumstances." See Proverbs 16:14 

b. Keep your composure, because there will be some foolish people in leadership positions (10:5-7)
"There is an evil I have seen under the sun, the sort of error that arises from a ruler: Fools are put in many high positions, while the rich occupy the low ones. I have seen slaves on horseback, while princes go on foot like slaves."

Thought Question #1:  Is Solomon right here?  Do you know of situations where those in leadership should not have been in leadership?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Before you look at the next verses, what do you think Solomon offers to help us have the right attitude in these types of situations?

 

 

There are many reasons why people are placed in high positions in government and business.  These reasons are not always good ones.  For example, they may be relatives or friends of those in positions of power.  Also, the people who are in positions of highest authority may be corrupt and even incompetent themselves; therefore, it is unlikely that they will appoint wise leadership under them.

In these verses, he uses slaves to symbolize fools, and the rich (in wisdom) and princes (those trained to rule) to symbolize the wise.  His powerful point is that sometimes it is the fools who end up in leadership and the wise who end up in the servile, non-leadership positions.  Israel was trained by God to lead the nations, but they would soon be ruled over by the nations that they were to rule over. See Exodus 19:6; Isaiah 45:14

Walter Kaiser observes that when this type of injustice occurs to us or to someone close to us, we wonder why does God allow us to be passed over and someone less qualified to be put in leadership over us?  The answer, I believe, is found in Romans 8:20-21: "For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God."  We are not in heaven yet, but the God-planned trials and injustices of this world are being used to lead us toward there.

c. Keep your composure, because the foolish who rule over you will certainly reap what they sow. (10:8-9)
"Whoever digs a pit may fall into it; whoever breaks through a wall may be bitten by a snake. Whoever quarries stones may be injured by them; whoever splits logs may be endangered by them."

Thought Question:  According to these verses, what attitude should we have when we have someone in authority who is a tyrant and/or is inept in their leadership?

 

 

These two sayings give the same message as our modern-day proverbs: "If you play with fire, you are going to get burned" and "He who lives by the sword will die by it."  What you choose to do will have its inherent dangers.  Those who are elevated to positions of authority beyond their abilities and skills will one day experience the consequences of their inability.  I am reminded of Pontius Pilate.  Being in a position of authority can be a very dangerous place.  Historical accounts tell us that Pontius Pilate was removed from his position of leadership and ultimately committed suicide. See Esther 7:10; Psalm 7:15-16, 9:15-16, 10:2, 35:7-8, 37:14-15, 57:6; Proverbs 1:15-19, 26:27; Galatians 6:7

Solomon's point is that those who do wrong to us inevitably have wrong returned to them.  Digging a pit and falling into it appears to mean that when someone digs a pit as a way to hurt someone else, the very person who digs the pit may end up falling into the pit that he dug for another. See Esther 7:10  The breaking "through a wall" may be breaking through a wall to widen his own property so that he can steal another person's property.  Solomon could, then, be warning that those who break down a wall for selfish and unlawful purposes could be bitten by a snake that makes its home in the wall. See Psalm 80:12  The person, then, would experience evil as a result of doing evil.

Solomon continues the law of cause and effect in verse nine: those who quarry stones and split logs tend to inevitably get injured by doing what they do as a job.  So, will the unscrupulous, conniving, and evil ruler, leader, or boss inevitably be injured for doing what is wicked in the eyes of God. See James 5:1-6

d. Keep your composure, because doing what is wise is a much easier and effective way of doing things. (10:10)
"If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed but skill will bring success."

Thought Question #1:  In what areas of your life have you developed skills that have made it easier for you to deal with people than it was before you developed those skills?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  In what areas could you develop skills that would help you to deal with people better?

 

 

Solomon's point, in short, is that we can go through life swinging a dull ax or we can sharpen our axes with God's wisdom and go through life with a sharp ax.  People in positions of power can choose to bully those who are under them.  This manner of ruling is like trying to cut wood with a dull ax.  They have to exert more strength and force than is really needed.  Their job would be much easier if they learned some wisdom and then exercised their leadership positions with wisdom.  Abraham Lincoln said the following: "If I only had an hour to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 45 minutes sharpening my ax."  He also made this application to these words:  "Force is all conquering, but its victories are short-lived.

e. Keep your composure, because you need to be wise before it is too late to be wise. (10:11)
"If a snake bites before it is charmed, there is no profit for the charmer."

Thought Question:  What wisdom do you believe Solomon is offering to us in this verse?

 

 

Solomon's point is that if one of us has already been bitten by a snake, it is too late to ask a snake charmer for help.  To put this in modern terms, it is better to call someone who is an expert with snakes to handle a poisonous snake that is in our house before it has bitten us than after it has bitten us.  The application to us is as follows:  It is better for us to learn the wise way of handling difficult situations before we go through them, rather than asking for advice after we have already handled them foolishly.  Many are wise because they once were foolish.  The truly wise man is a man who succeeds because he sought after wisdom first, so that he would not fail because he did not seek advice.

Many repairmen receive an appliance or a car that has been made worse as a result of the unskilled owner trying to fix it himself.  Sometimes we face a very difficult situation and plunge in.  Then, it is too late.  For it is much easier not to make mistakes than it is to undo the mess we have made by being impulsive.

f. Keep your composure by controlling your tongue. (10:12-20)

(1) Control your tongue and do not be like the fool. (10:12-15)
"Words from a wise man’s mouth are gracious, but a fool is consumed by his own lips. At the beginning his words are folly; at the end they are wicked madness— and the fool multiplies words. No one knows what is coming— who can tell him what will happen after him?  A fool’s work wearies him; he does not know the way to town."

Thought Question #1:  How do you believe that the fool's words end up as "wicked madness"?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What do you believe that Solomon means by "he does not know the way to town"?

 

 

From the context, it appears that Solomon is contrasting the "calmness" (10:4) or graciousness of a wise person being ruled to the "ruler's anger" (10:4).  The foolish ruler, or anyone else who is foolish, speaks first and thinks later.  His words come very easily, and they are many.  But, he is someone who is easily offended and when he is offended, his words turn evil – "wicked madness."  He does not stop talking long enough to realize that there will be severe consequences in the end for his many words and his evil talk.  "For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing whether it is good or evil." (12:14)

Solomon says, "Who can tell him what will happen after him?"  He is interested in talking, not listening.  Warnings that his boasting, empty words, and sinful words are leading him toward disaster only fall on deaf ears; he will hate you for it. See Proverbs 1:7b, 5:12, 18:2, 23:9

The fool that Solomon describes in these verses is the same as the fool described in James 4:13-15 who boasts about what he is going to do in the future:  "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money."  He is, as Solomon says, multiplying words.  James' counsel is as follows: "Why you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.'" See Luke 12:16-20

Contrasted with the fool is the wise man whose words "are gracious."  Jesus was described in these terms: "All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips." (Luke 4:22)  The wise man does not demand perfection of others, but is gracious.  Listen also to James words in James 3:17: "But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere."  James describes the wise man's tongue as gracious.

"A fool’s work wearies him; he does not know the way to town."  A modern saying that parallels what Solomon is saying often comes out when a parent becomes frustrated with his or her child: "You don't have the sense to come in out of the rain."  The fool's foolishness results in his lacking good sense about life.  He ultimately ends up learning things the hard way.  Someone may give him advice, but he chooses to do things his way, which is the hard way.  As a result, he is unable to learn how to get to town.  "I know what I am doing!"  So, off he marches in the wrong direction to get to town.  He tires himself out and others out by turning the simplest thing into an ordeal.

(2) Control your tongue no matter hard it may be. (10:16-19)
"Woe to you, O land whose king was a servant and whose princes feast in the morning. Blessed are you, O land whose king is of noble birth and whose princes eat at a proper time— for strength and not for drunkenness.  If a man is lazy, the rafters sag; if his hands are idle, the house leaks."

 

 

Thought Question:  What do these verses tell us about the type of leadership we should seek to elect in our country?

 

 

It is extremely difficult to keep your composure and to control your tongue when those who are in leadership over you are fools.  As Solomon says here: "Woe to you" when your boss, your bosses, the mayor, the governor, or the President is like the king and princes described in these verses: drunkards who live for pleasure.

These verses remind me of King Belshazzar of Babylon who is described in Daniel five.  They were having a party when Darius the Mede conquered them.  Seeking after the "good life" and loving pleasure more than God leads to ultimate ruin. See II Timothy 3:1-5; I Timothy 6:9-10

In Jeremiah 21:12, God instructs Israel's leaders to do the following:  "Administer justice every morning."  That is the opposite of what Solomon describes in these verses, for the leaders of the country "feast in the morning."  Our country needs leaders who are conscientious and diligent in their very important role of leadership.

Solomon contrasts these corrupt and self-indulgent leaders with noble leaders: "whose princes eat at a proper time— for strength and not for drunkenness."  To have a good President, governor, mayor, boss, church leader, and father means we are very blessed; for not all are of this noble type of character.

"If a man is lazy, the rafters sag; if his hands are idle, the house leaks."

These self-indulgent and lazy leaders are compared to a lazy man who, because of his laziness, does not keep on top of the normal up-keep of his house.  As a result, a number of problems develop, such as a leaky and saggy roof.  So, in the same way, leaders need to be diligent with the affairs of state or the country will fall apart.

There is an obvious application to the church.  If leaders and members of the church are seeking after pleasure above service, the church will begin to go backward also.

"A feast is made for laughter, and wine makes life merry, but money is the answer for everything."

Thought Question:  What does this verse say about the wrong way to run a country and a church?

 

 

This verse is difficult to interpret.  It appears that there are two possible interpretations.  First of all, this verse could be describing a good way to live: work hard and the roof will not leak and you will have plenty of money so that you can feast and be merry.  That interpretation, to me, though, does not fit the main message of this chapter and does not fit Solomon's condemnation of feasting in the morning in verse 16.  The proper interpretation appears to be that Solomon is making a sarcastic description of those who party and think that an ample supply of money will solve every problem.

It sadly represents our country.  We are wealthy and there is the tendency to feel that we do not need to personally get involved with the needs of people in our country.  Instead, we can party on and throw money at the people that are needy.  Our Union Gospel Missions have chosen to handle it in a different way.  They and those who volunteer in them get personally involved with the needs in our society.

(3) Control our tongue no matter where we are. (10:20)
"Do not revile the king even in your thoughts, or curse the rich in your bedroom, because a bird of the air may carry your words, and a bird on the wing may report what you say."

Thought Question:  How can you apply the wisdom Solomon offers in this verse to your life?

 

 

Often what we feel about someone shows even when we do not actually speak out on what we feel.  We talk about non-verbal communication.  A friend or mate can pick up quickly what we feel about something or someone by a slight lift of an eyebrow or a rolling of the eyes.  What we really feel about something can be communicated without us uttering a word about it.  Solomon says that it is as if a little bird carries our thoughts back to the leader we have ill feelings toward.  We have the saying: "A little birdie told me."  This saying probably came from this verse.

During my lifetime, I have noticed that our country has become more critical of our President and our leaders than in the past.  We have become a nation of grumblers; and it is particularly magnified with our 24-hour cable news stations.  It amazes me that anyone wants to become President.  For, when they become President, they will be criticized and scrutinized 24 hours a day! 

Solomon encourages us here to have a different attitude.  Keep your composure.  A bad ruler does not mean that you need to have a bad and grumbling attitude throughout his entire reign.  This also carries over in the church.  Church members can be grumblers; as can wives and children.  It is much better to seek, in God's strength, to do the best we can in whatever situation that we find ourselves. See I Peter 2:13-3:9

13. Choose a life of giving. (11:1-6)
a. Why we should choose a life of giving – it will pay off in the end (11:1)
"Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.  Give portions to seven, yes to eight, for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land. 

Thought Question #1:  What do you believe that Solomon means by "Cast your bread upon the waters"?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What do these verses tell us about how we should give?

 

 

Thought Question #3:  What do these verses tell us about the value to us of a life of giving?

 

 

In much of the preceding chapter, Solomon is giving guidelines for dealing wisely with those in authority above us.  Now, he begins to give us guidelines for dealing with those below us in their station in life.  Solomon's advice is that we be generous to the poor, and in the end our generosity will return to us.

Throughout Ecclesiastes, Solomon has shown that a life of getting leads only to emptiness.  Now, we see that a life of giving leads to a life of fullness; for our generosity will add to our life; whereas, a life of getting will drain our life of meaning and satisfaction. See Acts 20:35

Solomon's words: "Cast your bread upon the waters," is not easily understood by us today.  He seems to be saying, float your bread on a body of water and it will eventually return to you.  That does not make sense, though, for the bread that is thrown on the water will just get soggy.  He clearly is stating something that is true in the realm of the physical and/or the financial realms that is also true when we are generous to others.  It clearly made sense to the readers of his time, though it is not clear to us.  What does Solomon mean by his imagery?  One possible explanation is that Solomon is speaking of spreading wheat seed on, for example, the Nile River and then when the Nile is flooded the seed would then spread all over the land when the flood waters recede.  Therefore, the seed spread on the water will result in a crop of wheat in return to those who spread the seed.  Another explanation is that Solomon is speaking of sending bread out on ships, which return with all kinds of treasures from the sale of the bread. See I Kings 10:22; Proverbs 31:14  Whatever the truism that Solomon is using, the lesson is clear: give generously to others and in the end your generosity will someday be richly rewarded.  As Jesus said, "It is better to give than to receive." (Acts 20:35) See Psalm 41:1-2; Proverbs 11:25, 19:17, 22:9, 28:27; Isaiah 58:6-12; Luke 6:38; I Corinthians 15:58; II Corinthians 9:6,10; Galatians 6:9-10; I Timothy 6:18-19; Hebrews 13:16

b. Whom should we give to? (11:2)
"Give portions to seven, yes to eight, for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land."

Give "to seven, yes to eight" is a Hebrew idiom for giving to seven and even more.  In other words, do not put a limit on your giving to those in need: give and give and give some more.  It also applies to forgiving: forgive and forgive and forgive more. See Matthew 18:21-22   For an examples of this Hebrew idiom see the following examples: Amos 1:3,6,9; Hosea 6:1-2; Proverbs 6:16.

What does Solomon mean by, "for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land."?  In Proverbs 19:17, Solomon appears to mean here that our generosity will help us when disaster comes, and we are the one who is in need.  The bread that we cast upon the waters will return to us when we are in need.  This pattern of giving instead of a pattern of accumulating savings goes against the policy of saving up for a rainy day.  We are to give to the needy so that our needs will be met when we are the one who is destitute.  We should be generous when we are able to be, for circumstances may change and we may be the one who is in need of another's generosity.

We are, however, encouraged in the book of Proverbs to put away savings.  "Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!" (Proverbs 6:6)  But, Jesus also talked about a selfish way to accumulate savings: "And he told them this parable: 'The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.” Then he said, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’” 'But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”  This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.'" (Luke 12:16-21)  We need to base our practices on what is taught in the totality of the Bible.  So, we need to save up, but not for selfish reasons but to provide for our needs; and we should also freely give as we are able to give.

c. When should we give? (11:3-6)
"If clouds are full of water, they pour rain upon the earth. Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there will it lie. Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap. As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things. Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well."

Thought Question:  What do you believe is the main message on giving in these verses?

 

 

Solomon uses figurative language to encourage us to be liberal in our giving and to begin giving right away.  For just as the rain that falls from the clouds is not all well used---some pours on arid land and quickly dries out---some still waters plants, grass, and trees.  So, in the same way, our giving to others will not all be of benefit to others, but some of our giving will be beneficial.  If we wait for perfect circumstances, we will not give at all.  We will be like a farmer who only plants when the clouds and the wind are just perfect.  He will plant very little and have very few crops.  But, farmers typically do not wait for perfect circumstances; they plant each year.  Sometimes it works out and sometimes it does not.  So, we should give now.  Sometimes it will be of benefit to others and sometimes it will not.  Paul teaches something similar in a couple of verses:  "Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm.  Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." (I Corinthians 15:58)  "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." (Galatians 6:9) See also II Corinthians 9:6

Solomon also makes the point that we should not allow our lack of understanding about something to prevent us from giving.  There is much that we do not know, but that should not stop us from giving and serving.  Notice the "you do not know" and "you cannot understand."  Most people do not understand how a computer works, but that does not stop us from using one.  In the same way, we do not understand how God will use our service and giving in the lives of others; but that should not stop us from giving generously again and again to many others.  We never know what God may do with our humble service.

So, Solomon's conclusion is that we are to give generously: "Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well."  Do not wait for the perfect time; do not wait until you understand everything: give in the morning and throughout the day.  You will reap a harvest if you do not grow weary.

14. Choose to live life to the full while you are young. (11:7-12:8)

a. Live life to the full by remembering your Creator. (11:7-12:1a)
"Light is sweet, and it pleases the eyes to see the sun. However many years a man may live, let him enjoy them all. But let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many. Everything to come is meaningless."

Thought Question:  How can these verses be helpful to you?

 

 

The sun and the darkness represent two very real parts of life.  Light and the sun represent those times when our outlook is bright and full of joy.  It is how we feel when we say, "What a beautiful day!"  Darkness represents those times when our outlook on life is filled with gloom.  Solomon exhorts us to enjoy the good days.  Ray Stedman points his readers to Jude 21: "Keep yourselves in God's love."  As long as we are able to keep ourselves in God's love, we also are keeping ourselves in the sunshine.

But, there will be according to Solomon, many dark times as well.  There are many forms of dark times: the death of someone we love, betrayal by a friend, a chronic illness, failure, the loss of a job, and ultimately growing old and dying.  This book is about how to live a full life in an empty world.  We cannot escape the emptiness and darkness of life.  It is all around us.  Christians end up in hospitals also.

Solomon appears, in the context, to be saying, "Enjoy the bright days of your youth, for the dark days of old age are certainly coming."  Some years ago, a man in his late 70s told me:  "Larry, this getting old is not what its cracked up to be."  A friend of mine who is 98 years old said the same thing as she struggled to do the type of moving around that she once found so easy.  By the way, in her younger years she hit two holes in one at the local golf course.

Solomon's advice appears to be summed up in the first part of verse eight:  However many years a man may live, let him enjoy them all."  Do not waste any time moaning.  Enjoy every day to the full that God has given us on this earth.  As Paul says, "Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again:  Rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4)  So, we are not only to enjoy our younger years, but we are to rejoice every day that God gives us on this earth! See Psalm 23:6; John 10:10  We are not, then, just to enjoy life when we are young, but we are to start enjoying life when we are young.  Then, we are to continue to enjoy life all of lives, even though it will get tougher to physically enjoy life as we get older.

"Be happy, young man, while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth.  Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment."

Thought Question #1:  Here we have Solomon's simple instructions on how to have a happy life; attempt to put them into your own words.

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Solomon's words, "Follow the ways of your heart" seem to contradict what Jeremiah says about the heart: "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9)  How can following "the ways of your heart" be a good thing?

 

 

These words provide us with God's wise guidelines for happiness.  We see here the tension in which life is to be lived.  God wants us to enjoy the life He has given us.  But, He also wants us always to remember Him and what He deems as acceptable and unacceptable.  We are to enjoy what He has given to us, but we are also to follow the guidelines that he has given us for how we are to use what He has given to us (the Manufacturer's guidelines).  For example, we should enjoy driving our car.  But, we cannot enjoy driving our car if we do not follow the guidelines for driving cars such as changing the oil regularly, cleaning the windshields, checking the air pressure in the tires, and obeying the traffic rules.  If we do not do each of these, we may lose our privilege of driving our cars; we could even lose our life.  The same principles are true with regard to how we live our lives.  Leopold puts it this way:  "Do all your enjoying in such a way that you regulate it by the thought of the last judgment." "Taken from Exposition of Ecclesiastes by H. C. Leupold.  Copyright 1952 by Baker Bood House.  Use by permission of Baker Book House."

There appears to be in this verse a contradiction to what is taught in other parts of the Bible.  For example, in Numbers 15:39 we find these words:  "You will have these tassels to look at and so that you will remember all the commands of the Lord so that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes." See also Deuteronomy 29:19 and Jeremiah 17:9  But, there is no contradiction, for in Numbers 15:39 the lustful heart is being referred to and here in Ecclesiastes, Solomon is referring to what David speaks about in Psalm 37:4:  "Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart."  Solomon is saying; enjoy before God what He has given you the desire to enjoy.  God has given us desires that we can pursue with real joy.  As a young person, I enjoyed body surfing on the California coast.  Throughout my life I have enjoyed learning.  There are many pure joys that God has given us that we can pursue and enjoy.  If you pursue these types of things, ever keeping in mind that we are responsible before God to live our life according to His guidelines and purposes for us, you will find great enjoyment in life.  Then, you will have no regrets in this life or in eternity. See 12:13-14; II Corinthians 5:10

"So then, banish anxiety from your heart and cast off the troubles of your body, for youth and vigor are meaningless."

Thought Question:   Why do you believe that Solomon chose to focus on "anxiety" and "the troubles of your body" when he focuses on youth?

 

 

Here, Solomon gives advice on what must not control the young person's life or our lives.  He says these things that he mentions are "meaningless."  In the previous verses, Solomon exhorts young men to enjoy their lives.  Now, he says that they should remove from their lives whatever drains joy from their lives: worry and fleshly troubles (and whatever drains joy from our lives).

First of all, do not let worry and anxiety control you.  A person's younger years can be spent in worry about so many things: "Whom will I marry?"  "Will anyone want to marry me?"  "Will I do well financially?"  And on and on and on the list of questions can go.  Anxiety can so dominate one's life, that joy is completely quenched and replaced by worry about the future.  Solomon's advice: "Banish anxiety from your heart."  Jesus says the same thing in Matthew 6:25:  "Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life…"  In short, we can "banish anxiety" by trusting in God's love and care for us. See Philippians 4:6-7; I Peter 5:7

Solomon also says, "and cast off the troubles of your body."  He is describing that which often gets young people in trouble.  "Cast off the troubles of your body" is also referred to in II Timothy 2:22:  "Flee the evil desires of youth."  These youthful lusts and "troubles of your body" can control someone throughout his or her life.  The sooner, in the Lord's strength, we bring these fleshly troubles under control, the better.  Paul considered this pursuit a high priority in His life:  "I do not fight like a man beating the air.  No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." (I Corinthians 9:27)  These troubles of the body can be fleshly lusts, medical problems and/or limitations like health problems.

What does Solomon mean by "for youth and vigor are meaningless?"  Today, in our society, youth is almost worshiped.  Television, for the most part, focuses on the young and even is directed by the young.  The fact is, though, the young do not stay young.  Soon they will be no longer young and no longer important.  That reality, if focused on even by the young, leaves one feeling that our lives are full of life for a few years and then they are empty and passé; "youth and vigor are meaningless!"  Solomon exhorts his readers to focus not on the passing joys of youth, but those more substantial joys that will continue after youth.

"Remember your Creator in the days of your youth . . ."

Thought Question:  Why do you believe that Solomon tells the young in particular to "Remember your Creator"?

 

 

Leupold points out that, remembering our Creator means more than remembering that we have a Creator.  Instead, Solomon is saying that we should not forget that all our lives are lived before the One who created us.  We should remember that the One who created us knows best how we should live.  We are exhorted by Solomon to remember our Creator and act decisively on that knowledge.

The younger we can begin to have a pattern of living with our Creator ever in our consciousness, seeking first of all to submit to His ways, the better it will be for us. See Matthew 6:24,33  Leupold points out that when a person is young, he is less set in his or her ways and is more able to begin a life pattern of submitting to God's ways.  Young people are wet cement, as we get older the cement gets harder and harder and it becomes more and more difficult to start a new life pattern.  If we do not remember God when we are young, we may end up excluding Him from all of our life.

It is very foolish for us to think that we can come up with a better and more enjoyable plan for our lives than our Creator has planned for us. See Colossians 1:16; Isaiah 26:3  So, Solomon urges young people to "remember your Creator" now and not wait until later.  Richard DeHaan told a story of an older lady who sent a younger lady some flowers.  The odd thing is that the flowers she sent her were old and wilted.  After the young woman wondered why anyone would give someone wilted flowers, the older woman gave this explanation to the young woman.  You stated that you were going to wait until you were older to become a Christian.  The wilted flowers represented this young lady's selfishness in choosing to give God the leftovers in her life.  Solomon exhorts the young to remember your Creator when you are young.  Give Him the best years of your life, not wilted flowers.  No one who remembers His Creator and follows His plan will in the end regret it; but those who forget their Creator will have many regrets.

John Lawrence points out the word "Creator" is in the plural.  It could be translated, "Creators."  This may be a reference to the Trinity in the Old Testament.  The word "God" in Genesis 1:1 is also in the plural. See also Genesis 1:26

b. Before the days of trouble come (12:1b-7)
"before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, 'I find no pleasure in them'— before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain; 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; when the doors to the street are closed and the sound of grinding fades; when men rise up at the sound of birds, but all their songs grow faint; when men are afraid of heights and of dangers in the streets; when the almond tree blossoms and the grasshopper drags himself along and desire no longer is stirred. Then man goes to his eternal home and mourners go about the streets. Remember him—before the silver cord is severed, or the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, or the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it."

Thought Question #1:  These verses are a poetic description of the effects of the aging process; see if you can figure out what is being referred to by the metaphors that Solomon uses (Hint:  "the grinders cease because they are few" probably refers to the losing of teeth.)

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Why do you believe that Solomon uses this figurative language to describe the aging process?  Why does it accomplish his purpose better than just describing the aging process?

 

 

Thought Question #3:  What do you believe is Solomon's goal in urging the young to remember their Creator before they get old?  (Is it an urgent issue?  Why?)

 

 

(1) Before the dark time comes (12:1b-2)
"before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, 'I find no pleasure in them'— before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain;

Solomon points out very clearly that life is at its best during one's youth.  Physically, it goes downhill after that.  In older age, life is more difficult for us than in our younger years.  Solomon refers to the older years as "the days of trouble."  Because I am just beginning retirement as I write these words, I have no difficulty in understanding what Solomon means by "the days of trouble."  I now experience a number of "troubles" that I did not have as a young person: past injuries have accumulated in my body; I have back trouble now that I did not have as a young person; I keep forgetting peoples' names; I forget verses in the Bible that I have known for years.  You get the idea.

"and the years approach when you will say, 'I find no pleasure in them.'"

Notice that he just spoke of the "days of trouble," and here he speaks of "the years approach when you will say, 'I find no pleasure in them."  Solomon appears to be summarizing the aging process in this dark way.  As I quoted an older man I respected earlier: "Larry, this getting old is not all it's cracked up to be."  He was saying, "I find no pleasure in getting old."  Solomon is saying the same thing.

"before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain;"

There are two possible interpretations of these words:  (1) Solomon is referring to the darkening of the mental abilities; or (2) he is referring in general to the dark effect on one's life of growing old.  Since he says nothing about the mental and emotional parts of us in the verses following, it appears that this is what he is describing here.

As the mental capacities begin to wane, and one is more susceptible to dark moods in old age; the light of youth begins to grow dark.  It is not unusual for the old to be pessimistic and cynical about life.  A way of seeing that this is true is to spend one day on the college campus and the next day in a senior citizens' center.  In which place will the spirits tend to be brighter?  Also, in which place will the minds be sharper?  Again, Solomon's purpose is to encourage the young to remember their Creator.  Those who are old, who are also bright, are those who have walked with their Creator for many years.

"And the clouds return after the rain."

Solomon is describing a depressing condition that begins to happen once one begins to get old.  In short, there are fewer good days.  You go through one tough time that is quickly followed by another tough time.  It may be that tough times are not as easily dealt with as they once were.  Sicknesses last longer and recovery from the sicknesses is more difficult.  Fixing things is harder.  Income is often less.  Nevertheless, what Paul taught in II Corinthians 4:16 still applies (so we do not get depressed by Solomon's words): "Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day."

(2) Before the body fails (12:3-8)
"when the keepers of the house tremble,"

Solomon begins to use the symbolism of a house getting older, growing weaker, and wearing out to describe the aging of the human body.  Stuart Hamblin's song, "This Ole House" was based on these verses.

"the keepers of the house tremble," appears to refer to the arms and the hands which protect the body from danger.  This can easily be seen on the football field.  The defensive linemen seek to rush the quarterback; the offensive linemen use their arms and their hands to keep the opposing linemen from getting through.  But, these linemen are all young.  When we get older, our arms become weak and get even weaker as the years pass.  The arms and the hands that comb our hair, brush our teeth, and feed us start to grow weak.

"and the strong men stoop,"

Solomon is obviously referring to our legs, which are the strongest part of our body.  As we grow old, even the strongest part of our body grows weak and bows.

"when the grinders cease because they are few,"

This a description of the grinding teeth that cease to do what they once did, because there are fewer and fewer of them.  Cavities are filled, root canals are attempted, and, then as a last resort, teeth are removed leaving empty spaces where teeth once were located.

"and those looking through the windows grow dim;"

In old age, the vision grows weaker.  What you could once see clearly is now "dim."

"when the doors to the streets are closed"

Two interpretations of the "doors" are given.  One is that "doors" refers to the lips that need to be closed because of the toothless mouth.  The other interpretation, which seems more likely, is that the "doors" are the ears.  The "doors" being "closed," then, refers to our no longer being able to hear clearly what is going on in the streets.  Communications with others is hindered greatly as the aged person cannot hear clearly what others are saying.  This interpretation fits nicely with the second part of the verse.

"and the sound of grinding fades;"

This appears to refer to the older person noticing that the sounding of the grinding of grain, which Leupold says was common in a home in Solomon's time, starts to fade slowly away as the ears grow older.  The sound of grinding is just as loud to the young in the home, but the older person can barely hear it any more.

Another possibility is that it refers to the sound of the teeth "grinding," as "grinders" in verse three appears to refer to teeth.  The grinding, then, would cease because you can no longer hear food being chewed or because there are fewer teeth doing the grinding or because of the need to chew softer food.

"when men rise up at the sound of birds, but their songs grows faint;"

A characteristic of old age is not being able to sleep as long or as soundly as one once did at a younger age.  The old can awake early when the birds began to sing; but, because of their hearing loss, they no longer are able to clearly hear the sounds of the birds singing.

"when men are afraid of heights and of dangers in the streets;"

The old do not climb trees and jump out of swings as they once did as children.  Instead, they are fearful of climbing ladders and even stairs.  They also are fearful of walking where they once felt comfortable walking.  The old can be afraid, for example, to go for walks at night.  Today, the old can be fearful of driving during the night.  They become fearful of what once did not trouble them.

"when the almond tree blossoms"

The "almond tree blossoms," which are white, refers to the hair turning white.

"and the grasshopper drags himself along"

The "grasshopper," when it walks, appears to be dragging itself around.  This picture describes the old person who is no longer agile, but shuffles along with stiffened and weakened legs.

"and desire is no longer stirred."

In some translations, including the Septuagint the Greek translation of the Old Testament, it says for "desire," the "caperberry."  The "caperberry was used as an aphrodisiac to stir sexual desires.  But, Leupold believes that "desire" here simply refers to appetites and desires, such as sexual desires, the desire for food, and other similar types of desires fading with old age.

"Then man goes to his eternal home and mourners go about the streets." 

When a person shows all of the signs that have just been described, however they are interpreted; his life is just about over.  Soon, he will die, go "to his eternal home," and there will be a funeral for him.

"Remember him—before the silver cord is severed, or the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, or the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it."

Death is described here with many metaphors: (1) "the silver cord is severed," referring to the spinal cord no longer communicating nerve impulses throughout the body; (2) "the golden bowl is broken," referring to the skull and the brain no longer being able to do its magnificent work; (3) "before the pitcher is shattered at the spring," referring to the heart no longer being able to circulate oxygenated blood throughout the body; (4) "the dust returns to the ground it came from," referring to the whole body disintegrating into the dust from which the body was formed (See Genesis 3:19); and (5) "and the spirit returns to God who gave it," referring to that eternal part of us that will continue to exist after the physical part of our body has turned to dust." Notice that what is described in these words in Ecclesiastes 12 is the very opposite of what is described in Genesis 2:7: ". . . the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being."  The dust returns to dust and man's spirit returns to God from where it came.

This whole metaphorical and figurative description of the aging process and death should urge young people toward not wasting the younger years of life.  As Solomon said in 12:1: "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth before the days of trouble come…"  Do not wait until you are old to find out why you are on this earth.  Do not spend your life pursuing happiness and meaning apart from God.  You will discover in the end, what Solomon discovered; it is all "meaningless!"  Instead, seek after a relationship with the One who made you.  He alone will reveal what the purpose of life is.

Conclusion:  Consider deeply these words from Solomon and from God, because: (12:8-14)

1. Life is meaningless if all there is to life is to grow old and die.
(12:8)
"“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Everything is meaningless!”"

Thought Question:  Solomon has been arguing throughout this book that life is "meaningless" lived "under the sun" and apart from a relationship with God.  What are some ways that he has shown us that this is true? (You may look back over the book to get your answer.)

 

 

This is the last time in the book of Ecclesiastes that Solomon states his conclusion that "Everything is meaningless!"  If life "under the sun" or life apart from a relationship with God is nothing more than what Solomon has discovered by his experiment with life, then it is "Meaningless!  Meaningless!"  Simply put, it is not worth living.  "How to live a full life in an empty world" is the title I have given to this book by Solomon:  (1) Life without God is empty and meaningless.  (2) Life with God is full.  This verse is Solomon's conclusion to his argument that life without God is empty.  Many existentialist philosophers have come to the same conclusion: They say that life is absurd.  A character in Shakespeare's MacBeth says that life "is a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing."  Bertrand Russell came to a similar conclusion as Solomon did; he definitely believed that our lives are absolutely meaningless:  "That Man is the product of causes that had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built."  But, unlike Solomon, Bertrand Russell did not offer a solution!

So, Solomon has not been the only one that has come to the conclusion that life under the sun is meaningless.  The next question, though, is how can we find a full life in an empty world?  We find instructions on how to live a full life in an empty world interlaced throughout the entire book of Ecclesiastes.  But, we find his explanation of how we can live a full life in an empty world most succinctly stated in the remainder of the book: Solomon's conclusion to the book of Ecclesiastes.

2. But, Solomon has more to offer us. (12:9-14)
"Not only was the Teacher wise, but also he imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true. The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one Shepherd. Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.

Thought Question #1:  What is there in these verses that would be helpful to a preacher, Bible study teacher, or a Christian writer?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What do you learn from these verses about how Solomon's God-inspired words came into being?

 

 

Thought Question #3:  What do we see in the verses that tells us why the Bible is of more value to us than books that are not inspired by God?

 

 

a. For he has put much thought into what he is saying (12:9)
"Not only was the Teacher wise, but also he imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs."

In this verse, Solomon gives a one-word description of himself.  He says he is "wise."  It can appear that he is making an arrogant statement when he says, he, the "Teacher" was "wise."  On the other hand, since God had given him his wisdom as a gift, his statement is actually just a simple statement of fact.  Here is a description of how he became wise: "I [God] will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be." (1 Kings 3:12)  Also, there were, in Solomon's time, a category of people in Israel who were called, the wise.  They were similar to those who were called scribes, priests, and prophets.  "They said, Come, let’s make plans against Jeremiah; for the teaching of the law by the priest will not be lost, nor will counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophets. So come, let’s attack him with our tongues and pay no attention to anything he says.' Listen to me, O Lord; hear what my accusers are saying!" (Jeremiah 18:18-19)

Solomon also says, "he imparted knowledge to the people."  Solomon was not only wise; he taught others the wisdom that was given to him by God. 

Solomon also says, "He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs."  Solomon worked hard at putting his wisdom into Proverbs that could easily be remembered and could easily be applied to life.

We have here a description of how part of the Bible came into being.  Solomon thought over and worked at the wording of his Proverbs until they revealed God's wisdom in a form that would be easily understood and that would powerfully impact those who heard them. See the book of Proverbs and I Kings 4:29-34

b. For he sought to express his words in such a way that what was said would both be true and would also stick in the memory of those who heard them (12:10-11)
"The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true. The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one Shepherd."

Solomon not only searched and pondered for just the right words to express the wisdom God had given to him, but he also asserts here that what he ended up saying in his proverbs "was upright and true."  He wrote with a clear conscience what was dependable truth.  Here we are given excellent guidelines for a preacher to use in preparing his messages.  Just as Solomon did, the modern-day preacher should work hard at choosing just the right words for his messages.  Everything the preacher says should be both an honest expression of his heart and accurate truth—"upright and true."

The New International translation "searched to find just the right words," can also be translated that he sought to find "delightful or pleasing words."  Solomon sought to find the words that would be most likely to be accepted by his listeners.  We all know those who stand out in their ability to choose just the right words to use in very touchy and difficult situations.  The senior pastor of the church where I am also a pastor has this special gift.  He says what needs to be said, but he is able to say it in a pleasing way and in a way that is more likely to be received by those who listen to him.  Solomon sought to choose just the right words that would most likely be received well by those who listened to him.

"The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one Shepherd."

Solomon gives us in the words, "goads" and "nails," two functions of the words he had carefully chosen. "Goads" or "prods" were wooden rods with metal points at the end that were used to painfully encourage oxen and other animals to quicken their pace.  They were used in a similar way to which a jockey uses a whip in a horse race to get his horse to run faster at the end of the race.  Solomon chose the words of Ecclesiastes to have this type of impact on those who read his words.  A good preacher chooses his words carefully so that his words powerfully prod and encourage his listeners to take some type of appropriate action.

The book of Ecclesiastes focuses on some painful realities.  It is a painful goad to encourage us not to be satisfied with lives that pursue after empty goals.  It painfully urges us toward a meaningful life, lived in relationship with the Creator!  Some of the realities described in the book of Ecclesiastes were used as a "goad" for me before I was a Christian, to urge me to search for a life that did have meaning and purpose.  In those last days before I became a Christian I was beginning to realize what Solomon speaks about here, that life under the sun is without any real purpose; you live and die and who really cares? 

Next, his words were to be like "firmly embedded nails."  Solomon chose words that would continue to hang in our memories long after they are read.  What is there in the book of Ecclesiastes that is very easy for you to remember?  There is actually much of the book of Ecclesiastes that sticks in the memory and becomes familiar even to the non-believer.  Here are some statements in Ecclesiastes that are familiar to many in our society.  "Everything is vanity."  "There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die…"  "He has set eternity in the hearts of men."  "The fly in the ointment...."  "Two are better than one."  "Cast your bread upon the waters."  "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth…" These and others are all statements that have easily embedded themselves in our memories.  Solomon was successful in making his sayings like "firmly embedded nails."

"Given by one Shepherd."  Although Solomon wrote the words, he states clearly that they all came from the "one Shepherd."  They came from God who had given Solomon the wisdom.  He was not alone in choosing these powerful words; God guided him in finding just the right choice of these words. See II Peter 1:20,21; II Timothy 3:16; I Corinthians 14:37  There is One who cares for us perfectly; He is the "one Shepherd."  Jesus in John ten referred to Himself as this Shepherd:  "I am the good shepherd." See also Genesis 48:15, 49:24, Psalm 23, 77:20, 80:1; Isaiah 40:10-11, 53:6; Jeremiah 31:10; Ezekiel 34:11-12  The Good Shepherd prods us in the right direction.  He uses the Bible, which includes Solomon's writings, to do this.

c. For they sum up all that will be written on the subject of the meaning of life (12:12)
"Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body."

Solomon warns against putting our confidence in books and writings outside of God's inspired words.  If you walk through a university library and see every book that is on the bookshelves in that library, you will see that what Solomon states here is very true: "Of making many books there is no end."  Solomon warns us against putting our trust in man's limited and flawed wisdom.  The Apostle Paul says about men who are outside of Christ, that they are "always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth." (II Timothy 3:7)

As a new Christian, I realized that I did not have to read all the books in the San Jose State College library to get wisdom; I could find it in the one book written by God.  I could have wearied my body by studying the books in that library and still not have gained the wisdom I gained by reading the book that contains God's infallible and fully trustworthy wisdom.

Solomon is not saying that study is worthless, he is just saying that if men think that they can find truth on their own, they are in for a life of futility and an endless writing and reading of books.  Books that come to my mind immediately are books by the philosophers who have tried to figure out what life is all about, but have not found in their searching the truth that is found in the Bible.  They have attempted to find meaning in life, but have only ended up with tired bodies and a lot of words.

d. For the key to living life is summed us as follows: "Fear God and keep his commandments." (12:13-14)
"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. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil." See Ecclesiastes 7:18, 8:12; Acts 9:31; Hebrews 12:28-29

Thought Question #1:  Why do you believe that fearing God and keeping God's commandments is the "conclusion of the matter"?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  How, then, can we live a full life in an empty world?

 

 

What has been lost in our 21rst century American world is what is described in these verses.  We have lost the fear of God! See Romans 3:18  We have managed to remove even the thought of God from the majority of the institutions of our society.  In so doing, we have given ourselves no real reason for living.  Who really cares what we do or do not do?  But, there is Someone who cares, and we are ultimately accountable to Him.  Solomon has described life without God; now, he takes us above the sun.  True meaning in life comes from knowing that what we do and do not do makes a difference.  We are accountable to God for our actions, even if we do not like being accountable to Him and even if we do not want to be accountable to Him.

Christians and non-Christians alike will one day stand before God.  Christians will either be rewarded or suffer loss. See I Corinthians 3:12-15; II Corinthians 5:10.  Non-Christians will be punished for their sins. See Romans 2:11,16; Revelation 20:11-15  The good news is that if  you acknowledge your sin, turn to God from it, and believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died to pay the penalty for your sin and rose from the dead, you will become a Christian, and you will not be punished for your sins.  You will not be punished for your sins, for you will have believed that Jesus died to take the penalty for your sins upon Himself.

But, even we who are Christians are still accountable to God for our actions.  Jesus said that if we truly love him, we will obey His commandments. See John 14;15,21, 15:10  Ultimately, the greatest source of meaning in life is determined by whether or not what we are doing is pleasing to God.  An aspiring violinist learned that a great master violinist would be in the audience at one of his performances.  He played that day with one thing in mind, and that was to please the master violinist.  We live with one thing in mind; to please the Master who knows even our deepest motives.  All of life points to that day when we will stand before Jesus Christ.  What will He say then?  What will He think about how we have lived our lives?  Seeking to please Him now gives our lives meaning and purpose!

You see, life is not empty of purpose and meaning.  It is, instead, full of meaning and purpose!  God gives us that meaning.  Who He is, what He cares about, what He is doing, what He wants us to do is our reason for living.  We are part of the infinite God's eternal purpose and plan; that is what catapults us from meaninglessness to infinite meaningfulness!

Notice that 12:13 says, "for this is the whole [duty] of man."  "[Duty]" is not present in the Hebrew; that is why it is in brackets.  A better translation is, "for this is the whole man."  It could be stated this way: "for this is the whole of what it means to be a man.  What is "the whole man"?  We are "whole" when we fear God and when we live seeking to please God.  That is the way it was for the first man and woman, Adam and Eve.  They were complete because they lived in constant communion with God.  That is what we were made for, to live in constant communion with God.  Their sin separated them, and ultimately all mankind, from intimate and meaningful communion with God.  We were born into this world incomplete and un-whole.  We can be moving toward wholeness as we seek to live once more in constant communion with God.  We are growing in wholeness as we seek to live, fearing God and seeking to please Him—as we seek to obey and keep His commandments.

CONCLUSION

How can we live a full life in an empty world?  The world is empty because God has been successfully eliminated from its thinking.  The people of the world believe that they have been able to free themselves from the guilt of feeling that they are not living up to God's standards, but they have actually enslaved themselves to a life of sin, futility, and emptiness.  But, their emptiness need not be our emptiness.  We can live a life of faith in God, fearing Him and seeking to fulfill His purposes.  We can enjoy all that He has given us to enjoy and we can realize that life has an eternal purpose.  We can live a full life in an empty world!!

 

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. ®   NIV ®   Copyright ©  1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission.  All Rights reserved.

Studies in Ecclesiastes