Ecclesiastes finishes with “the end of the matter”; life is short and hard, so live it well by fearing God and keeping his commandments. Solomon offers some practical advice for making the most of our breath of a life on earth.
Be generous (11:2), be alert (11:4), be in awe of God and the mysteries only he can know (11:5), rejoice in your life no matter what the circumstances (11:8), don’t take yourself too seriously (11:10), commit your life to the Lord while you are still young and optimistic so that your faith will sustain you during the dark days (chapter 12). Solomon’s wisdom caused him distress because he was keenly aware of the difficulties in this life. He despaired because he couldn’t find a way around life’s troubles. In the end, Solomon taught that the only real satisfaction in life comes from the Giver of life Himself.
Ecclesiastes 8-10 is another reminder that life is hard. And unfair. And hard to understand. And ultimately everyone dies and is forgotten. Thanks, King Solomon. So, now what?
Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do wicked people prosper? (Ch8, v14). Solomon struggled with that question the same way we do, and his only answer was, “who knows? (8:1, 16-17). But, the wise know that this sojourn is temporary. Under the sun (in this lifetime), we may never see why things happen the way they do. So, find joy in the small things of daily life, do good, be grateful, enjoy relationships, work hard. These are the things that are wise. We cannot control our circumstances, but we can choose how we respond to them. Solomon says over and over again, “Choose joy.” Even when it feels impossible.
Jeremiah 15:16 suggests a place to begin, ” Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.”
Point of view changes how people receive a message. In Ecclesiastes 7, Solomon described the folly of superficial living, saying that the day of death and sorrow are better than the day of birth and laughter. What?!? Reading a little deeper reveals what he meant: dwelling on the party and dreaming about the “good old days” ultimately leads to a meaningless life. For one thing, the “good old days” really weren’t any better (or worse) than the present. For another, the past cannot be changed. Solomon was searching for the meaning of life, which is not 42 (apologies to Douglas Adams). Living for the moment only leads to a desire for more moments rather than a desire for God. It’s like an addiction; we often seek out what FEELS good rather than what IS good.
Solomon observed that both prosperity and adversity are allowed by God, so it’s wise to learn from both, but not to dwell on either. “Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time?” (Eccl 7:17) Well, that’s depressing.
Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, wrote the same message, but with a different perspective. Solomon was observing the world from a place of despair in spite of worldly wealth, Paul wrote from a place of hope in spite of imprisonment. Solomon said to be happy in your work because that’s as good as life gets. Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord…and the peace of God will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7). Solomon proposed spending time in sorrowful places in order to think deeply about the things of God; Paul advised, “Whatever is true…honorable… commendable; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). Solomon noted that we may as well take adversity along with prosperity because that’s just how the world is. God allows both, so just accept both. Paul said, ” I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content…I have learned the secret…I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13). The message is the same: a deep and meaningful relationship with God is possible. But what a difference the POV makes in the message!
There’s an interesting connection between the first part of Ecclesiastes 5 and the second part of chapter 5 and all of chapter 6. In these chapters, Solomon discusses the difference between talk and action. “Let your words be few” is a familiar phrase, but what does that mean? It is not a command to silence those who have a lot to say, although I have heard it preached that way. But the context of that passage is about social justice, particularly about the misuse of wealth and power.
The section begins with a reminder to be serious about approaching God. Too often people are flippant about their religion, which is a dangerous attitude. No one should be casual about the Holy One, especially when it comes to our responsibility with resources and the pursuit of justice and righteousness. Solomon wrote, “God is the one you must fear” (5:7). Immediately following, Solomon returns to the certainty of “oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness ” (5:8). When people are flippant toward God, they also become flippant with their words and their resources so that their words lose meaning (like a vapor) and they cannot enjoy their wealth.
I read a memoir about Dapper Dan, the Harlem fashion icon. He said over and over that he did not trust white people because he EXPECTED them to treat him poorly. He EXPECTED oppression and marginalization because, in his experience, white people talked a lot, but didn’t actually change anything. Solomon said, “Do not be amazed” at the oppression of the poor. Dapper Dan was amazed when people treated him RIGHT. Dapper Dan’s story is just one of millions. At its core it is not about racism, but about the nature of humans when they consider power and wealth their measure of worth. The more powerful a person becomes, the more empty their words. Certainly we see this in modern politics!
Words without intention are nothing more than mists that burn off at the first sign of the sun. “The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man?” (6:11). If we truly want to pursue righteousness and justice, then we must put action to our words. If we are unwilling, we are better off keeping quiet
Ecclesiastes 4 starts off with Solomon’s distress over oppression and his recognition that humanity would never see the end of it. He saw that power and envy are the root of all oppression. This got me thinking about social justice. It’s become a buzzword in our culture with plenty of talk about it, but no real societal change. Isaiah explained why: “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God…justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us…Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public square, and uprightness cannot enter” ( Isaiah 59). Doesn’t it feel like that some days? No matter how much we strive for what is right and just, goodness is always just out of reach. It seems hopeless when we consider the world around us. It IS hopeless.
Isaiah, who has more insight than even Solomon, adds that the Lord sees injustice and is displeased by it. “He saw that there was no man…no one to intercede; THEN His own arm brought him salvation, and His righteousness upheld him” ( Isaiah 59:16, emphasis mine.) JESUS. It is only by Jesus that there can be justice in our lives and in society. We who are believers need to continually pursue what is right and true and just, not for own own benefit, but so that the name Jesus is proclaimed. We cannot expect the world to provide any lasting justice because the nature of humans is to be self-serving. Our example of living as Jesus did points the way to true justice.
New year, new Bible, new planner, new goals. #Joyful I started sharing my reflections about my Bible study on Instagram, and I’ve decided to copy the posts here as well. That way, if I get really long-winded I can direct people here for the complete comments.
January 6, 2020
Ecclesiastes 1-3 (so far) sounds so depressing! Solomon checks off all the things in this world that we chase after in hopes of finding satisfaction and fulfillment. Each one is found wanting. Wisdom is not enough, pleasure is not enough, prosperity is not enough, work is not enough: nothing is enough to satisfy. So, the question is, why bother with any of it? What IS enough?
Solomon answers in ch 3: God has put eternity into our hearts, and He will be enough. When our hearts’ desire is for our Creator, we will be able to enjoy wisdom, knowledge, pleasure, and work because these things are God’s gift to us. Solomon reminds us that there is nothing better than for us to be joyful and do good as long as we live; this pleases God and draws us closer to Him who can satisfy.