A Legacy?

eccles 5 10

Ecclesiastes 5:8-6:12

Do not be surprised if you lose the fruits of your labor to a higher authority. Solomon lays out a hierarchy of power and thus was born the phrase, “there is always a bigger fish.” Well I doubt that phrase came from Solomon but you get the picture. Some actually use verses 8-9 of chapter five to say that Solomon did not write this book, that he would never paint his own rule in such a poor light. Have these people ever read the rest of the Bible? It is full of people acting stupid and not sugar coating it. They fully disclose the heights of their idiocy because they were compelled to write the truth. Solomon may have been generalizing but we see in 1 Kings 12 how the Israelites demand Rehoboam to reduce their oppression, to lighten their load. This suggests that Solomon’s governors made financial demands of the people in order to support Solomon’s extravagant lifestyle. So I am thinking that his government was not excluded from this ugly truth.

But what did his wealth gain him? What does it gain anyone? The covetous are characterized as never satisfied. The more they have, the more they want. They never have enough. It is like trying to fill the Grand Canyon with water using a teaspoon with a hole in it. Additionally, the more you have the more avenues by which you could lose it. When one suddenly comes into a large sum of money they instantly find themselves surrounded by relatives that they never knew existed. It is no wonder that Solomon says there is no sleep in the abundance of a rich man. Between striving for more and keeping an eye on what you have to protect, it sounds like a miserable life to me. Solomon argues that the only results for increased wealth for a covetous person are increased anxiety and increased vigilance, not increased enjoyment.

All of this striving is meaningless! You chase after it and you protect it yet it could be the very reason you lose your life. And if all of that did not suck enough, Solomon realized that you cannot take any of it with you when you die. We all enter the world with nothing and we all leave it with nothing. The realization of this can cause great “frustration, affliction, and anger.”

But Solomon realized that God gives us life and labor and the fruits that each produces. God also gives us something that we cannot find anywhere else, true joy! This is a gift from God: that He enables us to enjoy the fruits of our labors and to be happy in our work. He grants us contentment as nothing else on earth can. However, he warns us that God can provide the materials but not grant the ability to enjoy them. It is a blessing from God, a gift, not a right or guarantee.

Solomon pities the one who does not know joy from their work. He characterizes it as a life devoid of meaning. And yet there numbers are great. So many have appetites that are never satisfied. Constantly searching, impatiently looking for something new, something better or something that is not certain. In contrast “what the eyes sees” is at hand. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” never made sense to me until I read this. (Go ahead and get the “nothing makes sense to you” jokes out of the way now.) Ready to continue? Good. This continues Solomon’s theme that is woven throughout the book; that of being content with what God has blessed us with.

Solomon ends the chapter with a number of questions, all of these point to the One True God. He created the universe and every living creature. He has blessed us above all the rest of creation. Blessed us with an awareness of our Creator and knowledge of the promise of salvation for those who come to Him through His son Jesus. He knows what was, what is, and what will be. He alone is the Almighty, the All-powerful God Yahweh. None can stand against Him and none can hope to change His mind with many words. He knows what is good and He has revealed this to us through His word and the life, ministry, sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus.

All of this points to the gift from God who enables us to enjoy our works and that which we have produced. To be content with what we have and not striving after the hollow and decaying things of this world. This is the legacy that we have access to. To draw closer to God through His son and see every moment and circumstance of this life as a blessing. To enjoy life and labor with gladness in our hearts.

To be continued …

Jeff Ransom

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Stand in Awe of God

Eccles 4 4 (1)

Ecclesiastes 4:1-5:7

Solomon, as cheerful as ever, writes about what he witnessed around him; the tears of the oppressed, power on the side of the oppressor, and no comfort for the oppressed. Who are the oppressed today, in our world, our country, our community? People are oppressed based on ethnicity, religious beliefs, economic status, gender, you name it. Some appear to less oppression than others but it is an illusion. We are all subjugated to one great oppressor, sin! Solomon rightfully says that we have no comforter … here on earth at least. He reminds us to look at what role we each play in the oppression of others for we cannot be a comfort if we are part of the problem, whether we realize it or not.

The dead! The dead are free from oppression … and happiness … and joy … and living. Peter wrote that it is only those who trust in God that may see the good that can come out of suffering. Thank you Peter for being a ray of sunshine! He says this though because we have a hope in Jesus of an eternity where sorrow and suffering will be no more. Peter was, as we are, on the other side of the cross so to speak so we have a better understanding of the impermanence of this life and its troubles and of the future promise of life in the coming kingdom.

But for today, greed and envy are tremendous motivators for oppression. When people strive for more wealth and power they rarely care for who gets pushed aside, trampled on or abused. It is a grabbing after that which will only give momentary happiness. Solomon suggests that it is better to have one handful with tranquility. … Yeah I read that and did not get it at first either. He is saying that we should not over reach or overextend ourselves. His wisdom guides us to be content with what we have, with what God has provided.

In chapter four Solomon gives two examples. The first is of a rich man whose insatiable thirst for more isolated him to the point that he had no partnership. He did not share with anyone and one day realized the immensity of that loneliness. In contrast, Solomon commends sharing in relationship. There are advantages in this as he points out. In companionship we find greater profit, a good return from our labor. We are able to help one another in difficult times when we are together. He pities those who have no one to help them when they fall. Together we can provide each other with comfort but there is no one to comfort the selfish and greedy. Companionship also affords greater protection when facing dangers. He goes further with that by saying that two is good but three is even better.

The second example is that of a poor but wise youth who succeeds the foolish king. He comes from nothing and it is implied that he was imprisoned at one point. But he rose to power and everyone followed him. He had it all! In time the people grew tired of him and he lost everything. All of his striving after money, power, and adoration was ultimately meaningless. It all comes and goes like the wind.

You might look at the opening verses of chapter five as advice or instruction on proper worship, the proper attitude, appropriate practice of prayer, and the respectful payment of vows. The reality though is Solomon is warning against straining our relationship with God. He warns against making rash vows. Rash vows become the “sacrifice of fools” and the “speech of a fool”. He advises us to be thoughtful before coming to God with an oath or vow. To consider our own limitations and our motivations. We ought to weigh all things against God’s word so that we know that it is good according to His perfect will. “What is the big deal about making vows?” A vow is a promise and for the God who always keeps His promises, breaking our promise is detestable to Him.

Whether facing oppression or battling against the sins of greed and envy, trying to stay humble enough to be content with what we have or avoiding quick words and rash vows, Solomon always returns to our Creator God. ”Therefore stand in awe of God”, trust in Him and His providence. In awe of Him rather than standing in awe of ourselves. Then we can face the troubles and strife with great endurance. Then we can rise above our baser nature. We can find contentment and dare I say … meaning!

To be continued …

 

Jeff Ransom

 

There is a Time

 

ecclesiastes 3 11

Ecclesiastes 2:17-3:22

And now another exciting episode from the book of Ecclesiastes. “Everything is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”

Here we find Solomon, as cheerful as ever, saying that he “hated life” and all the work that he had done. Not only does it not bring lasting satisfaction but anything that lasts beyond our life will likely end up going to some schmuck who does not deserve it, has not earned it, and will not appreciate it. A great misfortune indeed!

Verses 22-23 are kind of an “ah-ha” moments though. He uses the phrase “anxious striving” and states that “all his days” there is “pain and grief” and at night “his mind does not rest.” Solomon is talking about the drive that pushes many of us. It is a drive to provide a “better” life, to have more, to do more, and to never be … satisfied. This drive causes anxiety, pain, and grief. What does it get us though? We are never satisfied because we are never where we want to be and we never will be. Not here in this world at least. It frustrates our days and disrupts our nights. Think about it. When you set a goal, where you want to be or accomplish in a year, what happens once you have met that goal? You set another goal! “A chasing after the wind.”

Now Solomon is not condemning ambition or general goal setting. As a matter of fact he says in verses 24-25, “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without Him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” He goes on to say that the godly will be granted wisdom, knowledge and happiness. To the sinner… a consolation prize of fruitless labor! He will not have satisfaction in his work and may not even see the fruits of his labor. We see examples of this type of judgment throughout Scripture as well as in and around our lives. This is a temporal judgment though, in the here and now. A giving and taking away of that which will ultimately perish.

Then Solomon says “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” He says activity for a reason and it is because an activity is something deliberate. It is a willful act and so for every willful act there is a time, a point in time, and a season, a duration. This opening line gives way to a poem on fourteen opposites, each of which happens in its own time. He illustrates this in a multiple of seven, which is the number signifying completeness. Additionally, he utilized polar opposites in a poetic form known as merism that suggests totality. In this way Solomon affirms that all activities, both constructive and destructive, and all responses to all things happen in their time. Too deep? Then let me break it down.

The poem begins with life and death, the beginning and end of life. Two events over which we have little to no control over. He continues with deliberate acts of one who begins and ends plant life, takes and saves human life, and constructs and destroys buildings. All concepts of life and death. From these thoughts he writes of our responses to such events: weeping and morning and their opposites, laughing and dancing and all of the joy found in them. He then switches from life and death to man’s interest in things and his affections towards people. This is followed with a period of mourning and the completion of the mourning, when one would begin again to move forward in life. Of course it all ends with concepts that are as significant as the ones he began the poem with. They are two of life’s basic emotions with war and peace being the most poignant expression of each one.

Truly, the burden laid upon us is that we have knowledge and understanding. We see this great big world around us and realize its satisfactions are too small for us. He has placed within us knowledge of eternity but we cannot fully grasp it yet. We know that we likely play a role in God’s plan but do not fully understand what God’s plan is for our lives. Despite this we can trust that He will “make everything beautiful in its time.” This is the burden God has laid upon us.

For those who do not know God, they may see Him as arbitrary but Solomon described the nature of God’s plan and what the appropriate response of men should be. He has seen it all from beginning to end. He knows the choices we make and the consequences of those choices. And to all will come His righteous judgment. For the wicked and the righteous, for the just and unjust, a time will come.

“But he says that we are like animals? That we have no advantage over them?”

We were all dust and have received life from God. To the dust we will all return so in that he is correct. We are like animals with no advantage. Verse 21 however shows us a difference. The fact that we are capable of contemplating what happens to our spirit is an advantage. This awareness is an advantage. To wonder at the awesome power of God and to be inquisitive enough to seek after Him. Again though, it is an advantage that is also our burden. To ask why we are here? What is our purpose in His plan?

The answers to all of this will come … in its time.

To be continued …

Jeff Ransom

Under the Sun

Eccles 1_9

Ecclesiastes 1:1-2:16

Ecclesiastes does not exactly seem like the perfect book for uplifting and encouraging one another but let us take a look at it anyway.

We can assume from the titles the author gives himself and other clues that Solomon wrote this book. The wisest man, excluding Jesus, to walk the earth and he begins by saying that “everything is meaningless!” What is meaningless? From the third verse of chapter one and a number of arguments made throughout the book, we can understand Solomon to mean that all human endeavors are meaningless. With the number of times he repeats the word meaningless several translations/versions read as “utterly meaningless”. Our labors are totally and completely useless. So he asks the question, “What does man gain from all his labor?” It is almost like he is daring us to give a positive answer to that question.

He argues in broad strokes that our efforts can have no permanent value. “Generations come and generations go” speaks of how short life is and the insignificance of our efforts. He contrasts our efforts with the earth which will remain and yet even the things that happen on earth are without meaning. Solomon gives examples of the sun, wind, and water to illustrate his point. Each of these cycling around in ceaseless activity. But what does the sun, wind, or water gain from their activities? Nothing! It is all monotonous and wearisome without effecting any progress or reaching some goal.

“But there are so many advances every day. In technology, medicine, industry, you name it. With everything we have and what is coming, Solomon obviously had no idea what he was talking about when he said there is nothing new under the sun.”

Cell phones – just an update on old technology which in turn is just two people talking only over greater distances. The computer – just a dumbed down version of our own brains. If you know me you will find it difficult to believe that a computer is a dumbed down version of my brain but it is true. Computers only mimic the pathways and impulses of our brains. Space travel – it is still just traveling from one place to another, adventuring into the unknown. So Solomon is correct, there really is nothing new under the sun.

Let’s not forget either that Solomon was not only incredibly wise but he was insanely rich and powerful. With all of that he tried to discover something, anything that had not been done before. He even sunk into madness and folly. The conundrum to this endeavor however is that he did so under the guidance of wisdom. He did not indulge blindly or in uncontrolled excess. He denied himself nothing and undoubtedly gained some measure of satisfaction from his experiences but he discovered that it was all fleeting, gone in an instant. Nothing was truly gained from any of it.

Solomon’s verdict on all of this is that wisdom enabled him to enjoy both pleasure and the fruits of his labor sensibly, to cherish them rather than to pass numbly through them. So there is an advantage to wisdom over foolishness. Yet both the wise and foolish share the same fate. So what does wisdom gain us? What is the point?

Paraphrasing Proverbs 2:1-8, “my son, if you accept my words, turning your ear to wisdom, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom, He holds victory in store for the upright, He is a shield, He guards and protects the way of His faithful ones.”

There is a glorious purpose; Trust in Him and His plan, His power. We can gain knowledge and understanding from God’s Word but it only becomes wisdom when we apply it to our lives. When we live out what we have learned from Scripture we will be able to enjoy this life and all of our “meaningless” endeavors. Without God, everything is meaningless.

To be continued…

Jeff Ransom

Joseph: More Pain

Genesis 44 34

Joseph, from the Old Testament, was a very godly man.  He endured many hardships, but held onto his faith. But along the way, he picked up some bitterness and resentment toward his brothers.  When he had the chance, he tormented them, exacting some measure of revenge.  At that time there was such severe famine that Joseph’s brothers were forced to go back to Joseph a second time and buy grain.  This time, Joseph started by being kind to his brothers, and then he veered off, continuing to emotionally torment them.

In Genesis 44, everything finally came to a head.  Joseph deceived his brothers further, and made it appear that he was going to force the youngest brother, Benjamin, to stay there with Joseph in Egypt.  This plan may have seemed like another fine way to punish his brothers, but there was a huge problem.  His brother Judah approached Joseph, and said, “If you keep the boy Benjamin here, our elderly father will die from sorrow.”  Perhaps Joseph hadn’t considered the pain he was about to cause his own father–or the pain he had already caused him.  At this point, Joseph just about had an emotional breakdown (read it for yourself in Genesis 45).  All along Joseph had been trying to hurt his brothers, but he was the one who was hurt the most.  The pain he wished for them turned out to be the pain he felt.

At some point in your life, you may have someone really hurt you.  Maybe you already have.  And maybe at some point you will have a chance to hurt them back.  Maybe even hurt them back really bad.  Consider this: it will come with a huge cost to you.  You may want to hurt them back, but it will cost you something very real and something very big.  It would be better for everyone involved if you can somehow forgive them, and not pay them back in the way they deserve.

-Jason Turner

Joseph: A Time for Revenge?

Genesis 42 8 9

There’s an old saying that goes something like this: many people pass the test of poverty only to fail the test of plenty.  The idea being that many people do okay while living in poverty, but if they become wealthy, they don’t do as well.  Joseph remained faithful to God and very honest during his time of slavery and imprisonment.  But in Genesis 42, Joseph had become incredibly powerful and wealthy.  His ten brothers who had sold him into slavery, came before him practically begging for food.  Joseph deceived them, he played mind games on them, he messed with them, he exacted his revenge.  Joseph had suffered for years in slavery and prison, and now it was payback time.  Read through the chapter, and ask yourself if these were the actions of a godly person.  How would you have responded in the same situation?  What will you do when you are given a chance to repay someone evil for evil?  How will you repay someone who has genuinely hurt you?

-Jason Turner

Joseph: Right Where God Wanted Him

Gen 41 38

In Genesis 40, Joseph is still stuck in prison for having done nothing at all.  He has now gone from living a pampered life as the favorite son to being a slave and then being a prisoner. It would appear that the circumstances in his life have literally gone from bad to worse.  But whether he knew it or not, God was putting Joseph right where Joseph needed to be.

In chapter 40, Joseph demonstrates an amazing ability to interpret dreams. In chapter 41, Pharaoh has a dream, and he wants Joseph to interpret it.  Genesis 41:15 says, “So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh.”  After Joseph was able to interpret the dream for Pharaoh, Pharaoh declared, “You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.”  Toward the end of the chapter, it reads, “Pharaoh had Joseph ride in a chariot as his second-in-command,  and people shouted before him, “Make way!” Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt.”

In one day Joseph went from being a prisoner to being a big wig, the second most powerful person in all of Egypt. You know you’ve reached the top if you ever have people running in front of your chariot telling everyone else to get out of the way.  How did this all come about?  Joseph was faithful to God, and God blessed Joseph.  No matter what happened in Joseph’s life, Joseph did not turn from God.  Let me ask you a question: do your circumstances ever get you down?  Do you allow yourself to become discouraged or frustrated or even depressed by where you are in life?  Have you ever considered that perhaps God is putting you right where He wants you to be?  The next time you feel tempted to give up on your relationship with God, remember Joseph, and all he went through, from the prison to the throne room–all in one day.

-Jason Turner