Solomon begins here with examples of improper decorum before a king. In his great authority he can do whatever he pleases, his word is law. So who in their right mind would say to him. “What are you doing?” We see this same idea applied to God in Job 9:12 and Isaiah 45:9. So Solomon says to obey the king, be loyal and not rebellious. Do not do something that is bad or wrong just because you do not like or agree with someone. Seems like common sense but we see it every day on the street level all the way up to those with the greatest wealth, power, and influence. There is even a saying that goes with it, “You cut off your nose to spite your face.”
So do not ask, “What are you doing?” but submit, for “whoever obeys will come to no harm.” This is the way of the wise. The wise person has a better chance of knowing the best course of action and when to act, knowing the proper time and procedure. And yet they still find misery as none knows what the future holds. Misery because we do know that there are consequences for our wickedness. And just as no one can control the wind or delay death, no one can escape the consequences for our wicked, sinful ways.
Life is not fair! … Solomon talks about the wicked being buried. In this context it implies that they receive undeserved respect. A proper burial given to an undeserving wretch. False believers who say the words and make a show of faith. So much so that they receive praise, but they are wicked none the less. They reach this status when justice is not dealt out in proper time. He may commit a hundred crimes and yet live a long life. Worse, he is adored by others who wallow in their own sin, rejoicing that this glorious example has been set for them to work towards. But there will be judgment! The righteous, God-fearing man will have life and the wicked … death!
Life is not fair! … Righteous men get what the wicked deserve and the wicked get what the righteous deserve. Circumstances and choices can lead to what might appear to be unrighteous judgment. Verse 13 tells us that justice will come … in time. Until then, verse 15 points to the wisdom of trusting God and enjoying the many ways in which we are blessed. See, we do not see the “big picture” that God does so we cannot fully understand why things happen when and in the ways that they do. It is better to accept what we are capable of and not stress ourselves with what we are not.
We are in God’s hands. He alone knows what awaits the righteous and the wise and all that they do. “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.” … Death! Death is the destiny we share and the answer to the question, “What does the future hold, what awaits us?” Solomon refers to this as “the evil in everything.” It cuts down the young and old alike. Death does not care whether you are good or bad. Some believe that because death is so arbitrary that it is excusable to rush into sin, to relish in it all their days. It is where we get sayings like, “Live like there is no tomorrow, live life to the fullest” and of course the most popular one in recent years, “YOLO, you only live once.”
For the wicked I guess this is pretty much true. They have no hope for the eternal life promised by God through His son Jesus so this is all that they have. But the living, those who have life through Jesus, they have hope. But in death we will know nothing. No longer able to learn or grow and in time we will be forgotten. God will not forget you though. We can believe this, we can trust it. He did not forget Saul who became Paul. He did not forget Peter, who denied Jesus. He did not forget Ezra, Nehemiah, Joseph or Job. He will not forget you!
Life is not fair! … I hear this all the time from people of all ages. I used to say this myself in frustration, thinking of the ways that I have been hurt or wronged. I stopped saying it when I took Romans 6:23 to heart, “For the wages of sin is death.” If life was fair and was as immediate as our impatience would hope it was, we would be dead the moment we sinned for the first time. In other words, man-kind would be extinct! If we got what we deserved we would not exist! Instead we have received mercy and compassion that goes beyond our comprehension and that we do not deserve.
I for one am grateful, not for what I deserve but for what I do not.
In Solomon’s time, perfume or oil was a symbol of joy and prosperity and often used as a metaphor for one’s reputation. Solomon combines these ideas with birth and death. He suggests that it is better to have a good name or reputation at the end of your life than to have a joyful and favorable beginning which, by one’s own actions could result in nothing. “The day of death is better”, in his second letter to Corinth and in his letter to Philippi, Paul reminds us of how true this is for those found in Christ. But Solomon’s point is valid for everyone as he explains that we generally learn less from the good times than the bad.
Solomon was pretty big on wisdom so he wrote about the wisdom of reflecting on the brevity of life, “Death is the destiny of every man.” He said that the “living should take this to heart.” or reflect on it. The heart was considered the seat of reflection and of moral decision and action. Seems like the opposite of what most people think today. Anyway, here he recommends that we not only reflect but do so soberly rather than delving into foolish pleasures. Through serious reflection we may achieve some level of moral and spiritual growth or maturity. Moses understood this as he said “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” These words, this message, is desperately needed in this day that emphasizes and encourages self-centeredness. It is common for us to laugh at troubles rather than face them, to joke about what we should take seriously. People are living life like it is an all-you-can-eat buffet that will never run out. This is the fool’s way but the wise live life in light of life’s brevity. Not cautiously or in excess but with purpose and meaning. There is also wisdom in listening to and taking to heart the warnings, corrections, and rebukes of the wise. It is in this that we learn and grow.
With that being said, let us heed the words of a wise man. Solomon warns against adversity and prosperity bringing temptations – temptations that draw us away from wisdom and God. Drawing us into foolishness. Adversity and prosperity alike may lead one to become impatient or be provoked to anger, or complain about where they are, longing for the “good old days.” Each of these is contrary to the trust we ought to have in God. But he was not condemning either of these. He had already made a case for how we can learn more from adversity than times of plenty and he was also in favor of prosperity. In both cases though, wisdom is present. The wise learn from adversity and enjoy the fruits of their prosperity.
It is the wise who would “consider what God has done.” Some try to find fault in God’s ways. The fool is blinded to the ways in which God works through the good and the bad. It is a matter of perspective and … ours is limited. Solomon warned against depending on our perceived righteousness while living wickedly. Those who become “holier-than-thou”, the “high and mighty”, are often the first to fall. Over righteousness occurs when we begin to think too highly of ourselves. We lose the humility that helps balance our relationships … with God, Jesus, and each other. He suggests that we try to strike a balance in life. “Did Solomon just tell us to be a little wicked?” not at all. He is just acknowledging that we are already wicked by our fallen nature. We cannot escape it but we can work to counteract it.
We are not righteous in and of ourselves. The great part about being on this side of the cross is that we know that we can be made righteous through the blood of Jesus. This knowledge brings wisdom. Wisdom makes one powerful but it does have limitations. In itself, wisdom is inadequate to provide us protection or offer salvation. Additionally, we are not able to gain full wisdom. Solomon, yes that Solomon, said that true wisdom was far beyond him.
What he did discover though is that true righteousness and true wisdom does not exist among men. In his searching he finds that there is only one upright man among a thousand it says and none among women. This speaks to the rarity of such a person but if Scripture and experience have taught us anything it is that such a person is all but nonexistent. In fact I question whether this statement was more prophetic than observational. Could Solomon’s one upright man have been speaking of the coming Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus the Christ? The reason for man’s universal depravity is his own doing, not God’s. “God made men upright.” He made us perfect and we screwed it up. We follow our own schemes thus we lack true uprightness, true righteousness, and true wisdom. And we fail to please God.
Solomon asks many questions in this book. Some that we find in this reading will be answered when Jesus returns. At his return we will have true righteousness, true wisdom. Then we will be changed and made new. Into the glorious creations that He intended us to be. In knowing God, pleasing Him, we gain wisdom but in growing closer to Him through His Son we gain life everlasting. Do you see the wisdom in this?
To be continued …
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…
When you read about the Kings of Israel or Judah, their life is always summed up in one sentence, as a kind of Eulogy: King ___ did right/evil in the sight of the Lord. That’s really all it boils down to, if we do right or we do evil in the sight of the Lord. None of the other things that they did matter. Take King Solomon for example. The wisest man who ever lived, the Lord appeared to him twice. Once he told him, “Ask what you wish me to give you.” He asked for wisdom to be able to lead the Israelites. God was so pleased with his answer that he said he would give him wisdom, riches, and honor, and if he followed his commandments that he would prolong his days. Solomon went on to build the temple for the Lord in Jerusalem.
It sounds like he lived his life to bring God glory, but Solomon had one small problem. Chapter 3:3 “Now Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David, except he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places.” And in chapter 11 vs.1-6 it says (paraphrase), “King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women. They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites ‘You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.’ As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord….” Contrast this to Ch.15:11&14 “And Asa did what was right in the sight of the Lord.” “The high places were not taken away, nevertheless the heart of Asa was wholly devoted to the Lord all his days.” You do not want your epithet to read: He loved the Lord, EXCEPT….. We need to make sure that we keep our hearts wholly devoted to God. Solomon started out loving God, but then he put other people before him and his heart was pulled away.
If you want to leave a lasting impact on this world, you must first learn to be different than the rest of the world. Boldness rejects popularity for the truth, and comfort for the cross.
When Jesus died, the world saw him as a criminal. After Jesus ascended into heaven, the apostles were tasked with changing the world’s hearts, from yelling “Crucify!” to calling Jesus Savior. This was no easy job, yet they went forward with boldness. They rejected popularity for the truth, and comfort for the cross. They persevered through persecution and hardship.
As Peter and John, two of Jesus’ closest friends, were speaking to the people at the temple about Jesus and even healed a crippled man, they received great opposition. They were approached by the priests and Sadducees, who “were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 4:2). Peter and John were thrown in jail and met before the rulers, elders, and teachers of the law that made up the Sanhedrin the next day. The Sanhedrin poses the question, “by what power or what name did you do this?” (Acts 4: 7). Peter responds with such a boldness we should imitate today,
“Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:8-12).
The rulers, elders, and teachers of the law were astonished by the courage of Peter and John, who were just ordinary men. Before Jesus called them, they were lowly fisherman, yet they approached the courts with such assurance and strength. After the hearing, Peter and John were commanded “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18). Despite the opposition, they answered with confidence in their Savior, “judge for yourself whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19 & 20).
You, too, have seen and heard all that Jesus has done. The Kingdom message, which is compared to a pearl of great value, has been revealed to you. Will you shamefully keep your pearl hidden, or will you unashamedly share that pearl with the world who so desperately needs it?
Just like in the times right after Jesus’ death, believing that Jesus is Lord and Savior is an unpopular opinion, yet the Great Commission still stands: “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19 & 20). Spoiler alert, God’s side is going to win the war when He establishes His Kingdom on the earth. In the meantime, fight this battle to win over hearts for that Kingdom. You may receive opposition, but do not be afraid because you already know the outcome of the war. Go forward with the same confidence Peter and John had. Be bold.