Ecclesiastes Chapter 12

underthesun(Last in a series of 12 insights into Ecclesiastes) by Gene Whittum

SoWhittumlomon continues his warning about death. He has spoken of it many times in his journal and again is imploring the readers to avoid severe judgment by calling to mind their duty to “remember their creator” while they still have the strength, mind and will to do so. The call to recollect has more significance than to just bring something to mind—it involves embarking on a course of action. It is the same as the association between the words “obedience” and “trust”, or “belief” (faith).

When one is presented with the Gospel, there is an interaction between the belief, or faith in the word and the acceptance (obedience) to the word. Obedience is the effect of the presentation of the gospel. Hebrews 4:2 illustrates this principle: “For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.” This principle is also reflected in the parable of the sower in Matthew 13 and Luke 8. For this reason, many who call themselves Christians and who have no evidence to support it, may not be true believers. The Epistle of James emphasizes this throughout the book. Much more could be said about this but we will leave it to your own personal study.

Bear in mind that Solomon, here, appears to be approaching the end of his life. When we read of his history, with his hundreds of wives and concubines, we can conclude that he was a very gifted man with untamed passions. He never had any recorded contact with a prophet (as his father David did with Nathan), and as a result, had no accountability with anyone. He was the king, after all. His testimony is given, in part, in chapter two. His experience of life is recorded in much of the remainder of the book and his wisdom concerning righteous living is delineated in the Proverbs, some of the Psalms and the book called the Song of Songs.

So what does one say when facing the end of life? Death is nothing new to the human race and, here, Solomon is about to expire but he has some final things to say to us. He is telling us to fear God today because old age and death come upon us quickly. He uses the word “before” three times (12:1,2,6) and then he says “when” several times and closes with “then” (verse 5), which appears to be the time of death.

In these verses he mentions several bodily ailments which, collectively or singly, are enough to cause one’s death. Scholars differ somewhat on what these verses mean in the progress of dying, and I can only attempt to sort them out knowing that others may disagree with the conclusions. That is okay. Some of the best scholars disagree with each other. One thing can be said as being certain: it is a description of a body dying. I shall number the verses and offer a brief comment.

Verse 1. “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble (difficulty) come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them.’” Old age is debilitating to say the least and many pleasures are no longer pleasurable because they are not possible or worth the effort. Verses 1 through 7 consist of one long sentence which is difficult to break up into an interpretation of the whole passage—therefore the semi-colons interspersed in our descriptions of the passage.

Verse 2. “Before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain;” Many dark days come with a note of the reality that the past is past, emphasizing the transitoriness of life. The dark days may also include some amount of depression. In any case, there is a contrast between the vigor of youth and the incapacitation of old age, life lived in a minor key.

Verse 3. “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;” Here the arms and hands begin to tremble, perhaps with palsy or feebleness; the legs become weak and unsteady; the back begins to stoop over; the teeth (usually molars) are few and chewing becomes difficult; and finally, the eyes begin to lose their sight and simple tasks of years gone by become arduous. The picture of the teeth is of female mill-grinders in the ancient world. The literal meaning would refer to the teeth.

We begin to observe the approaching frailty of old age. Because of these impending weaknesses of getting older, the author encourages the young to learn and practice godliness before the onset of advanced years. The habits formed in earlier years, become hardened and in later years are difficult to remedy without great deliberation.

Paul writes about this condition in Ephesians 4:18 where he states: “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” The verb ‘darkened’ is in the perfect tense—‘being darkened in the past with results that they are presently darkened’. It is a process of life that culminates in their hearts being ‘hardened’ by ignorance and carnal practices (We get our word ‘sclerosis’ from this Greek word). It results in a sad spiritual condition and robs old age of much happiness and spiritual peace, hope and satisfaction.

Verse 4. “When the doors to the street are closed and the sound of grinding fades;” “The lips (to quote Walter C. Kaiser Jr.) swinging or folding doors, as the jaws of leviathan are called the ‘doors of his face’ in Job 41:14 fall into the mouth for lack of teeth. (A street is a cleft between two rows of houses.)” The ancient world did not have dentists as the modern world does, so teeth were missing (or all gone) and chewing does not make much noise, thus, the ‘grinding fades’.

The next phrase: “when men rise up at the sound of birds, but all their songs grow faint” indicates the inability to get a full night’s sleep due to being awakened by every little noise. It seems that the hearing is also included when “all their songs grow faint”. The person, or persons, described here do not have all the infirmities mentioned in this passage. Every individual will have different ailments with which to cope. Authors differ in their interpretation of these verses. However, the context indicates that there is a slow or fast disintegration of the body and each of us can fill in our own disabilities as we age.

Verse 5. “When men are afraid of heights and of dangers (terrors) in the streets;” Many elderly people are afraid to go outside or walk along the streets and consequently remain inside. Ladders, also, are a common phobia. “When the almond tree blossoms (white hair) and the grasshopper drags himself along.” This would describe the hobbling walk of one with a cane.

The last part of verse 5 requires some additional translation. The NET Bible renders it “and the caper berry shrivels up”; the ASB reads “and the caper berry is ineffective.” The Complete Jewish Bible says “and the caper berry has no (aphrodisiac) effect”, and the Tanach (another Jewish translation does not mention the phrase. Another Jewish translation expresses it “and the caper berry shall fail.”
The significance of the verse is similar to Genesis 30:14-15 where mandrake plants were commonly thought to be an aphrodisiac in the culture of the time. Here, in old age, sexual virility may become a distant memory and even aphrodisiacs fail; the caper berry shrivels up as it remains on the branch beyond its period of ripeness.

An interesting series of words and phrases lead up to the conclusion of verse five that we mentioned earlier. Four times the word “before” is used in verses 1, 2 and 6; six times the word “when” is used in verses 3-5, and then a concluding word “then” is given at the end of verse five. “Then man goes to his eternal home and mourners go about the streets.” The ‘eternal home’ is an idiom for the grave as one’s final resting place and the “mourners (who) go about the streets” are referring to the common practice in funerals of that day. Mourners were often hired to advance before the funeral procession.

Verse 6. Solomon is not yet done with his description of the hazards of old age. He once again gives an admonition to “remember him”– the Creator mentioned in verse one. He wants to emphasize again the theme of the passage that it is always best to serve the Lord when one is young, fresh and able. The word “before” appears again to introduce more conditions that attend the elderly.

The occurrence of death is, as the prior verses, explained metaphorically and commentators differ as to what is meant by the silver cord, the golden bowl, the pitcher and the wheel. One thing is certain—it is a reference to the dissolution and the frailty of life. The “silver cord” seems to refer to the spinal cord; the “golden bowl” may be the skull or brain; the “pitcher”, which is used at the well and drawn up by a rope, may refer to the heart or stomach; the “wheel” at the cistern perhaps refers to the heart or circulatory system that transports the blood continuously throughout the body. When that breaks down, it is then terminal as mentioned in the following verse.
Verse 7: “and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” To interpret the prior verses, different translations do not help a great deal in the unraveling of the meaning. Authors differ and what I have written seems to be more of a common thread of agreement with many writers. In this verse, however, it is much easier to discern what is being said. Solomon is referring to the death of a person who has grown old. The life has been lived, admonitions and examples have been given, and now the individual must await the judgment of God as to how the life was spent.

Verse 8. “Meaningless! Meaningless!’ Says the Teacher. ‘Everything is meaningless’ “. This is a strange conclusion to what he has just said regarding “remembering” and “death”. This was the theme of his introduction in chapter one. In the context of the chapter, he seems to be saying how vain it is to have lived a full life and not learn the meaning and solution to righteous living. We can all say that to live and die without having the joy of life and the fellowship with God is indeed meaningless—a great tragedy.

Solomon now gives the conclusion to the matters of life. He has told us to enjoy life in spite of all the hurdles we may face. He has looked toward the God who is above the sun and who is intimately involved with His creation. Life is seldom free of various kinds of obstacles and problems and mysteries.

What qualifies a person to set down a dissertation such as this? He was certainly wise and throughout history has plainly taught many, especially those who take time to contemplate his words. He has not trifled with his readers; he researched and wrote thousands of proverbs and anyone who spends time in what he has written elsewhere (Proverbs and Psalms), receive much benefit from learning and observing his counsel and exhortations.

In his admissions in this journal, he too has learned right from wrong. Therefore he can say–verse 10, that “what he wrote was upright and true.” It is wisdom that has withstood the ages, and we still acknowledge that fact because what he has written became a part of our Scriptures. It has been written for our admonition. If we are honest in our assessment, we will have to agree that he was wise.

Verse eleven is critical to his conclusions. He writes: “The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one Shepherd.” Shepherd is capitalized and therefore refers to one much superior to Solomon, the teacher. In Genesis 48:15 Jacob, in blessing his sons, says: “May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my Shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm—may he bless these boys.” God was Jacob’s Shepherd. We all know Psalm 23 “The Lord is my Shepherd . . .”and Isaiah 40:11 “He tends his flock like a Shepherd; He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young.” See also Jeremiah 31:10 and Ezekiel 34:11-12.

Solomon in effect is giving credit for his words to the “Shepherd” when he notes that they were “given by one Shepherd.” He is not necessarily calling himself wise—his words were ‘given’ by the Wise One. He is using the third person (the Shepherd) rather than the first person, himself. The revelation of the book came from God. The words he sought were “delightful words” but they were also like prods to make the individual think. His work was not that of a pessimist or defeatist; he did not advocate artificial happiness nor did he deny the existence of God. He learned, perhaps too late, the same lessons that he is trying to help us to learn.

We must believe that his sincerity was real, albeit very difficult in places. Goads and nails are designed to prod and fasten—prodding towards righteous living and fastening us onto truth. Much of life is still enigmatic and puzzling, but with the guidance of the Shepherd, we are under gracious, tender and merciful care. The “words of delight” are words that he (Solomon) took delight in. Recall verse nine where he tells us that he “taught, heard, investigated, and put in order” his writings.

Verses 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.” Moffatt translates this to read: “My son, avoid anything beyond the scriptures of wisdom.” I believe he is speaking of anything beyond the scriptures as being a final authority for life. All true bible teaching, hearing (others), investigating (checking them out) and putting in order (writing it down) is truly a wearying process.

Verses 13 and 14 are his concluding exhortation: Fear God, and obey His commands. “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. (14) For God will bring every deed into judgment, (see 3:17, 11:9) including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” He has been inserting just enough warning throughout the book to keep us obedient.

The word “fear” has many connotations. It means to fear from an understanding of who God is and from a sense of our own weakness and dependence, joined by trembling in certain instances. It is to venerate God, praise and worship him in the knowledge of him. The more we know about God, the more we are able to worship “in spirit and in truth.” In this verse, the word is an imperative—a command, not just a suggestion (Moses did not go up on the mountain just to get a few suggestions from God. They were the Ten Commandments).

The word “evil” has many connotations in Scripture, everything from hating God to being mean to someone. It is always a negative word, meaning that anything that is not righteously based, may be said to be ‘evil’. As far as the judgment is concerned, the first line of judgment is the written word, the Scriptures. They should be the ‘goad’ that spurs us on to further investigate the Word of God.

There are several judgments in the bible and we cannot deal with them all here. Just one passage will be dealt with. It is 2nd Corinthians 5:20, a passage that deals with the judgment seat of Christ, or the Bema Seat. The verse reads: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body (that is, while living), whether good or bad.” The Greek word is kakos, which essentially means ‘worthless’ as does the Hebrew word rah, or rawah–to spoil or be good for nothing. The words do include sinful activity of many sorts but when dealing with the judgment of believers, the deeds we perform will be either “good” or “bad”.

In 2nd Corinthians, Paul is speaking to believers about pleasing the Lord and exhorting the believer to fear the Lord while working for him in the vineyard. When the believer appears before Christ at the judgment seat, our sins will not be an issue. All sin will be left in the grave and our deeds done in the body will be judged—whether good or bad (worthless). Are the things we do motivated by our love of Christ, or are they just out of a sense of duty? Are we filled with the Spirit as we live and labor, or are we carnal? When we worship in our churches, are our minds focused on the Lord or on ‘carnal’ things?

As an illustration: There is nothing wrong with a wheelbarrow of sand but you do not take a bucket of sand to the grocery store to pay for groceries. The sand is worthless. It is the same with our ‘spiritual’ deeds—are we motivated by the flesh or the spirit? It is a thin line at times as we gather together or walk around in the market place of life. Do we serve the Lord with a pure motive to honor him?
This does not answer all the questions that may be raised about these verses, but my desire is that we stop playing games with God and begin to get serious about our spiritual state. I think that when we appear before the Lord and he ‘wipes away all tears’, I believe the tears will be tears of sorrow, regret and shame that we did not do all that we could and should have done for the Kingdom while alive on earth. All that we have and all that we have done will seem insignificant as we stand in His presence.

These words on Ecclesiastes are from my heart; they are in no way complete or perfect. I trust that the reader will have received some instruction from this difficult book along with a blessing or two and that your own study of the Word will be enhanced and encouraged.
May the blessing of the Lord be with you.this old house

May I add one thing to this chapter. Some liken the description of the ailments of old age to an old house falling apart. Following is the song written by Stuart Hamblen in 1954 which he named “This Ole House”. Note how it fits someone who is becoming decrepit.

“This ole house once knew his children This ole house once knew his wife. This ole house was home and comfort as they fought the storms of life. This old house once rang with laughter This old house heard many shouts Now he trembles in the darkness when the lightnin’ walks about.

Chorus: Ain’t a-gonna need this house no longer Ain’t a-gonna need this house no more Ain’t got time to fix the shingles Ain’t got time to fix the floor Ain’t got time to oil the hinges Nor to mend the windowpane Ain’t a-gonna need this house no longer He’s a-getting’ ready to meet the saints.

This ole house is a-gettin’ shaky This ole house is a-getting’ old This ole house lets in the rain This ole house lets in the cold On his knees I’m getting’ chilly But he feel no fear nor pain ‘Cause he see an angel peekin’ Through a broken windowpane.

This ole house is afraid of thunder This ole house is afraid of storms This ole house just groans and trembles When the night wind flings its arms This ole house is getting’ feeble This old house is needin’ paint Just like him it’s tuckered out But he’s a-gettin’ ready to meet the saints.”

I just thought many of you would appreciate the subtle (or not so subtle) truth of this old classic.

Ecclesiastes Chapter Eleven

Copy right to the author-Posted with his permission Gene Whittum

Gene Whittum

How does one get through life when very little is guaranteed? Solomon has been telling us that the one thing that is guaranteed, is death. And after death, there is a judgment. He also talks about the God who is above the sun and that He is able to give wisdom in this “meaningless” life we experience. He never leaves us in a deplorable condition, but tells us that the hand of God is with us (2:24-26) and that we can distinguish ourselves from the “sinner” by being fulfilled and happy in life.

He also tells us that we will have difficulty understanding the providence of God and how to navigate the circumstances we may find ourselves in. In chapter ten he advises being industrious and involved in all of life. We are here, so let’s make the best of life in the confidence that God will provide strength and wisdom for all that we do. Discouragement is a course of little resistance and must not be the pattern of one’s life.

Chapter eleven continues the proverbial pattern of ten but without the pressure and involvement of the government, fools and their foolishness. It starts out with a perplexing verse which reads: “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.” Solomon’s intellect doesn’t reduce this to feeding the ducks on the pond. A better rendering reads: “Send your grain overseas, for after many days you will get a return.” (The NET Bible, LXX, NEB et al). Solomon was in the maritime business as well as many other trades. First Kings 9:26 tells us that he “also built ships” and sent them out. His businesses encompassed everything from agriculture to gold.

Further advice is given in verse two: “Divide your merchandise among seven or eight investments, for you do not know what calamity may happen on earth.” (NET Bible) What he is saying is comparable to one of our common sayings of “do not put all your eggs in one basket”. Diversity of capital is being advised here since we cannot predict what will happen in the future. Common sense is the issue, just as in chapter ten. Again, there is no assurance given that anything we do will succeed. We do have to deal with those above us, all around us, and those below us. Much of the Bible deals with money. The admonition in James 4:17 can be applied here.

uncertainityThe next few verses reflect the same uncertainty of life. We do not know when certain things will occur in our individual journeys through life. Solomon is approaching the end of his journal and the conclusion that judgment and death is certain so we are admonished to “remember your Creator . . .” With all the uncertainties of life, our attention to the details of life are important. The phrase “you do not know” is pertinent to the passage and is further warning to us to be observant, diligent and wise.

The fall of rain drenching the earth is inevitable. But when will it rain? When will the tree fall? When it falls, it will be a random act of nature—unchangeable and final. If we are inordinately fixated on trying to predict future events, we may never get anything done. Clouds come and go; the wind is fickle. We cannot control either and we can only live with the effects. Solomon lived in an agricultural society and the wind and rain could be beneficial or contrary. Also, being overly cautious may be hazardous to what we are trying to accomplish in this life. Sometimes nothing appears to be “safe”, but we cannot stand around and do nothing.

Verse five repeats the phrase “as you do not know . . .” This passage extends the analogy of the wind and rain to the development of a fetus in a mother’s womb. We must learn to deal with what actually is and at the same time, learn to live with it. It is God who makes everything.

Verse five is a difficult verse. Verse four talks about the wind, which is literal. “Wind” can also be translated “spirit” and mean something entirely different. Craig Bartholomew translates is thus: “Just as you do not know the way of the spirit (in) the limbs in the mother’s womb, so you do not know the work of God, who does all things” (page 337). Psalm 139:13-16 speaks about a child in the womb—“I am fearfully and wonderfully made . . .” The Psalmist lends credence to the interpretation of “wind” to read “spirit”. How does the life breath of the mother pass into the life of the infant inside her?

(With all of the modern wonders in the science of reproduction, we must still stand amazed at the development of a child in the womb. We do not know the character of the child, the health, the intellect, the future, and a host of other issues about the child, but we know the Creator. The beauty and wonder of the formation of a human being makes the problem of abortion all the more hideous and evil).
Whatever interpretation one takes, the idea of uncertainty in the passage is the same. The conclusion is also the same—that God is the Maker of all things and our faith and trust in Him must be grounded in His Sovereignty. We are to find our meaning of life in the knowledge that He is true and good—not always safe, but good. We do not always know how He works, or why. He does not always reveal the details to us. If He did, we would no longer need faith.

Verse six continues the theme of uncertainty and diligence. Since we do not know, we must be watchful of what we do and plan and expect. It is like the return of Christ; we do not know when it will occur, but we are enjoined to be vigilant. I John 3:3 says “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he (Christ) is pure.” In this verse, all of life comes into its sphere. Both morning and evening are in view here and “you do not know” whether success or failure will follow. We find, however, in the mercy and grace of God, that much of what we do is good. A song I love repeats the phrase “fear not tomorrow, God is already there.”

In verse seven, Solomon begins the conclusion to his “journal” of life. We noted earlier that the colors of his diary began with very dark colors (chapter one), but as he poked holes in the “canopy” under the sun, he began to reveal the God Who is above the sun. While life was “meaningless”, his perspective of existence was to enjoy all that God had provided; he ultimately saw God as Providential in the life we live.

Here, he notes that “Light is sweet, and it pleases the eyes to see the sun.” It is as if he had been feeling his way through life with scales on his eyes that gradually fell off to allow him to see life clearly. He does not deny that there will always be dark days, but the apparent absurdity, complexity and paradoxes of life will always have a silver lining when one acknowledges the attendance of God to all of our pilgrim experiences. The ultimate “dark day”, the day of death, it ahead of all who walk the face of the earth.

He has learned that the journey is serious and fraught with dangers, but it will be rivaled with great joy and gladness and peace of mind. Verse 8 tells us: “However many years a man may live, let him enjoy them all. But (a conjunction of contrast—a warning and caution) let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many. Everything to come is meaningless.” If we do not face these facts, we will be fragmented by it all. (A better translation of the last phrase would be “all that is about to come is obscure”, not “meaningless”. It harks back to the idea of the uncertainty of life spoken of earlier.)

The Teacher has brought us along through many experiences of living and much admonition. The peril of it all is if we do not heed what he has been saying, our final conclusion will be that “everything to come is obscure,” (NET) or “nothingness” (Jewish Study Bible). To not learn the lessons of life is risky.

This section of the discourse involves one’s youth and its demise all in a few verses. His caution spans the whole of one’s life, and gives a final counsel to enjoy life but be aware of the pitfalls because there will be a judgment of all activity. Hidden behind all this admonition would be his teaching that one must pursue godliness in all of one’s endeavors.

Quoting from the NET (New English Translation) we read: (Verses 9-10) “Rejoice, young man, while you are young, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Follow the impulses of your heart and the desires’ of your eyes, but know that God will judge your motives and actions. (10) Banish emotional stress from your mind, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the prime of life are fleeting.”

The passage is one of mixed feelings and emotions; of good news/bad news; joy and sorrow; rejoicing and dismay; expectancy and disappointment—an entire gamut of the emotions of one’s biography. Where does one go for solace after the course of life has been run? After everything has been said and done, what is there, by way of substance, left? Everything tangible will be left; everything insubstantial must be sent on ahead to the care of our Redeemer. Rewards for our activity will be given out by the One Whom we have honored with our lives.

A poem by William Laud expresses it well:

“Grant, O Lord, that we may live in thy fear, die in thy favor, rest in thy peace, rise in thy power, reign in thy glory; for thine own beloved Son’s sake, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Also, I Cor. 15:54 & 58: “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ (58) Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
We must all carefully evaluate our own lives, not someone else’s. Do you ever wonder where all the past years have gone? What was accomplished? Was it worth the effort? Time can be a friend or an enemy. It is what we do with it that gives it value. I’m afraid there will be many who will go into eternity with great fear of what it holds for them. That need not be the case because provision has been made for us all—it is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who both left us an example, and provided and escape for all who would confess Him.

Ecclesiastes Chapter Ten

Copy right to the author-Posted with his permission Gene Whittum

Gene Whittum

Chapter ten continues the thoughts of chapter nine in that it is dealing with the results of wisdom and folly. He emphasizes the superiority of wisdom over foolishness and articulates it in a series of rather loosely connected proverbs and is reminiscent of the book of Proverbs. Some of the verses are perplexing, but we will do our best to unfold their meaning. They seem to be designed to illustrate what Solomon says in verse 18 of the previous chapter: “Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.” What is ‘good’, and what is ‘bad’ often conditions our reactions to life and the ways it unravels for us.

Verse 1 states: “As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom honor.” The proverb is simply saying that it takes less to ruin something than it does to create it. When one commits an error in life, or a more serious sin, the world is usually ready to quickly condemn that person. To regain one’s reputation, then, often takes a number of years to restore—if ever. It is the mosquitoes, ticks and flies that sometimes give us the most discomfort.

These “flies of death” (as some call them), begin to struggle and then fall into the perfume and spoil it. Solomon puts it a little differently in his Song of Songs when he writes: “Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom” (2:15) The little things in ones’ life do not always lead to ruin but Solomon, here, is noting the ‘tendency’ of mankind to folly and lapses of other- wise good men that are able to multiply and emerge if not checked by ones’ conscience.

One look (David and Bathsheba), one thought (“the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked”), one act (Esau and a little bowl of lentil stew) are at times just enough to ruin ones’ life. Wisdom and folly both have moral overtones. To be wise requires one to be able to discern between good and evil (Hebrews 5:14) and the Psalmist who writes: “Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against you” Ps. 119:11). The evil comes readily while obtaining wisdom is a lifelong endeavor.

One additional caution that is not explicitly stated in the verse but may be applied to these verses is that even though a little folly outweighs wisdom, we, as the ‘non-foolish’ crowd, tend to remember the little bit of folly of someone else more than all the wisdom they may have exhibited prior to their moment of folly. Our inclination is to accuse or criticize others because it makes us feel better about ourselves since we have not “done that”. Such pride is often worse than the sin of others whom we so easily condemn. The sin of gossip, too, may be included in greater condemnation than the folly of another. To avoid these judgments requires a lifetime of reflection on sin and our experiences of life as well as an attentive study of the word of God.

Verse 2 is an odd verse that we must not apply to a political leaning. It reads: “The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left.” Again, the subject and context is wisdom and folly. Where does folly come from? The verse tells us that it can be traced to the heart, the unseen portion of life. The word ‘heart’ is found about forty times in the book of Ecclesiastes. It is seldom used of the material, or physical heart in our body. Its significance is of the seat of feeling and affections or the mind, or intellect. It is the determining factor in our purposes, understanding, knowledge, insight, or our intentions etc.

The essence of the heart and the problems it causes is what Solomon is contending with. Eternity is set within it (3:11); it contains evil (8:11, 9:3); it can be joyful (5:20); wise (8:5), etc. In the Bible, the hand is associated with strength (Ps. 16:8, Isaiah 41:13); Psalm 16:2 says “I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” Also Psalm 121:5 “The LORD (Yahweh) watches over you—the LORD is your shade at your right hand…” These thoughts are not intended to insult left handed people. The French and Latin word for ‘left’ or ‘left handed’ is sinistre and sinister, and refer to those who may be suspicious, wrong, wicked, evil, tending toward disaster, unfavorable, etc.,

sheepThe gospels enforce this thought with the account of the sheep and the goats. Matthew records in 25:33 that “He (Christ) will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.” In verse 41 it says: ”Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’ ”. An extended passage regarding the activity of the ‘fool’ is given in Proverbs chapter seven. Chapter six contains many admonitions to the foolish.

Verse 3 reflects a small part of the teaching of Proverbs. The book is designed to help the individual to conform to the Divine, or the created order of God and chapter ten of Ecclesiastes is on the order of Proverbs in that it is designed to help one distinguish between wisdom and folly. Verse 3 states: “Even as he walks along the road, the fool lacks sense and shows everyone how stupid he is.” We have all observed these individuals and they are usually easily recognizable. It is a nonverbal declaration of his moral condition. This fool considers everyone else a fool. The Septuagint says “In every way at least when a fool is on his march his heart (moral compass) will fail him so that all which he shall devise is folly.” Very well said.

In the next few verses, we observe folly in high places. How does one confront an angry, unpredictable and uncontrollable ruler? The ASV seems to say it best on verse 4: “If the ruler’s temper rises against you, do not abandon your position, because composure allays great offenses.” One need not abandon one’s standards or resign in the face of the anger of one’s superior. The wise man will remain calm in difficult situations and attempt to reconcile any differences. Proverbs says “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Rulers are expected to promote justice and peace in a society rather than abusing power and privilege by sanctioning evil officials. Note what David did when he faced the anger of Saul—he played his harp and the music calmed his troubled soul. This may be called a social tightrope.

Verses 5 to 7 give further illustrations of rulers who are trouble making fools (history is full of them). We often think that because a man is rich, he is competent to rule over others. Politics and politicians are by nature erratic. Verses 6 and 7 are opposite situations. In one instance, “Fools (folly) are set in many exalted places while rich men sit in humble places”, then, “I have seen slaves riding on horses and princes walking like slaves on the land” (verses 6 and 7). This type of governing is an illustration of chaos and incompetence in a nation. These men are strangers to the wisdom of God, and without wisdom, there will be social chaos.

The next few verses, 10-15, advise caution in the area of common sense or, the opposite, nonsense. Again, they have a pattern much like the Proverbs and involve subjects such as planning ahead, work, and speech. Wisdom and foolishness are involved in these verses. Verses 12-15 give us a portrait of a fool. The word ‘fool’ or its derivatives (foolish, foolishness, etc), are mentioned some 25 times in the book.commonsense

The verses do not require very much explanation because what they are saying is quite obvious. Noting the expressions “may be” ‘bitten by a snake’, ‘ injured’, or ‘endangered’ are precautionary words. It is like warning someone that ‘if you drive too fast, you may have a wreck’. We all understand these cautions. If one uses a dull ax, it takes more strength. Those who can make the correction and don’t, are deemed foolish, or unwise. These are everyday admonitions that may even appear to be out of place in the overall context of the book. Nevertheless, they are all just a common sense approach to life that ought to be applied to all of the previous chapters. I read a sign once that emphasized this. It simply read: “THIMK”. It was a subtle caution by its misspelling. I do not believe that we should be looking for “deeper” meanings in these verses.

Verses 12-20 illustrate the normal and personal interactions we have with people in everyday life. The theme, again, is why it is better to be a wise man than a fool and shows that wisdom is better than folly. Words are an expression of what is inside an individual. Christ tells us that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Mt. 12:24b). And in Proverbs 18:21 is this warning: “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it (life) will eat its fruit.” The wise man knows how to be gracious with his words and they include charm and kindness, and at the bottom is a life of humility.

The fool, on the other hand, reveals himself to be the exact opposite. It reads: “But (a contrast) a fool is consumed by his own lips”. Another rendering is “but the lips of a fool will destroy him”. In verse 3, we laughed at the fool. Here, we observe his tragic and perilous side of him. He refuses to begin with God. The book of James has a great deal to say about the tongue and indicates that it is the acid test of wisdom and godliness (James 3:1-12).

Verse 13: “At the beginning, his words are folly (moral); at the end they are wicked madness—(mental).” “Madness” implies so great a departure from wisdom, that the mind, without any control, rushes on with a blind fury. The New Testament word is “mania”, maniac. (Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies page 262). This is strong language and appears to be progressive in the lives of fools. Job 5:3 states: “I myself have seen a fool taking root, but suddenly his house was cursed.” Here is the progression of a fool. A perfect example of this is Hitler—the ultimate fool, steeped in the occult and thoroughly wicked.

The following verse tells us that “the fool multiplies words.” Multiplication is stacked up addition which means that his prattle is incessant, off the top of his head, and argumentative; it has no basis in truth, logic, or wisdom. The end result is an enigma that no one can comprehend. What trouble will he ultimately cause? His inner character is dangerous and his posture is one of arrogance.
Verse 15 seems to indicate that the fool works hard at his foolishness, and, perhaps seeing no real progress or gratification, gets weary of worthless effort. His labor and toil are wearisome and painful and he ends up in dislike and disgust. Perhaps that result is the only thing that compels him to think and review his life. He gets to the point of not knowing where he is and “gets lost on an elevator”. We tend to roll our eyes and heave a sigh–hopefully, of pity—for the fool. Our modern version of this is that “he doesn’t know enough to come in out of the rain.”

In verses 16-20, Solomon works some more on rulers. How are they to avoid foolish decisions? “Woe to you, O land whose king was a servant and whose Princes feast in the morning.” The feasting in the morning indicates a ruler without dignity or wisdom. He is also apparently lazy and surrounded by decadence. The feasting also includes drinking which indicates additional irresponsibility. The servant may have been an underling (secretary) to a king, but the word also connotes a youth who does not have wisdom or experience to keep control of his kingdom.

This chapter ends with some shrewd insights concerning rulers. Verses 4-7 accent a rather negative view of rulers. The “woe” of verse 16 changes to “blessed” in verse 17. The wise man cares much about the way his country is governed, and about the way he is to rule himself and his affairs in a world that is described in the remaining verses 18-20. The contrast between verses 16 and 17 are striking. An illustration of the “land whose king was a servant” is given in I Kings 12:1-15 when Rehoboam followed Solomon as king of Israel and made his disastrous decision to follow the advice of “the young men who grew up with him”. The kingdom was irreparably split because of a fool’s decision.

With such a defective leadership, there is most often a body of dignitaries who are given over to self- serving and self-gratification, feasting during the day while ignoring their responsibilities to the citizens they purportedly rule over. The consequences are disastrous and the government resembles the retinue of a boxer approaching the ring—all hangers-on, parasites and essentially worthless.
In verse 17, the contrast is not so much the difference between young and old but between wisdom and foolishness. There are other issues also, such as self-control, laziness, indulgence and arrogance. Solomon was concerned with just such an outcome in chapter 2:18-19 where he laments: “I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless.” How prophetic.

The world is demanding. Verse 18 asks a question concerning laziness that would apply to much more than a house with a leaky or sagging roof. All of life demands effort—physically, mentally, socially, spiritually, economically, politically—and on and on. Without, usually valiant effort, all these things decay and the details of life become a worthless liability, for the individual and the nation. The word “leak” could be better translated “collapse” which is more in line with the thought of the verse. My observation has been that if one owns a house, everywhere you look there is something to repair. Such is life. [JIV Editor’s Note: Even the best of homes have people on staff to keep it pristine and repaired]

Verse 19 does not reflect the “drunkenness” of verse 17. This verse expresses the joyous results of a life lived in wisdom. It is a difficult verse but appears to reflect the contrasts in the chapter as a whole. Money is never to be despised because it is a neutral substance. Solomon mentions it in 2:8 noting that he “had a lot of it”; 5:10 where he admits that it did not satisfy; 7:12 where, for him, it was a shelter, or protection. Here it could be regarded as a necessity. I Timothy tells us that “money is the root of all kinds of evil”, not evil in and of itself.

The reference to the “feast made for laughter” and the “wine that makes merry” does not have the context of the prior verses (15-17). Life is to be enjoyed and pleasing “under the sun”. A merry life and laughter are not illegitimate pleasures, however, all things must be appropriate to true spirituality.

Verse 20 is a further discussion of the situations and dangers of life spoken of earlier in the chapter (8-11) digging pits, breaking down walls, quarrying stones, splitting logs and chopping wood. There is also danger in politics and the offending of those over you. Wisdom is still the solution and difference between success or failure. If it is an afterthought, one will ordinarily fail and pay a price. It does no good to lock the barn door after the horse has escaped.

Solomon is urging discretion when speaking of the ruling powers. Life, at times, becomes a social tight rope when one begins maneuvering through the problems of government and society. What does one say in difference circumstances when it may affect one’s future socially and politically? We are back again dealing with men in power. King David, in his discourse with the woman of Tekoah in II Samuel 14:4-20 asked “is not the hand of Joab with you in all this? The woman answered, ‘As surely as you live, my lord the king, no one can turn to the right or the left from anything my lord the king says’”.

The common expressions that “even the walls have ears” and “a little bird told me” reflect the idea of the verse. The “word on the street” was the ancient electronics of Solomon’s day. Survival, sometimes, is the task of the day. When the rumor mill is churning, a righteous life and an honest tongue, along with a daily habit of prayer, is the best protection from the king.

Ecclesiastes Chapter Nine

Copy right to the author-Posted with his permission Gene Whittum

Copy right to the author-Posted with his permission
Gene Whittum

Solomon has been talking about (among other things) suffering and prosperity and whether it is good or bad. In chapter 6:12 he makes the statement “For who knows what is good for a man in life . . .” and in the following chapters, gives scenarios of what is good and bad, such as a good name, the day of death, and several other issues of life. In his evaluations of these issues, he concludes that when we suffer or face adversity, it is not necessarily a sign of God’s disfavor and that prosperity is not necessarily a sign of God’s favor.

Chapter nine tells us that the ways and mysteries of God are just that: ways and mysteries. Our lives are to be lived under the Divine Providence of God and under His inscrutable wisdom. And what He decides that our lives are to embrace, we must, as Habakkuk 2:4 tells us, “live by faith.” All things being equal—our relationship with God being righteous, and our labor for His kingdom being constant and our motives pure, we need not worry that God is somehow punishing us.

Chapter 9 admittedly has some difficulties in understanding what Solomon is trying to say. Verse 1b states: “but no man knows whether love or hate awaits him.” We do not have a problem understanding the love of God, but it is not a guarantee that just because God loves us that life will always be “a bed of roses”. There is an old song that starts “God has not promised skies always blue . . . but he has promised strength for the day . . . light on the way” etc. We read about the apostle Paul’s thorn in the flesh but he was told that “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2Cor 12:7) The cause, according to Paul, was due to a “messenger of Satan to torment him” to keep him from becoming “conceited” about great revelations he had received.

As to the word “hate”, it is used many times in Scripture as a hostile mind or malice. Here, according to Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies (page 209); “it is not always to be understood in the strongest sense, but must sometimes mean only a less degree of love and regard; to be cold and indifferent to, to show less favor to.” I believe that is what is meant in this passage and in the total context of the book.

Does God truly hate the unbeliever? Certainly not according to John 3:16 where John tells us that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” This is the verse that many use to warn and convince the sinner that there is a better future and eternity awaiting the repentant person.
Verse 2 reflects that when Solomon says: “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,” he seems to be talking about a general population which includes both believers and unbelievers, not the extreme sinners such as murderers. However, in any general population, there would be a mix of various kinds of sinners but without an excessive number of extreme felons.

We are all in the care of God and at His disposal, or under His supervision. He is the potter, we are the clay [see 2 Corinthians 4:7], and how He fashions us is in His sovereign grace is His prerogative. The unbeliever’s life is also under what the earlier scholars called “common grace”. The rain falls on the just and the unjust (Mt 5:45) and we are all recipients of the “good” and the “bad”. Righteousness and wisdom have no inherent guarantees from adversity. Neither do the unrighteous and foolish. Job is a constant example of the righteous man who suffered mightily and undeservedly. His friends wrongly concluded that he must have sinned severely.level playing field

The conclusion in verse 2b is that what happens “with the good man also happens with the sinner; and with those who take oaths (the good man), so it is with those who are afraid to take them”, (the sinner). The playing field appears to be level for both the righteous and the unrighteous. The advantage, however, is to the righteous due to the inherent wisdom and discernment that comes with true righteousness. It would be cruel to suggest, as did Job’s friends, that those who suffer are somehow objects of God’s wrath and that all suffering is a result of personal sin. Babies and little children often suffer illnesses and pains and to attribute it to their sins would be to add unjustly to their oppression. [Web Site Host:We might keep in mind the Bible history of Achan and Ai, the rebellion in the Wilderness; and the loss of God’s support to Israel and Judah when they went into battle without consulting HIM].

Suffering has many purposes and causes, but Solomon is not trying to determine the causes. He is simply noting that in the economy of God, it does happen, and it happens to everybody. What Solomon is concerned with next is a subject that he approaches several times in his journal of life. It is the problem of death, which, he observes, will happen to everybody. The statistics are one-in-one. He approaches it as an event that happens to all “under the sun”.

Derek Kidner notes that “no-one has faced this more resolutely than Qoheleth (Solomon). It was this that gave him second thoughts over his praise of wisdom, “seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten” (2:13-17). After this reflection, whatever subject he touches has to face this test and be found wanting. Whatever may be the successes of a man’s best years, the entirety of his career has to be mapped as a journey from a naked beginning to a naked end (5:15) (Page 99 of An Introduction to Wisdom Literature).

Verse 3:“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.” This is quite an indictment. We are all aware of the evil in our own hearts but to accelerate to ‘madness’ is beyond the sophistication of the ‘average’ law-abiding citizen. It “implies so great a departure from wisdom that the mind, without any control, rushes on with a blind fury”. (Wilson’s OT Word Studies page 262) It is folly at its worst. Wisdom has been excommunicated from the thought life of the hell-bound.

However, there is hope even for the worst of sinners. There are many examples in history of those who were evil in life but found Christ and His salvation, such as Paul the apostle, John Newton (Amazing Grace author), Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, Martin Luther, and many more.

Verse 4 mitigates the grave for the converted. But for the unconverted, there is still hope. “Even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!” In the ancient world, the dog was a despised scavenger, not like the sophisticated lap dogs that are so prized by society today. The point here is that until death, one is able to repent of the “evil and madness” so that death will have no sting, but will be “swallowed up in victory” (2 Cor. 15:54).

Recall the statement in chapter 7:2 that said “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting”. The next few verses in chapter 9 are further warning that all chances in life and all obligations to the Creator are to be taken care of while one is among the living. Many times in the next few chapters, the uncertainty of life is examined and the consequences of wrong choices are discussed. Chapter 12 is the final warning with reference to salvation, death and judgment. Death is final for all.

Verses 7 to 10 enjoin the reader, once again, to “Go, eat your food with gladness and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do.” The word “favor” simply means that God is kind and tenderly affected toward us and sincerely desires our happiness, even in the midst of the degradation of this world. Our faith is to be remedial; our consciences need to be taught the truth of the Word as it has been given to us. Solomon had the Pentateuch, which should have been enough to provide the wisdom that he was apparently seeking. His estrangement from the Law, however, and his experiments of life (chapter 2) alienated him from the tender affections of God and hindered his quest for truth, wisdom and happiness even though in 2:9 he states: “In all this my wisdom stayed with me”.

In spite of all his experiences, he concluded that he could still enjoy and recommend true enjoyment of the benefits of faith. His prior advice seems to have become an urgent call to righteous living. With death staring him in the face at every turn, and time being short, his best course was to become serious about life. So, the suggestions (or commands?) of verses 9 and 10 come after the call to be “clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil,” a symbol of joy and gladness. (Verse 8)
From verse 7, it appears that Solomon did, indeed, attain a change in his life. The New King James renders it: “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart; For God has already accepted your works.” That reflects a teaching I heard years ago from a faithful friend who counseled people: “You have to want to first!” Without a fitting and pure motive, there will not be much improvement. Someone pointed out also that the center of ‘obedience’ is “I die”. The apostle Paul argues in the book of Romans that the struggle for holiness is a daily and constant fight against the old sin nature (Rom. 7:14-8:17). Men who are righteous, will not have to worry whether God may forsake them because their hearts and motives are acceptable to Him—but it is not easy.

Verses 9 and 10 are further encouragement to the upright. Intimate relationships will be enhanced and the ‘meaningless’ toil and endless planning will not have the effect that being “under the sun” would ordinarily produce. This is part of the “grace of life” that Peter refers to in I Peter 3:7. This enjoyment of life however, is not the final answer to the question of the purpose of life, nor the ultimate solution to wisdom and knowledge. These answers do not seem to have a final resolution in the book. The author continues to come back to the fact of death and how we are to live in the light of our final day. The enjoyment of life is secondary to satisfying our Creator in the meantime. The opportunity to do what pleases us and what pleases God you will end. The verses of 7:1 and 8:1 still haunt Solomon.

The injunction to work hard continues in verse 11. He looks around and notes several things that are an enigma to him: “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.” This echoes verse 1 which says: “BUT no man knows whether love or hate awaits him.” The same mystery appears again with no explanation that satisfies his inquiry.

The passage comes between an encouragement to piety and enjoyment resulting in true delights of life and a brief discussion of some hazards of life and wisdom and folly. Life can be frustrating and must not be forgotten. Vanity can take many and different forms. He mentions five of them and not one is able to guarantee fortune or well-being.

Remember the high school annuals that usually contained the names of the ‘best looking’, the ‘best athletes’, the ‘smartest couple’, etc. Here, Solomon is talking about the ‘most likely to succeed’ but the ultimate outcomes of the five examples are more negative than positive. The five are the ‘swift’, the ‘strong’, the ‘wise’, the ‘discerning’ (understanding) and the ‘learned’ (skilled).

He starts out with “The race is not to the swift.” For all of the contenders, ‘time’ is a limited, as we are all in the hand of God and well aware of how brief life can be. The second limitation is ‘chance’, or, better, ‘occurrence’, the unexpected event or circumstance that may throw even the most accomplished person off course. In the divine scheme of events, winning a race goes to the one who runs in the strength of the Lord and goes where he sends. In this context, the ‘time’ should be construed as a negative, unless, of course, the event is ordered by the Lord as noted.

Time, for the swift, will run out and after that, the judgment. Events may overwhelm the participant in the race only to end in failure. The swift one appears to rely on his own strength and ability rather than divine assistance. The same would be true of all of the other contenders. There are biblical examples of all the participants: Asahel was a swift runner but was speared; Samson was strong, but lost; Solomon was extremely wise but became very foolish; Ahithophel had exceptional discernment but was outwitted by Hushai; Moses was learned but committed murder and spent the next forty years as a fugitive.

So, in life, “love and hate” await us, and we do not know which it will be (9:1). The next challenge is in verse 11c: “BUT time and chance happen to them all.” It is not that we may be in the right place at the right time, or the wrong place at the wrong time, but that we acknowledge that the God of all grace is sovereign and is “pulling the strings”. The word “chance” is better rendered “events”. Solomon seems to be an evangelist in warning his readers that what happens in life is ordered by God—we are not the “captain of our souls.” The events of life are uncertain and every night on the news is an account of an unexpected death or some other event. These events are usually “evil” in nature.

William Ernest Henley wrote the poem “Invictus” in which he challenges authority of God when he writes:

“Out of the night that covers me, black as the Pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul. In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeoning of chance my head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears looms but the Horror of the shade, and yet the menace of the years finds, and shall find, me unafraid. It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

In this poem, Henley is defying the authority of God to write the script (scroll) of his life. We only have this life to prepare to meet a Sovereign, gracious, and merciful God. Verse 12 puts a capstone on what Solomon has been saying when he remarks: “Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come:”

He finishes the verse with: “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.” The vanity that Solomon has been talking about throughout the book is for one to be trusting in human wisdom, abilities, and believing that they will never fail. Proverbs 21:30 tells us that “there is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord.” We do not relish the idea that we are not in control, but ultimately, and in the final analysis, we do not have dominion over the events of today nor are we guaranteed a tomorrow.

Along with these thoughts, a pastor friend of mine speaks of the Divine-human cooperative. There are a great number of examples in the Bible in which men have ‘cooperated’ with God in different endeavors. In these cases, men must, in the final analysis, depend upon God to provide the wisdom and power to accomplish His will. In I Samuel 17:47 when David confronted Goliath at Sucoh in Judah, he said “All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.” An amazing story to illustrate what Solomon is saying in these verses.

There are many such examples in the Scriptures where men or women and God cooperate to show His power, majesty, dominion and authority to an enemy or a congregation. This does not mean that man does not have a “free will”. However, I do neither have the ability nor the wisdom to discuss the problem at this time or in this context. Life is a Divine-human cooperative. We are not free radicals to do much of anything without the strength of the Lord. Men must acknowledge that time is both a friend and an enemy and we can easily become “trapped” in a snare unexpectedly; after that, the judgment.

Verses 13-18. With the words “I also saw”, Solomon indicates a new section but he is still concerned with wisdom and folly. The details of the siege are not given except that there was a great king, a large army, a small city, huge siege works (snares), a few people in the city and one wise man. Solomon was impressed with the whole story. Some think that he is referring to the story of the wise woman in the little town of Abel. That story is in 2 Samuel 20:14-22. The circumstances, however, are not the same.

How the city was delivered, we are not told. This is a case of ‘evil’ suddenly coming upon a city. The first part is the story and the second part is Solomon’s commentary on it. The thought of the paragraph seems to hark back to verse 10 where he says: “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 or wisdom.” Death eliminates all of our options.

The apparent point that Solomon is making is in verse 16: “So I said, ‘Wisdom is better than strength.’ But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded.” There is one positive side to the story—the “better” of wisdom. However, there are two negative and unfortunate notes that he records: The poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are no longer heeded. His standing in the community was nil.

It takes a certain spiritual dimension to be despised and rejected and continue on in life. Godly wisdom is a rare but precious commodity in the life of the believer and will be recognized and rewarded by a God who understands and directs one’s life. If you ever encounter a wise man, be sure to listen and take advantage of it.

The last couple of lines give excellent advice: (v17) “The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools. (18) Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.” It seems that we have a maximum number of fools that are constantly calling for our attention and when there is a large collection of them, much destruction and harm happens. Wisdom, here, is a priority, but human wisdom must be learned from the storehouse of the Word of God. Biblical wisdom is the application of the Word of God to experience. Experience must be under the Sovereignty of God so that we can say, whether “love or hate” awaits us, we are in the hands of an all knowing and all loving God.

Ecclesiastes 8

Solomon is steering away from the philosophical approach to life and is now fon the practical applications of living under the sun, but it is with the knowledge that there is a God that is above the sun. He has investigated many aspects of life, both good and bad, and has again reiterated that God is “there for us” in both the good and bad times.

That belief, in his pursuit of understanding life, has been solidified. We, too, as New Testament believers, know that “in (the midst of) all things (happenstances of life), God is working for the good (our good), for those who are called according to his purpose.” (A paraphrase of Romans 8:28). All things are not good, but the good and the bad come into the lives of every person. It is from those happenings that God turns things around into being “the good” of His purpose.

The first verse asks the question: “Who is like the wise man? Who knows the explanation of things?” At the end of the chapter, his conclusion is (verse 18b) “Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it,” which leaves us with the question—what is he driving at in between these verses? Mankind is saturated with sin and only as one submits to God is one able to comprehend the wisdom of God and the foolishness of sin.

Remember that Ecclesiastes is evaluating life and instructing us as to what kind of life is worthwhile. To say that wisdom is the answer is to greatly oversimplify the questions that emerge in the passages of the book (The Preacher). There are many problems that are detailed in the previous chapters, but here the author is investigating the realities of governmental authority and justice, as well as the injustices of life in general. His ultimate conclusion is that our dependence upon faith in God and the ultimate justice of God is the sole remedy. How we respond to the inequities of life and the seemingly unfair treatment we receive from God presents an enigma. “Who can straighten what he has made crooked?” (7:13)

He deals with it forthwith in verse two with the mandate to “obey the king’s command.” As citizens, we have that same obligation. There are several examples of obedience to the king in the Old Testament such as Joseph in the household of Pharaoh; David before King Saul; Nehemiah who served Artaxerxes; the prophet Daniel who ministered before several dynasties and Queen Esther who was both faithful and obedient to Xerxes. All were people of great faith.

The governments these people served were not what we have today. Nevertheless, the principle of obedience is the same and the authority, in God’s eyes, is the same, but not as severe or authoritarian. We may walk out of the presence of the “king” without punishment. However, in Solomon’s day, to disobey the king or question his authority could have devastating consequences.

Verses 2-8 are somewhat self-explanatory. We know what is means “to take an oath and break it”, or, to be rude to the king in excusing ourselves from his presence before being dismissed. These verses are a presage (foreshadow) to the apostle Paul’s teaching in Romans 13:1-7, Titus 3:1 and I Peter 2:13-18. The verses also reflect the deep depravity of the subjects of the king who may oppose the king and “stand up for a bad cause” (verse 3). The passage also seems to assume that there “is a proper time and procedure for every matter” when appearing before the king.

The purpose of government is to protect its subjects and administer righteous justice. Proverbs 14:34 states, “righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a reproach to any people.” However, there are times when governments are not always loyal to their responsibility as noted in verse nine and in chapter 4:1.

And we must not forget the mention in verse one that “wisdom brightens a man’s face and changes its hard appearance” when the proper protocol is followed in the presence of the king. Obedience softens the demeanor of the monarch which, in turn, changes a man’s discontent with his lot. It is never pleasurable to be in a situation where one has to “sweat it out” before a magistrate or a higher court.

Solomon is giving advice so that we may get along in the world with all its entanglements. No one is wise enough to behave properly in every situation of life. The truly wise man looks to the Lord in faith. Furthermore, we cannot always assume that the king is wise or congenial. A righteous government alleviates many of the anxieties we might face when standing before the ruling power. Human ignorance is a hindrance to the knowledge of the future (verse 7) so it behooves the citizen to seek wisdom, and mature in his faith.

hopelessnessVerse eight introduces four examples of human helplessness. There is a limit, even to the king, to control the wind or to prevent death. The New King James Version reads: “No one has power over the spirit to retain the spirit and no one has power in the day of death.” The implication, or better inter- predation of the verse, would be a reference to the “breath of life” or to preserve life. We are all impotent in the face of death. The context would teach that no one has “power over the day of his death”, not even the king. Modern medicine is amazing, but it ultimately cannot prevent death. We live precariously when facing death. It would mean that even the king does not have power over his own “spirit” of life. Even he is destined to succumb to death, and is not exempt from doing evil.

This passage is speaking of having “power over” certain aspects of life. We have no power over ‘spirit’ life, no power over death that follows, and no power to quit the king’s army in time of war.

The last factor in the verse is the domination of sin over those who practice it habitually. The Jewish translation is “neither shall wickedness (the sinful act itself) deliver those that are given to it,” or, addicted to it. It is the old sin nature that holds sway over, or has power over, the wicked. The apostle Paul discusses that kind of predicament in Romans chapter six, verse 19 where he writes: “. . . Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.”

The phrase “no one is discharged in time of war” seems quite out of place in the sentence as it is interpreted by some commentators. In a war, a discharge would place the soldier beyond the reach of danger. In this context, there is no discharge or AWOL. The “war” spoken of here, would involve the struggle of life in the face of death and evil. No one is exempt from this type of conflict. We are not only contending with the king, we are contending with evil and life and death. There is no escape this side of the grave.

A good translation of this verse is by Charles Bridges in his exposition, which reads: “There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death; and there is no discharge in that war, neither shall wickedness deliver those that are given to it.”

Several times Solomon says that “he saw”, or observed things done “under the sun”. In verse nine and ten, he mentions more inequities of life. He was a devoted scholar of the full spectrum of activity common to mankind, and now mentions the cruelty of unjust people in authority and their death later. Some, apparently, died in “church” and were carried out. Included were scoundrels who would worship in the “holy place” where they would be praised for their pretended righteousness. He concludes that “this too is meaningless.” In the New Testament, we read of Ananias and Sapphira who were slain by the Lord for their pretense of holiness (Acts chapter five).

It appears that many of them get away with their sins. They are not charged, or tried and it caused others to become bold and “filled with schemes to do wrong”. Evil begets evil. Though they appear to avoid prosecution, God will judge them. We are sometimes left with the idea that God is soft on sin and that there will be no retribution. Solomon, however, is removing, bit by bit, the thought that God is not aware of the, sometimes, gross inequalities between the righteous and the unrighteous. Their death and judgment are sure (11:9 and 12:14).

Further inequities are pointed out by “The Preacher” in verse 11. He states: “When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong. (12) 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. (13) Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them, and their days will not lengthen like a shadow.” (NIV)

God has great forbearance toward those who sin as a habit of life. The warning here, is clear. Because God is gracious and long suffering, the sinner may interpret any delay of judgment to signify that justice will never come. “Justice delayed is justice denied”. Such a delay may embolden the evil-doer to greater corruption. Here he is speaking to wicked rulers but it is true also of sinners universally. If God appears to be complacent, people misunderstand. If life goes along in a normal fashion, He will be considered impotent or appear to show favoritism to the sinner. That is something that Job’s friends could not admit. Job’s suffering was interpreted as coming upon him because he was secretly sinful and God was punishing Job. (Note: it isn’t as if such bad judgment began and ended with Job’s friend)

In Job chapter 8, Bildad asks the question: “Does God pervert justice?” His idea of equity was that God punishes the offender quickly. His friends, Zophar and Eliphaz echoed the same conclusion. The sinner whose justice is delayed, assumes the opposite—that God does not take notice of men’s sins and is sort of a “landlord” God who takes no interest in justice or punishment.

The apostle Paul, in Romans 3:5-8, argues against this attitude in a little different way. Our unrighteousness “brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? . . . Let us do evil that good may result? Their condemnation is deserved.” Our wickedness magnifies the glory of God (by comparison), but we are still condemned as sinners even though we make God “look good”. A sinner may live and die “normally”, having lived a long life and enjoyed the good things of life but that does not exonerate him from ultimate judgment. What human government misses by way of justice, God will accomplish in his own time—either in life, or after death.

Solomon accepts the language of the secularist in many cases just for the sake of discussion. But when he wants to express a divine viewpoint, he will argue from God’s posture, just as he will in chapters 11 and 12 (later in this series of studies) when he discusses God’s standing on judgment. In verses 14-16, he again unveils the presence of God to his people who are “under the sun” and who face some of the apparent inequities of life. Even when God appears to be “not fair”, there is comfort that the sovereign God has made provision for seemingly unfavorable times.

Verses 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. (15) 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.” (NOTE: Also see Romans 7:14-25)

God does not always pay on Friday. Neither is the pay always equitable for every man. Here, judgment and reward are reversed as he restates the perplexity of life. God, again, appears arbitrary in his dealings with mankind, seemingly rewarding evil and chastising the good. This enigma, like the preceding riddles, must not be allowed to dishearten the believer. To overcome, Solomon commends the enjoyment of life seeing that there is nothing one can do to avoid these mysteries.
So now what? How does one make the most of pleasure? For the believer, God is high and omnipotent; who can challenge Him with arguments? In Job 38:2, God begins to question Job by asking “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” And 40:8 “Would you (Job) discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?” Also in 41:11 God asks “Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.”

It was then that Job replied to the Lord: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.” Job 42:2. The ultimate answer to the mysteries of God is simply (but not easily) to let God be God. With that mindset, we can have peace in turmoil and confidence in conflict. Perhaps our greatest challenge is to truly know God—who and what He is. He is greater than the sum total of all His attributes and He has condescended to let His creation experience Him in all of life’s struggles. We can be partakers of the bounties of His divinity and have a share in knowing that He is good, and just.

Divine activity is, indeed, a mystery. In verses 16 and 17, he reverts back to his question in verse 1: “Who is like the wise man? Who knows the explanation of things?” The questions persists: “When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe man’s labor on earth—his eyes not seeing sleep day or night—(17) 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.”

Solomon applied continuous effort to his search for ultimate meaning “under the sun”. God’s work is on earth and His creation is also on earth. To claim that one knows what is going on, is the opposite of wisdom—it reveals a man’s folly and arrogance. God’s actions in creation and redemption are crucial in our understanding of what God is doing “under the sun” and decisive in our apprehension of life’s dark questions. Our redemption is critical to understanding life and only as we apply that redemption can we begin to comprehend what God is doing in our lives and understand the problems we encounter in our journey. The works of God cannot be confined to what we know and observe. We need His word to give us insight into some of His workings among men.

Moses says it well in Deut. 29:29 when he writes: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” Also in Isaiah 55: 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” And we can say with Hezekiah in Isaiah 38:17: “Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back.”

These verses will help to summarize what Solomon is saying in chapter eight. It is not an easy passage to understand or truly appreciate until we see and know the God who is above the sun.

Ecclesiastes 7

underthesunLife does not always play to our happiness. In fact, in many instances, it does the opposite. It is here, in chapter seven that Solomon begins to answer the question at the end of chapter six: “For who knows what is good for a man in life, during the meaningless days he passes through like a shadow? Who can tell him what will happen under the sun after he is gone?” (Ecclesiastes 7:12)

Life is a mystery. Whatever happens can be beneficial or detrimental. It is how we face and handle each situation that comes about. King Hezekiah, in Isaiah 38:10, asks the question: “In the prime of my life must I go through the gates of death and be robbed of the rest of my years?” In verse 17, he answers his own question by declaring: “Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. In your love you (God) kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back.” Hezekiah had an encounter with God (as did Job) and repented. Romans 8:28 echoes the same thought. God is good.

Proverbs 27:1 echoes the same idea when the author states: “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” With that truth, Solomon begins chapter seven with some strange pronouncements and labels them “better than . . .” In these verses, It is God who ransoms us from a life of vanity, failure, meaninglessness and many other traps into which one may fall. That truth is reflected in Romans 8:28, often quoted by believers, “And we know that in (the midst) of all things God works for the good of those who love him.” All things are not good but a wise and merciful God has promised us peace in the midst of the storms of life.

Walter Kaiser, in his commentary on Ecclesiastes, states that “suffering and adversity are not necessarily signs of God’s disfavor. In fact, adversity often is a greater good than prosperity.” (Page 82) So what does Solomon mean (verse 1) by saying “A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth”? He begins to paint scenes of sadness and sorrow in a different way than what we may be accustomed to.

The Tanach equates the perfume with one’s reputation which lives beyond one’s death. There are people in history whose reputations far outlive their lives, whether good or evil. Abraham Lincoln is still esteemed; Hitler is disdained. The first six verses contain these enigmas. Verse 2: Mourning has an effect on the individual that softens and refines one’s character. In going to the house of mourning (if one is a thinking person) there must be some reflection on the ultimate end of life, which is death. In both cases, change of character in mourning and acknowledgement of our own demise, we can comprehend what Solomon is saying and begin to prepare our lives accordingly. Jesus said “blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” He is described as a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”

Contrary to these observations, going to a house of feasting often leads to immorality, gluttony and drunkenness such as in Judges 14:10 with Samson and I Sam 25:36,27 when Nabal, the fool, held feasts that culminated in wild celebrations. (Verse 7:4 here in Ecclesiastes) Fools now have become the focus of Solomon’s evaluation of what is “better”. Fools are often difficult to evade and are spoken of many times in the wisdom literature of the Bible, particularly the book of Proverbs.

Contrary to the first four verses is the chatter and laughter of fools in verses 4-6. Number one fool does not listen to wisdom and the second expresses his rejection of learning wisdom by the constant cackling and idle chatter learned in meaningless feasting and carousing. He may persist in his foolish life, but he, too, will end up in a house of mourning without any positive reputation to follow him. It seems that as we journey through our own individual lives, there are more of the latter than the former. At least the fool gets more press than the wise, as wisdom is most often shunned by reporters of news.

Much of the rest of the chapter appears to be a series of proverbs that, at times, do not seem to have much connection with each other. We struggle with Solomon’s meanings but it would appear that most of them could come under the heading of one’s “religion”. That designation is to have a positive meaning. It has to be extrapolated in positive and negative interpretations.
For instance, in verse seven, “extortion turns a wise man into a fool, and a bribe corrupts the heart.” In the Bible, the heart is the spiritual connection, or lack thereof, between the individual and God. Jeremiah points out that “the heart is deceitful above all things” (17:9). Jesus confirms the same truth when he spoke, saying: “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45) The inner self permeates the subject of these verses.

Verse 8 would tell us that one ought to be patient with life and its circumstances because God knows the outcome of one’s life and His timing is perfect. We are admonished in Scripture to be patient and wait on God. Worrying is like rocking in a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere; so said my father years ago. Facing problems prematurely may get us out of spiritual synch if one is not careful or if prayer is neglected in attempting to find an answer.

We often speak of the “good old days” when things are not what we want them to be (today). Our memories fade quickly and we fail to recall the problems of yesteryear. Our imaginations, true or false, often are hazy as we compare then with now. Wisdom would encourage us to face today with patience, as we cannot go back to what we may perceive to have been better in days already spent.

Verses 11 and 12 tells us that when we apply wisdom to any situation (along with patience), it “is a good thing and benefits those who see the sun”. When one is not “under the sun”, the view brightens and the future is safer. Money and wisdom are a defense against many things but they cannot prolong it. When Solomon speaks of wisdom “preserving the life of its possessor”, he is undoubtedly speaking of life in the highest sense which is spiritual and eternal life. Mankind will always have reversals in life, and though he is buffered with money and wisdom, he will not lose the eternal values he possesses.

The next verses bring this truth home when he says “consider what God has done.” No one is totally insulated from troubles. “Who can straighten what he (God) has made crooked?” There will be good days, and bad. In the good times, be happy. However, always remember that God has made some days “good” and others “bad”. Remember Job? We do not know, nor can we predict, the future. Both are in the hands of God. “Yet when I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness.” (Job 30:26) Life and wisdom are the key words in these verses; eternal life and spiritual insight.

Walter C Kaiser Jr. puts it succinctly when he summarizes these verses: “Look with wonder, admire, and silently wait for the result of God’s work! The contrasts of life are deliberately allowed by God so that men should ultimately develop a simple trust and dependence in God. For prosperity and the goods from God’s hand, be thankful and rejoice. But in adversity and the crookedness of life, think. Reflect on the goodness of God and the comprehensiveness of His plan for men.” (Pages 84-85) All of the life of a believer is a trust in which the Lord puts His confidence.

Verses 15 to 29 present difficulties but they appear to expand the thoughts in the first half of chapter seven. There is a contrast between the righteous and the wicked. It is a reflection of the 73rd Psalm of Asaph in which he compares his experience as a righteous man to the wicked in their prosperity. It is a beautiful Psalm and will enrich your life as you read it and see his meditation on his circumstances.

In his days of vanity, Solomon records that he has seen both the righteous and the wicked and how they responded to the good days and the bad. Understand that he is reflecting on these times while he is still trying to unravel the enigmas of life. How does one evaluate all the puzzles of existence “under the sun?” It is as much of an evaluation of God as it is the circumstances we find ourselves in. Can we come to the truth simply by an appraisal of externals?

The apparent unequal allotment to the righteous and the wicked, at first glance, seems to be out of character for the God above the sun. Verse 16 speaks of the internal (spiritual) person and warns of being “over-righteous” and of being “over-wise” before the world. After consulting several translations and authors, it seems best to translate these verses (16 & 17) as ‘reflexive’ verbs, and look at them as the evaluation of oneself in Proverbs 3:7 which reads: “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.” Psalm 14:1 also illustrates the reflexive sense: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’ (for me)”
It involves a certain spiritual pride in one’s righteousness and wisdom and then condemns excesses in wickedness, which is not compatible with true righteousness and wisdom. Neither does it commend itself to God and long life. That thought is to be carried over to verse 18 where Solomon concludes that a false display of genuine religion is not acceptable (Pharisaism and hypocrisy) and was soundly condemned by Christ when he confronted the Pharisees.

The conclusion of this short section is that “the man who fears God will avoid all extremes.”(verse 18) Wisdom is not to be a self-evaluation of what we have done with our righteousness, but we are to wait for the ultimate evaluation which is to come from God. That judgment is stated in chapter 12:13-14 at the conclusion of Solomon’s dissertations. Chapter 11:9 expresses the same idea. (We shall deal with those passages in their order)

The following verses (19-22) appear to be a mix of proverbial statements and a follow-up of the prior thoughts. Legitimate wisdom is a better guard for life than the apparent wisdom of “ten rulers in a city.” Solomon, throughout the book, evaluates many things in life, but here he is admonishing us to use caution in our evaluation of men (mankind). Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” He then goes on to note that the Lord searches the heart and mind. Many men in Scripture are illustrations of true wisdom—Daniel, Moses, Elijah, Job and many others.

Following this, the author acknowledges that we ought to be careful of listening to other people. What they say may offend us, but on the other hand, we must admit that we fall into the same types of sins that are common to all. Who is there who is above sinning with the tongue? No one is without fault in word or deed. Depravity is at the heart of all of mankind, and sometimes it takes a great deal of self-control to not be offended by what others say.few words

In verse 23, the writer seems to again refer back to 6:12: “Who knows what is good…” and “Who can tell him…” How does one cope with life? “All this I tested by wisdom and I said, ‘I am determined to be wise’ –but it was beyond me.” It almost appears that at this point in his life, he has forgotten his own admoni- tion in Proverbs that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” the ‘chief part’ of spiritual discernment. His quest for wisdom reflects Job’s conclusion in Job 42:1-2 when Job replied to the Lord: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.” Job then “repented in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6)

Looking forward to his conclusions in chapter 12, it appears that he has come to some determination concerning the mind of God in all of life’s mysteries when he writes in verse 25 of Job 6: “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.” He is tying wisdom, understanding, the stupidity of wickedness and the madness of folly all together. Part of wisdom is to recognize the difference between godliness and wickedness and to pursue the one and reject the other—not an easy task with the ownership of an old sin nature.

He now gives some illustrations of the stupidity of wickedness and the madness of folly in the remaining verses. Wickedness has to do with desire, lust—or inward wickedness. His affections were corrupted with the many wives he married along with many other improper decisions during his forty years of reigning in Jerusalem. Folly is not only moral weakness, but a sign of one who is not prudent in his decisions, one without good counsel and whose mind is uncertain. Solomon even describes such a person in Proverbs 1 and many other places in the book he authored.

Madness has to do with “making oneself shine”, hence to boast of oneself, to be puffed up and proud, to have foolish conceit. Solomon displays that in his relationships with women. He violated his own admonition of Proverbs 6:32 where he taught that “a man who commits adultery lacks judgment (is stupid); whoever does so destroys himself.” All of the above prohibitions are to be found in such acts—inner lust, outer imprudence and pride in believing that one is above God’s forbiddance. He destroyed his capacity to love God, love the opposite sex in an appropriate way, and he destroyed his reputation.

In addition, he destroyed his friendships with many men. He had “added one thing to another to discover the scheme of things—“ (verse 27b). What he found was that “God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.” (Ecclesiastes 7:29). Such then, are the conclusions of the wisest of men in the ancient world. With the inward war between good and evil, righteousness and wickedness, one must be continually sifting through the options one faces and clinging only to those which honor and magnify the God Who is above the sun but has made His presence known to His creation. Would that we might all attend more mindfully to the admonition to “remember now thy Creator”. The conscience must be educated, but after it has been taught the things of God, it must not be violated. The hardness of heart that results is not easily turned back to a life of holiness.

Copy right to the author-Posted with his permission Gene Whittum

Gene Whittum

Ecclesiastes Chapter Six

Copy right to the author-Posted with his permission Gene Whittum

Copy right to the author-Posted with his permission
Gene Whittum

Solomon continues his discourse concerning money and, again, calls it an “evil under the sun”. However, he progresses from a deep love of money to some of the hazards of actually having a substantial amount of it. At the end of chapter five, he noted that when God gives wealth, the riches are able to be enjoyed because God “enables him to enjoy” wealth and to have “gladness of heart”.

In this whole discussion, it is easy to conclude that God is arbitrary in His dealings with mankind. We must not act as if God is not in control or that He plays favorites. To “remember your creator in the days of your youth” implies that there have been lessons learned along the way that govern ones worship and appreciation of God’s provisions. The latter chapters of the Book of Job illustrate that no matter how “blameless and upright” a man may be, (Job 1:2) time and circumstances often blunt ones memory of better days. It is always critical to keep a close connection to the God Who is above the sun.

Enjoyment of God is the highest goal to be sought. Apart from that principle, there is very little that will satisfy mankind to any extent. God’s plans extend to every member of the human race and unless, and until we embrace that idea and treat it as a trust, we will not enjoy it to the fullest degree.underthesun

The man in 6:1 lacks nothing, yet the “evil under the sun” weighs heavily on him. The fault does not lie with
God. The man is unable to enjoy the bounties of the Creator simply because he approaches all of life from
a humanistic or secular mindset. A “grievous evil” implies and includes burdensome, turbulence and an
uneasy commotion of the mind which can include anger and grief. How sorrowful is such a condition in the
human psyche.

No one knew better the potential evils associated with money than Solomon. To the unprepared, it can be easy come, easy go. Success and affluence are not always beneficial. The next few verses twice mention the failure and inability to enjoy prosperity. On the other hand misfortune, grief and sorrow cannot always be considered malevolent. A man must not be judged by the outward affairs of his life.

The next few verses mention long life with many children, the honor afforded men of distinction, wealth and much evidence that one should be content with that kind of life. Children, in the ancient world, were considered great blessings along with the other signs of well being mentioned. A “proper burial” was also a mark respectability and honor.

If one has all of that, yet cannot enjoy it, he is compared to a stillborn baby that “comes without meaning and departs in darkness.” This comparison underscores the condition of the “grievous evil” spoken of earlier. It emphasizes his emotional and mental plight and in Solomonic analysis of the circumstance, he once again states that there is no enjoyment and that, in the end, we all are destined for the grave. Such is the tragedy of the man who has it all but remains “under the sun”.
Sadly, all of the significance of life is lost to the one who persists in living a secular life apart from the Giver of life—the Lord Jesus Christ. It is He who imparts life and gives it meaning and definition and purpose. It is not easy to fully describe the immense loss of enjoyment and reward to a person who lives only for the moment. The challenge is to “be everlastingly at it”–the enjoyment of God’s provisions.

Other passages in the wisdom literature of the Bible echo the sentiments of chapter six. Job, chapter thirty four, is part of a dissertation by Elihu who was present with Jobs three friends when they sought to condemn Job by stating (in several chapters) that the reason Job suffered was because he had some secret sin. The chapter is a powerful refutation of the three men but still not a vindication of Job, who had defended himself. However, in the final analysis by God, Job acknowledged the complete Sovereignty of the Almighty. It is a fascinating book.

Psalm 10 also illustrates the condition of the men who cannot see the God above the sun and wonders about the sinner’s condition until verse 14 when he, the author of the Psalm, says: “But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless”. Psalm 73 also illustrates the same questions that faced Solomon and in every case and situation, the Lord is with those who suffer the “grievous evil” of Ecclesiastes six and vindicates the one who trusts in God. Hebrews 13:5 (quoting Deut. 31:6) states: “I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. (I will) not, (I will) not, (I will) not in any degree leave you helpless, nor forsake nor let (you) down, (relax My hold on you), Assuredly not!”  (from the Amplified New Testament). The Greek has six negatives, which means “I will never, never, never, never, never, never leave you nor forsake you”, which is a rather powerful promise to the believer. (See Joshua 1:5)never

So, how does a man cope with life? He is either a believer or an unbeliever. However, the circumstances of both may be quite similar even though one may have riches and the other in poverty. Verse seven states: “All man’s efforts are for his mouth, yet his appetite (gullet) is never satisfied.” The “mouth” is the entrance for all that goes into his stomach which, ultimately, is to be satisfied with food. It is an analogy to a man’s labor which is constantly directed at his voracious appetite for the good things of life.

The question is asked: “What advantage has a wise man over a fool?” The next question: “What does a poor man gain by knowing how to conduct himself before others?” Whether a man is rich, poor, wise, or a fool, he cannot appease his craving on his own. “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21b).

Interesting side note a information souirce of Ecclesiastes and Job [added by this web editor]:

The mouth represents the basic things of life and we all work to provide the essentials of existence. The appetite is the soul, or the physical portion of our being. We get up to go to work to get food to keep us going, and round and round. We often live on a treadmill. However, there is more to life—there is a spiritual side that also needs to be fed. God knows the beginning and end of life and has made adequate provision for our relationship and communion with Him. He is stronger than we are and we must trust that He will do right for us. Life is a trust that we, as mortals, cannot afford to violate. God is the Master of our lives and has given us the capacity to enjoy life; it is more than just “chasing after wind.”

The pauper learns how to get along in life. He can window shop and dream of achieving, but all his fantasies and illusions are just that—they are “meaningless and a chasing after wind”. It is the same with the rich man who may build bigger and better barns but true happiness and pleasure evade him. All men may dream, but dreams are not reality, nor can dreams create anything material or psychological to satisfy the fancies of life. Our estimates and interpretations of life must be biblical.

Solomon now, verse ten, introduces the Law of God and how it works and applies to man’s existence under the sun. Verses 10-12 seem to reflect the experience of Job and amplify the mysteries of life. Who knows what will happen tomorrow? Chapter seven and verses 13-14 ask the same question: “Who can straighten what he (God) has made crooked?” It is kind of “go with the flow”. Chapter nine, verse one ponders the same question: “. . . no man knows whether love or hate awaits him.” We do not know the future.

Life has many troublesome questions. We can debate what befalls us (as Job did with his friends), but in the final analysis, God has the final word (as indicated in Job 38-41). Life is often an argument with God, nevertheless, God is unalterable and the more we argue and talk, the emptier and more unsatisfactory we become. We all have severe restraints and our best attempts fall woefully short. The world does not have the power to satisfy or provide happiness—only emptiness and continuing wonder. The wisdom literature admonishes us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning (chief part) of wisdom”.

In this mystery of life and our quandary about it, we often remain skeptical that God really cares. Isaiah puts it succinctly in 49:15: “Can a mother forget her baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” The answer to the question in verse 12 is that no one “can tell him what will happen under the sun after he is gone.” All accounts must be settled in this life, short as it may be.

The question “what is good” is answered in chapter seven. Solomon gives a series of proverbs in which he provides the answer to what is “good” or “better”. These proverbs show that there are many things that are more profitable than prosperity, fame or authority. So, verse twelve is not the climax to Solomon’s quest to find answers to the question of how to act and respond to “what will happen under the sun” when we are all gone. The ultimate answer is to look “above the sun” where God dwells.


Ecclesiastes 5:4-17 – Part Two

Copy right to the author-Posted with his permission Gene Whittum

Copy right to the author-Posted with his permission
Gene Whittum

After the several mentions of “meaningless” in chapter four, the author seems to be presenting an interlude of worship in chapter five and how it is to be effective. Our worship of the Living God is to be an antidote to the pessimism of life “under the sun” and Solomon gives some warnings concerning our approach to God and how to avoid bringing judgment upon ourselves, thus making the worshiper a fool rather than a positive and effective believer.

He mentions dreams in verse three. Dreams are not often reality unless instigated by God. There are many mentions of dreams in the Bible and most have definite significance for the time. Verse seven notes that “much dreaming and many words are meaningless.” To offer our ‘dreams’ to God along with many words, in the realm of worship, amounts to nothing more than verbal or spiritual doodling. It is the same as texting during a worship service; we come off before God as fools. If we are at all sensitive, this should come off to us as a very damaging and crushing remark.

textingThe problem of vows is also briefly discussed. It is not a common occurrence in our churches today, and it is certainly not a “foxhole vow” that is common in war stories. We often sing the hymn “I Surrender All”, which is a hymn of commitment to Christ, but is often forgotten soon after the benediction. Verse six mentions the danger of such spontaneous pledges. The counsel given is to be silent and not raise the anger of God. It is better to “stand in awe of God” than to make our worship “meaningless”. My grand-father had advice for such times when he said “it is better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” May this be what Solomon is saying here?

Vows often have an ulterior motive which benefits the one who makes the promise, such as getting out of a jam, receiving recognition for being pious (part of the subject here), or to somehow impress God. Vows begin in the mind, which is why Solomon links it with dreams. He adds two more thoughts stating that “much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God.” The book of James is a forceful commentary on words without truth in action.
The Preacher continues his detailed evaluation of life (verse 8), seemingly connecting it with chapter 4:1 where he again observes that there is a hierarchy in this life “under the sun”. We live in a fallen world and are largely ruled by fallen people. This time it is localized to a “district”, perhaps one in which Solomon himself lived. It is as if God does not have a plan for his creatures.

However, the insinuation in the chapter is that God is the final arbiter of all things political, legal, social and spiritual. We are warned not to be surprised at such bureaucratic misuse of power and authority. The one at the top calls most of the shots and all on the ladder take their share of the bounty. The next several verses look at the consequences of those who would build bigger and better barns, only to find out that they will, in the end, take nothing with them. Jesus was careful to point this out in His parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:13-21.

There are many drawbacks to having a lot of money and certainly an equal number of disadvantages to having too little. It almost seems that Solomon has determined that greater problems come from having too much cash, and he points out several defects in the life of those whose possessions are now a burden. Verses ten and eleven list them as creating a covetous and unsatisfied craving for more and the followers it attracts. It is almost like a boxer coming to the ring with a retinue [followers] of hangers-on who all want a “piece of the action”. Psalm 37:16 puts it: “Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked.”
These illustrations are generalizations but they are keen enough to make the point. Wealth can be a hazard. He implies further that possessions inherently demand a caretaker. You may have a grand estate and caretakers for it all but those who drive by can also see it without having the care for it or the anxiety of losing it all. Greed and materialism do not have any built-in safeguards nor do they provide any satisfaction as to when or how much is enough. We can observe, from the lives of the rich, that money cannot buy happiness, peace, or friends, or many other pursuits.

The case histories continue in following verses. While Solomon is afflicted with insomnia (and perhaps indigestion from too much rich food), the laborer is fast asleep in the bunkhouse every night. The verses mention “a grievous evil” (verse 13 and 16). It is a picture and a sad refrain of what can happen when a person has great riches and operates only “under the sun”. His birth, life and death become a “grievous evil”. His ultimate reward is toiling for the wind, an elusive, invisible and ends in a “crash”.

The conclusion of this bitterness and disappointment is that “All his days he eats in darkness, with great frustration, affliction and anger” (verse 17). He has deteriorated physically and his character has been tainted by many things that attend the loss of one’s well-being. Wealth is fleeting, and perhaps a more grievous issue may be the involvement of his son and family in his thwarted ambitions.

Solomon, however, does not leave his readers without hope. In verse 18, he notes that God’s plan is good and he does not leave the believer in despair. He points out another aspect of life. This is another instance where he pokes a hole in the canopy that is under the sun and once again reveals the God Who is above the sun. God was not mentioned in the previous several verses.

Solomon notes (in the Jewish Study Bible) “Only this, I have found, is a real good (condition): that one should eat and drink and get pleasure with all the gains he makes under the sun, during the numbered days of life that God has given him; for that is his portion. Also, whenever a man is given riches and property by God, and is also permitted by Him to enjoy them and to take his portion and get pleasure for his gains; that is a gift of God. For (such a man) will not brood much over the days of his life, because God keeps him busy enjoying himself.” (verses 17-19)

There is no reason for the believer to despair while living (with God) under the sun. This is a more excellent way to live. It is a matter of openness to Him with a readiness to accept what comes our way. We can enjoy life (because that, also, is from God); we can find fulfillment and pleasure in our work; and our hearts can find contentment. Wealth is not condemned. God gives it along with the power to enjoy His abundance. We must not allow wealth to contain us nor rule us. All of this, however, should not be oversimplified. The Bible has a great deal to say about money and wealth and how to manage it. The same can be said of poverty. With God, one is able to treat that properly also.

Ecclesiastes Chapter Five {Part One}


Copy right to the author-Posted with his permission Gene Whittum

Copy right to the author-Posted with his permission
Gene Whittum

Thus far, Solomon has been looking horizontally. He has visited the courtroom, the market place, the highway (here and there), and the palace, where he contemplated and carried out his dreams under the sun. He has thus far found it all very unsatisfactory. There is no record of him having encountered any kind of a prophet, either good or bad. There was no one in his life who could challenge him on his actions or musings. It is often true that world leaders destroy themselves before they destroy their nations. With Solomon, the destruction of the nation took place after his death.

He believed in God, the Elohim of the Old Testament, the Strong or Mighty One. He met Him in Chapter three, verse twenty-four. What does one do when he meets a Deity such as this? If one believes in God at all, what are the implications? Do we attempt to take liberties with Him as Job apparently did? If God speaks, are we obligated to listen; do we set aside our selfish interests and ambitions? Do we attempt to talk to Him and try to impress him with our charming discourses and useless chatter?

An interesting study is to see how men (and women) reacted when confronted by the God of the Bible. When God (Elohim) confronted Moses and told him to go back to Egypt and confront Pharaoh, Moses asked God “ . . . (if) they ask me ‘what is his name? Then what shall I tell them?” Elohim responded, tell them “I AM has sent me to you.” It meant to Moses that “I will be all that is necessary for any occasion” that you face” (Exodus 3:13, 14).

Note how Adam and Eve responded, Jacob, King David, Elijah and Elisha, Daniel, Ezekiel, the apostle Paul, John the beloved, Peter’s encounter with the Christ, the thief on the cross, doubting Thomas, Joshua and a host of others who met the God of the bible.

And now Solomon looks at mankind as a worshiper of God. How formidable is this God who crops up from time to time as the author looks at life and appears to ignore Him by looking at life “under the sun”? The opening verses drive the truth home with great force as with Job. He is told to stand in awe of Elohim: “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with one’s mouth, do not be hasty in one’s heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and we are on earth, so let our words be few.” (5:1-2 NIV)few words

The indictment is powerful as we meet God in this chapter as high above us (above the sun), as sovereign, as creator and judge. In view of the previous chapters that talk about injustice, isolation, unsatisfying pleasure and uncertainty, it would seem that we stand in need of a more stable relationship to offset the vagaries [unpredictability] of life. Do we find answers in the “house of God?”

Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), a Danish philosopher and the father of religious existentialism. He was a pietas Lutheran who needed “a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die.” The Hegelian system at the University of Copenhagen could not provide what he needed and he reacted strongly against it.

Kierkegaard had a great contempt for the established Danish Lutheran church and delivered a series of bitter attacks against it. He saw the incompatibility between the ecclesiastical conformism and the inward and personal character of Christian faith. For a time, he lived a melancholy life of pleasure, returning to his studies. He noted that “pastors are royal officials; royal officials have nothing to do with Christianity.” To him, the state church was dead and useless.

So Solomon says: “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.” “Listen” has to do with heeding and obeying with an anxious readiness and demeanor of preparedness—to hear. (I might add here that at our churches, there are three types of people in the congregation:

1. Those that who hear nothing
2. those who hear what they want to hear
3. those who hear what is said

Jesus warned us to “Consider carefully what we hear” (Mark 4:24) and in the passage about the cost of being a disciple he said: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 14:34). Jesus had much to say about hearing.

be_slow2speakJames adds to these admonitions when he says: “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry . . .” (James 1:19) It is the opposite of the “offering the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong (lit. ‘evil’) Eccl. 5:1

God took pains to guard the earthly threshold of the temple in early times, even by the threat of death: “lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle” (Lev 15:31). Solomon’s target is the well-meaning person attending a church service that likes a lively song service and comes with a happy spirit but listens with half an ear. He never gets around to what he has earlier committed to do for the kingdom of God. He has forgotten his baptismal covenant with the Lord and ends up playing church. More than that, he has forgotten where and who he is and becomes casual with God.

This is all linked with the unreality of dreams and words (verse 3), where he again is referred to as a fool. The word means ‘silly’ or ‘stupid’. The preacher is pressing for the reality in the realm of worship. Many of the prophets, and also Christ, spoke their censures against the cruel and the hypocrites but Solomon seems to be aiming at the careless attendees of the temple and todays apathetic crowd who frolic and trifle with the serious things of Christ. How pathetic that we take pious activity and make it meaningless and treat lightly what is holy.

Consider Matthew 7:21 where Christ warns that “not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” No amount of emphasis on grace can justify taking liberties with God. The very idea of grace demands our gratitude, and gratitude cannot be fake and casual.

So, the fact that God has “no pleasure in fools” is powerful. Worship is to be more than verbal doodling. We are to be serious in our worship and know Who we are worshiping. How often do we commit a hoax? The idea of hearing, in Hebrew, often has the double force of paying attention and obeying. (See I Sam 15:22, 23 for further comment on worship)

There is much more that could be said about holiness, but remember that we are to “guard our steps when we go to the house of God.” Fools are not a certain type but people behaving in ungodly ways. Our excuses to the Lord will come off as spiritual defaults and fakes.


Copy right to the author-Posted with his permission Gene Whittum

Copy right to the author-Posted with his permission
Gene Whittum

Chapter three began with the idea that there can be a purpose in life but also tells us that after we have been born, there is a time to die. Following that declaration, there follows a litany of seemingly opposite accounts of issues that face most of us, and it goes back and forth from one kind of action to another so that we realize that even the most brilliant (as Solomon) do not have a perpetual single episode in life that can confine us to boredom. Who would want a perpetual stay in the hospital or a continuous Spring or Winter?

This movement to and fro is “better” (a word he uses some twenty-three times in different ways) then the endless circling of chapter one. However, it does have some unsettling implications for life. Some- times we must dance to a tune that we do not like. Someone else may call for a song we do not know or recognize.

For the believer, all of life’s experiences can have meaning, purpose and will define life. The guy next door may sing a tune or dance or have an experience, but for him it will be meaningless because he is living life “under the sun”. His life offers no final fulfillment even though he may be enjoying his activity while “going in circles”.

A time for this and a time for that may become oppressive if what he pursues has no permanence. Our responses to life may be no freer than our responses to the weather. How freely can we choose what happens to us? Our choices and their ultimate satisfaction must be related to the One “above the sun” in order to not be oppressive.

Sometimes we have very little to say in the circumstances which tend to move us to laugh or cry or to mourn or dance. We may tend to try to find reality in a realm beyond the constant change we face.underthesun

That is the position the author finds himself in chapter four. “Again, I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun.” (Verse 1) Life is harsh no matter where we see it. His complaints of “I saw” (used four times here) seem to threaten the Sovereignty of God. Isn’t there anything God can do to alleviate to oppression and the oppressors? Is the Sovereign God, whom he admonishes us to “remember” in our youth, powerless to end earthly rivalries, hardships, conflicts and isolation? (Chapter 12:1)

Is our experience to be that of Job who was condemned by his friends? Is our righteousness meaningless also? The scenarios in chapter four outline many of the things each member of the human race faces in the quest for happiness and satisfaction. It all seems to work against us. He gives some solutions but they appear quite inadequate to satisfy us in our quest for safety and happiness. In the end, death seems to be the only solution to life’s enigmas.

In this section of his journal (3:16-4:12), Solomon notes that there is wickedness in the courts (3:16-17); men and beasts all die alike (3:18-21); men are oppressed (4:1-3); men are contentious (4:4-6); men are isolated (4:7-12); and popularity and fame are tenuous at best and one can ‘go down’ faster than one can ‘rise to the top’ (4:13-16).

The hint in verse 5 that to drop out is a solution is quickly assuaged (softened) by the mention that to do so is to think and act as a fool. His “better” solutions in the passage do not, mostly, appear to be much different in the final analysis. The entire text of chapter 4 fails to poke any holes in the canopy “under the sun” in order to display any presence of a God above the sun.

The truths, suggestions and advice of the chapter fail to offer any satisfaction at these different levels. If any of them offered even a minimal amount of gratification, none of them would survive the acid trial of death. Even the “better” solutions offer nothing but meaninglessness (verses 4,7,8 and 16).

In spite of all the advantages of the 21st century, we still live in a society that is filled with sorrow and pain and suffering. The ancients did not have near the conveniences and comforts that we enjoy. The question so often raise: “How can there be a (good) God with all this going on?” It is one of the oldest questions the skeptics raise.

It is no accident that Jesus was called a “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief”. When God sent His Son into the world, He sent Him to those who were lost; those who were in pain; those who were suffering. We have been redeemed to minister to those people and we have been ordained as priests before God. We must not forget that the very road to our redemption was the “via de la rosa”, the way of sorrows that our Savior walked to redeem us.

We all have a measure of sorrow and tribulation but God has ordained that we enjoy what we receive from Him. We are not to look for or exalt sorrow, or make it meritorious, but we are to minister to it. We are to acknowledge the ultimate victory of Jesus over death, sorrow, sin and grief.courage

Jesus said: “Be of good courage, for I have overcome the world.” That is not blind courage, He gives us a reason for our joy and we can recommend His salvation to the whole world without hesitation, doubt or apology. It is not just one of many remedies, it is the only remedy for sin, sorrow and suffering.