One of the problems in studying Ecclesiastes is we often don’t know which Solomon is speaking to us. Is this Solomon the undeniable intellectual genius – the super-smart child of Adam. Or is this the other son of Adam – the sinful, self-filled reprobate. At times it is the Spirit-inspired, Heaven-bound saint of God – the child of his father David? Sometimes when the strange dog barks, it is hard to tell if he’s glad to see you, or if he’s hungry.
At times this book appears to be contradictory. In one breath its words take us to the palace of God. It lifts us up on angels wings and shows us the Merciful and Mighty Messiah. And then in the next breath it seems to carry a stench – up from the gutters of Calcutta. Take verse 17 as an example: “I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.” Indeed, these are the words of God’s preacher – “Ecclesiasticus.” But then we have to listen to a whole lot of despair. Verse 19 – “For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.” When we put them together what do we have? Verse by verse we have to ask ourselves – this is faith or is this folly?
Something to keep in mind is the place from which we are reading these words. If this was a page from of Dostoevski or even Dickens, we might groan and despair with the writer. But we are reading the inspired word of God. This means that no matter which Solomon is the penman, the lesson comes from the Holy Spirit. So stop staring at the negative and seek for the positive lesson.
Even though these could be the words of a sceptic, the Holy Spirit has something for us.
Remember how the chapter started: “Life is a series of revolving doors.” Did you ever do much “square dancing” before your conversion? What an appropriate illustration of a life without Christ Jesus. There is a constant series of people pawing you, holding you and spinning you around and around. But the fact is you never leave the square and you can’t seem to drop out. For a while you get away from one situation, and then you’re snared again by your partner or someone else. You laugh, you groan, maybe even grimace in pain when someone steps on your foot. The more you go, the more tired you get, but when the music stops your right back where you began. “What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboreth?” – verse 9. Verse 10 – Life is nothing but boring, repetitious travail. Verse 13 – I think, says this Solomon, the best way to get by is to “eat, drink and be merry.” Verse 14 – As far as all these times and seasons go, God made them and we’re stuck with them. Verse 15 – This is the way it has always been and this is the way it always will be. Verse 16 – I looked to the place where judgment and righteousness should have been, but it was honey-combed with corruption – like a termite-infested old log. Verse 18 – We’re all just a bunch of semi-intelligent cattle bound for the slaughter house. Verse 22 – I repeat, just make the best of what you can out of this rotten life. This the language of the atheist, sceptic and unbeliever.
But what if we approach these verses from above rather than from below? Yes, life in a world dominated by sin, is plagued with repetition and travail. And indeed, God has ordained that, like the hamster, we run in our tread-mill until we get tired. Yes, society is corrupt and honey-combed with sin. And “it is appointed unto men once to die.” Therefore, isn’t it wise to seek the eternal God, who can make all things right? In the midst of the often mundane, shouldn’t we “set our affections on things above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God, not on things on the earth?”
We don’t have many people in our world today with enough brains even to see what Solomon sees. Our world doesn’t have a great many philosophers and thinkers. Blame it on TV if you like, or weakness of public education or cooking out of aluminum pans, whatever. But whether people rationally think about this or not, it is the way that they live. Why are there so many helpless unborn babies slaughtered every year? Because we have an “eat, drink and have fun, for tomorrow we die” mentality. Why are we a nation of alcoholics, addicts and gluttons? For the same reason. Why are gambling and prostitution and pornography billion dollar industries? It is because we are sinners, and sinners automatically think of self. They think: eat, drink, and fill your life with all the garbage you can afford
– or can afford to borrow. Truly “there is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” And because of this “the way of peace have they not known.” That is why Lot chose to pitch his tent toward Sodom. That is why Jehoshaphat made friends with wicked Ahab. That is why David arranged the murder of Uriah…. and why Solomon married a thousand women. Solomon expresses a lack of peace throughout most of his chapter.
If we don’t fill our lives with substance, eternal substance then we will end up as down cast as Solomon often appears to be. The average person says, “Nothing is sacred at this moment.” Why waste your breathe on duty, on goodness, on morality, and honesty? These are things which are only useful when they suit my purpose. For a long time Solomon thought that God’s law on monogamy, one wife for one husband, was good only for other people who didn’t have his money. There was a time when he might have thought that corralling hundreds of horses was sin as God said, but he waited long enough until that feeling passed. David thought that murder was permissible for monarchs. When I see this attitude in the greatest kings in Israel, I know that it lives today even in hearts of God’s people.
Is this Solomon’s final conclusion?
Not when he stopped long enough to remember the Lord.
Our existence on earth is so much more exciting if looked upon like a mystery. Here is a conundrum, there’s a paradox, and a question – can I solve them? Here is problem, a difficulty, a debt – can I repair these things? The moment that we give up is the moment that we cease to be able to really glorify God. I’m not talking about surrendering to the Lord; I’m talking about giving up. “Lord, I have a problem; which in your wisdom, you’ve permitted, how can we solve this difficulty to your honor and praise?” Think of Joseph, Paul and Silas, Daniel or Peter in prison for their faith: “Help Lord.” There is Sarah with the promise of God, but no child, even in her old age: “Help Lord.” Our difficulties are stepping stones to the blessing of God. But does the average person look on them in this way? Does the average Christian? Even the great wise man forgets.
Isn’t life a series of trials and mysteries along with its constant flow of shade and color? Isn’t that what Solomon says in the beginning of this chapter? Verse 11 – “By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted: but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked.” I knew a woman who owned a printing company which she had bought just for fun – as a hobby. She was an artist, a calligrapher, who thought that she could make a little money and be a blessing to people at the same time. All the fun went out of the business, when she found that it was work, and eventually she sold that business. Before she did, she asked me, “Have you looked at the whiskers of your kitten lately?” Daily I had seen the cat but without looking at the whiskers. When was the last time that you looked at the whiskers of your dog or your cat, or your ferret. We have God’s beauty and God’s blessings about us, and if we take the trouble to notice life can be made pleasant.
In verse 15 – God requires that which is past. In a few days, we may be saying “Where has the spring time gone? Why is it so hot? Why are the forests burning?” Spring is becoming history. The truth is, time is never completely past. Our memories tell us that the past is not gone – there is a fragrance of those days that are still here. And the Lord has an even greater memory than we have. “There is a time for planting and……. there is a time for plucking up.” “Be not deceived, God is not mocked for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.”
Amongst all the times and seasons; there is a season for judgment. Verse 17 – “I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.” “Be sure your sin will find you out.” “It is appointed unto men once to die and after his the judgment.” “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.”
Yes, but what about verse 13 – Eat, drink and enjoy? What does that mean? Don’t change the subject, but since you asked – Daily, we must take what the Lord has given to us, to eat and to enjoy. We pray, “Our Father which art in heaven…. If He gives us steak, we rejoice, if he give us liver, rejoice for that too. And in the midst of trouble the Lord hides a few pearls, and we rejoice in both.
The Lord has even given us opportunity for service. Verse 12 – “I know there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life.” Have you noticed the amount of time that Solomon speaks about labor and work? That is a factor that cannot be left out of a life which makes sense. We must “work while it is the day,” even as our master chose to work. We must “work the works of him who has sent us.”
And the Lord has afforded us the privilege of His worship. “I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him.”
If there is anything that King Solomon was teaching, it was – “Learn to see through the haze.” Life IS worth living, especially as we live it for the Lord. Let us make our lives count for Christ.