Is there such a thing as thinking for personal enjoyment? How many people think about things simply because we have the ability to think? Is there entertainment in thinking, or is it just a part of work?
To put it differently, when you have nothing specific to consider, what is it that you consider? Some people in such situations – worry – they think about all the ways that life can go bad. They are pessimists. Some brains, when there is nothing important to consider, turn to sports. Others turn to their memories – past events or other things like recent books or stories.
How many people appreciate the opportunity for serious thought? How many philosophers are there in the general population today? Philosophy is defined as “the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence.” Isn’t this much of what Solomon is doing in this Book of Ecclesiastes?
The verses of this scripture suggest some very serious subjects. But some might disagree and say that thinking about these things is a waste of time. They would rather talk about yesterday’s baseball game, or the Seahawk’s potential season. I remind that person of Solomon’s words in Proverbs – “As (a man) thinketh in his heart so IS he.” If all our thinking over the last 24 hours – including our dreams…. If all our thinking was put under divine analysis, would there be evidence that we are Christians? If our thought-life truly reflected the condition of our hearts as well as our minds, would there be evidence that we are children of God? The Apostle Paul said, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” Or to paraphrase – “Why don’t you think the wayyour Saviour, Jesus Christ, thought?” In another place he gave Christians a number of things or characteristics of things to think about. “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” How much of our thinking reflects principles such as these?
Here in Ecclesiastes 8 Solomon suggests some serious matters for us to consider.
Let’s start with the observation of life from the foolish man’s perspective – verse 14.
“There is a vanity which is done upon the earth; that there be just men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there be wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous: I said that this also is vanity.” In other words, often times we see bad things falling on good people while wicked people prosper. In the light of such things, what is the purpose of being either good or bad?
One afternoon last week, Austin Fultin took Bro. Johnson and me around to the south end of Lake Pend Orielle. Among other things, he wanted to show our visitor just how big that lake really is. Sadly, the smoke in the air was so thick that we couldn’t see much past the point beyond Bayview. He didn’t say so, but our guest might have thought that the lakes in North Idaho are just like the lakes in Oklahoma, when actually they are larger, deeper and colder.
That is roughly like what the foolish man sees when he looks at life through his naturally faulty eyes. He picks out a nearby wretch of humanity, who breaks all the rules of good health and yet lives to become a centenarian. Our observer then decides that this is the norm – breaking the rules is the road to success. Or he hears about an obvious criminal whose life is filled with wealth and pleasure. He idolizes his uncle who hates God, swears like a sailor, chews tobacco, spits on the carpet, and seems to be the happiest person on earth. While on the other hand that professed Christian down the street, who goes to church three times a week, is the grumpiest, saddest person on the block.
So based upon his limited observations and conclusions, what does this man do with his own life? Verse 15 – “Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.” What does this man do? He smokes pot in the evening, chewing tobacco and guzzling Red Bulls throughout the day to keep himself going. He drinks himself drunk every Friday and Saturday night, and feels miserable all day Sunday as he tries to watch his ball games. He is in debt up to his eye-balls, but he has a big boat and an even bigger truck with which to pull it. His dissipated lifestyle should bring about an early death, but he seems to prosper despite his sin. Each day is another 24-hours of divine grace, but he refuses to see it that way.
After describing this common misperception, Solomon blows the smoke away and permits his visitor to look all the way up the lake. And in the course of doing so, he uses several terms to describe the people around him. And he forces the man to lift his eyes even unto the face of God.
Solomon also mentions an average man – the average person – in this world.
“Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” This is one of those scriptures which would probably be outlawed from the average American court. This explains one reason why our society is falling apart. Until parents, judges and governments hold people accountable for their actions, society will continue to spiral into destruction like an airplane with only one wing. When the murderer spends a few years in prison and then freely walks away, it teaches the unthinking observer that taking another man’s life may be worth the price. When the drunk driver gets his hand slapped for crippling a father of four in a car wreck, he will not think twice about continuing to drink and drive. This is the obvious meaning of the verse.
But let’s lay aside the obvious and focus on a Biblical description of that kind of person – “sons of men.” I don’t know it for a fact, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some modern translations of Ecclesiastes say merely “men” or “mankind” instead of “sons of men.” “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the hearts of MEN are fully set in them to do evil.” That change in wording makes perfect sense, and superficially expresses Solomon’s meaning. But there really IS one Hebrew word for “sons” and another for “men” here. Anything less than “sons of men” is not an accurate translation of the original Hebrew. And scripturally there is a subtle difference between “the sons of men” and simply “men” or “mankind.” “Mankind” is made up of both Christians and non-Christians – the people the Bible describes as “lost.” “The sons of men” stand in contrast to “the sons of God or “the children of God.” “The sons of men” may enjoy being fully set to do evil, while “the sons of God” choose righteousness. “The sons of men” spend their lives in earthly pursuits, while “the sons of God” set their affections on things above, not on things on the earth.. As silly as it sounds, “the sons of men” often consider themselves to be descendants of apes, while “the sons of God” know that they come from the hand of the Creator and their Saviour. There is a difference between “the sons of men” and “mankind.”
Solomon then takes these “sons of men” back further into his theological dictionary. He says, “a sinner (will) do evil an hundred times” because “the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” The Hebrew translated “sinner” comes from a root word which speaks of “missing.” A sinner is someone who falls short of the target. Target, what target and whose target? Jehovah’s – God’s. Oh, but the “sons of men” don’t usually recognize Jehovah or any of His standards. So what if they don’t? It means nothing. Their denial doesn’t do away with the fact that Jehovah is the eternal God as well as the Judge of heaven and earth.
Another word beyond “sinner” which Solomon applies to these people is “wicked.” “But it shall not be well with the wicked.” Why won’t it be well for these wicked “sons of men?” Verse 16 reminds us that “there is (a God) that neither day nor night seeth sleep with his eyes.” The omniscient Judge is ever alert to the sins of the wicked – and to the sufferings of His own children. And even though He is patient, His punishment will surely, eventually fall upon the guilty. “It shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong his days, which are as a shadow.”
So one of your relatives made it to a couple of triple digit birthdays. How well did he enjoy his 102 birthday cake? It’s a good thing it was soft; because he didn’t have teeth to chew anything solid. Did a great-grandson hold up the straw to the lips of the birthday boy, so he could slurp down his single gulp of red wine? Did that old man dance with his great grand-daughter? Of course, not he can’t get out of his chair. Did even have breath enough to blow out his candles? No matter if we die at 35, 75 or 105, life is but a shadow – “a vapour which appeareth for a little time and then vanisheth away.” No matter how long we live in this world, earthly life is relatively short. And then cometh the judgment – it is inescapable.
Whether or not the centenarian has felt it earlier in his life, he will find that “it shall not be well with the wicked.” “Then shall (the eternal judge) say also unto them on (His) left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” All their mirth; their eating and drinking, and their making merry will come to an eternal end. Their LIVES, as they know it shall come to an eternal end, and they will spend eternity under judgment, because they lived and died without their humble submission to – and worship of — Christ.
In contrast to “the sons of men” there are the “sons, or children, of God.”
This is a phrase often used in the Bible, but which, I admit, isn’t found in these verses. Elsewhere we read – “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:” “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” “The children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God…” “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God” How are these sons of God described by Solomon?
“Surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before him: But it shall not be well with the wicked.” In contrast to the ignorant man who loves to sin in disobedience to God, there is the man who knows his sin and FEARS to stand in the presence of the Lord. BUT he DOES stand before Jehovah, because he does possess this fear – this respect – this awe. It was God Himself who gave His child this fear – it came coupled to the gifts of repentance and faith. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” and this is why throughout Solomon’s words we find that the sinner is called a “fool” and the righteous man is described as “wise.” The man who chooses NOT to fear God will eventually find far more reason to fear Him than the fearful saint ever will. Toward the end all things, John, in the Book of Revelation, describes the divine throne room. “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.
What other words does Solomon use to describe this second group of people? We go back to the scripture with which we began – verse 14. “There is a vanity which is done upon the earth; that there be JUST men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there be wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of THE RIGHTEOUS: I said that this also is vanity.” Solomon, the preacher, compares the wicked man to the just man and the righteous. It shouldn’t surprise the theologians among us, that the words “just” and “righteous” are the same in Hebrew. The word is used slightly more than 200 times and it is translated “righteous” 162 time and “just” 42. These people are righteous because they have been justified by God.
Righteous people are no different from the wicked “sons of men” – except for the grace of God. They are not sinless and definitely not perfect. They did not BECOME righteous through any successful efforts on their part. Rather, they have been justified, that is, they have been declared righteous by the sovereign God. As I have said, they have been given God’s gifts of faith and repentance – they fear God.
There are only two kinds of people in the world. There are the sinners – people who are wicked in God’s sight, whether they agree or not. And in contrast to these, there are the children of God – people who are righteous because they have been justified by God through the merits of Jesus Christ. There is no third group and there is no progressive ground between them. You are either a child of God or you are not. And just in passing here, Solomon applies the word “wise” to these justified people. It doesn’t mean that they are smarter then the“sons of men.” It means they have been born from above and become children of God. They know things which the “sons of men” can never know, no matter how long they stare up the length of the lake. They have been blessed by grace.
These just and righteous people know the Lord of these scriptures.
There are many people who apply verse 11 to bad laws and lax courts. “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” And I have no quarrel with that application, because it is obviously true. But it should also be applied to God and His grace. “The LORD is merciful and gracious, SLOW to anger, and plenteous in mercy.” At times this seems to make no sense – “Why Lord won’t you judge the wicked people right now, today?” As Solomon suggests – the heart of the Lord is inscrutable until He chooses to reveal Himself. “Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea further; though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it.”
The Lord Himself is slow to apply the judgment which sinners deserve. When Adam chose to sin, part of the judgment which God had promised instantly fell upon him, but the second aspect was delayed nearly a thousand years – physical death. And we, too, have experienced God’s mercy, just in the gift of another day of life. But eventually the sword will fall, we shall die, and then cometh the judgment for our sins against God.
Whereas the wise man bows before the Lord’s grace and wisdom, the “sons of men” use it to further their wickedness. They “despise … the riches of (God’s) goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth (them) to repentance.” “But after (their) hardness and impenitent heart (they) treasurest up unto (temselves) wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.”
I will close with the words of the Apostle Paul – “We then as workers together with (God), beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
If you had a heart attack and died right two minutes from now, how would you stand before God? Would you be condemned as a wicked sinner? Or would you be received as one who has been justified and righteous? I urge you to repent before the Holy God and put your hope and trust for forgiveness and eternal life in the Lord Jesus Christ.