This chapter of the Bible is REALLY strange. Unlike most of the rest of
Scripture, it teaches the truth through a whole lot of half-truth and foolishness
(see Eccl 1:17). King Solomon, son of David and Bathsheba, was going through
what must have been a state of spiritual confusion when these words were
recorded. If I were editing the Bible, these might be the first pages to
hit the trash can. Surely much of this is the wisdom of the world and not
God's truth. But God has chosen to include this passage and to ultimately
reveal great truths to us by forcing us to examine some foolishness. This
is why we are here in chapter 9.
By the way, Solomon directly records some real positive wisdom in other sections of this book as well as in the Book of Proverbs, and goes on to find love and meaning in life in the Song of Solomon. Those would make some great follow-up reading to get a broader picture of Solomon's spiritual journey.
Recently I heard a man being interviewed on Public Radio and he caught my ear when he indicated that he had in the last several years been converted FROM Christianity to agnosticism. This man had been a professor of Evangelical Studies at a University. He went on to add that Ecclesiastes was now the ONLY book of the Bible that he could believe in. Believers need to understand foolishness today, for the forces of unbelief and worldly wisdom, IN and outside of the organized church, are rising up. Have you seen the atheist periodicals down at the newsstands right next to Time and Newsweek? You know what God says about atheists, right? One place it's recorded is in Psalm 14:1. I hope I don't sound mean-spirited, beloved. I should have ample compassion, for I too, at one time, was an agnostic or worse. But for now, let's move on to our study in the Word.
Solomon's perspective, which sets the tone for chapter 9, is well stated
in the last verse of chapter 8:
Eccl 8:17-"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 labor 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."
He is saying, I think, that since we can't ever figure out how God works, we should just give up. To state this a little more positively: our wisdom, no matter how much we acquire, does not lead us to understanding God and His ways. This point is at the heart of chapter 9.
Verses 1-3-"For all this
I considered in my heart even to declare all this, that the righteous,
and the wise, and their works are in the hand of God: no man knoweth either
love or hatred by all that is before them. All things come alike to all:
there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked; to the good and
to the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that
sacrificeth not: as is the good, so is the sinner; and he that sweareth,
as he that feareth an oath. This is an evil among all things that are done
under the sun, that there is one event unto all: yea, also the heart of
the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they
live, and after that they go to the dead."
"Under the sun" there is no real justice, Solomon says. Life is an unknowable, meaningless gamble. Life wearies man, frustrates him and drives him crazy. Then, when it's over, you die like a dog with no hope beyond the grave:
Verses 4-6-"For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun."
And since this life is all we have, he goes on with some advice for you and me, beloved, which sounds, I regret to say, like it could have come from a modern newspaper or magazine:
Under the Sun"
||Worship fun. It's not a sin to celebrate, but forced "good times" are not the answer to life. The world seems to be trying to party all day and night, everyday. We must be careful in the Church today, too, not to turn every gathering into a good time hour. Real worship, as real life, must go beyond that sometimes.|
||Worship yourself. Shopping and acquiring things, and grooming the body, this all has it's place in this life. But it's a very empty thing to put at the center of your life.|
||Worship your spouse. God has blessed marriage, but this, too, is the wrong thing to worship. Romance brings together two flawed beings. That's never going to make something that's perfect, as many could testify, I'm sure! The world is worshipping romance today. Just listen to popular music! And please don't take me for a fanatic, beloved, because I appreciate some of this music, too. It's not a sin, but it's a sin to worship it. We have hymn after hymn to romance today, while God and His Christ are largely ignored in our music and culture.|
||Worship your Career. A profession is not a life, not really. Nor are an over-abundance of activities. Many of us today have schedules that are overflowing, but, if we aren't careful, the cup of our souls becomes bone dry.|
For Solomon, at least in this chapter, life on earth is like a big casino.
You have no control over where the wheel will stop spinning. We are really
just hapless and struggling animals, he concludes. This smacks of the Evolutionism
of our day. And Solomon links survival as much to dumb luck as to fitness:
Verses 11-12-"I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them."
Like Evolutionism, Solomon's thesis is really antagonistic toward God.
And here, in conclusion, he makes that even more plain:
Verses 13-18- "This wisdom have I seen also under the sun and it seemed great unto me: There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it: Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man. Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength: nevertheless the poor man's wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard. The words of wise men are heard in quiet more than the cry of him that ruleth among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war: but one sinner destroyeth much good."
The Scriptures tell us that Solomon was the wisest of men in his day. Apparently the overall experience was a bitter one for him. Have you ever questioned God after this old world seems to be punishing you for doing well and right? Solomon sure was. And when we look in the news today and see how much damage and affliction one sinner can cause and how righteousness seems to go unrewarded we are all disheartened, aren't we? Injustice brings me down too, beloved, to the end of my whits at times.
But there's a bridge that we need to get on across. And if this chapter of the Bible sounds more like wisdom than foolishness to you right now, it's because you're on the wrong side of that bridge. It's only when we cross over to FAITH IN ETERNAL LIFE that the foolishness of Ecclesiastes is revealed. Let's put it this way, some of us have lived long enough on the earth to see that you can't always judge a matter immediately. Sometimes justice is swift, but sometimes it takes years or decades. And sometimes justice doesn't seem to come at all, in this lifetime. But if we allow God the resources of Eternity, we can start to believe that, in due time, the Lord will make all things right.
I heard a young preacher say recently that EVERYONE has eternal life, it's just a question of where you will spend it? Do you believe in Eternity? It is possible, even for a Christian, to live and think as though this life was all there is. Let's look, in closing, at three passages from the Apostle Paul, speaking in the New Testament about the hope of eternal life through faith in Christ.
We don't get to know God through wisdom, but through a Gospel (Good News)
that is ultimately foolishness to the "wise" of this world:
I Cor 1:25-31- "Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For yea see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world, and things which are despised, God hath chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord."
We can't become God's colleague. He doesn't send us that kind of wisdom. Instead, He sent us Jesus, His flesh and blood. And this is what He wants: He wants us to join the Family! It's unbelievable, beloved. It's too good to be true, and yet it is true. The very existence of Christ proves that it's a bona fide invitation.
Sin and righteousness do matter to God. Judgment will come, but at His discretion
(not ours) and on His unfathomable timetable. Besides, we could never perfectly
blend righteousness and mercy through our wisdom, anyway. Ultimate justice
is our Creator's domain. And His workshop extends from here to eternity.
That's why Paul can make a bold statement like this one to the Hebrews:
Hebrews 13:4- "Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge."
Our perspective is flawed, and so are we. But True Perfection and Eternity
are real. We must not loose heart or faith. The chaos of this world proves
nothing. It is partial evidence, at best. The Father loves us. The Son
came to us at great personal cost to show us how to live "under the sun,"
and died here to satisfy the debt of our many sins. The Spirit is even
now on the earth interacting with Man each day, pulling his perspective
upward. Paul says to the Corinthians:
I Cor 4:5- "Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come (Christ returns), who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man (believer, righteous man) have praise of God."
We are not animals. We must not adopt an animal's perspective. Justice will prevail. But we must look beyond the world we know, and let true Love for Christ be our wisdom.
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