THE ENJOYMENT OF THIS LIFE DOES NOT COME FROM FIGURING OUT LIFE’S DEEP ENIGMAS
[What’s your favorite parable in the Scriptures?]
Despite the repetition of common themes in this Book of Ecclesiastes, I find one aspect to be especially puzzling – to what extent does the view of Solomon ever rise above the “under the sun” perspective and benefit from God’s perspective of eternity? More difficult question than it might seem … Commentators differ on their views here.
“enigma” – something obscure; inscrutable; mysterious
Kidner: The fascination of this book throughout its length arises very largely from such collisions between obstinate facts of observation and equally obstinate intuitions. So it pushes us towards a synthesis which lies mostly beyond its own pages; in this case, the prospect of reward and punishment in the world to come.
3 AREAS OF WRESTLING . . . 1 AREA OF RESOLVE
I. (:1-6) WRESTLING WITH THE EARTHLY FATE OF THE RIGHTEOUS VS THE FATE OF THE WICKED – SINCE IT LOOKS LIKE THEY END UP THE SAME
A. (:1) Man’s Earthly Fate Lies in the Hand of the Sovereign God
1. Should be a source of comfort and encouragement to the Righteous
“For I have taken all this to my heart and explain it that righteous men, wise men, and their deeds are in the hand of God.”
Baxter: this verse introduces Solomon’s Review of his entire quest and summarizes his conclusions – chaps 9-12
2. But Unpredictability is Unsettling
“Man does not know whether it will be love or hatred; anything awaits him.”
Talking about outcomes that are dispensed from the hand of God
Ryrie: Love = happy circumstances; Hate = unhappy circumstances
Swindoll: Being in the hand of God is not synonymous with or a guarantee for being economically prosperous, physically healthy, shielded from pain, enjoying a trouble-free occupation, and having everyone smile and appreciate us. As Solomon wrote “Man does not know whether it will be love or hatred; anything awaits him.” But what does help is the knowledge that behind whatever happens is a God who loves us and cares, who hasn’t lost a handle on the controls.
Eaton: the point is that the treatment the righteous will receive is unknown; who can tell what the future will bring? Righteousness and wisdom have no built-in guarantees of an easy life.
B. (:2-3) No Difference Between the Righteous and the Wicked – in terms of their earthly fate
1. Same Fate Awaits All
“It is the same for all.”
2. Five Sets of Contrasts Between the Character of All Men / Yet One Fate for Both
a. “There is one fate for the righteous and for the wicked;”
b. “for the good, for the clean and for the unclean;”
c. “for the man who offers a sacrifice and for the one who does not sacrifice.”
d. “As the good man is, so is the sinner;”
e. “as the swearer is, so is the one who is afraid to swear.”
Is it good or bad here to take an oath?
Eaton: refers not to profane or rash swearing (the majority interpretation; cf. Ex. 20:7; Mt. 5:34), but to swearing “by the Lord’s name” (cf. 6:13; 10:20) which was part of allegiance to the covenant. . . This view is upheld by the fact that in the series of contrasts the good characteristic comes first (as Plumptre observes).
3. One Fate for All Men / Character of Men Apart from God is Ultimately the Same = Evil and Insanity – Moral and Mental Twistedness
“This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one fate for all men. Furthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives.”
Swindoll: We’ve heard about the doctrine of depravity all our lives, but not much about the doctrine of insanity, right? . . . Lurking in the human heart is a permanent mixture of evil and insanity . . . What an awful mixture — meanness and madness!
Nightly news is just an accounting of the day’s experiences of evil and insanity being worked out in different circumstances. Nothing should surprise or shock us anymore.
Those who hold to a humanistic philosophy of the inherent goodness of man have a tough sell.
4. Same Fate Awaits All
“Afterwards they go to the dead.”
Longman: The abrupt syntax at the end of the verse is intentional and reflects the suddenness of death in the midst of life.
C. (:4-6) Hope Remains as Long as Life Lasts – there is a difference between the dead and the living
1. Hope is an Intrinsic Part of Life
“For whoever is joined with all the living, there is hope;”
2. Illustration: Life is always better than Death
“Surely a live dog is better than a dead lion.”
Wiersbe: dogs were despised in that day . . . Solomon was emphasizing the importance of seizing opportunities while we live, rather than blindly hoping for something better in the future, because death will end our opportunities on this earth.
Lion is the most majestic and powerful of the animal kingdom – Lion King –good combination of terms for a title
Look at a powerful horse like the filly Eight Belles yesterday that ran her heart out in the Kentucky Derby against those powerful colts; nothing more futile than that picture of the dead carcass – once the life is gone, what is left?
3. Expectation of death better than Cessation of thinking
“For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything,”
Constable: “The dead do not know anything” does not mean they are insensible. Later revelation indicates that the dead are aware of their feelings, the past, and other things (cf. Matt. 25:46; Luke 16:19-31; et al.). In the context this clause means the dead have no capacity to enjoy life as the living can.
4. Death Quickly Erases All Legacy and Reward in this life
“nor have they any longer a reward, for their memory is forgotten. Indeed their love, their hate and their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun.”
Eaton: earthly life cannot be enjoyed in retrospect
Longman: reward likely refers to the end of all earthly wages or benefits, and thus Qohelet is not leaving open the possibility of heavenly rewards. The thought does not even cross his mind.
II. (:7-10) RESOLVING TO LIVE THIS EARTHLY LIFE TO THE FULLEST – ENJOYING ALL THE GIFTS GOD HAS GIVEN
Solomon keeps coming back to this common thread – the closest he can come to any type of solution to the enigmas of this life – still he does not have much of an eternal perspective
4 Areas of God’s Gifts to Us in This Life:
A. (:7) Grateful Eating and Drinking
“Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works.”
Last phrase here is one of the most difficult in the chapter to interpret – “for God has already approved your works” – this is the important motivation clause for enjoying God’s good gifts: to whom is this addressed ? what are the possible meanings? Can’t mean God’s unlimited approval of all deeds of all men
Agrarian society; the fact that the fields have already yielded fruit from your labors only comes as the blessing of God; otherwise your fields would be barren and you would be experiencing drought and famine; so if you have something to eat, partake in recognition that it is only the goodness of God that has so blessed your labors
We are not called to a life of asceticism like the monks of the Middle Ages who imagined that they could draw closer to God by abstaining from all worldly comforts and pleasures
Baxter: This advice in Ecclesiastes has nothing of Epicureanism or godless, fleshly indulgence in it. It is simply a periphrasis for living in a legitimate comfort and prosperity (see Jer. Xxii. 15), due to Jehovah’s bountifulness.
C. J. Mahaney: Sermon on addressing the sin of Complaining, murmering, grumbling – this is an offense against God – Who are we not to be grateful and thankful and content with the gifts that God has provided? Look at how seriously God treated those who sinned in this area – study book of Numbers; look at NT commands – sin of complaining lumped right in there with others – but we treat it so lightly; we have our own expectations; when those are not met, we grumble; what does that say about our view of the Goodness of God and His Providence in our life; how do we feel as parents when our kids grumble and complain
B. (:8) Joyful Enjoyment of the Comforts of Life (or Festive Occasions)
“Let your clothes be white all the time, and let not oil be lacking on your head.”
Eaton: make life more comfortable in a hot climate
Longman: The hot, dry climate of Palestine is the reason for both the white clothes, which reflect rather than absorb the heat, and the oil, which protected against dry skin (Ps. 23:5; 45:7; Prov. 27:9; Isa. 61:3).
Lots of people take very elaborate symbolic interpretations here … white representing clothes of righteousness and oil being a symbol of the Holy Spirit – I don’t think anything very complicated is going on here – sometimes the simple view is the best one – Why wear a cloak of camel’s hair like John the Baptist and limit your diet to locusts and wild honey?
Whybray: both were signs of joy and associated with festive occasions
C. (:9) Happy Marriage — Refreshing Love and Companionship
“Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun.”
Recognition that life is hard and difficult; laborious; not enjoyable; frustrating
Enjoy the relationship in terms of the companionship it provides …
Enjoy the physical side of the relationship with all of the pleasures that God has designed into sex . . .
Issue of concern for many singles:
Swindoll: mentions book by his sister, Luci Swindoll, Wide My World, Narrow My Bed – what a great look at the single life – the freedoms and opportunities it affords . . .
Contentment and God’s providential provision for you personally must be embraced
D. (:10) Hard Work — Diligent Labor and Accomplishment
“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.”
Work is not a curse!
Great verse for church administrators!
Pleasure and leisure are not intended to be an escape from the responsibilities of activity, planning, knowledge, wisdom … a break, Yes … a change of pace, Yes …
But just like the major league pitcher – most of the time you want to throw that fastball … all of life cannot be a change of pace
Eaton: life is to be active and energetic
Robert Laurin: The Hebrews of ancient times thought Sheol was a pit deep under the earth where the dead abode (cf. Deut 32:22). It is uniformly depicted as the place to which both righteous and unrighteous went after death, and where there were not punishments or rewards (cf. Eccl 3:19, 20; 6:6). It was a “land of forgetfulness” (Ps 88:12) and darkness (Job 38:17), where men existed as shadowy replicas of their former selves (cf. Isa 14:9, 10). Here (Eccl 9:10) is one of the strongest statements in the OT about the nothingness of Sheol.
The sense of eternity and expectation of future judgment are only hinted at in this book
Perspective = “under the sun” – looking at Sheol from that perspective as well
III. (:11-12) WRESTLING WITH THE VALUE OF AMBITION VS THE FUTILITY OF FINITENESS AND FAIRNESS – SINCE MAN’S EARTHLY FATE IS UNPREDICTABLE AND UNDESERVED
A. (:11) What’s the Point of Trying Hard in Life?
1. Futility of Life Under the Sun
“I again saw under the sun”
2. Five Inequities of Life – accomplishments which do not guarantee success
a. “the race is not to the swift”
b. “and the battle is not to the warriors”
c. “and neither is bread to the wise”
We will be looking more at the poor wise man in the last section of this chapter
d. “and wealth to the discerning”
Far from it – those with the greatest discernment in the NT church had very few material resources
e. “nor favor to men of ability”
James 4 – you must say “If the Lord wills …” – you are not the one in control
3. Enigma of Finiteness and Fairness – Fate is Unpredictable and Undeserved
“for time and chance overtake them all”
Look at all of the cosmetic gimmicks designed to try to slow down or thwart Father Time – let’s cover over the wrinkles; let’s see how long we can prolong our looks and even our life
Who knows when your next breath will be your last?
* * * * *
Study of Psalm 33 (:13-19) GOD CAN BE COUNTED ON TO SAVE THOSE WHO ARE COUNTING ON HIM
– God Sees the Basis for Our Confidence
He knows the orientation of our heart = the object of our trust
– God has the best vantage point for such observation
“looks from heaven” = “His dwelling place”
no limitations on God
– God as the Creator has the ultimate understanding of the heart of man
– God is not fooled by the False Confidences that are attractive to man
— “the king is not saved by a mighty army”
— “a warrior is not delivered by great strength”
— “a horse is a false hope for victory”
— “nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength”
– God is looking for those who fear Him and hope in His lovingkindness
“the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him,
on those who hope for His lovingkindness”
– God Can be Counted on to Deliver from Death and Preserve from Danger
“to deliver their soul from death,
And to keep them alive in famine”
* * * * *
B. (:12) Man’s End Comes Suddenly and Surprisingly
“Moreover, man does not know his time: like fish caught in a treacherous net and birds trapped in a snare, so the sons of men are ensnared at an evil time when it suddenly falls on them.”
The fish and the birds did not wake up that morning and go forth with the expectation that they were in grave danger that day; in fact that day looked like any other when they could spend their time not in the panic of anxiety but enjoying God’s gracious provision for their daily sustenance – flying around from place to place; paddling around in the depths of the sea – enjoying the good life – Then all of a sudden out of nowhere – Zap – they are captured and killed – no time to get their life in order; no time to say good bye to their young – destruction suddenly falls on them
Wiersbe: our abilities (:11-12) and opportunities (:13-18) are no guarantee of success
Swindoll: various ways to view life. Although each is popular, each has its own set of problems.
– Optimism – rose colored glasses; not facing reality
– Pessimism – grim existence; lack of joy
– Suspicion – everyone is out to get you; lack of trust
Fatalism – whatever will be will be; lack of hope
IV. (:13-18) WRESTLING WITH THE VALUE OF WISDOM VS THE FUTILITY OF WISDOM – SINCE WISDOM IS IGNORED AND DESPISED IN THIS LIFE RATHER THAN RECOGNIZED AND REWARDED
A. (:13) Expectation that Wisdom Would be Rewarded as Impressive
“Also this I came to see as wisdom under the sun, and it impressed me.”
We would expect wisdom to be impressive; we would expect others to value wisdom and exalt it and promote it and reward it … we would be wrong!
B. (:14-15) Parable of Wisdom Ignored and Despised – Packed with meaning
“There was a small city with few men in it and a great king came to it, surrounded it and constructed large siegeworks against it. But there was found in it a poor wise man and he delivered the city by his wisdom. Yet no one remembered that poor man.”
Who knows this parable? A forgotten parable!
– Contrast between the great king and the small city and poor nobody
– Contrast between the superior offensive troops and armaments and the weak Defenses
Miraculous deliverance accomplished by Wisdom – What Power!
Unbelievable and Pitiful Conclusion: “Yet no one remembered that poor man.”
Why didn’t the city bless the poor man for his heroic efforts?
Lessons for us:
– don’t pursue wisdom with the thought that this world will receive you as a hero and thank you for your contributions – look at all my sacrifices; look at all my contributions
– God will reward wisdom abundantly – because you surely aren’t getting the reward in this life
– How did Christ feel after He cleansed the ten lepers and they failed to return and give thanks?
– Look at the apostles – silver and gold have I none – very poor men … but rich in wisdom and in their contribution to the foundation of the church
C. (:16-18) Contrast Between the Value of Wisdom and the Futility of Wisdom
1. Better than Strength? Despised and Ignored
“So I said, ‘Wisdom is better than strength.’ But the wisdom of the poor man is despised and his words are not heeded.”
2. Better than Political and Military Power? Fragile and easily Destroyed
“The words of the wise heard in quietness are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.”
Swindoll: Some people are selling their souls to a secular therapist. They are listening more to the well-educated psychologist than they have ever listened to the Lord or paid attention to His Word. And as they take their cues from their counselor, they are being seduced by today’s psychology.
Kidner: In the pattern of the chapter this is one more example of what is unpredictable and cruel in life, to sap our confidence in what we can make of it on our own. The last two verses give an extra thrust to the parable by showing first how valuable and then how vulnerable is wisdom. We are left with more than a suspicion that in human politics the last word will regularly go to the loud voice of verse 17 or the cold steel of verse 18. Seldom to truth, seldom to merit.
Longman: Summary of Chap. 9
In ch. 9, Qohelet gives advice in the context of statements of deep skepticism. Indeed, this chapter might be judged the most depressing of the entire book.
Qohelet begins the chapter with a powerful evaluation of life (9:1-10). He states that it does not matter who one is or what one does, death renders everything meaningless. After all, death is the end of everything for an individual (vv. 6, 10). From this basic, though sad, truth, Qohelet advises his readers to seize the joy of the day.
The next unit (9:11-12) continues the depressing thoughts of the previous one by asserting that time and chance rule the lives and the deaths of all people. Qohelet once again puts an emphasis on death – that is, no one knows when the end is going to come. There is absolutely nothing that anyone can do to prevent or predict one’s death.
This appropriately leads to two further units that question the effectiveness of wisdom. First, wisdom has its limits (vv. 13-16). A wise man may save a city, but he will not be remembered. Second, wisdom has power and is, on a surface level, to be preferred to foolishness, but it does not take much to spoil the good that it might produce (vv. 1-18).