Today I want to discuss a few more passages from Ecclesiastes. We began on the topic last week. Publication was delayed by six days due to technical difficulties, but today I am back, hoping to publish at my usual Thursday time. We’ll see if that works out.
We are ready for #4. Bracketed portions are my clarifications of the text.
4/”He [God] has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.” (Eccl. 3:11)
Somehow God has set eternity in our hearts, so that we instinctively know that this life on earth is not all there is. At the same time, He hides His activity, so that we will have to do some work to find our way to Him. He is not, for example, visible in the sky. He could have created a reality in which we saw God in the sky. He hides His handiwork to some extent.
5/”I know that there is nothing better for them [mankind] than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor–it is the gift of God.” (Eccl. 3:12-13)
There is a lot to unpack here! First, we are told to rejoice. (Just as generous-spirited Pollyanna reminded us, a century ago–and for which she has been raked over the coals ever since.)
We are also told to do good in our lifetime. There’s “nothing better” for us to do than to do good. (Who could have guessed?) Of course, now we have to seek the definition of good. Perhaps we can turn to the entire Bible to help us work that out. It’s just a theory.
Eating, drinking, laboring–we can see good in all of this. Life is not a boring routine accomplishing nothing. These are gifts of God. We should rejoice that we can eat and drink, and that we can work productively. Ordinary everyday life is good.
Here I want to quote another passage from Ecclesiastes which is backing up the points just made.
“Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward.” (Eccl. 5:18)
God has given us only a few years on the earth, but it is good and fitting that we eat, drink, enjoy ourselves, toil productively. It is all a reward. Life is wonderfully good–something we have been “given”–and we are to enjoy it. That is part of the plan of God.
6/’I said to myself, “God will judge both the righteous man and the wicked man,” for a time for every matter and for every deed is there.’ (Eccl. 3:17)
Again, we will have to search the Bible to be able to decide what is righteous and what is wicked. But the warning is clear, that God will judge. That can be good news, or it can be bad news, depending on whether we are righteous or wicked. It does seem fair.
7/”A poor, yet wise lad is better than an old and foolish king who no longer knows how to receive instruction.” (Eccl. 4:13)
This is at least partly an echo of Christ’s, ‘”But many who are first will be last; and the last, first.”‘ (Matthew 19:30)
The Ecclesiastes passage gives helpful specifics. Better to be just a boy with some wisdom (and not a well-to-do boy, at that), than to be a king–if the king has lost the ability to learn. Think of the famous people who are our political leaders. Would you rather be one of them when you stand in the presence of God, or an unfamous boy with some desire to honor God? The choice doesn’t seem difficult. We know which it would be better to be. But worldly wisdom pretends that it is better to be a king no matter what. Not so.
8/”When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it, for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow!” (Eccl. 5:4)
Three things particularly strike me here. First, we need to be careful in what we promise to do. If we say we are going to do something, we need really to do it. This could be some sort of financial promise, but it could also be something else. Example of the latter. “I am going to read the Bible all the way through in one year!” Really? Don’t say you are going to do that unless you really intend to follow through. Better to be more modest in your statement to yourself and to God, saying perhaps, “My goal is to read the Bible all the way through in one year, but if it proves more difficult than I expected then I hope to read at least one quarter of the Bible in the year.” (Such a pace is not despicable; you could read the Bible five times in twenty years at that pace. I expect that then you would know more about the Bible than to do most Christians.)
Secondly, the statement that God takes no delight in fools is remarkably frank! God is not senile and He does not appreciate it when we act like fools. We need to have this truth always before us. I think the temptation is to avoid understanding this aspect of God’s character. “Ah, we’re saved by grace.” Which means all too often that we give ourselves permission to act like fools. But God takes no delight in fools.
I think there is a third, corollary, encouraging takeaway from the passage. God may take no delight in fools, but He is hinting here and elsewhere that He does take delight in those who act with wisdom. (Remember the poor yet wise lad?) So that means that if we are seeking to act with wisdom, God may delight in us. Isn’t it human nature for us to delight in those who are trying to please us by their behavior? Apparently it is divine nature also to delight in those who are trying to please Him. This would not be strange. God’s standards of behavior are good. For us to want to please God by adhering to His standards of behavior, really would be something to delight God. He is not a computer operating under a morality-free program. He is a person who loves goodness, and wants to see us, His friends and family members, love goodness as well.
Assuming this blog post appears today, August 11, 2022, I hope to continue the series on Ecclesiastes next week. If you are reading this, it appeared. If you are not reading it, technical difficulties won that round.