Tags: 1 Corinthians 15, Bible lessons on Ecclesiastes, Bible study on Ecclesiastes, Book of Ecclesiastes, commentary on Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiastes, labor in the Lord, Sunday School lessons on Ecclesiastes, vanity
The Book of Ecclesiastes is – in my opinion – one of the more difficult books in the Bible to teach. Many of its proclamations seem troubling and paradoxical in light of New Testament revelation. However, when understood in the proper context, it is an extremely edifying book, and, like all Scripture, it is immensely profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness. It also contains its own helpful thematic summation:
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
Our earthly life is both temporary, and, in some respects, vain, but it is also valuable and of eternal significance. It is a gift from our Creator, and we must be good stewards of it.
For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
The antidote to Ecclesiastes’ diagnosis of “vanity of vanities, all is vanity” is:
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
I Corinthians 15:58 (emphasis added)
Here are links to the previous lessons on the Book of Ecclesiastes:
1. Contextual Wisdom
2. Nothing New under the Sun
3. Darkness Under the Sun
4. Break It Up!
5. Right Where You’re Supposed to Be
6. Do Birds Sing about Eternity?
7. Good Timing
8. Order in a Fallen World
9. Beware of Foolhardy Finagling
10. Working for a Living
11. Fresh, Frail, or Fruitful?
12. Two Kinds of Heart Medication
13. Don’t Ruin Your Name
14. Would You Rather? (Wisdom of Solomon Edition) (*)
15. Don’t Lose Your Balance
16. Accurate Timing
17. The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men
18. Fooling or Ruling?
19. A Fly in the Ointment
20. His Heart Was in the Right Place
21. A Little Bird Told Me
22. Fortifying the Fulcrum
23. Indulgent, Incompetent, or Industrious?
24. Life’s Big Adventure
25. Under the Sun vs. Over the Sun
* most-read post in series
Tags: commentary on Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiastes 11, investing, James 1, old age, senior citizens, Sunday School lessons on Ecclesiastes, the elderly, youth
The Book of Ecclesiastes takes a hard look at life “under the sun:” life from a mortal, earthly, finite perspective. This viewpoint may be contrasted with life “over the sun:” life from an eternal, Heavenly, infinite perspective.
Under the sun, life is monotonous; over the sun, it’s adventurous. Under the sun, wisdom is vain; over the sun, wisdom is extremely useful. Under the sun, wealth is futile; over the sun, wealth opens up great opportunities. Under the sun, death is certain; over the sun, death provides great motivation. The Christian life can be compared to a puzzle, a battle, a challenge, a race, a treasure hunt, or a pilgrimage. None of these are monotonous or boring. They are the stuff of true adventure.
In Ecclesiastes Chapter 11 Solomon sees life as an investment.
Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.
Specifically, he compares it to a business or farming venture.
If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth: and if the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be. He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap. As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all. In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.
Farming is a noble vocation. Farmers can take satisfaction in hard work and just trust God for the results. But being a shipping merchant and a farmer both require risk, faith in God, and patience.
Then Solomon goes on to recognize that “youth” is a special time in life.
Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun: But if a man live many years, and rejoice in them all; yet let him remember the days of darkness; for they shall be many. All that cometh is vanity. Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.
God could create each new person fully grown, the way He did with Adam and Eve, but He has chosen to make life a progression, and that progression is one of His special gifts.
Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity.
Youth is for enjoyment, but it also for preparation for adulthood. I don’t like the term “teenager,” because it is a modern marketing invention based upon a false evolutionary model of “adolescence.” In the Bible there are “children,” then there are “men” and “women.” There is no special “in-between” category. However, as we think about the pre-adult years, we recognize that they can be a time of joy or a time of misery. If you are a young adult, enjoy the energy and the freedom you have before your body begins to deteriorate and the responsibilities of life begin to drain you. The Christian life is not geared toward earthly retirement. Our “retirement” will be in Heaven, and even that will be full of activity. The unique thing about “youth” is that it is a time of life that, once past, does not come back again.
In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened,
The “keepers of the house” are your arms and legs. The “bowing” is indicative of bent knees and stooped shoulders. “Grinders” are teeth. “Windows” are eyes.
And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low;
“The doors shall be shut” means that you keep your mouth closed because you’ve lost your teeth. “The sound of grinding is low” because you can no longer chew your food. “Rising up at the voice of the bird” is in recognition of the trouble that elderly people have sleeping. “The daughters of music brought low” means that your voice has started to quaver.
Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:
The fear “of that which is high” means the fear that elderly people have of falling down. The “flourishing almond tree” is white hair. The burdened “grasshopper” is a picture of dragging yourself along at the end of summer. The “desire” which shall fail is the loss of some of the concupiscible desires (sex and appetite). The “long home” is eternity.
Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.
Several images are given of things which are as fragile as an elderly person’s life.
Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs. The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth. The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd. And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
James 1:19-21 (emphasis added)
Tags: academics, accounting, adventure, appreciation, commentary on Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiastes 11, Ecclesiastes 12, excitement, Sunday School lessons on Ecclesiastes, youth
Have you ever shared the feelings of the writer of Ecclesiastes: that this earthly life (life “under the sun“) is just vanity? Is the best we can hope for just a little temporary pleasure between the pains? If so, the problem may be that you have a wrong relationship to God. Once you are correctly oriented in your thinking about God, you really can enjoy the good gifts that come from God. Certainly, for Christians, life under the sun is not vanity.
In fact, having a right relationship with God in Christ means that our lives can be filled with:
Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.
It is fun to be around new Christians. They can be like young men in their youth, when everything is new and fresh and exciting. Things that – sadly – can start to seem routine to older Christians (soul-winning; Bible studies; prayer meetings; the Lord’s supper; praise and worship) are still thrilling to them. As older Christians, although we might not always feel the same exuberance we once did, we need to be challenging ourselves to step out by faith and serve the Lord in new and exciting (even scary) ways. When is the last time you stood up in a church assembly, or a group of strangers, and gave a testimony of God’s goodness and grace?
Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;
The older we get, the more we appreciate what we might have been too worked up to truly appreciate the first time around. God is gracious to allow “do-overs.” Take advantage of these when the opportunity arises.
The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.
There is pleasure in learning from experience – and in teaching others what you’ve learned. Athletes eventually get too old to compete in the sports they loved in their youth, but many find great fulfillment and excitement in coaching. Goads prompt you to keep going; nails are what you use to hold in place what you’ve already learned.
When you recognize that this earthly life we live does matter, then it’s encouraging to know that Someone’s keeping score. The idea of being held accountable can be frightening, but it’s also reassuring, because we know God doesn’t miss it when we are faithful stewards. God is the One Who’s in charge of the rewards.
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
The wisdom that comes from God is true wisdom, and the result of true wisdom is true riches.
Tags: Christian employees, Christian workers, Christians in the workplace, commentary on Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiastes 10, good employees, Sunday School lessons on Ecclesiastes
Some people work alone. Some people work “for themselves” (“self-employed”). But many people are what we call “employees.” They work for a company or an “employer.” Christians have a responsibility to be good workers or employees.
Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning! Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles, and thy princes eat in due season, for strength, and not for drunkenness!
Good employees are focused on work, not eating and drinking, which Ecclesiastes likens to signs of childishness. If you work for an employer beware of the problem of indulgence – the tendency of an employee to use his employment only for himself and not for his employer’s enterprise.
By much slothfulness the building decayeth; and through idleness of the hands the house droppeth through.
Along with avoiding the problem of indulgence, we must also beware of the danger that we would be lazy and downright incompetent. It’s one thing to take your time and do a good job, but it’s another thing to take your time because you’re loafing.
A feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry: but money answereth all things.
Most companies have a least one employee who is the “life of the party,” and because of his charismatic personality, even his employer thinks it’s cute, but, remember, as an employee your purpose is to make money for your employer.
Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.
A good employee is not one that never questions his employer, but he is one that is discreet. The desire to be hardworking and to improve the company for which you work will help defeat the temptation to be indulgent (“Who cares? I just work here.”) and to be incompetent (so too much won’t be required of you).
Tags: Colossians 4, commentary on Ecclesiastes, communication, Ecclesiastes 10, leadership principles, Proverbs 11, Proverbs 21, Proverbs 27, Psalm 1, Sunday School lessons on Ecclesiastes
Sometimes the key to wisdom is balancing competing interests. Good leaders place themselves at the fulcrum.
If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee, leave not thy place; for yielding pacifieth great offences.
Ecclesiastes 10:4 (emphasis added)
On one side is pride.
There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, as an error which proceedeth from the ruler: Folly is set in great dignity, and the rich sit in low place. I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth.
Pliability is on the other side. Rulers must not be too proud, nor too pliable. They must be willing to listen to counsel, but not to be overcome by pressure.
Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.
Open rebuke is better than secret love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.
Likewise, those who work under leaders must be balanced.
He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it; and whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him. Whoso removeth stones shall be hurt therewith; and he that cleaveth wood shall be endangered thereby.
On the one hand, workers must be aware of their position. When you work it is important to consider where you “stand.” When we dig ditches or break through hedges or chop wood or pick up and move heavy rocks, we need to watch our step, but the same principle applies to the work of the ministry, which can be as dangerous spiritually as theses types of physical labor are dangerous literally. The work of the ministry does require some “heavy lifting” and “getting down into ditches” and poking around in people’s lives even though they might bite you like a serpent. But the Lord empowers us to do these things while we watch where we stand.
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
Psalm 1:1 (emphasis added)
We deal with sinners and with scorners, but we don’t “stand” in their “way” and we don’t sit in their “seat.”
If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct. Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment; and a babbler is no better.
Workers balance position on one side and preparation on the other. Cutting wood with a dull ax is a problem of preparation, and so is trying to handle a snake that hasn’t yet been charmed. Talking to a babbler is like dealing with a deadly snake when it comes to spiritual matters. It requires preparation. Both of these dangers for workers can be balanced with precaution.
The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness; but of every one that is hasty only to want.
At work and in your Christian walk, take precautions. Be diligent. Think it through. Fools rush in where wise men fear to tread. Precaution will balance out your positioning and your preparation.
Another thing that must be balanced is our communication.
The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious; but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself.
Communication can be destructive. Foolish words can hurt others, but here we learn that we can destroy ourselves with our own foolish words.
The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness: and the end of his talk is mischievous madness.
In addition to being destructive, some communication is just downright dumb. In the Bible foolishness is often described as deadly, and “mischievous madness” is just dumb. Once you’ve talked yourself into a hole it’s better to shut your mouth than to try to talk your way out.
A fool also is full of words: a man cannot tell what shall be; and what shall be after him, who can tell him?
Balanced on the other side of destructive and dumb communication is determined communication. Determination is a good thing, but it can also be a dangerous thing because sometimes it attracts pride. It is not bad to use words, but it is foolish to be “full of words,” especially when it comes to making bold assertions about the future.
The labour of the foolish wearieth every one of them, because he knoweth not how to go to the city.
“He knoweth not how to go to the city” was an ancient proverb for someone who was demanding – someone who was so busy bossing everybody around that he wore everyone out and missed the obvious signs about how to get to the city.
The balancing principle for dumb and destructive communication on the one hand, and determined and demanding communication on the other hand, is learning to be delicate. We want to be somewhat determined and demanding about truth, but we don’t want to tip over into being destructive or dumb.
Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.
Salt is a little bit delicate. Too little, and the food will be bland; too much, and the food will be inedible.
Tags: Biblical idioms, commentary on Ecclesiastes, discretion, Ecclesiastes 10, gossip, idioms, rumors, scandal, Sunday School lessons on Ecclesiastes
When I first started teaching Sunday School, the plan was to take a book of the Bible, and just teach through it sequentially each week. That, for the most part, is what I’ve done. However, I also wanted to mix in some variety, and, as I began to study the Bible more comprehensively, I was surprised to find how many common idioms came from the pages of Scripture, or at least were brought to mind by certain verses. I started calling these “common expressions,” and I would try to cover a new one each week. “The handwriting on the wall” and “the blind leading the blind” were two easy examples. My thinking was that when the students heard these expressions in everyday life, they would be reminded of Biblical principles, and possibly even seize an opportunity to steer the conversation toward the Gospel – especially those students who weren’t comfortable just blurting out, “If you died today where would you spend eternity?”
As time went by it became harder and harder to come up with new common expressions, but during a time when we were studying the Book of Ecclesiastes, I discovered that Ecclesiastes Chapter 10 contains a relative cornucopia of “common expressions.” So far, I have written about “a fly in the ointment” and “his heart was in the right place.”
Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment; and a babbler is no better.
The Bible frequently warns of the danger of running off at the mouth. As a Christian, I need to let the Holy Spirit control my tongue, and I need to analyze what I’m going to say before I blurt out whatever is on my mind. Is what I’m about to say going to hurt someone? Is it just going to be vanity? Or is it going to build someone up – encourage or edify them?
Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.
Here’s the third common expression from Ecclesiastes Chapter 10: “A little bird told me.” This is what people say when they are sharing a juicy bit of gossip about a common acquaintance and don’t want to admit the source. There’s no wisdom in talking about anyone behind his or her back – but especially someone in a position of leadership over you. In the “under the sun” world of competitiveness, selfishness, and manipulation, it’s foolish to think that what I tell a co-worker about our boss won’t get back to the boss. This applies in church, families, and and other organizations as well. There are certainly more spiritual reasons to avoid gossip, but the Bible doesn’t ignore the practical reality that it will probably come back to bite you even in an unspiritual context.
Tags: commentary on Ecclesiastes, common expressions in the Bible, conservatism, Democrats, Disney, Disney Channel, Ecclesiastes 10, liberalism, Republicans, Sunday School lessons on Ecclesiastes
It has been estimated that somewhere between 70% – 95% of the people in the world are right-handed as opposed to left-handed. The right side was the side of honor and favor in ancient Hebrew culture and most of the time in the Bible (Exodus 15:6, Deuteronomy 33:2, I Kings 2:19, Psalm 16:8-11, Psalm 44:3, Psalm 89:13, Psalm 118:15-16, Isaiah 41:10-13, Matthew 22:44, Matthew 25:33-34, Luke 22:69, Acts 7:55-56, Hebrews 1:3, I Peter 3:22, Revelation 5:7). I am not certain of the reason for this, but it may be that (in recognition of the predominance of right-handedness among human beings) the right hand is the more dextrous, and therefore more “skilled,” hand when speaking generically.
One of the things we must not do, however, when interpreting and expositing Scripture, is to foist our modern colloquialisms on the ancient text in order to try to make it say something that it does not really say. This is one of the types of what is referred to as “proof-texting.” Here is an example:
A wise man’s heart is at his right hand; but a fool’s heart at his left.
Does this verse mean that a Christian should be politically conservative rather than politically liberal? While we could argue that the verse might indeed have some bearing on that question, it would not be right to use the verse to “prove” that smart people vote Republican and fools vote Democrat. The idea of labeling politically conservative folks as those on the “right” or “right wing,” and politically liberal folks as being “left-wingers” or “on the left” probably comes from the days of the French Revolution, not the days of King Solomon.
The better interpretation of Ecclesiastes 10:2 has to do with those who exercise Godly wisdom. When our hearts are inclined to God’s wisdom, we will be more skillful and adept at handling the issues, problems, and challenges that life throws into our paths. Fools, however – those who reject Godly counsel and wisdom – will tend to flail around clumsily with whichever worldly concept happens to be popular that day, and muck things up big time.
What Ecclesiastes 10:2 brings to mind for me is not the idea of conservatism versus liberalism, but the expression we use when someone has good intentions, but accidentally achieves a bad result. We like to use this excuse for a person in that situation: “At least his heart was in the right place.” As Christians we know that our hearts can not be trusted to lead us in the right direction (Jeremiah 17:9), but we also know that God evaluates our behavior on the thoughts and intents of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12), more so than the outwardly visible appearance of our actions (I Samuel 16:7).
“Follow your heart;” “listen to your heart;” and “trust your heart,” are the mantras and messages of all kinds of Disney-entertainment-style idiocy, which is pervasive in our culture. If we are wise, we will train our hearts to stay on the right hand side of God – the side of His lovingkindness, power, protection, and provision.
Tags: Character, commentary on Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiastes 10, flies, folly, integrity, perfume, reputation, Sunday School lessons on Ecclesiastes
Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour.
The “apothecary” in this verse is what we would call a perfume-maker or possibly even a pharmacist. Ointment was used in Bible times for ceremonial anointing, perfume, and even medicinal salve at times. The popular expression, “a fly in the ointment,” comes from this verse, and it means a hidden defect or flaw in something that otherwise would be beneficial. Sometimes, just a tiny little mistake can cause a great deal of harm.
Can you imagine spending days or weeks perfecting the perfect concoction of spices, herbs, and oils, only to have the whole batch give off a disgusting odor because a miniscule, unobserved fly had landed in it and started to decompose? That’s what a little sinful foolishness can do to your testimony. Trust, honor, integrity, and character – and especially a reputation for wisdom – are things that are built up and cultivated slowly over time. However, they can be lost in an instant. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to guard our hearts, minds, eyes, and ears, and let’s keep our Bibles poised like holy flyswatters, always on alert for the tell-tale buzz of temptation.