Snakes on a Plain (Part 1)

October 1, 2012 at 10:11 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments
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And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way.

Numbers 21:4

During the wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, there were times when God’s people encountered mountains and valleys, but many times they were on the “plain.” In our lives there are spiritual valleys and mountains. Sometimes life seems like a series of crises. You’re either in a valley, on a mountain, or heading up or down one or the other. But in reality, most of the time, we’re on the “plain.”

The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.

Ecclesiastes 1:5

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9

The plain seems like a safe place, but it can be dangerous. “Plain” has two meanings. It can mean “level ground” or it can mean “vanilla or ordinary.” On a plain you can see in all directions, so you can see trouble coming. Coming, that is, from everywhere but within. Even on a plain, it can be difficult to see trouble coming from within your own group of friends or from within ourselves. That is one of the reasons that the Bible tells us to be:

Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;

Hebrews 12:15

And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.

Numbers 21:4-5

God’s people were complaining about the manna He was sending them even though manna was just what they needed and just what God wanted them to have. You can hear the whining in the description, “light bread.”

And the LORD sent fiery serpents …

Numbers 21:6

Theses fiery serpents are the “Snakes on a Plain” in the title of this lesson, and the first point is:

Snakes on a Plain: Snakes Produce Paranoia

https://i1.wp.com/seedmagazine.com/images/uploads/snakebrain.jpg

If you were to list the most common “phobias,” three of the items on your list would probably be public speaking, going to the dentist, and snakes. “Paranoia” is the feeling that someone – or everyone – is out to get you, whether or not the feeling is justified. And the fact is, just because you are paranoid, it does not mean that someone is not out to get you. As Christians we have three main enemies: the devil, the world, and the flesh. These folks in Numbers chapter 21 were ungrateful, but, more than that, they were complainers. And even more than that, they lacked faith. Their reaction to these snakes on a plain was paranoia.

Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people.

Numbers 21:7

Notice, they didn’t come to Moses and say, “Where are all these snakes coming from?” They said, “We have sinned…” I can’t say enough bad things about sin, but if the snakes of sin – the fiery serpents of sin – are loose in your life, one of the results is that you are going to be paranoid.

The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion.

Proverbs 28:1

The people who came to Moses in Numbers 21 didn’t say, “We’ve been bitten, ask God to heal us.” They said, “Ask God to take them away.” They weren’t exhibiting faith – they were exhibiting paranoia.

Next time we will see that snakes produce poison.

Darkness Under the Sun

April 23, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Posted in Ecclesiastes | 17 Comments
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King Solomon was looking at life from an earthly, temporal point of view, and he came to these conclusions:

1. Life is vain because of its monotony.
2. Life is vain because of the limits of wisdom.
3. Life is vain because of the limits of wealth.

I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts. So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me. And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 2:8-11

Solomon was the richest man in the Bible – maybe of all time. He was the Bill Gates of his day. However, no one can buy his way into Heaven or out of eternity. Somebody once said that if money can’t buy happiness, at least it will allow you to afford your favorite kind of misery. Money can be a valuable tool. You can’t eat cash, but you can buy food with it. You can’t keep warm with it, but you can buy fuel with it. This quote once appeared in the Wall Street Journal: “Money is a universal passport to everywhere except Heaven; and a universal provider of everything except happiness.”

For there is a man whose labour is in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity; yet to a man that hath not laboured therein shall he leave it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil.

Ecclesiastes 1:21

You may have seen the bumper sticker that says, “He who dies with the most toys wins,” but this is not true. When you go to see God, you won’t be judged for how nice a boat you have, or how impressive your music collection was. The Apostle Paul described life as if it were a race, but that race is not a race to financial security. It is a race to become more Christ-like. The preacher in Ecclesiastes tells us that, not only can we not take it with us, but we can’t control it anymore after we’re gone. Some of the most agonized-over and detailed legal documents are wills and trusts. There is nothing wrong with wanting to provide for your family after you die, but when we spend so much energy trying to make sure our descendants have an easier time of it than we did, we might be doing them a disservice. Sometimes, working to achieve things for ourselves is how God makes us into who He wants us to be.

King Solomon felt that:

4. Life is vain because it has an end.

We know that this is true only in a limited sense.

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:

Hebrews 9:27

The wise man’s eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness: and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all.

Ecclesiastes 2:14

The idea that we’re all going to die can be a depressing thought. It is one of the reasons why there is so much “escapist” entertainment.

There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.

Ecclesiastes 2:24

If we are not careful, we will focus so much of our time, our energy, our money, on entertainment, that we will not have anything other than shallow entertainment to offer the people we care about when we find them suffering. Movies, music, television, and pop culture are no substitute for Biblical comfort, counseling, and promises when someone is truly in pain.

However, there is an opposite extreme to mindless entertainment that can also be vain. If we become so fixated on our own sorrows that they swallow us up, we will become “depressed.” There is a plague of depression in our society today. I realize that some of this is caused by actual physical conditions or chemical imbalances in the brain, but a great deal of it comes from being focused only on what’s happening “under the sun.” Without the assurance of a life beyond this world with a kind and loving God, there is a tendency to think, “We know death is coming anyway, so we might as well stop living now and get used to it.” That’s the view “under the sun.” But “over” the sun – “above the sun” – God wants us to enjoy life and have peace and hope and contentment.

But godliness with contentment is great gain.

I Timothy 6:6

Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.

Philippians 4:11

Ye are blessed of the LORD which made heaven and earth. The heaven, even the heavens, are the LORD’S: but the earth hath he given to the children of men.

Psalm 115:15-16

The Lord does want us to have fun – but with Godliness. And He wants us to be content!

Nothing New Under the Sun

April 4, 2012 at 9:45 am | Posted in Common Expressions, Ecclesiastes | 66 Comments
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The common expression, “there’s nothing new under the sun,” is from the Bible.

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9

When God spoke the universe into existence, He created all the “matter” that exists today. Scientists have been able to discover that matter is made up of molecules. It’s kind of strange to think about, but these molecules have been around for a long time. The molecules that make up the water you drink today might be some of the same molecules that made up the water that Julius Caesar drank over 2000 years ago. Some of the cells in your body might be made up of some the same material that used to make up King Solomon’s body.

There is a joke about a group of scientists who came to God and said, “Well, God, we don’t need You any more – we can finally do what You can do. We can ‘create.’ We have invented a machine that can create anything we want. All we have to do is add dirt-”

“Hold on a minute,” said God. “Go get your own dirt.”

You are breathing air right now, and scientists have discovered a great deal about that air. They understand the elements that make it up and the way it behaves under certain circumstances. But no scientist provided the air you are breathing right now. You are breathing God’s air. He created it and He provides it, and He deserves the credit and the thanks for it. If He decides that your next breath is your last one, no scientist will be able to prevent that. There have been great advances in the field of cardiology, but your heart is not beating right now because a cardiologist created your heart or gave it the ability to pump blood. Your heart is beating under the power and supervision and control of God, and it had better be beating to His glory. He could stop it in an instant.

“Life is vanity” was the perspective of Solomon “under the sun.” “Vanity” is a key concept in Ecclesiastes. It is sometimes defined as “emptiness” or “vapor.” It is something that is insubstantial although it is still noticeable, like “wind.” In our day it is sometimes linked with the idea of arrogance or pride. We say that somebody who is “vain” is “stuck up,” or somebody who thinks she’s “all that,” with the implication being that she’s really nothing. There was a popular song by Carly Simon when I was a kid called “You’re So Vain” that exemplified this idea. Vanity can be something that causes a lot of consternation, but doesn’t amount to anything. One commentator on the Book of Ecclesiastes defined vanity as “what’s left after you pop a soap bubble.”

According to the “under the sun” viewpoint of King Solomon:

1. Life is vain because of its monotony. (Referring to the ordinary repetitiveness of life, not the board game where you collect $200 for passing “go.”)

Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.

Ecclesiastes 1:10

How many days in your life do you really remember in detail? Probably a small percentage. You probably remember your wedding day, the days your children were born, the day you hit a game-winning home run, but overall you only remember a small percentage of the days of your life, because so many of them are so much alike. Even fewer are the days of your life which stand out in the memory of other people. However, we do remember some “historical” dates – dates on which famous people did important things. This is one reason why man – even man “under the sun” – is different from the beasts. We have personal histories.

Ecclesiastes reminds us that, although we are part of a “life cycle,” the life cycle always ends in death. They say that the only two things that are certain in life are death and taxes. [I would add two others: (1) If I leave my car windows down in a parking lot, it will rain before I get back; (2) If I change from a slow-moving lane of traffic into a faster-moving lane, the cars in front of me in that lane will immediately stop.]

The Lord Jesus miraculously broke into the “life cycle” of this planet – and into human history. He made it so that resurrection is possible. Life doesn’t have to end in death. You can be “born again.” Your life was put in motion with your first birth, but with a new birth you can start over – with a new destination.

According to Ecclesiastes, “under the sun:”

2. Life is vain because of the limits of wisdom.

Solomon was the wisest man in the world, but he could not equal God’s wisdom. In fact, Solomon’s wisdom was even God-given. The human race has been around for about 6000 years, and it is questionable whether we have really come up with any real solutions to any real problems – at least without a willingness to create even more problems. We desperately need God’s wisdom.

Contextual Wisdom

March 19, 2012 at 9:43 am | Posted in Ecclesiastes | 7 Comments
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And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

As we study the book of Ecclesiastes, you’ll find that many of the principles put forth don’t seem to fit in with the joy we usually proclaim when we talk about the Bible. Many of these sayings, taken alone, with an earthly perspective, don’t seem to match up with the promise of Romans 8:28 – even though they’re clearly from God. However, the conclusion of Ecclesiastes teaches us that the principles of how God works, when combined together, make all things work together for good to those who are the “called” – the “ekklesia” – those who are separated out of this world unto God by faith.

That’s where the word “Ecclesiastes” comes from – the Greek Word for a “called out assembly.” In Hebrew the word is “qoheleth” (ko-HAY-leth), which means “preacher,” or one who presides over an assembly while speaking to them. The Greek word “ekklesia” is where we get the word “ecclesiastical,” which means “related to a church.”

The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

Ecclesiastes 1:1

The human instrument that the Holy Spirit used to write the Book of Ecclesiastes appears to have been King Solomon, and it was probably written near the end of his life. It is generally accepted that the Holy Spirit used Solomon to write Proverbs and Song of Solomon, as well.

King Solomon is known for two main things: wisdom and wealth. He was probably the richest human being in the Bible and possibly the entire world. He was even richer than Job. As Solomon began to look back, he spoke about the things he had done and all the experiences he had and all the tests he conducted to determine the meaning of life.

One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.

Ecclesiastes 1:4-5

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9

We have to be careful about taking doctrine from books like Ecclesiastes and Job. One of the practices of the cults is to take isolated Bible verses out of context and build fanciful doctrines around them. Here are a couple of examples in Ecclesiastes Chapter 1 of statements which contain greats truths in their context but could seem contradictory of other passages of Scripture on their face:

That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.

Ecclesiastes 1:15

For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.

Ecclesiastes 1:18

Ecclesiastes is full of these kinds of statements – when isolated they don’t seem to fit in with the doctrine of the rest of the Bible.

Here’s an example from Job:

As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away: so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more.

Job 7:9

To get the correct understanding, we have to look at who’s speaking. It is true that someone said Job 7:9, but what he said is not always true.


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