Part 3 of 5. Find the rest of the studies here.
Wisdom literature can be very confusing sometimes. Quotes, stories, metaphors, and all sorts of symbols form a curious hodgepodge that can be a challenge to make sense of. However, God hasn't left us alone to make sense of things! Thanks be to God for giving us the Spirit that we can rely on and He also answers our sincere desire to want to know Him. Read on to find out what God has to say through these puzzling, yet precious words of wisdom!
(A) Evil under the sun (Ecc 6:1-12)
Qoheleth begins by speaking of an evil that he has seen “under the sun” (Ecc 6:1). It reminds us that Qoheleth is a man on a journey that is not unlike those undertaken by brilliant philosophers of our age. We also realise that God has equipped man to think deeply about difficult questions regarding life, and in the same way, we should come to Ecclesiastes with a similar attitude – not just to gain knowledge, but also to ask difficult questions.
One difficult question that Qoheleth constantly hammers at is why everything under the sun seems to be vanity. While he has hinted at it sporadically in the past 5 chapters, Ecc 6:2 presents us with a direct answer - death is the reason why all is vanity. Death is the ultimate sign of unfairness and evil in this world! It is the epitome of brokenness under the sun.
- Firstly, wealth is not enjoyed! (Ecc 6:1-2).
We hear the story of a man who had immense wealth and status, but could not live to enjoy it because of death.
- Then, we see that even life is not enjoyed (Ecc 6:3-6).
Even a stillborn is better, says the philosopher! We are introduced to the story of a man with a 100 children but could not enjoy the great joy of abundant posterity. The argument goes that a stillborn is better for a stillborn never feels any pressure, knows no pain, never suffers, never grows acquainted with sorrow, but still finds rests! This is contrasted with the life of the old man who had so much but still lived a disappointed life that would not find rest.
- Third, we see that contentment itself is not truly enjoyed (Ecc 6:7-9).
When did you last buy something you really wanted? How did you feel after that? When was the last time you witnessed something spectacular? How did you feel after that? When was the last time you had a delectable meal? How did you feel after that? The sad truth of life under the sun is that discontentment taints all of the joys that we could possibly acquaint ourselves with. Material gain only increases desire. Majestic feats only demand repetition. And food? We all know that the best food insists that we return to it. Discontentment makes you incapable of being satisfied with everything. You still have an appetite – not just a physical one, but a spiritual one as well! It is better for you to look and be satisfied, than to keep desiring and desiring and desiring.
- Finally, we learn that we have no ability to fix or dispute this evil (Ecc 6:10-12)
We can talk all we want, labor all we want, and petition all we want, only to find out that our efforts were for naught. Who can tell man what he can be after his life on earth? The lives we know are but a shadow of a greater thing. Man has no means to make straight what is crooked; man has no means to change the manner of life under the sun.
All man can do is lament. But even the lamentations have become a lost language and we struggle with it. We tend to respond to brokenness with denial and distraction rather than with lamentation. We pretend that we can change things and ignore that things are broken instead of crying out to God and asking for His mercy on this broken world. Consider the life of Jesus depicted in the Gospels. Did you ever notice that there is no place where Jesus really rejoices? As a matter of fact, Jesus was great at lamenting! He lamented all the time over the brokenness around Him – the very same brokenness that is real and present in our world today. Let us learn the discipline of going to God in humble prayer and lamentation.
(B) Two ways to live under the sun: wisdom and folly (Ecc 7:1-28 – 8:9)
Chapter 7 is an example of confusing wisdom literature that appears incoherent at first glance, but makes more sense after we've taken a closer look. Organizing it according to what is says about wisdom and folly (as in the table below) is one useful way of understanding it.
|Maintain a good name (Ecc 7:1)! While your reputation is not everything, it is wise to be known for your good works that God might be glorified in your life.||Folly is found in the house of mirth (Ecc 7:4b). Don’t let the joys of life under the sun capture your heart. It will not last.|
|There is wisdom in considering the day of your death (Ecc 7:1b). Think about it. What’s the point of celebrating yourself on your birthday? You didn’t do anything – your mother did all the work! Rather, remember that you will die and number your days that you might gain a heart of wisdom (Ps 90:12).||Folly is in the laughter of fools (Ecc 7:6). Laugh all you want, but do not live in a world that is satisfied with pointless, useless, and bad living.|
|Go to the house of mourning (Ecc 7:2). Funerals remind us of our mortality.||Bribery (Ecc 7:7b) entices someone to do something that they should not be doing. Folly is the case of letting your heart follow these desires.|
|Sorrow and sadness of face (Ecc 7:3) reminds you that this life does not have everything you need.||Do not let anger (Ecc 7:9) lodge in your heart – it flares up, enters in, and becomes a habit. Once it becomes a habit, it will always flare up.|
|Hear the rebuke of the wise (Ecc 7:5). It is wise to be
open to correction. Have you ever asked someone if there is anything they think you can do better as a follower of Jesus? Try it with someone mature and responsible in the faith. Be open to correction.
|Nostalgia (Ecc 7:10) distracts you from the present. Look to God for the grace of everyday. His mercies are new every morning; go to Him for your daily bread.|
|The end (Ecc 7:8a) of a thing is often more revealing than its beginning.||Snares, nets, and fetters (Ecc 7:25-26) leave you immobilized, trapped, and helpless. A cunning, and deceiving Delilah is worse than death. Guard your hearts my friends, for it is the wellspring of life. Do not give your heart to someone whose heart is not given to God.|
There is wisdom in being patient in spirit (Ecc 7:8b-9).
Wisdom has an inheritance and advantage of preservation and protection under the sun (Ecc 7:11-12). There is a reward to wisdom. Real wisdom always leads to a good thing!
Wisdom fears God (Ecc 7:13-14). If God brings pain into your life, can you make it straight? So in the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity remember that God made both things! God gives you joy and adversity to remind you that you are you and you are not God.
Wisdom is in trying not to be too self righteous and evil (Ecc 7:15-18).
Wisdom gives strength(Ecc 7:19).
Wisdom is realistic (Ecc 7:20). It helps you to understand you are a sinner as opposed to the idealistic humanism that claims you can make yourself complete.
Wisdom teaches you not to take things personally (Ecc 7:21-22).
Wisdom recognises the experience and depth of wisdom with humility (Ecc 7:23-24).
It is hard to find the man and woman committed to wisdom (Ecc 7:27-29).
Wisdom gives you a shining face (Ecc 8:1).
Wisdom understands the nature of authority (Ecc 8:2-9). Be realistic about authority! Don’t jump into evil to combat evil.
What are we meant to learn here? By organizing things this way, it becomes clear that there are only two ways to live your life. You are either committed to wisdom, or committed to folly. Now that you know this, how are you going to live your life under the sun?
(c) God above the sun (Ecc 8:10-15)
We have learnt about “vanities”, but there is yet another vanity (Ecc 8:10). So far we've read about the following vanities:
- The natural world (Ecc 1:4-2:26)
- Wisdom and knowledge (Ecc 1:12-18, Ecc 2:12-27, Ecc 4:13-16)
- Pleasures, possessions, and accomplishments (Ecc 2:1-11)
- Labor (Ecc 2:18-26, Ecc 4:4-12)
- Mortal life (Ecc 3:16-4:3)
Ecc 8:10-15 introduces us to the vanity of the wicked, religious person who frequently went into the “holy praise”. Such a person praises God and makes himself known, but does not actually live life wisely. Sadly, it is not uncommon to find many “religious” people who are actually wicked. It is a great evil that such hypocrisy is accepted, neglected, or tolerated. And this is tolerated because human authority does not always deter evil. Those in charge of justice do not execute it. Just look at our world today -- justice is perverted and great evil is carried out in the name of it. Many rise by sin while others fall by virtue. International coalitions that have been tasked with bringing about justice have failed miserably.
But there is more to life under the sun. Qoheleth hints at what it means to reach above the sun when he remembers God (Ecc 8:12) who is above the sun. Our God is a God who is not like this world. He rewards those who fear Him and He takes care of them because they fear Him. Justice will be executed; the days of the wicked will not be prolonged.
In sum, Qoheleth presents us with two pictures through these passages – evil under the sun, and God who is above the sun. This reminds us of Jesus’s words in Matt 10:16-33, where Jesus warns us about the great evil that persecutes us, while comforting us with the promise of life above the sun. These verses remind us that we cannot escape the ramifications of the brokenness in our world. We will be in hostile territory (Matt 10:16). We will be persecuted (Matt 10:17). We will be called to stand for Christ in a world that hates Him (Matt 10:18). But we are also comforted through the fact that our promise of redemption is with us, and will speak through us (Matt 10:19-20). We may experience betrayal, evil, and hatred from the ones closest to us (Matt 10:21-23), but there will be ultimate justice, and we will not be left alone (Matt 10:22b, 23b).
Most poignantly, Jesus reminds us that “it is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher” (Matt 10:25). Friends, is it enough for you to be like Christ? Or do you still clamor for the promises of comfort and credit that the world offers? Will you stand firm in the day of evil, knowing that Christ overcame it for your sake? It is enough for us to be like our Teacher. Let that be true in the way we live our lives, for we have the great assurance that the All-Knowing, All-Loving, and All-Powerful Father knows us as we are acknowledged by Jesus (Matt 10:26-33).
Fear not. While there may be great evil under the sun, “nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known” (Matt 10:26). It is enough for us to be like Jesus.
Written by Joshua Tay. Part 4 of 5. Find the rest of the studies here.