Part 5 of 5. Find the rest of the studies here.
Ecclesiastes has been a story of circles. Not that it is meaninglessly repetitive, but that it shows us the lessons gleaned from Qoheleth’s continual - and almost cyclical - searches for meaning. By the time we get to chapter 11, we’ve learnt a few essential things about life under the sun, and life above the sun.
We’ve learnt that man is on a search for something better, and that this something better cannot be found under the sun. We’ve learnt that man lives in time as a creature, and that God judges in time, finally in death. We’ve learnt that life under the sun is evil - a cursed life that was not meant to be this way, but is this way. We’ve learnt that everyone can live life in two ways - folly or wisdom. And we’ve learnt that God has placed eternity in the hearts of man!
We long for life above the sun, but we can’t reach it on our own. It has to come down to us. Ecclesiastes tells us that God is above the sun, and it tells us that the great limit of lives below the sun is death - inescapable, inevitable death that teaches us wisdom if we consider it rightly. In this closing segment, Qoheleth tells us a few more things about how we should live our lives. Read on to find out more!
(A) live with boldness, optimism, and generosity (Ecc 11:1-6)
In this closing section of Ecclesiastes, Qoheleth exhorts us to do 3 things (Ecc 11:1-3, 6). The phrases “cast your bread…” (Ecc 11:1), “give a portion…” (Ecc 11:2), and “sow your seed/withhold not your hand” (Ecc 11:6) may seem disparate, but they actually point to one central idea: risk-taking work.
This call to action is one centered on the idea of being bold and venturing forth. He tells us to take risks and sow, instead of sitting back in a timid fear of the unknown. If you don’t do anything, nothing will happen. But if you do something now, you never know what returns you will get. This may sound trite, but it is actually an idea that millennials should be able to relate to.
The “fear of missing out” (FOMO) is entrenched in our culture. We spend an inordinate amount of time hesitating because we are afraid of all the “lost” opportunities we could incur if we take a particular cost of action. What school should I go to? What job should I apply for? Should I ask that girl out? And should I serve in a particular ministry? These are all questions familiar to us, and they are also questions that we often find ourselves stuck at for the fear of missing out on something better.
While it might sound puzzling that he encourages this attitude after exhorting us to consider our death (which typically makes one cautious) in the preceding chapter, Ecc 11:4-6 explains why he gives this advice.
We are reminded that we do not know what will happen. Instead of playing God, why not humbly acknowledge that you do not know what will happen, and take some risks? When I played my first game of competitive football, I remember being petrified every time the ball landed at my feet. The first thought on my mind as defenders swarmed in on me was to pass the ball to someone else. This was a big problem, because I was a striker, and the ball typically came to me when I was in a goal scoring position. Instead of seizing my chances, I spent the entire match passing the ball away.
Being paralyzed by fear is to pass the ball all the time. Don’t let yourself be paralyzed by fear. The underlying reason for us to take risks is a humility which recognizes that we don’t know what will happen. This same humility leads us to place our trust in God and decide to step out in faith and do what we can with what God has given us. This is boldness, optimism, and generosity: boldness, because we have nothing to fear when He is with us; optimism because we have nothing to worry about when He promises His providence; and generosity because we have no shortage in Him.
(B) live joyfully (Ecc 11:7-10)
Qoheleth expounds on this idea of joyful living by exhorting the “young man” to “walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes” (Ecc 11:9). This means to live your life with strong desire, looking to what lies ahead of you.
Wisdom literature of this sort often sounds commonsensical, but if we pause to reflect, we realize how often we fail to live it. Think about it. Most of us reading this have spent the bulk of our lives in education, which prepares us for the future. But very often, we use our education to make ourselves more dissatisfied. We chase pipe dreams, and envy those who have it “one tier” better, and spend most of our days making ourselves miserable on social media. We grow more discontented, more envious, and more covetous.
Isn’t it funny that we go to school to dream about the future, but spend our education criticizing things we don’t like, long for jobs that we don’t have, and bemoan things that we can’t get? Isn’t it wise, then, that Qoheleth calls us to rejoice? Use your talents because you enjoy them. Seize opportunities because they will build you up. Build each other up because there is delight in it. Give thanks for the gifts you have, because you have many! Do not waste your days yearning after things you don’t have, longing to be like other people. God has given you the life you have. Rejoice in it!
Remove vexation from your heart. Do not fill your heart with things that will waste your time. Do not fill your heart with fancy dreams are clearly products of fantasy. One of the Christian’s secret joys can be found in James 1:17, which tells us that every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Train yourself to enjoy gifts, by living your life with a “WOW!” mentality that acknowledges how all you have comes from God himself! Isn’t it an amazing thing that the very things we often enjoy, but take for granted, come from the very Maker of heaven and earth? Isn’t it an amazing thing that the All-Knowing, All-Powerful God cares so much about us to give us all that we have? Let us respond to our gifts in the right way – “WOW!”
This mentality connects the gifts to the Giver, the life to its Source, and the moments to its Maker. It helps to bring you much closer to living your lives with joy - a truly practical way of living your life.
Consider the inverse, for God will bring you into judgment for all these things (Ecc 11:9b). To treat the many gifts that we enjoy as nothing significant would be to treat God’s providence as something unimportant. The adage tells us that indifference is direr than ill feeling. Let us not insult God by being indifferent to the gifts He has lavished upon us. This practical piece of advice also reminds us to “walk in the ways of (our hearts) and the sight of (our eyes)” wisely. It calls us to be good stewards of this liberty, pushing us away from foolish indulgence, and pulling us towards joyful temperance.
(c) live realistically with an eye towards time (Ecc 12:1-8)
Qoheleth begins the last chapter by giving us a poem about the aged. This artful set of pictures tells us a few things about life in the darker days.
|“The,sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened…” (Ecc 12:2)||You’ve grown old.|
|“The keepers of the house tremble” (Ecc 12:3)||Your hands begin to shake.|
|“…the strong men are bent” (Ecc 12:3)||Your back begins to bend.|
|“…the grinders cease because they are few” (Ecc 12:3)||Your teeth begin to drop.|
|“…those who look through the windows are dimmed” (Ecc 12:3)||Your vision is impaired.|
|“…doors on the street are shut” (Ecc 12:4)||Your speech slows down.|
|“…sound of the grinding is low” (Ecc 12:4)||You masticate (eat) less.|
|“…one rise up at the sound of the bird” (Ecc 12:4)||You have light sleep.|
|“…daughters of song are brought low” (Ecc 12:5)||Your hearing and your voice begin to fail.|
|“…desire fails” (Ecc 12:5)”||Your sexual capacity fades.|
|“…mourners go about the streets” (Ecc 12:5)||Your death is imminent.|
|“…silver cord snaps…golden bowl is broken…pitcher is shattered at the fountain…wheel broken at the cistern” (Ecc 12:6)||Your life is coming to an
end or your mental capacities begin to break down.
Picture after picture of the decay and deterioration that will happen to your body is stated as a reality of life. You will start to change. Your body will break down and you will no longer do what you used to be able to do. One of the hardest things for us to accept mentally is the physical deterioration of our body, but time and physical breakdown are a part of reality. If you choose not to accept this reality, read these verses and remember that it is foolish to live ignoring it.
We live in a cursed world that has yet to be restored, and in bodies that have yet to be restored, which drives home why we should remember our Creator in the days of our youth. When we grow older, it becomes easy for bitterness, anger, and disappointment to set in, and we struggle to give thanks and remember our Creator.
How are we as young people to respond to this truth? First, treasure what you have for it will pass away. Second, have compassion on your parents. The second point sounds so obvious, but we all know that we do not do it. Our parents and grandparents live their lives watching their outer man waste away in very real ways. It is not easy to live your life watching your outer man waste away. Honor them, be kind to them, and remind them of their Creator. Learn from them, listen to them, and learn from their difficulties. This is wisdom. They are living in darker days, and you are living in brighter days.
(d) live fearing god (Ecc 12:9-14)
The concluding section marks a change in voice, and we hear words about Qoheleth and his writing. We learn that Qoheleth was wise. He taught the people knowledge, and weighed, studied, and arranged the proverbs with great care (Ecc 12:9). The act of weighing is an act of comparison that seeks to discover value and meaning – an act he did this to wealth, achievement, pleasure, and many other things. All of this weighing and studying led him to arrange the proverbs with great care. When we look at God’s word in these sections about wisdom, it reminds us to take it as it is, for Qoheleth devoted much thought to it (and Qoheleth was the wisest man ever?). We are to take these words seriously, to pay attention to them, to study them, and learn from them. They deserve our energy and attention and time. They deserve our reverence as words of truth, and rejoicing as words of delight.
This idea of delighting in these words is worth ruminating on. We know that we delight in things we can enjoy. Do you enjoy God’s word? Does an understanding that the phrases and verses are written by God make you happy? These are not just cold, lifeless, and distant words of truth. They are warm, exuberant, and personal words of delight! These words of joy, blessing, and wisdom should fill our hearts with delight and gratitude.
Ecc 12:12 reminds us that this book is written for young people who have not yet experienced the fullness of life. They are the ones who are supposed to read them and learn the lessons well. As young people, we are taught to beware of anything beyond these words of wisdom in the Bible. They are described as goads - to drag you out of disaster, and nails - to alert you to the impending disasters of foolish living. Most importantly, they are words given to us by the One Shepherd to follow and heed. Every man is subject to something, and every man heeds the words of someone. If we do not listen to them, we will be taken somewhere else.
Our culture challenges us to live our youth in a different way. We are told that this great privilege is a license to do whatever we want, however we want, and whenever we want. Qoheleth reminds us otherwise. Do not live life as if your youth is license to "set the world on fire” and waste it away in mindless revelry and meaningless pleasure. These words of truth will challenge the way we live. They will force us to confront certain habits that we have adopted. They will make us change certain pleasures we delight in. Spend some time thinking about where your culture is pointing you towards in light of these words. Think about what kind of love it compels you to desire in light of this wisdom.
The book concludes with the imperative to fear God and keep his commandments. We’ve heard this many times, but what does it really look like to fear God? To fear God is to tell the world when it tempts us with its abundant pleasures that we will choose God. It means that we submit to Him the honor and the reverence of giving Him the only place in our heart. It does not mean that our skirts should be long and not short, that our hair is natural and not coloured, or that our speech is chaste and not laden with profanities. These are outward manifestations that the Bible speaks to elsewhere.
Fearing God begins in your heart. Who occupies your heart? God doesn’t just dwell in the “holy” places of your life. Do not attempt to compartmentalize His presence. Compartmentalizing is drawing a holy box and putting God inside of it. When you read a book, is God there in your thoughts as you are considering its words? When you listen to music, is God there as you hum along to its melody? When you get angry with someone and you want to slap him or her around, is God there? God must take the number one seat in our lives, and when He does, our lives become richer, deeper, brighter, and truer.
Ecclesiastes gives us a worldview that shows us how everything under the sun is vanity, but reminds us that God is still present in every part of life on earth, and He promises a life above the sun – a life that has broken down into our corrupted world to restore it to its goodness. Do we fear God then? Will you fear God, then?
Written by Joshua Tay. Find the rest of the studies here.