Part 4 of 5. Find the rest of the studies here.
The Bible is not just a book, but its contents interact with and has an impact on real life! We often go to the Bible with many questions, yet forget the questions the Bible asks us in return. It is important that we find our story within the drama of Scripture. The question of the day that Qoheleth answers in this passage relates to death and what it entails. What exactly is death? What does it lead to? What does it do for us? Read on to find out more!
(A) Death is the limit (Ecc 8:16-17)
We have learnt from Qoheleth’s explorations that he is on a search. He describes it as “(having) applied his heart to know wisdom…to see the business that is done on earth” This shows us that his search is an application of His heart. When you start to go through your life and think through your experiences - the meaningful and the mundane, the wise and the foolish, the highs and the lows - you are doing what the Preacher did. This is what every Christian must do! The truth that an unexamined life is not worth living is not merely reserved for Socratic philosophers. It is absolutely essential that we be intentional about introspection and retrospection. There is much wisdom in doing so.
Qoheleth comes to a conclusion about something that most man cannot understand in the next verse. Through his search for truth and wisdom, he learned what God is truly doing, which is what man can never understand (in spite of toil in seeking). When you look at the “great and marvelous things” (Ps 131:1) in life, you see how country after country and generation after generation has strived for the pursuit of something great. Take for example the virtue of liberty that America cemented as an ideal in her beginning. Look at America now. We can never really tell how things will play out. We can never really know what God is doing. At best we have an educated guess, but God’s specific will ultimately remains a mystery.
We know of God’s general plan for redemption and salvation, but the reality remains that if God had not revealed Himself to us, we would have never known these things. This is because no human being can understand the will of God on his own. Why is this so? The answer is actually pretty simple. We are finite, but God is infinite. So no matter how hard we try under the sun, we cannot do what He does, and we cannot understand what He knows. The takeaway is this: we must not try to be God, for we are not God.
(B) Death is the inevitable (Ecc 9:1-6)
According to Qoheleth, the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hands of God. Man cannot really understand it, but we know this to be true. The Bible tells us that ultimate truth and wisdom is not found in tradition, law, or old man, but in God. None of these things can be known apart from Him.
There is a “same event” that the preacher then describes which happens to everyone righteous or unrighteous, moral or immoral, clean or unclean, and religious or irreligious. There is a same outcome for the one who lives with direction and the one who lives without direction. While he does not mention it explicitly, he hints at how death comes to all, and labels it an “evil in all that is done under the sun”.
Has Qoheleth become cynical? Has he lost his faith? The Preacher appears to be frustrated at the apparent injustice of this uncomfortable truth. Yes, we know that there will be a final judgment and a final justice. But doesn’t it still seem unfair that those who live wickedly live better lives now than those who live righteously? This is a question that every single one of us will have to answer. How will you explain this? The Christian’s answer is counterintuitive - we are all sinners! That’s why we all die! But our answer is also that it is possible to live with some wisdom in this fallen world, to work at some good, and to live according to some righteous standard.
Ecc 9:4-6 give us a glimpse of heaven! Those who are joined to all the living are better because they hope and they know, while the dead do not know. And the dead do not have a share in life under the sun. This actually points us to the very fact that death is the exit from life under the sun. If only there were a way to be joined to the living, and not forgotten among the dead! Qoheleth hints at this, but refrains from going into detail.
(c) Death is the wake-up call (Ecc 9:7-10)
In these verses, Qoheleth takes a few steps back and offers practical advice. After looking at death in the face, he considers how we should live our lives. The answer is simple – live life in the present! Live life with a present-mindedness that has an eye on the here and now. Live life without a fixation on the past. Live life without being engrossed about the future. There is something very wise about this. Can you live in the next minute? Can you live in the past? You can’t! If you spend all of your present lamenting about the past, or romanticising about the future, you are not living!
For the seasoned Bible reader, this sounds like an OT version of Jesus’ “do not worry about the future”. The food that you have in the present? Enjoy it while it can! The relationships you have right now? Enjoy them while they are there! The work that you have been apportioned with? Work hard and enjoy it! Do not live your lives labouring to go past the present phase in order to get to the next. Do not let the present pass you by. We have to come to the realization that we will never be able to live this life again. This does not call us to defeatism about “flawed” situations, but to staunch realism. There are many occasions for us to enjoy the life that God has given us. Don’t waste it worrying your life away.
It is necessary to remember that we got to this understanding of present enjoyment by looking at death! Death forces you to look at how you live. Death is a wake-up call.
(d) Death is enlightenment (Ecc 9:11-10:20)
Qoheleth looks again, and observes that things tend not to pan out the way you expect them to. Time and chance happens to everything. The Bible says it! Is that what Christians can say? Well, he is not telling you that time and chance are really what happens. It just seems that way, doesn’t it? Human beings suffer the way fish are caught in nets, and birds are caught in snares. Murphy’s law always plays out. Do not be naive just because you know God. Knowing God is not a guarantee that things will work out as if you were God. Do not be surprised that the things that befall man befall you, because you are man. Be prepared for life in a fallen world.
Qoheleth proceeds to tell us a little story that introduces wisdom as the art of living in a fallen world skillfully. Imagine that you were working in a shop where everything is made of glass. The table counter is made of glass, the cash register is made of glass, the little ornaments are made of glass, and even the big furniture is made of glass. Wisdom is like knowing how to work in a glass shop skillfully with the realities of glass around you. Folly is working in a glass shop as if you were not in a glass shop - ignoring the reality of where you are (a fallen world).
In the story, the old man’s wisdom is more effective than the king’s might. It is better to have the wisdom the old man had than to have “weapons of war” the king wielded. It is better to understand, and the thing that wisdom understands the most is sin! The sinner who is destroys everything because he does not know how to cope with life in a fallen world.
Qoheleth then jumps into a series of proverbs that show why wisdom is better than folly. These proverbs can be better understood through the table below:
|Wisdom ...||Folly ...|
|... Is in the heart (Ecc 10:1).
How do you make your heart wise? Or rather, what is the heart of your decision-making? Many of our decisions come from our desires. You may be the most,educated, most experienced lad in the world but at the end of the day your desires control you.
|... Gives off a stench (Ecc 10:1).
Foolish things tend to garner more attention than wise things.
|... Is in knowing how to deal with authority (Ecc 10:4).
If someone in authority has a problem with you, stay calm! Let his anger pass. A gentle word turns away wrath. Wisdom tells us how to respond to anger in a fallen world.
|... Makes itself known publicly (Ecc 10:3).|
|... Helps you to succeed (Ecc 10:10).
You don’t use an iron ball to chop a tree. You sharpen it! Wisdom tells you to use
the right tools for the task at hand.
|... Is seen in many rulers, and many situations where there is a reversal of roles. (Ecc 10:6-7).|
|... Is in the lips (Ecc 10:12).
Wise speech keeps you out of trouble. Bridle your tongue! If you were given a tape
recorder, would your words show you to be a wise person or a foolish person?
|... Leads to the perpetrator being hurt by his own devices (Ecc 10:8-9).|
|... Is in wise rulers (Ecc 10:17).
It is desirable for a nation to be ruled by wisdom. History is full of lessons that prove this point.
|... Is seen in impatience and ill timing (Ecc 10:11)|
|... Is practical (Ecc 10:19).
Know what works, and,use it to your advantage.
|... Is also in the lips (Ecc 10:13-14).
Foolish speech keeps you in trouble.
|... Is found in temperance (Ecc 10:20).
Practice sobriety and control. Someone always knows when you fail to do so.
|... Leads to exhausting confusion (Ecc 10:15)|
|... Is in foolish rulers (Ecc 10:16).
History bears a similar slew of lessons that prove this point.
|... Is in tardiness (Ecc 10:18).
The foolish man leaves for tomorrow what should be done today.
What Qoheleth is getting at, is that there is wisdom to be found in considering death and the reality of our mortality. Examine your life! Take stock of it! Until our Lord Jesus comes again, every single one of us is going to die, and we need to think about how to live.
(E) Death is defeated (c.f. 3:11, Lk 16:19-31, 1 cor 15)
There are some verses here that talk about life beyond the sun (Ecc 9:4, 10). While Qoheleth does not elaborate much on life beyond the sun, Jesus offers us an interesting picture in Luke 16:19-31.
First, Jesus states the fact that both the rich and the poor encounter death. There is no escaping it.
Second, we see that the rich man had the exact same attitude in death as in life. There was no change! In life, he lived in uncompassionate indulgence (the life of a fool). In death, he still thinks of Lazarus as a servant (dip water, send to father’s house). The rich man demonstrated no repentance of any sort for his foolish living, and for his prideful, cold, and evil ways.
Third, there is a great chasm. Those who do not go over do not repent. A life of folly in this life will continue to be a life of folly even after death. What a tragedy it is to be a fool for all eternity.
If death is this great wake-up call, it should wake us up - not just to be woken, but also to wake others up that they may repent and not just live life under the sun. But how do we know what life above the sun truly is like?
The Christian’s answer is to look at the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 1 Cor 15 contains one of the strongest arguments for what it means that Christ has risen. We must always have it at the back of our minds as we read Ecclesiastes, for this is where life under the sun stops. Life above the sun breaks into this world, and reverses everything.
Instead of looking at resurrection as an escape from a broken world, God provided us with more than a way to get out. Life above the sun has broken in and is reversing everything such that life under the sun is no longer the end. The day of restoration now finds its meaning in a new heaven and a new earth that is fully restored, rather than an escape from a broken earth into a perfect heaven.
When Adam and Eve sinned, they suffered a spiritual death and had a physical death. Because of them, the world was also cursed. When Christ came, God the Son became one with human flesh - perfectly man and perfectly God. In His death on the cross, He died in the place of sinners, and the Father cut Him off. He died a spiritual death and a physical death. But in His resurrection, God gave Him a new resurrection body, and made Him alive in the Spirit! Christ enjoyed both physical and spiritual new birth.
This is the great hope for you and me today. While we have received a spiritual new birth, we are waiting for a physical resurrection, a resurrection body, and a resurrection world. We who have new hearts are waiting for the redemption of our bodies where all things will be perfected. But God wants to do so much more. He wants to resurrect the entire world. Adam’s spiritual sin, death, death of the world, our spiritual life, our resurrection, and the resurrection of the world hangs on Jesus Christ. He was made the firstfruits and the firstborn of all creation! When Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, a piece of earth went back into heaven. Did you ever notice that? A piece of heaven came down to earth with Him, but now, for the very first time, there is a Man standing in front of God - Jesus Christ!
Fully God became Fully Man and he never stopped. And He’s not finished. What he wants to do for you and me is to give us spiritual life, a new physical body, and new heaven and new earth. God doesn’t just want to pull you out; He wants to bring life above the sun down to make all things new. This is the hope that we have in knowing that death was defeated by the Cross. Not just the death of humankind, but the death of non-humankind as well! So now we wait with eager longing, alongside all of creation, for the final restoration that Christ will bring when He returns.
Written by Joshua Tay. Find the rest of the studies here.