Living With the End in Mind

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

12 But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. James 5:7-12 ESV

It’s all about perspective. If you expect this life to be a constant source of joy and contentment, you will always be disappointed with the results. Yes, Jesus did promise His disciples He came to bring them abundant life (John 10:10), but He also warned them that their earthly lives would be difficult.

“…the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” – John 16:32-33 NLT

Their lives on earth would be full and abundant because of Him. Their ability to have peace in the midst of troubles and trials would be a result of their relationship with Him and the promise of eternal life made possible through Him. The apostle Paul discovered the secret of enjoying a life full of joy and contentment even while experiencing all the difficulties that come with living in a fallen world.

I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

His strength to endure suffering and enjoy contentment came from His relationship with Christ. Paul wasn’t looking for satisfaction and security from the things of this world. He didn’t rely on circumstances for his joy or sense of self-worth because he knew that his hope was in Christ.

Yet, James knew that the believers to whom he wrote had not yet learned Paul’s lesson on contentment. In fact, James had to call them out for having placed their hope in the things of this world. Their insatiable desire for earthly pleasures had resulted in discontentment that led to division and strife.

What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. – James 4:1-3 NLT

So, James demands that they learn to be patient. They have their sights set on the wrong thing. Rather than seeking satisfaction from the things of this world, they were to focus their attention on the return of Christ. This life was never intended to be the end-all. Their earthly existence was intended to be a temporal state that would end in death and their resurrection, or culminate with the Lord’s return and their final glorification. Either way, their hope was to be future-based.

And James provides them with a simple analogy to help them understand their need for maintaining a hope-filled perspective.

Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near. – James 5:7-8 NLT

A farmer understands that the harvest for which he hopes is dependent upon factors that are out of his hands. As he waits for the day when he can reap the fruit of his labors, he must exhibit patient endurance and faithful hope in the God of the harvest. And in the same way, a believer must remember that his “harvest” is in the hands of God as well. His hope for a truly abundant life is based on the promise of the Lord’s return. And Paul reminds us that present suffering is no match for future glory.

what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. – Romans 8:18 NLT

But waiting requires patience. And while we wait, we’re not to grumble and complain about our lot in life. There’s no place for greed or jealousy in the life of the believer because we are each an heir of the Kingdom of God. As the apostle Paul told the believers in Philippi, we have all the riches of His glory at our disposal.

…this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:19 NLT

A believer who makes a habit of complaining about their earthly circumstances reveals that they expect heaven on earth. They want the promise of abundant life fulfilled in the here-and-now rather than the hereafter. And James warns against expecting the good life in this life.

the Judge is standing at the door. – James 5:9 ESV

One of the things we have to remember is that the return of Christ will also bring God’s judgment upon the wicked and unbelieving. James is not suggesting that believers who complain and judge one another run the risk of forfeiting their salvation and facing eternal judgment. He is simply stating that those of true saving faith will not exhibit such godless characteristics. The apostle Paul wrote an extended explanation of how the believer’s life should differ from that of a non-believer.

Since you judge others for doing these things, why do you think you can avoid God’s judgment when you do the same things? Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?

But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will judge everyone according to what they have done. He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers. But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness. There will be trouble and calamity for everyone who keeps on doing what is evil—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. But there will be glory and honor and peace from God for all who do good—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism. – Romans 2:3-11 NLT

James was calling his audience to repentance. He was warning them that their current behavior was out of step with God’s will and they needed to refocus their attention on the promise of the Lord’s return. And to help them understand their need for patient endurance, James provided them with two examples from their own Scriptures. First, he reminded them that every prophet of God had been required to suffer while doing His will. Their words were rejected and their lives were subjected to all manner of distress while they faithfully fulfilled their God-ordained mission. But their motivation was the reward that awaited them for faithful service to their Lord and Master.

Secondly, James brings up the story of Job, the great saint of God who suffered great loss and endured unimaginable pain in his earthly life. But James reminded them that, despite the seemingly unjust nature of his suffering, Job kept trusting God and was ultimately rewarded.

For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy. – James 5:11 NLT

Even when Job’s wife encouraged him to curse God and die, he was able to respond with confidence in the ultimate goodness of God.

“You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” – Job 2:10 NLT

Job kept trusting in the promises of God. He didn’t rejoice in his pain or refrain from seeking an explanation for his suffering, but he never stopped believing in the integrity and righteousness of God. And, ultimately, his faith was rewarded.

“James has been concerned to help believers to overcome the tendency to react like the world to the injustices heaped on them by the world. The world, by its very nature antagonistic to God and His kingdom, will continue to oppose God’s people. But if these truths grip the hearts of His people, it will enable them to overcome the spirit of worldliness by refraining from a worldly reaction to the world’s injustices.” – D. Edmond Hiebert, The Epistle of James: Tests of a Living Faith

James ends this section with a warning against making rash or unnecessary oaths.

But most of all, my brothers and sisters, never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else. Just say a simple yes or no, so that you will not sin and be condemned. – James 5:12 NLT

In essence, James is warning about making bargains with God. The idea behind oath-making was a promise made to God that came with expectations. You might refer to it as a quid pro quo. It would be like saying to God, “If you’ll bless me with great wealth, I will faithfully serve you all my life.”

It reminds me of the character, Wimpy, from the Popeye comic strip. He was famous for saying, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” In his attempt to fulfill his passion for burgers, he was willing to make an oath he never intended to fulfill. And James warns his readers against practicing such behavior with God. It is a dangerous thing to try and bargain with God. He doesn’t make deals. And this admonition seems t tie in with an earlier statement made by James.

…you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. – James 4:2-3 NLT

Don’t try to make deals with God. He knows your heart and He can see through your thinly veiled promise to keep your end of the bargain. Instead, rest in His faithfulness and let your requests be based on His goodness. He knows what is best for you and you can trust Him to provide all that you need. And, in the meantime, keep your focus on the future, remembering that eternal life is the ultimate form of the good life.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Wise Enough to Know Better

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. James 1:5-8 ESV

How is one to “count it all joy” when encountering “trials of various kinds” (James 1:2 ESV)? For James, the answer was simple; you need the wisdom of God. The divinely ordained ability to see things from God’s perspective.

Life is filled with confusing and sometimes contradictory circumstances that we can’t explain and try to avoid at all costs. Trials and difficulties seem to be antithetical to the good life that most of us want to experience during our time on earth. They are unwanted and seemingly unhelpful. But James suggests that the presence of trials in our lives should cause us to rejoice because they test our faith and end up producing endurance and spiritual maturity.

But this kind of positive outlook concerning trials isn’t a natural and normal response for most of us. We tend to take the glass-half-full approach and view trials as unexpected interruptions to our daily routine that produce pain, difficulty, and despair. We see them as undesirable disruptions to our normal way of life.

That’s why James suggests that we might have a wisdom deficiency. He seems to know that most of us have a difficult time rejoicing when tribulations and trials show up. Our natural tendency is to gripe and complain. We ask questions like, “Why me?” and “Why now?” We wonder what we might have done to deserve this far-from-pleasant fate. We may even shake our fists at God and demand that He remove whatever it is we are experiencing. But James states that an inability to find joy in the midst of trials may be a sign that we need a dose of godly wisdom. So, he suggests that we take that need to God.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. – James 1:5 ESV

Godly wisdom provides divine insight into the everyday affairs of life. It allows us to see things from God’s perspective. As human beings, we have a limited capacity for comprehending all that is happening around us. We can’t see into the future and determine the fallout of our present-day experiences. So, we’re left to question how anything we don’t enjoy for the moment can have any hope of producing a positive outcome. We deem anything that makes us uncomfortable or that we find inconvenient to be a personal affront to our happiness. But that attitude fails to take into account the sovereignty and providence of God.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways
    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT

God’s ways are not our ways. He doesn’t operate according to our will or ask what we think would be best for our lives. He is all-knowing and fully capable of determining what is proper and appropriate for producing godliness in the life of His child. And the only way we can begin to understand the mysterious ways of God is through a good dose of His wisdom. And when we ask for it, He gladly responds and provides His children with the ability to view the difficulties of life from a new perspective. The apostle Paul provides an apt description of this wisdom-empowered capacity to see life from God’s viewpoint.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. – Romans 8:28 NLT

We may not like or enjoy what we are going through but, as God’s chosen people, we understand that He always has our best interest in mind. According to Paul, “we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT). Like a master craftsman or a painter, God is always perfecting His work, taking great pains to see that the final product is “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:4 ESV). No detail is overlooked. No blemish is ignored or allowed to remain. And sometimes the art of perfecting His creation requires Him to make renovations that seem radical and unnecessary from our point of view. We view them as invasive and far too harsh. But God’s ways are not our ways. His methodology may not make sense to us but it’s difficult to argue with the final product He produces. 

The apostle John reminds us that we can trust God’s ways and find hope in the ultimate outcome of His redemptive plan.

Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. – 1 John 3:2 NLT

Wisdom is the key to weathering the present storms of life and maintaining a confident outlook regarding the future. When we begin to doubt the goodness of God or question the necessity of trials, we simply need to ask Him for an extra dose of His wisdom. But James would have us remember to do so with caution.

But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. – James 1:6 NLT

It’s interesting to note that when most of us encounter trials in our lives, we turn to God, but not for wisdom. When we find ourselves experiencing overwhelming difficulties we acknowledge our need for God by asking Him to remove the unwanted circumstance. So, in a sense, we see the removal of the difficulty as the ultimate answer to our problem. Our hope is in the elimination of the trial, not in the power of God to use the trial for our good and His glory.

To a certain degree, we all share the belief that trials have no place in the life of a believer. We view them as anomalies and undesirable disruptions to our preferred way of life. So, when they show up we ask God to immediately remove them. Rather than asking for wisdom to see our trials from God’s perspective, we ask God to remove the trial altogether. This reveals that our true desire is for a trouble-free existence, not the sanctifying, life-transforming power of God.

James warns against exhibiting a wavering faith. He is referring to a faith that is fluctuating and unstable. It can’t make up its mind. One minute, our faith is in the goodness of God even in the face of difficulty. Then suddenly, we begin to believe that the difficulty is the problem and the only solution is its removal. And when God doesn’t remove it, we begin to doubt.

“The Greek word diakrinomenos, used twice in this verse, is better translated, ‘let him ask in faith, free from divided motives and divisive attitudes, for such a person is like an ocean wave . . .’” – David DeGraaf, “Some Doubts about Doubt: The New Testament Use of Diakrino,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Doubt is an everyday part of life. It’s normal and natural. But as believers, it should be constantly decreasing in its intensity and the influence it has over our lives. The wisdom of God allows us to see trials and difficulties from an eternal viewpoint that puts them into proper perspective. The apostle Paul knew what it was like to view his temporal, earthly circumstances from an eternal vantage point.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, yet our inner self is being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory that is far beyond comparison. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 BSB

And that ability to see things from God’s perspective provided him with an overwhelming sense of calm and contentment, no matter what trials or difficulties came his way.

I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

James describes those with fluctuating faith as wind-blown waves. They display discontentment with their circumstances and can’t seem to make up their mind whether they want to put their trust in God or in the hope of having their trials removed by God. James paints these kinds of fickle individuals in a less-than-flattering light.

Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do. – James 1:7-8 NLT

The removal of trials will not produce contentment. A trouble-free life will not result in a godly life. Too often, we believe that the difficulties of life are what makes the Christian life difficult. But Paul and James would both declare that it is a lack of wisdom and faith that are the root of our suffering and discontentment. As long as we fixate on having all our problems removed, we will never experience the joy of having our faith strengthened by having our weaknesses exposed. And nobody knew this better than the apostle Paul.

…to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Last Word On the Matter

Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. 10 The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth.

11 The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. 12 My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. Ecclesiastes 12:9-14 ESV

As Solomon begins to wrap up his book, he provides his credentials as proof of the veracity of his words. Referring to himself in the third person, he restates his well-known reputation for wisdom, a gift given to him by God. But he claims to have put a great deal of effort and energy into enhancing that wisdom with further insight and knowledge through the use of diligent study and research. Solomon had spent a lifetime collecting the wise sayings of the sages, compiling many of them in the book of Proverbs. But he had not been content to simply collect and edit these sayings, producing them in written form for others to read.

He listened carefully to many proverbs, studying and classifying them.Ecclesiastes 12:9 NLT

Solomon “sought to find just the right words to express truths clearly” (Ecclesiastes 12:9 NLT). He had tested these truths, taking the time and energy to determine their reliability and truthfulness. Like a metallurgist testing the quality of gold to assess its true value, Solomon had proven the accuracy and soundness of each proverb before passing them on to the people. His goal had been to find teachings that would prove beneficial to life.

Solomon compares proverbs or wise sayings to a goad, a sharp stick that was used to prod animals along. Like a goad, a proverb is a simple tool that can make a powerful impact. Like a sharp stick to the rump of a wayward cow, a proverb can course-correct a person who is straying from the truth and redirect their steps.

He also compares proverbs to firmly fixed nails that provide much-needed stability to life. Proverbs are meant to keep things the way God intended them to be. They hold things in place, providing a sense of security and stability to life. Someone who lacks these time-proven truths or maxims is left to learn the lessons of life the hard way – through painful trial and error. And one of the reasons Solomon seems to have written this particular book was to pass on to those under his care the many life lessons he had learned.

As stated before, Solomon wrote this book near the end of his life, and he had a great deal of wisdom, gleaned from personal experience, that he sought to impart. In one of his proverbs, Solomon expressed this same desire to pass on his acquired wisdom to others.

My children, listen when your father corrects you.
    Pay attention and learn good judgment,
 for I am giving you good guidance.
    Don’t turn away from my instructions.
For I, too, was once my father’s son,
    tenderly loved as my mother’s only child. – Proverbs 4:1-3 NLT

My child, listen to me and do as I say,
    and you will have a long, good life.
I will teach you wisdom’s ways
    and lead you in straight paths. – Proverbs 4:10-11 NLT

And Solomon firmly believed that the proverbs he had collected had been given to him by God, making them divine instructions, not simply the words of men. That’s why he refers to them as having come from one Shepherd. While their human authors were many in number, the truths these proverbs contained came from God alone. He is the author of all truth, and that’s why Solomon warned, “My son, beware of anything beyond these” (Ecclesiastes 12:12 ESV).

There are countless books available and an individual could spend a lifetime searching and studying the written wisdom of men. But according to Solomon, it would prove to be a waste of time. And he knew that from experience because he had done it. He had come to recognize that it was all vanity, like chasing after the wind. And the apostle Paul would have fully agreed with Solomon. In fact, he described the wisdom of men in less-than-flattering terms: “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God” (1 Corinthians 3:19 NLT). 

Earlier in that same letter, Paul asked and answered his own question regarding man’s so-called wisdom. “So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish” (1 Corinthians 1:20 NLT). It’s no contest. God’s wisdom trumps human wisdom every time.

As Solomon prepares to wrap up his book and his life, he can’t help but come back to the one truth that held all his thoughts together. It is the one point of clarity in a long life filled with perplexities and incongruities. He refers to it as “the end of the matter.” It’s his summary or synopsis of life.

Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. – Ecclesiastes 12:13 ESV

Now, what’s missing in Solomon’s summary is an understanding and awareness of God’s future plans for his life. Like many in his day, Solomon had no clear theology concerning the afterlife. It was all a mystery to him. As far as he could tell, what existed beyond the grave was nothing more than a black hole.

“Life after death was as enigmatic to him as the unequal distribution of justice. His emphasis was on this life (‘under the sun’) and its opportunities for service and enjoyment; he thought life after death offered no such opportunities.” – Donald R. Glenn, “Ecclesiastes.” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament

So, while Solomon’s admonition to fear God and keep His commandments sounds like solid, biblical counsel to us, we have to keep in mind that he is placing all his emphasis on the here-and-now. He knows that God is sovereign over all. He realizes that God controls all things and is the distributor of all good gifts. He can give and He can take away. From Solomon’s limited, earth-bound perspective, it made sense to keep God happy by fearing and obeying Him. That way, you could hope to enjoy in this life some of the blessings that only He can bestow. And when Solomon speaks of God’s judgment, he seems to have in mind a judgment that takes place in this life. His rewards or punishments are based on thoughts and behaviors committed in this life.

Solomon remains fixated on present, not future rewards. He was expecting all of God’s blessings to show up in this life, not the one to come. Because as far as Solomon could tell, there was no guarantee of life after death.

But as believers in Jesus Christ, we have been given additional insight into God’s redemptive plan. We have the entirety of God’s Word to guide and instruct us. We know that there is an afterlife because Jesus promised it. Paul wrote about it. The New Testament goes out of its way to describe it. Yes, there is a judgment, but its rewards are not temporal in nature. They are eternal.

In his first letter, the apostle John told his readers: “I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13 NLT). Jesus promised: “I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life” (John 5:24 NLT).

There is much we can learn from Solomon. But we have to take all that he wrote and combine it with what we have come to know since the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Solomon lived on the other side of the cross but we have been provided with the end of the story, something Solomon did not have. So, when he said, this is “the end of the matter; all has been heard,” Solomon was only partially right. There was more to come. As a matter of fact, the Savior of the world was to come. And it was His arrival on earth in human form, His sinless life, His sacrificial death, and bodily resurrection that removed all the vanity, meaningless, futility and frustration from life. This world, while a wonderful gift from God to be enjoyed, is not all there is. There is far more to come.

“Qoheleth’s intent in his writing is to pass judgment on man’s misguided endeavors at mastering life by pointing out its limits and mysteries. He would prefer that man replace such false and illusory hopes with a confidence based on the joy of creation as God’s gift.” – Robert K. Johnston, Confessions of a Workaholic: A Reappraisal of Qoheleth

But even more important than enjoying God’s gift of creation, is placing our faith and hope in God’s offer of new creation, new hope, new life, new joy, and the promise of a never-ending, frustration-free, sinless future with God.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. – 2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Growing Old Is Not For the Young

1 Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, and the doors on the street are shut—when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low— they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets— before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity. Ecclesiastes 12:1-8 ESV

Solomon ended chapter 11 with an appeal to the younger generation.

Young people, it’s wonderful to be young! Enjoy every minute of it. Do everything you want to do; take it all in. – Ecclesiastes 11:9 NLT

And he begins chapter 12 in a similar fashion, addressing the same group of individuals. But this time, he gives them a somber warning not to leave God out of the equation.

Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, “Life is not pleasant anymore.” – Ecclesiastes 12:1 NLT

It would appear that, because of his advanced age, Solomon views everyone as younger than himself. And he wants them to recognize that spiritual wisdom and a God-focused perspective are not attributes that are restricted to the elderly. In other words, he wants the younger generation to know that old age will not bring with it a new excitement about and interest in the things of God. Just because you grow older does not mean you will increase in wisdom or spirituality. That kind of focus begins when you’re young. That’s exactly why Paul told his young protegé, Timothy:

Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. – 1 Timothy 4:12 NLT

He gave similar advice to Titus, telling him, “…encourage the young men to live wisely. And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching” (Titus 2:6-7 NLT).

So, in a similar way, Solomon shares his words of wisdom with the young, encouraging them to make the most of their youth because, like everything else in the world, this season of life will not last forever. And Solomon uses some very poetic words to describe the not-so-subtle signs of aging. As an old man himself, he describes that phase of his life as “evil days” that have little to no pleasure associated with them. For Solomon, old aged was marked by increasing physical weakness due to the diminishing capacity of the human body as it slowly decays. He describes a scenario in which “the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain” (Ecclesiastes 12:2 ESV).

His words portray life as seen through the eyes of someone who suffers from the effects of cataracts and failing vision. The sun, moon, and stars appear darker than they really are. The contrasts and clarity of normal vision are replaced with the flat grayness of a cloudy day.The sad truth is, that as we age, our eyesight diminishes.

Solomon writes from the perspective of someone who knows what he is talking about. He describes what it is like when “the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent” (Ecclesiastes 12:3 NLT). The “keepers” are a reference to his legs, the means by which his body stands erect and makes its way in the world. As old age creeps in, the legs tremble, making mobility an issue. And when the legs shake, the whole body follows suit. The “strong men” are his shoulders, bent over and devoid of the youthful strength and vigor they once held. We see these images lived out right in front of our eyes on a daily basis as we watch the elderly among us shuffling their way along, bent over and shakily attempting to manage life in their diminished capacity. 

And for someone who put a high priority on fine food, good wine, and a lifestyle focused on culinary delights, the next description most likely left Solomon more than a bit frustrated. He states that “the grinders cease because they are few” (Ecclesiastes 12:3 ESV). This is an obvious reference to his own teeth, which had begun to fall out, leaving him with just a handful left in his mouth, making some foods off limits and his diet more than a bit bland and unappealing.

Notice what Solomon is doing here. He is describing the loss of those things that were necessary for him to enjoy all the physical pleasures of life. He’s already mentioned the eyes, but he adds, “those who look through the windows are dimmed” (Ecclesiastes 12:3 ESV). With the onset of old age, the eyes become glazed over, incapable of seeing the beautiful treasures with which he has surrounded himself. He can no longer see and enjoy the splendor of the magnificent palace he built. He can’t take in the natural beauty of the gardens he designed and planted. Even the 700 wives and 300 concubines he had chosen because of their physical beauty had become indistinguishable from one another.

“The doors on the street are shut” seems to be a reference to his loss of hearing. He could no longer hear what was going on outside his own room. Life was taking place all around him, but he couldn’t hear it or enjoy it. Even “the sound of the grinding is low” (Ecclesiastes 12:4 ESV). In other words, he couldn’t even hear himself chew his own food. How frustrating this must have been to a man who was used to hearing fine music echoing through the halls of his palace. And the real irony is that this same person, unable to sleep, finds himself waking up with the birds singing outside his window, but unable to hear them. The “daughters of song” is a reference to musical notes, no longer audible or distinguishable to the one whose hearing has faded with old age. The beauty available in this life becomes increasingly off-limits and unattainable to the elderly. It’s an inevitable and unavoidable reality of life under the sun.

On top of that, the aging process is accompanied by an increase in fear, including the fear of falling, the fear of harm, the fear of being alone, and the fear of impending death. Along with all the physical changes Solomon has already described comes the reality that the hair on his head had grown both thin and grey, like the white blossoms of an almond tree. And to make matters worse, there were days when Solomon felt like he was dragging himself along like a dying grasshopper on its last legs.

The next comparison Solomon uses is incredibly insightful and probably represents one of the most dreaded aspects of old age for him. In the original Hebrew, he refers to ‘abiyownah, which is a word for the Capparis spinosa fruit which was eaten as an aphrodisiac in the ancient Near East. Solomon is bemoaning the fact that the aging process had robbed him of all sexual desire. And for a man used to availing himself of the hundreds of wives and concubines in his harem, this loss had to have hit him hard. There is little doubt that Solomon had tried all of the known cure-alls available in his day. He was known for experimentation and innovation, so it is likely that he would have checked out every available aphrodisiac and sexual enhancement drug on the market, all in a vain attempt to prolong this aspect of his life.

Notice that Solomon’s focus in all of this is on death and the grave, not eternal life. Dying is a slow, inexorable process that ultimately and inevitably results with man “going to his eternal home” (Ecclesiastes 12:5 ESV). The literal translation is “house of his eternity.” This is an idiom for the grave, not heaven. It was also a Hebrew euphemism for a burial ground or cemetery. Solomon has his dim eyes set on the grave because he has no idea what comes next. The afterlife was all a mystery to him.

In verse six, he uses a series of visual illustrations to help convey the abrupt end of life. He refers to the silver cord that is snapped, the golden bowl this is suddenly broken, the pitcher that ends up shattered at the fountain, and the wheel broken at the cistern. All of these images conjure up the sudden cessation of life. It just stops. And like a snapped cord, a broken bowl, a shattered pitcher, and a broken wheel, death is an irreconcilable condition. Once it happens, there is no going back. From Solomon’s perspective, death was an irreparable condition.

And Solomon soberly summarizes his view, stating, “the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7 ESV). Upon death, the body returns to the earth, where it will decay and turn to dust, while the soul returns to God. But notice that Solomon doesn’t state this last fact as if it is good news. There is a finality and a sense of loss to his words. Because for Solomon, the body was the means by which he enjoyed all that life had to offer. Solomon had no way of imagining his life without a body. What would be left for his soul to experience in the afterlife? This is why he sums up this section with his oft-repeated refrain: “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 12:8 ESV).

From his vantage point as an old man, Solomon’s conclusion was that young people should enjoy life while they could. But they should also recognize that God made it all possible. He was the giver of life and of all the good gifts that come with it. But Solomon couldn’t get past the sad truth that life passed far too quickly. It was as if he was looking back, wondering where all the time had gone. He could remember being young. He could recall the pleasures he had enjoyed. But he was also well aware of all the moments he had missed. He had been so busy building, buying, accumulating, experimenting, working, learning, and trying to discover the meaning and purpose behind life, that he had failed to truly enjoy all that God had given him. And now, his life was about to end. You can sense the regret in his words. You can feel the remorse in his self-revealing description of old age. He would have done things differently. He would have approached life more gratefully and taken his walk with God more seriously.

Wise words from a wizened old man. And we would do well to listen while we can still hear and put them into practice while we still have the strength.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Dawn of a New Day

Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.

So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity.

Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.

10 Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity. Ecclesiastes 11:7-10 ESV

For Christians, reading Solomon’s words in the book of Ecclesiastes can be a bit disconcerting. After all, we place a high priority on eternity and heaven. The New Testament is replete with encouraging words regarding both. In fact, right before He ascended into heaven, Jesus told His disciples:

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” – John 14:1-3 NLT

The apostle Paul wrote a great deal about the afterlife and always in glowing terms and with a great deal of eager anticipation. He told the believers in Corinth:

But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die – 1 Corinthians 15:51-54 NLT

In his second letter to the same body of believers, Paul compared life on earth in our physical bodies with the life to come, when we receive new, glorified bodies.

While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 5:4-5 NLT

And yet, all throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon seems to paint the afterlife in a negative light, almost as if it is something to be avoided at all costs. How could this man, who had been given wisdom by God, and who had been called to lead the people of God, have such a dim view of eternal life?

Part of what we must understand is that the Hebrews did not have a well-developed theology of heaven. Their concept of rewards, for instance, tended to focus on the present life. Their understanding of the covenant relationship between God and His people was tied to earthly rewards and blessings. That’s why they viewed those who were wealthy as having been blessed by God and those who were poor or sick as having been punished by God for some hidden sin they had committed.

They considered the life of Abraham, the great patriarch of the Hebrew faith, who had been blessed by God with flocks and herds. He seemed to have received his reward in this life. Solomon himself had been blessed by God with great wealth.

It’s not that the Hebrews had no theology of the afterlife; it’s that they had no consistent concept of what it entailed. The afterlife was God’s domain. He alone knew what comes after death. And since men cannot see into the future, they were left to experience and enjoy all that life has to offer – for as long as they could. The Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, has little or nothing to say regarding the afterlife. Instead, it places the emphasis on the here-and-now. And Solomon took the same tact in the book of Ecclesiastes. Even in the closing verses of the final chapter, Solomon returns to his fear-filled view of death. He states:

So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity. – Ecclesiastes 11:8 ESV

Notice that he believes in some kind of existence after death, but he describes it as “days of darkness” and concludes that whatever comes after death will be a meaningless existence. Solomon understood that life carried with it the undeniable reality of a future judgment. That’s why he warned the younger generation to make the most of their time on earth but to understand that their choices would have eternal consequences.

Young people, it’s wonderful to be young! Enjoy every minute of it. Do everything you want to do; take it all in. But remember that you must give an account to God for everything you do. – Ecclesiastes 11:9 NLT

He knew that God was holy and just. He recognized that there would be a day when God would mete out His judgment on all mankind, and no one could be fully assured how that would turn out. Solomon would have fully concurred with the words of the author of Hebrews: “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27 ESV).

But Solomon didn’t share the same sense of hope based on faith in Christ. The author of Hebrews followed his previous statement concerning future judgment with the encouraging, hope-filled words: “so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28 ESV).

Yet Solomon’s advice was to live your life and have a good time. He recommended that you enjoy all the pleasures and joys that life has to offer, but with the following caveat: There will be a judgment. God will one day reward you for how you lived your life on this earth.

That was Solomon’s perspective, and we can only imagine how his theological thinking had been skewed by the influence of all the false gods he had embraced. His religious views had to have been a toxic blend of pagan beliefs and Jewish doctrine. He was a man who wasn’t really sure what he believed in anymore. His faith system had become heavily influenced by the tangible and experiential – all that he could see, touch, and taste.

For Solomon, the unknown was unknowable and, therefore, not worth worrying about. The afterlife was a mystery whose secrets were hidden from mere men. So, Solomon placed his emphasis on the present life. He embraced each new day with a sense of hope, which is why he stated, “Light is sweet; how pleasant to see a new day dawning.” (Ecclesiastes 11:7 NLT).

Waking up was a positive experience for Solomon because it meant he hadn’t died in his sleep. Remember what Solomon said earlier in his book: “There is hope only for the living. As they say, ‘It’s better to be a live dog than a dead lion!’” (Ecclesiastes 9:4 NLT).

Solomon wrote the book of Ecclesiastes later in life, so the views he shares are those of a man who had lived a long life and learned a lot of valuable lessons. And his final words in this chapter are directed at the young. “So refuse to worry, and keep your body healthy. But remember that youth, with a whole life before you, is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 11:10 NLT).

Solomon’s sage wisdom is to stop worrying so much. Rather than worry about tomorrow, take care of yourself and enjoy your youth while you can, because it is going to be gone before you know it. Like everything else in life, youthfulness is a vapor, here one day and gone the next. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself old and facing the uncertainty and inevitability of death and judgment.

So, what are we to do with all of this? How are we to respond to the words of Solomon? It seems that, far too often, we attempt to treat the book of Ecclesiastes like it’s the second installment of the book of Proverbs. We read Ecclesiastes selectively, picking and choosing those verses or statements that we find encouraging or that contain a positive application for life. We seek out the wise sayings of Solomon about diligence, hard work, prudent investing, and the avoidance of foolish behavior. And there is nothing inherently wrong with that strategy.

But the question we must ask is why the Spirit of God inspired Solomon to write this book in the first place. Why Solomon? And why was he prompted to write this book at the end of his life and not at the beginning? The book of Ecclesiastes provides us with an unvarnished glimpse into the life of a man who had it all, including a relationship with God. He had been raised by a father whom God described as a man after His own heart. Solomon had been given every opportunity in life. He had been provided with the privilege of building the temple for God. He had been blessed with wisdom from God. But at some point in his life, Solomon walked away from God. He allowed himself to become obsessed with his possessions. He compromised his convictions, and he made false gods of equal value to the one true God.

If we’re not careful, we can fall into the same trap. Even as believers in Christ, we can allow ourselves to be lulled into a sense of spiritual complacency and moral compromise, searching for meaning and purpose from the things of this world. The book of Ecclesiastes was not meant to be a stand-alone reference for godly living. It is one book among 66 books that make up the entirety of God’s inspired Word. The Scriptures are to be read in their entirety so that they can provide us with a well-balanced, Spirit-inspired understanding of God and our relationship with Him. It is essential that we take the views expressed by Solomon and compare and contrast them with those of the New Testament authors. When we read the words of the apostle John, found in his first epistle, we begin to get a clearer view of what it was that Solomon was missing.

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

This world is a wonderful place, created by God for our enjoyment. But it is fallen and suffering from the effects of sin. Everything has been marred by the fall, including mankind. Yet God has provided us with tremendous blessings in this life. This planet provides us with incredible pleasures to be enjoyed as gifts from the hand of God. But we must never lose sight of the fact that this world is not all there is. God has something far greater in store for His people. Our faith is in God and our hope is in what He has planned for us in the future. And that preferred future is available only through faith in His Son. There is no better way to summarize the final words of Solomon than by listening to the words of Jesus Himself.

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” – John 3:16-21 NLT

Solomon found solace and comfort in the light of a new day. But Jesus offers something far more profound and life-changing than one more 24-hour period of earthly existence. He offers the gift of eternal life and freedom from judgment – two things Solomon could not fathom or place his faith in. But we can.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Faith in the Future

1 Cast your bread upon the waters,
    for you will find it after many days.
Give a portion to seven, or even to eight,
    for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.
If the clouds are full of rain,
    they empty themselves on the earth,
and if a tree falls to the south or to the north,
    in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie.
He who observes the wind will not sow,
    and he who regards the clouds will not reap.

As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.

In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good. Ecclesiastes 11:1-6 ESV

As Solomon returns to a theme he has addressed before: The uncertainty of the future and man’s inability to discern what it may hold. To a certain degree, Solomon finds himself between a rock and a hard place. He has discovered that there is nothing in this life that really brings true joy and meaningful satisfaction, and he has tried it all. He is wise beyond belief. He has wealth beyond measure. He has experimented with every imaginable form of pleasure and self-gratification. And none of it has brought any sense of purpose or fulfillment. He describes it as little more than chasing the wind or trying to catch smoke in your hands.

So, his less-than-optimistic conclusion has been that chasing after all the material things you can see and touch is ultimately an exercise in futility. Wine, women, and song are not enough. Palaces, gardens, vast orchards, and fruitful vineyards cannot produce contentment. Enough is never enough. Life, even with all its pleasure-producing pursuits, ends in death.

And that raises the other distressing issue for Solomon: Nobody knows what happens next. Death is like a door behind which lies a foreboding and forbidden future. Only God knows what awaits man at the end of life. So, he is left to experience futility in life and uncertainty in death. Back in chapter nine, Solomon shared his somewhat pessimistic view of the future.

It seems so wrong that everyone under the sun suffers the same fate. Already twisted by evil, people choose their own mad course, for they have no hope. There is nothing ahead but death anyway. There is hope only for the living. As they say, “It’s better to be a live dog than a dead lion!” – Ecclesiastes 9:3-4 NLT

For Solomon, death was an unknown. But life, in spite of its inherent problems and potential risks, was at least something over which you could have influence. This is what led him to share the proverbial statements found in the opening part of this chapter. He concludes that there are certain rewards that come as a result of living life.

Solomon was a horticulturalist who possessed many vineyards and orchards. As king, he had thousands of acres of farmland that produced abundant harvests used to feed his people and fill his treasury with gold when exported to other countries.  And he acknowledges that if you “cast your bread upon the waters”, it will eventually come back to you. In other words, if you export your grain in ships and sell it to other nations, you will eventually reap a financial reward. Your diligence to plant and harvest will come back in the form of profit.

And when you make that profit, you should invest it wisely and diversely. In other words, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Give a portion to seven, or even to eight,
    for you know not what disaster may happen on earth. – Ecclesiastes 11:2 ESV

Diversification makes for a good investment strategy. You don’t want to have all your wealth in one place, because you never know what may happen. Disasters come. The market can drop like a rock. Be prudent. Invest wisely. And take advantage of the opportunities as they present themselves.

If the clouds are full of rain,
    they empty themselves on the earth – Ecclesiastes 11:3 ESV

In other words, learn to read the signs. Plant in a timely fashion. If you misread the clouds, you may fail to plant before the rains come. If you procrastinate, you’ll miss the window of opportunity. Once again, Solomon is encouraging prudence and wisdom. You may not be able to control the future, but you can take advantage of the present situation. Plant before the rain, not after it. And don’t let the threat of storms keep you from doing what you know needs to be done. Conditions will rarely be perfect in this life. There will be few times when the stars align and the circumstances turn out just as you had hoped. So don’t delay. Yet, some of us seem to live by the tongue-in-cheek advice of Mark Twain: “Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well.”

Solomon would strongly disagree with Mr. Twain, instead sharing the insight he gained from years of living and working on this planet.

Farmers who wait for perfect weather never plant. If they watch every cloud, they never harvest. – Ecclesiastes 11:4 NLT

If you fail to take advantage of the moment, it may just pass you by. This is what he seems to be inferring when he writes, “if a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie” (Ecclesiastes 11:3 ESV). Once the tree has fallen, you can’t plant it back in the ground. Once the rain has fallen, it makes no sense to plant. If you wait for everything to be just right, you’ll never accomplish anything.

Life is full of mysteries and inexplicable situations, and there are certain things we may never fully comprehend.

Just as you cannot understand the path of the wind or the mystery of a tiny baby growing in its mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the activity of God, who does all things. – Ecclesiastes 11:5 NLT

Even with all the advancements in science, we still don’t know exactly how a baby forms in the womb of its mother. We can watch the progress through the use of sonograms, but we can’t see or explain how God has ordained the process of birth, from the moment of conception all the way to delivery. Even with all our technology and scientific know-how, much of it remains hidden from us.

Solomon was wise enough to know that he would never understand the ways of God. There are things that happen in life which only God can explain, and He is not obligated to share all that He knows with us. He often leaves us in the dark, wrestling with our questions and struggling to understand His ways.

The bottom line for Solomon was to work wisely and diligently. Start sowing your seed in the morning and don’t stop until the sun goes down. Do what you can do and then leave the rest up to God. You don’t know the results your efforts will produce but rather than worry about it, do what you can to impact that outcome positively. Work hard. Be diligent. Act wisely. Use common sense. Don’t procrastinate. In some sense, Solomon is promoting the idea behind the old adage, “make hay while the sun shines.” None of us knows how long we have to live on this earth, but God does. And since He chooses not to divulge the length of our days, we should do all that we can to make the most of every moment. Moses put it this way: “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom” (Psalm 90:12 NLT).

Solomon’s own father, David, also understood that man’s lifespan was relatively short when compared with eternity. So, he asked God to never let him forget the fleeting nature of his own existence.

Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.
    Remind me that my days are numbered—
    how fleeting my life is.
You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
    My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;
    at best, each of us is but a breath. – Psalm 39:4-5 NLT

Death is an inevitable reality for all of us. David ultimately died. So did Solomon. And so will you. You can attempt to prolong your life but God already knows your expiration date. Solomon would recommend that you spend more time enjoying the life you have, rather than futilely chasing after unfulfilled dreams and desires. Find joy in today, rather than wasting time pursuing a tomorrow that may never come. Solomon is not dismissing the idea of setting goals for the future. He is not discounting the need for planning or demonizing the pursuit of unrealized dreams. He is simply reminding us that the present is all we have. We can’t change the past and we can’t know the future, so we should live with a sense of immediacy.

And even more importantly, for those of us who are believers in Jesus Christ, we have no need to worry about the future, because it has already been taken care of for us. Our future is secure. Our eternity is set. So, we are free to live our lives free from anxiety, focusing our efforts on doing the work for which God has created us.

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:10 NLT

Solomon had an inordinate fear of the future. He let the uncertainty of death rob him of peace. He found himself forced to find all his joy and satisfaction in this life, using the limited resources at his disposal. Occasionally, he caught glimpses of the blessings of God in the form of a loving relationship or the fruit of his labor. He was able to enjoy a good meal with a close friend, or a deep sleep after a hard day’s labor. But he lived with an unhealthy fear of the unknown. He had lived his whole life pursuing more, but the one thing he really needed was confidence in God’s sovereign control over all things, including the past, the present, and the future. What Solomon really needed was faith.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Best Is Yet to Come

1 But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him. It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun. Ecclesiastes 9:1-6 ESV

There’s little doubt that Solomon embraced the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. He sincerely believed that the lives of all men were in the hands of God, whether they were righteous, wicked, good, or bad. His view was that God acted as the divine arbiter over the fate of all, including their lives and inevitable deaths, leaving man no option but to make the most of the days he had been allotted to him by God. But this view of God’s sovereignty has a feeling of resignation and resentment to it.

Solomon clearly states that “the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God,” but he doesn’t come across as all that pleased about it. In fact, he appears to view God’s sovereignty as some kind of divine whim, where God metes out love and hate as He sees fit. Solomon almost paints it as an arbitrary decision on God’s part, lacking any kind of reasoned explanation or excuse. He puts it this way:  “Even though the actions of godly and wise people are in God’s hands, no one knows whether God will show them favor” (Ecclesiastes 9:1 NLT).

In other words, from man’s earth-bound perspective, he can never know if God is going to show him favor or disfavor. If good things happen, it is the will of God. If bad things happen, those too are the will of God. That appears to be his somewhat pessimistic conclusion regarding God’s sovereignty.

As far as Solomon can tell, all people share the same fate. They all die.

The same destiny ultimately awaits everyone… – Ecclesiastes 9:2 NLT

There is nothing ahead but death anyway. – Ecclesiastes 9:3 NLT

And even while they remain alive, they all experience their fair share of ups and downs, blessings and curses, and successes and failures. And he points out that it really doesn’t seem to matter how you live your life. He compares the righteous with the wicked, the good with those who commit evil, the ceremonially clean with the ceremonially impure, and finally, the one who offers sacrifices to God with the one who does not. The individuals represented in these polarized comparisons all face death at the end of their lives, and the sole determiner of the day of their death is God. And Solomon expresses his opinion about the matter, concluding, “It seems so wrong that everyone under the sun suffers the same fate.” (Ecclesiastes 9:3 NLT).

Solomon viewed death as a kind of divine exclamation point at the end of man’s life, ending any hope of experiencing joy and fulfillment. And it was that belief that led him to write: “It’s better to be a live dog than a dead lion!” (Ecclesiastes 9:4 NLT). From his perspective, it was better to remain alive, even if you had to struggle with the apparent injustices of life. Solomon clearly saw life as preferable to death.

There is hope only for the living. – Ecclesiastes 9:4 NLT

The living at least know they will die, but the dead know nothing. They have no further reward, nor are they remembered. Whatever they did in their lifetime—loving, hating, envying—is all long gone. They no longer play a part in anything here on earth. – Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 NLT

Solomon has made it clear that this life can be difficult and meaningless. Here, he states, “the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live” (Ecclesiastes 9:3 ESV). Men do evil things. They commit acts of violence against one another. They oppress and abuse one another. And yet, Solomon would prefer to put up with all that than face the final day of death. Because, as far as he could see, that day had a ring of finality to it.

Do you see how he views death? He sees it as an end, almost as a form of divine penalty doled out by God on all who have ever lived. It’s as if he’s saying that life is this hit or miss, futility-filled existence, completely dictated by God, and then it suddenly comes to a screeching, abrupt end – all based on God’s divine determination. It’s no wonder he preferred life over death. For him, whatever existed beyond the grave was unattractive and undesirable. As far as he could tell, the destiny that awaits us on the other side of death was unknowable and, therefore, unwelcome. Concerning those who die: “Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 9:6 ESV).

Those are the words of a man who sees this life as the only source of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment. In fact, Solomon expresses a belief that the only way God can bless human beings is through the physical pleasures associated with life on this planet. He saw man’s identity as completely tied to his earthly existence. All rewards were relegated to this life and this plane of existence. There was nothing beyond the grave. And it is that worldview that dictates the decision-making of virtually every person who occupies this planet – unless they have a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Yes, there are other religions that teach the existence of an afterlife where there are rewards. But Christianity is particularly future-oriented, placing the real emphasis on mankind’s existence not in this world, but in the one to come. Our reward awaits us in eternity, not on this earth. That doesn’t mean God withholds blessings from His children while they remain alive, but that His greatest reward lies in the future. Jesus confirmed this idea in His sermon on the mount.

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” – Matthew 6:19-21 NLT

The apostle Paul shared the same future-oriented mindset. He had his eyes set on an eternal reward, his glorification that was tied to the return of Christ.

…but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. – Philippians 3:13-14 NLT

The author of Hebrews also provides us with powerful words of encouragement, using Jesus as an example of the way in which we should live while we remain on this earth.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. – Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT

Jesus suffered. He knew what it was like to endure rejection, ridicule, injustice, and oppression. He even endured the pain of the cross, knowing that it was all part of God’s divine will for His life. It was a necessary part of the redemptive plan God had put in place before the foundation of the world. Jesus ran the race of life with endurance, keeping His eyes focused on doing His Father’s will of God and the promise of His future glorification. And now He sits in the place of honor beside His Father’s throne.

And the apostle Paul would have us remember that, as followers of Jesus Christ, we face a similar reward.

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 NLT

Regardless of what Solomon believed, there is something beyond the grave. Not only does an afterlife exist, but it also holds blessings beyond anything we can imagine. Solomon accurately described the pain, suffering, oppression, and injustice inherent in this life, but the Scriptures promise that these things will not exist in the afterlife. For those who place their faith in Jesus Christ, eternity awaits with a life free from pain, suffering, sin, sorrow, and the looming threat of death. John writes of this wonderful reality in his book of Revelation.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” – Revelation 21:3-4 NLT

Solomon was a wise man, but he reveals his inability to comprehend the ways of God. Over the years, he had developed an earth-based, temporal perspective that limited the sovereignty of God to the here and now. He saw life as an end-all, which explains his obsession with experiencing all that life had to offer. And when he couldn’t find what he was looking for in this life, he deemed it all meaningless, like chasing the wind. But what he failed to see was that God had much more in store. The best was yet to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Search for Satisfaction

If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them. But this is gain for a land in every way: a king committed to cultivated fields.

10 He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. 11 When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? 12 Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.

13 There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, 14 and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand. 15 As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. 16 This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind? 17 Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger.

18 Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. 19 Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. 20 For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart. Ecclesiastes 5:8-20 ESV

As Solomon looks back on his long life as the king of Israel, he reflects on the many life lessons he has learned and, in this section, presents them in the form of a series of proverbs. These short, seemingly unrelated maxims, most often utilize comparisons to drive home a point and to present time-proven truths in a manner that makes wisdom practical and applicable to everyday life.

In verses 8-9, Solomon readdresses the issues of injustice and the oppression of the poor, which he initially covered at the beginning of chapter four. The presence of these problems within a society should not shock or surprise us. The wealthy and powerful, driven by a desire to maintain and even increase their social standing, will be tempted to use their power and influence to take advantage of the less fortunate. And in these verses, Solomon points out that every high official who takes advantage of the poor or practices injustice must answer to yet a higher official who wields even greater authority. In other words, there is a chain of command that ultimately leads to the king.

The more powerful always control and take advantage of the less powerful. It is the nature of things. Injustice and oppression, abuse of power, and unethical leadership seem to be inevitable outcomes of human government. It is unavoidable. But Solomon seems to conclude that a monarchy is preferable to anarchy. Even with its potential for abuse, the government provides a semblance of stability and control that results in cultivated lands. In other words, the very presence of governmental structure and hierarchical authority can result in abuse of power and lead to injustice, but it can also produce corporate benefits that all enjoy.

Underlying so much of what Solomon says in this book is the undeniable reality of sin and the fallen condition of the human heart. Even good men are prone to do bad things. As the prophet Isaiah so aptly put it: “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 NLT).

In verses 10-12, Solomon addresses a related topic: The love of money. Solomon flatly states, “Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness!” (Ecclesiastes 5:10 NLT).

Wealth is not only illusive and hard to come by, but even when you get it, you can never seem to have enough. The pursuit of money can become addictive, and it can be accompanied by a fear of losing what you already have. Money makes conspicuous consumption possible, which Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes as “lavish or wasteful spending thought to enhance social prestige.”

But as Solomon warns, it doesn’t work. It never satisfies. The primary reason we pursue wealth is in order to satisfy our desires. But we tend to find that, with our newfound capacity to acquire and accumulate, the one thing we can’t get our hands on is contentment. Paul warned Timothy against the dangers of making money our master.

Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.

But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. – 1 Timothy 6:6-10 NLT

Increased wealth tends to come with an increase in responsibilities. The more you have, the more you must take care of and maintain, and that requires help. And no one knew this better than Solomon. The book of 1 Kings provides a glimpse into Solomon’s vast wealth and allows us to imagine just how extensive a retinue of servants was required to care for all that he owned.

The daily food requirements for Solomon’s palace were 150 bushels of choice flour and 300 bushels of meal; also 10 oxen from the fattening pens, 20 pasture-fed cattle, 100 sheep or goats, as well as deer, gazelles, roe deer, and choice poultry.

Solomon’s dominion extended over all the kingdoms west of the Euphrates River, from Tiphsah to Gaza. And there was peace on all his borders. During the lifetime of Solomon, all of Judah and Israel lived in peace and safety. And from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, each family had its own home and garden.

Solomon had 4,000 stalls for his chariot horses, and he had 12,000 horses. – 1 Kings 4:22-26 NLT

Back in chapter two, Solomon described his vast and expanding network of servants, slaves, employees, and concubines.

I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire! – Ecclesiastes 2:7-8 NLT

He had everything his heart desired, yet he lacked contentment. You can almost sense the philosophy that drove his life: Enough is never enough. And with his addiction to conspicuous consumption came the relentless requirement to feed and care for all those who worked for him. This is what led him to write, “The more you have, the more people come to help you spend it. So what good is wealth—except perhaps to watch it slip through your fingers!” (Ecclesiastes 5:11 NLT).

Solomon had it all, yet he could afford a good night’s sleep. When he states that “the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep”, he is not referring to indigestion, but to insomnia caused by constant worry over wealth. What you own ends up owning you. You become a slave to that which was intended to serve you. And yet, in contrast, “People who work hard sleep well, whether they eat little or much” (Ecclesiastes 5:12 NLT). 

With his next proverbial statement, Solomon addresses the fleeting nature of wealth. He describes a “grievous evil” that he has witnessed in this life, and it is likely that he is speaking from personal experience, not objective observation. He had first-hand experience with this kind of misfortune, having had his fair share of bad business deals and risky investments.

There is another serious problem I have seen under the sun. Hoarding riches harms the saver. Money is put into risky investments that turn sour, and everything is lost. In the end, there is nothing left to pass on to one’s children. – Ecclesiastes 5:13-14 NLT

All the money and material assets we have worked so hard to accumulate can disappear virtually overnight. They can disappear in an instant, leaving us in poverty and our children with no inheritance. And even if we are able to maintain a hold on all our assets to the bitter end, we face the grim reality that we can’t take any of it with us. When we die, our wealth remains behind. And as Solomon stated earlier, “I must leave to others everything I have earned. And who can tell whether my successors will be wise or foolish? Yet they will control everything I have gained by my skill and hard work under the sun. How meaningless!” (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19 NLT). 

When all was said and done, Solomon was left with one observation that allowed him to extract a bit of hope from all the meaninglessness and despair of life. He saw that man had been gifted by God with the ability “to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life” (Ecclesiastes 5:18 NLT).

Not exactly a cheerful observation, but for Solomon, it was the only thing that kept him from being frustrated, discouraged, and angry. He had resolved to enjoy life as best as he could in the time he had on this planet. Because no one really knows what comes next. What Solomon concludes must be closely examined.

And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—this is indeed a gift from God. God keeps such people so busy enjoying life that they take no time to brood over the past. – Ecclesiastes 5:19-20 NLT

There is a degree of truth to be found in these statements, but we must not fail to recognize that Solomon is speaking from a position of resignation and, in some ways, resentment. He is frustrated by all the inequities and injustices that come with a life lived “under the sun.” He has tried everything to find satisfaction and significance in life but remains discontented and disappointed. And when he states that the only thing left to do is to enjoy your work and accept your lot in life, he is speaking as one who has resigned himself to accept less than what he had hoped for. There is no joy in his statement. He describes God as a divine taskmaster who keeps us busy in order to distract us. If we compare the words of Solomon with those of his father, David, we see a marked difference in how they both perceived life and the God who made it all possible.

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things. Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength.

“O our God, we thank you and praise your glorious name! But who am I, and who are my people, that we could give anything to you? Everything we have has come from you, and we give you only what you first gave us! We are here for only a moment, visitors and strangers in the land as our ancestors were before us. Our days on earth are like a passing shadow, gone so soon without a trace. – 1 Chronicles 29:11-15 NLT

David seemed to understand that this life was a preface to something far more meaningful to come. He was a man who believed in the hereafter. But his son had become obsessed with the here-and-now. Solomon had been on a lifelong quest to discover meaning and significance on this side of death. But David knew he was nothing more than a visitor and stranger here. The best was yet to come. This led David to write, “Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:6 NLT).

Solomon had resolved himself to live for the moment, while his father had decided to live with a more eternal perspective. David’s faith was in God, while Solomon’s hope was in the things that God had provided. He put all his emphasis on this life. And nowhere is this more evident than in a prayer he penned in the book of Proverbs.

…give me neither poverty nor riches!
    Give me just enough to satisfy my needs.
For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?”
    And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name. – Proverbs 30:8-9 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Hope in the Hereafter

16 Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. 17 I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. 18 I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. 19 For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. 20 All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? 22 So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him? Ecclesiastes 3:16-22 ESV

For Solomon, life had become little more than a never-ending cycle of unavoidable outcomes. Planting was followed by harvesting but eventually required that the whole laborious process begin again. Periods of peace would be interrupted by times of war. Efforts to build something of significance would only result in its eventual demolition. Seeking for something that was lost might result in finding it – only to lose it again. Feelings of love could give way to thoughts of hate. And ultimately, life would be trumped by death.

And as he notes in this passage, even while man lives, he experiences the inevitability of injustice. Where he expects to see righteousness rule and reign, he instead finds wickedness. Solomon describes life lived “under the sun” as a disappointing and difficult experience, and the only silver lining he can find in this dark cloud of despair is his belief that God will judge the righteous and the wicked. But it is likely that Solomon is not thinking of a future judgment related to the end of the world and the eternal state. He has his eyes fixed solidly on the here-and-now. Consider his closing statement in this passage. “Who can bring him [man] to see what will be after him?” (Ecclesiastes 3:22 ESV).

The idea of a future judgment was almost impossible for Solomon to fathom. His perspective was immersed in the present, bound by time, and hampered by his inability to see anything beyond the grave.

Two different times in this passage, Solomon uses the phrase, “I said in my heart.” This is a statement of deep reflection. He is wrestling with substantive issues, turning them over in his mind, and trying to come to some sort of resolution. He is attempting to use his wisdom to reconcile his many observations concerning life’s inequities and futile inevitabilities, and he draws some less-than-encouraging conclusions.

These verses are not random, off-the-cuff thoughts, but the well-reasoned reflections of a man who has spent countless hours struggling to resolve what he believes to be concerning contradictions. And yet, so much of what he has concluded is wrong. His views on life and man’s existence lack a divine perspective. Yes, he acknowledges the existence of God and even concedes the sovereignty of God over all things. But he views God as nothing more than a distant deity, far removed from everyday life, who stands in detached judgment over the affairs of man. In fact, when considering the human condition from his limited earthly perspective, Solomon concludes, “God proves to people that they are like animals” (Ecclesiastes 3:18 NLT).

That view of God fails to focus on His love, mercy, and grace and exposes Solomon’s  lack of an intimate and interpersonal relationship with the Almighty. While Solomon was the son of David, he did not share his father’s opinion about God. Compare the rather pessimistic conclusions of Solomon to those of his father.

But you, Lord, are a shield that protects me;
   you are my glory and the one who restores me.
To the Lord I cried out,
   and he answered me from his holy hill. – Psalm 3:3-4 NLT

You make me happier
   than those who have abundant grain and wine.
I will lie down and sleep peacefully,
   for you, Lord, make me safe and secure. – Psalm 4:7-8 NLT

But as for me, because of your great faithfulness I will enter your house;
I will bow down toward your holy temple as I worship you. – Psalm 5:7 NLT

David had a deep and abiding love for God and saw Him as intimately involved in the everyday affairs of his life. His God was personal and relatable, not distant and disconnected. But for Solomon, God was little more than a powerful, unseen force, directing the affairs of life and determining the destinies of men with a certain degree of detachment and disinterest. In fact, Solomon accuses God of using His divine power to prove to men that they are little better than beasts.
For people and animals share the same fate—both breathe and both must die. So people have no real advantage over the animals. How meaningless! – Ecclesiastes 3:19 NLT
Yet David had a remarkably different perspective.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
    and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
    and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
    you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
    and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
    whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth! – Psalm 8:3-9 ESV

David fully acknowledged the inferior nature of man when compared to the majesty of Almighty God but he also recognized man’s God-given status as the crowning achievement of creation.

Yet, all Solomon seemed to see was the fact that men were doomed to the same fate as animals. Death and decay await them both. And Solomon further expresses his dire outlook by asking the question, “who can prove that the human spirit goes up and the spirit of animals goes down into the earth?” (Ecclesiastes 3:21 NLT).

In other words, what guarantee do we have that there is something out there after death? How do we know that there is any existence beyond the grave? You can begin to see why Solomon reached the conclusion, “there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can” (Ecclesiastes 3:12 NLT).

When he considered the fact that the wise and the foolish both end their lives in death, he concluded, “there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work” (Ecclesiastes 2:24 NLT).

Enjoy it while you can. That seems to be Solomon’s philosophy of life. Since he had no guarantee of what would happen after death, he was going to grab for all the gusto he could in this life. He resigned himself to the reality that this is all there is, which led him to say, “I saw that there is nothing better for people than to be happy in their work. That is our lot in life” (Ecclesiastes 3:22 NLT).

But notice that he has relegated all of life to this world. He displays no concept of eternity or the hereafter. Once again, a comparison of the mindset of Solomon with that of his own father reveals a startling disparity in their viewpoints. David repeatedly expressed his belief in the eternal nature of his relationship with God.

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever. – Psalm 23:6 NLT

I have asked the Lord for one thing—
   this is what I desire!
I want to live in the Lord’s house all the days of my life,
   so I can gaze at the splendor of the Lord
and contemplate in his temple. – Psalm 27:4 NLT

Let me live forever in your sanctuary, safe beneath the shelter of your wings! – Psalm 61:4 NLT

There is little doubt that life can be filled with injustices. We all know that death is inevitable and inescapable. But we have an assurance from God that all injustices will one day be rectified. It may not be in our lifetime, but we can rest assured that God will ultimately replace all wickedness with righteousness. He will mete out justice to all those who have lived their lives by taking advantage of the innocent and abusing the helpless. And while the fall brought the inescapable reality of death to God’s creation, He plans to redeem and restore all that He has made.

And for those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ, we have the assurance that our existence does not end with our death, because He died so that we might live. And nobody expresses this reality better than the apostle Paul.

For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now. Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance. – Romans 8:22-25 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

A Dangerous Loss of Perspective

1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

What gain has the worker from his toil? 10 I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.

14 I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. 15 That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away. Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 ESV

In just eight short verses, there are 29 instances of the word “time.” You might conclude that Solomon is trying to make a point about the topic. The Hebrew word he chose to use is ’eth and of the 300 times it appears in the King James Bible, it is most often translated as “time.” And it seems that Solomon is using this particular word to drive home the contrast between life as we know it on this temporal plane, and the timeless dimension of eternity.

Solomon’s dilemma, like every other human being who has ever lived, is that he is restricted in his ability to discern anything beyond what he can see. He makes the very astute observation that God “has put eternity into man’s heart.” In other words, we have an innate awareness that there is something beyond this life, but we can’t perceive it. It lies beyond our limited vision.

As Solomon puts it, man “cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” The New Living Translation puts it this way: “people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT). We are temporal creatures, living our temporary lives on this earth, hamstrung by the limitations of our human senses and incapable of seeing what lies beyond the day we take our last breath.

It is important to remember that Solomon wrote this book sometime near the end of his life after he had veered from the course established for him by God. He had surrounded himself with wealth, women, possessions, and pleasures of all kinds. He had set up idols to false gods all over the kingdom and had become distracted from his faithfulness to the one true God. His ability to see things from a godly perspective had been harmed and hindered by his love affair with material things, worldly pleasures, and his man-made replacements for God.

Solomon’s worldview had become heavily influenced by the secular rather than the sacred. So, 29 times in these verses, he speaks of life in terms of time. And he does so by providing 14 stark contrasts that reveal his rather limited perspective. From Solomon’s vantage point, a life lived on this earthly plane and viewed from a human perspective is nothing more than a series of polar extremes.

The hope and joy of birth are contrasted with the sadness and seeming finality of death. Planting produces an eventual harvest, but then the relentless cycle only repeats itself, season after season. Killing is an inevitable reality in life, and starkly at odds with the need for healing. One takes away life while the other attempts to prolong it.

There are times when tearing down follows a season of building up. Why? Because nothing in this life is meant to last forever. Everything has a life cycle and an expiration date. Even the extravagant palace that Solomon built for himself was eventually destroyed and replaced by another.

Even weeping and laughter, as disparate and dissimilar as they may be, share a strange coexistence, equally impacting the lives of men for good or bad. There are times when frivolity is the appropriate reaction, but there are other times when tears are the proper response. They are aspects of human existence that, without a God-focused perspective, create a dissonance in the heart of man that can’t be understood or explained. Without an eternal perspective, we can’t comprehend or appreciate the necessity for times of sorrow. We long for full-time happiness and see sorrow as a setback to our personal agenda. And Solomon uses these two extremes as just another example of the cyclical, repetitive, and meaningless nature of human existence “under the sun” when God’s eternal viewpoint is left out of the equation.

Solomon acknowledges that God “has made everything beautiful in its time.” There are those moments in life when we can enjoy the birth of a baby, the joy of laughter and dancing, the blessings of the harvest, the experience of loving and being loved, and the presence of peace in our lives and in the world. But that doesn’t keep him from asking the question: “What gain has the worker from his toil?” In other words, what benefit does a man enjoy from all the effort and energy he puts into his life?

Whether he likes it or not, there will come a time when he has to replace the harvest he reaped. His wheat will run out. His wine vats will run dry. And he will be forced to sow yet again. He may one day be forced to watch the death of the child whose birth he witnessed and rejoiced over. He will experience the pain that comes when love turns to hate and gain turns to loss.

And Solomon summarizes all these things as “the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with” (Ecclesiastes 3:10 ESV). So, based on his secular-based viewpoint, Solomon concludes that the best outcome human beings can hope for is “to be joyful and to do good as long as they live” (Ecclesiastes 3:12 ESV). In light of the inevitability and futility of life, the most logical response is that of resignation. Since you can’t do anything about it, just give in and do your best to enjoy it.

So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor – Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 NLT

And while this approach may seem a tad pessimistic, Solomon explains how he reached this conclusion.  

…this is God’s gift to man. – Ecclesiastes 3:13 NLT

What Solomon really seems to be saying is that if anyone can experience any semblance of joy and pleasure in the midst of all the meaninglessness of life, they should consider it a gift from God, and enjoy it while they can.

Solomon displays a strong belief in the sovereignty of God. He readily acknowledges that God is in control of all things, but his admission is tinged with a hint of sarcasm and resentment. Look closely at how he describes God’s preeminence and power.

…whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. – Ecclesiastes 3:14 ESV

While this speaks of God’s sovereignty and providential control over all things, Solomon’s tone is far from positive. He doesn’t exude a spirit of peace and solace at the thought of God’s omnipotence and omniscience but instead, he displays a hopeless resignation. He further qualifies his view by saying, That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away” (Ecclesiastes 3:15 ESV).

Here is yet another reference to the repetitive and futile essence of life lived under the sun. No sense of eternity. No expression of hope in what is to come. It is almost as if Solomon is painting God as some kind of cosmic puppet master in the sky who toys with man, determining his destiny, and relegating him to a hopeless existence featuring equal parts toil, trouble, joy, and pleasure.

But Solomon had a warped perspective. He had lost his ability to see life through the lens of God’s love and faithfulness. His abandonment of the eternal God had left him with nothing but a temporal view of life. He had become blinded to the sovereign will of God that is always accompanied by the loving mercy of God. His sense of purposelessness was the direct byproduct of his lack of faithfulness. God was not the one who had changed. God was not the one who had moved. Solomon’s loss of hope was due to this loss of his trust in God.

The Lord God had become a distant deity to Solomon, but it was not because He had abandoned His servant. No, Solomon had been the one who walked away from the relationship. He had failed to remember and take seriously the promise that God had made to him years earlier.

“…if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’” – 1 Kings 9:4-5 ESV

Somewhere along the way, Solomon had lost sight of eternity and had become fixated on the here-and-now. It had become all about him – his kingdom, his pleasure, his reputation, his own life “under the sun.” But God is eternal and His focus is always on the future. He had great things in store for Solomon but His real emphasis was on the One who would come and sit on the throne of David and rule in righteousness “forever.”

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.