Wholly Holy

1 But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. – Titus 2:1-10 ESV

They say the best defense is a good offense. So, in order to assist Titus in his battle against the false teachers and their heretical teaching, Paul told the young pastor to surround himself with qualified men who could help him lead the church. But Paul didn’t stop there. He also told Titus to be willing to rebuke his flock for their laziness and gluttony, so that they might be “sound in their faith” (Titus 1:14 ESV).

Now Paul gets specific. He gives Titus detailed and practical descriptions of how various groups within the body of Christ were to conduct their lives. First of all, Titus was to teach what “accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1 ESV). Sound doctrine was essential to Paul because it was the glue that held the body of Christ together. That is why he spent so much time writing letters to the churches he had helped to establish. He knew that the most difficult days for any believing congregation were those that followed their initial salvation experience. Salvation was to be followed by sanctification, and that was going to require sound doctrine and teaching that was in accord with the words of Jesus and the Old Testament Scriptures.

In his first letter to Timothy, Paul reminded him that the law “is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:9-10 ESV).

He went on to tell Timothy, “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing” (1 Timothy 6:3-4 ESV). In his second letter to Timothy, he warned him that people would prove to be fickle and drawn to falsehood, desiring to hear teaching that condoned their behavior and excused their love of the world.

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. – 2 Timothy 4:3-4 NLT

But not only is Paul telling Titus to teach solid, reliable doctrine. He is encouraging him to get specific and show how that doctrine should apply to everyday life. The New Living Translation puts verse one this way: “promote the kind of living that reflects wholesome teaching” (Titus 2:1 NLT).

Good doctrine should produce good behavior. The teachings of Jesus, expounded and expanded upon by the apostles, were to have a dramatic impact on the lives of those who placed their faith in Jesus as their Savior. Christ’s followers were to be Christ-like.

So, Paul begins by emphasizing the older men in the church. He tells Titus that they are to be characterized by sober-mindedness, an ability to think clearly, unhampered by alcohol, or anything else that would confuse their capacity to judge wisely. They are to be dignified, worthy of respect, and not act in childish or immature ways. Their lives are to be marked by self-control, the ability to manage their natural desires and passions. They are to have a healthy faith that shows up in how they live their lives. And they are to be characterized by a love for others and a willingness to patiently endure with those who are difficult to love.

Paul next moves his attention to older women in the church. Their lives were to be marked by behavior that reflected their holiness. In other words, their godliness should show up in tangible and visible ways. They were not to be addicted to gossip and slander or, for that matter, wine. And they were to teach the younger women by modeling for them what godliness looked like in the life of a believing woman. And while Paul provides a list of good behaviors that the older women were to teach to the younger women in the church, I don’t think he had a class in mind. This was to be teaching by example, not a lecture. Their lives were to be the primary lesson the younger women studied and from which they learned God’s expectations for holiness.

The younger women were to love their husbands and children well. While this sounds like a no-brainer, we know how difficult this can be in a normal relationship between a husband and wife. Marriage is not always a walk in the park. Raising children can be extremely challenging. And older women were to model what loving your husband and children looks like over the long haul. Their lives were to be a tangible example of living self-controlled and selfless lives.

Purity or wholesomeness was to be a powerful motivation for these young wives and mothers. They were to be diligent workers who ordered their homes well. This does not suggest that wives are not to work outside of the home. But in Paul’s day, that was a rare option for women. He was simply calling for an attitude of diligence and order in their responsibilities, that would apply in every area of their lives – either at home or at work.

And again, these older women were to have modeled what submission to their husbands looked like. It was not an issue of worth or value, power or weakness. It had to do with exhibiting a willing submission to God’s intended order of things. Paul was not saying that the husbands were better, smarter, or more deserving of the leadership role in the home. He was simply saying that God had a prescribed order of responsibility. He had placed the man as the head of the home and expected him to lead well. Many men don’t. That is an all-too-proven fact. But God intended for the wife to be an asset to her husband, encouraging and assisting him in his God-given role. There were to see themselves as partners in this thing called marriage. In fact, Jesus would say that a husband and wife are not really partners, but a single unit joined together by God through the marriage covenant. The two of them are to act as one, in loving unison, as they raise their family and conduct their lives on this earth.

And younger men, which includes younger fathers and husbands, as well as single men, were to be self-controlled as well. They were not to be driven by their passions or controlled by their lusts. And Titus, as a young man himself, was to be a model of godly behavior, using his own life as a teaching tool that revealed integrity, dignity, and godly speech. Young men were not to use their youth as an excuse to act like fools or shirk their responsibilities as Christ-followers. They were to take their faith seriously and live their lives in such a way that the outside world could not point a finger at them and call them hypocrites.

Paul closes his list of individuals within the church by addressing bond servants or slaves. In that day and age, there were many who found themselves operating as household slaves or servants because of unpaid debts. There were others that were outright slaves, taken captive as a result of war, and sold into slavery as servants. But many of these individuals had come to faith in Christ while living on Crete and they had become members of the local churches. So, Paul didn’t want to leave them out.

It’s interesting to note that Paul doesn’t address the institution of slavery. He neither condemns nor condones it. He was not out to change the unjust institutions set up by men that took advantage of the weak or helpless. He was out to change hearts. This is why he tells Titus that these individuals were to remain submissive to their masters in everything. He didn’t tell them to rebel or run away. In fact, he told them to use their enslavement as a platform from which to exhibit their faith in Christ. They were to obey and not argue. They were to refrain from stealing and show themselves to be trustworthy and reliable. And their overall behavior, even as slaves, was to bring glory and honor to God.

Good doctrine should result in good conduct. Belief that doesn’t impact behavior is to be questioned. An individual who claims to know Christ and declares themselves to be a follower of Christ, but whose life exhibits no qualifying characteristics, is to have his faith doubted. Paul would even say they are to be rebuked. The way we live our lives is one of the greatest testimonies to the life-transforming power of the gospel. It is to be practical proof of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power within us. All of these characteristics and behaviors that Paul has listed are Spirit-produced, not man-made. They come about as a result of reliance upon the Spirit and an adherence to good, solid teaching of sound doctrine.

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.

Don’t Take Your Eye Off the Prize

1 There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil. If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life’s good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. For it comes in vanity and goes in darkness, and in darkness its name is covered. Moreover, it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet it finds rest rather than he. Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy no good—do not all go to the one place?

All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied. For what advantage has the wise man over the fool? And what does the poor man have who knows how to conduct himself before the living? Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind.

10 Whatever has come to be has already been named, and it is known what man is, and that he is not able to dispute with one stronger than he. 11 The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man? 12 For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun? Ecclesiastes 6:1-12 ESV

From Solomon’s unique vantage point as king, he has been able to see and experience a great deal of what life has to offer. Some of his observations are more objective in nature, providing the perspective of an impartial outsider, viewing the lives of the people in his kingdom. He has been able to witness first-hand the oppression of the poor. As a judge over his people, he has had to preside over countless cases involving injustice and abuse. He has listened to the cries of the destitute and needy, as they have begged for someone to help them in their time of need.

But some of Solomon’s most powerful insights come from his willingness to look at his own life and share his more subjective and personal observations. In this chapter, he continues to speak from his own personal experience, revealing his frustrations over what he sees and fears.

First of all, he starts with what he describes as a form of evil or wickedness that he has observed “under the sun” or in this life. He writes from a human perspective, presenting his earth-bound opinion concerning a prevalent problem among mankind. There are those whom God has obviously blessed with great wealth, but He has also denied them the power or capacity to enjoy all that they have been given.

God gives some people great wealth and honor and everything they could ever want, but then he doesn’t give them the chance to enjoy these things. – Ecclesiastes 6:2 NLT

These people have all that their hearts desire, except contentment and joy. And to make matters even worse, when they die, “someone else, even a stranger, ends up enjoying their wealth!” (Ecclesiastes 6:2 NLT). And Solomon deems it all as “meaningless—a sickening tragedy(Ecclesiastes 6:2 NLT). But is he right?

First of all, Solomon’s viewpoint reflects the prevailing attitude of his day. It was commonly believed that anyone who enjoyed great wealth had obviously been blessed by God. And if they had been blessed by God, their lives must have been pleasing to God. This is why it made no sense that God would withhold the one thing these people wanted and needed: The ability to enjoy what He had given them.

Solomon was right when he concluded that all good things come from God. In fact, he would have based his view on the Scriptures themselves.

Truth springs up from the earth,
    and righteousness smiles down from heaven.
Yes, the Lord pours down his blessings.
    Our land will yield its bountiful harvest. – Psalm 85:11-12 ESV

Even the New Testament author, James, echoes this view.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights… – James 1:17 ESV

But where Solomon missed the point was in his assumption that wealth and material goods were to be the sole source of his enjoyment. In other words, he wrongly assumed that it was the blessings of God that brought joy, contentment, satisfaction, and significance. He misunderstood the true nature of their purpose and the significance of their source. The gifts had become the priority rather than the Giver. God was to have been the primary focus of Solomon’s life but not as the giver of good things. In fact, God should have been the only Solomon or anyone else needed in their life. God should have been enough. The apostle Paul expressed this viewpoint when he said:

Not that I was ever in need, for 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

It didn’t really matter to Paul whether he had a little or a lot. All that really mattered was his relationship with Christ. Yet Solomon and his contemporaries placed their emphasis on the tangible and temporal. For them, the proof of God’s love was in the presence of material goods and the ability to enjoy them. Solomon’s misguided and misplaced emphasis on material goods and earthly pleasures left him with a sense of emptiness and frustration. He was experiencing the very painful lesson that nothing satisfies man’s inner longings and desires like God Himself.

For Solomon, the measurement of a successful life was based on both quantity and quality. He pessimistically observed that if a man ended up fathering hundreds of children (and he had), and lived a long life (which he did), but his soul was not satisfied with life’s good things (and his wasn’t), then his life was a waste.

A man might have a hundred children and live to be very old. But if he finds no satisfaction in life and doesn’t even get a decent burial, it would have been better for him to be born dead. – Ecclesiastes 6:3 NLT

That is a grim assessment. But notice what he is saying. He is measuring the significance of life using a quantitative matrix. He operated on the commonly held maxim: The more, the merrier. It was long life and lots of kids that brought joy. But having hundreds of children, none of whose names you know will ever bring satisfaction. And living a long life, but without a relationship with the Giver of life will never satisfy. Acquiring much wealth and accomplishing great deeds cannot make anyone truly happy or content if they fail to seek the One from whom all good things come.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights… – James 1:17 ESV

For Solomon, nothing was more futile or frustrating than the thought of living a long life devoid of contentment. He states that a man “might live a thousand years twice over but still not find contentment. And since he must die like everyone else—well, what’s the use?” (Ecclesiastes 6:6 NLT).

And, sadly, this aptly describes Solomon’s own life. When he wrote this verse, he was at the end of life looking back, and while he could claim to have fathered hundreds of children and lived many years, he could say as Paul did, “I have learned to be content.” He had discovered the painful lesson that more was not merrier.

In his mind, it was all about satisfaction. Even the poor, who spend their days trying to scratch out a living and provide food for their next meal, end up discovering that they’re hungry again. The wise, the wealthy, the foolish, and the poor are all faced with the same grievous problem: Enough is never enough. Satisfaction and contentment are elusive. And the only advice Solomon can come up with is “Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have” (Ecclesiastes 6:9 NLT).

But again, his emphasis is misplaced. He is not recommending that we find our satisfaction in God, but that we simply resign ourselves to enjoying what little we have been given by God. He has missed the point. And in doing so, he misses out on the real meaning and purpose of life. It is not about gaining and getting. It is not about acquiring and accumulating. It is about learning to seek satisfaction, significance, joy, and contentment from a relationship with the God of the universe.

But Solomon had a warped perspective about God. He euphemistically refers to God as “one stronger than he” (Ecclesiastes 6:10 ESV). He doesn’t see God as his Father but as an enforcer. Rather than approaching God as the gracious giver of good things, Solomon views Him as a capricious tyrant who withholds the ability to enjoy what has been given. And while he rightly understands that God knows all and sees all, Solomon seems to resent the fact that God keeps man’s future fate a mystery. To Solomon, this leaves man stuck in the here-and-now, trying to make the most out of what he has before his life comes to an abrupt end.

What Solomon describes in this chapter is the sad state of all men and women who refuse to see God as the central source of all that is good in their lives. God does bless. God does give good things. God is the author of life and the source of all that we can see. But God is not to be viewed as some disembodied purveyor of presents, like a cosmic Genie in a bottle. He is the gift. He is the good. He is the satisfaction and significance that man so desperately seeks. The apostle Paul summarized it well when he spoke to the people of Athens, describing the nature of the “unknown god” to whom they offered sacrifices, but with whom they had no relationship.

“He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.

“His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist. – Acts 17:24-28 NLT

God created man to have a relationship with Him. His purpose was for the nations to seek after Him. But sin changed all that. Because of the fall, the blessings of God became substitutes for Him. We made idols out of the good gifts He had given us. The apostle Paul describes the subtle shift that took place among humanity as they took their eyes off the Giver and began to seek satisfaction and significance from the good things He had given.

They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself… – Romans 1:25 NLT

Solomon’s relentless quest to find meaning in life had taken him away from the very One who had given him life. He had made false gods out of the good and perfect gifts that had come down from the Father of lights…and he found himself unfulfilled and discontented with life and anxious about death.

In the few days of our meaningless lives, who knows how our days can best be spent? Our lives are like a shadow. Who can tell what will happen on this earth after we are gone? – Ecclesiastes 6:12 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.

The Futility of Life Without God

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

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
    vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil
    at which he toils under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
    but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
    and hastens to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
    and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
    and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
    but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
    there they flow again.
All things are full of weariness;
    a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
    nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
    and what has been done is what will be done,
    and there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there a thing of which it is said,
    “See, this is new”?
It has been already
    in the ages before us.
11 There is no remembrance of former things,
    nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be
    among those who come after. – Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 ESV

The book of Ecclesiastes got its name in a rather roundabout manner. The original title for the book was the first verse:  “The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.” But in the third century B.C., the men who translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek (the Septuagint), chose to title the book “Ekklesiastes.” This is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word qōheleṯ, which the ESV translates into “Preacher.” The original Hebrew word refers to a “speaker in an assembly” or a “teacher” and in the Old Testament,  the verb form was often used to refer to calling together a group of people for a special religious, political, military, or judicial occasion.

As the opening verse suggests, the book was authored by King Solomon, the son of David. The general consensus among conservative evangelical scholars is that Solomon wrote the book of Ecclesiastes in the latter years of his life, sometime after his apostasy (1 Kings 11:1-8) and after God had declared that He would divide Solomon’s kingdom in half.

So now the Lord said to him, “Since you have not kept my covenant and have disobeyed my decrees, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your servants. But for the sake of your father, David, I will not do this while you are still alive. I will take the kingdom away from your son. And even so, I will not take away the entire kingdom; I will let him be king of one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, my chosen city.” – 1 Kings 11:11-13 NLT

Solomon did not live to see his kingdom split in half. God allowed him to live a long and very prosperous life but his latter years were filled with faithlessness and futility. He was wise, wealthy, and powerful but, as the book of Ecclesiastes reveals, he was anything but contented or satisfied.

The book of Ecclesiastes is essentially Solomon’s autobiography and a personal treatise on how his worldview took a turn for the worse. Somewhere along the way, he lost his perspective by taking his eyes off of God and forgetting the very words his own father had taught him.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever! – Psalm 110:10 ESV

He would go on to include and expand on this admonition in his collection of wise sayings.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. – Proverbs 1:7 ESV

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. – Proverbs 9:10 ESV

But Solomon had ignored his own teaching. Blessed by God with wisdom, power, and wealth, Solomon had begun to seek fulfillment and satisfaction from all the wrong places. Rather than focusing his attention on the Giver, Solomon had become obsessed with the gifts. And he provides a sad assessment of his godless pursuit of happiness in all the wrong places.

“Look, I am wiser than any of the kings who ruled in Jerusalem before me. I have greater wisdom and knowledge than any of them.” So I set out to learn everything from wisdom to madness and folly. But I learned firsthand that pursuing all this is like chasing the wind.

The greater my wisdom, the greater my grief.
    To increase knowledge only increases sorrow. – Ecclesiastes 1:16-18 NLT

Chasing the wind. Futility. Vanity. Meaninglessness. These are just a few of the words that Solomon uses to describe life throughout the book of Ecclesiastes. These words are rather surprising when you consider that they’re coming from the pen of a man who seemingly had it all – health, wealth, wisdom, success, fame, and the respect and admiration of men near and far. But Solomon was human. He may have been rich, but he was still susceptible to the conditions that plague all mankind – fear of man, the desire for more, discontentment, dissatisfaction, jealousy, and the ever-present reality of sin.

Solomon didn’t live in a vacuum. He was surrounded by individuals who tested and tried him, sought to defeat him, played up to him just to get something out of him, lived off of him, and revealed the worst about him. In other words, Solomon lived in a fallen world. He may have been the king of the people of God, but his life was not that much different than yours or mine. And when he looked at life from his own human vantage point, things took on a rather dark tone. He soon became disappointed and disillusioned.

But the book of Ecclesiastes is really designed to give the reader a God-centered perspective. It shows the futility of life when viewed from the vantage point of self. If we view life from our limited perspective, we will constantly find ourselves in a state of confusion and discontentment. This life does not make sense. Good things happen to bad people. The wicked seem to prosper. We can work hard all our lives and end up with nothing to show for it in the end. Life is not always fair. Justice doesn’t always seem to win out in the end. The unjust do not always seem to get their just desserts. In fact, many of the most wicked in this world seem to get away with murder – literally. Evil men rise to power and grow wealthy as they abuse and exploit their own people. Corrupt corporate executives get filthy rich while their investors lose everything. Injustice and inequity are everywhere.

But one of the phrases Solomon uses repeatedly is “under the sun.” He is basically referring to life on the planet earth. It refers to a temporal mindset that can easily focus on the horizontal and leave out the vertical. Rather than living life with a God-centered worldview, we become fixated on a self-centered, me-focused worldview. It becomes life as I see it – limited, myopic, and incapable of seeing the bigger picture. One of the recurring themes of Ecclesiastes seems to be that life without God lacks real substance. There is no real value or permanence to it all. It’s like a vapor or fog that is here one minute, then gone the other. It’s transitory and futile.

One of the most well-known phrases found in the book of Ecclesiastes is the refrain: “Vanity of vanities” (Ecclesiastes 1:2 ESV). The Hebrew word is hebel and it refers to something that is without substance, such as a mist or vapor.

“Vanity” (Heb. hebel) probably does not mean “meaningless.” As Solomon used this word in Ecclesiastes he meant lacking real substance, value, permanence, or significance.[14] “Vapor,” “breath-like,” or “ephemeral” captures the idea (cf. Proverbs 21:6; Isaiah 57:13). One writer favored the words “absurd” or “absurdity.” – Michael V. Fox, “The Meaning of Hebel for Qoheleth,” Journal of Biblical Literature 105:3 (September 1986):409-27.

Solomon had all that life had to offer. But he seemed to know that all the wealth in the world was going to satisfy him in the end. You can’t take it with you. And you could lose it all in the blink of an eye. Years of hard work and labor could be easily squandered, stolen, or wind up never delivering what you thought they would. It’s the house that’s never clean. The yard that persistently needs mowing. The bills that are never finished being paid. The pain that never goes away. The hurt that’s never fully healed.

Solomon stresses the monotony and endless repetition that accompanies life on this planet.

A generation goes, and a generation comes… – vs 4

The sun rises, and the sun goes down… – vs 5

The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind… – vs 6

All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full – vs 7

He concludes that it is all a relentless cycle of weariness and futility.

What has been is what will be,
    and what has been done is what will be done,
    and there is nothing new under the sun. – Ecclesiastes 1:9 ESV

This rather pessimistic, glass-half-empty perspective pervades the book of Ecclesiastes.

…as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless. It was like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere. – Ecclesiastes 2:11 NLT

But in the midst of all the doom and gloom, there is good news. Solomon still believed that God was in control and that His perspective is much larger and more accurate. God is able to view life from a better vantage point. That led Solomon to write, “God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT).

Solomon came to understand that his perspective was limited. He couldn’t see what God can see. He didn’t know what God knows. He wasn’t privy to the plans of God, and God does not consult or seek man’s approval for His actions. For Solomon it was as simple as, “I know that whatever God does is final. Nothing can be added to it or taken from it. God’s purpose in this is that people should fear him” (Ecclesiastes 3:14 NLT).

Life is like chasing the wind, but only if you choose to ignore God’s bigger plan. When you leave Him out of the equation, nothing adds up. It doesn’t make sense. Nothing works. Nothing. No amount of money can make us happy. Nothing we can purchase or own can fulfill us. Nothing we eat or drink can fully satisfy us. But God can.

Attempting to live life without a God-centered perspective will be like chasing the wind. But when we keep God as the focus of life and His will as the motivation for our obedience, life becomes meaningful. It becomes rich, complete, fulfilling, satisfying, and worth living.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

It All Begins and Ends with God

1 A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
    and favor is better than silver or gold.
The rich and the poor meet together;
    the Lord is the Maker of them all.
The prudent sees danger and hides himself,
    but the simple go on and suffer for it.
The reward for humility and fear of the Lord
    is riches and honor and life.
Thorns and snares are in the way of the crooked;
    whoever guards his soul will keep far from them.
Train up a child in the way he should go;
    even when he is old he will not depart from it.
The rich rules over the poor,
    and the borrower is the slave of the lender.
Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,
    and the rod of his fury will fail.
Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed,
    for he shares his bread with the poor.
10 Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out,
    and quarreling and abuse will cease.
11 He who loves purity of heart,
    and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend.
12 The eyes of the Lord keep watch over knowledge,
    but he overthrows the words of the traitor.
13 The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside!
    I shall be killed in the streets!”
14 The mouth of forbidden women is a deep pit;
    he with whom the Lord is angry will fall into it.
15 Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,
    but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.
16 Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth,
    or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.
– Proverbs 22:1-16 ESV

We live in a heterogeneous world that is filled with all kinds of people from a diverse range of economic, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds. And while technology and transportation advances have made the world smaller to some degree, there are still dramatic differences between the cultures and communities that populate this planet. Yet, despite those differences, Solomon would have us remember that we all share a common bond. We have all been created by God.

The rich and poor have this in common:
    The Lord made them both. – Proverbs 22:2 NLT

Regardless of our financial status, country of origin, religious affiliation, or ethnic makeup, we are all the handiwork of the same Creator-God, whether we recognize and honor him as such. Denying His existence does not alter the fact that He is the one who has given life to all humanity. And while the wisdom sayings collected by Solomon have stressed the stark differences between the foolish and the wise, there is an underlying theme that highlights our similarities.

All men long to live their lives in relative peace and security. They desire to get the most out of life during their relatively short time on this earth. But along with a common source of origin, we also share the mark of our sinful natures.

As the Scriptures say,

“No one is righteous—
    not even one.
No one is truly wise;
    no one is seeking God.
All have turned away;
    all have become useless.
No one does good,
    not a single one.” – Romans 3:10-12 NLT

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… – Romans 3:22-23 ESV

So, if Paul is right and no one is righteous or wise, how does anyone achieve a “good name” (verse 1)? If no one is seeking God, how can they ever expect to receive a “reward for humility and fear of the Lord” (verse 4)? What hope does anyone have to exhibit “a pure heart and gracious speech” if no one has the capacity to do good (verse 11)?

The answer to these perplexing questions is found in the One who made mankind in the first place. The Creator-God is also the Redeemer-God. He alone has the capacity to make the unrighteous righteous. The all-powerful God who formed the universe out of nothing can transform a sinful man into “a vessel for honor: sanctified, useful to the Master, and prepared for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21 BSB).

God made mankind in His image and He deemed His creation as being very good. But sin marred what God had made and created an inseparable barrier between the Creator and His creation. Because of their decision to disobey God, Adam and Eve were cast from the garden He had made for them, and their progeny continued the pattern of transgressing His laws and distancing themselves from His presence. And the downward nature of their moral trajectory is recorded in the book of Genesis.

The LORD observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. – Genesis 6:5 NLT

God made the decision to destroy all mankind and begin again. He brought a devastating flood upon the earth, but spared one man and his family because “Noah found favor with the LORD” (Genesis 6:8 NLT). And Noah found favor with God because he “was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God” (Genesis 6:9 NLT).

God started over with Noah and his family. But by the time we get to the days of Solomon, the spiritual state of humanity was no better than before. Not much had changed. Even among the Israelites, the chosen people of God, sin and unrighteousness remained a serious problem. Man, when left to his own devices, had an insatiable appetite for disobeying God and living according to his own sinful desires.

Throughout the book of Proverbs, Solomon points his readers back to the source of their existence: God Almighty. He wanted them to understand that any hope they had of experiencing God’s covenant blessings would have to begin with dependence upon Him. The wisdom necessary for living a full and meaningful life was only available from God. And that wisdom was only accessible to those who showed reverence and respect for God. Unlike oxygen, which exists in the atmosphere and is freely available to all, godly wisdom is impossible to access without God’s help.

And without godly wisdom, any desire for a good name, riches, honor, and wealth will all remain out of reach. Of course, there are those who seem to experience these “blessings” without maintaining a fear of the Lord. This world is filled with excessively wealthy people who have no regard for God. There are plenty of people who enjoy good reputations and are honored for their achievements, yet they fail to give God the time of day.  And despite what Solomon says, not all “Corrupt people walk a thorny, treacherous road” (Proverbs 22:5 NLT). Some of them seem to have found the fast lane to fame and fortune.

So, what does Solomon mean when he states that “True humility and fear of the Lord lead to riches, honor, and long life” (Proverbs 22:4 NLT)? Does this verse contain the secret to success? Yes, it does, but we tend to put the focus on the wrong end of the verse.

We focus on the promise of “riches, honor, and long life.” We assume that because we believe in God, we have the first part of the verse down and automatically receive the “promises” it offers. As God’s people, we somehow believe that we are guaranteed the good life. And we even define what riches, honor, and long life should look like – all according to our perspective.

But the real point of this verse is contained in the description, “true humility and the fear of the Lord.” Those two things are critical and non-negotiable to receiving any blessings from God. They describe the life of the person who has a right relationship with God. They reveal the heart of the individual who loves God and shows Him the proper awe, reverence, and fear He deserves as the Almighty God of the Universe.

The humility spoken of in this verse is based on an understanding of who God is. In the face of God’s power, majesty, magnitude, intelligence, holiness, and complete righteousness, a humble person responds with an awareness of their own sinfulness, weakness, unfaithfulness, powerlessness, need, and unrighteousness. That awareness produces dependence. It results in a growing reliance upon God for ALL things, including not only salvation but our daily sanctification. It drives out self-righteousness and any thought that we somehow deserve the blessings of God. Humility is our response to God’s majesty and glory. It is “true” humility, not some kind of false self-abasement designed to impress others. It is real and the result of a growing awareness of just how great God really is.

Humility goes hand-in-hand with the fear of God. In Proverbs 9:10, Solomon reminds us that “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom.” When we learn to fear God, we grow in wisdom. We begin to realize just how much we need Him and all that He offers. We need His help in order to live the life He has called us to live on this fallen planet. We need His wisdom to navigate all the issues that face us each and every day. We need discernment, knowledge, discretion, and good old common sense – all of which come directly from God.

What Solomon is telling us is that any degree of riches, honor, and long life will come only as we learn to humble ourselves before the mighty hand of God. They will only come about if we learn to fear Him, honor Him, worship Him, and show Him the awe He so rightly deserves. But if we begin to worship riches, honor, and long life, we will miss the point altogether. We can easily make idols out of the blessings and miss the One who alone can provide them. That is NOT the fear of God.

We can find ourselves expecting God to give us happy homes, great jobs, good incomes, solid marriages, successful careers, obedient kids, and a host of other blessings. The problem is that many of us know nothing of true humility and the fear of God. We almost demand that He bless us, like the prodigal son who demanded that his father give him his inheritance. We display no love, no respect, no honor, and no fear.

In Proverbs 9, Solomon stated that the fear of God is the foundation of wisdom. In other words, it is the starting point, the very beginning of our quest for wisdom. It all begins with the fear of God. So, not until we fear God will we receive the wisdom we need that can help us succeed in life, marriage, parenting, work, and every other area of our lives. Proverbs 22:4 is not some kind of magic mantra that guarantees success. It is a reminder that the fear of the Lord is what should be the singular focus of our lives. Don’t obsess over the gifts, focus on the Giver. Make Him your highest priority. Make getting to know Him more important than getting things from Him. Then You will have true success.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

A Case of Déjà Vu

But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided. The fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, the rain from the heavens was restrained, and the waters receded from the earth continually. At the end of 150 days the waters had abated, and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. And the waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen.

At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made and sent forth a raven. It went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. Then he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground. But the dove found no place to set her foot, and she returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took her and brought her into the ark with him. 10 He waited another seven days, and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark. 11 And the dove came back to him in the evening, and behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. 12 Then he waited another seven days and sent forth the dove, and she did not return to him anymore.

13 In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried from off the earth. And Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dry. 14 In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth had dried out. 15 Then God said to Noah, 16 “Go out from the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. 17 Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh—birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth—that they may swarm on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.” 18 So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him. 19 Every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out by families from the ark. Genesis 8:1-19 ESV

The ark had been God’s idea all along, and He had graciously shared the plans for its construction with Noah. And when Noah had faithfully completed his work on the massive project, God had extended a gracious invitation for him and his family to enter the safety and security of the ark.

“Come into the ark, you and all your household, for I consider you godly among this generation. – Genesis 7:1 NET

After years of faithful and obedient service to God, constructing the vessel that would be the means of his own salvation, Noah was offered a chance to cease from his labors and enter into the rest that God had ordained for him. Noah had proven his reverence for God by doing all that the Lord commanded him to do. And the reward for all his work was rest and refuge from the coming storm.

This divine invitation, offering Noah a chance to rest in the safety and security of God’s chosen means of salvation, is echoed in the words spoken by Jesus as He inaugurated His earthly ministry.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28 NET

The ark had always been intended to foreshadow the coming of Christ. In a sin-stained world, condemned to suffer the wrath of God’s just and righteous judgment, a means of salvation had graciously been provided. God had invited a weary and worn-out Noah to enter into His rest and find salvation from the coming judgment.

One of the fascinating things to consider is how many trees Noah would have had to cut down in order to build the ark. Created by God, these fully mature trees would have been cut down in the prime of their lives, so that Noah and his family might be saved. They sacrificed their lives so that others might live. And, in the same way, Jesus would offer up His life so that others might find salvation. It was Isaiah who later prophesied of the Messiah’s selfless sacrifice on behalf of sinful humanity.

Unjustly condemned,
    he was led away.
No one cared that he died without descendants,
    that his life was cut short in midstream.
But he was struck down
    for the rebellion of my people. – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

The ark provided Noah and his family with protection from the judgment of God. He invited them in and then closed the door behind them. And there, in the safety of God’s preordained vessel of salvation, a remnant of humanity found refuge from the flood of divine judgment. And Moses paints a vivid picture of God’s mercy and grace when he writes, “God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark” (Genesis 8:1 ESV). The waters rose and covered the face of the earth. And the majority of God’s creation was destroyed in the process. But God remembered (זָכַרz – āḵar) Noah. In other words, God had not forgotten the covenant promise He had made.

“Look! I am about to cover the earth with a flood that will destroy every living thing that breathes. Everything on earth will die. But I will confirm my covenant with you.”  – Genesis 6:17-18 NLT

The ark was not intended to be Noah’s final destination. It was simply the means by which he and his family would find access to the preferred future God had in store for them. In the same way, Jesus became the ark of mankind’s salvation, offering His life as a ransom for many. As He Himself stated, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV).

Noah wasn’t meant to stay on the ark. He had been delivered from death so that he might enjoy abundant life in a new, recreated world. The old was gone. God was giving humanity a new opportunity to begin again. But it took time for the waters to recede. This period of waiting provided time for the planet to be cleansed from all the death and decay caused by the flood.

Moses puts a great deal of emphasis on the steady decline of the deadly floodwaters.

the waters receded from the earth continually. – Genesis 8:3 ESV

And the waters continued to abate – Genesis 8:5 ESV

Then he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground. – Genesis 8:8 ESV

So Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. – Genesis 8:11 ESV

The time came when the waters of destruction receded and the formerly sin-saturated world was cleansed of all wickedness.

In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried from off the earth. – Genesis 8:13 ESV

It was time for Noah and his family to exit the ark and re-enter the world. So, God extended yet another invitation to His faithful servant.

“Leave the boat, all of you—you and your wife, and your sons and their wives. Release all the animals—the birds, the livestock, and the small animals that scurry along the ground—so they can be fruitful and multiply throughout the earth.” – Genesis 8:16-17 NLT

In a way, Noah was invited by God to enjoy the resurrected life. For months, he and his family had been “entombed” in the ark. But the day came when they were invited to walk out of the “grave” and into the light of God’s new day. The apostle Paul would later write about the vicarious death-to-life experience that comes to all who place their faith in Christ.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. – Romans 6:1-4 ESV

God invited Noah to exit the ark and reenter the world. He and his family were to fulfill the original kingdom mandate given to Adam and Eve. God expected them to be fruitful and fill the earth. He was starting over with a man who walked with Him, and whom He had deemed to be righteous and blameless. This was to be a new beginning. And Moses records that “Noah, his wife, and his sons and their wives left the boat. And all of the large and small animals and birds came out of the boat, pair by pair” (Genesis 8:18-19 NLT). When they stepped out of the ark, they were beginning a new chapter of the human story. This man and his wife were the new Adam and Eve. They were the divinely ordained pair who would be given the opportunity to act as God’s vice-regents, bearing His image, and faithfully stewarding the vast resources He had placed at their disposal.

But this passage is filled with a sense of déjà vu. It seems that a new chapter in the play has begun, but has anything really changed? With the floodwaters gone and the judgment of God fulfilled, will the story of humanity take a sudden turn for the better? Will Noah succeed where Adam failed? Will righteousness fill the earth? Will the godly remnant replicate and spread the image of God across the planet? Sadly, those questions have all been answered. Humanity was given a chance to begin again. Noah was provided with an opportunity to raise up a new generation that would walk with God. But as chapter five pointed out, Noah was a direct descendant of Adam. And as the apostle Paul later revealed, Noah had inherited the same sinful predisposition as his ancestor.

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned – Romans 5:12 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Blessing of Procreation

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” 21 So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. Genesis 1:14-23 ESV

At this point in his creation account, Moses describes God’s making of the sun, moon, and stars. This appears to be a summary statement that would include the entire solar system. But out of all the innumerable celestial bodies, Moses places special emphasis on the three that would be the most familiar to his Hebrew audience. While the average Israelite would have had no scientific knowledge of the vast source of energy emanating from the sun, he would have understood and appreciated its role in producing crops, providing warmth, and sustaining life. The moon, while considered a “lesser light,” would have been equally vital in Jewish thought, playing a special role in daily life. According to JewishEncylcopedia.com:

Like the other celestial bodies, the moon was believed to have an influence on the universe. Its injurious influence on man is referred to in Ps. cxxi. 6, which passage probably refers to the blindness which, according to Eastern belief, results from sleeping in the moonlight with uncovered face (Carne, “Letters from the East,” p. 77). It was also believed that the moon caused epilepsy (comp. the Greek σεληυιαζόμευος and the Latin “lunaticus”; Matt. iv. 24). On the other hand, there are “precious things put forth by the moon” (Deut. xxxiii. 14); that is to say, the growth of certain plants is influenced by it.

According to verse 14, God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night.” This Hebrew word for “lights” is different than the one used in verse 3 where God said, “Let there be light.” On the first day of creation, God made light – אוֹר (‘ôr). But now, on the fourth day, He made the lights – מָאוֹר (mā’ôr). The “light of day” was created three days before any physical sources of light even existed. This order of events establishes God as the source of all light and life, and explains why the worship of the sun or moon was to be off-limits to God’s people. Worship of the sun and moon was common among the ancients, but it was forbidden for the Jews. 

“…when you look up into the sky and see the sun, moon, and stars—all the forces of heaven—don’t be seduced into worshiping them. The LORD your God gave them to all the peoples of the earth.” – Deuteronomy 4:19 NLT

When the people of Israel were preparing to enter the land of Canaan, God had warned them again about the worship of the sun, moon, and stars.

“When you begin living in the towns the LORD your God is giving you, a man or woman among you might do evil in the sight of the LORD your God and violate the covenant. For instance, they might serve other gods or worship the sun, the moon, or any of the stars—the forces of heaven—which I have strictly forbidden. When you hear about it, investigate the matter thoroughly. If it is true that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, 5then the man or woman who has committed such an evil act must be taken to the gates of the town and stoned to death.” – Deuteronomy 17:2-5 NLT

God provided the sun and moon as visible and tangible sources of light. Their regular appearance in the sky would help to determine the length of a day and the various seasons of the year. They would be regular reminders of God’s faithfulness and life-sustaining power. The wording of the original text seems to stress that the sun, moon, and stars were to be viewed as created entities to be appreciated, and not deities to be worshiped.

“The narrative stresses their function as servants, subordinate to the interests of the earth. . . . This differs significantly from the superstitious belief within pagan religion that the earth’s destiny is dictated by the course of the stars.” – Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 111:26

God gave these greater and lesser lights specific roles to play. They were to separate day from night, provide divinely ordained signs, distinguish the seasons, and illuminate the earth. This brief synopsis of creation should have reminded Moses’ Hebrew audience that their God had created the so-called “gods” their pagan neighbors bowed down before and worshiped. He was the ultimate source of light and life, not the sun, moon, and stars. And yet, as the apostle Paul would later reveal, humanity has regularly mistaken the created order as the source of power, light, and life. Rather than recognizing the hand of God in all that has been made, they worshiped the creation instead.

They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.

They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! – Romans 1:19-23, 25 NLT

Once again, Moses points out how God separated one thing from another. He used the sun and moon to separate the light from the darkness. There is a distinct differentiation established. From that point forward, there would be evening and morning, two diametrically opposite but integrally interwoven periods of time that, together, would form a single day. God had made land and sea. He had created earth and sky. Now He had formed day and night. Everything God created was to exist in a well-balanced and divinely ordered system that functioned according to His perfectly designed plan.

And it is at this point in the process that God begins to create new forms of life to populate the new environments He has made for them. First, He creates the fish and the birds.

“Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” – Genesis 1:20 ESV

Then God gave these creatures a mandate: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth” (Genesis 1:21 ESV). They were made to procreate and populate the planet and, in doing so, they would constantly demonstrate the ongoing nature of God’s life-giving power. God could have created a distinct number of each species and filled the earth with them. But He chose to give them the ability to mate and make more of their own kind. And with each new birth, they would illustrate the amazing nature of God’s power through His ongoing creation of life.

One of the primary ways in which God bestows His blessings on His creative order is through the birth process. Even the ability of plants to propagate more of their own is a reminder of God’s goodness and grace. Birth is a blessing and not a curse. Fruitfulness is a gift from God. It is, as God deemed it: Good.

God has given His creation the ability to procreate, to beget, to generate life. Every plant that sprouts from a seed, every oak that grows from an acorn, every chick that hatches from an egg, and every child that comes forth from a womb, is intended to shout the glory and goodness of God. His life-giving power is on display each and every day throughout His creation. And mankind, as the apex of His creative order, are to marvel in it and rejoice over it because it provides with undeniable proof of His power and presence.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Light of the World

1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  Genesis 1:1-3 ESV

Another way to translate the first three words of the book of Genesis is “when God created….” While God was “in the beginning,” this statement does not infer that He came into being at that moment in time. God is eternal and has always existed. His transcendent nature allows Him to operate free from the constraints of time and space. The “beginning” mentioned in the opening line of Genesis has to do with His creation of “the heavens and the earth.” According to His own divine prerogative, God made the executive decision to bring into existence that which had never existed before. And the opening chapters of Genesis record the amazing details of that epic and unprecedented event.

The opening two verses provide a summary statement of all that Moses describes in the verses that follow. Speaking of Moses, while there has been much debate as to the authorship of Genesis, I will be operating under the assumption that Jesus was right when He designated Moses as the one responsible for this book.

“But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” – Luke 20:37 ESV

Jesus repeatedly referred to Moses in association with the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures. And it seems that Jesus shared the view of His Jewish contemporaries who believed Moses to have been the author of all five books.

As we shall see, Moses plays a key role in the evolving narrative of the Hebrew people. And his record of this seminal moment in humanity’s history will eventually reveal his decidedly Hebraic bias. While his creation record provides an explanation for the “beginnings” of all mankind, Moses was attempting to explain the unique relationship shared between the Creator-God and a particular group of human beings that would later become known as the people of Israel. The books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, commonly referred to as the Torah, form the first part of the Tanakh, the Hebrew term for their Scriptures. And throughout the pages of the Tanakh, the historical evolution of God’s chosen people is revealed in vivid and, sometimes, disturbing detail.

The book of Genesis, as its name implies, provides the genesis or beginning of the nation of Israel. Moses wrote this book to provide his own people with an explanation of their origins and to reveal to them the unique and unparalleled plan that God for them as a nation. The story of their birth as a nation was unlike any other. And while they shared a common heritage with the rest of humanity that dated back to the creation account, they enjoyed a privileged position as God’s chosen people. The question was, how had they acquired their unprecedented relationship with the God who made the heavens and the earth? What had they done to deserve such a favored position that set them apart from all the other nations of the earth?

The book of Genesis provides the answers to those questions and many more. It does so by returning its readers to the primordial darkness of the pre-creation age, long before anything existed including man.

The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. – Genesis 1:2 ESV

This verse appears to describe God’s work of creation in mid-process. It is a summary verse that reveals that the earth had been created but was not yet fully formed or organized according to God’s well-designed plan. Moses paints a rather bleak picture, describing the a pervading and foreboding darkness “over the face of the deep.” The Hebrew word for deep is תְּהוֹם (tᵊhôm), and it means “the depths” or “a surging mass of water.” It was typically used to refer to the oceans. But in this case, it seems to be a reference to the earth itself, which, according to verses 9-10, was covered with water.

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. – Genesis 1:9-10 ESV

Up until that moment, the earth had been an undefined and uninhabitable mass, completely submerged under an impenetrable layer of water. But there’s hope in the midst of all the chaos and confusion: “…the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:3 ESV). The imagery is that of a mother bird brooding over her eggs as she waits for them to hatch. While the earth was “without form and void,” Moses describes the Spirit of God as lovingly brooding over this shapeless and humanly hostile environment. God had begun the creative process but was not yet finished. He had a divine plan in place that, when complete, would transform the earth into a literal garden of Eden.

It’s almost as if Moses is telegraphing a message to his people in an attempt to remind them that they worship a God of order, not confusion. And their God has a plan for their future. While there might be times when everything around them appeared dark and confusing, they could trust that God was not done. Hundreds of years after Moses wrote the book of Genesis, the prophet Jeremiah would record the following words from God. They were a reminder that, even after 70 years of forced captivity in Babylon, God would do something remarkable that would suddenly dispel the darkness of their current condition and replace it with light.

“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”  – Jeremiah 20:10-11 ESV

Verse 2 of the opening chapter of Genesis conveys the same sense of hope. God’s creation plan had only just begun. The image of the Spirit of God hovering over the waters was meant to convey a sense of eager anticipation. Something incredible was about to take place that would escalate and expand to such a degree that the as-yet-unformed world would never be the same again.

And at this point in the narrative, Moses discloses, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3 ESV). The opening verses paint the picture of darkness and gloom but that depressing imagery is quickly replaced by the sudden appearance of light. But what is remarkable about this light is that it comes from an as-yet-undisclosed source. If we fast-forward to verses 14-18, we see that God has not yet created the sun, moon, or stars, so the source of the light mentioned in verse 3 cannot be cosmic in nature.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. – Genesis 1:14-18 ESV

So, what was the source of this light? If it didn’t emanate from the sun, what could be the explanation for its sudden presence? God seems to have spoken it into existence but that does not necessarily mean the light had not existed up until that point. God simply said, “Let there be light…” and, as Moses states, there was light. It appeared. The former darkness and its concomitant chaos were suddenly penetrated and completely eliminated by the illuminating presence of this light from God. And it is essential that we recognize the undeniable fact that God was the source of the light.

Referring to God, the prophet Daniel stated that “light dwells with him” (Daniel 2:22 ESV). The apostle John would later declare, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 ESV). And John would ascribe that same attribute of illuminating glory to the Son of God.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5 ESV

As this passage illustrates, light and the Godhead go hand-in-hand. In both the Old and New Testament Scriptures, light was used as a metaphor for such concepts as salvation, joy, knowledge, righteousness, and life. As John stated, Jesus was life and that life was the light of men. With His incarnation, He began the process of bringing true light and life to sinful men and women. His appearance brought the light of God into the spiritual darkness that permeated the world. As the light of the world, Jesus made salvation possible, joy accessible, the knowledge of God available, righteousness achievable, and eternal life attainable.

What is fascinating to consider is how John references Jesus’ role in the creation account. He states that all things were made through Him. In fact, he goes on to declare that “the world was made through him.”

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him… – John 1:9-10 ESV

The apostle Paul adds further details that explain Jesus’ role in creation.

…for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see— such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. – Colossians 1:16 NLT

And it’s no coincidence that Moses records God the Father declaring, “Let there be light…” and the light appeared. At the very beginning of the creation process God brings His “light” to bear. It would not be a reach to suggest that God called on His Son to join Him in the next phase of creation. And with His entrance into the scene, Jesus brought His light to bear as He “created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth” (Colossians 1:16 NLT).

One of the keys to understanding the source of this light that illuminated and eliminated the darkness can be found in the book of Revelation. There, the apostle John once again describes “the light of the world,” but this time this divine light source  will illuminate the future Kingdom of God.

And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. – Revelation 22:5 ESV

Creation began with the light. Salvation was made possible by the light. And the light will be the source of illumination in the eternal state. As John put it so well, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

In the Service of the King

24 A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

28 “You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, 29 and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, 30 that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Luke 22:24-30 ESV

This passage leaves most people a bit stunned at the audacity of the disciples. How in the world could these men be so insensitive after all that Jesus had just said to them? He had just used elements from the Passover meal to describe His coming death on their behalf. Then He had followed that up with a disclosure that one of them was going to betray Him. But the gravity of His words didn’t seem to sink in. Oh, they spent some time discussing who the possible identity of the betrayer, but that quickly devolved into a pride-filled comparison. Upon close inspection, it becomes painfully evident that these men were debating about which of them mighty be capable doing such a thing. It conjures up images of the 11 remaining disciples (because Judas had already left the room) pointing fingers at one another in a perverse version of the blame-game.

In Matthew’s account of that fateful night, he indicates that each of the disciples had asked Jesus, “Is it I, Lord?” (Luke 22:23 ESV). And while Jesus seems to have made the identity of His betrayer quite clear, them disciples missed it and continued to argue over who the culprit might be. This suggests that they had no suspicions about Judas. While he had left the room, they did not jump to conclusions and immediately assume he was the guilty party. 

And Luke seems to suggest that their debate soon turned into an argument about superiority. They went from distancing themselves from possible culpability for Jesus’ betrayal to bragging about their personal qualifications to to lay claim to the coveted title of “Greatest of all Disciples.”

It’s absolutely mind-boggling to think of these men having such an arrogant discussion in the very room where Jesus had just informed them, “This is my body, which is given for you” and “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:19, 20 NLT). Even if we assume they didn’t quite comprehend the meaning behind His words, there is no way they could have missed what He meant when He said, “…here at this table, sitting among us as a friend, is the man who will betray me. For it has been determined that the Son of Man must die. But what sorrow awaits the one who betrays him” (Luke 22:21-22 NLT).

But rather than console Jesus and offer their commitment to stand by His side to the bitter end, they made the focus of the entire evening all about themselves.

Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them. – Luke 22:24 NLT

What makes their self-centered obsession so egregious is that the Messiah, the Anointed One of God was standing right in front of them. And to make matters worse, John reports that Jesus, the Son of God, had prefaced the Passover meal by washing the feet of His disciples.

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. – John 13:3-5 ESV

And John indicates that immediately after Jesus had performed this lowly, selfless act of servanthood, He went out of His way to ensure that they understood the meaning behind His actions.

“Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” – John 13:12-17 ESV

Their Lord and teacher had just washed their feet, providing them with a vivid illustration of the ministry they would soon be commissioned to carry on in His absence. And yet, they seemed to have missed His point altogether. Jesus was not calling them to become washers of feet, but to become the servants of all. In other words, Jesus was asking them to carry on His ministry.

Amazingly, this was not the only time Jesus had to have this discussion with His disciples. Matthew records another occasion when the mother of James and John approached Jesus and asked, “In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left” (Matthew 20:21 NLT). This rather presumptuous request was met with jealousy-fueled anger by the other disciples. They were convinced that James and John were behind this gratuitous act of self-promotion. But Jesus responded to their frustration with the same basic message about selflessness and service.

“You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. ” – Matthew 20:25-27 NLT

Then, to make sure they understand His meaning, Jesus used His own life as an example .

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mathew 28:28 NLT

The disciples had a worldly based perspective on leadership that promoted power, prominence, and position. The goal was to work your way to the top and then enjoy all the benefits your hard work afforded. But Jesus gave them a completely counter-cultural model to follow.

“…let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.” – Luke 22:26 NLT

And, once again, Jesus reminded of them act of service He had just performed a few minutes earlier.

“For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” – Luke 22:27 ESV

There is no indication that the disciples answered Jesus’ question because it required none. He had just demonstrated that He, the greater one, had served those who were His inferiors in so many respects. He was their Lord and teacher. Not only that, He was the Son of God and yet, He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8 ESV).

Jesus declared, “I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:27 ESV). That was the whole reason He had come to earth. And now, He was preparing them for the role they would play after He had given up His life in the ultimate act of selfless service.

Jesus wraps up this little lesson on leadership with a fascinating promise concerning the kingdom. It’s important to recognize that the kingdom is exactly what the disciples had been longing for ever since they began following Jesus. They had been hoping that He was their long-awaited Messiah and would set up the Kingdom of God on earth. But Jesus tells them something quite different.

“I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom…“ – Luke 22:29 ESV

In a sense, Jesus was giving them a mandate to have dominion over the world He had created. He was putting them in charge of His realm in His absence. But the kingdom to which He was assigning them authority would not be the final kingdom to come. It would not feature Jesus sitting on the throne of David in the city of Jerusalem. It would not feature James and John sitting on Jesus’ right and left in the royal palace. No, for the time being, it would consist of the disciples continuing His carrying the good news of the Kingdom of God to the ends of the earth. But then Jesus promised them that their longing for an earthly kingdom would one day be fulfilled. He assured them that one day they would “eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:30 ESV). 

Now was not the time to argue about greatness. The days ahead would not be filled with power and prominence but with serving, suffering, and selfless obedience to the King and His mission.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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 Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson