How does one get a Thanksgiving study out of Ecclesiastes? I’m not sure I really know, but I feel compelled to try. This could be fun.
We’ll be looking at Ecclesiastes Chapters 10-12. Chapters 10 and 11 are chock full of more Proverbs. Remember that we looked at 12:9 earlier where it says, “He [Qoheleth] pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs.” This “set in order” might mean he arranged them in a particular order so as to convey a particular meaning. Or it may mean that he set them right or corrected them. Or both. In any event it is clear that Qoheleth edited the Proverbs to reflect his message.
I have some personal favorites in Chapters 10 and 11:
- The heart of the fool inclines to the left – fits my personal political predilections. (Really does not mean that at all, but it’s a good joke.)
- Dull axes make work harder.
- Fools wind up destroying themselves with their speech.
- Don’t speak ill of your betters because you don’t know who is listening.
- Diversify your assets.
- Work at multiple tasks because only one may work.
- Enjoy youth.
But my favorite of all, potentially my new life verse, is 10:19
A feast is made for laughter, wine makes life merry, and money is the answer for everything.
Well that surely does not sound like the Bible we usually read Sunday School. What the heck is old Qoheleth getting at?
Lets look at Chapter 12 and see if that helps us get to something meaningful.
Chapter 12 starts with a poem that talks about the troubles of aging. Surely those of us in our 50’s can sense what is coming while still feeling what was before. The poem talks about loss of sight, trembling, stooping, fright at the least sound, hearing loss, fear of going out, and difficulty in walking. It says that we should (or should have) remembered God voluntarily before age and infirmity forces us to remember him. And Qoheleth concludes, again, that everything is meaningless.
But then the Frame Narrator speaks. He says,
Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.
And what was meaningless becomes at least somewhat hopeful. Whereas a brutally honest assessment of life “under the sun” must conclude there is no meaning to life, we are now told there is something else. That what goes on “under the sun” will be judged by a righteous God. Is there a point to a judgment if there are no consequences from it? And where could those consequences be if they are not found “under the sun”? People will get their just deserts.
Or does it become more hopeful. Perhaps it becomes that much worse. The best that comes out of Ecclesiastes, the only promise it makes beyond life is that our actions will be judged by an absolutely just God. Frankly I find that prospect terrifying, even beyond a meaningless life and unnotable death.
And not just a righteous God, but a loving one. On this side of the Cross we get to see not just God’s power and righteousness, but his love as well. The God who judges somewhere away from “under the sun” sent His Son to us “under the sun”.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Romans 5: 6-11
I’m cheating you say, it does not say those things in Ecclesiastes. Righto. Those of you who are Trekkies (and really, who isn’t) will be familiar with the Kobayashi Maru. Captain Kirk, as a cadet, cheated on a computer simulation test that could not be passed, but he did by altering the underlying program of the simulation.
God did that for us. We couldn’t win the way things were set up, so he stepped out of time, outside of the cycle of the same old same old happening over and over again and did a new thing. He changed the underlying circumstances of life so that what Qoheleth saw pertains only at a superficial level now, and at a fundamental level is no longer true.
Through the sacrifice of His own Son, God changed everything. We have the possibility of being His sons and daughters instead of his enemies. We have the possibility of meaning in a life lived with Him and the promise of Eternity spent in His presence. Life need not be hebel, even Qoheleth would give thanks for that.