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Bible verses about Ecclesiastes and Christian Living
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Genesis 2:15-17

Notice especially that God originally pronounced the curse of death should sin be committed. However, Jesus says in John 8:44 that Satan was a murderer from the beginning. When was the beginning? It had to be when God created beings whose life was in their blood, that is, humans, subject to death if they sinned. This did not occur until Adam and Eve were created. Thus, when they sinned, death had its beginning.

Genesis 3:13 adds, “And the LORD God said to the woman, 'What is this you have done?' The woman said, 'The serpent deceived me, and I ate.'” Thus, from what Jesus says in John 8:44 regarding Satan's part in this episode, we find that God held Satan guilty of murder. His weapon was the deceit that encouraged her to commit sin. She did not completely overlook her respect for God but discounted it enough to give into Satan's persuasion. She did this on the strength of her desire, fueled by her lust for the pleasure of eating the forbidden fruit—but even more so to fulfill her desire to become wise. Then, Adam, though not deceived as Eve was, also discounted God's counsel in order to make sure he did not displease Eve. He was guilty of idolatry.

What does knowing these things accomplish? It shows that, even though their deaths did not occur immediately, at the very least God had delivered the power of death into Satan's hands by means of deceit just before he induced her to sin. Satan used this means to murder them, and he uses this means to this day. Incidentally, Jesus indicates in the Olivet Prophecy, as well as in Revelation, that we will witness a rise in the intensity of deceit just prior to His return.

God did not intervene to stop either Satan or Adam and Eve from following their desires. Adam and Eve had a test to pass. They failed, as have all their progeny. Only Christ has succeeded. Unless one is converted and under Christ's blood, Satan continues to hold this power even to this day. But we are not defenseless; we have Christ to help us in this battle.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Eight): Death


 

Genesis 13:1-2

What if a person truly denies himself, works hard and wisely, and actually becomes wealthy? This question touches on our attitudes toward people who have accumulated wealth, whether in or out of the church, and it may severely test our judgment of them.

God blessed both Abram and Isaac. Obviously, He is not against wealth, as if it were some kind of evil burden imposed upon sinners. Wealth, however, brings trials just as surely as it brings blessings. We must not forget that Jesus warns that it is more difficult for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24). Wealth presents temptations, and they are not always easily handled.

One major difficulty is that wealth tends to pave the way for a person to destroy himself spiritually through the destruction of his faith in God. This happens because the wealthy person has the tendency to place his trust in his wealth rather than in God (Matthew 19:20-22). A second major problem is that wealth tends to promote pride because of a person's excessive self-admiration over being astute enough to accumulate it. Scripture reminds us, though, that God responds to the humble (Isaiah 66:2). Thus, the Bible's overall warning is that, in the unwary, wealth can subtly create division between its owner and God through misplaced trust.

Hebrews 11:36-38 presents us with another view of the picture regarding God and wealth:

Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.

By comparing this record with God's enriching of Abraham and Isaac, we learn that God deals with those He calls according to His purpose, that is, according to what He desires to accomplish through or in them. The Jews of Christ's time generally believed that, if someone was prosperous, it was evidence that he was a good person and God was blessing him. However, that may or may not be true. The record of Scripture shows that many evil people become wealthy, and Solomon makes note of this in Ecclesiastes.

The other side of the coin is that some people believe that, if a person is virtually destitute, he must be hiding a sin. We must learn to be careful in our judgment because neither blessing nor curse provides always-true evidence of the person's spiritual condition. To ensure our standing before God, we must diligently pursue His righteousness by carrying out our Christian responsibilities in the hope that God in His mercy might see fit to bless us with spiritual wealth.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Two): Works


 

1 Kings 19:3-5

The pressures placed on us are no different in principle from what God put Elijah and Jeremiah under. Their examples leave no doubt about their humanity. Their discouragement proves that, for a while, running back into the world seemed attractive to them too. Know this, however: His servants endured and overcame because of God's patience, faithfulness, and power. Given all the depressing things that happen in this world, it is easy to think that we would be better off never having been called. But God reminds us that He is continuously judging those in the world as He oversees the purpose toward which He is guiding His servants.

Do we believe that in God's promises we are given the certainty of salvation if we remain faithful? If we believe, it gives us hope and joy. It is when we doubt that the level of temptation to flee rises. Yet, unlike them, we know the rest of the story. God did not abandon them; they survived and will be in God's Kingdom.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Five): Comparisons


 

Psalm 139:13-14

This is a somewhat elementary, perhaps even a crude, illustration that clearly pictures why the relationship with God is absolutely necessary. It begins by admitting that we neither created ourselves nor gave ourselves life. David admits someone else made him; he did not arise to life fully formed out of nothing. Like him, we did not determine that we would physically be in God's image. The Creator made that determination. Can we mentally picture God kneeling down in the dirt, placing Adam's every part where He wanted it and determining how every part would function with every other system in his body? Even everyday realities such as these need a functioning Creator to bring them to pass.

The need for a relationship with our Creator is beginning to emerge. II Corinthians 5:17 carries the need of the creative relationship a major step further: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” We are now a new creation, a spiritual creation. A process begun in Eden continues.

When Paul wrote about a “new” creation, he had his choice of two Greek words. One expresses newness in the sense of “renovation.” However, Paul used the second term, which suggests new in the sense of “brand new.” He indicates, then, a person as a new individual with a new family, a new set of values, new motivations, and new possessions. Nothing new in this sense creates itself. Even a new baby in a womb does not make itself. The baby has absolutely no idea what it is in process of becoming.

Are we making ourselves spiritually? As a new creation in Christ Jesus, we are no more making ourselves spiritually than we did physically. However, this creation is far more difficult and important because it requires our mindful and willing cooperation with our Creator.

How clearly and precisely do we foresee where our spiritual Creator is headed? To say it bluntly, without God's calling, which creates the relationship with Him, there is no possibility whatever of knowing anything meaningful about what God is in the process of creating, and therefore no eternal, spiritual salvation would exist. Do we know how to give ourselves everlasting life? Do we know where we will fit into the Creator's finished plan?

Therefore, it is our responsibility always to do whatever is necessary to seek Him and glorify Him, helping to keep the relationship going and knowledge increasing. Without the relationship that He invited us into, there is no possibility of ever accomplishing the end that He is heading toward and yielding to what He desires. It is as though He has opened the gate to allow us back into the Garden of Eden, right into the very source of every good and perfect gift that will enable us to glorify Him by fulfilling our responsibilities to Him. It is as if He says, as He opens the gate, “Now there, let's begin the next step in My overall purpose!”

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Seven): Contentment


 

Proverbs 1:1-7

The ancient Hebrews associated wisdom with our modern term “skill,” even though “skill” is not a direct translation of the Hebrew term. “Skill” implies what wisdom is in actual practice: excellence in quality or expertise in the practice of one's occupation, craft, or art. People may acquire many skills in life, but the Bible focuses on human life and its God-given purpose. Therefore, a practical definition of biblical wisdom is “skill in living according to God's way of life.”

To refine it further, biblical wisdom is unique to those truly in a relationship with God. That biblical wisdom is a gift of God reinforces this fact, and according to James 1:1-8, we should ask for it and He will give it. James cautions that we must be patient because God gives it through the experiences of living within a relationship with God. Living requires time, and in some cases, a great deal of time because we are often slow to learn. God gives wisdom for us to make the best practical use of all the other gifts He gives, enabling us to glorify Him by our lives. As it is used, it displays a host of characteristics similar to the fruit of the Spirit (see James 3:17-18).

Proverbs 1:1-7 helps to clarify wisdom by showing that it consists of such other godly characteristics as knowledge of God Himself, the fear of God, understanding, discernment, discretion, prudence, justice, judgment, equity, etc., all of which, melded together and used, produce a skill in living that—this is important—is in alignment with God's purpose and way of life.

Undoubtedly, some people are worldly-wise. However, biblical wisdom and worldly wisdom are not the same skillset. Biblical wisdom contains those spiritual qualities that are in alignment with and support God's purposes. Though wisdom may provide a measure of worldly success, that is not its primary purpose.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Eight): Death


 

Proverbs 4:7

Among the characteristics of God that we are to strive for, wisdom has an extremely high value, as this verse attests. Pay attention to the word “principal” here. Spelled in this manner—ending in p-a-l, not p-l-e—the term, according to The American Heritage College Dictionary, means “first, highest, foremost in importance, rank, worth or degree; chief.” It does not mean “a broad general rule” but “a quality or characteristic of the highest order.” The verse is saying, then, that wisdom is of the highest rank among those qualities under consideration, “therefore get wisdom.” The New International Version (NIV) translates this phrase, “Wisdom is supreme.”

Further study on this verse reveals that it is in reality an expansion on verse 5: “Get wisdom! Get understanding! Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of My mouth.” Thus, verse 7 exhorts the reader to make every effort in life to pursue and obtain wisdom. It is as though there is nothing more important in life.

Whereas the world associates wisdom with a rather abstract, philosophical dimension of life, the Bible's wisdom consists of a package of spiritual attributes that are deliberately shaped into a practical skill in living God's way.

The use of the phrase “deliberately shaped” is purposeful. Wisdom does not just magically appear. It is thoughtfully developed and used in the practical circumstances of everyday life. Its elements consist of such qualities as knowledge of God, understanding, discernment, judgment, prudence, equity, the fear of God, and more. As these elements are blended, shaped, and used, they become a spiritual sagacity combined with practical, useful skills in applying the teachings of God's way of life as exemplified by Jesus Christ.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Nine): Wisdom as a Defense


 

Ecclesiastes 1:1-3

The book begins abruptly by announcing that it is written by Solomon, son of David, king in Jerusalem. Some commentators dispute this, claiming evidence that it was written as late as the third century before Christ. I cannot grasp how their speculation profits anyone who is sincerely looking for truth about how to live a life that glorifies God and is profitable for themselves. The message is what is important, and ultimately, the message is from our Creator, who inspired it and desires our growth and His glorification.

The first 11 verses act as an introduction, providing several terms that dominate the theme of the book. Three terms particularly important to grasping Ecclesiastes' message are contained within the first three verses: "vanity," "profit," and "under the sun."

"Vanity" (Hebrew hebel) is a vivid metaphor used 33 times in the book. Literally, it suggests a breath, something akin to vapor, like one's breath on a cold day, or a puff of smoke rising from a fire. Smoke and breath not only disappear quickly, but neither can they be grasped and held on to. Thus, vanity aptly portrays life as being insubstantial, rather flimsy, and passing.

One of the more vivid explanations is that "vanity" suggests the scum that remains when a soap bubble bursts against a hard surface. Of what value is such a thing? Surprisingly, vanity has some value in life.

The New International Version translates Ecclesiastes 1:2 as, "Meaningless! Meaningless! says the teacher. Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless." The Message Bible renders it, "Smoke, nothing but smoke. There is nothing to anything—it's all smoke." In the New Testament, James 4:14 describes human life similarly: "For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away."

While it makes for an arresting opening, vanity is not useless to God's purpose. We have to grow to understand that, as things stand in His purpose, vanity plays a vital role. The apostle Paul states in Romans 8:18-21:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility [vanity, KJV], not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

Without a doubt, life is difficult, and the vanity that Paul mentions plays its part in the difficulty. It seems apparent from Genesis 3:14-19, where God enumerates the curses following Adam and Eve's sin, that He not only pronounced man's subjection to a measure of vanity but activated it at that time. God deliberately subjected the creation to futility as a reminder that sin is the source of the difficulty as well as an obstacle to be overcome for the purpose of growth into His image. We must recognize it and deal with it.

Despite Solomon's exclamation, Ecclesiastes contains sufficient evidence that he never completely lost his view of God, as the book's last paragraph is witness. Instead, he clearly demonstrates that for those who believe God, vanity does not have the last word. Therefore, we can glean a great deal of hope from Ecclesiastes.

Notice how Paul considers the sufferings that this world and nature impose on us and concludes that they are insignificant compared to what lies ahead if we overcome their vanities. In fact, in Romans 8:19, he personifies the creation as burdened and groaning right along with us because of the futility imposed on it, saying that it, too, looks forward to its release from what the Creator subjected it to.

Since God purposefully subjected the physical creation to vanity, therefore we can honestly conclude that all this vanity is a reality that serves our overall good in preparation for the Kingdom of God. It is a challenging obstacle. In His wisdom, He has determined we must first experience the emptiness of life without Him, become thoroughly disillusioned with what it has to offer, throw it off, and depart from it. The sufferings that vanity imposes help us to make a true assessment of the value of His grace and goodness, as well as truly and zealously commit ourselves to Him and His purpose. In such a circumstance, vanity will not have the last word.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part One)


 

Ecclesiastes 1:1-3

Though the term "profit" (Hebrew yitron) is used only six times in Ecclesiastes, its placement at the beginning of the book adds to its weight. It is used as if Solomon is asking, "In light of the fact that so much of life is vanity, is life really worth living? Is it worth going through life's vanity-packed challenges? What does one gain from it?"

Undoubtedly, life requires a person to expend a great deal of time, energy, and stressful uncertainty, companions of the pains of vanity. On the surface, life appears to be just running in circles, so what does one gain from it? Because of questions like this, Solomon takes the reader through the descriptions of the repetitious cycles of earthly systems that follow. Meditations of this sort make an individual appear so puny against the backdrop of the immensity of time, the earth's large population, and the monotony of the earth's natural cycles. The reality is that each of us truly is insignificant against such a background.

It is helpful to understand that Solomon's question regarding profit is asked in a rhetorical sense to stimulate thinking at this stage of his writing. Solomon already knows the final answer, but he is attempting to get his hearers to think along with him. As we study this book, we will find that not everyone's life is sheer vanity. Solomon finds that much of life is profitable but not truly lasting. On the other hand, if another factor is added to a person's life, life is not only very profitable because it is pleasing to God, but thoroughly enjoyable and everlasting as well.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part One)


 

Ecclesiastes 1:1-18

In chapter 1, Solomon essentially states that life is meaningless. This is the starting point of his thesis, which ends with him declaring that the whole duty of man is to fear God and keep His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13). He thus states dogmatically that, despite what carnal men say, a clear purpose exists for life, and the concepts of materialism do not drive God's purpose for this world.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Seven): Contentment


 

Ecclesiastes 1:2-3

To a Christian, the book of Ecclesiastes may appear to have a forbidding beginning. It is part of God's Word, but is it true that life is nothing but meaningless trouble and without purpose and value? Does our Creator intend life to be an unremitting stream of frustrations broken only by the blessed relief of death? One may wonder why such a message is even in the Bible. Such thoughts, however, are far from the truth.

The book indicates in a number of places that it was written by Solomon, a man especially gifted by God with understanding and wisdom. In its first verse, the author identifies himself as the son of David and king in Jerusalem. Most commentators believe Solomon wrote it late in his life, following an eventful forty-year reign.

Upon reading Ecclesiastes, many believe that Solomon's outlook on life was decidedly pessimistic despite living in regal glory and with every amenity to make life appealing. Such readers have misjudged him. Once a person understands the reason for his palpable pessimism, then he also understands that it is clearly justified by the record of history.

Ecclesiastes presents the Christian with a unique perspective on life. Though the term "God" is used 41 times, Jesus Christ as Messiah and Savior never appears within its twelve chapters. Nor does it focus on the wondrous miraculous works of God, such as healing, raising the dead to life, or dividing the sea for His people.

Every reference to God within it uses the Hebrew word elohim. The Bible uses this term most frequently in a rather distant sense of "powerful Creator" rather than "One with whom a close, personal relationship exists." Yet, Ecclesiastes reveals Him as deeply involved in the constant operations of His purpose, not only in terms of the oversight of His creation, but in the reality of His unseen hand personally involved in the daily life of His children.

Some commentators have described Ecclesiastes as "gritty," probably because it deals with life's realities and pulls no punches. Life is difficult. The book deals, not with minor issues, but with major goals and events that come up as an individual works out the purposes and challenges of life. Such events, which can be either blessings or curses, fill and change the course of a person's life. They are the kind of happenings that may make one wonder, "Where is God in what I am going through?"

Life can be thought of as being similar to a person trying to navigate toward the exit of a labyrinth. A labyrinth has many possible paths to follow, and thus a person is forced to make many choices that either open or close the way toward his goal. Will his choices yield growth and profit in living, or will they block him, causing mystification and frustration?

For a Christian, this means that a reality of life is that everything matters. Not every event and choice matters to the same extent, but whether serious or passing, it does matter to some degree. The record of Solomon's experiences reminds us that our calling is too precious to waste on meaningless vanity. Though some choices are more consequential than others are, none of our choices is totally inconsequential. God gives us the wisdom in Ecclesiastes to help us grasp what the major paths and choices must be so that life is not meaningless.

The major teaching of the book is that, despite the wide diversity of choices available to us in life, in reality only two ways of life exist: God's and man's. Solomon shows us that, if life is to be filled with profitable purpose, then God and His way must not be merely considered occasionally but deliberately chosen with foresight in every matter. Otherwise, life may be filled with a great deal of activity yet prove to be a futile pursuit of time-wasting and profitless vanity.

Thus, Ecclesiastes is not truly about the meaninglessness of life. Rather, it is about the meaninglessness of living life without God, or as Solomon wrote, living life entirely "under the sun."

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part One)


 

Ecclesiastes 1:4-7

Following his arresting opening declaration, Solomon launches into a series of illustrations drawn from earth's natural cycles and applies them as evidence of the kind of environment mankind lives life in.

This paragraph's first sentence sets the tone for the remainder. A great deal of repetitious activity takes place on earth's surface, but overall, the earth itself and the lives lived on it just keep moving on. Nothing changes. The repetitive activity largely occurs in nature's cycles, but human life remains generally unchanged, static, going nowhere. The earth and its systems permanently cycle as God designed them, but man is transient, a pilgrim living in a constant state of repeated change. It presents a picture of monotony.

Every 20 to 25 years, a new generation is born into the world, giving the impression that something is actually happening, but nothing really is except that the older generation is dying off. A seemingly endless procession of people comes and goes. Jerome, the translator of the Latin Vulgate version of the Bible, wrote, "What is more vain than this vanity: that the earth, which was made for humans, stays—but humans themselves, the lords of the earth, suddenly dissolve into the dust?"

The sun comes up and the sun goes down. The winds constantly move the weather, but the jet streams are generally locked into the same old patterns. They blow past us and then come around once again. Rains and snows fall, and the water drains from the land into streams and streams into rivers and rivers into the oceans, but even the oceans are never filled. These cycles produce no real change in the quality of human life.

There is plenty of motion on earth's surface but no promotion of a truly profitable life for humankind. Indeed, man is perceived to be living within a closed system similar to a hamster endlessly running within its wheel—like the cycles of nature, there is plenty of motion but no advancement. Thus, life appears to be a dismal picture of tedious meaninglessness. It is in a rut.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part One)


 

Ecclesiastes 1:8-11

Solomon continues with a similar theme of profitlessness except that he draws his illustrations from human examples. None of this means that mankind is not moving about. Earth is witness to a great deal of activity, but it is essentially purposeless, a great deal of sound and fury but with no advancement in quality of life or purposeful direction. Solomon's word-pictures show mankind striving to see and hear new things, but the reality is more repetition of the same old things. He pictures mankind as little more than a milling mass.

A partial reason for this is that mankind seems to be cursed with a short memory while at the same time having an insatiable thirst for novelty. In Acts 17:19-21, Luke describes the apostle Paul's experience in Athens:

And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean." For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.

Understanding this desire, entrepreneurs take advantage of it to make money. So, there must be new, better, bigger, redesigned, more serviceable, more attractive, faster, safer, and more economical models each year. The entertainment industry thrives on this desire by trying to fill people's need for emotional satisfaction by devising new angles to tell the same old stories.

However, what this need really exposes is that our present life, combined with what we are looking forward to in the future, is not fulfilling enough to satisfy us. A vital element is missing from life: the overall perspective regarding life itself combined with the lack of a relationship with God.

Solomon does not mean that there are no new technologies or inventions. By saying "there is nothing new under the sun," he is attempting to stimulate the reader to consider what might effectively improve the quality of his life. The bulk of mankind lives by the same basic patterns as Adam and Eve did after God kicked them out of the Garden. Solomon is searching for a hopeful way of life, one that will fill a person with joy and his mind with pure, godly inspiration and character.

He then states, "All things are wearisome" (Ecclesiastes 1:8, margin). Do we agree with his assessment to this point? Is he right in his litany of mankind's purposeless, hamster-like, monotonous life that leads nowhere? If so, Solomon has achieved his purpose of making us understand that he is making sense—that "vanity of vanities" is the only honest assessment of life on earth as long as people are doggedly, but without a large measure of truth, seeking purpose and profit only "under the sun."

What Solomon has shown to this point is not the full story. In fact, he has just begun! Using generalities, he has exposed only the broad extent of the problem. Specifics will be added later.

Nevertheless, he has already revealed the key to changing our approach to life: It lies in taking on a different perspective. "Under the sun" is equivalent to drawing a horizontal line between earthly and heavenly realities but focusing entirely or almost entirely on the earthly ones. If a person does this, then we must accept the fruit, as described by Solomon, to be inevitable because that is all that carnality can produce. However, a higher reality exists, and it is what Solomon urges his readers to change to. It is the spiritual reality we have been created to participate in.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part One)


 

Ecclesiastes 1:12-18

The book's first eleven verses do not provide much in the way of hope for one's life, but Solomon is not yet ready to explain more fully. However, he is looking for some explanations because, unlike an animal, man is created in the likeness of God and has a spirit. A man, therefore, looks for meaning in order to have some direction for living his life. Unlike animals, man does not merely exist within the narrow parameters of instinct. Though his life is difficult, man has an inner, God-given drive that his life is going somewhere. Solomon will later provide further insight into this drive.

The first mention of God appears in verse 13, and Solomon directly states that He gave us the grievous task of living by wisdom. One thing that he clearly counsels us on, and also shows by his personal example, is that God does not want us to run from life's difficulties but to meet them and do our best to overcome them. The ultimate escape is through suicide, but some attempt to escape through various addictions, and others simply give up and let others take care of them, as some are now using the government.

Verse 15 contains one of those blunt facts of life that all need to deal with without allowing themselves to become cynical yet also remaining realistic. When Solomon states, "What is crooked cannot be made straight," he is referring, not to anything material like a piece of steel, but rather to the circumstances and events of communal life. An obvious example is that the past cannot be changed. An injustice might be resolved or an apology given, but many lasting effects remain.

The Living Bible paraphrases this verse as, "What is wrong cannot be righted; it is water over the dam; and there is no use thinking of what might have been." We must remember, though, that God has the power to straighten out what is twisted and to supply what is lacking, yet even He will not change the past. However, He can change the way the past affects us, which is most encouraging to those who believe.

We do not understand very much. Paul writes in I Corinthians 13:13: "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I am known." In Romans 8:28, in the same chapter in which he expounds on the futility of life, he says, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose."

Thus, by looking at it through the eyes of faith, we can know about life to some degree, but at this point in Ecclesiastes, Solomon is warning us that it contains a great deal of inequity, disappointment and discouragement, evil, apparent injustice, and pain. Nations enter into wars without our permission, governments and their systems are corrupt, the courts are unfair, and businessmen lie and steal—all clearly caused by the minds and hands of men. There is so much of this, he says, it is beyond count. God could easily stop these events, but He does not!

Is it any wonder Paul says in Galatians 1:4 that Christ "gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father"? One of the unwritten questions in Ecclesiastes is, "Why does God not stop these things?" It is not answered completely either, so verse 16 shows Solomon searching for where he might find it.

Sometimes, he seems remorseless in his effort to make us think, but even the wisdom of Solomon cannot break through on the basis of human reason. He sets his mind to study and meditate on resources that he already has on hand to further expand the possibilities of greater understanding.

When he writes in verse 17 that he set his heart "to know madness and folly," he means that he will search for answers by exploring the opposites of wisdom so that, he hopes, the contrast might reveal a deeper, clearer understanding of wisdom. The Hebrew term translated as "madness" is somewhat misleading because it is closer in meaning to "recklessness," indicating error in thinking. It is not the type of recklessness that would bring bodily injury, but it could mislead his search for factual truths.

Verse 18 shows that his efforts were not only unsuccessful but left him somewhat frustrated. Why? He does not give an answer because he has none, and he has none because he is searching under the sun. The truth is that some extremely important facets of this mystery of the ages that Solomon is investigating must be revealed from above the sun.

The conclusion to Ecclesiastes 1 should prove to us that wisdom and experience will not solve every problem in life. We must understand and live with the reality that God is not obligated to explain our problems to us. We are the sinners who chose, as Adam and Eve did, to accept Satan's deceitful offer that, if they would listen to him and eat the fruit, their eyes would be opened. They indeed gained a great deal of experiential knowledge, but their experiences also alienated them from God. We cannot expect any different result.

Life may seem monotonous and meaningless, but for those called by God, it need not be. Life now is a tremendous blessing. We must accept the reality, though, that we must live by faith in God's promises. Following His resurrection, Jesus says, "Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed" (John 20:29). Jesus Christ is "the power of God, and the wisdom of God" (I Corinthians 1:24). In His mercy, He has miraculously broken into our lives to prepare us for His Kingdom. We must take up the challenges that He has presented, cease living our lives running in circles, and head straight for the Kingdom of God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part One)


 

Ecclesiastes 2:1-26

In chapter 2, Solomon launches into what he had learned about his works of building material things like houses and gardens and seeking even greater wealth. His conclusion? All of these material achievements were nothing but vanity, a grasping after wind.

He finds no real, sustained profit in them, nothing that truly added to his quality of life, no lasting fulfillment. He does not mean they resulted in no sense of achievement or passing pleasure, but that their fruit never truly fulfilled God's purpose for man. Therefore, those things are poor substitutes for a sustained sense of well-being. He then proceeds into an exploration of wine and entertainment. These are simply another form of materialism, ways of pleasing the flesh. He concludes that they, too, are folly, a mad pursuit.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Seven): Contentment


 

Ecclesiastes 2:24

In Matthew 6:31-33, Jesus informs us what our primary focus regarding work should be:

Therefore do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

Undoubtedly, earning a living is important to life. However, we can easily drift into over-emphasizing the day-to-day, wage-earning job above Christian responsibilities. At the same time, the Kingdom of God can easily suffer from the “out of sight, out of mind” syndrome. To guard against this happening, we must consciously put God's Word and work as our highest priorities. This is not to say that Christian works should be given the greater time but that we must have a higher regard for them. We must consider it an absolute necessity not to neglect them.

Work is defined as “the physical or mental activity directed toward the accomplishment of a project one has either been assigned or undertaken on his own volition.” God, in whose image we are being created, is our overall Model. The first image God gives mankind of Himself is of Him working.

Genesis 1:26 establishes the early time-setting when work was shown as an assigned responsibility of mankind:

Then God said, “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Most of the Bible's first two chapters are comprised of showing God working. In our culture, people generally think that as one rises in importance, he is relieved of most work, a flawed concept to say the least. In His culture, nobody is higher than God, and in John 5:17, Jesus states that God works continually. Genesis 1 and 2 provide as clear an example of His activity as is found in Scripture.

Hebrews 1:3 further clarifies the Creator's continuous work:

. . . who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the majesty.

His “upholding” indicates continuous, purposeful, and energetic movement toward carrying out a purpose.

Genesis 2:15 adds to our understanding of God as our Model of work and of work being an assigned responsibility: “Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.” If we follow the orderly, step-by-step sequence of events as God creates, He did not create Adam and Eve until everything physically necessary for living was in place and operational. The narrative shows that He led them to the Garden, and His first command to mankind, represented by them, lets them know that they had to work to guard the Garden from deteriorating and to make it productive.

Note three significant things from this opening revelation about work:

1) God gives no indication to man that he is entitled to something for nothing.

2) The command to work preceded Adam and Eve's sin, so we must understand that work is not a penalty for sin. Genesis 3:17-19, God's pronouncement of Adam's curse, makes this point plain:

Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat of it': Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”

The curses for their sin definitely made work more difficult, but the responsibility to work continued otherwise unchanged.

3) Therefore, Ecclesiastes 2:24 highlights God's original command regarding work: “There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also, I saw, was from the hand of God.” Thus, work is a blessing, a valuable gift from God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Two): Works


 

Ecclesiastes 2:24-26

While concluding the thoughts of chapter 2, these verses also provide a smooth bridge to the instruction in chapter 3. They are the first positive, solid instructions that Solomon has given about both God and life. They pave the way for accepting truly thrilling instruction about God in relation to time and a Christian's life of faith.

Solomon, to this point, describes life as a waste of time and energy, seemingly meaningless, monotonous, repetitious, and unendurable. This occurs even though one's life may be busy, just as Solomon's was. To those who have little or no relationship with God, and therefore have no clear knowledge of His purpose, what Solomon has written to this point is a realistic assessment. Recently, while in a supermarket, I saw a young woman wearing a shirt that proclaimed, “Life is divided between miserable and horrible.” To many, it seems as though life has no object except to bring difficulty and pain.

Ecclesiastes, however, provides a message directly from our Creator about what our attitude must be if we are going to make the best use of the awesome opportunity He has given us—and especially of the instruction in chapter 3.

In the first two chapters, Solomon's approach to life is completely “under the sun.” “Under the sun” implies that his teaching has not positively considered God; it is an entirely earthy view, thoroughly self-centered and carnal. God is mentioned only in Ecclesiastes 1:13, where Solomon calls life “a burdensome task God has given the sons of man.” His assessment closely parallels the words on the woman's T-shirt in the supermarket.

In the final verses of Ecclesiastes 2, Solomon takes a sudden, sharp turn to an “above the sun” approach, advising that we should enjoy good in our labor because it is from God. His statement, “This also, I saw, was from the hand of God,” is important. Our attitude toward labor, he counsels, should be that it is a gracious gift from our Creator. Laboring is a God-designed and -assigned responsibility of man.

Apart from angels, we are the only created beings who can labor like this. We can work using creativity, objectivity, and purpose, but no animal can. We need to give thanks for such ability because it places mankind in a category that no animal can ever enter. We are still less than God but so far above animals that there is no adequate comparison.

Is there a reason such a disparity exists? He adds two verses later that God gives gifts like wisdom and knowledge to those who are good in His sight, another positive reason for a person to approach life in a different attitude. Can an animal by reason appreciate life? Does a beast have the knowledge and wisdom to add value to its life?

Our attitudes and demeanors, however, are often highly variable. Overall, without directly using the terms, Solomon is saying our attitude should be thankful and contented. Why? Foremost, for the very fact that we even have life. Directly tied to this is that we have been given a mind that can think about God, that can look forward to the future on a basis of truth within His purpose, that can realize that we are the called of God, that can think spatially, and that can read and understand. We should be thankful that we can be given even more gifts because of these factors.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Three): Time


 

Ecclesiastes 3:1-22

Chapter 3 is among the better-known chapters in the entire Bible, and it is likely the best-known chapter of Ecclesiastes. It holds these distinctions partly because of the poem that begins it. Its subject is of great consequence to us.

A major lesson for us in this chapter is that we live our lives within time, and therefore, we make our choices in life within time. However, to make the best of life, we must recognize that God is sovereign over time—all the time. His rulership, His dominance, His sovereignty, over time is never relaxed. He oversees what happens within time all the time. His relationship with His children is very personal, making His calling personal and individual.

As Creator, He has goals that He set before the foundation of the world. They will be accomplished within an already set time. His goals also include what He desires to accomplish in and through us. A reality we must face is that time is always moving; time is running out for all of us. This fact is not intended to make us feel a sense of desperation, for God is so perfect and dominant over His creation and labors that He always has enough time. We, though, do not—a fact that God always takes into consideration. We can deal with this truth in our relationship with Him. This is where the issue of contentment can be quite helpful.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Three): Time


 

Ecclesiastes 3:1-22

Chapter 3 seemingly deviates from the theme of the previous chapters, but the deviation is purposeful. He is planting a seed for further, wider, and greater understanding, a true foundation to build on. He shows that God, though unseen, is actively guiding and deeply involved in working in His creation, effectively moving both time and events to fulfill His purposes for individuals and nations. God has already given us a priceless gift: He has put eternity into our hearts to remind us that His work involves us in an eternal, spiritual—not a material—purpose. Our lives have direction.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Seven): Contentment


 

Ecclesiastes 3:10-11

Ecclesiastes 2:26 says that God gives gifts. We need to consider another wonderful gift He has given, not to His children only, but to all mankind, named in Ecclesiastes 3:11: “He has put eternity in their hearts.” This wonderful gift contains an aspect that can work against us if we are not careful.

Unlike animals, we have thoughts of immortality. We normally do not want to die; we want to live forever. Yet, we also know that we are caught between time as it is for us right now and eternity. As God reveals Himself to us, to live eternally with Him and to be like Him become major desires for us.

The filmmaker Woody Allen, an atheist and without revelation from God, nonetheless makes an insightful observation about mankind, which he learned at least partly from his occupation as a writer and movie-maker:

The universe is indifferent, so we create a fake world for ourselves, and we exist within that fake world, a world that, in fact means nothing at all, when you step back. It is meaningless. But it's important that we create some sense of meaning, because no perceptible meaning exists for anybody.

Why is it "important that we create some sense of meaning”? Our thinking is what creates a sense of purpose for our existence and therefore gives direction for our use of life. Will our conclusions be true or false? Our minds can only work with what they already have, which accrues as we move through life's events.

Allen observes that the universe tells us nothing about the purpose for life. While not entirely correct, it is close enough for the unconverted. How much spiritual truth does the unconverted mind really have to work with? Therefore, humanly, we attempt to create our own meaning and purpose, fitting ourselves into what we have imagined. What are the odds that a person will come up with exactly the same purpose and meaning that the Creator has planned for us?

In addition—and this is essential—what are the chances that a person will fit himself into that divine plan on his own? The correct answer is zilch, nada, nothing. Therefore, since the universe tells us nothing, the true purpose of life must be revealed through God's calling.

Of supreme importance to us, then, is whether our thinking creates a sense of meaning and purpose for our lives from what God has revealed in His Word. Ecclesiastes 3:11 reveals that God has given mankind thoughts of eternity, that is, of time both backward and forward endlessly. However, He has not yet given mankind His truth about eternity. Consequently, most of mankind believes that they already have immortality within them! In this way, their false thinking becomes their enemy!

Understanding and fully accepting what He has given to us are not always easy because our former, carnal experiences make us susceptible to the pulls of the world. We become sluggish in living by faith because we allow our former education from the world to lure us into self-centeredness. Our challenge is to focus on the purpose of life that God has revealed to us, not on what we have imagined for ourselves.

When we add other truths gleaned from other passages of God's Word, we realize that verse 11 implies that we are being created for another world, an entirely different one within the realm of eternity. God's gift of His Holy Spirit has given us an ability to transcend mankind's fixation on the present and the material. We are being created for the spirit world of the Father and the Son and of the angels (which were made to be ministering spirits for our benefit). We are being created for the Kingdom of God.

To find satisfaction and fulfillment, Solomon attempted many different avenues and thought deeply about life as he saw it. However, we must come to understand that God has ordained that we must live by faith while awaiting our change. That time must be spent within a relationship with Him so that we come to know Him and His way ever more fully. Now is the testing time, the time for trials to prepare us. We must learn that our satisfaction in life must come from an “over the sun” spiritual relationship lived by faith.

Those who pursue this relationship with God will be given eternal life because they know Him and He knows them. This is the task to which Ecclesiastes 3:10 alludes. God has given us this task to accomplish to be prepared for living in His Kingdom. To fulfill it, we must live by faith, trusting His sovereignty in every situation. That means being at peace, content, comforting ourselves with the truth that God is fully aware of what is happening in our lives and is in control of the big picture.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Three): Time


 

Ecclesiastes 3:10-15

Among the mysteries that everybody must face is “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” Another version of those questions is “Why was I born?” A partial but probably unsatisfying answer is that, unless God calls and reveals Himself to a person, he will never find the clear, detailed answer. Thus, Solomon states in verse 11, “No one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.” So that the called, those to whom God has revealed Himself, are thoroughly convinced of the great gift God has given them, a fuller version of this declaration appears in Ecclesiastes 8:17:

Then I saw all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. For though a man labors to discover it, yet he will not find it; moreover, though a wise man attempts to know it, he will not be able to find it.

God undoubtedly planned much of this blindness. This does not mean that people will never hear the answer to “Why was I born?” in their lifetimes. But unless God is directly involved in calling them for His purposes, their hearing the simple and plain truth of it will not have the life-changing impact needed to change the direction of their lives. A person must be gifted by His calling (Matthew 13:10-17).

God has given everyone a spirit and a sense of eternity, enabling people to think both backward and forward in time. Men innately know that there is more to life than what they experience physically. However, they do not grasp the precise connection between their awareness of eternity and their present physical lives. They do, however, vaguely grasp that somehow the immortality they envision has some connection with what they are experiencing in the present. However, this is greatly botched, and misunderstanding is universal. The most common assumption is that we already possess it. But, if linked with revealed truth as God intended, it greatly aids people in thinking about the past concerning God's creative powers, His purpose, His sovereignty over all things, and how the individual fits into the present and future.

God has given gifts to all humanity, but only those called by Him are given more detailed and true explanations that will build their faith, enabling them to live by it. Unless God gives the details, we are all much like terribly near-sighted people who more or less feel their way along. Until they are called, the grand design that God is working out escapes their fuller comprehension, making the answer about who we are elusive.

The instruction in Ecclesiastes 3:10-15 encourages us to be content and patient. It is a reflection on and a reminder of the importance of what He already said about gifts in Ecclesiastes 2:24-26. We should be thankful and rejoice in what we already have because what we have is wonderful. Without directly stating a clear “why,” Solomon gently implies that God will add understanding as we are able to make good use of it.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Four): Other Gifts


 

Ecclesiastes 3:10-14

Some commentators describe Ecclesiastes 3:12 as negative because they understand the phrase, “there is nothing better,” as implying something “second-best.” They almost seem insulted that God has “tossed them a crumb.” But look again at what God has counseled that we should do! In verse 12, He advises us to rejoice and do good in our lives, and in verse 13, to eat, drink, and enjoy the good of our labor because these things—the food, the drink, and the ability to labor—are gifts of God.

If we reword these verses into the first-person voice, it reads, “There is nothing better than that I should be joyful and do good as long as I live, and to eat and drink and take pleasure in all my work—this is God's gift to me.” How much good can be accomplished in a life lived with the attitude that He counsels us to live with? What does God more specifically mean by “do good”? What He means should be taken in a moral and ethical sense. To do good is to do good works, and that is our assignment all the time! God is most certainly not tossing us a crumb.

Ephesians 2:10 tells us that doing good is the very reason for our calling! “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Regardless of a trial God may have specifically assigned us, doing good works is always our assignment, whether within that specific trial or free from whatever particular discipline the trial might normally impose.

Thus, in Ecclesiastes 3:10-14, God is telling us to take joy in His employment of us before the world in doing good at home for those we live with, doing good work on the job, doing good in serving the brethren, and doing good within our community as we have occasion, using our spiritual gifts to the best of our abilities.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Four): Other Gifts


 

Ecclesiastes 3:12-14

Ecclesiastes 3:1 states, “There is a time for every purpose under heaven.” But is the timing right or wrong, bad or good, suitable or unsuitable, ugly or beautiful?

It depends on who chooses the timing. Paul writes in Galatians 4:4, “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law.” God set the time for this to occur. It was not happenstance; the timing was fitting. Mark 1:15 shows the same principle: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” Jesus means that the time God set to preach the gospel had been reached. Matthew 26:18, 27-29 contain similar thoughts: The timing of His crucifixion and even the timing of when Jesus will drink wine again was set. Mark 8:31 reveals that God set the length of time Jesus spent in the grave too.

Acts 1:6-7 adds an important fact:

Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.”

God has sovereignly set the times, including appointing the times for our trials too. Are not times set by men for school tests? The proctor says, “You have 40 minutes, then the test is over.”

Understanding this principle helps us to grasp Solomon's conclusions in Ecclesiastes 3:12-14. Some translations contend that the last phrase is best read as “that men should stand in awe before Him.” When will that take place? It will not truly occur until after the resurrection. Of what will we stand in awe? We will truly admire many things about His glory, but after going through these experiences with Him so closely involved in our lives, what will really strike us with mind-numbing awe is what He has been able to create of us.

God's timing is always good, right, and appropriate. It is up to us to use our faith in Him to remain in a good attitude, using the time that He has set for us to grow, overcome, and meet the responsibilities our trials impose. We deal with nothing as continuously as time. Every day, from the moment we wake up until we go back to sleep, we are watching time, setting times, meeting schedules, calculating how much time we have, etc. This highlights that everything matters because we have only so much time.

While our time is limited, we can live in faith and hope because of the overall message of this magnificent chapter: God is in control of time all the time.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Three): Time


 

Ecclesiastes 3:14

What God is doing will add to our awe of Him, and the fear of God is a great gift. There can be nothing negative about adding to our respect of God. Recall that Proverbs 1:7 states, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” However, the fear of God is the also the beginning of wisdom, understanding, joy, peace, and much more because these all flow from God as gifts to us because of our contact with Him after being called.

God set the times for many significant events, for example, when Jesus was born, when the gospel began to be preached, when He would be crucified, how long He was in the grave, and when the Kingdom will be restored. Thus we must learn that the operations and times that God sets are thoroughly reasoned, permanent, and unchangeable. Whatever God does endures forever. He schedules and performs everything at exactly the right time. Thus we must grow in trusting God's timing on everything in our lives. It is that important to our spiritual well-being.

Despite what events working out in our lives might seem like to us from our position as very limited and impatient mortals, God is running a tight ship. We can expand this concept of running a tight ship to envelop the entire period of the past—to all His sovereign operations beginning with Adam and Eve, the calling of Abraham, Jacob having twelve sons, the formation of Israel, and so forth. Everything was done at the right time, and in a way, doing so emphasizes His sovereignty and well-organized purpose.

God wants to impress on those living by faith that He truly wants us to know what He has done and what He is now doing to the degree we can understand. For our good, though, He does not want us second-guessing Him because doing so is not beneficial to living by faith. When we do that, we tend to do foolish things.

Regarding timing within God's purposes as He works with us, we cannot add to or take anything away from the past. The past cannot be changed; it is over. By the same token, we cannot add to or take anything from the future either, as it has not yet occurred and because God has His purposes to work out. What God wants to do when He wants to do it will invariably be done.

No human by his sheer effort can hope to alter the course of things. To seek to do that is evidence of pride. This is a major reason God sets the times even of our trials. He desires to remove every aspect of any argument we might have that might lead us to choose some other way of doing things than His. Resisting Him produces no good fruit.

This leads to the most helpful conclusion: With God in control of time, we, through our experiences, gradually become aware of our sheer helplessness; we cannot manipulate time nor manage the times we live and operate in. This intense understanding of our helplessness helps us grasp more deeply how totally dependent we are on Him to work out His purposes in our lives. The humility produced by this awareness is of tremendous value.

We are involved in the ongoing spiritual creation, and the Creator God is the Potter, fashioning us into His desire. Humility before Him is an absolute necessity. Recall what Jesus says to His disciples in John 15:5, “For without Me you can do nothing.” That is, we can do nothing toward His purpose. Our responsibility is to yield to His purpose. The sovereign God can exercise control of all things in the lives of His children, not just time.

Notice how Jesus illustrates an aspect of this in Matthew 10:29-31:

Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

His two illustrations show how penetrating and complete is God's awareness of what is happening in His creation. Here is the practical point for us: If He is aware of a sparrow falling, and we are exceedingly more important than a mere bird, how can He not be aware of all that is occurring in our lives?

With this understanding, we can appreciate that we can move forward toward God's Kingdom only at the speed He deems is correct for us. This gives us far more reason to learn to be content because the speed that He moves us is perfectly good for us. God does nothing that is not in our best interests.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Four): Other Gifts


 

Ecclesiastes 3:15

Ecclesiastes 3:15 is an illustration that shows the breadth and depth of God's sovereignty over time and the events of life. To picture this more clearly, we have to perceive time as a moving reality. It is as though it is coming toward us and moving away from us simultaneously.

Though time is involved in this statement, the emphasis is more on the events that happen within time rather than time itself. We can perhaps understand this verse better as saying that what is happening right now, already happened in the past, and what will happen has already happened. It is a way of saying that, in one sense, time cannot be broken into parts. Time and the events happening within it of and by themselves are a whole. Thus, Solomon is essentially saying, “Past, present, and future are bound together.”

In what way is this so? Time and the events happening in it are parts of a continuous stream. Solomon's point is again that only God is in perfect control of both time and its events, and He can seek out and bring back into existence in the present what happened in the past. Thus, Solomon's comment in Ecclesiastes 1:9 is a parallel: “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” (ESV). In plainer language, history repeats itself.

Names, personalities, ethnicities, locations, dates, languages, clothing, and weapons change, but the core of the events is essentially the same. We can learn from history what works and what does not. Thus, we have the saying by George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This makes the Bible an even more valuable source of guidance in wisdom and right conduct because God gives true accounts of what happened, not ones embellished by men's prejudices.

One might wonder why God would essentially repeat what is said in Ecclesiastes 1:9 just two chapters later. The reason is that there is a major difference in the contexts. In Ecclesiastes 1:9, the statement is used negatively, suggesting life is nothing but repetitious vanity. In Ecclesiastes 3:15, though, it is mentioned explicitly within the context of God's sovereignty—He is in control, and He makes positive use of history repeating itself for mankind's benefit.

Many alternative renderings of the last phrase of verse 15, “God requires an account of what is past,” are quite hopeful:

» The New International Version: “God will call the past to account.”

» The Revised Standard Version: “God seeks what has been driven away.”

» The American Standard Version: “God seeks again that which is passed away.”

» The New English Bible: “God summons each event back in its turn.”

» The Amplified Bible: “God seeks that which has passed by.”

Though each translation is somewhat different, each has two elements in common: God is looking for something, and it involves time, an event that occurred in the past. Why is He doing this? What instruction is there for us here?

We tend to think that former days are gone forever. However, Ecclesiastes 3 shows that this concept is not totally true because history keeps repeating itself. In fact, we are learning that God causes this repetition. Verse 15 confirms this fact once again, but it adds a positive twist to it. Why would God do this?

A prominent theme in Ecclesiastes is judgment. The book ends with the statement that God will bring every deed into judgment (Ecclesiastes 12:14), pointing directly to a reason why everything matters. It is obvious that God, who is in control, brings up the past for His purposes. God always does things with good purposes in mind. In this verse, the language is quite positive: He does not bring the past up for the purposes of condemnation but for redemption. Our Savior God is a Redeemer.

He is seeking to help those who have truly made a mess of their past—that includes all of us. This verse provides evidence that by His grace He is seeking to recover and restore what seems from our point of view to be forever lost. Earlier in the chapter, Solomon says that the work of God endures forever. This verse suggests that, since we are God's work, He will use His powers to make sure that our labors are not in vain. He will make things beautiful in His good time by enabling us to profit even from our messes.

This is not to suggest that those messes will be completely resolved, and everybody is happy, happy, happy! No, but He has the power to bring experiences from our past to mind, facilitating us to sort through them with a great deal more clarity than we had when they originally happened. Thus, He helps us recall incidents with honesty that helps us learn what we should and should not have done or said, and resolve to conduct ourselves far better going forward. He helps us to grasp whether repentance should occur if a similar situation happens again.

Should we forgive and forget? Should we be more patient and kind? Should we sacrifice our pride? Should we be firmer, insisting that godly actions be done to uphold righteousness? He may reveal to us how an event's outcome could have been far more profitable for all concerned.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Four): Other Gifts


 

Ecclesiastes 3:16-17

How can God be in control when the world contains so much evil? How can God be in control with the evil prospering in their sins and the righteous suffering in their obedience? Does that not seem backward from the way that we would think of God operating things? How should a Christian react to this?

Certainly, Solomon was not the first to ask this question. As much as we might dislike having to deal with this, it is nonetheless a reality. In His wisdom, God chose to deal with humanity in this way, and perhaps most especially, to allow His own children to face these same circumstances.

Solomon was comforted by two godly realities that we should also understand and use. First, he assures us that God will judge. The timing of His judgment is in God's capable hands. Therefore, we must remember that nobody among humanity will get away with the evil that he does. The wages of sin—death—is a reality (Romans 6:23). We cannot allow ourselves to forget that God is judging. It is a continuous process, and in many cases, we simply are not aware of present, unseen penalties that the evil person may already be paying.

Second, human nature naturally thinks that the way God handles things is unfair, a judgment that is the work of the spirit of this world (Ephesians 2:2-3). However, God's perception of timing and judgment is a much broader and more specific picture regarding each person than we can see. We are not walking in others' shoes, nor are we aware of what God is planning for them to experience. Therefore, what we must know and properly utilize is the fact that, in a major way, other people are none of our business. That is God's concern, and He will take care of things in His time.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Four): Other Gifts


 

Ecclesiastes 3:16

In places within a culture where godliness must prevail so that people can live a truly good quality of life, Solomon instead found the grave impact of evil.

It is as if he has opened a door back to the harsh realities of this evil world, in which God has consigned us to live to prepare for His Kingdom. Living in this world while maintaining an “over the sun” way of life can be discouraging and difficult because its ever-present evil influences surround us, attempting to lure us into compromising with God's ways.

Overall, however, Ecclesiastes 3 is a strong, positive reminder of God's great gifting of us. In the face of everyday realities, though, we sometimes manage to forget to be thankful for that, allowing dangerous thoughts to arise that could motivate us back toward the world. Thus, Ecclesiastes 3:22 urges us to be content, exhorting us not to allow ourselves to be drawn into vanities, the often-attractive realities that the world holds out to us as invitations to rejoin it. Discouragement and a wandering mind go hand in hand.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Five): Comparisons


 

Ecclesiastes 3:18-22

Solomon certainly does not mean that men are beasts in terms of potential. He limits this expression to the fact that sinners will die in their sins, and without being called at this time, it appears that they have gained nothing truly valuable. Therefore, at least on the surface, they live and die on the same level as animals.

However, he also says that God tests men that they may see that they are like animals. The most likely time that they will grasp this is after they are resurrected, when their minds will be open to God and His truth. Only then will they be able to see that, morally and ethically, they had lived no better than animals. Therefore, he is suggesting that what is truly valuable in the lives of many people lies beyond the grave. In addition, if a person is not living a life that is glorifying to God or preparing himself for living in God's Kingdom, then he has gained nothing despite all the wealth and power he might possess.

Thus, his conclusion is that our image of life must be more penetrating and broader than that. The life of a wealthy and powerful sinner, though it may seem attractive on the surface, may be as vain, meaningless, and profitless as a beast's life.

Ecclesiastes 3:22 is penetrating advice because we all tend to let our minds wander from God's purpose into envy of those of this world who do not seem to have the difficulties we face: “So I perceived that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his own works, for that is his heritage. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him?”

We must learn to live each day by faith, contentedly accepting it as it comes. This is possible because a foundation of faith and understanding enables us to know that we have been greatly blessed with knowledge far more valuable than money. God has revealed Himself to us; He knows us personally. He is overseeing our lives, and we are growing in knowledge of Him and His purpose.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Four): Other Gifts


 

Ecclesiastes 3:22

Ecclesiastes 3:22 is penetrating and fitting advice because we all have a tendency to let our minds drift. But nothing in the world can even begin to compare with having the assurance of eternal life in glory with God. Nothing can trump God's promises never to leave nor forsake us.

We must learn to live each day by faith, patiently, contentedly accepting each day's occurrences as they come, knowing we have been greatly blessed with something far more valuable than those in the world. Those in the world should be envying us!

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Five): Comparisons


 

Ecclesiastes 4:1-3

Solomon marvels at the injustice occurring without anything being done about it by those in a position to turn these sad affairs in a right direction. We know why these evil things occur because God has shown us, but that is not Solomon's interest at this juncture. His overall interest is still on the frustrating meaninglessness of life lived by the vast bulk of the citizenry. It so amazes him because, even all the way back then, the knowledge that would greatly improve people's lives was readily available in God's Word.

The head-shaking reality that disturbs Solomon continues to this day. To some degree, his mind is still on his disappointment over the evil “justice” system, what caused it, and possible solutions for it. Are we not experiencing similar problems? Where is God? In our culture it appears that almost nobody makes a sincere effort to seek God and His way.

This reality fills Solomon with a high degree of frustration because God gave Israel an adequate court system based on His own laws. Thus, he reaches the arresting conclusion that a person is better off dead because his struggles against what is occurring without change would be over. Better still, he says, is never to have been born!

Let's review what God gave Israel regarding a court system:

Listen to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God will be with you: Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do. Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness, and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you. (Exodus 18:19-22)

The overview is given in this simplified way to let us know that administration of their courts was well-organized. They began with an adequate system for spreading the workload so disputes could be settled quickly. This was implemented even before Israel reached Mount Sinai and the formal giving of God's law. Verse 16 reveals that God's laws were to be the basis for their judgments. It also suggests that some already had a considerable knowledge of God's laws. Verse 21 sets the qualification standards for the judges, which are based in God's character standards.

In Deuteronomy 1:9-18, Moses reiterates and further details what is given in Exodus 18, but now it is forty years later, during the last month of Israel's journey as they prepared to enter the Promised Land.

As for Solomon, the Bible shows him to have been a good administrator, despite taxing the people heavily to pay for the massive building projects he initiated. Despite his leadership, his words point to a reality: It is impossible to guarantee the integrity of every officer of the kingdom.

Solomon apparently had gone into a courtroom to watch a trial. What he witnessed in the hall of so-called justice was exploitation and oppression, the pain and sorrow of the innocent, and the unconcern of those who could have brought comfort to them. What he saw so disturbed him that it led him to declare that it was better to be dead than alive and oppressed, and better yet, not to have been born. In such cases, an individual would never have to experience or even see this grasping, rapacious covetousness.

Edward Gibbon, the historian who authored The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, says about more modern times, “Political corruption is the most infallible symptom of constitutional liberty.” He means that, if a country has a constitution that guarantees freedom to obey, there is also freedom to disobey. He implies that people, regardless of their office, selfishly disobey. This is exactly what we are experiencing in this nation today.

For the citizenry to obey a nation's constitution, it is required to believe firmly in it and to be disciplined in character. If the nation's people do not have these qualities, some will certainly be corrupt and disobey. This is exactly what the founders of the American Republic feared. John Adams, a foremost founder of this nation, wrote, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Five): Comparisons


 

Ecclesiastes 4:4-8

Ecclesiastes 4:4-8 records Solomon's analysis of four types of workers. He appears to have disgustedly turned his attention from the corrupted halls of justice to the marketplace, watching and analyzing as people worked. Recall how those who work diligently are lauded throughout Proverbs and how Ecclesiastes 2 and 3 both extol work as a major gift of God. Solomon came away from this experience with assessments of four different kinds of workers. Understand that God chooses to illustrate His counsel by showing extremes; not everybody will fit one of them exactly. At the same time, we should be able to use the information to make necessary modifications to our approach to our own work.

The first he simply labels the “skillful” worker. This worker has not only mastered the techniques of his trade, but he is also unusually industrious in performing it. We might better call this person a skillful workaholic. The man's skill is laudable, but his productivity motivates others to envy rather than to admiration. Knowing human nature well, Solomon is motivated to think more deeply about what drives such a person to apply himself so intensely. This may be especially useful for us because it seems to apply well to life in an Israelite culture.

Verse 4 is translated to make it appear as though those watching this skillful worker envy his diligence. However, other versions change the direction of the translation, instead saying that the diligent worker labors as he does because he is driven by his own attitude. The Jewish Publication Society, the New American Bible, and the Revised English Bible all change the word “envy” to “rivalry.” That is, people of this mindset perfect their skills and work industriously because of their competitive nature gone overboard.

They want to have more wealth as well as a greater reputation than others in their field of endeavor. This type is especially strongly driven to stay ahead of the competition. Some have analyzed that such workaholics see themselves in what may be called a “battle for bread”; their purpose in being skillful is less to produce a truly quality product than it is to get rich. Thus, the hands are truly capable, which is admirable, but the heart is out of alignment with God. Solomon describes a law of nature, the survival-of-the-fittest attitude, applied to a person's trade. He concludes that this is detrimental, literally a sheer vanity that makes life meaningless.

He is describing something similar to American capitalism, which is productive but not perfect. This competitive approach to work was not part of God's original creation of mankind but a twist Satan has inserted as part of human nature. It is unbalanced in a number of ways, one of the more obvious being that such driven people ignore or submerge other important aspects of life like marriage and family. The worker may feel good about himself because he is providing well for his family, but he is blind to the fact that others are paying a severe price.

Covetousness, competition, envy, and jealousy are often linked. Competition is not evil in itself, but when being first is pursued at the expense of honesty, trouble will also be produced. We see this when some athletes break the rules by using drugs or when manufacturers cut back on the quality of a product. The world is full of Joneses to keep up with or excel.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Five): Comparisons


 

Ecclesiastes 4:5

Ecclesiastes 4:4-8 records Solomon's analysis of four types of workers. The first he simply labels the “skillful” worker. We might better call this person a skillful workaholic.

The second worker, described in verse 5, is at the other end of the work spectrum: He is the lazybones. As the book of Proverbs shows, Solomon has no sympathy for the lazy person. For instance, Proverbs 24:30-34 reveals a major flaw in the lazy worker's character:

I went by the field of the lazy man, and by the vineyard of the man devoid of understanding; and there it was, all overgrown with thorns; its surface was covered with nettles; its stone wall was broken down. When I saw it, I considered it well; I looked on it and received instruction: A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest; so shall your poverty come like a prowler, and your need like an armed man.

As he describes it, laziness is a slow, comfortable path to self-destruction. How does this apply to our relationship with God? Laziness toward the things of God will kill us through slow, spiritual suicide! It may be comfortable to “sleep in” or to justify not doing spiritual works, but what laziness produces is not pleasant to experience.

Solomon paints a picture of complacency, and its end is unwitting self-destruction. It reveals much deeper damage than simply wasting a person's material resources, for his idleness is eating away not only at what he has, but more importantly, at what he is. It erodes his self-control and grasp of reality.

Therefore, we must discipline ourselves to work through Bible study and obedience to build our relationship with God. What are we truly losing when we neglect this? What does it take to live comfortably? In this culture, it is money. But laziness produces poverty—that is its fruit whether it concerns material or spiritual things. Paul writes, “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (II Thessalonians 3:10). Spiritually, then, we can take that to mean that he will not eat at God's table!

Comparing the first two men, Solomon shows the industrious man motivated by competition, while the lazy man is motivated by his desire for personal pleasure. In the end, both extremes are destructive vanities.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Five): Comparisons


 

Ecclesiastes 4:6

He summarizes how to avoid the influence of the corruption. The answer lies in rightly facing sinful drives that urge us to follow the world in its evil quests. Those living by faith will face the pulls of the corruption and endeavor to resist them as they strive to live above-the-sun lives by faith. They will value contentment over grasping for more.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Four): Other Gifts


 

Ecclesiastes 4:6

Ecclesiastes 4:6, without mentioning a specific worker that Solomon may have observed, presents us with a more balanced approach that we should strive for. Putting it simply, Solomon calls for contentment. One commentator calls this a picture of an “integrated” man; today, we might call him “balanced.” This person is productive in his labors, but he also carves out time for other important activities. He guards against being caught up in the rat race, finding time to balance his life through sharing himself with his family and other activities for their well-being.

Americans spend more time working than any other people in the industrialized world. We are part of an entire nation caught up in “getting” what we refer to as “the good life.” When a person's heart is consumed with constant “doing” or “working,” chasing after whatever he wants out of life, true quietness is ignored, and life gradually becomes a battle to ensure that all of his time is spent simply in “activity.” But God says so simply what our aim should be: “Now godliness with contentment is great gain” (I Timothy 6:6). This is a choice we are free to make. Solomon is teaching that, to have truly good work habits, a person must also make the choices to exercise a measure of contentment to balance life.

The industrious man reveals that he thinks life's sole purpose is material achievement. Meanwhile, the lazy person's self-serving, pleasure-seeking goal results in slow suicide. The balanced worker deliberately makes choices to divide time and energies to include the well-being of others too. What is the lesson so far? We can take what we want from life, but we must pay for what we take.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Five): Comparisons


 

Ecclesiastes 4:7-8

This person may have neither the drive of the workaholic nor the pleasure-seeking aims of a lazy man, but he shows no evidence of contentment either. As a person uncommitted to sharing his life with another, he is perhaps quite selfish. The description indicates that he wants to keep the produce of his labors for himself. He does not share them with a wife and family, and he has no partners or family to inherit what he leaves behind. The context also gives no indication that he enjoys the use of his profits. He simply works and exists.

Solomon's final comment regarding this worker is intriguing: This situation is not only vanity but a grave misfortune. He seems to conclude that this is the most seriously flawed worker of them all. His description gives the impression of complete self-centeredness. Does anybody benefit from a life as devoted to the self as this worker is?

The New International Version translates what Solomon calls a “grave misfortune” as “a miserable business.” Ecclesiastes teaches us that work can be a God-given pleasure, but this description tells us that it will not be pleasing if we work only for self-centered purposes. It counsels us to ask ourselves, “For whom am I working?” God has worked from the foundation of the earth, but He is not consumed by it (John 5:17). God has given us work at least partly for us to learn not to be self-centered, as well as to enable us to share life with others. God wants us to labor, to create wealth in the right spirit and for the right reasons. His counsel in this context is that a major reason is to create benefits for others.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 gives the impression that Solomon's experiences regarding the man who remained alone in his labors motivated him to think of the importance of friendship and the value of doing things within a partnership:

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Five): Comparisons


 

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

A Jewish proverb says, “A friendless man is like a left hand bereft of the right.” Consider how much having only one hand hinders productivity. When both hands are available, much more can be accomplished and every activity is easier. How much greater is the production of two people doing a task than if the labor is restricted to only one? Even when the two divide the profits, each receives a better return for his efforts than if each had worked alone.

The instruction moves on to contemplating that, if there is trouble along the way, two are more likely to come up with a solution than one working alone. If a person is working alone and falls, no one else is around to help him.

What happens when we stumble during our spiritual walk? Is it not good to have a friend off whom we can bounce things and from whom we can receive correction and encouragement in love? Galatians 6:1-2 addresses this issue: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

Ecclesiastes 4:11-12 seem to be calling to mind traveling by foot in ancient Israel where it might be cold during the winter months and perhaps dangerous to life and limb because of attacks by robbers. There is greater productivity, warmth, and security in numbers. II Samuel 21:15-17 recounts a time a younger man came to King David's aid when he was in need:

When the Philistines were at war again with Israel, David and his servants with him went down and fought against the Philistines; and David grew faint. Then Ishbi-Benob, who was one of the sons of the giant, the weight of whose bronze spear was three hundred shekels, who was bearing a new sword, thought he could kill David. But Abishai the son of Zeruiah came to his aid, and struck the Philistine and killed him. Then the men of David swore to him, saying, “You shall go out no more with us to battle, lest you quench the lamp of Israel.”

Ecclesiastes 4:12 provides us with an example of a peculiarity of Hebrew writing that is seen in a number of places in the Old Testament. This literary device makes comparisons by using the term “better.” He first uses “better” in verse 3, then again in verse 6, and finally in verse 9 as he reaches the section's conclusion. His overall point seems to be that in most cases more is better than less: One cord may be easily broken; two would require greater strength; but three would be very difficult to break. One traveler might invite danger; two would add to both travelers' safety; but three travelers would fare even better.

What he has in mind is the matter of how unity adds to productivity, how safety is greatly increased, and how partnership with real friendship and thus greater unity makes an activity more immune to failure. Think of this as it applies to families. One person does not even qualify as a family. A husband and wife working in harmony can add immensely to each spouse's quality of life, and if Jesus Christ is the third Person in that group, the strength He contributes is immeasurably positive. Interestingly, families with many children seldom break up.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Five): Comparisons


 

Ecclesiastes 4:13-16

The story flow is translated in a choppy manner, but it goes like this: A young man born without wealth, who even spent time in prison, unexpectedly rises to power. As a young king, he listens well and rules well, but in old age, he becomes proud, losing his throne to a younger man. By this time, the kingdom was large and powerful, but Solomon forecasts that the new king's fame will not last long. He, too, can expect to lose his office, and the people who formerly cheered for him will cease appreciating him.

Solomon does not dwell on why the original king became hardened to his counselors' advice. Nevertheless, he closed his ears to their advice, and his rule ended in some degree of disgrace. Solomon gives the impression that he thought the original king foolish because he lost the support of those who originally helped him to power and the nation to prosperity.

The overall subjects of these four verses are a subtle warning about pride, and more obviously, the instability of political power and the fickleness of popularity. He makes the point in the last part of verse 16 that the younger man who replaced the original king will in turn discover history repeating itself, and his career will run much the same course as the man who preceded him. He will find that the time will come when the citizens no longer accept him either, and he will be removed from his leadership position and replaced by another.

Therefore, one must understand that public life contains a significant downside that can render life turbulent. Fame is fleeting, and everybody is expendable. A second, related lesson shows a cause of the instability: The public is fickle. Because of the self-centeredness of human nature, most people operate toward their leaders on the principle that “I believe you were good in the past, but what have you done for me lately?”

One of the items Solomon describes here touches to some degree on the frequent changes of leadership that our election system produces. Each administration begins with the citizens hopeful for its success, but by the time the next election occurs, those hopes are largely forgotten. Each election gives the citizenry an opportunity to express their accusations, creating, at times, significant emotional, social, and economic disturbances in the culture, as people vent their dissatisfaction with the current administration. During the next election, the nation endures the same process, but rarely does anything change for the better in its quality of life. Instead, history overwhelmingly shows that matters of quality of life, which involve morality to a significant degree, grow worse. The public quickly forgets that previous elections changed little or nothing.

Solomon may have had Joseph, son of Jacob, and his experiences in Egypt in mind as his illustration. One can draw parallels from elements of Joseph's life in Egypt, during which he spent time in prison (Genesis 41). At Pharaoh's command, he was released from prison and placed in authority over the entire nation (Genesis 41:37-46). He received great acclaim because of his leadership during the difficult circumstances of the famine. However, the final note of his story is what Solomon writes, “Yet those who come afterward will not rejoice in him.” Moses states in Exodus 1:8, “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” We know this affected the plight of the Israelites, or God would not have acknowledged it.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Five): Comparisons


 

Ecclesiastes 5:1-7

To those whom God has called, nobody is more important than God Himself. This should be self-evident because, to us, God is a reality, a family reality. However, we are not like those whom Solomon describes in chapter 1, those to whom life is essentially meaningless. It is not that the uncalled have no goals in life; that they do not plan what they will do with their time; that they are not buying or selling or repairing their homes, going to games or theaters, or seeking the latest fashions. Most of their lives are quite busy, involved in the normal activities of marrying, having children, divorcing, taking vacations, repairing their automobiles, going to work, and returning home at night to dine and read a book or watch television.

To many of them, involvement in a church is a portion of life, but God is not a reality to them in the way He must be to us because we truly believe Him and live by faith in Him. They may have some awareness and concern about Him. Yet, through the blood of Christ and the covenant we made with Him, we have dedicated our lives to Him. Thus, what God thinks, works on, and is planning are not guiding, overriding concerns to them as they are to us.

In chapter 4, Solomon pays a visit to a courtroom and comes away critical of what he saw. He then goes to the marketplace and observes four different workers and the way they ply their trades. He then comments on partnership and the instability of civic life. All the while, he is speaking of the uncalled.

In chapter 5, Solomon visits the House of God. What he observes leaves him with foreboding thoughts about the spiritual state of those he saw. Until the specific context ends, it suggests that he is concerned about whether the worshippers are truly worshipping God in spirit and in truth. Chapter 5 directly addresses those whom God has called.

Perhaps we have seen a television program or movie in which a family grumpily staggers through dressing for Sunday morning church, arguing with each other about what they will or will not wear. They continue on to the service in the family car, either totally silent or bickering about things that irritate them. Then, as soon as they leave the car and enter the sanctuary doors, a broad smile creases their faces, and they are polite to all who greet them. When they sing a hymn, their eyes are reverently closed, and on their faces are rapturous expressions, as if they are about to be transported to heaven itself. When services are over, they fly out the door and back to the dog-eat-dog real world. That quickly, their behaviors and attitudes return to normal.

All of this is, of course, a huge exaggeration, but it makes clear that attitudes and conduct can be flicked on or off depending on whom the person wants to impress. This on-and-off attitude toward God is the very kind that is Solomon's concern.

Why? Because it indicates unresolved hypocrisy. Undoubtedly, Solomon observed people whom he deemed were not consistently and faithfully sincere about God in relation to their lives. The context gives the impression that their worship of God was confined to their appearance at the Temple on the Sabbath. But what about the rest of life?

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Six): Listening


 

Ecclesiastes 5:1-7

It is interesting that, in the New King James Version, verse 1 begins, “Walk prudently when you go to the house of God.” The King James Version reads, “Keep your foot when you go to the house of God.” Prudently indicates “with care.” “Keep your foot” can just as easily be translated as “watch your step,” which is also a warning to be careful. Careful of what? Following the previous chapter where God is not even hinted at, chapter 5, in which Solomon is observing people going to the House of God, implies a warning to be careful not to leave God entirely out of life.

More positively, we can also take it as an admonishment to make sure that we strive to keep Him actively involved in our lives because at baptism we gave Him a solemn promise always to submit to Him in every facet of life. We have been converted to serve Him. Before committing our lives to Him in baptism, we are strongly counseled that we must count the cost of Him being first in our lives.

Were the attitudes and conduct of those whom Solomon observed such that they were robbing God of the reverence, honor, and respect that He deserves? Were their acts of worship perfunctory, insincere, and hypocritical? Our so-far cursory reading of the context has provided us with a clue: Solomon does not direct the admonishment of chapter 5 toward those who have no relationship with God at all, but he focuses it on those who do have a relationship with Him. They have specifically gone to the House of God, ostensibly to continue the relationship.

However, additional information reveals that, though they have good intentions, their minds wander easily. They find it hard to focus, to give Him their full attention, and to follow through in obedience. This is another gentle reminder to the called of God that in our lives everything matters. Going to the House of God is most definitely not a time to lose focus and let down in our discipline.

To help drive this thought home, notice the next phrase in verse 1. It speaks of those who “draw near to God” but who “give the sacrifice of fools.” “Draw near” clearly describes people who are doing something about their relationship with God, which shows a good intention. The word “sacrifice” indicates something given in the behalf of another, as Christ sacrificed His life in our behalf.

The subject here, though, is a foolish sacrifice. Christ's sacrifice was not foolish in the least. These sacrifices are not merely foolish, however, because Solomon immediately elevates them to a far more serious level: as evil. English synonyms for the underlying Hebrew word translated as “evil,” are “bad” as a modifier and “wickedness” as a noun. Thus, what these people—who have a relationship with God and who are making a sacrifice in attending Temple services—are doing is far more dangerous than they appear to understand.

Strong's Concordance adds that the Hebrew word behind “evil” combines both the deed and its consequences, indicating injury both to the perpetrator and to those around him. Solomon is saying that whatever these people are doing will do nobody any good. It is especially grievous in its effects to those who have a relationship with God because their actions either begin or sustain a destructive course.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Six): Listening


 

Ecclesiastes 5:1-7

The counsel Solomon gives provides specific insight into the evils these people were committing. He says in verse 1, “Draw near to hear.” In verse 2, he advises, “Do not be rash with your mouth,” as well as, “let not your heart utter anything hastily before God” and “let your words be few.” In verse 3, he states, “A fool's voice is known by his many words.” Finally, back in verse 2, he counsels humility, “for God is in heaven, and you on earth.” Whatever they were doing was more serious than it appeared on the surface.

His initial counsel involves hearing. Jesus says in Matthew 13:8-9: “But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” He gives the same sobering admonition in Matthew 13:41-43:

The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!

The first command to hear lies in the Parable of the Sower and the second in the Parable of the Wheat and Tares. Both have the same urgent sense and end with exclamation points, emphasizing urgent seriousness. The instruction on hearing in the Parable of the Sower is quite clear. Consider these factors in what Jesus said: The seed is the Word of God, so what the sower cast was good. In addition, the human soil the seed fell upon was also good.

However, one factor is still beyond the sower's power. The soil, that is, the person the seed fell on, has the power to allow or reject the seed's taking root by choosing to listen or not. That singular choice is of particular importance at this point in the parable. The same conclusion is true in verse 43 concerning the hearer choosing the Lake of Fire or the Kingdom of God. When Jesus uses the term “hear,” He means more than just hearing audible sound; we also “hear” as we read His Word. He is thus emphasizing that people have the power to shut off hearing completely even though the Word of God enters their ears or their eyes and He has opened their minds to grasp it. It is the individual's responsibility to hear, consider, and then accept or reject it.

Mark 4:23-25 contains the same urgent warning, but he adds an additional truth that is important to us, a second lesson:

“If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” And He said to them, “Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given. For whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”

The lesson is that, not only must we first consciously turn on our hearing to be converted, but we must also selectively choose from among all we hear and thoughtfully accept or reject. In others words, we must discipline ourselves to be selective in order to grow, overcome, and glorify God.

Why are these elements of our conversion so important? Romans 10:16-17 provides a condensed foundational reason: “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, 'LORD, who has believed our report?' So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Hearing may well be our highest responsibility in our relationship with God because we must live by faith (Hebrews 11:38), and faith begins and is sustained by hearing. Hearing is serious business for the children of God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Six): Listening


 

Ecclesiastes 5:1-7

In order to fit within the context of the preceding verses, “dreams” in verse 7 does not mean the random mental activity a person has while sleeping and over which he has little or no control. Rather, it indicates the wanderings of a person's mind while seemingly fully awake—in other words, daydreams. For the most part, daydreams are nothing but sheer vanity, time-wasting drifts of the mind that lead nowhere positive. While daydreaming, we are not focused and disciplined, which is the opposite of what God desires of us.

Something else is of interest here. This verse contains both the major concepts that the book begins with, that is, vanity, and the thought or goal the book ends with, “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” Halfway through the book, Solomon is directly declaring what the urgent aim of every life needs to be. We need to proceed from the meaninglessness of an under-the-sun life to the fulfillment of life's purpose through fearing God, as shown in living an over-the-sun life.

The way to get and stay right with God is encapsulated in these seven verses. It can be stated in three simple principles:

1. Do not just hear God; listen to Him carefully with focused attention.

2. Speak with a matching level of focused attention.

3. Follow through in obedience to what we vowed when we committed ourselves to making the New Covenant.

A tension exists in what Solomon counsels us regarding our relationship with God. Though we may not think of it all the time, we understand that, for our own good, God demands our highest allegiance. We willingly accept that because we believe the gospel, knowing who He is and what He offers us. However, being human, we are sometimes easily distracted. There are times that we would rather do almost anything else short of an outright sin than to listen attentively to what God says.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Six): Listening


 

Ecclesiastes 5:8-12

Matthew 19:21-24 adds an important truth to help us understand these verses:

“If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

First, the rich young man was so preoccupied by his material wealth that he really did not hear that Christ was offering him eternal life. Second, anything of this earth that we truly treasure can potentially influence us to so increase our fear of losing it as to cause us to choose not to hear Christ. The treasure does not have to be money. Third, no matter how great the distractive power of what we consider valuable, God stands ready to save us from it. Jesus did not say it was impossible.

No doubt, Solomon wants to help us with this spiritual struggle. He uses money as his main illustration because everybody easily relates to it. However, he does not introduce the subject of money until Ecclesiastes 5:10. Instead, he writes of social injustice within the worldly system we live and function in. Why? Because the system itself is a constant source of distraction through its constant barrage of news reports in which we hear of social injustice. Most often, the poor are its targets.

He cautions us not to be astonished by the vanity of all this injustice, but at the same time, he wants us to be aware of it. He does this in verse 8 by mentioning “a high official watches over a high official, and higher officials are over them.” He seems to be saying that from bottom to top, the entire system is corrupt; every stratum of the culture struggles to make its way by taking advantage of others. Nevertheless, none of this injustice is an excuse for us to involve ourselves in the “everybody's doing it” routine and sin too.

A key to understanding what Solomon is driving at is the word translated “watches.” In Hebrew, the term can be used either positively or negatively. Positively, a person watches to protect or help, and negatively, he may have circumstances under surveillance to gain personal advantage from them. The present context is definitely negative. Solomon is still describing the self-centered attitudes of those “working” the system. Like their political leaders, ordinary citizens also greedily watch to gain the best and most for themselves. Their approach is not to serve and share. Verse 9 confirms that this self-centered attitude goes all the way to the top—to the king. He, too, is served by the corrupt system.

God has deemed it our responsibility to prepare for His Kingdom by overcoming, growing, and being loyal to Him and His way within such a circumstance as Solomon describes in these last few verses. Our hope is promised in Isaiah 9:6-7:

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

The solution to this present evil world is on the horizon, but it will not come until Jesus Christ is here with us on earth. Thus, God has willed that we must deal with the corrupt and unjust system that now is, looking forward in hope to the relief of Christ's return.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Six): Listening


 

Ecclesiastes 6:9

One commentator compared our desires to being like a tramp, a word not used much today but used frequently during the Great Depression of the 1930s. A tramp is a person who wanders aimlessly about and never settles down in one place to hold a job, put down roots, and prosper. He is never content to stay at home. Thus personified, carnal desire loves to “window shop,” always eager to find or do something new “to make life more fulfilling.” It is as though our desires are always traveling but never arriving.

Another commentator illustrates how quickly a person's attention can latch on to a desire, even in the face of grave danger. During the famous eruption of Mount Vesuvius just outside of Pompeii, Italy, in AD 79, the gases and lava flows moved so rapidly that they caught people in the midst of various activities, entombing them right in those acts as though they had been sculpted.

One woman so “caught in the act” was apparently fleeing the eruption. Interestingly, her feet pointed in one direction, that is, apparently in the direction of escape from the dangers of the eruption, but her head, one arm, and hand were pointed behind her. It seems that even as she fled for her life, something behind her caught her attention. She reached back to grab it, but in that very instant, she died and was covered by the eruption's debris, evidently not even falling to the ground. Was she reaching for a beautiful piece of jewelry that she did not want to leave behind? Nobody knows, but her desire was never fulfilled. It appears to have destroyed her life.

Without saying it frequently or directly, God is gradually showing through Solomon's illustrations that it is He, giving His gifts within the relationship, who adds purpose and fulfillment to mere living. He has the power to gift us with what truly builds a life of satisfying and contented fulfillment.

Solomon is getting at something that is keenly important. Most of us live in areas where we can watch birds. Birds seem to spend all their waking hours looking for food to eat. All animals have this same characteristic. Their activity provides helpful insight: The birds are alive but not really living as we understand living. They merely exist. Yet, at the same time, they are fulfilling a purpose for which God created them, and they even sing about it.

Solomon is not suggesting at all that it is wrong to work or eat, nor is it sin that we should have desires, of and by themselves. Working, eating, and having desires can be quite enjoyable and profitable. But if that is all we do, we merely exist at an animal level. We must do something with our lives that is positive and purposeful and conforms to God's purpose, or we will waste them, achieving nothing within His purpose.

We are part of God's spiritual creation. A person being spiritually created in the image of God must not drift but deliberately choose to live for goals far higher, goals that God establishes. Solomon is not belittling anybody, but simply teaching a truth, a reality that material things of themselves cannot make life richly satisfying. A Christian's life must be rightly balanced toward his relationship with God, and he must strive to follow God by living in the same loving manner as Christ did as a human and continues doing eternally.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Seven): Contentment


 

Ecclesiastes 6:9

Ecclesiastes 6:9 is Solomon's version of the cliché, “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.” He is essentially saying, “It is better to have little and purposely enjoy it than to dream about much and never attain it.” A problem with dreams is that, all too often, they never become a reality. Thus, a sense of satisfaction and contentment remains unfulfilled. Solomon is not saying it is wrong to have a dream on which to spend our ambition, but that our ambition must be motivated for the glory of God and not the praise of men—including ourselves. If we think material achievements will automatically produce these qualities, we are wrong.

True satisfaction and contentment comes when we do the will of God from the heart for His glory. When that happens, we get to share in real satisfaction. In John 4:34, Jesus says, “My food [meaning that which energizes Him and fills His life with satisfaction] is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.” David adds in Psalm 16:11: “You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” That is real satisfaction and contentment. These verses reinforce the truth that satisfaction and contentment in life is within a relationship with God.

True happiness and these qualities in life do not automatically result from “making a good living.” Rather, they are a blessed byproduct of making a good life with God as our Leader. If one devotes his life to doing God's will, satisfaction and contentment will be its fruit.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Seven): Contentment


 

Ecclesiastes 6:10-12

The meaning of these verses is mystifying. One commentator suggests this title: “Questions Without Answers.” This does not mean, though, that one should ignore God and His way and avoid receiving godly correction. Why? Because God does have the answers, and He reveals them individually within the relationship. We may need the answers very much.

The questions must be understood, at least somewhat, against the background of the context of the previous two chapters, in which he is showing that the roots of true satisfaction and contentment lie in God's gifting within a relationship with Him. In addition, we must understand them by evaluating the book's overall theme, in which he urges us to keep God's commandments, thus to live an above-the-sun life. We can also seek to grasp them by considering Solomon and what he reveals of himself.

Solomon presents a series of perplexing statements, but he gives no clear answers in the immediate context. Recall, however, that the overall subject of the chapter is about finding satisfaction in life, and he uses examples to illustrate circumstances about why life is puzzling and dissatisfying.

Let us consider Solomon himself. Did he know the answers? First, he probably knew the overall answer to satisfaction and contentment in life, but he did not necessarily experience it because he did not apply God's way well. It is difficult to see how, having a father like David, as well as the personal experiences he had with God early in his manhood, that he did not know the overall answer. However, did he truly believe it? Did he live it? Both are necessary.

God has not answered this in absolute terms as He does regarding David. We have no doubt that David will be in God's Kingdom. Based on what is in the Bible, the answer regarding Solomon is that he apparently fell short. Is he lost? We do not know.

Nevertheless, he knew intellectually what the missing link is. The answer to contentment in life hinges on whether one knows what God's overall purpose for his life is. It is another matter altogether whether we believe that purpose is true and make the effort to seek God and live as He commands by faith.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Seven): Contentment


 

Ecclesiastes 6:10-12

Verse 10 is essentially saying that God is sovereign, and some things that He has established cannot be changed. Naming a thing is an indication that the thing so named is set. This is why the principles given in John 4:34 and Psalm 16:11 are so important to the converted. Being in God's presence is the overall solution. These statements by Jesus and David give assurance that contentment in life lies within the combination of properly blending the knowledge of God's purpose and deliberately choosing to live according to that purpose within a relationship with our very Creator.

This combination is what makes everything in life matter in a positive way, producing satisfaction and contentment in life. In this three-verse section, Solomon addresses four situations that revolve around not getting much in the way of these qualities from life because people do not give of themselves sufficiently to make the relationship work. Each verse, rather than answering, produces questions that, with a brief explanation, are helpful. If one does not get answers he can accept, then dissatisfaction and discontentment remain.

The questions that arise in these verses are expressions of justification that a converted person might give himself for not zealously throwing himself into the relationship with God. They are for the most part expressions of doubt that linger to support the lack of progress.

Solomon touches on five questions. The first is based in verse 10: “Since what's going to be is going to be, why bother to make decisions? Isn't it all predestined anyway?” This is broadly why some will not really cooperate with God in a relationship. Martin Luther gave this German proverb: “As things have been, so they still are; and as things are so shall they be.” In other words, the proverb is asking if there is anything we actually control. Things are so far from our control, why make an effort?

In this verse, the One “mightier than he” is God. We must firmly accept that God can indeed accomplish His purposes without our cooperation. He does not need us, but He most assuredly loves us! God indeed has “fixed,” that is, named what He will accomplish, but He has also given us free-moral agency.

We must know that the world we live in is not a prison. We are free to evaluate and then choose what our personal world will be, but we are not free to change what the consequences of our actions will be. This is why we should give everything thoughtful consideration. Stepping off the roof of a ten-story building may be our choice, but once we commit ourselves and do it, there is no altering the outcome! The reality is that our choices do make a great deal of difference. Like everything in life, they matter.

The second question is also based in verse 10. Why disagree with God? We cannot oppose Him and win, can we? This question suggests that God's will is difficult, painful to accomplish, and should be avoided at all costs.

Compare this with what Jesus says in Matthew 11:29-30: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Add to this what He says earlier in His ministry about doing God's will being nourishing and energizing to a Christian (John 4:34). Why would anyone, making a fair analysis by comparing God's way with his self-chosen way and seeing what mankind has produced in this world, rather have his own way rather than God's? That makes no sense whatever!

If God really wanted to make life truly difficult, He would give man absolute freedom. It really builds satisfaction and contentment, right? No, not at all.

Like Job, we must know what our limits are, and one of them is that we do not have the wisdom to out-think and out-talk God. We must truly realize that the more we talk, the emptier our words become, which is exactly what happened to Job. This leads to the fact that humanity must accept that God, as sovereign Creator, is free to act as He sees fit in every situation. Such acceptance will help to produce the contentment that mankind yearns for.

The third question appears to be drawn from Solomon's many words in writing this book, in addition to all the words we might hear in sermons and the like. He asks, “What do we accomplish with all these words? Does talking about it solve the problems?”

Verse 11 in the New International Version reads, “The more words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone?” Are we not receiving a thorough education in this as we listen to all the convoluted political and economic arguments in recent times? Yet, these are all words of men. The Word of God is exactly what is needed because it is truth! God's truths do not bind people; they free (John 8:32). Satisfaction and contentment are the fruits of truth that is accepted and used. One must listen to God's Word and use it for satisfaction in life.

The fourth question arises from verse 12: “Who knows what is good for us?” This question is directly linked to the previous one. It brings to mind a saying that this same Solomon states twice, in Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”

Human history proves that without the knowledge of God, mankind finds himself satanically deceived, drifting forever on a vast sea of human speculations. However, God knows what is good for us, and He is willing to share it with His children. Without the knowledge of God's truth, life remains vanity, meaningless. God's Word says, “He who does the will of God abides forever” (I John 2:17)—in, I might add, satisfaction and contentment.

The fifth question also derives from verse 12: “Does anybody know what is coming next?” This question must be understood within the context of the entire book. It is not talking about small, day-to-day issues, but rather the huge ones that pertain to the overall purpose being worked out on earth. Of course, the answer is that nobody knows perfectly except for God. Everybody else's opinions are largely speculations. If God gave us more specific detail, it might severely damage the vital use of faith. He gives us enough information to keep us looking ahead and to encourage us to be patient and make the best use of the time that He gives us to prepare, because time is valuable.

The proper answer to all of these questions—especially if it is correct that they are self-justifications raised by converted persons due to a lack of growth—lies in one's use of the faith that God has given us to function within the relationship that He has opened to us.

Life is God's gift, and He desires that we spend it involved with Him, using our faith to prepare for an eternal relationship with Him in His Family Kingdom. This will produce the enjoyable satisfaction and contentment in life that He desires for us. Involving Him is the above-the-sun life.

If there is no Kingdom of God, and if no grand purpose is being worked out, then nothing matters except for what is happening at the moment. This mindset is tilted toward either humanism or secularism, and its fruit is the moral and ethical depravity of a Sodom and Gomorrah. Those with this mindset have nothing glorious to prepare for, so why should they deny themselves any pleasure, any excitement, that their minds and bodies desire right now? God's children, however, because they possess the faith, cannot allow themselves to drift into such a destructive mindset.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Seven): Contentment


 

Ecclesiastes 7:1

Ecclesiastes 7 is another chapter of comparisons, that is, it essentially states that this is better than that. Recall that we should not take these comparisons as absolutes, which is why Solomon uses the term “better” rather than giving a direct, dogmatic command. Why does he do this when we would normally expect a direct command from God? Sometimes conditions alter cases.

We can see a clear illustration of this in Solomon's statement in verse 1 that the day of one's death is better than the day of one's birth. It should be that way, but in real life, it is not always so. Some foolish people absolutely waste their precious gift of life from God, so their deaths leave no room for hope.

The implication of Solomon's thought is that his statement reflects the way it should be, and those who believe God's Word can take steps to ensure the conclusion of their lives will be that way. That better conclusion to life largely depends on the choices made in life.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Eight): Death


 

Ecclesiastes 7:1-4

In terms of wisdom, Solomon unmistakably comes down on the side of sorrow and mourning as the more important. They are to be preferred because mourning motivates a person toward sober contemplation of his own mortality, which tends to affect the wellspring of our thoughts, words, and conduct effectively and positively. The wellspring of conduct is the heart, which is why “heart” is mentioned four times in these verses.

The heart is truly the center of a human being. Recall that Jesus reminds us that our words and conduct spring from our hearts (Matthew 15:18-19). Therefore, we need to search out and reinforce some important truths regarding death and its direct connection to our hearts and thus our conduct in life.

A number of years ago, The Denial of Death won the Pulitzer Prize for the best of nonfiction in a certain category. In it, the author, Dr. Ernest Becker, made this telling comment, confirming what the Bible clearly states: “The idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else; it is the mainspring of human activity—activity designed largely to avoid the fatality of death, to overcome it by denying in some way that it is the final destiny for man” (p. ix). Here in Ecclesiastes, Solomon is subtly urging us to take steps to confront the truth of death's influence on our overall conduct in life.

Death was set in motion during the Creation Week. The way things now are in this world, it is an almost daily factor in life. It has become the curse of curses, the last enemy to be destroyed. As we will see shortly, it dogs our existence.

The specter of death is so dominant in some people's minds that it virtually destroys their lives. Their actions are focused on avoiding death and overcoming it by somehow denying that it is the final destiny for man. These people are really downers in their affect upon others.

Conversely, many people, while living, do not prepare for the obvious reality of death. It and its accompanying sorrows are major events of life that everyone must deal with. Solomon exhorts us to face in a balanced way what this issue means in terms of God's truth so we are prepared for its inevitability.

He does this partly because he understands, perhaps as well as anyone ever did, that pursuing laughter, as he shows in chapter 2, and relishing enjoyable situations are easy compared to experiencing sorrow. However, mirth is almost useless in terms of leading a profitable life. A person must almost be forced to seek out involvement in sorrowful circumstances. Paradoxically, death and its sorrowful circumstances have far more to teach us about what is valuable to a meaningful life compared to mirth and laughter, passing pleasures that are here today and gone tomorrow.

Author Susan Sontag wrote, “Death is the obscene mystery, the ultimate affront, the thing that cannot be controlled. It can only be denied.” Our language of death clearly shows society's attempts to soften, hide, or even deny it by using euphemisms, such as calling the dead person “the departed” or by saying that he “passed away” or “is not with us anymore.” This is done to avoid saying the words “death” or “dead.”

God deals with it in His Word by showing that it is best for us to deal with it directly. This allows us to understand more fully that death is indeed the way of all flesh and to lay it to heart, shifting the balance of our thoughts about its reality toward more serious thinking on it.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Eight): Death


 

Ecclesiastes 7:1-4

By asking God for help regarding its reality, Moses makes a vital statement about preparing for death: “So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). The phrase, “number our days,” suggests that we put our use of time in order. Death and its reality play an important role in Christian life, for God fully intends that it have an overall positive effect on the lives of His children. Everybody dies. It cannot be avoided, but not everybody prepares for death.

Martin Luther also made an insightful observation on preparing for death: “It is good for us to invite death into our presence when it is still at a distance and not on the move.” The time to learn about rock climbing is not when hanging from the edge of a precipice but well before starting up the side of the cliff. It seems, though, that many do most things on the spur of the moment, a practice that is not good, especially concerning something like death that absolutely no one escapes.

God gives some insight and counsel in Ecclesiastes 7:3-4. Death, He says, is good for the heart. The heart beats at our core. Attending one good funeral can shape a person's worldview more positively than a whole year's worth of parties. Verse 3 may be better understood if translated as, “By sadness, the heart is made better. His point is aimed at the soundness of the heart, which results from the honest thoughtfulness that sorrow causes a person to engage in. God is saying that sorrow tends to make us better people.

A specific and important sorrow is one Paul names in II Corinthians 7:8-11. In this brief passage, he uses “sorry,” “sorrow,” or “sorrowed” seven times. Why is it important? Because godly sorrow produces repentance, a change of mind and conduct.

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon is clearly implying that, because we love to laugh, worldly mirth is attractive on the surface and momentarily focuses our attention. However, in terms of conduct, it frequently leaves an individual essentially unchanged. When this is combined with the godly truths of II Corinthians 7:8-11, it becomes clear that, by God's design, the discipline of sorrow tends to lead to improvement of conduct. Thus, God Himself sometimes afflicts us to produce sorrow in the hope that the pains and their accompanying sorrow make our hearts tender so that we change.

The result of a parent disciplining a child in a timely manner and in appropriate measure is a good illustration. Is not some measure of pain and its accompanying sorrow inflicted? Proverbs frequently tells us to spank our children. Why? Is not it to produce the sorrow of separation from one who is loved to accomplish a change in attitude and behavior?

God is saying through Solomon, then, that sorrow—in a morally and ethically beneficial way in which laughter cannot—penetrates and influences the heart, the very center of our being and from which conduct flows. So important is godly sorrow that II Corinthians 7:10 states, “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.”

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Eight): Death


 

Ecclesiastes 7:8-10

Solomon compares patience and hasty anger. We become frustrated easily and frequently. Often, doing a good job is superior simply because it has been done well and does not have to be inspected by someone else to check and double-check the quality of workmanship. How often does a person's temper feed into the way and the quality of the job? God is clearly suggesting that a person's temperament has a distinct effect on the quality and consistency of his workmanship.

Does an angry person make a good spouse? Does an angry or impatient person make a good employee? Does an angry person make a good church member? Does a driver burning with road rage make a good driver? Most of the time, anger is not wisdom. Anger can be good if it is used at the right time, is controlled, is directed toward the right ends, and is not simply an expression of personal, willful frustration because things are not going as expected. Notice how the following verses confirm anger's ability to hinder good:

» Proverbs 14:17: “A quick-tempered man acts foolishly, and a man of wicked intentions is hated.”

» Proverbs 14:29: “He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, but he who is impulsive exalts folly.”

» Proverbs 16:32: “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.”

» James 1:19-20: “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

Solomon expressly states in Ecclesiastes 7:9, “Anger resides in the bosom of fools.” He describes an anger ready to burst out at even slight irritations because a person's pride convinces him that even slight irritations simply should not happen to such a wonderful person as he is. He explodes because of his impatience.

From impatience, it is often but a short step to bribery, which Solomon mentions in verse 7. A bribe is often given or taken because the individual wants to hurry the process of achieving his goal. The recipient convinces himself it is merely a shortcut. It is a means of getting the job done quicker. However, in reality the bribe is a trap that binds him by indebtedness to another and ultimately, to shame.

Do not be misled by the word “end” in verse 8. It does not necessarily suggest a job that is finished. Rather, Solomon is thinking of the outcome, the fruit produced, or the quality achieved. Some things that do not seem to start well actually become quite productive. There is a saying: “All's well that ends well,” which is the sort of end Solomon means, one that is quite important to growing and overcoming.

Many times, we fear becoming involved with even the first small steps of overcoming a character flaw to improve our conduct, so we procrastinate. We often find, however, that once involved in disciplining ourselves and taking some small hesitant steps, we are encouraged because more good is happening than we ever thought possible. Some insignificant beginnings have endings of major consequence.

A clear example is found in the fact that Jesus Christ was born as a babe, in a second-rate, occupied, and enslaved nation and into an insignificant family—but that “project” will end in the awesome things written in Revelation 22 with billions of glorified, immortal persons gathered into one awesome Family. This illustration feeds into this principle and the overall thoughts about how we think about life now that we are in the midst of our calling and have a much clearer view of how things are going on Planet Earth.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Nine): Wisdom as a Defense


 

Ecclesiastes 7:10

The times we live in are indeed becoming steadily more difficult. Christian values are consistently being attacked. Under such circumstances, a person is apt to say what Solomon warns us against saying. It is easy to let ourselves become “down.” But we need to be careful because discouragement is a child of impatience. In difficult situations, we want the trouble to pass quickly. However, be aware that in such times it is easy to allow one's carnality to take the bribe of doing a “quick and dirty,” less-than-good job to make life less stressful and tiring.

Taking a quick-and-easy approach is understandable because conditions in this nation give no sign of positive change. Those governing us seem to be delivering us into the hands of the nation's enemies. Others who are illegally invading us appear to be dragging us into the gutter, and much of the nation's wealth is flowing into the hands of the few. Jobs are becoming scarcer.

These things are true to some degree, but we have to resist allowing this influence to get a firm grip on us, as it indicates that our focus is too much on carnal men and all their self-centered flaws rather than on what God is accomplishing to fulfill His promises. Yes, living is growing less comfortable, but He is telling us to focus on what He will accomplish in the future. God wants us to evaluate honestly what we have received by virtue of His calling.

Consider an interesting aspect of the mindset of father Abraham. Genesis 13:2 describes him as very rich in livestock, silver, and gold. Hebrews 11:10 reports that despite all that wealth, he looked for a city whose Builder is God. We know that Abraham was wealthy enough to put together an army of over 300 men, but in this way, God shows us what dominated his mind.

What lay in the future, not the present, motivated his life. Abraham bought no land to call his own, and Hebrews 11:9 records that this very wealthy man lived in tents. A tent is a symbol of temporariness, as well as lack of wealth and status. The wealthy live in solid homes; the poor live in tents because they can afford nothing better. Yet, Abraham was not merely wealthy but very wealthy.

Abraham was aware of the riches of the world around him. He came from Ur of the Chaldees, a prosperous city. He visited Egypt, the world's most powerful and wealthiest nation at the time. What Hebrews 11:9 does not say is that, all the while he lived in what appears to be a lowly status, he was heir of the world (Roman 4:13)! To a person of faith that means a great deal.

Some may mistakenly think that everybody lived in tents in Abraham's time, so the way he lived was the way every wealthy person lived. Thus, there is nothing unusual in the Bible pointing these things out. Not so. The way Abraham lived reflected where his heart was, a glimpse into his faith, vision, and humility. Archeologists have compiled a great deal of evidence about the time Abraham lived. The people of that day built fine houses and huge buildings. The cultures were highly developed, and their building projects were grand and extensive.

It has been said that the “good old days” are the result of bad memory and good imagination. Old folks are prone to declare, “The old was better.” That is true sometimes. Solomon's advises that, though we must look back to learn, the future must nonetheless dominate our minds. A person looking over his shoulder while trying to move forward at the same time is likely either to crash into something or to trip and fall over an impediment. Jesus cautions in Luke 9:62, “No one, having put his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Solomon is urging us, the called, to move on with life and its problems by looking and working toward the future. In context, then, the “former days” refers to the time before we were converted, not some earlier time in the history of our culture. This makes this warning more individual and potent.

Being called creates new difficulties, but especially now because we are living in nations that are losing both their moral and economic powers. What we are experiencing can create feelings of despair that keep us focused on just merely making it. This kind of attitude is not good.

God warns us in verse 10 that it is not wise to hold a strong opinion that former days were better. He wants us to keep our minds on His sovereign power and purpose while accepting His governing judgment on the circumstances of our times. We do not want to be guilty of calling Him into account, but that is exactly what we would be doing. We must never forget that He rules—constantly!

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Nine): Wisdom as a Defense


 

Ecclesiastes 7:11-12

These verses briefly examine one of the properties that wisdom and money share. The key word is “share.” Notice that the term “better” does not appear in the context. The reason is that wisdom is so superior to wealth that it derives no additional glory from it. If a person has both, that is of course good. However, if they are personified, one must conclude that wisdom could do better without wealth than wealth could do without wisdom.

The attribute that they share is the power to protect, to be a defense or a shade, as some translations say, against life's difficulties. Even in regard to this quality, the comparison reveals that wisdom is of greater value. The comparison shows that wisdom is like a wall of protection whereas wealth is merely a hedge. In adversity, wisdom provides reserves of strength to the person who possesses it. Wealth, though, continues to feed a person's self-importance and lusts, and so it may even be detrimental to progress.

What does Solomon mean by “Wisdom is good with an inheritance”? This translation is vague and difficult. In its translation, The Revised English Bible reinserts “better” into the thought: “Wisdom is better than possessions and an advantage to all who see the sun.” The NIV reads, “Wisdom, like an inheritance, is a good thing and benefits those who see the sun.” The Jewish Soncino commentary makes two suggestions: “Wisdom is good when it is an inheritance” and “Wisdom is good when there is an inheritance together with it.” Solomon seems to be saying that, even as receiving a family inheritance is an advantage, so also is receiving family wisdom an advantage. It thus becomes an admonishment to young people to learn from their parents.

The Soncino commentary catches the essence of what Solomon is saying. Biblical wisdom always gives a person an advantage regardless of age, and the younger the person is when he begins using what he learned from his family the better.

The counsel in the last phrase of this verse—“Wisdom is . . . profitable to those who see the sun”—can be taken in two ways. “Those who see the sun” may be taken generally, including all humanity. But it may be directed specifically toward those who truly see God as part of their lives, that is, he refers to “over the sun,” converted people. In this way, verse 11 carries strong counsel to those who have God-given wisdom that enables them to “see” God. Such a person's wisdom imparts even better judgment for facing the difficulty of the times with a much steadier walk and broader, deeper sagacity.

At the same time, to be realistic, some events may affect our lives that neither wisdom nor wealth can protect us from, such as a national economic cataclysm or a natural disaster like a flood or earthquake that one cannot be physically prepared for. Except for those extraordinary situations, from what does wisdom defend a person? It protects individuals who have this wisdom derived from a relationship with God from the ordinary trials of the times, whatever their time in history.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Nine): Wisdom as a Defense


 

Ecclesiastes 7:11-12

Proverbs 8:1-11, 32-36 provides an understandable overview of the importance of wisdom, spelling out why it is superior to wealth:

Does not wisdom cry out, and understanding lift up her voice? She takes her stand on the top of the high hill, beside the way, where the paths meet. She cries out by the gates, at the entry of the city, at the entrance of the doors: to you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men. O you simple ones, understand prudence, and you fools, be of an understanding heart. Listen, for I will speak of excellent things, and from the opening of my lips will come right things; for my mouth will speak truth; wickedness is an abomination to my lips. All the words of my mouth are with righteousness; nothing crooked or perverse is in them. They are all plain to him who understands, and right to those who find knowledge. Receive my instruction, and not silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold; for wisdom is better than rubies, and all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her. . . .

Now therefore, listen to me, my children, for blessed are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not disdain it. Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoever finds me finds life, and obtains favor from the Lord; but he who sins against me wrongs his own soul; all those who hate me love death.

Jesus teaches in Matthew 13:22, “Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.” Wealth has a way of deceiving a person. Anyone is susceptible. When a person is poor, he can be deceived into imagining that, if he were rich, he would be happy. When he is rich, he deludes himself that, if he were only richer, he would be content.

The problem is not the wealth. The problem is in the heart because of what we have been taught by our culture about wealth's protective capacity. That belief is often a delusion, since the common understanding regarding wealth is not from God. This delusion really has no end because human nature, without God's help, is insatiable. In contrast, godly wisdom is perfectly balanced and feeds the heart with the right thoughts.

There is no doubt that people of sufficient wealth use it to protect themselves from much of the unpleasantness of life in the world. They tend to eat more nutritious food, which often costs more. They may be careful where they shop; they may make their homes into virtual fortresses; they may travel about only at certain times; they may not make an ostentatious display of their wealth, but they may surround themselves with guards for protection. Wealth is indeed a symbol of strength.

The last statement in Ecclesiastes 7:12 says that “wisdom gives life to those who have it.” What a gift! At this point, its superiority over wealth becomes very apparent. Wealth can shelter a person from certain classes of physical evils, but it can do nothing against the far more formidable and dangerous spiritual and moral evils that endanger the continuation of life.

Wealth may even promote involvement in the temptations of moral evil. It cannot protect one from the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life, which may open the door to destroying the person's life. Wealth cannot purchase entrance into the Kingdom of God. God's wisdom arms His people against those foes of eternal life. God-given wisdom can motivate an individual to give himself to God in humble submission. Conversely, wealth may prove an obstacle because it opens a door to spending it for one's own pleasures.

Wisdom is a greater strength because this kind of wisdom is a gift from the Creator, who expects it be used spiritually to enhance the relationship with Him through prayer, study, obedience, and service. If one cooperates by living by faith, God adds what we as individuals lack by giving more gifts. He can even defend us from illness, which money cannot. Can money protect one from the satanic spirits responsible for the moral breakdowns of life? In times like these, if we are living within God-given wisdom, we have the greatest, strongest, and only reliable defense available.

Wisdom gives life. In contrast, Proverbs 8:36 declares starkly, “Those who hate wisdom love death.”

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Nine): Wisdom as a Defense


 

Ecclesiastes 9:10

We do not have to become skilled at everything we put our hand to. Not everybody is gifted to do everything skillfully, even as the various parts of the human body cannot do every other part's designed function. God gifts and places each member of Christ's Body as it pleases Him. However, He expects us to grow, overcome, and function well where He places us. So, we should work diligently to improve in our prayer and Bible study through practice, practice, and more practice, even to the point of devising exercises that train us to think and become better organized. Prayer is work and so is study. We must strive to be more than merely functional at them.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Two): Works


 

Zechariah 3:1-4

What is going on here? Because of a valid accusation against Joshua, Satan stands ready to take his life due to his sins, symbolized by the filthy robes. This scene confirms that Satan still has the power to take life, but the story does not end there.

Job 2:5-6 adds more to our understanding. The cynical Satan asks: “'But stretch out Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will surely curse You to Your face!' And the LORD said to Satan, 'Behold, he is in your hand, but spare his life.'” This example confirms that, even though Satan still has this power, he is nonetheless also subject to God. Satan can execute that power only on those whom God gives him permission to kill.

Nevertheless, his and his fellow demons' very presence surcharges this earth with a sense of death that creates a fear (Ephesians 2:1-3). Thus, we have the assurance that God is overseeing our lives, ensuring that we do not get in over our heads. I Corinthians 10:13 assures us that, if we believe and act on it in submissive obedience to God, He will not test us above our abilities.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Eight): Death


 

Matthew 25:31-46

The first hurdle to accept here is that, though the parable appears to apply directly to that time after Christ's return when He is ruling the nations, the instruction also applies in principle to us. In other words, His children can never ignore this instruction. What sets this parable apart is that Jesus specifically focuses on works regarding our relationships with and services to our brethren.

Clearly, failure in this indicates sin. We need to grasp two major principles involved in sin: First, sin describes failure, the failure to live up to or meet God's standard. Second, sins can be acts of commission and/or omission. Sin is a direct act of evil against another or a failure to do something good, in this case, something God would expect.

How important are works even though they do not save us? Revelation 20:12-13 reveals that those who commit the unpardonable sin earn for themselves the punishment of being cast into the Lake of Fire. That is their “reward” for their evil works or no works.

On the other hand, Jesus declares in Matthew 16:25, 27:

For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. . . . For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to His works.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Two): Works


 

Romans 1:18-20

Mankind has been gifted with an awareness of God's existence. Like most things in life, this awareness must be confirmed, developed, and lived by in greater detail, but the proofs of God's existence are readily available through an honest observation of the creation. The evidence is so obvious that, in God's judgment, it leaves humanity without justification for not knowing of His existence. What is really difficult is proving God does not exist!

Most people merely accept His existence as a fact, but few appear to make it foundational to their way of life. On the other extreme are those who utterly reject it because they have faith only in what they call “science.” That faith is an impossibility because they have no scientific answer to where life came from in the first place.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Four): Other Gifts


 

Romans 1:18-20

These verses describe the position any given unconverted person is in because of his failure to repent. The unconverted are most definitely being held accountable by God. They are not escaping judgment; they are not being given a “free pass” on their sins simply because they are unconverted. Therefore, their poor choices have the potential to eliminate them from conversion and eternity. The converted must not misjudge unconverted people's apparent ease in living without faith and the fear of God. Their lives are not as contented as they might seem to the casual observer.

Based on Romans 1:18-20 their position is insecure, to say the least, so we will quickly evaluate their position realistically:

First, the wicked are making choices, but with neither faith nor God's grace guiding them, and God is judging them. Second, they are making those choices without a relationship with God to access in their times of need. Third, we know full well God is not giving them an unlimited get-out-of-jail-free card just because they are unconverted. Our conclusion has to be that we converted people have tremendous advantages over them because of our calling. There is no valid reason for envying the unconverted.

A deep trial sometimes requires us to repent and change our ways and thinking. The danger, the reason the cautions are given, lies in being lured into thinking, by our resolve to be righteous, that God owes us something because we do a few good works. If we yield to that temptation, the trial becomes a major danger.

A simple but important question needs to be answered: Do we truly grasp—have we thoroughly thought through—the fact that God owes us nothing, absolutely nothing, zero, zilch, nada? Yet, we owe Him everything—from life itself to every breath of air we breathe, to the knowledge we have of Him and His purpose, to forgiveness and the gift of His Spirit. Everything!

This is where the knowledge of John 17:3—“And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent”—comes to our aid. Knowing God becomes especially important because intimate knowledge of Him is the very thing our carnality does not want to achieve. Our carnality fears knowing Him and draws back from it to avoid becoming dependent on Him. Thus, Romans 8:7 warns us that our nature looks upon God as the enemy; it fears being beholden to Him. Our carnality is nothing more than a remnant of the spirit of Satan's world in us. It is a spirit of self-centeredness that always wants to hold some of itself back in order to preserve its independence.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Twelve): Paradox, Conclusion


 

Romans 2:14-15

Similar to the fact of God's existence, in that it needs to be expanded upon and more precisely understood, is the truth that God has given mankind the basic elements of right and wrong to enable humanity to govern itself for the purposes of communal living.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Four): Other Gifts


 

Romans 6:17-20

As God sees things, we are in fact Christ's slaves and more, and the way God sees things is what matters. Technically, we are no longer working to advance our own interests. We are to fulfill our labors at all times and in all cases to Christ and to our human employer with energy, enthusiasm, and above all, service.

The world denigrates Christian works as being valueless, and they do this partly because they misunderstand Paul's statement that a person cannot earn salvation by means of works. We have become slaves of Christ. Our redemption has made us so tightly identified with Him that He sees us as members of His own Body. Our reality is that we are working for Him regardless of our day-to-day job, whether as a housewife, welder, salesman, or corporate administrator.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Two): Works


 

1 Corinthians 15:58

This verse states the central issue for a Christian to keep in mind. Work is part of Paul's conclusion to truths about the first resurrection; doing the work of the Lord is clearly related to our participation in it. The phrase "work of the Lord" is the key to what is important to God and therefore must be important to us if we are going to glorify Him.

There is no doubt that Solomon was an imaginative and diligent worker. He was even directly involved in a major work of God during the early portion of his reign, yet his first conclusion regarding the work's value is negative: “Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled; and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11). What went wrong? He probably did not really involve God in the project to the degree and in the attitude that he should have.

Ecclesiastes 2:18 expands on this: “Then I hated all my labor in which I had toiled under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who will come after me.” This confirms that he was doing the work in an “under the sun” manner. His perspective seems quite carnal, thus the blessing from God that would have come from an appreciative, cooperative, and sharing attitude did not flow to him. He enjoyed the work, but he received no spiritual blessing.

On the basic and necessary level of works are Bible study and prayer, which everyone can participate in and do well in, according to their gifts. Then come more active works like serving, being kind and encouraging, being helpful, and being a good example to all. These basic elements are the works that most shape us into the image of God. As Jesus taught, we are to work in order to profit from that labor and carry it through the resurrection and into the Kingdom of God. These labors are the most critical to whether we will glorify God. They are the ones that our reward is based on. They are services to God and His Family.

I Corinthians 15:58 is a reminder, an exhortation, and a promise to the church through Paul, that if we want to be in the first resurrection and experience its glory, we had better pay attention to this above all things in life. We must discipline our knowledge and energies into work because this is what life is all about.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Two): Works


 

Ephesians 6:5-8

Ephesians 6:5-8 provides a clear sense of the attitude a Christian must strive to have about work. A major reason for this instruction is that the attitude and way we work is a visible expression of our gratitude for what Christ has done for us, and our work is a major means of glorifying God. We are thus to labor in our employment, as well as carry out our Christian responsibilities, with singleness of heart. Our minds are not to be divided because of the reality that God's calling has made us laborers for Christ.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Two): Works


 

2 Thessalonians 3:10-12

Commentators believe these brethren stopped working due to misunderstanding the nearness of Christ's return. Nonetheless, they were breaking the pattern of conduct set by Christ Himself and taught by the apostles. Jesus worked right up until He was crucified. Paul calls their conduct unacceptable and serious enough that those brethren who were patiently working should withdraw from those who quit (II Thessalonians 3:6)!

This example contains a practical truth about work that is not mentioned but is helpful to understand. Costs are tied to work, whether it is for the Lord or an employer, and not the least of these is sacrifice on the part of the laborer. Jesus teaches this in Matthew 16:24: “Then Jesus said to His disciples, 'If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.'”

To be an active, producing Christian, Jesus says that, in laboring under and with Him, we must deny ourselves and then take up, carry, or bear up under whatever the cost may be. Thus, sacrifices are involved in Christian responsibilities, as well as in our day-to-day job, but Jesus particularly aims this comment about Christian works at His followers. Denying ourselves is required because the carnal nature is always present and invariably desires to take it easy and do the wrong things through ingrained habit. However, if we give in to this, profit in Christian life diminishes.

This we do not want because, without denying ourselves, life is guaranteed to be a failure. Recall how concerned Solomon was about profit. Life will be profitable if we do the right things, but sometimes, to do so we must literally will ourselves to do what is required. Sacrificing is the only means to accomplish what needs to be done.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Two): Works


 

Hebrews 9:27

Everybody dies this death, including believers. At first, a person may think this says that Satan has supreme rule, and every human loses. However, we cannot forget Christ's death on the cross. His death wiped out the curse of death hanging over us due to our sins similar to Adam's and Eve's, and He remains our faithful High Priest. Thus, more remains to be understood about this verse.

How does this verse affect us? Paul writes in Colossians 2:11-14:

In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

The apostle explains that a Christian is free from the bondage of death because Christ's death has removed the charges of sin against us. Jesus, in Revelation 1:18, adds another factor in our favor: “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.”

Christ, because He paid the penalty for our sins and simultaneously defeated Satan, now holds the power of life and death for the converted. At this point, matters become clear. For Hebrews 9:27 to be true, Christ's blood does not cover the first death, which everybody faces, but it indeed covers the second death, eternal death of the Lake of Fire. Revelation 20:14 confirms a second death: “Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” Revelation 21:8 adds detail: “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

Paul offers us assurance in Romans 8:37-39:

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

At this time, the unconverted face both the first and second deaths. They are still held eternally in Satan's slavery unless converted between now and the igniting of the Lake of Fire.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Eight): Death


 

James 2:14

Some of the wrong thinking about works is derived from Martin Luther's teaching that salvation is by faith alone, a statement that does not appear in the Bible. It is true that God gives salvation through His merciful gift of grace. However, James says that a person's faith is proved by his works (James 2:14-26). If a person has no works, he is actually proving that he has no faith.

People who denigrate Christian works must be rigidly ignored because God pointedly assigns work to all Christian converts. Ephesians 2:10 pointedly states, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” God has prepared, ordained, and assigned these works beforehand. They are requirements and must be accomplished to the level and quality God judges as right and good. At the same time, these works are the very purpose for which the Christian is called and converted. Even though the works do not earn one salvation, God's calling, regeneration, and assignment of works are given so that we are prepared to live that same way of life for all eternity.

The works that we do—the way we live our lives—prove our conversion, that our faith in Christ is real and makes the witness that glorifies God. Thus, we must understand these truths regarding works:

1) God has never intended that works save anybody. Jesus is the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world. God knew beforehand that we would need a Savior for salvation.

2) Doing the works provides practice in God's way of life, thus helping to ingrain His way as part of our character.

3) Doing the works is a witness before the world, and by them God is glorified. These are their major purposes.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Two): Works


 

 




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