Ecclesiastes | Life Under the Sun 6.10.18
I want you to see something in 2 Samuel 7:14-15. Turn there in your Bible. “Ecclesiastes” is Latin for the Hebrew word Qoheleth [koe-hell-et], which translates into English as The Preacher, or The Pundit, or my preference, The Professor. That is the word the author, the great King Solomon, chooses to identify himself. In 2 Samuel 7:14-15, years before Solomon was born, God came to his Dad, King David, and said this:
“I will be to him [that is, Solomon] a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, [iniquity is another word for sin, and Solomon committed a ton of it – and how did God say he would respond?] I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him,…”
That was written about Solomon before his life began. And now we’re reading a book most likely written toward the end of his life. And of course God’s words had come true – Solomon had committed iniquity, God had disciplined him; and yet God’s steadfast love did not depart from him. Solomon remembers all this as he writes Ecclesiastes:
He sinned, big time. He turned from God, disobeyed and dishonored him, and (2v10) “whatever [his] eyes desired [he] did not keep from them.” God disciplined him by giving him everything he wanted – But Solomon exhausted himself and came up empty, discovering his life to be (1v8) “full of weariness,” and in 2v17 he said “I hated [my] life.” And that would have been the end of it, except God’s steadfast love did not depart from him.
And so God taught him the lesson that becomes the subject of his book – God is sovereign over all things and he alone gives to his people enjoyment in the vanity of life.
Okay, here’s where we’re headed today – Christians struggle with this truth, (above). We say “If that’s true, then why do the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer?” We say, “Life appears unfair and unjust. This person hates you, and you give them prosperity. And this person loves you, and you give them adversity.”
Well, basically, this is Solomon’s message today – “Don’t judge a book by its cover. Looks can be deceiving. Prosperity is not always a good thing. And adversity is not always a bad thing.” God could just leave us with a Romans 9:20, or Job 40:7 type of answer, but instead, Solomon helps us with perspective and then offers a very practical application. And that should be helpful for us.
Before I preach this sermon, we should pray together.
Open your Bibles to Ecclesiastes 6. If you’re using one of our church Bibles, (which you’re free to take with you if you don’t own a Bible), you will find today’s text on page 357.
This book can be divided into four parts. If it is, we’re beginning part three today, which spans from 6:1–8:15, and we’ll divide today’s text into two sections – The first section (6:1-12) is about prosperity, and the second section (7:1-13) is about adversity. Prosperity, then adversity. Let’s begin with prosperity.
6:1-12 | Prosperity
There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: 2 a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires,
There it is, prosperity. That is serious prosperity. God has given this man wealth; He’s given him possessions; He’s given him honor. In fact, this man, we’re told, “lacks nothing of all that he desires.”
And this is also going to become clear – this man doesn’t love God. So here’s the question – why is God giving him wealth and honor and possessions? That’s what bothers us; that’s what feels unfair and unjust. And the second half of this verse is what clears it up. Let me read the entire verse again, v2:
2 a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, [remember that]
[Instead, here’s what happens…]
… a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil. 3 If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life’s good things,
How can his soul not be satisfied with life’s good things? He’s been given everything his heart wants – wealth, possessions, honor, a large family – a hundred children – he’s lived many years. Prosperity = enjoyment, right? Not necessarily. Prosperity is not always a good thing – For example, this man has everything, and still, it’s not enough.
This reminded me of a song written by Dustin Kensrue, the lead singer for Thrice. The song is called “Not Enough” and let me read you the words, they’re based on Ecclesiastes 6:
Though all the wealth of men was mine to squander
And towers of ivory rose beneath my feet,
Were palaces of pleasure mine to wander
The sum of it would leave me incomplete.
Though every soul would hold my name in honor
And truest love was always by my side
My praises sung by grateful sons and daughters
My soul would never still be satisfied.
It’s not enough..
Though I could live for all to lift them higher
Or spend the centuries seeking light within,
Though I indulged my every dark desire
Exhausting every avenue of sin…
I could right all wrongs, or ravage
Everything beneath the sun…
Though all would bow to me
Till I could drink my fill of fear and love
It’s not enough to make me whole
It’s not enough, it never was.
Prosperity is not always a good thing. It is not necessarily a blessing. Be careful Christian who you envy. Be careful what you covet. Not only does this man not enjoy his life – he, like Solomon once did, hates his life. Verse 3:
and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. 4 For it comes in vanity and goes in darkness, and in darkness its name is covered. 5 Moreover, it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet it finds rest rather than he. 6 Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy no good—do not all go to the one place?
He could live this life, full of prosperity, two thousand times, and still not be satisfied. It will never be enough.
7 All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied. 8 For what advantage has the wise man over the fool? And what does the poor man have who knows how to conduct himself before the living? 9 Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind.
10 Whatever has come to be has already been named, and it is known what man is, and that he is not able to dispute with one stronger than he. 11 The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man? 12 For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun?
Prosperity, but no joy. Why not? The answer was given in v2:
a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them,
Having things and enjoying are two different things. Having things and enjoying things are each a gift from God. You cannot deeply and freely enjoy the things of earth without both gifts. Prosperity is worthless if you don’t have a relationship with and to God.
(one author says) Prosperity apart from God is like being given a can of peaches but no can opener. Kids – it’s like opening a toy with a label that says “batteries not included.” My son Brady was recently congested for weeks, and one of the results of the congestion was that he couldn’t taste his food. He would eat good food, but he didn’t have the power to enjoy it.
George Herbert wrote a poem about this. God made us this way. Let me read it to you.
When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by,
“Let us,” said he, “pour on him all we can.
Let the world’s riches, which dispersèd lie,
Contract into a span.” So much blessing poured out on us
So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honour, pleasure.
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that, alone of all his treasure,
Rest in the bottom lay. God stopped pouring. One gift not given was the “rest” or satisfaction of enjoyment. God withheld the ability to enjoy apart from him.
“For if I should,” said he,
“Bestow this jewel also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts instead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature;
So both should losers be.
“Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness;
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to my breast.”
God has made us “rich and weary.” I was thinking this last week about Robin Williams, and Kate Spade, and Anthony Bourdain. They each had wealth, and possessions, and honor, but they weren’t satisfied – Each of them took their own life.
It’s one thing to have little and not be satisfied, because you’re hopeful that once you have more you’ll be satisfied – but it’s quite another thing to have everything and still not be satisfied.
The fool cannot enjoy the things of earth. The fool cannot find enjoyment in the vanity of life – and often not because he doesn’t have anything to enjoy, but he lacks the power to enjoy them.
That’s prosperity. Looks can be deceiving. It’s not always a good thing. Now what about adversity? Let’s keep reading:
7:1-15 | Adversity
A good name is better than precious ointment,
and the day of death than the day of birth.
2 It is better to go to the house of mourning
than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
and the living will lay it to heart.
3 Sorrow is better than laughter,
for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.
4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
5 It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise
than to hear the song of fools.
6 For as the crackling of thorns under a pot,
so is the laughter of the fools;
this also is vanity.
7 Surely oppression drives the wise into madness,
and a bribe corrupts the heart.
“Day of death,” “house of mourning,” “sorrow,” “rebuke” – That is adversity. And what does Solomon say about these afflictions? “It is better,” “it is better,” “it is better.”
Don’t judge a book by its cover. Prosperity is not always a good thing; and now, adversity is not always a bad thing. In this case – it’s better than superficial happiness (v6),
6 For as the crackling of thorns under a pot,
so is the laughter of the fools;
this also is vanity. [that laughter is loud but dies out quickly]
Verse 8: 8 Better is the end of a thing than its beginning,
and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
The end of adversity is better than the beginning, (and the middle). In the end you can see the good that came from it; sometimes, you can see how it all worked out, and how the conflict resolved. “Be patient,” Solomon says. Also, here are the temptations adversity brings:
Verse 9: 9 Be not quick in your spirit to become angry,
for anger lodges in the heart of fools.
10 Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?”
For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.
11 Wisdom is good with an inheritance,
an advantage to those who see the sun.
12 For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money,
and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.
13 Consider the work of God:
who can make straight what he has made crooked?
15 In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing. (That’s a summary of what Solomon as seen, and what we have seen, and it’s the situation he addresses in the text – he has seen the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer.)
Here’ his message – Don’t judge a book by its cover. In 6:1-12 Solomon is saying “prosperity is not always a good thing.” In 7:1-12 Solomon is saying “adversity is not always a bad thing.” Looks can be deceiving. That is a helpful perspective.
In conclusion, I’d like to end with Solomon’s application, which we find in verse 14. He turns to us personally – Specifically, how should we handle, what Solomon calls, the “day of prosperity” and the “day of adversity?”
14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.
For those of you who fear God. In the day of prosperity – be joyful.
In the day of adversity – consider.
It’s been a good day, full of blessing, what should I do? Be joyful. But didn’t Solomon just make the point that prosperity is not always a good thing? Yes he did, but he was talking about a man who does not love God and does not have the “power to enjoy.”
But if you’re a Christian, then you have been given the “power to enjoy.” Do you remember what Solomon said in 5:19? Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God.
Has it been a good day? Thank God. Rejoice. Be joyful. In 6:8 the Professor said: Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite. In other words, enjoy what is right in front of you.
It’s been a difficult day, full of adversity, what should I do? Solomon does not say “be joyful,” he says “stop and think.” He says “consider.” He says “This is where good doctrine is very important.
What should we consider? Here’s the second half of the verse (v14): in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.
That is repeating the same kind of thing he said in verse 13, Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked?
The day of prosperity is from God, but so is the day of adversity. In the day of prosperity we thank God. In the day of adversity we remember our doctrine on the sovereignty of God. God has made both days. That is exactly what Job had to tell his wife in Job 2:10,
But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”
God is sovereign. He brings prosperity, and he brings adversity. The wise man enjoys the prosperity and considers the adversity, remembering that the sovereign God alone gives enjoyment in the vanity of life.
God has a plan and he’s working all things together, r for your good (Romans 8:20,28). Whether your life is crooked or straight, you need to see it in the light of God’s greatness and goodness.
Life is vanity. Enjoy it. All of life is vanity, and yet, those who fear God are able to enjoy it, as they know and trust in the greatness and goodness of God, receiving this life and all that is in it as a gift.
Which kind of days are you having right now? Some of you are in the middle of days of prosperity. Some of you are in the middle of days of adversity. Most of you probably experience a mixture of both, and often in the same day, complete with highs and lows.
The helpful rhythm is to go back and forth from rejoicing and considering. The considering is what gets you back to rejoicing.
Thomas Boston – suffered greatly (He pastored a church in Scotland in the 1700s and wrote several books. He and his wife dealt with a lot of adversity and affliction – they had 10 children, and lost 6 of them as infants.
One of the children Thomas and had lost was named Ebenezer – which is a reference to 1 Samuel 7, when Samuel, after God had miraculously delivered his people from defeat, raised up a stone and named it Ebenezer. The Ebenezer was a reminder of God’s help and faithfulness. (From Ryken’s “Why Everything Matters)
After suffering such a heavy loss many people would be tempted to accuse God of wrongdoing, abandon their faith, or at least drop out of ministry for a while. But that is not what Thomas Boston did. He believed in the goodness as well as the sovereignty of God. Rather than turning away from the Lord in his time of trial, he turned toward the Lord for help and comfort. Later, Boston preached a classic sermon on the sovereignty of God called The Crook in the Lot.3 The sermon was based on the command that Qoheleth gives and the question he raises in Ecclesiastes 7:13: ‘Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked?’ (Ryken)
And here is an excerpt from that sermon:
‘There is a certain train or course of events, by the providence of God, falling to every one of us during our life in this world: and that is our lot, allotted to us by the sovereign God.’ Furthermore, we all have circumstances we wish that we could change. Boston continues: In that train or course of events, some fall out cross to us, and against the grain; and these make the crook in our lot. While we are here, there will be cross events, as well as agreeable ones, in our lot and condition. Sometimes things are softly and agreeably gliding on; but, by and by, there is some incident which alters that course … and pains us… . Everybody’s lot in this world has some crook in it… . There is no perfection here. [i]
Are things going well? Be joyful, enjoy it. Are things going bad? Consider the sovereignty of God. Trust him.
Look with wonder, admire, and silently wait for the result of God’s work! The contrasts of life are deliberately allowed by God so that men should ultimately develop a simple trust and dependence on God.
For prosperity and the goods from God’s hand, be thankful and rejoice. But in adversity and the crookedness of life, think. Reflect on the goodness of God and the comprehensiveness of His plan for men. (Walter Kaiser)
[i] Ryken, Phil. Why Everything Matters: The Gospel in Ecclesiastes (Kindle Locations 1477-1484). Christian Focus Publications. Kindle Edition.