Ecclesiastes | Life Under the Sun (Part 10) 7.1.18
Ecclesiastes 8:16 – 9:9
Prayer: Spurgeons 15 steps, “I believe in the HS.” Jn. 12:43; Deut. 8:3; Gal. 1:10
Today we begin the fourth and final section of this great book, which spans from 8:16 to 12:14.
[In this final section] we are given practical advice and taught how to apply the insights gained from this new perspective on life set forth in the previous three sections. The righteous must be encouraged lest the enigmas or puzzles that still remain in the mystery of God are allowed to dishearten them. In this way the argument of the third section is strengthened and supplemented with practical admonitions. Kaiser Jr., Walter C. Coping with Change – Ecclesiastes (Kindle Locations 1955-1960). Christian Focus Publications. Kindle Edition.
And Solomon’s first admonition comes in the form of a bucket list. You know, a bucket list is a list of things you want to do before you die. In today’s text the King does two things – 1) he reminds his readers they’re going to die, and 2) he gives them a bucket list; God’s bucket list for us.
Before I preach this sermon, we should pray together.
Open your Bibles to Ecclesiastes 8. 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 358.
Let’s begin reading from chapter 8, here are the last two verses, vv16-17:
16 When I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done on earth, how neither day nor night do one’s eyes see sleep, 17 then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out.
Listen to these three phrases again – “Man cannot find out the work [of God] that is done under the sun.” “He will not find it out.” And “He cannot find it out.” God is sovereign over all things. Our catechism teaches us – Nothing happens except through Him and by His will. The moment of your birth, the moment of your death, and every moment in between, is from the hand of God. Every high point, from the hand of God. Every low point, from the hand of God.
And every plot twist is from the hand of God. Oftentimes, God’s ways are clouded and inscrutable, which is why Isaiah 55 teaches that God’s ways are higher than our ways. You’ve heard the expression “God moves in mysterious ways.” That comes from a poem written by John Newton’s friend William Cowper, and here are verses 1, 2, and 5:
“God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform.
He plants his footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines of never-failing skill,
he treasures up his bright designs and works his sovereign will.
Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan his work in vain.
God is his own interpreter, and he will make it plain.
So think of your life as a complex story, written by God, and only He knows (Isaiah 46) the “end from the beginning.” Your life is like that book you’re reading, or that movie you’re watching, and you get halfway through and realize you have no idea what’s going on.
And basically, Solomon’s advice here is this – don’t exhaust yourself trying to figure out what God is up to. And he gives this encouragement in 9:1 – But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. The “why” and the “how” is not as important as the “who.” The key to joy and contentment is not answers to your questions. The key to joy is remembering whose hand you are in.
The Professor continues. He’s made it clear, (as if we didn’t already know), that life is uncertain – we don’t know all the twists and turns that are before is. But we do know one thing that’s before us; one thing that is certain – death. Listen to what Solomon says in the second half of v1b through verse 3:
Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him. [good times, hard times, we don’t know what is before us] 2 It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath. 3 This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.
There may not be a lot of certainties in life. But death is a certainty. After the constitution was written Benjamin Franklin said “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Life is uncertain, but death is certain.
“It is the same for all,” the King said in v2. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a good person or an evil person, you’re going to die. The godly man and the coworker that makes fun of him are both going to die. Derek Kidner put it this way in his commentary on Ecclesiastes: “Moral or immoral, religious or profane, we are all mown down alike.”
So death is certain, but that’s not all Solomon says here. Death is final. Listen to vv4-6:
4 But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. 5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. 6 Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun.
So death is coming for you, (it is certain), and once it does, hope is lost (v4). In other words – once you die, this life is over – no second chances, no re-do’s, no mulligans, it’s over. Hebrews 9:7 says “every man is destined to die once and then face judgment.”
Death is terrible. Death is a curse. After, and because of, Adam’s sin in the garden, God came to him and said “to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19).
Remember Genesis 1 and 2 – when God had created everything, including human beings – it was all very good, and decay and death were not part of God’s perfect creation. God told the man “love me or you will surely die” (Gen 2:17). And the man didn’t love God, he sinned, he went his own way, along with his wife, and God came to him and said “to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19), and we’ve been returning to the earth ever since.
When the buzzer goes off at the end of the fourth quarter the game is over and the score is set. There is nothing you can do, after the game, to go back and change the outcome.
Now let that sit. No one likes to think about this. Or, in order to think about it, we may trivialize death. Let me give you four modern examples. Listen to these short quotes, and hear people downplaying death.
Forrest Gump said “Dying’s just part of living.”
J.K. Rowling says: “To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.”
Mahatma Gandhi said: “Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.”
The writer Kahlil Gibran (Kuh-leel Gee-bron) famously said “What is it to die, but to stand in the sun and melt into the wind, and when the earth has claimed our limbs, then we shall truly dance.”
And here’s Solomon’s quote about death, v4: “a living dog is better than a dead lion.” He’s a realist. There’s nothing good about death itself. He’s not commenting on an after-life, he believed there was a sweet life after this life, but that didn’t diminish the horror of death. Death is the body-rotting, soul-damning result of treason against God.
Derek Thomas says “We are wrong to diminish the moral dimension of death. We are wrong to see death as simply a device that morally transforms everyone. Death is not the transformer; it is a curse. God is the transformer; His grace transforms. Death itself is judgment apart from that grace.”
Okay, that leaves us with three more verses. Solomon has reminded us of reality – “You’re all gonna die” – and now he prescribes a response – In light of the uncertainty of life and the certainty of death, how should we live? Listen to vv7-9:
7 Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.
8 Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.
9 Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.
There it is. That’s God’s bucket list for you. Enjoy your life. Enjoy the gifts God has given you. We’ve heard this before. In fact, this is the 6th enjoyment passage of Ecclesiastes. There have been five others in 2:24-26, 3:12-13, 3:22, 5:18-20, and 8:15, but this time is different – different because of stronger terms and with more elaboration.
So let’s make our way out of this sermon by slowing down for a few minutes and pulling apart Solomon’s exhortation here. There are six things on Solomon’s bucket list. Let me list them and then briefly explain them.
That’s the first word in verse 7, “Go!” Stop doing what you’re doing and do this. Matthew 28 says “Go and make disciples.” Solomon says “Go and enjoy your life!” Stop the complaining, stop the negativity, stop the self-pity, stop the anger, and get going!
- Go and eat your bread!
Verse 7: Go, eat your bread with joy
Food is a gift from God. That’s why he gave you taste buds. We don’t just eat food because we have to, we eat good tasting food because we get to. This is why we’re not serving rice cakes at the Anniversary Party this afternoon. No, we’re serving Chando’s. And when they asked if we wanted regular churros or cream filled churros it was not a difficult decision.
- Go and drink your wine!
Verse 7: [Go] and drink your wine with a merry heart.
Wine, in the Bible, is a good thing. It is seen as a blessing and a gift. Psalm 104:15 tells us that wine is a gift from God “to gladden the heart of man.” Too much wine is a sin, drunkenness is a sin, but wine in moderation is to be enjoyed with a merry heart.
“[eat your bread and drink your wine] for (v7) God has already approved what you do. In other words – what you have before you is a gift from God; it is evidence of his blessing and favor, and he wants you to enjoy it – He “has already approved what you do.”
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”
- Go and put on some nice clothes!
Verse 8: [Go] 8 Let your garments be always white.
This doesn’t mean throw away all your black clothes because black is from the devil and guys show up next week wearing white suits like Benny Hinn. But your clothes matter. What you wear on the outside is often a reflection of what’s going on on the inside.
In the OT, when God’s people were sad and mourning, they would wear sackcloth, an uncomfortable and itchy fabric, and put ashes on their head. And when they were celebrating something, they would often wear white. So go and put on some nice clothes. Don’t dress like you’re going to a funeral or like you’ve given up on life. God loves you, dress like it.
- Go and smell good!
Verse 8: Let not oil be lacking on your head.
In Solomon’s day they’d put oil on their head, nice smelling oil – sort of an equivalent to cologne or perfume today. This is a very practical exhortation – try and smell good.
- Go and enjoy life with your spouse!
Verse 9: 9 Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.
If you’re married, enjoy your spouse. Yesterday was my wife’s birthday, and we ate and drank and she dressed beautifully and she smelled wonderfully, and I love her and enjoy her more than any other gift God has given me.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.
That’s Solomon’s prescribed response – In light of the uncertainty of life and the certainty of death, enjoy the gifts God has given you. You’re going to die, these earthly gifts will not last forever, confident trust in God and his providence should free you to enjoy whatever and whomever he has given us.
In conclusion, the enjoyment of life and gifts is only possible through Christ. Jesus told us in John 10:10 that he came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
“Because Jesus died and rose to save us from our enslavement to sin and to reconcile us to God, we can begin to live as God intended in the beginning: enjoying our food and drink, [and] enjoying life with our spouse.” (Sidney Griedanus) [i]
Are you in sin or in Christ today? Are you being ruled by sin or ruled by Christ today? Do you love, enjoy, trust, and obey Christ? What are you waiting for? You’re going to die you know. Live for Christ and enjoy the gifts he’s given.
[i] Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from Ecclesiastes: Foundations for Expository Sermons (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 238.