More Submission

Ecclesiastes 8:9-17

These verses seem to go on in a familiar refrain; everything is meaningless. Things happen under the sun that shouldn’t, people conjure up their schemes, and people die; what’s the point? The Teacher has been saying these things for over 7 chapters… and then it happens.

When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe the labor that is done on earth—people getting no sleep day or night—  then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.

Ecclesiastes 8:16-17

The most wise Solomon, the man who sought wisdom and received it, the great Teacher who has examined everything that goes on under the sun, using his great wisdom in a quest for understanding, has failed; his conclusion is that this simply cannot be understood.

With this sad admission, the first major section of Ecclesiastes comes to its conclusion, but before we rush on to the next section, let’s just have a look at one little thing in this text; we find it at the beginning of verse 17, a small little clue we might pass right over: “then I saw all that God has done”.

Wait a second: Hasn’t he been talking about what man has done?

Yes, he has been talking about what man has done! So why is that little clause in the sentence?

Has Solomon given us an additional riddle that has no solution, or is he trying to tell us something more concrete?

Oh my, there are more questions being raised than answers given, and this is always what happens under the sun, when men become philosophical, for philosophy seldom provides real answers to things, just questions. But there is an answer to this one.

The works of Man have been ordained by God in all of their futility.

Think about it: All of that labor under the sun; all of those sleepless nights. All of that wickedness, all of those schemes, all of the justice on earth, and all of the injustice; sin, rebellion against God, and godliness and righteousness: All of this was ordained by God when He created Mankind with free will. That is not to suggest that God is the source of sin, nor is it to say that God makes men do bad things, but God gave Man free will and was prepared to deal with the consequences. Why did God do it that way?

Ah, that is what the Teacher could not discover, in spite of all of the neatly packaged Sunday school answers; no one actually knows for sure why God set things up this way, but He did. This leads us that which our wise Teacher did succeed in discovering: We must live with this situation under the sun, which is to say that we must submit to it, for there is nothing else that we can do.

With all of that said, we now have some information that was not available to the Teacher, for in the many centuries that have passed since his time, God’s plan of redemption has been fully revealed, and as a result of that plan, we have the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit that the Teacher did not have. That gift makes our jobs much easier than Solomon’s was!

I am pleased to be able to tell you, that this is about to become a lot more interesting, for the Teacher will reveal the next big conclusion he has come to in his quest, and our adventure will be a most excellent one when he does so in the next chapter…

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Submission: Everyone’s Favorite Thing

Ecclesiastes 8:1-8

Our adventure moves into chapter 8 and brings us to what no doubt will be a favorite subject for all of us: submission and obedience. As you can see, verse 1 is transitional; the meat begins to be seen in 2-4:

Obey the king’s command, I say, because you took an oath before God. Do not be in a hurry to leave the king’s presence. Do not stand up for a bad cause, for he will do whatever he pleases. Since a king’s word is supreme, who can say to him, “What are you doing?”

The Teacher gives some very practical advice here; don’t mess around with the king! I’m sure that everyone can understand this; the king was the last word on every matter.

I skimmed through a commentary or two to see if the commentators pointed out the obvious, and at least in the ones I could get hold of quickly, none did, but here it is: The Teacher who is telling us this is the king! My point in mentioning this is that the author in this case, will be the beneficiary of his own advice; you may do with this information what you like.

To be fair, this is good advice in any case after all, didn’t your Mama warn you not to go looking for trouble? Mine did.

Verses 5-6 amplify his point with the statement that the person who obeys the command of the king (comparable to our saying “is law abiding”) will come to no harm, and “the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure” of course is indicative of the fact the wise will know the rules to play by.  Playing by the rules is the most intelligent policy, even in times of difficulty. Our final two verses amplify this further by pointing out that in matters of submission to higher authority, we simply lack the power to prevail if we choose to oppose it, and once we act in a wicked way, we are pretty well stuck with a wicked outcome.

So far, chapter 8 seems fairly obvious to me; there isn’t really much for me to add to it to make it more interesting, which as you know, makes the writer’s job much more difficult. I’m tempted to do as any good preacher might and introduce a tangent that leads to a hobby horse, so I can take you all for a nice ride and ‘fill the time,’ but not today… I will tell you this, however: This writer sees a ray of hope in the next section, for we are about to come upon a subtle change in our text, but alas, that is for our next adventure!

Come into His Light

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

1 John 1:5-7

This section is given context in verse 5: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. Thus, this section is all about John’s declaration of light versus darkness, and it contains comparisons and contrasts.

Before we take a look at it, keep in mind what John wrote in John 1:4 “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” All through the Gospel story, John used “light” as signifying the presence of Jesus, contrasted with “darkness” denoting His absence.  Keeping this in mind, let’s take a look at our text. After proclaiming that God is light, John gets down to his explanation by asserting that if we claim to be in fellowship with God, but walk in darkness, we lie, and are not in the truth.  This is a rather easy statement to understand, for if we are in darkness, then we aren’t in His presence, and if we aren’t in His presence, we couldn’t possibly be in fellowship: There is no half-way.

The contrast is that if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship… because we are with Him in the light.  If we have this fellowship in the light of His presence and truth, then His blood purifies us from all sin.  The reality of the statement is that we can’t be in fellowship with Him until our sins have been forgiven by His sacrifice on the cross.

Sometimes, we may walk a ways in darkness, and by this I mean that we may stray from time-to-time.  John doesn’t suggest that our errors kick us out of fellowship as we will see a little farther through this text, but that there is a way to return to the light of His presence, by confessing our sins, as we see in the next paragraph:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

1 John 1:8-10

I think we all would agree that a claim by any one of us to have never sinned would be little short of crazy.  John seems to think it’s worse than that.  All have sinned, but take heart, for there is a way out, confess your sins and He will forgive; this is our covenant promise.  There is simply no need for us to wring our hands and carry around a burden of guilt and shame before God, for when we confess our sins (acknowledge them) He will forgive; we have His Word on that!

Random Ramblings: October 30, 2016

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I’ve always been partial to autumn; I’m not quite sure why that is, but I have been.

As a youngster, I always looked forward to summer; I would imagine most kids do since school is out. mqcgayc-lpEven now I look forward to summer. I like the warm weather, being outside and everything being green with abundant life; I never want summer to end…

Even so, when summer does pass by and autumn begins to burst onto the scene with cooling temperatures and amazing displays of color, I sort of glory in its beauty. It is almost as though God sat down at his easel, mixed His paints and began to show us His artistic abilities, an artistry that no mere human can begin to compete with.

When I was young and growing up in Los Angeles, Fall was more subtle than it is in many places; the seasons are not nearly as drastic in their differences there. For one thing, the months of September and October are sometimes the hottest of months. For another, most of the trees do not turn, and the ones that do change color in late November and early December. I can recall nf7ipyylplooking at magazines as a youngster and seeing pictures of Fall in other areas, and I must admit that I marveled at them and looked forward to a date off in the distant future when I might travel and see such sights. The funny thing is that when I grew up and actually experienced the autumn landscape, I was shocked to discover that those photographers who took those pictures that I had seen in magazine must have been wearing coats; I had seen those things in a place where the days were in the 90’s and over 100.

I still chuckle at the memory.

I left California in my early 20’s and have experienced the wonders of autumn ever since, and I must say that it has become my favorite season of the year. I love the colors of the leaves, the landscapes, the pumpkins and even the cuisine.

There is more to the season than this, however. Autumn is a sort of metaphor for something far greater and more significant that just amazing sights, for to me anyway, it is demonstrative of the faithfulness of God. Every year the seasons come at their appointed times and do what they are supposed to do. When o3ewp14-t-lpspring comes, things begin to grow, the flowers display their color, and the grass of the fields begins to turn them green. Farmers plant their crops and they grow. Then summer comes and the days heat up as the grass and fields become lush with green life

Fall comes along and much of the plant life begins to grow dormant; grass turns brown, crops are harvested and the forest puts on an amazing display of glory; the grand finale of the year before their leaves fall to the ground and die. Finally the winter comes and cold grips the landscape reminiscent of the cold grave. Many animals hibernate, the rest struggle to survive the winter. In many places the ground is covered by snow; nothing is growing…

Then, spring returns and the land is reborn.

Aren’t our own lives on this earth much like that?

We are born, we grow and flourish for a time, and then we fade and die. Yet many of us go through this life process with the surety of hope that the day will come when we, like the plants of the fields, will come forth again to the glory of God.

I think of the autumn and I am filled with a childlike wonder when I consider how God takes such care to show off His paintbrush, for in doing so He reminds us that He is still in charge, and that when the winter has had its season, life will return to the earth.

Yes, the older I get, the more comfort I find in the autumn of the year.

The Value of Wisdom

All this I tested by wisdom and I said,

“I am determined to be wise”—
but this was beyond me.
Whatever exists is far off and most profound—
who can discover it?

Ecclesiastes 7:23-24

The value of wisdom is that we can search out everything that goes on around us, and draw conclusions about them; this is the Teacher’s quest. The Teacher will tell us of his search for wisdom in these last verses of chapter 7, and in this discussion, he reveals some interesting things, but not quite what we might expect. In the first 2 verses, he tells of the difficulty of the search and how it seemed to evade him. Verse 25 seems to be his goal:

So I turned my mind to understand,
to investigate and to search out wisdom and the scheme of things
and to understand the stupidity of wickedness
and the madness of folly.

He wants to understand the “scheme of things” and to understand the stupidity of wickedness and folly; all I can say is “good luck.” His results are in verses 26-27:

I find more bitter than death
the woman who is a snare,
whose heart is a trap
and whose hands are chains.
The man who pleases God will escape her,
but the sinner she will ensnare.

“Look,” says the Teacher, “this is what I have discovered:

“Adding one thing to another to discover the scheme of things—

To begin with, he mentions “the woman who is the share” an interesting illustration. It would seem that our wise Teacher has found that many fall victim to the allurements of lust and sensuality; some commentators might want to expand this to drink and drugs, but I’ll let the Teacher’s words stand alone without any help from me. A wise man of God will avoid this trap, but woe to the not so wise. I doubt much has changed since Solomon wrote these words…

And now, the rest of his results:

while I was still searching
but not finding—
I found one upright man among a thousand,
but not one upright woman among them all.
This only have I found:
God created mankind upright,
but they have gone in search of many schemes.”

Ecclesiastes 7:28-29

As for verse 28, let’s not shoot the messenger here gang; I didn’t write this text! It would seem that in Solomon’s investigation, he had a hard time finding upright men, and that he failed entirely to find an upright woman. I wonder how large his sample was… It is possible that he is using a little touch of hyperbole here, at least I hope so. In any event, people who are truly “upright” aren’t easy to find I suppose, even now. This brings us to verse 29, which seems to summarize the whole of his search under the sun. God created us as upright and moral people, certainly He intended that we should live this way, but humanity entered into sin and folly, and each of us knows what happened after that, for even these many centuries after Solomon breathed his last, we endure life in a world that is filled with the consequence of sin and rebellion against God.

Chapter 8 moves on to another topic: Submission, both to the king and to God. Will we receive a better report on the state of things? Will we be able to find a ray of hope there?

Let’s find out as our adventure continues…

Wisdom Brings Restraint

“Restraint” is everyone’s favorite concept, but it is a quality of the wise. Even outside of relationship with God, a wise person learns self restraint. To be sure, a person doesn’t even need to be all that wise to understand that unrestrained speech can quickly get you into trouble, and that unrestrained action can easily land a person in the penitentiary. A person who is wise in the faith knows much more, for he or she is fully aware that our God is a model of self restraint. A wise person of faith will restrain his or her speech and actions simply out of love for God.

Wisdom makes one wise person more powerful
than ten rulers in a city.

Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous,
no one who does what is right and never sins.

Do not pay attention to every word people say
or you may hear your servant cursing you—
for you know in your heart
that many times you yourself have cursed others.

Ecclesiastes 7:19-22

Although the word “restraint” is not present in these verses, restrain is very much in evidence; restraint in deeds is clearly implicit in the first two verses and in word in the remaining ones.

In the first two verses, notice that one wise person is said to be more powerful than ten rulers, and that this is followed by a statement that no one is without sin. What is it that makes the wise person so strong? The Teacher speaking of sin and righteousness is the clue; the wise person avoids the sins that lead to destructive and limiting behaviors that detract from the rulers’ effectiveness, even though the wise person has their problems sometimes.

Then there is the matter of words; we are advised not to pay attention to what everybody says and that requires restraint. He gives an example: Don’t listen to everything people say, or you might hear your servant curse you; but then you have done your share of cursing. The curse uttered by the servant isn’t worth hearing, and your own cursing isn’t worth saying; a wise person uses more restraint that either reacting to every idiot utterance they hear, or saying stupid things. In the process, they avoid so much grieving of the Lord, not to mention problems of a more earthly nature.

When I think about it, this is a really simple little lesson. In fact, it’s a lesson my mother and father taught when I was a little kid; “behave yourself and watch your mouth.”

You would have thought I wouldn’t need to hear this all these years later, but there are times when I do need to hear it again; how about you?

The chapter draws to a close as the Teacher sums up the value of wisdom; see you next time!

Moderation is Wise

In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these:

the righteous perishing in their righteousness,
and the wicked living long in their wickedness.
Do not be overrighteous,
neither be overwise—
why destroy yourself?
Do not be overwicked,
and do not be a fool—
why die before your time?
It is good to grasp the one
and not let go of the other.
Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes

Ecclesiastes 7:15-18

Solomon has noticed two things that might come as a surprise: First, he has seen righteous men die young in their righteousness, and he has seen really wicked men live long lives. From our point of view, this isn’t all that surprising; it happens all the time, and is something that we sometimes wonder about… Why O Lord is this so?

Back in the time of Solomon, this was more shocking, for the righteous were supposed to live long, have many children and prosper in the land, while the wicked were supposed to suffer the calamities they so richly deserved and come to an early termination if they didn’t change their ways. As we now understand, there is a season for everything, and a time for every season under heaven.

Then he goes on to tell his readers that they should neither be overly righteous, nor overly wicked; what does he mean by that? This dear reader is simpler than it might seem at first.

The best Biblical example of being overly righteous that I can think of as I write this is the example of the Pharisees. Those guys were really very righteous; they did everything just exactly right. No, really they did. Think about it, they were so righteous that they not only followed the letter of the Law, they actually made up more laws so that they wouldn’t even come close to breaking a Law. Yet in the end, they became so outwardly righteous that they put form over substance, and lost track of the inward realities of their relationship with God, and they perished in their outward form of righteousness.

As for being overly wicked, you might think that we aren’t supposed to be wicked at all, and in this you would be correct. OK, maybe I should just speak for myself here: As much as I might want to be perfectly righteous in everything I do, say or think, I fall short and can comprehend completely Paul’s observation that the things he would do, he didn’t, and the things he wouldn’t do, he did. Oh wretched man that I am! Yet while all of this is going on, I manage not to go too far, for I have no wish to damage my relationship with our Lord, so I restrain myself, and with His grace I do much better than I used to, by the power of His life in me.

In this, we avoid both extremes, as the Teacher says in the last verse. Notice that he says “whoever fears God.” This is the guy who also said that “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.” Thus a wise person avoids extremes, and another word for this is “moderation.”

See how simple this text is? Now just because the text is simple, putting it into practice may not be easy, but if we are completely honest with ourselves, it isn’t all that hard either.

I’ll bet you can’t wait for restraint, and that is coming up next!