Sunday, July 1, 2012

Ecclesiastes 3 : A Time for God


TEXT  : Ecclesiastes  3
THEME :   A Time for God
DATE : 01/07/2012
 
Review  of Chapters 1 & 2
The thesis of this sermon by Solomon  is stated in the very first three verses, “Life is vanity … meaningless … empty.”   That is a strong statement!  But, it  is,  of course,  not a final statement . This  not  Solomon’s  final verdict on life. It is a preliminary observation and it needs to be seen  against the  background  of the purpose and design of Solomon’s sermon.
His intention  was  to let his  thoughts and desires, his explorations of life lead themselves  to their logical conclusion.  We have seen  that Solomon  was  not shy  to  pursue  that goal -  after all he had the position and the money!
Unfortunately, this  pursuit and experience  had left him  with  deep spiritual scars . We can see this  from the testimony in  1 Kings 11. It  had an adversary effect on Solomon .  So this is not an experiment  that we would encourage you to  repeat, even if it is in the Bible! Many things in the Bible  are written for our warning  and not for our imitation!  Do not try  to imitate Solomon. You may not recover  from such an exercise, even though you may discover the truth ! 
Remember  that the  rich man , who cared  for no one in the world , and least of all for the poor beggar at his gate  in Luke 16: 19-31 – that  after his death  he   woke up in hades, and he knew the truth instantly, and yet it no longer helped him. Hell is truth known too late!
Judas,   after he had betrayed Jesus  and when he had received the 30 pieces of silver was  soon afterward filled with  remorse. He knew the truth! His short  flirting with greed  was soon  o9verpowered by the truth . And  so  he threw the 30 pieces of silver   back to the chief priests  and elders and went to hang himself  (Matt 27 :3-5). He died conscious of the truth , but in the process of betrayal he had sold his soul to Satan. So , don’t sell your soul which is created for God to  vain things that cannot ultimately  provide  real  meaning  for you.

In the first two chapters we have already  seen that  Solomon’s search  for  meaning, through the pursuit of   philosophical  wisdom, pleasure seeking  and  work, as exercises in themselves, and  without God at the  center , leaves  him profoundly  dissatisfied. 
Pursuing  wisdom  ( philosophy means love of wisdom) for its own sake,  will lead  you to despair , because there is no way in which you will  ever get ‘ ultimate answers’  without  revelation from God.   The history of the world is littered with the corpses  of philosophers who have tried this route!
The  axiom   which  Solomon establishes in  1:18    is all too  true !
“For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.”
Then, if we discard  wisdom for pleasure , we find similar results. It’s not that Solomon did not enjoy  doing what he did. It’s just that it all left him  with the same hollow feeling inside.  
Then  he thought  that work would provide him with  ultimate meaning, and so  he  built, planted , bought , sold , traded   – until his wealth had become proverbial !  What did that accomplish?  It  too was  a striving after the wind and vanity,  ( 2:11,17,21,23,26).   

Now , let’s turn to Chapter 3  and see what else  Solomon has seen and learned – and from which we can profit , IF we  would care  to learn from him this one great lesson: Do nothing  without God at the center. Solomon , even though he wasn’t a great  example  of a God centered man, and even though he bears the scars  points us  into one direction : Make your life , make your time on earth and under the sun a time for God ! Now. Let’s see how we can  let this truth sink in even further .

1. Vv 1-8 : Accept  the Routine of God’s providence  !
v. 1  For everything there is  a season, and a time  for every matter under heaven …” . Solomon then  highlights  a number  of experiences common to man.  The man  without God will see  life as repetitive  and meaningless (see 1:4-11)... birth, death… plant, harvest… kill, heal etc. 
How do you escape life’s monotony ?  The only  way to escape  meaningless existence is  to see  the providence, the hand of  God at work  in all things.   When you think of the things spoken of in these verses not as  harsh realities, but events that are known  and controlled by your heavenly Father, then these things take on a new meaning .
Notice that whereas  events  in  1:4-11 are  from a man centered perspective  “under the sun , the events  in 3:1-8   are  “under heaven.”   This phrase occurs only three times in the sermon  (1:13; 2:3; 3:1). In all three instances  Solomon speaks  indirectly  of God’s involvement.  And here  in  3:1 we need to know  that  time, the seasons of life  and the routine happenings upon the earth  are  under  heaven’s control.  There is  design in this routine!   Under the control of heaven nothing happens randomly. There is no chance  and  no fate  which  rules  the things that happen in the lives of God’s people. Our future is not in the stars[1]. It is in God’s hands .  He controls all events. And just as the cycles  of nature  ( see in 1:4-11)  are ultimately God-sent , so all  events in time  are rooted in  God’s  purposes design.
  • birth and death  ; planting and harvesting (V.2)
  • killing  and healing ; breaking  down and building up  (V.3) 
  • weeping  and laughing ;  mourning and dancing (v. 4)  etc …
Please note that perspectives change with  the seasons. Some of those events are deeply disturbing and wounding and grieving. Who would choose a time to weep? Who would choose a time to mourn, to lose, to tear, to be silent, to hate,or go to war?    But  these things  happen, and they  are all  under  the  sovereign hand of God  , and He works out  His perfect plan through  the good and the evil times , and we thank God that He is in charge and not we. (David saw this clearly in 2 Samuel 24:10-14) .   So we see then , that for  everything there is  a season and a time …

2. Vv. 9-15: God’s providence is the ultimate comfort  for  the believer.
This  thought builds on the previous one  and brings God more fully into the picture.( see the frequent mentioning of God)  .  V.9 . “ I have seen the business  that GOD has given  to the children of man to be busy  with”, and not only that ! He adds  one of the most striking  phrases found in  this sermon  to this context : “ He has made everything beautiful  in its time .”   It is this  truth that turns the content of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 from something that is frustrating and meaningless to something which is comforting and meaningful.
Let’s face it ! How many people have not  come to know God in a deep and meaningful way through death and pain and mourning and weeping  and breaking down ?  The perspective changes when we see God in  the midst of the seasons of life!
But it is particularly v 11 b  that  helps  us with understanding the bigger picture : “ Also , He has  put eternity into man’s  heart…”. William Barrick  says : “Humans are bound by time, but they are wired for eternity.[2]  
We people  intuitively know (because we have eternity in our hearts)  that there must be meaning in these  repetitive cycles on  earth , but here’s the problem : “ yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” We know  that there  is meaning, but we don’t know   the “why” or “how” .   This fact leaves mankind  often  frustrated. 
Solomon , at this point gives us  good advice :  Instead of getting frustrated,  learn  to accept your limitations , and  instead  of getting frustrated with the fact that you do not have access into the secrets of God’s ways in the world,  learn to seize the moment  and learn  to enjoy those things which God has so graciously provided for  you us—those good things that He has given to us  to enjoy  (vv.12–13).
The  fact that we  cannot change what God has purposed, designed, or brought about  should not produce frustrations on our part, but instead generate a proper fear of God (v. 14). Fearing God is the beginning of knowledge (Prov 1:7) – a key   attitude and  a proper  approach  to dealing with the mysteries of life . Do this , and it will spare you much frustration .

Ecclesiastes 3:15 (like 1:9) once again  provides   a  preliminary conclusion of Solomon’s reflections: ”That which is, already has been; that which is to be , already has been; and God seeks  what  has been driven away. [3] “  The apparently endless cycle goes on, BUT  we are learning to see the value in it, and everything that has happened previously in the cycle  is of value. God is in it. Nothing is pointless. But if we forget this , then everything in life  loses meaning and significance.  

3. Vv 16 -22: An unsolvable problem, apart from God’s sovereign providence: Injustice in the world!
In these closing verses   Solomon  presents  us  with  another  challenge under the sun (i.e. from a merely human perspective  and  without God) .  The problem  concerns  injustice in this world : instead of justice and righteousness, there is wickedness.  This too is a part of  life’s experience, and if you cannot see God in this , it may fill you with endless frustration.
If you believe in a  world in which God exercises no rule and therefore no justice, you  have no answer to that dilemma.  In  fact , in  a world without  God  you can’t even talk about  right and wrong ;  good and evil. Only  when you have a point of reference – a Creator – God,  then  can you   determine what  is  good and evil and therefore  there can be a sense  of justice.  
Solomon  expresses  his confidence  in v. 17. “God will judge”, but  in  vv 18-21  he reflects again the thoughts  of  the  man  who  pursues life  under the sun  without  God in mind. Now for such a man, the plight of his fellow men  is hopeless  , and this reduces the plight of men  to the same existence  like that of a beast (v.18). Men like animals  just die!
Now,this conclusion  can only follow  when  God is not at the center. The truth is that  the creation account in Genesis 1–2  plainly explains key differences between animals and human  beings. God created human beings in His image (Gen 1:26–27). Adam named the  animals. God gave Adam and Eve dominion over the animals.  Solomon knows  all this , but for a moment he lets go  of God … and see what happens  : Solomon  concludes that human beings are no better off than animals. Cynicism confuses Solomon—and it can do  this to any believer.  Cynicism angers us emotionally. It makes  us spiritually numb. Worst of  all, it alienates us from God.   
So I say again:  Normal observation about life under the sun  without taking into account what biblical revelation teaches us , will  lead us  to the impression that everything is “ ho-hum”  and that mankind and animals both die the same way and go to the same grave.
Thankfully  we shall see  later  that Solomon does recognize a difference between the death of a human being and the death of an animal. In 12:7 he mentions that the spirit returns to God, its Creator.
And so  Solomon ends on the same note  in 3:22  as he did in 2:24 , and he concludes this section  by exhorting us to  be content with God’s providence at any given time . You cannot change  the timing of events ; don’t get overly frustrated that you do not seem to eradicate injustices in the world ;  don’t  get  frustrated  by the inability  to avoid death . God has better  things for us to do than to spend our time  worrying  over things that we cannot control. Thank God that He uses such circumstances to  humble you, make you more dependent upon Him, and be thankful for what He has given you to enjoy.


[1] In fact , the practise of Astrology is explicitly forbidden in Scripture.  There is not one positive mentioning of astrology in the Bible . Guidance is not in the stars ; it is in God !
[2] William Barrick : Ecclesiastes , p.66
[3] NIV : “ And God  will call the past to account”

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