Tuesday, August 28, 2012

ECCLESIASTES 6 : POSSESSING EVERYTHING; ENJOYING NOTHING!


 
TEXT: Ecclesiastes  6
THEME:   Possessing Everything, Enjoying Nothing
DATE: 19/08/2012

‘Ecclesiastes’ – the Preacher, preaches a sermon about satisfaction, about meaning in life, about fulfillment, about fullness, about significance, about happiness and blessedness. You might be thinking - those aren’t the words that the Preacher, Solomon uses! His frequent references to “vanity ” and “striving after the wind”, and the lack of satisfaction expressed in the pursuit of things in life, gives you the impression that he may be cynical about life under the sun.
However, this shows us how we tend to read scripture and how we listen to sermons. It tells us how we listen in general. We engage in selective listening. We may hear the first thing and come to conclusions , but we do not necessarily hear the rest, and in so doing , we come away with a skewed understanding of the actual message. I am amazed at times, at what people can come up with after a sermon! Did I really say that? Is Solomon really cynical about life? The skewed message you might receive from reading Solomon’s sermon superficially, is that he is cynical about life under the sun.

Not so!

True, his goal is to get you to think realistically about life under the sun. In so doing he does show you the futility of pursuing things and ideas for their own sakes. But that is not his intended goal. His intended goal is to show you that life under the sun ultimately only makes sense when God is at the center of your thoughts and pursuits. The problem of course is that you have to make sense of this in the midst of fallen world and your fallen nature.

Remember this: God has ultimately designed you to enjoy Him[1]. Your problem is that you want to enjoy your life without God . It doesn’t work! So, what Solomon ultimately addresses in his sermon is the matter of idolatry – a matter which is addressed as of first importance in the 10 commandments (Exodus 20: 3-5)[2]. The pursuit of happiness for the sake of pleasing oneself (and not God or others –Mk 12:30,31) is idolatry, for it substituting of things for the place that God should occupy in your heart.

Solomon has shown us this in the first 5 chapters. He has tried to pursue the way of wisdom (philosophy) for its own sake, but he found that this was meaningless. He tried the route of pleasure (hedonism) as a life style, and it left Him feeling hollow. He immersed himself in work and this too proved to be a dead end. His conclusion is that none of these popular human pursuits can provide satisfaction in themselves . We must learn to enjoy life in this fallen world with all its challenges and perplexities, with God at the center. The bottom line is this: Life without God at the center provides no lasting satisfaction.

So, this sermon is ultimately about finding meaning, fulfillment , significance,satisfaction and happiness in life. And the very reason why Solomon begins with the thought of “vanity“ is because he wants you to become dissatisfied with the mere pursuit of things, and having become dissatisfied with the pursuit of things for their own sake, to learn to live from the center by focusing on the happiness in life which you derive from your fellowship with your Creator. So, proper perspective is important. Have you heard this? Have you understood this? Are you persuaded that this is the way that you need to think about your life?

Chapter 6
Chapter 6 is about dissatisfaction.
This Chapter begins by building on what we had dealt with last time (5:18-20) - the matter of money and possessions. One of the dominant thoughts there was this: “Everyone also to whom God has given possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil – this is the gift of God.” (v.19). From this, we had previously traced a theme in Ecclesiastes: “Enjoy what you have , when you have it !”[3]

Now, in chapter 6:1,2 we find an enigma (something that defies explanation): “There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: 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, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil”.

There is a common theme between these two texts: Wealth, possessions and power are given by God, either to enjoy (5:19) or not to enjoy (6:2). Solomon himself was given “wisdom and knowledge … riches , possessions, and honour, such as no kings before him or after him had.“ (2 Chron. 1:12). The one enjoys… the other fails to enjoy! God does not give him power to enjoy his wealth, possession and honour – in fact, a stranger enjoys them. How are we to understand this? The answer is this: wealth , possessions and power – whether we are enabled to enjoy them, or not, are not necessarily an indication of God’s favour or disfavor upon us. In certain countries today, Christians are economically discriminated against and therefore poor. In other countries Christians have freedom to become wealthy, prosperous and powerful. Is God not the God of both? And are the countries in which they live in not in His sovereign hands? The ultimate point is that satisfaction does not come from being rich or not rich. The truth of the matter is that in actual fact we own nothing (see 5:15). Our possessions should be viewed as gifts of God, and therefore, as easily as God gives, so God may take it away to give to others. His purposes for us in these things are what matter. Who knows what God is teaching us through giving and taking? This is deep stuff! The great wealth and possessions that my father’s family possessed in Germany at the end of the 1800’s and into the 19h00’s is no longer our wealth. Two world wars in Europe have seen to that! There are no guarantees in life when it comes to one’s possessions and wealth. A full treasury does not satisfy. Only God satisfies!

Vv 3-6. A full quiver does not satisfy! 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, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. For it comes in vanity and goes in darkness, and in darkness its name is covered. Moreover, it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet it finds rest rather than he. Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy no good—do not all go to the one place?

Here is another enigma: someone has “a hundred children and lives many years” (v. 3), but he lives a life in which he enjoys neither his children nor his wealth; worse still, says Solomon he may not even receive a proper burial. The Bible normally describes a man with a numerous offspring as a man who is significantly blessed (e.g. Ps 127:3–5). [4] But here, Solomon says that a stillborn child is better off than this dissatisfied man with a hundred children.[5] A still born child, he reasons, knows nothing of the frustrations, disappointments, and enigmas of life under the sun. Such a child is comparatively better off than such a man (see this thought also expressed in 4:2). How do we understand this dissatisfaction?

The truth is that anyone who makes too much of possessions, wealth, offspring or long life (v.6) for their own sake, and who does not include God in his worldview , will inevitably be sadly disappointed when his life gets out of focus because God is not at the center.

Vv. 7–9 : All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied. 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? Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind.”

The essence of what Solomon says here is a repetition of what he has been saying since 6:1 - the key word here is: “no satisfaction”. So, let us repeat this: Solomon teaches that a person living as a mere human being without God in his or her life can never find satisfaction in possessions, wealth, children, or years of life.

V.8  contains two rhetorical questions: 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? The answer to both questions is: “there is no advantage“. Being wise and being street wise (as the poor man might be, who knows how to conduct himself before the living) may have temporary advantages, but without God at the center there is no advantage by being a Plato or a streetwise teenager. (see also 2:12-17).

V. 9 Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite”. This proverb is the equivalent to “a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush.” Dreaming about something does not mean that we have it ! In other words, it is better to be content with what I have than to waste my life desiring what I do not have. It is futility and a striving after the wind.

Therefore let your words be few … (vv. 10–12)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. The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man? 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?”

There is a great danger in life. Very often we think that we are the first one’s who experience such enigma’s and dissatisfactions. You may be tempted to think: “No one has ever experienced my lot!” … listen to Solomon: “Whatever has come to be has already been named! You are not the first one to whom these things have happened. And if you wish to argue about that remember " that (you) he is not able to dispute with one stronger than he ” This tells us that God is in charge here. He is the one who has set everything in place and who has named everything, including Adam (’adam), a word that comes from the word for earth[6] . Man is earthly. That puts all mankind in their proper place.

So how do I live before this great Being called God ? Answer: Eccl 5:1-3; 6:11

Conclusion :
V. 12 is a question that implies that it is God who “knows what is good for a man during his lifetime.” [Note : Ch 7:1 will begin with what is “ good“]
You do not know the future. Only God knows that ! But thank God that we are in His good hands. Thank God that He knows what He is doing.
And so we see that Solomon carefully demolishes every question, every observation, that we might be tempted to use in the process of questioning our Creator’s wisdom. Only God can control one’s destiny. The reasons things are as they are is due to the fact that the Sovereign Lord of creation does is working out everything for His greater purposes.

How then shall we live? From Ch. 6 we learn that being content in what we have is more satisfying than wealth or non- wealth. We learn that doing God’s will is more important than gaining goods. In Mark 10:29–30 Jesus speaks clearly concerning this matter. Life’s abundance does not lie in possessions, family, and long life. God knows what we need (Matt 6:25ff). May we learn these lessons well and continue to look up, beyond the sun, to our Creator. Amen !








[1]  Westminster Shorter Catechism  : Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

[2] “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,
(Exodus 20:4-5 ESV)
[3] 2:24-26;  3:12-13;  7: 14; 8:15 ; 9:7-10 ; 11:8,9.  We thus  observe  a regular pattern  of this thought  in  Ecclesiastes.
[4] Remember here that Solomon had a numerous offspring
[5]  See also Job 3:16 where Job  says that  he would have been better off as a  stillborn child  than to have suffered the loss of all of his children, possessions and  health.
[6] ’adamah: see  Gen 2:7; 3:19; Eccl 3:20; 12:7

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