TEXT: Ecclesiastes 9:1-10
THEME: Thank God that we are in His hands
In Ecclesiastes Chapter 9 Solomon makes five observations concerning our life under the sun:
1.Solomon observes that in the every day issues of life, the experience of good and evil men are very much alike- and yet we are not in the hands of man, but in the hands of God: “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. Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him. 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. 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 (9:1-3).
The fact that so often the good suffer, and that the wicked prosper, confuses many people. How can a good God allow evil to prosper? In all this there is an apparent limit to man’s wisdom and understanding. It is against this background that he says, “… all this I laid to heart, examining it all…”, and this is my conclusion: “righteous and wise men and their deeds are in the hands of God. “
This knowledge makes all the difference and it transforms our entire worldview. We understand what Paul writes to Timothy “… God has given us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self control” (2 Tim1:7). John writes: “… perfect love casts out fear…” (1 Jn 4:18). So yes, it is true that life on the face of this earth is unpredictable- but that does not mean that it is out of God’s control! Here are some real stories from the last few months to illustrate:
· A vibrant teenager with dreams and ambitions and a love for life develops leukemia and within a year of her diagnosis, she is dead. But at yesterday’s memorial service, many testified that she died in the Lord.
· Another young man climbs on his motorcycle with high hopes of winning this race, and minutes later he is an accident and in hospital with a severe brain injury that sends him into a 3 week coma and almost robs him of his life. God has spared him one more time, and now calls him to follow Him and not waste his life any longer!
· An otherwise healthy looking ‘30 - something‘ man comes to one of our doctors complaining of pain in the stomach area. When the doctor does explorative surgery, all he can do is close the patient up. The intestines have died. No human help is possible in this instance. Instead of dying within 24 hours (as per normal prognosis) he lives for another two weeks. I urged him to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ , and I believe that he has trusted in Christ.
So If all this suffering leads us to Christ, then all these experiences are ultimately worthwhile . The road to heaven may lead us in the Psalm 23 way, and thank God that while at face value the good and evil face the same experiences under the sun, God does make a distinction and we are in His hands!
2. Solomon observes that death comes indiscriminately to all men and from his perspective the living are better off than the dead (9:4-6). “But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. 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. 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.”
(i) While there is life there is hope.
(ii) While there is life there is an opportunity of preparing for death.When life is gone all this world is gone with it. When we are dead our earthly love and hate and envy etc. has no more relevance under this sun .
Thank God that with the more complete revelation in Christ and the NT , we know that the dead in Christ are better off than those that are alive in this sinful world. (Jn 14:1ff; Phil 1:20-23)
3. How to live in the meantime: From vv. 4-6 Solomon infers that it is best to enjoy the life, which we now have, while it lasts (9:7-10). Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. 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. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.
Here is his advice: Don’t be gloomy; don’t get morbid! Yes, death is a reality, and it is good to keep ultimate realities in mind (see 7:1-4), but live while you live! Enjoy what God gives you now. This includes your food, drink, work, clothing, oil for comfort and marriage.
The first word in v.7 is ‘go!’ No time to waste in this matter! Get on with it. Be contented with that which God gives you now. Work for God, live for God, enjoy the things that He has given to you. Love and serve Him; love and serve your neighbour. Whatever He has given you… do it with all your might (v.10).
Thank God, that in Christ our joy is so much more full than with simply enjoying earthly pleasure
Thank God that we know that Sheol (v.10) holds no terrors for us! The Hebrews thought that Sheol was a pit deep under the earth (cf. Deut 32:22) where the righteous and unrighteous went after death - a “land of forgetfulness” (Ps 88:12) and darkness (Job 38:17), where men exist as shadowy replicas of their former selves (cf. Isa 14:9, 10). It is clear that there is progressive revelation concerning the nature of the afterlife, and Jesus and the NT make it clear that justified sinners go to heaven and unreconciled sinners go to an eternal hell.
4. Solomon observes how God's providences in our lives so often surprise us (vv.11-12). Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them.
One would think that the fastest runner should win the race. Not so! The race is not always to the swift; something happens in the race. They fall; someone cuts in before them; they start too late ; they tear a hamstring.
(ii) Nor the battle to the strong. One would think that the most powerful army should be always victorious. And yet the Bible illustrates the fact that an army of Philistines might be put to flight by one Jonathan and his armour bearer man (1 Sam 14); “ five of you shall chase a hundred and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand…” (Lev 26:8) ;
One would think that wise men should always be well off. But this is not always so - even bread is not always to the wise, much less riches always to men of intelligence or ingenuity or business sense.
Moreover we learn from Solomon that man is not in charge of time and chance. There is no ‘fate’! All happens according to the counsel and foreknowledge of God, and according to the time He determines. At one time Peter was strong and assertive, but Jesus warned him: “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18 ESV). That is how we need to live life.
Matthew Henry says : “A sovereign Providence breaks men's measures, and blasts their hopes, and teaches them that the way of man is not in himself, but subject to the divine will. We must use means, but not trust them; if we succeed, we must give God the praise ; if we be crossed, we must acquiesce in his will and take our lot…. “ Let us therefore never be secure, but always ready for changes, that, though they may be sudden, they may be no surprise or terror to us.” Thank God that He is in charge!
5. Solomon observes that wisdom often makes a man (in this case a poor man) very useful, and yet this fact obtains him little or no gratitude. The wisdom of such man in the nation is to be preferred over a foolish ruler in a nation of fools. (9:13-18) “I have also seen this example of wisdom under the sun, and it seemed great to me. There was a little city with few men in it, and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siegeworks against it. But there was found in it a poor, wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man. But I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man's wisdom is despised and his words are not heard. The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.”
Solomon gives an example of a poor man who by his wisdom delivered a city at a time of war. This city was not saved by the strength of its own army (it had none). In fact there were only a few men in it , and yet one poor man – of no rank and standing in the city did it! (see also story of the woman at Abel, in 2 Sam 20:16). Though he had been instrumental in saving the city from destruction, ultimately no one remembered him; he was not rewarded ; he was not honoured. So, don’t expect the world to receive you as a hero and thank you for your contributions – BUT remember that God will reward you in the life to come. Thank God that he is in charge!
From this story , Solomon draws some useful conclusions:
1. Wisdom is better than might. (v.16) God given wisdom is better than all military power. God’s wisdom will engage God for us, and if God be for us, who can be against us? (Rom 8:28)
2. Wisdom has unusual authority: (v.17) The words of wise men heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools…. What is spoken wisely does not have to be shouted! It is the truth and it is owned by God and even if no one hears you, God approves of you!
3. One sinner destroys much good. Here is a profound fact under the sun . One Achan brought trouble on the whole of Israel (Joshua 7) . In this life under the sun much of the good that the wise do is undone at the hand of one sinner. The history of the world is full of such illustrations – particularly in the political realm.
So thank God that we are in the hand of God ! This life under the sun with all its injustices demands an after life in which we are comforted. This is in fact the assurance of Jesus in the beatitudes of His Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5).
In the light of life’s uncertainties, let us then draw near to Jesus in the table set before us, and rejoice once again that His broken body and shed blood secures our future! Amen.