Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Ecclesiastes 9 : Thank God that we are in His hands!

TEXT:      Ecclesiastes  9:1-10 
THEME:   Thank God that we are in His hands
DATE:      11/11/2012  

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.

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