In this chapter, Solomon contrasts wisdom and folly. Most of his contrasts are written in the form of pithy sayings that cut right to the point. I especially enjoyed verse 10.
Using a dull ax requires great strength, so sharpen the blade. That’s the value of wisdom; it helps you succeed.
Brilliant! Just brilliant! How often have I worked at a task so hard, straining with every movement, when my “axe” was dull? Too often. It takes time to sharpen the axe and maybe in that time I could be halfway done with the project! Maybe. But probably not.
Does your axe need to be sharpened? It’s the wise thing to do. Your success will come more quickly if you follow the way of wisdom.
In Solomon’s exploration of life and its purpose, he also explored death. He concluded that death comes to all regardless of position, power or belief system. And in this, he is correct. One hundred percent of us will die.
Because he writes trying to find meaning apart from God, his conclusion is quite sour. It reminds me of Paul’s concern in his first letter to the Corinthians. Some of the new believers questioned if the dead would be resurrected. Paul addresses this by saying that if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ did not rise. And if Christ did not rise, then the apostles are all lying about God. He continues with this line of reasoning in 1 Corinthians 15:12 and following. Most important of all is his final few thoughts:
And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.
I Corinthians 15:17-20
Solomon is correct. We all die. And without Christ, death is final. But because Christ has been raised, not only our death, but our life has fresh purpose and meaning.
Do you know the hope of life, both now and forever, because Jesus overcame death?
While there are many important truths in today’s reading, I will highlight only two. The first is found in verses 5 and 6.
Those who are wise will find a time and a way to do what is right, for there is a time and a way for everything, even when a person is in trouble.
Too often when faced with a difficult situation, it’s easier to choose what feels good than what is right. Paul reiterates this same idea in his letter to the believers in Corinth.
The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.
Does choosing right seem less desirable than what feels good? There is a way already prepared for you to get out of the trouble you face. You just have to choose it.
The second is closely related to the first and is found in verses 12 and 13.
But even though a person sins a hundred times and still lives a long time, I know that those who fear God will be better off. The wicked will not prosper, for they do not fear God. Their days will never grow long like the evening shadows.
Sometimes I am distracted from doing right because I focus on others who are doing wrong. They seem to prosper and never have trouble even though their choices are not in line with the word of God. Take heart! The wicked do not prosper forever, it only appears that way.
In psalm 73, Asaph laments that the wicked prosper while he suffered despite his good choices. I understand his angst. Choosing right is not always easy. I love the action Asaph took to get perspective….
Then I went into your sanctuary, O God, and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked.
Time in God’s presence will bring clarity to the injustices we perceive. Have you done that today?
The reading for today is well worth the effort it takes to read the whole chapter. But knowing we don’t all have the same time, I selected my standout verses to share with you today. Here they are:
Not a single person on earth is always good and never sins.
Don’t eavesdrop on others—you may hear your servant curse you. You know how often you yourself have cursed others.
This really levels the playing field for me. First, no one is better than another. We all have sinned. Paul agrees with Solomon and in Romans says it this way:
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.
Paul just follows his statement of universal sinfulness with the awesome good news that we are made right by Jesus.
Secondly, the one thing that keeps me from saying whatever I might want is the hard truth state above. It seems I really get my knickers in a twist if I find out someone is talking about me – especially if it isn’t a glowing report about my awesomeness! And then I am brought up short by this one truth: I have so often said unkind things about others.
I remind myself often: if I don’t want others to speak unkindly about me, don’t speak unkindly about others. I know this isn’t a magic formula, but kindness goes a long way in begetting kindness.
What part of this chapter is most relevant to you? What change can you make as a result?
The most disturbing aspect of Solomon’s writing is looking at life and trying to find meaning separate from a relationship with God through Jesus. Nothing in life will bring fulfillment without the eternal perspective of Jesus bridging the gap between God and humanity.
I find that I agree with Solomon. There really is no purpose to be born at all if my greatest good is to achieve great wealth and honor. It all disappears immediately when we die, and we will all die. So, there has to be more than what we experience here on this earth. Hang in there with me, because he eventually makes a beautiful discovery regarding the meaning of life.
But for today, my take-a-way is verse 9:
Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless—like chasing the wind.
Too often, I long for what I don’t have. And then when I do have it, it doesn’t bring the joy I anticipated. I would have been better off without it – whatever “it” is.
What about you? What stands out to you in today’s reading?
My first experience with roller coasters was while I was dating my husband. Theme parks, like Cedar Point, were not on my radar and I had never been on anything like the coasters theme park boasts.
To be fair, I didn’t know how much I would hate them. We entered the park – this was in the early 80’s – and made our way to the Gemini. (If you have been to Cedar Point recently, you know the Gemini is a tiny little coaster in the back of the park. At that time, it was the big dog.) We settled into our seats, buckled the harnesses and off we went. I hated every minute of it. We lived, got off and Dave successfully convinced me to get on the Corkscrew. And that’s how it went all day long. One after the other, hating every minute.
I fell into a pattern after I was safely harnessed into the seat – I prayed. Frantically and with many promises to God for future good behavior if he would get me safely off this awful machine. Solomon had something to say about that in chapter five of Ecclesiastes.
As you enter the house of God, keep your ears open and your mouth shut. It is evil to make mindless offerings to God. Don’t make rash promises, and don’t be hasty in bringing matters before God. After all, God is in heaven, and you are here on earth. So let your words be few.
He concludes the first few verses with an admonition to fear God rather than hurrying about making rash promises, speaking too many words in place of thoughtful behavior. To fear God isn’t to be afraid, rather proper respect for who He is, standing in awe and wonder of Him.
When I allow God to be who He is in all his holiness and glory, when I allow Him to magnificent, when I allow Him to take his rightful place in my life – my problems shrink and He is magnified.
Today stop talking and listen. Still yourself before the God of the universe and hear what he has to say. I invite you to take five minutes, turn your eyes to Jesus, looking full in his wonderful face.
The Teacher highlights one of the universal necessities for wholehearted living: companionship. In the past we may have called it fellowship; today we call it connection.
Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.
I am reading Brene’ Brown’s book, “The Gifts of Imperfection.” In it she talks about wholehearted living and the elements that make it possible to achieve. Connection is in the top three.
Like Solomon, Brown highlights the advantages of someone to lean on in life. Connection is more than just being able to greet someone in the coffee shop and it’s definitely more than a friend on FaceBook. It is knowing that I am seen, heard and valued just as I am in all my imperfection.
Take a minute and think about the people in your life. Who would you call in an emergency? Is there someone with whom you can share your imperfections without fear of rejection or judgment? Who makes you feel seen, heard and valued?
If the only names that come to mind are friends you have made through and connect with over technology, I encourage you to reassess. We NEED live face-to-face encounters with real people. Don’t settle for the disconnection of technology when your true self longs for live human connection.
This chapter has to be one of the most familiar from the writing of Ecclesiastes. “There is a time for everything…” and on The Teacher goes to contrast birth and death, planting and harvest, etc.
Even at this writing, I upset the palm plant on my desk and it landed on the carpet upside down and out of the pot. I really don’t think this was the time to uproot the palm plant. Seriously out of sync with proper timing on this one!
But I want to draw your attention to another concept from Solomon’s writing. Check out verse 11:
He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.
I see it all around me. The reality that there is more to life than what I see. It is a feeling more than knowledge. There is something after this or in addition to this…but THIS is not all there is. And it is illusive. I can’t nail it down. I can’t quite describe it. But I know it is there.
Even though I sense eternity, the infinite that is God himself, I cannot see the end, the whole of it all. I see only partially and I understand only a part of what I see.
I’m okay with that even though it scares me a little. How about you? Does the whole scope of God’s work stir up awe? Or indifference?
Solomon considered the pointless cycle of life in chapter one. He turns to the futility of life in chapter two. In an effort to find meaning, he turned to pleasure and work. He found both to be quite meaningless in themselves.
He sought laughter, wine, huge homes, beautiful vineyards, gardens and parks. He afforded himself every luxury known to humankind at the time. He summed up his experience like this:
Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere.
He feared his successors, the benefactors of all his hard work, would be foolish and wasteful. As he pondered it, he asked this question? “So what do people get in this life for all their hard work and anxiety? Their days are filled with pain and grief; even at night their minds cannot rest.” (Ecc. 2:22-23)
His conclusion? “There is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God.” Ecc. 2:24
For who can eat or enjoy anything apart from him? God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy to those who please him.
Solomon tried to find meaning and purpose in life apart from God. It didn’t work for him. Does it work for you?
Could bringing God into your daily activity – your appointments, aspirations, acquisitions – provide the meaning you desire?