Ecclesiastes 3-4

*If you missed it, here’s our lasted study from Ecclesiastes

 

Intro

Today we continue our summer study of the book of Ecclesiastes.  Turn a Bible to Ecclesiastes chapter 3. As a review,[1] we can say that many believe this book was written by King Solomon, the wisest man of his day. The author is nearing the end of his days, and he’s reflecting on his life – what he has done, what it was worth, and what he can pass on to the younger generations. The author, in his wisdom, sets out on an experiment of sorts, to figure out what has lasting value. And after his experiment is over, he is rocked by the realities of life – his life and the lives he has observed.  In the end, the author makes the conclusion that the only hope we have is in God’s enduring presence. And we therefore are called to acknowledge God’s endurance and follow Him. This conclusion lines up w/ Proverbs 1:7, which states, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” In other words, acknowledging our place in the cosmos, knowing that God is God and we are not, knowing we are limited and He is limitless, is the foundation of building one’s life. Knowing we are limited, yet serve the limitless God, allows us to rest in Him, His character and knowledge. We can be at peace and enjoy the seasons we are in.

The Outline of Ecclesiastes might look like this:

I-Intro (1:1-11)

II-Wisdom Reflections

A-Accomplishments (1:12-ch 2)

B-Time/Death/Oppression (3-4)

III-Admonitions/Observations

A-Religion/Wealth (5)

B-Future/Uncertainties (6:1-12:8)

IV-Conclusions (12:9-14)

Today we are going to do a simple Bible study on II.B, the author’s reflections on time/death/and oppression.

Text

Remembering that Ecclesiastes is a book about reality, I want you to look at the text, in 4 parts.  As you do, I want you to bring your own reality to your readingPay attention to how the reading impresses you or makes you feel.

1st, look at 3:1-15:

3:1There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

2 a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

3 a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

6 a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

7 a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

8 a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.

What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.

15 Whatever is has already been,

and what will be has been before;

and God will call the past to account.

Here we see that time and seasons are set by God (3:1-15). Our work is toilsome. And, we could say that all our hard work will not change the seasonal patterns set by God. So what can we do? We can be happy and do good and find satisfaction in our work. We can revere God and enjoy and seek the fruit of God’s work.

Here God reveals Himself to us, look at v. 11. It says, “God makes things beautiful in their time, and He has set eternity in the hearts of men.” One commentator said it well, he says:

“Beautiful” here means “appropriate.” If we can accept life as it is, even the hard parts will be bearable. Yet there is a catch. We feel like aliens in the world of time and yearn to be part of eternity. We feel the need for ourselves and our work to be eternal and yet are grieved to be trapped in time. We also desire to understand our place in the universe against the backdrop of eternity. But we cannot find out what God has done from beginning to end. That is, we are not able to discern any plan or pattern to all of this. God’s purposes are outside our realm of control or investigation. We thus have a sense of alienation and bewilderment in time.[2]

In other words, God here names a reality we live w/. We long for heaven, for works that last, to be a part of something bigger. God has given us that desire, but we are finite, unable to create lasting works. God here shows us that He is limitless and we are not.  And yet, He places a piece of eternity in us. Meaning, He desires for us to desire Him. God desires us to be in relationship w/ Him, to trust in Him and His “infiniteness.”

Look at 3:16-4:3:

16 And I saw something else under the sun:

In the place of judgment—wickedness was there,

in the place of justice—wickedness was there.

17 I said to myself, “God will bring into judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be a time for every activity, a time to judge every deed.”

18 I also said to myself, “As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. 19 Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. 20 All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?”

22 So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot. For who can bring them to see what will happen after them?

4:1 Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun:

I saw the tears of the oppressed—

and they have no comforter;

power was on the side of their oppressors—

and they have no comforter.

And I declared that the dead,

who had already died,

are happier than the living,

who are still alive.

But better than both

is the one who has never been born,

who has not seen the evil

that is done under the sun.

Here the author gets real.  He states his observations of oppression – How the powerful maintain their power at the expense of others. This is discouraging to those who know what is right. In the midst of the passage, he tells us that we can all expect death. We have our limits. When we have power we are tempted to act otherwise, and either actively or passively participate in oppression – through the way we treat each other, or with what we support w/ our dollars. And we ourselves can be at the other end of injustice. Scammed by credit card deals and the belief that we can have it all. This results in the poverty of our souls, and maybe financially. The author states that we are like the animals in the end; we are not above death, and will pass on. So what can we do in the face of oppression and morality? He says in the midst of it all, enjoy work.  Even as you get frustrated w/ the world and your work, find enjoyment in it, knowing that the things before you themselves are limited, and God will make things right.

This is what God reveals about Himself in this passage. Look at 3:17, it says, “I said to myself, “God will bring into judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be a time for every activity, a time to judge every deed.”  God is just. Here the author offers hope for the hopeless. The oppressed, w/ their limits, can put their hope in the limitless One. God’s justice gives us hope in the face of oppression.

Look at 4:4-12:

And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Fools fold their hands and ruin themselves. Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.

Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. “For whom am I toiling,” he asked, “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?” This too is meaningless— a miserable business!  Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:  10 If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. 11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? 12 Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Here we see the human motives of achievement. Look at 4:4, it says: “And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one persons envy of another. When our focus is not centered on God, our focus lands on ourselves. And often this means our goal becomes to keep up w/ and out doing the Jones’. This is why the author encourages us to be in community. Look at 4:9-10, it says: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:  If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.The truth is we need community. We need each other, not only for comfort/security in the face of oppression and discouragement, but also to guard us against illogical thinking and paradigms. The author asserts that being alone welcomes hardship and leads to foolishness.

Look now at 4:13-16. It says:

13 Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to heed a warning. 14 The youth may have come from prison to the kingship, or he may have been born in poverty within his kingdom. 15 I saw that all who lived and walked under the sun followed the youth, the king’s successor. 16 There was no end to all the people who were before them. But those who came later were not pleased with the successor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

What’s going on here? Here we see the author indirectly calling us to focus on things that last. He says, wisdom is greater than age or wealth. He’s saying that as this wise youth of v. 13 enters a place of lordship the result was the same.  Over time power and life snatch the wisdom he once had and now he is like the old foolish king, and nothing had a lasting point. Wisdom is greater than age or wealth, regardless of our age or wealth.

Problem

This gets at the ultimate struggle we have w/ this section of Ecclesiastes, and maybe the whole book. The struggle for us is the reality that our earthly pursuits frustrate us and fade away. Wisdom can fade. Our pursuits find selfish motives. Abuse and oppression occur. And, all we do is limited and subject to the realities of life.

Ecclesiastes challenges the paradigms and motives we place on reality. It forces us to ask about the lasting meaning of our pursuits. It forces us to look at the realities of life, and our death, and our world. We can get discouraged by a surface reading of the book, and we can miss the point.

Point

When we read the Biblical text we need to remember that the text is not about us, it’s about God revealing Himself to us. In that we learn about ourselves, but the text is primarily about God’s revelation to us. In these chapters we learn again that God’s pursuits have lasting meaning and fulfillment. Our pursuits are limited. In these passages God reveals Himself by telling us that He makes things beautiful in their time, that He has set eternity in our hearts and desires for us to pursue Him. He invites us to worship Him in the moment, by gifting us w/ today, eat, drink, enjoy your work. In other words, be present and grateful for what is before you. We learn that God’s works endure, and that He is just and a source of hope.

Ecclesiastes teaches us that the only hope we have is in the enduring the presence of God – in His justice, His hope. So we are called to acknowledge God’s character, and our own – that God is God and we are not, that He is limitless, and we are limited, that He is selfless, and we are selfish, and b/c of the work of JC, our imperfections are made perfect. Ecclesiastes demonstrates how faith can triumph over doubt.

Charge

So the charge to us is to live w/ meaning. Pursue lasting truth. Pursue God, and enjoy the blessings of today. Enjoy your work. Enjoy your family and friends. And, praise God as you go.

Amen.



[1] Encountering the Old Testament. by Arnold & Beyer (Baker, 1999).

[2] Garrett, D. A. (1993). Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of songs (Vol. 14, p. 299). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

One Response to “Ecclesiastes 3-4”

  1. Kyle July 15, 2014 at 3:26 pm #

    Thanks Aaron – what a great reminder of where our confidence and hope should be!

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