Saturday, May 13, 2017

Ecclesiastes: Does Anything Really Matter? Day 16, Man Has Gone Astray From God

Solomon is a man who likes to test things. He has tested his own limits and is still bored with life. He has tested his own character and found it lacking. He has tested the character of his fellow man and found it lacking, ending yesterday's passage by saying, "Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins." (Ecclesiastes 7:20) Today he picks back up on this theme, that God created us to live godly lives but that we have gone astray.

"Do not pay attention to every word people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you---for you know in your heart that many times you yourself have cursed others." (Ecclesiastes 7:21-22) This is advice that is beneficial to us all. Let's not be so thin-skinned. Our self-confidence is not dependent on the opinions of a few people who, for some reason or another, may not like us or may be miffed at us temporarily. Our confidence comes from who we are in Christ. The Lord Jesus thought we were to die for, and since He is the ultimate authority on all things, His opinion outweighs everyone else's. In addition, people may not always really mean what they say. Have you ever said something about someone in a moment of anger or because your feelings were kind of hurt, but then you got over it? The same can be said of many of the things other people say about us. Solomon wisely says, "Before you let a thing like that ruin your day, or before you take it too seriously to heart, stop and remember all the times you've said unkind things about others. You are not so innocent yourself. You should show mercy to others because you too have received mercy."

Solomon will later say in the book of Proverbs, "A person's wisdom yields patience; it is to one's glory to overlook an offense." (Proverbs 19:11) It's our human nature to say to ourselves, "I'm not going to let my neighbor get away with what she said about me! I've got to get back at her." But the Bible say's it's to our glory to overlook an offense. When we're able to shake it off and go on about our business we are being the bigger person. The greater glory goes to the person who maintains dignity in that situation. The Bible is not telling us to be anyone's doormat but to conduct our lives with honor, not sinking down to the level of anyone who constantly wants to stir up strife, and not becoming as petty as whoever is gossiping about us. Jesus was insulted in many ways by many people during the years of His ministry, but we find Him getting up every morning and being about the Father's business, not letting anything get in His way. He kept His eyes on the prize, focusing solely on His mission in life, refusing to be sidetracked. This is a wonderful example for us all. Whenever we make up our minds to live for the Lord and to fulfill our calling in Christ, there are going to be those who criticize us. We might as well expect it, but it's to our glory to overlook it and keep moving forward.

"All this I tested by wisdom and I said, 'I am determined to be wise'---but this was beyond me. Whatever exists is far off and most profound---who can discover it? So I turned my mind to understand, to investigate and to search out wisdom and the scheme of things and to understand the stupidity of wickedness and the madness of folly." (Ecclesiastes 7:23-25) He admits, "The more I try wise the more puzzled I am. The deeper I investigate the nature of things the more I realize how little I understand. It's one thing to be unable to explain how the universe was created, or what keeps the stars in the sky, or why the solar systems hold together, or how all the creatures on the earth were made. But I can't even understand why men and women do the things they do. Why are we attracted to sin? Why do we do foolish things?"

"I find more bitter than death the woman who is a snare, whose heart is a trap and whose hands are chains. The man who pleases God will escape her, but the sinner she will ensnare." (Ecclesiastes 7:26) Solomon is speaking from experience. The Bible tells us that he loved many foreign women, having hundreds of wives and concubines who worshiped pagan gods. These women were able to ensnare him because of his desire for them. They were able to lead him into idolatry because he was blinded by the lusts of the flesh. He says, "Take my words to heart; I learned this lesson the hard way. The man who is determined to obey the Lord will escape falling for the wrong kind of woman, but the man who is willing to violate godly principles in order to satisfy carnal desires will live to regret it."

"'Look,' says the Teacher, 'this is what I have discovered: Adding one thing to another to discover the scheme of things---while I was still searching but not finding---I found one upright man among a thousand, but not one upright woman among them all. This only have I found: God created mankind upright, but they have gone in search of many schemes." (Ecclesiastes 7:27-29) Solomon has been unlucky in love simply because he disobeyed God's word. He should have chosen a queen from among his own people, a woman of the same faith who served the same God. He needed only one woman, not a harem, for possessing many wives and concubines was in direct disobedience to God's word which said of any king of Israel, "He must not take many wives." (Deuteronomy 17:17a) The word of God also forbade intermarrying with the pagan people of the land. (Deuteronomy 7:1-6) The reason Solomon never found a good woman is because he wasn't looking for a good woman in the places where a good woman can be found. Godly women were right under his nose in his own nation of Israel, but he brought wives in from other nations and allowed them to continue their practices of idolatry instead of requiring them to convert. If only he'd gone to the temple to find a nice wife! He knew plenty of priests and teachers of the law who might have had a godly sister or niece or cousin they could have fixed him up with. He could have sought God's will in his choice of wife and then he would have been able to say, "I am a blessed man! I found a good woman. Because I've decided to be obedient to the Lord I am a one-woman man. She's the only woman for me, the only woman I will ever want or need, and I thank the Lord for sending her to me."

He finishes the chapter by saying that God created man to be upright but we've gone in search of many schemes. This is certainly true enough. As the prophet Micah said, "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8) The Lord has clearly told us what He expects from us, but we can't find it in our hearts to stay true to Him one hundred percent. The Apostle John said that we show our love for God by keeping His commandments, and John points out that God's commandments are not too grievous and burdensome. (1 John 5:3) But we are led astray by our carnal natures, something a carnal man like Solomon knows all about. God created us with a spirit that longs to do what is right, but our flesh longs to do what is wrong. We experience this struggle every day of our lives. Solomon is wearied by the struggle and even in his wisdom he cannot understand why life should be this way. Why did God make us with this duality of nature, so that the flesh fights against the spirit and the spirit fights against the flesh? I would like to suggest that He did it so we would have to depend on Him for everything, so that we would come to know and love our Redeemer, so that we would never forget that the power to do good comes from Him and not from our own feeble abilities. God did indeed create us to be upright, but He also created us incapable of being upright apart from Him. What if He had not created us this way? I believe we would never be able to fully experience the joy of having a relationship with our Creator. If we did not have to depend on Him every day and every hour to be able to do anything that matters, would we love Him? Would we have a hunger to know more and more about Him? Would He mean as much to us if our righteousness didn't have to come from Him? I tend to think not.

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