Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Ecclesiastes: Does Anything Really Matter? Day 19, The Grave Awaits Us All...And How To Deal With This Knowledge

The theme of today's passage may sound macabre, but some of the most beautiful words of the book of Ecclesiastes are found in Chapter Nine. Human intelligence is a tremendous gift, but in some ways a curse, because every day of our lives we are aware that we are going to die. This knowledge is with us at all times. It's amazing that along with such awareness the Lord has also created us with the ability to go about our lives and enjoy our blessings. Of all the creatures on the earth, man alone is constantly aware that a grave awaits him. Yet God has equipped us with something far more powerful than the fear of death: the capacity to relish the days we are given under the sun. Today Solomon's musings are not as depressing as we would expect, considering he is speaking on the subject of death, because he is also speaking on the subject of life and how we should live it.

"So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God's hands, but no one knows whether love or hate awaits them." (Ecclesiastes 9:1) A man as intelligent as Solomon longs to know the future, but it's as hidden from him as it is from the rest of us.

"All share a common destiny---the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not. As it is with the good, so with the sinful; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them." (Ecclesiastes 9:2) We may not know what the future holds, but one thing we know for certain is that death comes for every person sooner or later. Solomon says, "There's a grave for each of us, whether we lived godly lives or wicked lives. A funeral is ahead of us, whether we honored the Lord with sacrifices or whether we ignored Him. Somebody is going to carve us a headstone, whether we were men and women of our word or whether we were not."

"This is the evil that happens in everything under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all." (Ecclesiastes 9:3a) It strikes Solomon as unfair that both the godly and the ungodly must die. I'm not sure it would be much of a reward if the Lord allowed the godly to live in the flesh in a fallen world forever. Even if our bodies were immortal, we'd have to get up every morning and deal with the same old struggles, knowing they would never end. Solomon thinks he's weary now; imagine how weary he'd be if he knew he was going to live forever in a world he finds difficult to understand. That would be a curse rather than a blessing, but at this point in time the king of Israel is still looking at life through carnal eyes and not through spiritual eyes.

"The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead." (Ecclesiastes 9:3b) The fact that men and women do cruel and depraved things on this planet should be enough to tell Solomon he doesn't want to live forever in a world that is cursed by sin. I don't watch or read the news nearly as much as I used to because it's almost always bad. The news is full of stories of cruelty, neglect, and murder. The headlines tell of people who have been defrauded by the latest scams. It's enough to make us say what Solomon says, "There is madness in the heart of humans!" Headlines on our computer or television screens tell us of wars and threats of war, of the devastation done by bombs and natural disasters. Who in their right mind would want to live forever in a world like this? Yet Solomon, because he has not yet made a full journey back to God, views life on this planet merely from his inbuilt instinct for self-preservation and says, "Anyone who is among the living has hope---even a live dog is better than a dead lion!" (Ecclesiastes 9:4)

"For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten. Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6) While it's true that once we die we no longer take an active part in anything that happens in this world, Solomon displays his doubts about an afterlife in these two verses. We've seen him going back and forth on this issue the whole time we've been in the book of Ecclesiastes. At times he seems to understand that man must face God after death. He has shown a belief in the judgment, that humans will receive the rewards or punishment for the lives they have lived, but at other times he appears to doubt whether there is a soul that endures after death.

During the long nights when he can't sleep, Solomon wonders whether this life is all there is. Just in case the human experience ends at the grave, he decides the least we can do is enjoy our days on this planet. He's wrong in his perception about what happens to us after the death of these frail bodies, but he isn't wrong in his advice to us today. His version of "living it up" does not include living in sin. He's not telling us to immerse ourselves in debauchery and excess, but instead makes some beautiful points about enjoying the blessings our God gives us in this world. He begins with this dietary advice, "Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do." (Ecclesiastes 9:7) He instructs, "The Lord has chosen to bless you with food and drink. Relish them. It would be wrong not to be thankful for what He has provided."

"Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil." (Ecclesiastes 9:8) In Solomon's culture a white garment was worn on festive occasions. A white garment also symbolizes spiritual purity and a right relationship with the Lord. The king provides us with some fashion advice, "Wear the garments of happiness. Put on your face and dress your hair. Make every day a joyful occasion. Why go about looking sloppy and depressed when instead you can celebrate life? You are alive! You can smell the air and look up at the sun! As the author of Psalm 118 said, 'This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.'"

Solomon gives us marital advice, "Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun---all your meaningless days." (Ecclesiastes 9:a) He still isn't sure life has any meaning at all, but he thinks at least we don't have to go through it alone. He says, "Your marriage partner, whom you love, is a blessing to you. The two of you can face life together. You have someone to encourage you in the hard times and someone to rejoice with you in the good times. Cling to that person. Be that person's best friend. Be joyful together whenever you can."

Next he gives us advice for our work life. "For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom." (Ecclesiastes 9:9b-10) Solomon urges, "Be all in! Whatever you do, put your energy and your thoughts into it. Don't go through life in a daze. Be all there."

"I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all." (Ecclesiastes 9:11) He points out something that all of us have probably noticed. The smartest person doesn't always become wealthy. The strongest person doesn't always win. The one who seems to deserve blessing and promotion and rewards isn't always the first one chosen to receive honors. This is because life contains circumstances that are beyond our control. Even so, we don't need to live in fear. Our God is with us, whether we have prime rib on the table or a grilled cheese sandwich, whether we live in a mansion or in a one-room apartment. He does not want or expect us to live in fear of the future. To our mortal eyes the world may appear to be spinning out of control, but at no time is anything outside of the Creator's control.

In conclusion of today's passage, Solomon circles back around to his theme of the grave that awaits us all. "Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so people are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them." (Ecclesiastes 9:12) He paints the picture of an unexpected death. Being young doesn't prevent death from coming. Being healthy doesn't assure us of another day on the planet. Solomon is depressed by such realizations but we have to keep in mind that he lived almost a thousand years before Christ. Wise and wealthy as he was, we are more blessed than Solomon ever dreamed of being, because we live in the church age and can have this attitude, "To live is Christ; to die is gain." (Philippians 1:21) While we live, we enjoy the abundant and fulfilling experiences that come from walking alongside our Savior. When we die, we go to be in His presence forever. There is no reason for the Christian to live a defeated life. Christ has defeated every foe we ever had, including our own sinful natures and our enemy the devil. For the Christian, life is Christ and death is Christ....because in Christ there is no death.

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