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. 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.
This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterwards they join the dead. Anyone who is among the living has hope – even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!
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.
Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do.(Eccl. 9:1-7 NIV)
God is God and I am not! It takes a lifetime of learning to learn this and when we have learned it we need to learn it again. The Preacher uses three different lessons here in this chapter to shatter any illusions of grandeur that we might have about ourselves. We have the illusion that we are in control and that God will soon share with us exactly what He is doing in our lives. We need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that we will be able to fully understand all that is going on in our lives. Sometimes we are so busy trying to figure things out that we have no time left to enjoy the simple things that God has given us in life.
In 9:1-6 the Preacher shows us the one certainty that we can know in life.
In 9:7-10 he tells us what is wise, and then
In 9:11-12 he shows us many things that are uncertain.
The one thing that we can be certain about in this life is death. Whether we are righteous or wicked the same destiny awaits us all. The idea of death is an evil. This was not the way the world was meant to be. The Preacher tells us that all that the righteous do is in God’s hands. What happens in life does not make sense to us. Why does a young person whose life is so full of promise die at an early age? Equally baffling is the long life of some wicked people who heap horrible suffering on others. Under the sun does not mean a view of life without God in the picture, as if somehow when we bring God in that it all makes sense. God directs our lives and there is a tremendous amount we just don’t understand.
The one thing for sure is that it will all end in death. God knows the whole picture from beginning to end and the little bit that we know – we’re going to die – we just don’t want to think about. The Preacher’s purpose in Ecc is to make us think about it, because it is such an important part of living. Life is good and worth living, only we don’t live it because we’re pursuing the meaning life’s issues, or the purpose of our illness or some other quest. In order to teach us that life matters the Preacher in his usual stark style says that a living dog is better than a dead lion.
God wants us to be alive to life, to trust Him. All the things that we strive to get, things that we rate as important, as death approaches they are firmly put into perspective. The Preacher doesn’t want us to wait until a few days before our death to put things into perspective, he wants us to do that now.
We don’t live with the thought of death the way previous generations did. The Puritans spoke about wanting to die well. This doesn’t mean that we won’t cry and grieve about the death of a loved one.
To die well is to appreciate and accept that this is the limit that God has placed on all of us. We are not owed seventy years. Since we were born we were under the sentence of death because we are sinners. It is truly amazing that God allows us to live as long as we have. To die well is to learn to live, holding what we have in open hands. Because Christ has died for us, our sins are forgiven, and death means leaving everything behind but grasping the inheritance that God has reserved for us in heaven. The thought of death is not a morbid preoccupation, it is resolving to live in the light of our soon coming death.
The Preacher wants us to appreciate what we have, while we have it. What great example will the Preacher give us as the typical gift that God has given us? Instead He chooses the most basic of things – eating and drinking. Even in a simple meal a lot of things had to happen to make the meal possible. We had chilli con carne for dinner last night. It took me about 45 minutes to prepare it, but it took thousands of people to be involved . The cooking equipment, rice cooker, pots and pans, wooden spoons. The ingredients were bought in the supermarket. Somebody had to build that, shelves had to be designed and made. The delivery lorries, designed, made, maintained. All the drivers trained, staff trained. The electric to power the cooker had to be generated and transmitted. If you think of all the materials in the generation and transmission system, there is a lot involved. Onions, carrots, garlic tomato puree, tins of chopped tomatoes, black beans and kidney beans, the salt and pepper to season. Think of all the thousands of people involved so that chilli and rice and be put on the table.
Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do.(Eccl. 9:7 NIV)
God has given us these gifts and He wants us to have pleasure in eating and drinking. The problem is that we take these gifts for granted and fail to see that God provides our daily bread.
‘Life is not about the meaning that you can create for your own life, or the meaning that you can find in the universe by all your work and ambitions. You find meaning when you realise that God has given you life in this world and has given you many gifts to enjoy.’
Lord help me to slow down so that I can spot the many gifts that You have surrounded me with. There are many questions that lie unanswered but help me to leave that in Your hands. Forgive me for trying to ponder matters that have no answer for me. Help me to be content in the lot in life You have given. There are many gifts that ought not to be taken for granted and the greatest of all gifts is the gift of Your Son in whose name I pray. Amen.