‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher.
‘Everything is meaningless!’
Not only was the Teacher wise, but also he imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true.
The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails – given by one shepherd. Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them.
Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.
Now all has been heard;(Eccl. 12:8-14 NIV)
here is the conclusion of the matter:
fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.
If I was to recommend one book to get on Ecc it would be, ‘Destiny: Learning to live by Preparing to die’ by David Gibson. I found it such a refreshing book. For years I had studied the book of Ecc and I just couldn’t accept the outline that many commentators were imposing on the book. Their argument was that the author was a backslidden old man who examined life under the sun, which was a kind of hypothetical life under the sun without God in that life. All the difficult, dark things were magically taken away once we brought God back into the picture. I am afraid that that is not the reality that any honest person experiences. It is a struggle for the Christian as for anyone else to accept the reality that one day we will die. Our life is of limited time and our wisdom is of limited value. The main theme of the book is to allow us to accept the reality that we cannot fully understand what God is doing and that we should by faith accept our lot in life and enjoy the gifts that God has given us.
The Preacher didn’t make up some kind of hypothetical fiction. Whether it suits our sensibilities or not, the Preacher wrote what was upright and true.
The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true. The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails– given by one shepherd.
David Gibson’s book, along with a growing number of other commentators, is seeking to allow the Preacher to speak for himself rather than imposing an artificial framework on the book that allows us to bury the difficulty of some of the hard sayings.
The Preacher’s words have quite often shocked us, and I’m afraid that is a tactic that is almost always needed. Jesus was the master of this type of approach. As interpreters of the word we need to get away from the feeling that we have to make the writer or speaker sound nice or friendly. The intention is always to do us good, but it is hard at times to capture anyone’s attention even for a few minutes.
The words the Preacher uses are the words and the styles that God gave him to use. To be able to know God, we have to hear what He is saying, and in this case it is through the book of Ecc.
In this last section we should have got to the point that we recognise we need to think about our Creator. Now the Preacher tells us how and why.
God intends that we should have pleasure in life. The sometimes apparently depressing passages in Ecc is to stop us from being disillusioned and to give us a sense of perspective as to who we really are in relation to God. The Preacher is managing our expectations. We overestimate what we think we can understand. We certainly overestimate what we expect to be informed about. Job never found out what his trouble was all about. When God spoke He didn’t even refer to the arguments between Job and his friends. We overestimate how important we think our arguments might be to God. The Preacher wants us to realise that life is good, that there are many gifts from God to enjoy. We should humbly accept the lot in life that God has given us.
The words of the wise are also like goads. They are used to poke us, to waken us up to truth and to send us in the right direction. These sharp words are words from the loving Shepherd. If we were as silly as sheep and left it there it might not be such a great problem, but we are like silly sheep with attitude and ideas of grandeur. Unlike the sheep we have some sense of our own mortality, yet like sheep we ignore it. The Shepherd pokes us with words to bring us back to reality.
The perspective in life that we are to adopt is found in verses 13-14:
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.(Eccl. 12:13-14 NIV)
The whole of the book is intended to get us to this point. Why did God bring us the long way round? It is because we have so much that we need to unlearn. We learn slogans, soundbites and phrases and we equate that with understanding. The Preacher needed to prepare the soil of our hearts so that it would be ready to receive the good seed of the word.
The Preacher has also wanted to prepare us for the end. The Puritans thought about death more than we do. They often said that they wanted to die well.
There are many things in life that there is no answer to. God will put all things right in the end and we should prepare to meet Him.
Lord God thank You for the Wisdom taught in Ecc. Help us to learn to enjoy life. Forgive us for being grumpy and ungrateful. Enable us to cope with forbearance the dark things in life and let us hold on firmly to the gifts that You have given us, because we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.