sermon: Ecclesiastes Resumed (Part Nine)
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 09-Nov-13; 79 minutes
We will begin in Ecclesiastes 3:10-15. I have gone over these verses a number of times, but there is even more than we have already gone over.
Ecclesiastes 3:10-15 I have seen the God given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in their lives. And also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God. I know that whatever God does, it shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, and nothing taken from it. God does it, that men should fear before Him. That which is has already been, and what is to be has already been; and God requires an account of what is past.
Among the mysteries that everybody must face is “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” A shorter version of that question is “Why was I born?” The answer to that question is that unless God calls one and reveals Himself to them, they will never find the clear detailed answer to that question. That is a possible reason why Solomon said in verse 11 (among those verses we just read), that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. Another version of that same question appears in Ecclesiastes 8.
Ecclesiastes 8:16-17 When I applied my heart to know wisdom and to see the business that is done on earth, even though one sees no sleep day or night, then I saw all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. For though a man labors to discover it, yet he will not find it; moreover, though a wise man attempts to know it, he will not be able to find it.
Now let us get a peek at this same line of thought that Solomon has introduced here from the New Testament. Romans 11 tends to strengthen what Solomon has just said.
Romans 11:33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!
Matthew 13:16-17 “But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear. For assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and not hear it.”
Jesus said something similar to those who were following Him, in Matthew 22.
Matthew 22:13-14 “Then the king said to the servants, bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.”
In other words, many people throughout history have heard the message but very few are chosen by God to really grasp it. That is a gift that you and I have received. I want to impress on us as we begin the thought regarding the awesome gifts we have been given. We cannot even begin to cover the gifts that God has given to us, but maybe this sermon will help you to appreciate what you grasp or understand was something that was given to you in a way that is not given to others even though they hear it. It takes more than hearing; it is part of the gift of God to really grasp what He is saying.
I do not mean that these people will never hear the answer to the question “Why was I born?” in their lifetime, but rather that unless God is directly involved in formally calling a person for His purpose, hearing the truth stated simply will not have the life-changing impact on the direction of one’s life that is needed.
Much of this blindness was undoubtedly foreseen by God, because He has a pattern, a blueprint, that He is following and He will not be deterred from the conclusion that He has planned for. This sermon is going to revolve around God's gifting of men and of course that includes us a great deal more than many others.
This gifting is an aspect of God's sovereignty and the truth that He is very involved in His creation and the lives of the living to whom He has given many gifts. I am beginning a few verses prior in this magnificent chapter to where we left off in my previous sermon, but in that sermon we were focused on two specific truths regarding time and our trials.
One is God's personal involvement in our lives and the specific sense of eternity that He has placed in our hearts. We just read in verse 10, He has placed eternity in our hearts, not just ours but really, as we will see, all of mankind.
That sermon began in the last three verses in chapter 2, which announced that God gives gifts. By means of some of those gifts, everyone born receives a measure of knowledge of God, which if it is developed and used can prove to be quite valuable, but needs to be developed.
We will begin by considering just three of these gifts that God gives to everybody who is born.
Romans 1:18-20 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.
God gives this gift to everybody. These verses clearly state that mankind is gifted with an awareness of God's existence. Like most things in life the awareness needs to be developed in greater detail but the proofs of God's existence are readily available from observation of the creation.
It is so readily available that God's judgment, the proofs, leaves mankind without justification for not knowing of His existence. Virtually everybody is confronted by the question of God's existence, and what is really difficult is proving that God does not exist!
Most people merely accept His existence but fail to investigate any further. On the other extreme are those who utterly reject it, because they have faith only in what they call science. That faith regarding God is an impossibility because they have no scientific answer to where life came from.
Think about that—they have no scientific answer to where life came from. What that leads to is that evolution is a faith, it is a religion, and evolution can only take place after life already exists. That is such a simple proof—that life had to be there before any evolution whatsoever takes place. God makes it very clear that He gave life.
This leads to a second gift:
Romans 2:14-15 For when the Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things contained in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them.
Some words to the fact of God's existence. This to needs to be expanded upon: that is, God has given mankind a conscience. The truth is that God has given to mankind the basic elements of right and wrong to enable us to govern ourselves for the purposes of communal living. It begins within a family, husband and wife, without having the law of God at all they know how they should treat each other—not perfectly, but they know the basics of it. And it expands from the family into the community and on and on.
Every nation on earth operates on the same basic law regarding human behavior, and that is the law that God gave. They do not have much understanding regarding things like the Sabbath or idols, but they nonetheless have enough that if lived by them they would have a much better life because God gave them that gift of knowing right from wrong. They do not know it in detail but they have the basics.
They know you are not supposed to murder, commit adultery, or steal. It is when we get into the spiritual aspect of God's laws that they begin to stumble, but they already have the basics because God put it in everybody who is born. Mankind has no excuse in that regard.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.
God has not only revealed Himself, He has also revealed portions of His law so that men and women can live in communal relationships, but He has also given mankind a sense of eternity. He has given every man and woman a spirit, along with that sense of eternity that enables mankind to think backwards and forwards in time. Mankind innately knows that there is more to life than what one experiences physically.
Mankind does not grasp what that word "immortality" is with exactness, but he does grasp that somehow that immortality one dreams of has some kind of connection with what he is experiencing in the present. Like all other gifts, this one is greatly botched, and understanding has become contradictory and confusing. The most common error is that people think they already have immortality.
God gives us a sense of eternity but He does not explain to them as a gift at that time that it is something that requires a great deal more understanding. But that sense of eternity is already in there and that is why you have people who have no connection at all with Christianity who believe that mankind is immortal, and that they already have it.
If mankind takes what he has regarding the basics as God intends, then it aids man in thinking about the past in regards to God's creative powers, His purpose, and sovereignty over all things, and also to look forward in time about himself regarding the fulfillment of that purpose, and where he fits into it.
God has given gifts to all of mankind, but only those who are called by Him are given more detailed, true explanations that will build their faith, thus enabling them to live by faith. That is not always easy, but that is our responsibility, to live by faith.
It has become a fact that unless God gives the details, we are all pretty much like very nearsighted people. We might be able to recognize some knowledge of great quality to life but the grand design God is working out escapes one’s fuller comprehension of answering who we are. God is speaking here in Ecclesiastes 3 to people who know who we are.
So, Ecclesiastes 3:10-15 is given to us and they are actually encouraging us to be content and patient. Why? First, verses 10-15 are a reflection on and a reminder of the importance of what He has already said regarding gifts in Ecclesiastes 2:24-26. It is a little bit more explicit. Because He has already done that, we should be thankful and rejoice in what we already have because what we already have are great gifts over and above what He gives to everybody else.
Verses 10-15 are encouragement to us to be content with what we have. Without directly stating a clear why, Solomon is implying in those verses that for our benefit God will add understanding as we are able to make good use of it. In verse 14, it adds encouragement that is helpful to make the point that he is making.
Ecclesiastes 3:14 I know that whatever God does, it shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, and nothing taken from it. God does it, that men should fear before Him.
God is opening these things to our understanding that we should fear before Him. What God is doing through Solomon will add to our fear of God and the fear of God is a great gift. You should know that in Romans 3, Paul says the reason people act the way they do is that there no fear of God in them. The fear of God holds us on track in alignment with God. Fear does not mean terror. Fear means a deep and abiding, continuing respect for Him and what He says knowing full well that it is going to be good for us.
Look at the beginning of verse 14. “Nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it.” What God does endures forever. There is nothing, absolutely nothing negative about God adding to our fear of God.
Call to mind that the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge. It says that in Proverbs 1:7. Let us add to that: where does that knowledge come from? It comes from a relationship with God. We had knowledge before He called us, so when God speaks in that way, the fear of Him is the beginning of knowledge that we did not have before, and that knowledge is telling us what God expects of us. So it is not just knowledge, it is also the beginning of wisdom, the fear is also the beginning of understanding, it is also the beginning of joy, of peace, and all of it is tied to the relationship with God.
It has nothing to do with things that we can learn in the world because we are human. If God is adding to the fear of God, what is He doing? He is adding to our understanding, our knowledge of God so that we can submit to Him better, in more purity, in greater holiness.
There was a secondary reason why I went through those verses in the last sermon, showing that God sets the time for so many significant events—this is tied to the fear of God—events like when Jesus was born. We saw verses that dogmatically say when the fullness of time occurred Jesus was born. Time had run out. God set the date and the time when Jesus would be born. It says virtually the same thing regarding the preaching of the gospel. It began to be preached when God assigned that responsibility to Jesus.
It was God who set the time that Jesus would be crucified, how long He would be in the grave, when the kingdom will be restored—this goes on and on. God wants us to understand this—God sets the times, and where He sets them to occur is significant to the life of His children. That secondary reason that I mentioned just a few seconds earlier is something that is good for us: that we must learn that the operation and the times God sets are permanent and unchangeable.
We can look back on what He has already done. Of course we can understand and we can clearly see that what God has already done is already unchangeable. What about now, and on into the future? Verse 14, “Whatever God does endures forever.” Here we are thinking about the times that He sets now and into the future that impact on your life. Whatever God does endures forever.
Everything was scheduled and performed at exactly the right time. Now we are looking back again, and this is where we begin to do our thinking—everything that He did in the past was scheduled by Him and it happened exactly on time. God does not change, as we move on out into the future, He is going to follow the same pattern. Whenever He sets time for something we have to understand, and operate our life according to the absolutely true belief that was exactly the time that should be done.
What does this mean to you and me? It means that we must grow in trusting God's timing on everything and this is not always easy, especially if we are sick and we want to be healed. Can we accept that? That God will set the time that this will occur. Please turn to Genesis 21 to show a principle. How long did Abraham have to wait for a son to come out of his own body?
Genesis 21:1 And the Lord visited Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had spoken. For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.
We are not that way regarding time. We would like to be on time, we would like to do things on time, at exactly the right time, but we are so highly variable and we have so little control over things that our time keeps getting pushed around, and then we do it whenever we have the time to do it. God is not like that. He has control over things that we do not.
God sets the time so despite what events being worked out in our life might seem like to us from our position as being mortal and on earth, God is running a tight ship. Our perspective is very limited. So we can expand this concept of running a tight ship out to envelop the entire period of the past to all of His sovereign operations beginning with Adam and Eve.
The calling of Abraham. He called Abraham at just the right time. How about Jacob having twelve sons? Did that surprise God? “Oh! He had twelve sons! What am I going to do now?” He had twelve sons because God planned it. How about the formation of Israel? Same thing there, He did it right on time. Everything was done at the right time and in the right way.
God wants us to be very much impressed by this. On those of us who are living by faith, that He very much wants us to know what He has done, what He is doing, at least to the degree that we can understand. But for our good, He does not want us to be second-guessing Him, because that is not very helpful to those of us living by faith, because when we begin second-guessing God, we tend to do foolish things.
We cannot add to the past, nor can we take anything away from it. By the same token we cannot add anything to the future nor take anything away from it. The point is this: What God wants to do, when He wants to do it, will invariably be done. He does not operate on our time schedule. We cannot really add to His purpose, backward or forward. What we have to do is get in harmony with what He is doing and that is what our faith has been given to us for.
This is not easy because we cannot see Him and we have to operate according to what the Bible reveals to us, and God wants to add to our understanding. No human being can hope to alter the course of things by our sheer efforts, and if we attempt to do so, that is evidence of pride. This is a major reason why God sets the times, even in our trials. God desires to remove from us any aspect of any argument that we might have lead us to choose some other way of doing things than His.
This leads to the conclusion that is most helpful and the secondary reason why I spent all that time on God setting the time. With God setting the time we, through our experiences, gradually become aware of our sheer helplessness. We cannot control time or the times we live and operate in, so a clear understanding of this lack of power makes us thoroughly understand our helplessness before Him, and this intense grasp of our helplessness makes us more sharply grasp the totality of our dependence upon Him.
The humility that is produced by this awareness is of awesome, tremendous value. We are involved in a creation and God is the Creator, He is the Potter. He is making us into His desire. Recall what Jesus said to the apostles and to us in John 15:5. What I am speaking on here is a very difficult lesson in our life.
John 15:5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I In him, bears much fruit, for without Me you can do nothing.”
He means exactly what He says. We will look at this in a practical way. God is the Potter and we are the clay. He is the Sculptor. He is the one who is making us. Do we know exactly where He is headed? Do we know the shape that He wants to form us into? We have a vague idea, because we are being formed into the image of Jesus Christ, but we are only a tiny part of His body. What part of that body are we ultimately, eventually going to be in?
Look at your own body. This is one of those things that we can learn from nature. Do you want to be a finger, a strand of hair, an eye, will the cells of the eye do the work of the hair? Will the cells of the hair do the work of a finger? You get the point. Every mechanic understands this. You cannot substitute one part of an automobile and put into another where that part does not belong.
The same thing is true for us, and why David said, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Everything about me is something to be cheery and happy about. Spiritually, what is taking place is something similar to that. God is the Potter, we are the clay. He knows exactly what He wants. We do not know exactly what He wants, therefore, we have to allow Him to do the work and set the times for everything.
What we are learning is to submit to His creativity in such a way that we are not fighting Him, we are not second-guessing Him, and in this, brethren, time is very important. He knows where He is headed. We do not and we do not want to get ahead of our God.
Can we trust God to shape us into what He wants us to be? If I look out on creation, He did a pretty good job with what is out there. Do you think we can do better?
Matthew 10:28-31 “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will. But the very hairs on your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows.”
The sovereign God can exercise control over all things in the lives of His children, not just time. This is a way by illustration that Jesus dealt with that subject. What this illustration does is show how complete God's awareness is of what is going on in His creation.
Since He is aware of a sparrow falling and since He loves us so much and we are exceedingly more important than a mere sparrow, how can He not be aware of what is going on in our life? He is! Can we trust Him to handle it and to continue to shape us in such a way that we will be ready when Christ returns to fill a responsibility in God's family, that government? Therefore, brethren, seeing that in a major way, that as we move forward toward God's Kingdom only at the speed that He deems to be correct for us, gives us far more reason to learn to be content because being that way is exceedingly good for us.
Ecclesiastes 3:10-15 are given to comfort us because we are going through this experience of obeying the invisible God who has control of our life, our time, and if we will give it to Him, the control to make us into what He is forming and shaping.
We move then at the speed that is correct for us, and this of course gives us far more reasons to learn to be content because being content is exceedingly good for us, because God does nothing that is not in our well being. Turn to Ecclesiastes 3:12. Some take this to be negative because of the phrase, “I know there is nothing better for them” that appears within it. These people almost seem to be insulted that God has, maybe, tossed them a crumb. In other words they say, we are worth more than that. We will look at what He has counseled that we should do.
In verse 12 he has counseled us to do good in our lives. And in verse 13, he counsels us to eat, drink, and enjoy the good of our labor because it—that is the food, the drink, and the ability to labor—are all gifts from God.
Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God.
What I am going to do here is reword those verses into the first person, “There is nothing better than that I should be joyful, and do good as long as I live, and to eat and drink and take pleasure in all of my work. This is God's gift to me.”
What in the world is second best about anything in that advice? How much good can be accomplished in a life should you live that way? That is pretty good advice, if you live in that attitude. What does God more specifically mean by “do good?” What He says there should be taken in a moral and ethical sense—to do good is to do good works, and that is our assignment all the time. There is nothing second best about that at all.
Ephesians 2:10 For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Regardless of a trial that God may have specifically assigned us—because that is part of what Ecclesiastes 3 is about, especially the first ten verses—doing good works is always our assignment. That is what Ephesians 2:10 is telling us, whether within that specific trial or free from a particular discipline that that trial imposes.
We are created in Christ Jesus for good works and God prepared those good works before He even gave us the trial. Thus again in Ecclesiastes 3:10-14, God is telling us to take joy in His employment of us—before the world, doing good at home for those we live with, doing good works on the job, doing good works serving the brethren and even within our community as we have occasion, using the spiritual gifts that He has given us to the best of our ability.
There is nothing second best at all about Ecclesiastes 3:14.
Now back to Ecclesiastes 3:15. I hope I get to it because this chapter ends with a bang, I kid you not. I mean, with a bomb! Verse 14 is yet another illustration, showing from a different point of view that God controls. He wants to control our lives, and yet at the same time give us free moral agency as well. So in order to picture this more clearly, one has to perceive understanding time as a moving reality. It is as though time is moving toward us and moving away from us at one and the same time. That is a reality; that is exactly what is happening. So as we look at this verse I want you to get that picture—time is moving toward us, time is moving away from us.
Except, in this statement, verse 15, it is more obviously not time that is being controlled but rather the events that are happening within time. This verse can perhaps be better understood by saying, “What is happening right now already happened in the past, and what will happen has already happened.” It is a way of saying that in one sense time cannot be broken into parts. We do that to keep things organized in our minds, but time itself is always moving, it does not stand still for anybody. Our life is taking place within something that is always on the move, so we have to get that picture. To understand this better I will reword it again.
What is happening right now already happened in the past, and what will happen has already happened. I said that before but I want you to understand this. Time, of and by itself, is a whole, and so Solomon is essentially saying past, present, and future are bound together. We will tie this together in just a bit. In what way is time—past, present, and future—bound together? Time and what is happening in it are both part of this continuous stream, the point being that only God is in perfect control of both time and its events. He can seek out and bring back into existence in the present what has happened in the past. And thus Solomon’s comment:
Ecclesiastes 1:9 That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.
What is this verse telling us? In a way it is so simple. In plain language Solomon is telling us, history repeats itself. This is very important to us. History repeats itself. Names change, personalities change, dates change, languages change, clothing changes, weapons change, but the events throughout history are essentially the same, and because of this we can learn from history what works and what does not.
There is a saying, that when we do not learn from history we are condemned to repeat it. This makes the Bible an even more valuable source of guidance in wisdom and in right conduct because God gives us true accounts of what happened not embellished by man's prejudices.
You might wonder why God would essentially repeat what is said In Ecclesiastes 1:9 in this chapter here in 3:15. It is because there is a major difference in the context that each appears in. In 1:9, the statement is used in a negative way suggesting that life is nothing but meaningless repetitious vanity. Here in Ecclesiastes 3:15, it is seen explicitly within the context of God's sovereignty. God is in control and it has positive application made by Him for mankind's benefit, and especially our benefit.
Have you ever learned from the past? Everybody does, a little bit. You can thank God that He is part of your life, that He purposely brings the past back to mind for us so that we can make proper use of it now that we are converted, and that we do not make the same dumb mistakes all over again! He brings those things to mind so that we can clean up our act and repent if need be.
He impresses these things upon us so that we can glorify Him by our obedience and submission to Him rather than just doing the same dumb things over and over again. He purposely does it, not to embarrass us anymore than to bring us into repentance, if need be.
So, in Ecclesiastes 1:9 that is to people living with knowledge of it: “Oh that’s boring. It happened before.” To us, though, God does this on purpose to bring about change in our thinking. He does it purposely because He controls time for each one of us. Not everybody that is in His family needs the same lessons all the time that everybody else does. He has a way of miraculously doing it so that He can divide it up so that it applies to people in somewhat different circumstances in somewhat different ways.
Solomon is telling us, "God is using this power of His for our good." That is an aspect of His sovereignty. We can go on with this, there are many alternatives renderings of the last phrase of verse 15. I believe that these might be helpful to you. The phrase is a continuation of history repeating itself.
The NIV translates it this way: “God will call the past into account.” The Revised Standard Version says, “God seeks what has been driven away.” The American Standard Version says, “God seeks again that which is passed away.” Brings the past back to us. The New English Bible says, “God summons each event back in its turn.” That is really interesting. The Amplified Version says, “God seeks that which has passed us by.”
Though each translation is somewhat different, they all have two elements in common. In all of them, God is looking for something for our benefit. The second element in common is that what He is looking for involves both time and an event in the past. The important question is, why?
We have a tendency to think that bygone days are gone forever. However, we have seen in this chapter that this concept is not totally true because history keeps repeating itself. Is that not what God shows? Yes, it is. This verse confirms that fact once again, but it adds a positive twist to it. Why would God do this with a positive twist? I have already told you but I want you to see.
Judgment is a very prominent theme in the book of Ecclesiastes. I want you to turn to the last chapter and verse in Ecclesiastes. Let this verse rattle around in your brain.
Ecclesiastes 12:14 For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or whether it is evil.
Think of this in a very personal way. First of all I want to remind you of a statement that I have made on several occasions in this series on Ecclesiastes, where, to me, the overall point in the entire book, all twelve chapters is, that in our life, the life of the called people, the sons of God, everything matters. Everything! That is mind-boggling, because how little control do we exercise on everything that is happening in our life. We can get hopeful understanding on verse 15, that God is working for us. He does not want us to be judged in the wrong way, so He affects things that happen in the past by bringing it to our mind to give us the opportunity to repent, so that we are not judged on those things.
What is He doing here in verse 15? He is telling us something very positive. He wants us to get out of these things by bringing the past before our converted mind so that we can repent and do what needs to be done should that thing ever happen again. So what is He doing? God is acting as our Redeemer so that we are not being judged by continuing the same way of life. What an awesome God we have—how merciful He is! He does not want to judge us, He wants us to glorify Him by making the changes in our life.
This is almost too good to be true, but it is. It is right out of His Word. God always does things with good purposes in mind, so in this case the language in this verse is very positive. He does not bring the past up for the purposes of condemnation, but rather for the purposes of redemption. Our Redeemer is doing that for us so that we overcome, so that we grow, and glorify Him.
He is seeking to help those who have really and truly made a mess of things in the past, and I think that includes all of us.
This verse is giving evidence that by His grace He is seeking to recover and restore what seems from our point of view to be lost forever. Add this to what He says earlier: The work of God endures forever. That is what He is working for in us, in this case.
The verse is suggesting that since we are God's work, He will use His powers to make sure that our labors are not in vain. He will make things beautiful in His good time by working to enable profit to be gained—even from our messes.
I am not suggesting that these messes will be completely resolved and that everybody will be happy, happy, happy. No. But He has the power to bring events of our past to mind, enabling us to search through them with a great deal more clarity than we had when we went through them originally, and thus He helps us recall incidents with honesty to help us to learn what we should and should not have done or said, and resolve to conduct ourselves in a far better way.
So, He helps us to grasp whether repentance should take place should a similar situation take place again in our life, should we forgive and forget, be more patient and kind, should we sacrifice our pride, or should we be firmer in insisting the godly action be done in order to uphold righteousness.
He works to give us clarity as to how the outcome could have been far more profitable for all concerned. So considering the inspiring revelations given in this chapter, how can our life ever be considered monotonous and vain?
We have had revealed to us not merely that we have been made part of God's eternal plans but also given some important particulars of operations within that plan. And we are not a mere insect, "crawling from one annihilation to another"; we are known by God and, brethren, He is in control.
Will we trust our life in His hands? Our overall responsibility begins with fearing God, and if we have given our life to Jesus Christ, the truth should give us virtually every incentive to do all in our power to submit to whatever responsibilities He lays out for us to submit to. But life must be lived, and sometimes the road may be quite bumpy.
So in verse 16, the term ‘moreover’ signals a change of subject away from God's control of time and its events to subjects earthier and more immediately serious on a day-to-day basis because of their frequent negative impact on life. He makes sure that we understand this is happening under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 3:16 Moreover I saw under the sun: In the place of judgment, wickedness was there, and in the place of righteousness, iniquity was there.
Ecclesiastes 4:6 Better a handful with quietness than both hands full, together with toil and grasping for the wind.
That verse sums up what is going to be covered up to that point. We are going to go back to verses 16 and 17,
Ecclesiastes 3:16-17 Moreover I saw under the sun: In the place of judgment, wickedness was there, and in the place of righteousness, iniquity was there. I said in my heart, “God shall judge the righteous and the wicked, for there shall be a time there for every purpose and for every work.”
We ask ourselves questions that I have been asked many times by many people: How can God be in control when there is so much evil in the world?—when the evil prosper in their sins and the righteous suffer in their obedience? That seems backward from the way that one would think God would be operating things. Solomon was not the first one to have asked this question.
As much as we dislike having to deal with this, it is nonetheless a daily reality. You see what is going on out there. You see it on television; you hear it on the radio, and it is not fun to even hear those things. But God, in His wisdom, chose to deal with mankind and, perhaps most especially, in dealing with His own children facing the same circumstances He is Himself permitting.
Everything God does has a good end to it. What we see going on in the world, God is permitting that to occur, because it will produce something good toward His purpose and its fulfillment. Solomon was comforted by two godly realities and we should understand them too and use them.
First, he assures us that God will judge these wicked things that are occurring. So therefore the timing, which much of chapter 3 is about, is in God's capable hands. Also remember that nobody in mankind gets away with what they are doing. The wages of sin are still there, it is a reality, it is death.
The verse is saying that God will judge but do not allow yourself to forget that God is judging. It is a continuous stream of judgment being made by God. It is a continuous process. It does not say that right here, but in other parts of the Bible, it does. In fact, we just read that in Ecclesiastes 12:14. Judging is a continuous process, and in many cases we simply are not aware of present penalties people that look like they have the world by the tail are actually having going on in their lives, because what they may be suffering does not readily show on the outside. That is one part of this.
Second, human nature naturally thinks that the way God handles things is unfair. Guess where that comes from? That comes from Satan. He thought God was unfair, and the world is infused with his mind, so we might look at all these horrible things going on and think that is not fair. But remember God is judging. So that is the spirit of the world, working within us. But God's perception of timing and judgment is different from ours. He sees a much broader, more specific picture than we do regarding each and every person.
We are not walking in theses evil peoples’ shoes, and we are also not aware of what God is planning for them to experience, and therefore what we must know and rightly use is that in a major way, other people are none of our business. That is not always easy to do.
Ecclesiastes 3:18-22 I said in my heart, “Concerning the estate of the sons of men, God tests them, that they may see that they themselves are like beasts.” [Tie this to what he said beginning in verse 16.] For what happens to the sons of men also happens to animals; one thing befalls them: as one dies, so dies the other. Surely, they all have one breath; man has no advantage over animals, for all is vanity. All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust. Who knows the spirit of the sons of men, which goes upward, and the spirit of the animal, which goes down to the earth? So I perceived that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his own works, for that is his heritage. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him?
These verses express a conclusion to this point when comparing the wondrous instruction that precedes it with the realities going on in the world surrounding us. Solomon certainly did not mean that men are beasts, animals, in terms of potential. He limited this expression to the fact that sinners are going to die in their sins, and at this point in time, without being called, it appears they have nothing truly valuable that was gained by them. Therefore, at least on the surface of things, they live and die on the same level as an animal.
But he also says, and this is where it gets to be really interesting, that God tests men, that they may see that they are animals. The only time that this seeing by them might occur is either after they are called or after they are resurrected and their mind is opened to God and His truth, and then they will be able to see they formerly lived no better off than an animal.
Therefore, if one reads between the lines, he is saying to us without directly stating it, that what is truly valuable in one’s life lays beyond the grave, and if one is not living in such a manner that is glorifying God and preparing himself for living there—that is, living an above the sun life—then nothing has been gained despite all the wealth and power the sinner might possess.
I do not know whether you know it, but today, November the 9th, is the anniversary of Kristallnacht, commonly called “the night of broken glass.” On the eighth of November, 1938, Ernst Von Rath, a high German official, was shot by a German-born Polish youth. Rath died on the tenth. In between, on the ninth, Adolph Hitler unleashed the SA against the defenseless Jews all over Germany. That night, Kristallnacht, the SA killed 91 people, they burned over 1,000 synagogues, they destroyed over 7,000 Jewish businesses, and when it was over, the Nazi's made the Jewish people pay money for all the damages that the Nazi SA had done. It is now marked by the world as the beginning of the Holocaust. It grew out of Kristallnacht.
Also, this very week, has the anniversary of another event that occurred during WWII, in a small city in Poland. I do not know the exact day or date, but it was during WWII. The citizens of that city marched the Jewish population to a field outside of town, and they began to systematically murder those people. That was deemed too slow, so they herded the remainder into a barn, set it afire, and killed the remainder. Over 1,700 Jewish men, women, and children died between the murder and the burning.
To compound matters, the Poles lied, saying that the Nazis did it. It was not discovered until years later who was really guilty of this. I am getting at something here: The Nazis were not the only ones who had turned into beasts. Others picked up the attitude and began to do this. So answer this for yourselves: Were those people in either instance acting as those created in the image of God, or as beasts? God tests men to see that they are but beasts.
Therefore, Solomon's conclusion is that our vision regarding life must be more penetrating and broader than others'. We are the called of God. In other words, the wealthy and powerful, whether they are in government, military, or wherever they are, they are powerful sinners. Though it may seem attractive on the surface, truly it is nonetheless vain, meaningless, and without profit. Spiritually, they are animals. I did not say that, God did.
We are faced with a choice, at the end of this chapter. I said that there is something really heavy—which way do we want to live? Do we want to trust God’s handling of our life, or do we want to finish life as a beast? The choice is ours.