Ecclesiastes/Job Lesson 12
SUBJECT: Facing Death?
CENTRAL THEME: The wise person gratefully lives all the days he or she is granted.
INTRODUCTION: We do not know the number of days we have on this earth. But we are responsible for how we live those days and steward the resources we have been given. There are times when we may suffer. There are times when we will experience great blessings. These times are part of the ebb and flow of life. No matter how long a person lives, he or she is going to die unless the Lord returns first. CAN SOMEONE GIVE AN EXAMPLE OF HOW THESE PAST MONTHS MAY HAVE CHANGED YOUR PERSPECTIVE OF ETERNITY AND THE FRAGILITY OF LIFE? Ecclesiastes 9:1-10 addresses this reality and reveals how people should live in light of their mortality.
WHAT IS ON YOUR BUCKET LIST? HOW DOES THE POTENTIAL OF DEATH ADD URGENCY TO DOING THE THINGS ON YOUR LIST?
UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT:
In Ecclesiastes 9:1–10:20, Solomon continued his exploration of life “under the sun.” Part of this reality includes the unpredictability of life and the certainty of death. These truths are difficult to come to terms with. All humans long for some sense of control; Solomon reminds us that no human can know with certainty what each day will bring or when death will occur. This is part of being human. Only God holds these truths in His hands. These truths are hidden in the mystery of His will. Once again the Teacher confronted his audience with the limits of human power and knowledge (Eccl. 9:1-2).
Solomon made it clear that difficulties will come in each person’s life, regardless of whether that person is righteous or wicked. Trials are no respecters of persons. Sometimes the wicked live a relatively blessed life from an earthly perspective. Sometimes the righteous suffer in a way that boggles the human understanding (consider Job). Regardless of this uncertainty, the righteous person can live in the assurance that his or her life is held in the hands of God. Moreover, life is itself an opportunity to enjoy the good gifts of God and live in a way that makes the best use of time. Living with an awareness of these truths is the personification of wisdom. Living without acknowledging these truths is foolishness. Therefore, pursuing a wise life has benefits in and of itself.
The contrast between wisdom and foolishness is the theme of this section of the book. Wisdom is explored in 9:13,15-18; and 10:1-2,10,12. Folly is explored in 9:17; and 10:1-3,6,12-15. This section provides practical advice for living day-to-day life. Moreover, Solomon explained that the poor can possess wisdom while the privileged can exhibit folly. Therefore, one’s opportunities or resources do not guarantee wisdom or foolishness. No one is doomed to foolishness or guaranteed wisdom. The way one lives life, regardless of the circumstances, demonstrates what category they fall into. For this reason, wisdom can achieve greatness and surpass many earthly gifts. One could summarize this entire section with the idea that regardless of the life you are given, all people are destined to die and be judged. This truth alone can be a great motivation for wise choices in life.
EXPLORE THE TEXT: ECCLESIASTES 9:1-10
Objective Statement: Every Christian should learn that the wise person gratefully lives all the days he or she is granted with these three realities in view.
REALITY #1 – A SOBER TRUTH (Eccl. 9:1-3)
1 “For all this I considered in my heart even to declare all this, that the righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God: no man knoweth either love or hatred by all that is before them. 2 All things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not: as is the good, so is the sinner; and he that sweareth, as he that feareth an oath. 3 This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event unto all: yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead.”
We have already seen, and we are reminded again, that both the righteous and the unrighteous have the same fate, DEATH. According to Solomon, there is one fate for everyone. Each of us is closer to the point of death than we were the day before.
In verse 1, the Teacher referred to all that we have learned thus far with the phrase, “all this.” For Solomon, this was not just intellectual reflection; he was deeply involved in what he was about to share. First, he noted that “the righteous and the wise are in the hand of God.” To refer to all things being “in God’s hands” reminds the reader of God’s absolute sovereignty over all things. Just like we read in Proverbs 21:1, even the hearts of kings are in His hands. Therefore, the outcome of everyone’s life, including the righteous and wise, rests in God’s control.
The implications of this truth are vast. Essentially, God knows the big picture of what we do not know. From a purely human perspective, no one knows, but God, what lies ahead. Solomon uses the words “love” and “hatred.” in the context of us not knowing what our life will bring forth. This is one of the most intense and transparent passages we find in the entire book. There seems to be a deep struggle on the part of Solomon here. From his limited perspective, he could not see whether the future holds examples of love or hate. Moreover, we do not know why God allows and ordains certain things to happen in our lives. But one thing we do know is that death is certain for all people.
While Solomon did not know whether love or hate was ahead, he did know that death was ahead for all. Regardless of whether one is “righteous” or “wicked,” whether they will face love or hate, whether they are “clean” or “unclean,” whether they make “sacrifices” to God or not, whether they make vows or not, they cannot escape the certainty of death. Death is the fate of all regardless of one’s ethics or worship.
In this sense, the Teacher despaired of death as an evil necessity, an enemy in the world. Death is necessary because, as Solomon said in 9:3, the hearts of men are evil. It was out of his self-reflection that he agreed with Jeremiah that the human heart is desperately wicked and deceitful above all else (Jer. 17:9).
In the end, the point of this section is clear: all people will die regardless of their level of human righteousness or wickedness. Because of this reality, all people must prepare for death. However, understanding this reality can help one live life with wisdom. The first step in living wisely is knowing how to live in light of your coming death. Knowing that we will eventually die reminds us that we are not God. He has dominion over us, and ultimately we will answer to Him.
If you were to write your oBituary, what would you want to include? If you could hear the conversation at your funeral, what would you hope to be said about you?
REALITY #2 – SEEK LIFE (Eccl. 9:4-6)
4 “For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion.”
In the ancient Near East, a “dog” was not a pet but an unclean scavenger. Dogs were associated with contempt. Goliath expressed this connotation when he asked David: “Am I a dog, that thou comest to me with staves?” (1 Sam. 17:43). The “lion” on the other hand was admired as the king of the animal world. Lions were icons of royalty. For example, Jacob used the metaphor of a lion to describe the coming Messiah (Gen. 49:9). Solomon concluded that a despised, contemptible dog that is alive is better off than a dead lion, even if the lion was the mightiest and most majestic of the entire animal kingdom.
This is a stark way for Solomon to remind us that to be alive is to have an opportunity that is not available to the dead. This is a point that he explored previously in Ecclesiastes 6:1-6, where he asserted that there is an advantage in being alive rather than dead. One of the advantages is that you know you will die. Thus, you can live your life with this knowledge before you. Once you are dead, it is too late to direct the path of your life. Our days are fleeting; therefore, we must assess how to live well to die well.
5 “For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. 6 Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.”
Solomon stated that when it comes to the dead, “their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished.” There is no longer a portion for them in all that is done under the sun. He asserted that in light of the certainty of physical death, God’s people should realize the preciousness of life. While alive, there is the hope of finding purpose and reward. There is wisdom in letting go of the things that embitter us in our days.
Keep in mind that although Solomon had a grasp of the concept of life after death, he did not have a fully developed understanding of the eternal fate that is explained in the New Testament. When Solomon spoke of “one event unto all” (v. 3), he was primarily concerned with physical death, not heaven or hell.
As Christians, we have a more fully developed understanding of the rewards that await those who have their righteousness in Christ. Because of this, we can live with hope and purpose, knowing that Christ defeated death through His resurrection. This means that death does not have the last word. Even still, it reminds us that how we live before we die matters to God.
Do you struggle with any emotions or memories that you would like to move past or settle in your heart? How do these things affect your everyday life?
REALITY #3 – ENJOY LIFE (Eccl. 9:7-10)
7 “Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. 8 Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment.”
Several times already the Teacher has exhorted his readers to enjoy life. (See 2:24-26; 3:12-13,22; 5:18-20; 8:15.) In verses 7-10, he elaborated again on why and how one should enjoy life. (And he will do it one more time in 11:7-10.) Repetition was the common way ancient Near Eastern writers emphasized a point, and Solomon’s repeated message to enjoy life demands our attention.
In many ways, verse 7 is the heart of the message of Ecclesiastes. “Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works.” Have you ever wondered why the Gospel writers included the saying, Jesus “came eating and drinking?” Breaking bread together is a sign of enjoying others in intimate fellowship. In ancient Israel, wine was a common item of fellowship. In some cultures, it may be tea time or grabbing coffee with a friend. God has not only created us to need food and drink, but He has created a vast variety of food and drink for our enjoyment.
In verse 8, Solomon continued to build on the idea of enjoying life with the words: Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment. In ancient times, when people were distraught, they wore sackcloth and ashes to demonstrate their grief. On the other hand, white clothes reflected the heat of the sun, and oil protected and nourished the skin. Likewise, oil symbolized joy. In our time, it would be like wearing bright and fun clothes and living life with a smile on your face. The Teacher was saying be clothed or covered in joy at all times and let your joy be apparent to others.
9 “Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun. 10 Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.”
In verse 9, Solomon instructed men to live joyfully with their wives, but the principle here applies to both married men and women to enjoy their spouses until they die. Marriage is a blessing from God for the mutual enjoyment of both partners, and couples can only enjoy it in this life of … vanity because there will be no institution of marriage in heaven as we know it on earth. (See Matt. 22:30.) When a married couple loves and enjoys each other as God intended, they will experience a wonderful blessing.
Enjoying life also includes “whatsoever thy hand findeth to do.” This certainly pertains to one’s occupation but more generally speaks to whatever one can do. The Hebrew word translated “whatsoever” literally means “all” or “everything.” The phrase “do it with thy might” means to give it everything you have. We should give our very best effort to everything God allows us to do. Why? Because when a person dies and goes to the place of the dead, there will be no more opportunities this life on earth affords.
Solomon was exhorting his readers to enjoy the things of the world properly to the glory of God. Within the Christian tradition, there has been a tendency to equate true spirituality with shunning the good things of creation rather than enjoying them. Those who shun the good things of creation deny their God-given purpose and may fall into self-righteous legalism.
On the other hand, there is the fleshly tendency to dive headlong into good things and to make them ultimate things. Those who abandon themselves to food and drink do so because they assume this is all there is before they die. This is outright self-indulgence.
In both cases, these approaches are unbalanced. When we look to ourselves or created things rather than the Creator to find ultimate satisfaction, we become chained to a path that only leads to despair and destruction. These two approaches are common because sin fractures and distorts everything.
When it comes to God’s good gifts, we must remember that sin does not un-create everything. Because good things are God’s creation, we cannot reject them as evil. Because we are God’s people, we must not use God’s good gifts in evil ways. God gives us good gifts to show us His favor. But because those good gifts do not ultimately satisfy our hearts, they are simply tools that make us aware of His goodness and make us homesick for heaven—where unstained joys await us for eternity. We may pass through this world and enjoy all that it has to offer if we remember that the final delight of being with God will overwhelm whatever joys and delights this world offers.
Verse 11 says literally, “time and happenings happen to all.” Situations arise, circumstances change, unforeseen events occur. This is why the Teacher encouraged his readers to put their faith in something that is not under the sun, because unforeseen things happen, and these things might change our best-laid out plans. As in 9:12, we do not know our time.
This is not unlike the words of James 4:13-15, “Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.”
Understanding this principle is key to a life well-lived. If we do not know when we will die, then we must live now while we can. If we have a chance to do something for the glory of God, then let us do it now because we do not know what the future will bring.
Believers should not worry about their way through life—but enjoy it. We cannot waste away our days with meaningless pursuits—grudges, arguments, frustrations, anger, worries, or any other thing that would distract us from ultimate things. Life is too short. Because life is short, let us use and enjoy the days God gives us to the fullest, making the most of our lives for Christ’s glory.
HOW DOES ENJOYING THE BLESSINGS OF LIFE HONOR, GOD?
Remember our Objective Statement: Every Christian should learn that the wise person gratefully lives all the days he or she is granted with these three realities in view.