Joy Is a Deliberate Choice (Ecclesiastes 8:14–17)

In Ecclesiastes 8.14–17, the Preacher identifies two realities that we all experience on the journey through life: injustice and ignorance. Both are obstacles in our path, and both have the power to turn us aside from the road to heaven, if we let them. But there is a way through the obstacles, the Preacher tells us; it is the way of joy as a deliberate choice. Consider our experience of injustice. Long ago, Aristotle defined justice as treating equals equally and unequals unequally in proportion to their relevant differences. Justice, in other words, is fair; it gives people the rewards due … Continue reading Joy Is a Deliberate Choice (Ecclesiastes 8:14–17)

The Arc of the Universe (Ecclesiastes 8:10–13)

“The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. uttered those words in the midst of his struggle to lead our nation to acknowledge the full civil rights of black Americans. His words also accurately summarize the message of Ecclesiastes 8:10–13, which serves as an encouragement to righteousness and a warning against wickedness. The Preacher begins by making two observations: First, he writes, “I saw the wicked buried.” Like all things that exist under the sun, human beings are mortal. Their lives are hebel, “vanity”—things that go “Poof!” The fate of death … Continue reading The Arc of the Universe (Ecclesiastes 8:10–13)

Wisdom and Government (Ecclesiastes 8:1–9)

A wise person obeys the law. That, in a nutshell, is the message of Ecclesiastes 8:1–9.[1] Like so much else in Ecclesiastes, the message is obvious and common sensical, but it also raises difficult questions for those who live under difficult governments. The Preacher begins with two questions and two observations. The questions are rhetorical. Wisdom makes a person incomparably valuable because he understands God, the world, and himself. The observations relate to the effects of wisdom, which makes a person happy (shining face) and ready to change bad habits (unhardened face). Now, according to the Preacher, a wise person … Continue reading Wisdom and Government (Ecclesiastes 8:1–9)

What Is Wrong with the World Is Us (Ecclesiastes 7:15–29)

Let us stipulate, as lawyers say, that the message of Ecclesiastes 7:15–29 is an unexpectedly weird one to find in the Bible, at first glance anyway.[1] It seems alternately despairing (verse 15), cynical (verses 16–17), common sensical (verse 18–22), keenly aware of man’s intellectual limitations (verses 23–24), misogynist (verses 25–28), and acutely cognizant of the origins of man’s problems (verse 29). We expect common sense, keen awareness, and acute cognizance in God’s Word, but despair, cynicism and misogyny? Not so much. So what should we do with the Preacher’s words, which we also confess to be the Word of God? … Continue reading What Is Wrong with the World Is Us (Ecclesiastes 7:15–29)

Life Is Difficult (Ecclesiastes 7:7–14)

“Life is difficult,” as M. Scott Peck so memorably wrote in The Road Less Traveled. How, then, does the wise person deal with it? How does he live with life’s difficulties? Ecclesiastes 7:7–14 offers sage advice in answer to those questions.[1] First, realize that life’s difficulties present temptations to shortcuts, which should be avoided. “Surely oppression drives the wise into madness, and a bribe corrupts the heart.” The oppression spoken of here is not what the wise man does but what is done to him. (A truly wise person does not oppress his fellows.) Oppression pushes him to the breaking … Continue reading Life Is Difficult (Ecclesiastes 7:7–14)

Beginning with the End in Mind (Ecclesiastes 7:1–6)

The wisdom of ancient Israel—like all common sense—is full of paradoxes. Think, for example, of two well-known English proverbs: “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” and “Out of sight, out of mind.” Well, which is it? Are your fonder for or forgetful of an absent loved one? In our study of Ecclesiastes, we have seen that the Preacher’s main theme is the vanity of human existence. Things go “Poof!” Everything under the sun is here today and gone tomorrow. Nevertheless, the Preacher counsels us to find joy in our transient labors and lives: “There is nothing better for a person … Continue reading Beginning with the End in Mind (Ecclesiastes 7:1–6)

Living with Limits (Ecclesiastes 6:10–12)

Greek mythology tells the story of Daedalus and Icarus, a father and his son who were imprisoned on the island of Crete. Daedalus fashioned a pair of wings for each of them from feathers and wax so that they could fly away and escape to home. He warned Icarcus not to fly too high, lest the heat of the sun melt the wax on the wings. But once in flight, Icarus became so enthralled with his newfound power that he soared higher and higher, until the wax melted, and he fell into the sea and drowned. Icarus failed to live … Continue reading Living with Limits (Ecclesiastes 6:10–12)

The Wandering Appetite (Ecclesiastes 6:1–12)

Some time ago, I was speaking with a friend about the men she works with. They all are very well educated, hard working, and successful, at least in monetary terms. Most of them are married, and although they do not spend much time with their wives, they compensate for their personal absence with monetary presents. Are they happy? Do they have the ability to enjoy the wealth they have accumulated so far? Could they call it quits today and take pleasure in their wives, children, and hobbies? Evidently not. They are too competitive. They feel too strongly a need to … Continue reading The Wandering Appetite (Ecclesiastes 6:1–12)

Wealth, the Problematic Gift of God (Ecclesiastes 5:8–20)

In Ecclesiastes 5.8–20, the Preacher lists three problems with wealth but then, surprisingly, concludes that it is nevertheless a gift from God.[1] The first problem with wealth the Preacher identifies is the unholy nexus between wealth and oppression. Verses 8–9 are notoriously difficult to interpret because the Hebrew underlying them is enigmatic. The English Standard Version translates them as referring to corrupt government officials who oppress the poor, but are protected in their injustice by their bureaucratic superiors. This is probably the best reading of the text, and it highlights a perennial problem with government. In the words of Lord … Continue reading Wealth, the Problematic Gift of God (Ecclesiastes 5:8–20)

Mean What You Say, Then Do It (Ecclesiastes 5:1–7)

One of the great things about being a minister is the ability to officiate at weddings. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to lead a young couple—and a few not so young—in vows of lifelong love. Of late, older married couples have begun to ask me to renew their vows as part of the celebration of their fiftieth anniversaries. Presiding over such ceremonies is both a joyous and solemn experience. The joy is self-evident; the solemnity requires some explanation. Marriage—if the vows are any guide—is a very serious commitment. I ask the bride: “Will you have this man … Continue reading Mean What You Say, Then Do It (Ecclesiastes 5:1–7)