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Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
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Ecclesiastes

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  1. Ecclesiastes – Friday Night Genesis Dec 6, 2013 Scripture Reading: Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 As we look at the book of Ecclesiastes tonight, I have to be honest and say that I feel a pretty heavy weight of responsibility. It is always a great responsibility to try and paint the correct picture of God on any month that we meet here, but this month we get to add into the mix a topic no less monumental that the very meaning of life! So I sincerely hope that you will not feel compelled to seek professional help by the time we are done here tonight  The book of Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon. As you may remember from the books that we have studied in previous months Solomon had a rather colorful life. He started with great zeal to carry on where his father David had left off, complete the temple and follow God. God gave him wisdom, peace and prosperity ushering in the golden years for the Israelite nation. But over time Solomon began to wonder all over the place, establishing his own treaties with the surrounding nations. To cement those treaties in those days, kings often married into the family, and so we are told that Solomon acquired 700 wives of royal birth plus another 300 concubines. In the spirit of love, freedom and tolerance he built temples for the various gods of these wives and soon he too was accompanying them to those temples, going even as far as sacrificing children to Molech. Whatever he wanted he had, and whatever he wanted to do he did. It sure was a wild ride. Finally in his old age he got to take a long hard look at his life. The result is the book of Ecclesiastes, and I have to be honest, it is a rather depressing book. In it Solomon looks back at his life and asks the perennial question: what is the meaning of life? If you had the chance to read the book, it is quite likely you may not have liked what he had to say. I mean, here is a guy who had it all and got to do it all, and the word he chooses to describe this life is: ―meaningless‖?! Many have said that Solomon’s view of life was skewed by depression. I’d like to submit that rather than having a skewed view, Solomon actually saw clearly the reality of life on this planet. The book begins with the words of our scripture reading:’―Meaningless! Meaningless!‖ says the Teacher. ―Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.‖’ (Ecclesiastes 1:2) I bet that got your attention! But rather than make a sweeping statement like that and leave it there, Solomon rationalizes his conclusion: you work hard to build something, yet things just come and go over the years. Everything in nature goes around and around without ever reaching a goal, a final destination. There is always more to see, more to hear, more to learn, and yet for all that – there is actually nothing new under the sun. As we read on, we see Solomon really analyzing his life’s experience. He devoted himself to study and exploration. He found that unfulfilling. So he applied
  2. himself to understanding wisdom and madness, and this also he found unfulfilling, since the more he understood, the more he despaired of the crazy way things were. He tried partying and pleasure, good food and good wine. He lost himself in grand projects. He acquired incredible wealth. He had an incredible number of women. He says: ―I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.‖ (Ecclesiastes 2:10,11). Now wait a minute! Can we have a reality check here for a moment? So much of our culture revolves around the thought that plenty of money and sex is what will make you happy? Let’s face it, if we put out an ad for this program promising naked girls, free beer and a chance to win $100,000, this place would be packed out! Instead we said we’ll be studying the book of Ecclesiastes and, well, we got you lot  So how come the richest guy of his time, who had the best wine cellars in the land and had more women than he knew what to do with, finds it all so utterly unfulfilling?! Maybe if he devoted himself to more noble and lasting enterprises? But he did! He worked hard on some huge and spectacular projects, expanding the borders of his kingdom to their largest ever area, all without going to war. Even that left him asking what the point of it all was as he wondered what kind of an idiot would come after him and wreck it all. We now know from history that Solomon was barely cold in the grave when his son Rehoboam managed to tear apart the kingdom his father worked so hard to build and just about started a civil war. So one has to concede, this was rather insightful on Solomon’s part. It is hard to fault Solomon’s logic. Looking at some more recent illustrations we can reach similar conclusions. My uncle was an architect who spent most of his professional life literally building up the city of Sarajevo. He designed a number of buildings and spent many years as a member of the city planning commission, three of them as chairman. When the civil war left the city in ruins our only consolation was that he passed away two years before the start of the war, so he didn’t have to witness such mindless destruction of his life’s work. Even more recently, with the economic collapse, many have seen their life’s savings decimated overnight. We got to realize that what we have spent our lives building up, saving and sacrificing for, what we thought was our wealth and security was just a number on a computer screen that rises and falls based on nothing more than people’s whims and perceptions. The part that is really uncomfortable about Ecclesiastes is that it completely challenges our common wisdom. Study hard, get knowledge and wisdom, go to college and get that degree. Party hard. Have an active and adventurous sex life. Get a good, productive job that allows you a high-end lifestyle and builds you a nice nest egg for your retirement. If you can get your name on a plaque attached
  3. to some worthy project or building in the process, all the better. That is common wisdom, and yet Solomon tried it all, apparently succeeded in all of it and still found it all meaningless for a very simple reason: Whatever we did or didn’t do in life, ultimately we will all wind up in the same place – 6 feet under. And there, none of the above matters. However, there was one thing that struck me as I was reading the book. Solomon is writing about the things ―under the sun‖. He is writing as if the few fleeting years we get on this planet are all there is to this life. He is writing about the pursuit of self. There is only one place where Solomon eventually finds meaning in life – and that is God. Without God we really do live for a little bit, keep ourselves occupied somehow and then die. That’s it. Any benefit that you derived from your striving in life goes with you 6 feet under. What legacy you left behind among the living is soon forgotten or worse yet squandered away by people with no appreciation of what it took to build it up. But with God in the picture we can embrace the temporary nature of things in this life. God has given us life. God is life. Eternal life. What we experience on this planet is merely the beginning, the foreword as it were to the book that is our eternal life. Yes, it is true that we all get to experience an interruption in our lives, but that is merely an intermission. With God, death, as we experience it on our planet, is nothing more than an intermission, because our God is life. And so we can embrace death as part of the temporary. We get to rest for a while. Jesus Himself said: ―I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.‖ (John 11:25,26) Our life is in God’s hands whether we are breathing above ground or are resting 6 feet under. With God in the picture our separation from our loved ones is temporary, our illness is temporary, our pain is temporary, our bad situation is temporary, our good situation is temporary, our wealth is temporary and our poverty is temporary. As Mark Lowry points out, the Bible promises that ―it shall come to pass‖. Either it will pass or you will pass, but it shall come to pass. And so we can embrace the temporary nature of things in this world. God gives meaning to our lives. This is what Ecclesiastes is all about. Solomon concludes the book with these words: ―After all this, there is only one thing to say: Have reverence for God, and obey his commands, because this is all that we were created for.‖ (Ecclesiastes 12:13 GNT) It is easy to misunderstand this to mean – your entire purpose in life is to live in serfdom to God and jump at his every whim and command. But what Solomon is pointing to are the commandments that God gave us, and I believe, that as our Maker and Creator, the commandments God gave us are more like an instruction manual to help us get the most out of the life He has given us, much like any manual will instruct us in how to get the best performance and longevity out of our appliances. If you look at the commandments God has given us they all boil down to one thing:
  4. love. Love for God, love for fellow man and woman. And love, as we have said before is other-centeredness. God knew that in our selfish state we would look to find fulfillment in pursuit of self. Self improvement, self gratification, self aggrandizement. And so God gave us commandments that would allow us to find fulfillment in life. God gave us commandments that are rooted in other-centeredness. Rather than exert all our energy on temporary things, God is directing us towards things that will have meaning and benefit for our entire life – eternal life: relationships. Relationships with God, our spouse, our parents, our children and our neighbors. Our character and our relationships are the only things that carry on throughout our lives. Think about that for a moment. The only things we get to take to heaven with us are our character and our relationships. That is not to say that God will not yet do a whole lot more work on our character and our relationships throughout our lives, but they are the only things we get to keep beyond our temporary rest. As we enter the season when we remember and celebrate the time when God came to dwell among us, we should note what Jesus said about the purpose of His coming. In John 10:10 He said: ―I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness.‖ And what a difference Jesus has made. He has shown us that we do not need to fear death, because He is life and He has conquered death. In Jesus God has shown us that life as we know it on this planet is not the end. We can enjoy life in its fullness because we do not have to fear. Our life is in God’s hands and whatever we come up against in this life will pass, it is only temporary. In Jesus God has shown us how to live a fulfilled life of othercenteredness, wholly relying on God to provide that which we truly need. Gathered around Jesus was a rag-tag group consisting of mostly fishermen. God gave meaning to their lives and these men turned the world upside down in spite of their lack of education and lack of resources. With God they had more to live for than just this world. When God freed them of the fear of that which is temporary, they lived life in all its fullness. There is one more neat thing about God that I have to note when we talk about the book of Ecclesiastes. As Solomon wondered all over the place in his search for meaning and fulfillment, he went far from God and did some pretty nasty things. Having concluded that everything in life is meaningless, God once again infused meaning into his life and invited him to write a book about his experiences. Isn’t it gracious of God to invite Solomon to make another contribution to the Bible after all that he had done? I am glad that He did. I don’t believe that God intended for Solomon to apostatize. But when Solomon returned to God, even his wondering through life and thoughts about the meaninglessness of life assumed meaning, because he could then write a book from his unique perspective. Solomon had everything that we think we want, and so God was able to use his experience to make us think about the meaning of our lives and point us to the only place where we can find meaning and life in all its fullness.

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