An Honest Look at Life: Eccl. Chapter 9

Solomon intended to demonstrate empirically to people the insecurity of all human effort to provide any real meaning, value, or significance to their lives “under the sun” and to drive them to trust in God alone…Solomon was a believer who sought to destroy people’s confidence in their own efforts, their own abilities, their own righteousness and to direct them to faith in God as the only possible basis for meaning, value, and significance to life “under the sun.”—Donald R Glenn, Professor of Old Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary

Ecclesiastes is a hard book to understand, for many reasons.  Its style & pattern is unlike most English writing we read today.  Hebrew as a language is difficult to adequately translate into English, & Ecclesiastes is no exception. 

But most of all, Ecclesiastes is hard to understand because of its subject matter. Solomon takes a brutally honest look at life, both a very personal look from his own experience and a very impersonal & empirical look from the mind of the wisest man on the planet.

If we take an honest look at Solomon’s Ecclesiastes, it will demand an honest look at our own life. To face our own lives with honesty and wisdom is a difficult but rewarding task.  With all this in mind, let’s take a look at Ecclesiastes 9…

God Is In Control…

But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. (Ecclesiastes 9:1 ESV)

For eight chapters Solomon has been examining both his own life and that of others, looking at vanity, work, wisdom, pleasure, “all this I laid to heart, examining it all.”  The Message paraphrases: “Well, I took all this in and thought it through, inside and out.”

After considering it all, what is the conclusion that Solomon drew?

…the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God.

This is a bedrock statement: the people of God are in the hand of God.  God first announced to Moses in Deuteronomy 32:39 that, “there is no god besides me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none who can deliver out of my hand.”  Psalm 95:7 states that we are “the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.”

… but life is still hard to understand

After establishing his firm conviction that God is in control, Solomon, ever the realist, immediately admits that God’s control is still hard to understand from a human perspective:

Day, by day, whether it’s love or hate they’re dealing with, they don’t know.  Anything’s possible.  It’s one fate for everybody— righteous and wicked, good people, bad people, the nice and the nasty, worshipers and non-worshipers, committed and uncommitted. (vs. 1-3, The Message)

Actually, Solomon was far more willing to be “real” than many in the church.  We often assure ourselves of God’s blessing and healing and prosperity, but then when problems or tragedy strike, we come to a crisis.  Where is the God of unlimited blessings we thought was serving us?  Solomon knew the truth, that bad things do happen to good people in a fallen world.

Living in a fallen world stinks…

Solomon didn’t try to put a positive spin on the nature of living in a fallen world— the evil and injustice in this fallen world is just that— evil and unjust.  The Message translates verse 3:

I find this the worst thing about living on this earth— that everyone’s lumped together in one fate. 

What are we to do with staring this kind of stark truth in the face?  Solomon knew what people with an unregenerate heart did:

Is it any wonder that so many people are obsessed with evil?  Is it any wonder that people go crazy right and left?  Life leads to death. That’s it. (v.3 The Message)

People who don’t realize the truth of verse 1, that God is in control, often decide to live to satisfy their lusts or just degenerate into neurosis or insanity.

…but it still beats the alternative!

Next, Solomon warns those who would then degenerate into despondency and wish for death, that, no, even with its hardships, life is still preferable:

Still, anyone selected out for life has hope, for, as they say, “A living dog is better than a dead lion.”  The living at least know something, even if it’s only that they’re going to die.  But the dead know nothing and get nothing.  They’re a minus that no one remembers.  Their loves, their hates, yes, even their dreams, are long gone.  There’s not a trace of them left in the affairs of this earth. (vs. 4-6 The Message)

In Hebrew culture, a dog was not a furry pet, it was a despised unclean scavenger, close to what we would rate a rat today.  So to say that it was better to be a living dog than a dead lion meant no amount of earthly honor or prestige or power or possessions matter once you die, that even the most despised condition here is inherently better because all your options and opportunities cease when God closes the door on your life.  There are no second chances, no “I’ll do better tomorrow,” no anything to change your fate after your last heartbeat.

So, live your life full throttle…

Go, eat your bread in joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.  Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. (vs. 7-9 ESV)

Even though there is much that is evil and grim in this life, God has blessed it as well, and Solomon urges us to enjoy the blessings we have been given.  As deep a thinker as he was, Solomon undoubtedly had a melancholic personality, and as Ecclesiastes shows, he might “see the glass half empty.”  But he warns us “Don’t live your life in that pessimism, LIVE your life, seize every moment and get the enjoyment that God has ordained for you out of them.” 

…and throw yourself  into your work…

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.  (v.10 ESV)

While verses 7-9 give us the right perspective on life, verse 10 gives us the right perspective on work in view of the certainty of death.  Centuries before Horace penned “Seize the Day!” and the marketing folks at Nike were telling us to “Just Do It!” Solomon knew that God placed us on this earth to work, and work with all our might, because this life is just the first phase in our eternal existence, and our time to work and accomplish is limited.

…just remembering that God controls the outcome.

Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.  For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them. (vs. 11-12 ESV)

Solomon finishes up this train of thought with another bedrock statement: man does not know his time.  Whether it be the outcome of a specific event  (race, battle, work) or the timing of a man’s death (the net, the snare) man cannot guarantee the outcome through his own efforts.

So, how about some personal application???

God is in control…but life is still hard to understand.

—What situation in your life would this statement make a fitting title over?

—How are you doing reconciling these two seemingly opposing statements?

—How can honestly facing the truth of both help?

Living in a fallen world stinks…but it still beats the alternative!

Despair is a common emotion— Moses, Elijah, and Jonah all experienced it so deeply that they asked God to let them die.  Solomon chose neither to ignore it or to give into it.  So should we, in our own lives and in the lives of our friends.  If you or a friend are struggling with despair, then take Solomon’s word & that of other Biblical authors, and seek wisdom, strength and healing from other wise believers.

So, live your life full throttle and throw yourself into your work…just remembering that God controls the outcome.

—How can you live your life more fully & joyfully in the light of God this week?

—How can you throw yourself into your work this week, while leaving the outcome to God?

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