The book of Ecclesiastes is like putting on corrective lenses. You might even say that it acts as a “reality” filter that allows us to apply wisdom to a broken world.
Wisdom in general is good, but it’s best when it has been tested with battle scars and wounds.
The Teacher of Ecclesiastes has put wisdom to the test.
While reading through the book chapter by chapter over the last week or more, today I took the time to read it straight through a few times. It’s always important to understand the bigger context of what we are reading in Scripture, and for Ecclesiastes, reading the whole context seems so imperative. In fact, reading just parts of this book could put you on the wrong path!
We do not live in an ideal world, we know that, but it is still hard for us to reconcile that truth. The world should work the way God intended it. There should be “order” (as we define order). Good and bad (the righteous and the wicked) should receive the appropriate “blessings” and “curses”. In a broken world, the Teacher of Ecclesiastes states the obvious, something is amiss! He went searching far and wide for answers, but he kept coming back to the same thing. It’s all meaningless!
However, not everything is vanity. The Teacher doesn’t leave it there. It’s not all for nothing. Our lives are not meaningless (even though these are the very themes and statements that the writer repeats all through the book).
We have to interpret our world, and the circumstances we find ourselves in, through the wisdom of the Teacher of Ecclesiastes.
Here is a list from my reading through the whole book of Ecclesiastes today…corrective lens type verses that can stop a pilgrim in his tracks and reflect on his toils, problems, suffering, and grief in this world. What we see (the wrongs, the vanity, etc.) is not what we expect, but I am convinced that what I expect is often times lacking the corrective lenses of the Teacher of this book.
History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.
We don’t remember what happened in the past, and in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now.
What is wrong cannot be made right.
What is missing cannot be recovered.
The greater my wisdom, the greater my grief.
To increase knowledge only increases sorrow.
Some people work wisely with knowledge and skill, then must leave the fruit of their efforts to someone who hasn’t worked for it. This, too, is meaningless, a great tragedy.
Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.
And I know that whatever God does is final. Nothing can be added to it or taken from it. God’s purpose is that people should fear him.
The Future—Determined and Unknown
Everything has already been decided. It was known long ago what each person would be. So there’s no use arguing with God about your destiny.
Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties.
After all, everyone dies—
so the living should take this to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
for sadness has a refining influence on us.
A wise person thinks a lot about death,
while a fool thinks only about having a good time.
Accept the way God does things,
for who can straighten what he has made crooked?
Enjoy prosperity while you can,
but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God.
Remember that nothing is certain in this life.
In this life, good people are often treated as though they were wicked, and wicked people are often treated as though they were good.
I realized that no one can discover everything God is doing under the sun. Not even the wisest people discover everything, no matter what they claim.
Even though the actions of godly and wise people are in God’s hands, no one knows whether God will show them favor.
The fastest runner doesn’t always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn’t always win the battle. The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don’t always lead successful lives.
When you dig a well,
you might fall in.
When you demolish an old wall,
you could be bitten by a snake.
When you work in a quarry,
stones might fall and crush you.
When you chop wood,
there is danger with each stroke of your ax.
No one really knows what is going to happen;
no one can predict the future.
Just as you cannot understand the path of the wind or the mystery of a tiny baby growing in its mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the activity of God, who does all things.
When people live to be very old, let them rejoice in every day of life. But let them also remember there will be many dark days. Everything still to come is meaningless.
Sounds like vanity, but it really isn’t. These statements of wisdom pull together some very important lessons that can give us a perspective of how we view the world, and in how we approach God.
In contrast to the meaningless and vanity all around him, the Teacher has no other conclusion than this: fear God, keep his commandments, and enjoy life, enjoy the lot that has been given you.
In a future post I’ll share the lessons that God impressed me in these weeks of reading through this manual for the hard life that is before all of us, the book of Ecclesiastes.
Lord, give me eyes to see and ears to hear!