Thursday, May 28, 2015

Reflections on Ecclesiastes 8

 Ecclesiastes 08 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Who is smart enough to explain everything? Wisdom makes you cheerful and gives you a smile.
  2. If you promised God that you would be loyal to the king, I advise you to keep that promise.
  3. Don't quickly oppose the king or argue when he has already made up his mind.
  4. The king's word is law. No one can ask him, "Why are you doing this?"
  5. If you obey the king, you will stay out of trouble. So be smart and learn what to do and when to do it.
  6. Life is hard, but there is a time and a place for everything,
  7. though no one can tell the future.
  8. We cannot control the wind or determine the day of our death. There is no escape in time of war, and no one can hide behind evil.
  9. I noticed all this and thought seriously about what goes on in the world. Why does one person have the power to hurt another?
  10. I saw the wicked buried with honor, but God's people had to leave the holy city and were forgotten. None of this makes sense.
  11. When we see criminals commit crime after crime without being punished, it makes us want to start a life of crime.
  12. They commit hundreds of crimes and live to a ripe old age, in spite of the saying: Everyone who lives right and respects God will prosper,
  13. but no one who sins and rejects God will prosper or live very long.
  14. There is something else that doesn't make sense to me. Good citizens are treated as criminals, while criminals are honored as though they were good citizens.
  15. So I think we should get as much out of life as we possibly can. There is nothing better than to enjoy our food and drink and to have a good time. Then we can make it through this troublesome life that God has given us here on earth.
  16. Day and night I went without sleep, trying to understand what goes on in this world.
  17. I saw everything God does, and I realized that no one can really understand what happens. We may be very wise, but no matter how much we try or how much we claim to know, we cannot understand it all.

Through wisdom one can discern a situation and respond by adjusting his face and decorum accordingly. Applying this discernment of a situation through wisdom, the wise person recognizes the position of one who is in authority and can make things difficult for him. Therefore he observes the command of the one in authority and does not question the authority of the one to set this command. Nor does he insist on pursuing a bad cause before the authorities. That these practices are the best way to avoid harm is elementary. Beyond this, however, a wise heart is required to know what to do and when, for knowing when to pursue a matter is as important as knowing what to pursue. It is especially difficult to know these things when one does not know what will happen.

If one chooses wickedness over good, they should realize there is no escaping the consequences of this choice. They can no more escape it than they can restrain the wind, control the day of their death, or take a furlough during a battle. When, however, wickedness is not punished people begin to throw off restraint and their hearts are filled with the desire to commit crime. Wickedness prevails. But, in general life goes well for the righteous and not so well for the wicked. There are times when the wicked may carry out their wickedness repeatedly without retribution or the righteous may suffer despite their righteousness. But this, Solomon says, is futile or meaningless. It is a contradiction of divine justice and not the way it should be.

Since one cannot control or predict what life brings, whether prosperity or adversity, it is best to enjoy the fruit of one's labor as God makes possible. There will be times when one may not be able to enjoy the fruit of their labors, so they should not ruin the times when they can be enjoyed by worrying about the times they can't. Since the ways of God are not discernible, it is futile to expend much effort to discern them. So why get upset trying to figure out why one thing happens and not another such as why the righteous experiencing adversity or the wicked experiencing prosperity? We never know the reasons. We can only accept that God is sovereign and submit ourselves to His ways.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Reflections on Ecclesiastes 7

 Ecclesiastes 07 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. A good reputation at the time of death is better than loving care at the time of birth.
  2. It's better to go to a funeral than to attend a feast; funerals remind us that we all must die.
  3. Choose sorrow over laughter because a sad face may hide a happy heart.
  4. A sensible person mourns, but fools always laugh.
  5. Harsh correction is better than the songs of a fool.
  6. Foolish laughter is stupid. It sounds like thorns crackling in a fire.
  7. Corruption makes fools of sensible people, and bribes can ruin you.
  8. Something completed is better than something just begun; patience is better than too much pride.
  9. Only fools get angry quickly and hold a grudge.
  10. It isn't wise to ask, "Why is everything worse than it used to be?"
  11. Having wisdom is better than an inheritance.
  12. Wisdom will protect you just like money; knowledge with good sense will lead you to life.
  13. Think of what God has done! If God makes something crooked, can you make it straight?
  14. When times are good, you should be cheerful; when times are bad, think what it means. God makes them both to keep us from knowing what will happen next.
  15. I have seen everything during this senseless life of mine. I have seen good citizens die for doing the right thing, and I have seen criminals live to a ripe old age.
  16. So don't destroy yourself by being too good or acting too smart!
  17. Don't die before your time by being too evil or acting like a fool.
  18. Keep to the middle of the road. You can do this if you truly respect God.
  19. Wisdom will make you stronger than the ten most powerful leaders in your city.
  20. No one in this world always does right.
  21. Don't listen to everything that everyone says, or you might hear your servant cursing you.
  22. Haven't you cursed many others?
  23. I told myself that I would be smart and try to understand all of this, but it was too much for me.
  24. The truth is beyond us. It's far too deep.
  25. So I decided to learn everything I could and become wise enough to discover what life is all about. At the same time, I wanted to understand why it's stupid and senseless to be an evil fool.
  26. Here is what I discovered: A bad woman is worse than death. She is a trap, reaching out with body and soul to catch you. But if you obey God, you can escape. If you don't obey, you are done for.
  27. With all my wisdom I have tried to find out how everything fits together,
  28. but so far I have not been able to. I do know there is one good man in a thousand, but never have I found a good woman.
  29. I did learn one thing: We were completely honest when God created us, but now we have twisted minds.

Maintaining a good name until one's death is of great value. Much more so than being born with a great heritage and great expectation. But to maintain a good name one must consider more than simply having a good time. While pleasure has its place, as a pursuit it is futile, for it brings only momentary benefit but is not lasting. When the moment of pleasure is past life returns as usual, no better as a result of pleasure. The wise recognize that there is more to be learned from mourning than from laughter and that listening to the rebuke of a wise person, while unpleasant at the time, can bring lasting benefit.

The wise also live life in the present not always desiring what they don't have or looking back on how things used to be. This wanting what one does not have leads to such activity as extortion and bribery which then sets one on a path from which there is no return. Once such activity is set in motion one's motives and actions are designed to perpetuate that action and protect oneself from discovery.

The wise person recognizes God's sovereignty in all matters. He gladly receives prosperity, often without question, but when adversity comes he also accepts it as from God and learns from it. One cannot straighten what God has made crooked nor will he discover why adversity has occurred or what his future will hold. All that can be known is that God is in control and to recognize the wisdom of aligning ourselves with Him.
Wisdom can provide what military strength alone cannot, and will make up for what is lacking in righteousness. We all have gaps in our righteousness from time to time, as can be recognized by simply listening to what others may have to say about us. But alas, wisdom, too, is inadequate and elusive. True wisdom is beyond us, for who can discover all that exists?

Foolishness traps people as an ellicit woman traps a man, but only those who please God escape its grasp and take hold of wisdom. These people are rare, though. This is not God's doing, however, but man's. Though God made people upright, they are prone to pursue schemes.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Reflections on Ecclesiastes 6

 Ecclesiastes 06 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. There is something else terribly unfair, and it troubles everyone on earth.
  2. God may give you everything you want--money, property, and wealth. Then God doesn't let you enjoy it, and someone you don't even know gets it all. That's senseless and terribly unfair!
  3. You may live a long time and have a hundred children. But a child born dead is better off than you, unless you enjoy life and have a decent burial.
  4. That child will never live to see the sun or to have a name, and it will go straight to the world of darkness. But it will still find more rest than you,
  5. (SEE 6:4)
  6. even if you live two thousand years and don't enjoy life. As you know, we all end up in the same place.
  7. We struggle just to have enough to eat, but we are never satisfied.
  8. We may be sensible, yet we are no better off than a fool. And if we are poor, it still doesn't do us any good to try to live right.
  9. It's better to enjoy what we have than to always want something else, because that makes no more sense than chasing the wind.
  10. Everything that happens was decided long ago. We humans know what we are like, and we can't argue with God, because he is too strong for us.
  11. The more we talk, the less sense we make, so what good does it do to talk?
  12. Life is short and meaningless, and it fades away like a shadow. Who knows what is best for us? Who knows what will happen after we are gone?

The first section of Ecclesiastes is about the futility of man's effort to be continually striving for more and the wisdom of being content with what one has. This section concludes in chapter 6 with a discussion of the tragedy of being blessed by God with much and not having the capacity to enjoy it, always desiring more. Solomon sees this as a tragedy that "weighs heavily on humanity." From his perspective this inability to enjoy what one has happens because God has not given the person the capacity to enjoy what he has. His desire outstrips his acquisition or accumulation. But a preferable perspective is that God has not given the person the capacity to enjoy what he has because the person has not given God the opportunity to do so.

According to the scenario in verses 1-2, the person passes through life without enjoying his wealth, then dies and his wealth passes to a stranger. This, says Solomon, is a "sickening tragedy," for the one who worked for it does not enjoy it, and one who didn't work for it gets to enjoy it. Presuming the one to whom it passed has the capacity to enjoy it.

This tragedy of not enjoying what one has is not offset by having many children or a long life. Having many children and longevity of life only acerbates the person's dissatisfaction. Solomon considers a stillborn child better off than this person. The stillborn may never see the light of day or ever be known, but it has more rest than the one who lives but does not enjoy it. In the end, this person and the stillborn go to the same place - the grave.

The primary and initial purpose of man's labor is to fill his stomach, that is, to meet his basic needs. But some are not satisfied once their needs are met and continually want more. They are never satisfied. This was the case with the person previously mentioned. But this inability to enjoy what one has can afflict anyone. The wise man and poor man have no advantage over the fool in this regard. All are susceptible to this dissatisfaction. It is better for all, though, to be content with what one has rather than to desire more. Such desire is as futile as chasing the wind.

Nothing exists that was not ordained by God, including man. It is futile for man to contend with God, and the more he does so (with many words) the greater the futility. What advantage is there in contending with God? It is not as if man has any answers, for he doesn't know what is best for him nor does he know what the future holds. Only God knows these things and man is wise to look to Him for all things.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Reflections on Ecclesiastes 5

 Ecclesiastes 05 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Be careful what you do when you enter the house of God. Some fools go there to offer sacrifices, even though they haven't sinned. But it's best just to listen when you go to worship.
  2. Don't talk before you think or make promises to God without thinking them through. God is in heaven, and you are on earth, so don't talk too much.
  3. If you keep thinking about something, you will dream about it. If you talk too much, you will say the wrong thing.
  4. God doesn't like fools. So don't be slow to keep your promises to God.
  5. It's better not to make a promise at all than to make one and not keep it.
  6. Don't let your mouth get you in trouble! And don't say to the worship leader, "I didn't mean what I said." God can destroy everything you have worked for, so don't say something that makes God angry.
  7. Respect and obey God! Daydreaming leads to a lot of senseless talk.
  8. Don't be surprised if the poor of your country are abused, and injustice takes the place of justice. After all, the lower officials must do what the higher ones order them to do.
  9. And since the king is the highest official, he benefits most from the taxes paid on the land.
  10. If you love money and wealth, you will never be satisfied with what you have. This doesn't make sense either.
  11. The more you have, the more everyone expects from you. Your money won't do you any good--others will just spend it for you.
  12. If you have to work hard for a living, you can rest well at night, even if you don't have much to eat. But if you are rich, you can't even sleep.
  13. I have seen something terribly unfair. People get rich, but it does them no good.
  14. Suddenly they lose everything in a bad business deal, then have nothing to leave for their children.
  15. They came into this world naked, and when they die, they will be just as naked. They can't take anything with them, and they won't have anything to show for all their work.
  16. That's terribly unfair. They leave the world just as they came into it. They gained nothing from running after the wind.
  17. Besides all this, they are always gloomy at mealtime, and they are troubled, sick, and bitter.
  18. What is the best thing to do in the short life that God has given us? I think we should enjoy eating, drinking, and working hard. This is what God intends for us to do.
  19. Suppose you are very rich and able to enjoy everything you own. Then go ahead and enjoy working hard--this is God's gift to you.
  20. God will keep you so happy that you won't have time to worry about each day.

Solomon has been making the case that one should enjoy the fruit of his labor. As he nears the end of this particular argument, he mentions some ways that will rob us of this enjoyment. These things that rob us of enjoying the fruit of our labor make the case that all other pursuits are futile.

One way he says that we might fail to enjoy the fruit of our labor is to fail to take God seriously. Playing games with God rather than recognizing Him as the source of all we receive in life and treating Him as such. So some make rash vows to God without the intent of fulfilling them. They try in this way to impress God or others. But God isn't impressed for He sees through their actions. And others will not be impressed either when God destroys the work of their hands as a result of not keeping their vow. When we come before God it is best to keep our words few and thus not say what we don't understand or mean, making rash statements and vows we don't intend or are unable to keep.

Another way we can fail to enjoy the fruit of our labor is by the oppression of governmental leaders. Under oppressive leadership one leader, starting with the king, requires payment from the leader below him. That leader goes to the next one below him to get it, and so on down until the lowest level leader takes it from the landowners. The whole system is funded by those who work the fields. Or, as Solomon says, "the king is served by the field."

Another way one might fail to enjoy the fruit of his labor is his own covetousness. Though he accumulates wealth he doesn't enjoy it due to increased anxiety, increased vigilance, but not increased enjoyment. The one who is satisfied with what he earns is able to sleep and eat and enjoy what he has whether it is little or much.

A further way one might not enjoy the fruit of their labor is the threat of misfortune. Wealth cannot be depended upon since it can be lost overnight through misfortune. It is God in whom we should place our trust.

The bottom line is to enjoy the fruit of our labor while we can. When we die we will leave it all behind and all opportunity to enjoy it will be gone. What gain is there to struggle and give all one's effort to gaining wealth but not be able to enjoy it? We should recognize that God is the source of all we have or receive. The ability to have and to enjoy what we have is a gift of God, not of our own effort. We should not be anxious about what we don't have or of losing what we do have. Instead, we should worship the One who is the source of it all. Enjoy what He makes available to us and trust that He will provide what we need should there be a loss.

What is God's purpose in giving us the fruit of our labor? Is His purpose primarily utilitarian in nature, simply providing the necessities of life? Or is it primarily that by having the necessities we can enjoy life? Is it survival or enjoyment that God has in mind in providing the fruit of our labor?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Reflections on Ecclesiastes 4

 Ecclesiastes 04 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. I looked again and saw people being mistreated everywhere on earth. They were crying, but no one was there to offer comfort, and those who mistreated them were powerful.
  2. I said to myself, "The dead are better off than the living.
  3. But those who have never been born are better off than anyone else, because they have never seen the terrible things that happen on this earth."
  4. Then I realized that we work and do wonderful things just because we are jealous of others. This makes no more sense than chasing the wind.
  5. Fools will fold their hands and starve to death.
  6. Yet a very little food eaten in peace is better than twice as much earned from overwork and chasing the wind.
  7. Once again I saw that nothing on earth makes sense.
  8. For example, some people don't have friends or family. But they are never satisfied with what they own, and they never stop working to get more. They should ask themselves, "Why am I always working to have more? Who will get what I leave behind?" What a senseless and miserable life!
  9. You are better off to have a friend than to be all alone, because then you will get more enjoyment out of what you earn.
  10. If you fall, your friend can help you up. But if you fall without having a friend nearby, you are really in trouble.
  11. If you sleep alone, you won't have anyone to keep you warm on a cold night.
  12. Someone might be able to beat up one of you, but not both of you. As the saying goes, "A rope made from three strands of cord is hard to break."
  13. You may be poor and young. But if you are wise, you are better off than a foolish old king who won't listen to advice.
  14. Even if you were not born into the royal family and have been a prisoner and poor, you can still be king.
  15. I once saw everyone in the world follow a young leader who came to power after the king was gone.
  16. His followers could not even be counted. But years from now, no one will praise him--this makes no more sense than chasing the wind.

Solomon concludes in chapter 3 that, "there is nothing better than for a person to enjoy his activities, because that is his reward. For who can enable him to see what will happen after he dies?" (3:22) But now he says there is an unpleasant alternative to enjoying one's own activities and that is to suffer under an oppressor. And the one being oppressed is powerless to do anything for the power is with the oppressor. He said it is better to die than to be oppressed, but better still not yet to have been born.

He goes, then, into various incentives for one's labor:
  • The first is envy. Envy, or rather competitiveness, is the incentive of the majority of people, he says. But it is a futile pursuit. One is better to be content with a little and have tranquility, than to strive for a lot accompanied by hard work and anxiety. But being motivated by envy is evidently better than being a fool who "folds his arms," making no effort to have anything and "consumes his own flesh."
  • A second incentive for labor is selfish greed. This person pursues riches and then hoards it to himself. He has isolated himself from a companion, wife, or children and keeps it all to himself. This, too, is futile. In the end this person asks himself, "'So who am I struggling for . . . and depriving myself from good?'" (4:8) All his effort and wealth is meaningless. A better alternative is to have a partner to work alongside you, and even better is to have two partners. Two can have a good reward for their efforts, but with three there is an overpowering strength. This companionship is good not only for business but also for personal reasons. There is someone to help when you fall, or to keep you warm when it is cold.
  • A third incentive for one's labor is the desire for advancement and prestige. What is the problem with this? It is short-lived, a futile pursuit. There is no lasting pleasure with prestige. Solomon says one is better to be poor but wise.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Reflections on Ecclesiastes 3

 Ecclesiastes 03 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Everything on earth has its own time and its own season.
  2. There is a time for birth and death, planting and reaping,
  3. for killing and healing, destroying and building,
  4. for crying and laughing, weeping and dancing,
  5. for throwing stones and gathering stones, embracing and parting.
  6. There is a time for finding and losing, keeping and giving,
  7. for tearing and sewing, listening and speaking.
  8. There is also a time for love and hate, for war and peace.
  9. What do we gain by all of our hard work?
  10. I have seen what difficult things God demands of us.
  11. God makes everything happen at the right time. Yet none of us can ever fully understand all he has done, and he puts questions in our minds about the past and the future.
  12. I know the best thing we can do is to always enjoy life,
  13. because God's gift to us is the happiness we get from our food and drink and from the work we do.
  14. Everything God has done will last forever; nothing he does can ever be changed. God has done all this, so that we will worship him.
  15. Everything that happens has happened before, and all that will be has already been-- God does everything over and over again.
  16. Everywhere on earth I saw violence and injustice instead of fairness and justice.
  17. So I told myself that God has set a time and a place for everything. He will judge everyone, both the wicked and the good.
  18. I know that God is testing us to show us that we are merely animals.
  19. Like animals we breathe and die, and we are no better off than they are. It just doesn't make sense.
  20. All living creatures go to the same place. We are made from earth, and we return to the earth.
  21. Who really knows if our spirits go up and the spirits of animals go down into the earth?
  22. We were meant to enjoy our work, and that's the best thing we can do. We can never know the future.

Two verses in Eccelsiastes 3 are key to the argument Solomon makes: 3:1 - "There is an occasion for everything, and a time for every activity under heaven." And 3:11 - "He has made everything appropriate in its time." His premise is that there is an occasion for everything and if our pursuits are within those boundaries they will be appropriate. However, outside those boundaries they become inappropriate and a source of trouble.

After stating that there is an occasion for everything, Solomon gives a list of opposite activities, implying a completeness of all activities. Nothing happens that does not have its place. But he seems to give an exception to this later, in verse 16, when he speaks of injustice. This, he seems to say, does not have its place. It is an activity which operates outside the appointed time of things.

Man has eternity in his heart and desires for something beyond this life. But he cannot discover what God has beyond life. All he knows is what he can observe. He need not think he can add to or take away from life's experiences for he cannot come up with anything that God has not already thought of. There is nothing man can think of that has not already occurred.

Though man does not know what follows this life on earth, he does know that death is inevitable. In this respect he is no different than the animals. All die. Therefore, man may as well reach out for what he knows to be available to him which is the fruit of his labor. This is appointed to man and he should enjoy it.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Reflections on Ecclesiastes 2

 Ecclesiastes 02 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. I said to myself, "Have fun and enjoy yourself!" But this didn't make sense.
  2. Laughing and having fun is crazy. What good does it do?
  3. I wanted to find out what was best for us during the short time we have on this earth. So I decided to make myself happy with wine and find out what it means to be foolish, without really being foolish myself.
  4. I did some great things. I built houses and planted vineyards.
  5. I had flower gardens and orchards full of fruit trees.
  6. And I had pools where I could get water for the trees.
  7. I owned slaves, and their sons and daughters became my slaves. I had more sheep and goats than anyone who had ever lived in Jerusalem.
  8. Foreign rulers brought me silver, gold, and precious treasures. Men and women sang for me, and I had many wives who gave me great pleasure.
  9. I was the most famous person who had ever lived in Jerusalem, and I was very wise.
  10. I got whatever I wanted and did whatever made me happy. But most of all, I enjoyed my work.
  11. Then I thought about everything I had done, including the hard work, and it was simply chasing the wind. Nothing on earth is worth the trouble.
  12. I asked myself, "What can the next king do that I haven't done?" Then I decided to compare wisdom with foolishness and stupidity.
  13. And I discovered that wisdom is better than foolishness, just as light is better than darkness.
  14. Wisdom is like having two good eyes; foolishness leaves you in the dark. But wise or foolish, we all end up the same.
  15. Finally, I said to myself, "Being wise got me nowhere! The same thing will happen to me that happens to fools. Nothing makes sense.
  16. Wise or foolish, we all die and are soon forgotten."
  17. This made me hate life. Everything we do is painful; it's just as senseless as chasing the wind.
  18. Suddenly I realized that others would someday get everything I had worked for so hard, then I started hating it all.
  19. Who knows if those people will be sensible or stupid? Either way, they will own everything I have earned by hard work and wisdom. It doesn't make sense.
  20. I thought about all my hard work, and I felt depressed.
  21. When we use our wisdom, knowledge, and skill to get what we own, why do we have to leave it to someone who didn't work for it? This is senseless and wrong.
  22. What do we really gain from all of our hard work?
  23. Our bodies ache during the day, and work is torture. Then at night our thoughts are troubled. It just doesn't make sense.
  24. The best thing we can do is to enjoy eating, drinking, and working. I believe these are God's gifts to us,
  25. and no one enjoys eating and living more than I do.
  26. If we please God, he will make us wise, understanding, and happy. But if we sin, God will make us struggle for a living, then he will give all we own to someone who pleases him. This makes no more sense than chasing the wind.

Previously Solomon had examined the benefits of labor. Now he examines the benefits of pleasure. So, with the help of wine he attempted to explore foolishness. However, he did not let go of all restraints. So he accumulated things such as houses and vineyards, gardens and parks. He acquired servants and cattle along with silver and gold. Furthermore he gathered entertainers and concubines. Through all of this he maintained his wisdom, placing limits on his activities.

His conclusion of this experiment was the same as it was for his experiment with labor. It is futile. "What does laughter and pleasure accomplish?" he asked. At the end of his experiment he did an evaluation and found, "everything to be futile and a pursuit of the wind. There was nothing to be gained under the sun." (2:11)

Next Solomon experimented with the advantages of wisdom over folly. The question he raised with this experiment was, "what is the advantage of being wise and having great achievements?" In his conclusion on the experiment, he determined that there is an advantage to wisdom, for with wisedom a man "has eyes in his head," whereas the fool "walks in darkness." But the end result is the same. Both die and their achievements are left to whoever comes after them, and "who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool?" A man does his work with wisdom, knowledge, and skill, and he must leave it to a man who has not worked for it.

So Solomon concluded there is "nothing better for man than to eat, drink, and to enjoy his work." But in this, as in everything, it comes from God's hand. No one, says Solomon, can eat or enjoy life apart from God. To the man who is pleasing to God, "He gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy." But to the sinner, God gives the task of, "gathering and accumulating in order to give to the one who is pleasing in God's sight." (2:26)

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Reflections on Ecclesiastes 1

 Ecclesiastes 01 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. When the son of David was king in Jerusalem, he was known to be very wise, and he said:
  2. Nothing makes sense! Everything is nonsense. I have seen it all-- nothing makes sense!
  3. What is there to show for all of our hard work here on this earth?
  4. People come, and people go, but still the world never changes.
  5. The sun comes up, the sun goes down; it hurries right back to where it started from.
  6. The wind blows south, the wind blows north; round and round it blows over and over again.
  7. All rivers empty into the sea, but it never spills over; one by one the rivers return to their source.
  8. All of life is far more boring than words could ever say. Our eyes and our ears are never satisfied with what we see and hear.
  9. Everything that happens has happened before; nothing is new, nothing under the sun.
  10. Someone might say, "Here is something new!" But it happened before, long before we were born.
  11. No one who lived in the past is remembered anymore, and everyone yet to be born will be forgotten too.
  12. I said these things when I lived in Jerusalem as king of Israel.
  13. With all my wisdom I tried to understand everything that happens here on earth. And God has made this so hard for us humans to do.
  14. I have seen it all, and everything is just as senseless as chasing the wind.
  15. If something is crooked, it can't be made straight; if something isn't there, it can't be counted.
  16. I said to myself, "You are by far the wisest person who has ever lived in Jerusalem. You are eager to learn, and you have learned a lot."
  17. Then I decided to find out all I could about wisdom and foolishness. Soon I realized that this too was as senseless as chasing the wind.
  18. The more you know, the more you hurt; the more you understand, the more you suffer.

King Solomon, son of King David, is thought to be the writer of Ecclesiastes. God gave Solomon great wisdom, and with his heightened insight he recognized that in whatever man pursues there is a futility to it. This futility is based largely on the transitory nature of life. Generations come and go as does the accomplishments of each generation. He asks the question, "What does a man gain for all his efforts he labors at under the sun?" (1:3)

Literally, gain refers to what is left over. So the question is, in what way is man further ahead in whatever he does? Solomon's implied answer to this question of gain is none. After all man's effort, at the end of his life he is really no further ahead. Most of his accomplishments will not carry over to the next generation and will soon be forgotten. Even with Solomon's great wisdom he concluded that "this too is a pursuit of the wind." He seemed to doubt that he was actually better off with his wisdom because "with much wisdom is much sorrow." (1:18)

No experience is completely satisfying. There is always the desire for more. All things are wearisome. Nor is there anything that is really new, for it has all existed before. Man can apply his mind to the human condition, but in the end, "What is crooked cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted." (1:15)
So is Solomon a pessimist or simply a realist? Let's stick with him a bit more to fully see where he is going with all this.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Reflections on Proverbs 31

 Proverbs 31 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. These are the sayings that King Lemuel of Massa was taught by his mother.
  2. My son Lemuel, you were born in answer to my prayers, so listen carefully.
  3. Don't waste your life chasing after women! This has ruined many kings.
  4. Kings and leaders should not get drunk or even want to drink.
  5. Drinking makes you forget your responsibilities, and you mistreat the poor.
  6. Beer and wine are only for the dying or for those who have lost all hope.
  7. Let them drink and forget how poor and miserable they feel.
  8. But you must defend those who are helpless and have no hope.
  9. Be fair and give justice to the poor and homeless.
  10. A truly good wife is the most precious treasure a man can find!
  11. Her husband depends on her, and she never lets him down.
  12. She is good to him every day of her life,
  13. and with her own hands she gladly makes clothes.
  14. She is like a sailing ship that brings food from across the sea.
  15. She gets up before daylight to prepare food for her family and for her servants.
  16. She knows how to buy land and how to plant a vineyard,
  17. and she always works hard.
  18. She knows when to buy or sell, and she stays busy until late at night.
  19. She spins her own cloth,
  20. and she helps the poor and the needy.
  21. Her family has warm clothing, and so she doesn't worry when it snows.
  22. She does her own sewing, and everything she wears is beautiful.
  23. Her husband is a well-known and respected leader in the city.
  24. She makes clothes to sell to the shop owners.
  25. She is strong and graceful, as well as cheerful about the future.
  26. Her words are sensible, and her advice is thoughtful.
  27. She takes good care of her family and is never lazy.
  28. Her children praise her, and with great pride her husband says,
  29. "There are many good women, but you are the best!"
  30. Charm can be deceiving, and beauty fades away, but a woman who honors the LORD deserves to be praised.
  31. Show her respect-- praise her in public for what she has done.

The first nine verses of this last chapter of Proverbs is an oracle based on a mother's teachings to her son, King Lemuel. The teachings concern two pitfalls that anyone must avoid, but ones which kings may be especially susceptible to, plus counsel to be a voice for those who cannot defend themselves.
Her first teaching is not to become obsessed with women, and in particular those who may be fortune-hunters preying on powerful and rich men such as kings. Secondly, the mother cautioned her son, the king, against becoming addicted to alcohol. Doing so would cloud his judgment causing him to "forget what is decreed," thus perverting justice for the oppressed.

On the positive side, the third teaching of the king's mother was to be a king who stood up for those who could not stand up for themselves. This included the dispossessed, the oppressed, and the needy. She wanted him to judge righteously and to defend the cause of such people. Be sure they have justice.
Verses 10-31 describe the ideal wife. She is referred to in various translations as a capable wife, a virtuous wife, or a worthy wife. This is a woman who is a stark contrast to the type women King Lemuel's mother advised him against. A woman such as this is "more precious than jewels."

She . . .
. . . Provides clothing and food for the family, rising early to do so. Her family need not fear the cold of winter for she provids sufficient clothing and of good quality.
. . . Has a head for business, buying fields, planting vineyards, assuring a good profit, and keeping the lamp oil stocked.
. . . Makes fine linen and belts, selling them to merchants.
. . . Helps those who need help, reaching out to the poor and giving a hand to the needy.
. . . Is an asset to her husband, raising his standing in the community rather than tearing it down.
. . . Need not worry about what is to come for she has provided well.
. . . Speaks wisdom and loving instruction.
. . . Is praised by her husband who says, "Many women are capable, but you surpass them all!"

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Reflections on Proverbs 30

 Proverbs 30 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. These are the sayings and the message of Agur son of Jakeh. Someone cries out to God, "I am completely worn out! How can I last?
  2. I am far too stupid to be considered human.
  3. I never was wise, and I don't understand what God is like."
  4. Has anyone gone up to heaven and come back down? Has anyone grabbed hold of the wind? Has anyone wrapped up the sea or marked out boundaries for the earth? If you know of any who have done such things, then tell me their names and their children's names.
  5. Everything God says is true-- and it's a shield for all who come to him for safety.
  6. Don't change what God has said! He will correct you and show that you are a liar.
  7. There are two things, Lord, I want you to do for me before I die:
  8. Make me absolutely honest and don't let me be too poor or too rich. Give me just what I need.
  9. If I have too much to eat, I might forget about you; if I don't have enough, I might steal and disgrace your name.
  10. Don't tell a slave owner something bad about one of the slaves. That slave will curse you, and you will be in trouble.
  11. Some people curse their father and even their mother;
  12. others think they are perfect, but they are stained by sin.
  13. Some people are stuck-up and act like snobs;
  14. others are so greedy that they gobble down the poor and homeless.
  15. Greed has twins, each named "Give me!" There are three or four things that are never satisfied:
  16. The world of the dead and a childless wife, the thirsty earth and a flaming fire.
  17. Don't make fun of your father or disobey your mother-- crows will peck out your eyes, and buzzards will eat the rest of you.
  18. There are three or four things I cannot understand:
  19. How eagles fly so high or snakes crawl on rocks, how ships sail the ocean or people fall in love.
  20. An unfaithful wife says, "Sleeping with another man is as natural as eating."
  21. There are three or four things that make the earth tremble and are unbearable:
  22. A slave who becomes king, a fool who eats too much,
  23. a hateful woman who finds a husband, and a slave who takes the place of the woman who owns her.
  24. On this earth four things are small but very wise:
  25. Ants, who seem to be feeble, but store up food all summer long;
  26. badgers, who seem to be weak, but live among the rocks;
  27. locusts, who have no king, but march like an army;
  28. lizards, which can be caught in your hand, but sneak into palaces.
  29. Three or four creatures really strut around:
  30. Those fearless lions who rule the jungle,
  31. those proud roosters, those mountain goats, and those rulers who have no enemies.
  32. If you are foolishly bragging or planning something evil, then stop it now!
  33. If you churn milk you get butter; if you pound on your nose, you get blood-- and if you stay angry, you get in trouble.

Chapter 30 is an oracle written by an unknown man by the name of Agur. He begins with the disclaimer that he is unintelligent and lacking wisdom. His lack of wisdom, he says, is due to his lack of knowledge of God. This may be an overstatement since his writing certainly displays a respect for God. But in verse 4 he qualifies his statement about no knowledge of God by asking, "Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in His hands? Who has bound up the waters in a cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is the name of His Son--if you know?" Agur has done none of these things, only God has.

Agur's lack of knowledge of God is lack of direct knowledge, but he certainly knows of God and respects Him. What he knows of God comes through God's word, which he says is pure. He warns against adding to God's word which will bring a rebuke from God. Only God's word will prevail. Anything we add to them will prove us to be a liar.

He then requests two things of God: 1 - "Keep falsehood and deceitful words far from me." and 2 - "Give me neither poverty nor wealth; feed me with the food I need." He explains that wealth might lead him to deny God and poverty might lead him to steal.

Next comes an observation of four kinds of undesirable behavior:
  1. Cursing one's parents.
  2. Thinking oneself to be pure and without sin.
  3. Haughty eyes and pretentious looks, which speaks of a prideful attitude.
  4. Oppressing the poor and needy.
Four things, he says, are never satisfied:
  1. The grave which never stops claiming the dead.
  2. A barren womb which continually longs to bear children.
  3. The earth which is never satisfied with water.
  4. And a fire which continually seeks to consume more.
Continuing, he lists four things he says are amazing. The relationship of the four to one another or their significance are unclear, though:
  1. The way of an eagle in the sky.
  2. The way of a snake on a rock.
  3. The way of a ship at sea.
  4. And the way of a man with a young woman.
Four things that are unbearable and unfair:
  1. A servant that becomes king with no experience or understanding of how to lead.
  2. A fool when stuffed with food who becomes conceited and inconsiderate of others.
  3. An unloved woman when she marries and brings unhappiness to a marriage.
  4. A serving girl when she replaces her lady, having no knowledge of how to direct others.
Agur lists four things to make his point that size is not a limit to wisdom:
  1. The ant which has the foresight to store up food in the summer.
  2. The hyraxes which makes its home in the cliffs for safety.
  3. The locusts which fly in formation without a leader.
  4. And the lizard which is small enough to be caught in the hand yet lives in kings' palaces.
He lists four creatures he considers to be stately. Again, we don't know how these things are related or what makes them stand out from other things:
  1. The lion which is the mightiest of beast and doesn't retreat from anything.
  2. The strutting rooster.
  3. A goat.
  4. And a king at the head of his army.
Agur concludes with some advice about foolishness. If you find you have foolishly exalted yourself, or you have been scheming, stop it. As surely as churning milk will produce butter and twisting the nose will draw blood, pridefully exalting yourself and scheming will stir up anger and strife.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Reflections on Proverbs 29

 Proverbs 29 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. If you keep being stubborn after many warnings, you will suddenly discover you have gone too far.
  2. When justice rules a nation, everyone is glad; when injustice rules, everyone groans.
  3. If you love wisdom your parents will be glad, but chasing after bad women will cost you everything.
  4. An honest ruler makes the nation strong; a ruler who takes bribes will bring it to ruin.
  5. Flattery is nothing less than setting a trap.
  6. Your sins will catch you, but everyone who lives right will sing and celebrate.
  7. The wicked don't care about the rights of the poor, but good people do.
  8. Sneering at others is a spark that sets a city on fire; using good sense can put out the flames of anger.
  9. Be wise and don't sue a fool. You won't get satisfaction, because all the fool will do is sneer and shout.
  10. A murderer hates everyone who is honest and lives right.
  11. Don't be a fool and quickly lose your temper-- be sensible and patient.
  12. A ruler who listens to lies will have corrupt officials.
  13. The poor and all who abuse them must each depend on God for light.
  14. Kings who are fair to the poor will rule forever.
  15. Correct your children, and they will be wise; children out of control disgrace their mothers.
  16. Crime increases when crooks are in power, but law-abiding citizens will see them fall.
  17. If you correct your children, they will bring you peace and happiness.
  18. Without guidance from God law and order disappear, but God blesses everyone who obeys his Law.
  19. Even when servants are smart, it takes more than words to make them obey.
  20. There is more hope for a fool than for someone who speaks without thinking.
  21. Slaves that you treat kindly from their childhood will cause you sorrow.
  22. A person with a quick temper stirs up arguments and commits a lot of sins.
  23. Too much pride brings disgrace; humility leads to honor.
  24. If you take part in a crime you are your worst enemy, because even under oath you can't tell the truth.
  25. Don't fall into the trap of being a coward-- trust the LORD, and you will be safe.
  26. Many try to make friends with a ruler, but justice comes from the LORD.
  27. Good people and criminals can't stand each other.

Following are topics receiving greatest attention in chapter 29:
The foolish vs the wise:
  • A foolish person who becomes more resolute in his foolishness with correction will come to a sudden end.
  • One who loves wisdom will bring joy to his father.
  • One who hangs out with prostitutes will destroy his father's wealth.
  • Foolish mockers inflame others, while the wise turn away anger.
  • A wise man is better to find another means to resolve an issue with a fool than taking him to court. The fool's ranting and raving will hinder a court resolution.
  • A fool has no control over his anger, while a wise man keeps it under control. Note that both have anger, the issue is the control of it.
The righteous vs the wicked:
  • With the exception of the wicked, people prefer to have the righteous ruling.
  • The evil are eventually caught in their sin, and when they are, the righteous rejoice.
  • The righteous have concern for the rights of the poor while the wicked are oblivious to them.
  • When the wicked are allowed to increase, rebellion increases with them. However, the righteous will live to see their downfall.
  • The wicked and unjust are detestable to the righteous while the righteous are detestable to the wicked.
  • The rod of correction imparts wisdom while the youth left to do what he wants will become a disgrace to his parents.
  • Disciplining a child will later bring comfort and delight to the parents.
  • Discipline is also required for those who work for you. Sometimes it requires more than words.
The Lord:
  • The equalizer between the poor and his oppressor is that the Lord gives light to their eyes.
  • The one who trusts in the Lord will be free from the snare of fearing man.
  • Though we may seek the favor of a ruler, desiring justice, it is the Lord who gives justice.
  • People go wild when their is no word from the Lord.
  • A just king brings stability to a land while one who requires bribes for favorable judgments will demolish the stability.
  • A ruler who is taken in by lies will nurture wickedness among his servants.
  • A ruler who is just in his judgments of the poor will establish his rule forever.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Reflections on Proverbs 28

 Proverbs 28 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Wicked people run away when no one chases them, but those who live right are as brave as lions.
  2. In time of civil war there are many leaders, but a sensible leader restores law and order.
  3. When someone poor takes over and mistreats the poor, it's like a heavy rain destroying the crops.
  4. Lawbreakers praise criminals, but law-abiding citizens always oppose them.
  5. Criminals don't know what justice means, but all who respect the LORD understand it completely.
  6. It's better to be poor and live right, than to be rich and dishonest.
  7. It makes good sense to obey the Law of God, but you disgrace your parents if you make friends with worthless nobodies.
  8. If you make money by charging high interest rates, you will lose it all to someone who cares for the poor.
  9. God cannot stand the prayers of anyone who disobeys his Law.
  10. By leading good people to sin, you dig a pit for yourself, but all who live right will have a bright future.
  11. The rich think highly of themselves, but anyone poor and sensible sees right through them.
  12. When an honest person wins, it's time to celebrate; when crooks are in control, it's best to hide.
  13. If you don't confess your sins, you will be a failure. But God will be merciful if you confess your sins and give them up.
  14. The LORD blesses everyone who is afraid to do evil, but if you are cruel, you will end up in trouble.
  15. A ruler who mistreats the poor is like a roaring lion or a bear hunting for food.
  16. A heartless leader is a fool, but anyone who refuses to get rich by cheating others will live a long time.
  17. Don't give help to murderers! Make them stay on the run for as long as they live.
  18. Honesty will keep you safe, but everyone who is crooked will suddenly fall.
  19. Work hard, and you will have a lot of food; waste time, and you will have a lot of trouble.
  20. God blesses his loyal people, but punishes all who want to get rich quick.
  21. It isn't right to be unfair, but some people can be bribed with only a piece of bread.
  22. Don't be selfish and eager to get rich-- you will end up worse off than you can imagine.
  23. Honest correction is appreciated more than flattery.
  24. If you cheat your parents and don't think it's wrong, you are a common thief.
  25. Selfish people cause trouble, but you will live a full life if you trust the LORD.
  26. Only fools would trust what they alone think, but if you live by wisdom, you will do all right.
  27. Giving to the poor will keep you from poverty, but if you close your eyes to their needs, everyone will curse you.
  28. When crooks are in control, everyone tries to hide, but when they lose power, good people are everywhere.

Five topics, all common themes in Proverbs, are highlighted in this chapter:

The Wicked: These are the proverbs concerning the wicked or evil --
  • They are always watching their back for fear they are being pursued.
  • They have no understanding of justice.
  • Though they lay traps for the upright, they will fall into their own traps.
  • Concealing their sins, as they do, will not bring them prosperity.
  • They can rob their parents and see nothing wrong in it.
  • When they come to power, people hide.
The Upright: Concerning the upright --
  • Find happiness.
  • Because of their integrity others are willing to help them.
  • Are willing to rebuke wrong behavior and actually find more favor than those who simply flatter.
  • Walks in wisdom and finds safety.
The Law: Concerning those who observe the law --
  • Battle against the wicked.
  • Are discerning.
  • Their prayers are heard by the Lord.
Leaders: Concering leaders --
  • A discerning leaders brings stability to a land.
  • A destitute leader is like a driving rain that leaves no food.
  • There is rejoicing when a righteous person comes to power.
  • A wicked leader is like a roaring lion.
  • A leader without understanding is oppressive.
The Rich & The Poor: Conerning wealth --
  • Having integrity though poor trumps having wealth but no integrity.
  • One who collects wealth through excessive interest collects it for one who is kind to the poor.
  • Those who give to the poor will not be in need.
  • One who is in a hurry to get rich will not go unpunished. Poverty will catch up to him.
  • A greedy person promotes conflict.