Ecclesiastes 8-10: Wisdom

These 3 chapters of Ecclesiastes hold some oft forgotten wisdom along with a few popular quotes. My favorite quote from Ecclesiastes is found in chapter 9, verse 11: "I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all."

Introduction

Solomon's words in Ecclesiastes 8-10 contain nuggets of wisdom that are repeated even in the secular world today. From reminding us not to be idle and to focus on our own race, to discussions on leadership and how we carry ourselves, Solomon gives us more to think about than I could ever summarize. Below are just a few take-a-ways I had while enjoying these chapters.
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Keeping the Commandments

Solomon tells us that whosoever keeps the commandments will not feel evil things. Our brain can be trained by our thoughts and actions (if you're interested in this topic, look for information on Neuroplasticity). Basically, the more we do something, the easier it becomes, until it's a habit. If you are carrying out the commandments as intended, you are programing your brain to good.

In the New Testament, we see the Pharisees adding to the law and attempting to follow script rules rather than the spirit of the law. Solomon is referencing the spirit of the law. Jesus summarizes the spirit of the law throughout the Bible reminding us that we are to love God and love our neighbor. If we truly love both, the actions of the law will follow.

What's interesting is that in most cases, the Ten Commandments intersect. For example, coveting is the first step to stealing and adultery (perhaps even dishonoring your parents, depending on the situation). Theft and adultery often escalate to murder, while the envy produced from coveting can also tempt someone to kill. The feelings and actions we are commanded to abstain from are the foundation for evil behavior. If we eliminate our desire to break those commandments, and make a habit of following the commandments, it stands to reason that we will not have evil thoughts and feelings.

Death

Solomon reminds us that no man—neither the righteous nor the sinner—has any control over death. We don't know when we will die and when death comes to us, we have no power to stop it.

Death Comes To All

11Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. 12Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before him: 13But it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong his days, which are as a shadow; because he feareth not before God. Ecclesiastes 8:11-13 KJV
Solomon points out something very important here. We are often discouraged because it seems as though God is not punishing the wicked, however, God knows what He is doing. When we observe those around us, we only see part of the story, God sees the whole picture. What's more, God doesn't want us to fail! This is why He isn't quick to dispense punishment—He wants us to choose correctly. If we ultimately choose wrong, however, we will be punished. Solomon is reminding us that we shouldn't dwell on the actions of the wicked because eventually they will pay. (We're going to come back to this verse when we talk about leadership, though.)

Just as this issue comes up in our minds often, it shows up in Solomon's writing often. He begins this discussion in Ecclesiastes 8 and continues in Ecclesiastes 9. Whether we are good or bad, we must experience all there is in life, both good and bad. With the exception of a select few (such as Elijah, Enoch), we all must experience the first death, and sometimes it will seem that we do good in vain. We have to remember that our end goes beyond the first death; we are kingdom bound.

The State of the Dead

So many people express sentiments about their loved ones being in Heaven as soon as they die, or acting as guardian angels. Yet, in Ecclesiastes 9:4-6, Solomon tells us the dead are not aware. Once we die, we are essentially in a dreamless sleep until judgment day (the saints from Matthew 27:52 have already been resurrected as firstfruits, however). Revelation 20 tells us the dead will be awakened in 2 different resurrections: 1 for the saved and 1 for the lost.[1] Solomon is reminding us that once we die, all the choices afforded to us in this life disappear. If we haven't chosen to follow God at that point, we are eternally lost. Solomon tells us the dead have no more business in our world, which makes sense because after the resurrections of Revelation, Heaven and Earth will pass away. The dead will wake to the creation of the new Heaven and the Earth (Revelation 21:1). Nothing we have accumulated on this planet will be left for us when we are resurrected.[2]
I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. Ecclesiastes 9:11 KJV

The Nature of Power

We all know the saying "absolute power corrupts absolutely." Solomon starts chapter 8 with a bit about power, and it's weaved through the text. One of the most beautiful things about Ecclesiastes, to me, is hearing the man who ruled Israel at the height of it's greatness, discus power with realness. As one would expect, Solomon encourages the people to obey the commandments of the king, pointing out how ridiculous it would be for someone to question the king. However, Solomon prefaces this obedience with the stipulation that the king is wise and following God. We can identify the wise man because his face shines with light of God—one example of this is Moses when he returned from Mount Sinai (Exodus 34). Nonetheless, throughout the chapter, Solomon gives us more to dwell on in terms of power.

The Timing of Punishment

Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. Ecclesiastes 8:11 KJV
Much of Solomon's musing focuses on the question of why the wicked get away with so much. God is patient and often it seems as though the only punishment the wicked will receive is the second death, a permanent death in which they can't escape. Often, I believe, we simply aren't privy to the punishment they receive. For instance, many celebrities are rumored to have incurable STDs, they suffer from depression, and self medicate with narcotics and other drugs. Meanwhile, all we see is the fame and the fortune. The same is true for our neighbors; we never truly know what they're struggling with.

Solomon reminds us that while God is longsuffering, punishment must be dealt quickly. When I first rescued my cat, who was an 8 week old kitten at the time, the vet was very clear that in order to train her, I needed to reward and punish good and bad behavior as it occurred. If you wait, the cat doesn't understand what she's being punished or rewarded for. Children are the same way. With adults, I think we know right from wrong, however, the longer we get away with doing wrong, the easier it is for us to convince ourselves it is right. The fact that Jesus has been gone and hasn't returned in over 2,000 years has definitely caused people to doubt both His existence and the promise of His return. This is part of why the closer we get to the end, the more mankind turns away from God.

Once we become apart of God's kingdom, we become representatives of God on Earth. Like Solomon, we often question why God has not punished people and watch them descend further and further into evil. Yet, we often enable this behavior. Remember, the devil only has power because man gave it to him. We choose to listen to his crazy schemes. We choose to watch movies and listen to music or attend sporting events despite the reputations of the people we are supporting. We often choose to remain silent when our friends and family do wrong, allowing people to believe we are ok with their actions. Solomon is reminding us that as earthly leaders and earthly representatives of God, we have a duty to speak up for righteousness. God is often waiting to see if His people will chose to allow rebellion against Him in their midsts (this is exactly how Satan got his hooks in 1/3 of the angels) or if we will stand for God.

Cruel Leaders

If I asked you to list cruel leaders of the world, I'm sure you'd be able to list several with rapid speed. We are often shocked at the people that are elected, beloved, or simply followed out of fear in this world. In Ecclesiastes 8:9, Solomon points out the fact that sometimes leaders are destructive. They hurt the people they are meant to lead, but ultimately they hurt themselves. Solomon goes on to remind us that because they aren't following God they will ultimately fail (see Matthew 18:6). Those of us who believe and struggle with our sins may lead meek and humble lives on Earth, but after judgement day, we will enjoy the kingdom with our Father.

Live Life To the Fullest

Solomon reminds us to eat and drink with a merry heart because God accepts our works. When God accepts our repentance and our actions (or works), our garments are made white. Matthew 17:2 tells us about Jesus' garments turning white during the transfiguration. In Revelation 3:5, God tells us that the saved are clothed in white, which represents their purity.

Solomon continues to remind us to enjoy that which we have in our life. Once we are in God's graces, we have nothing to worry about. Nothing bad can permanently affect us if we have dedicated our live to God. Although we will not stay dead forever, once we die the first death, we can no longer serve God or enjoy the blessings we were given while we were alive. As such we should strive to do all the good we can while we are alive.

Doing Right Isn't Popular

My dad always told me that when you do the right thing, you will stand alone. My dad got this wisdom from Solomon. When we stay close to God and follow in his footsteps, we will often be laughed at and unappreciated. Solomon tells us wisdom is always better than foolishness, but people won't always appreciate wisdom. Sometimes we won't be liked and we might not be remembered among the wicked, but God will remember and that's the only thing that matters.

One Bad Step...

Solomon tells us something we should know even without reading his texts. It only takes one lapse in judgment to ruin a person's character. There are plenty of celebrities and big names that I'm sure you can think of on your own, but I'd like to share a personal observation. When I was in high school, students from a college nearby used to help with our band. One of those students was a phenomenal musician; the section he helped with benefitted greatly from his mentoring. What's more, he pushed the rest of us just as hard. He knew the fine line between pushing too hard and just enough to make us great. One summer, he decided to involve himself with a girl from our school. According to accounts from him, her, and her friends, she lied about her age, nonetheless when her parents found out he was charged with satutory rape and barred from helping with the band. With a conviction, he also lost the ability to become a high school band director (possibly any band director, actually). His whole life turned upside down over one poor judgement call.

Solomon tells us that just a little folly can ruin our honor. Think of preachers who are found guilty of adultery. Seeing someone who professes to be a Christian in a compromising situation (i.e., drunkenness, rage, etc.) stains their testimony. The number one complaint among non believer has nothing to do with God and everything to do with us, His followers. Ghandi once said "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."[3]

In short, Solomon is advising us to be careful what we say and do.

Words

Solomon's advice about words could truly be an extension of his warning about one wrong move tainting an person's honor, since often it is our words that get us in trouble. I've placed it in it's on section only to highlight Solomon's description of the words that come from the wise versus the foolish.

Wise men speak graciously; they know when to be silent and how to speak out of love instead of hate. The more I read Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, the more I'm compelled to work on my own speech. As believers, we are often given wisdom beyond our own understanding. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes to things those who have not accepted Jesus are unable to understand or experience. With this knowledge comes the desire to share, but the flesh isn't always kind about how we share things. Sometimes we rush knowledge upon people who aren't ready, or we harshly judge someone when they need a more tactful reply. As representatives of God, it important that we let Him control the words we speak (or write!). We don't want to turn someone away from the kingdom because of our foolishness. Also, we want to be silent long enough to allow those who are wiser to tell us when we're being foolish!

Another trait of the foolish is the need to lie. When I was interviewing this past Spring, many of my interviewers would comment on their shock that I could admit when I didn't know something. One of the hardest things to do is stand in front of people that you are trying to impress or lead and admit you don't know something. Yet, we all know that no one knows everything. Foolish people try to bluff their way through every situation. Some of them are really good at it too—think about politicians—but in the end, this method not only agitates people who can see through the lies, it endangers people as well. Instead of providing someone with the wrong answer, I should be encouraging them (as well as myself) to seek the right answer.

Honestly, this is a major reason why the 18-35 demographic is missing from churches today. We often didn't receive adequate answers to our questions, and no one directed us to the proper way of studying to find the answer. A babe in Christ with a rocky foundation and faulty answers is a sitting duck for the devil to swoop away.

Money and Wealth

The Bible spends a lot of time commanding us to take care of the poor and do right by the less fortunate. This is one of the few times we are told not to curse rich. Often, when we are angry with people for having wealth it is out of jealousy or how we perceive (i.e., judge) them to be.

In college, I had friends who often complained about the nicer cars in the student parking lot. Most of the time, they went into tirades about the parents of the students being bad parents for buying their child a Corvette or a Miata or whatever. The strange thing was that they had no idea who the car belonged to or how the person acquired the car. The car could have belonged to a student with a full time job, or a older student who came back to school for some reason. It could be borrowed while their car is in the shop. A parent or grandparent may have died and left them the car. They may have been battling an illness and been given the car in consolation. Who knows?

Without meaning to give away their thoughts, my friends clearly explained why it angered them to see someone with something they perceived as "too nice." The first reason was jealousy. Their parents had not bought them a car at all, they had never owned a new car, and they couldn't afford the cars they complained about other people having. The second reason was presumption. They all assumed the owners were stuck up and spoiled without ever having met them.

We have to be careful not to fall into this trap. It's easy to see other people succeed while we work ourselves to the bone and be upset that they have what we are working for. That is the devil distracting us. As an song we used to sing in church goes "keep your eyes on [your] prize, hold on."

An Idle Mind...

Photocredit: Unsplash.com/Kristina Wagner
Again we know the saying "an idle mind is the devil's playground." Solomon addresses this in Ecclesiastes 10:18. Have you ever paid attention to where your mind wanders when you aren't focused on anything? How about looked back on a week and realized all the time you wasted that you couldn't get back? When I choose to do things that are unproductive, I often ask myself what will be lost that could have been saved if I die the next day. We could accomplish so much more if we motivated ourselves beyond slothfulness and idleness. Unfortunately, our society teaches us to indulge in these behaviors from such an early age.

References

  1. "Are The Dead Really Dead?". Amazing Facts; visited October 18, 2017
  2. "Ecclesiastes 9:4-6 Commentary". Bible Hub; visited October 18, 2017
  3. "Mahatma Gandhi. "Quotable Quote". Goodreads; visited October 21, 2017

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About

Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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