What a Waste!

The author of Ecclesiastes (presumed to be King Solomon) was a wise man. Yet he concluded that almost every aspect of life was meaningless– nothing more than “chasing after the wind.” Health, wealth, learning, entertainment, popularity, achievement– they can give pleasure and temporary satisfaction. But in the end, everyone dies, and their health is gone, their wealth goes to someone else, their learning is lost, their name and accomplishments are all forgotten and/ or destroyed.

In chapter 3, the author states that there is a time for “everything”– all the seemingly important activities of life–building, and tearing down, war and peace, living and dying…https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ecclesiastes+3&version=NIV And then he makes a curious statement in verse 11: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Solomon describes this as a burden– mankind can sense eternity, but can live and see only a brief span of it.

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So what are we to do?

First, we need to make an important distinction– Solomon explores the pursuits of life and finds them all meaningless. At no point does he say that life itself is without meaning. Nor does he say there is no difference between wisdom and foolishness, honest labor and laziness, or self-indulgence and connectedness. I know some people who, after a quick reading through Ecclesiastes, use it to justify a hedonistic lifestyle. “Nothing matters,” they say. But that’s not what this book actually promotes. It isn’t that “nothing” matters. Rather, it is that none of our personal pursuits produce meaning in and of themselves or beyond our own limitations.

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Next, we should be wise in light of the eternity that God has placed in our hearts. Even if our pursuits seem trivial and temporary, they have consequences that ripple through time– long after we are gone. We may not be able to see the future, but we CAN see the effects of wisdom and foolishness in the lives of others, and we can heed the advice of those who have come before us. Most of all, we have the wisdom that comes from God. Solomon’s wisdom, though incredible among humans, was limited to his own experience and learning. His frustration and despair came from knowing how limited it was!

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Finally, we must read Ecclesiastes in context. Solomon was wise, but he lacked the vision of his father, David, to fully anticipate the coming of Messiah. Solomon’s ambitions were for the span of his own earthly life. He did not have his hope firmly rooted in a resurrection and an eternal life shared with his Creator. For all his wisdom, he was found lacking in faith. After writing such wisdom (not just in Ecclesiastes, but throughout the Proverbs), Solomon ended his life in a foolish pursuit of relativism and compromise that ruined much of the strength and prosperity he had brought to his kingdom in earlier years.

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One thing remains– to fear God and follow His commands. God is eternal–and all that is done for Him and by Him and through Him will never be wasted. Solomon’s life may have ended with failure, but his words and wisdom live on. Our lives may be short; we may have wasted precious time in meaningless pursuits–God has promised that “all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 CSB) and that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6 NIV)

Trusting in Chariots

Psalm 20:7 New International Version (NIV)

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

King David wrote this verse..one that I learned at Vacation Bible School as a child.  Taken out of context, it reminds us that the Name of the Lord is powerful and trust-worthy.  It is better to trust in the Lord than to place our trust in even the might of an army.  Military might, political power, wealth, popularity, social influence– all are fickle.  God is Sovereign and will do what He says He will do.

In context, David is not just recounting a principle; he is speaking from the experience of being God’s anointed King.  In the verse just before this, David says:

Now this I know:
The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
with the victorious power of his right hand.

See full text of Psalm 20 here

David knew God’s saving power– he had experienced protection, blessing, and victory from the hand of his Creator.  He had also known exile, hardship, and danger.

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It is interesting to note that King David did not come up with the image of horses and chariots– God had already spoken to the people of Israel, warning them NOT to put their trust in such things.  David was proclaiming his adherence to God’s command several hundred years before:

Appointing a King

14 When you have come into the land which the Lord your God gives you and possess it and dwell there and then say, “I will set a king over me just like all the nations that are around me,” 15 you must set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. You must select a king over you who is from among your brothers. You may not select a foreigner over you who is not your countryman. 16 What is more, he shall not accumulate horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order that he accumulate horses, for as the Lord has said to you, “You must not go back that way ever again.” 17 He shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he acquire for himself excess silver and gold.

18 It must be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write a copy of this law for himself on a scroll before the priests, the Levites. 19 It must be with him, and he must read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, and carefully observe all the words of this law and these statutes, and do them, 20 that his heart will not be lifted up above his brothers and so that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or to the left, to the end, so that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children, in the midst of Israel.

Deuteronomy 17:14-20 (ESV)

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David did NOT adhere to all of God’s commands for a king.  He had many wives, and family troubles plagued his house for generations to come.  Tragically, his son Solomon, for all his wisdom in other areas, failed in his kingship because he failed to put his full trust in God.  He accumulated wives, horses, chariots, and wealth, but he lost the opportunity to establish his father’s house and his family’s dynasty by trusting in the very blessings of wealth and wisdom that God had given to him.

God blessed both King David and King Solomon with peace and prosperity.  Neither one followed God absolutely, but David understood something his son never fully grasped.  God’s blessings are abundant; they are rich and glorious.  God showers blessings upon both the just and the unjust.  They are not always a mark of God’s favor– frequently, they become a stumbling block and a substitute for the worship that belongs to God alone.  Solomon began his reign by trusting the God of his father, King David.  But in the end, he put his trust in his wealth and honor, and turned his back on God.

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25 Solomon had four thousand stalls for horses and chariots and twelve thousand horses, and he put them in designated cities and with him in Jerusalem. 26 He ruled over all the kings from the River to the land of the Philistines and to the border of Egypt. 27 So the king made silver in Jerusalem as abundant as stones and cedar as plentiful as sycamore trees in the lowlands of the Shephelah. 28 The horses of Solomon were imported from Egypt and from all other lands.

2 Chronicles 9:25-28 (ESV)

In fact, he did exactly what God had warned against during the days of Moses– importing horses from Egypt.  Without context, it seems like such an ordinary thing–kings accumulate might and power, and they import the best this world has to offer.  What’s wrong with that?  Solomon’s own father had the answer; the answer was written into the laws of Moses(the very ones Solomon was commanded to keep with him at all times!),  but Solomon turned away and crossed the line between gratitude for God’s blessings to placing his trust and identity in those very blessings.

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Some (people) trust in chariots and some in horses;
Some trust in their jobs or their homes;
Some trust in their bank accounts or their popularity–

Where is my trust today?

Turn, Turn, Turn

Back in the 1960s, Pete Seeger “wrote” a new folk song, later recorded by a group called The Byrds.  All but the title and the last six words of the song were taken directly (though the word order was changed) from the book of Ecclesiastes.  Essentially, Pete Seeger wrote seven words and some music; the rest was written by King Solomon almost three thousand years ago!  Learn more about the song here…

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When God created the world, he instituted times and seasons– day and night; winter and summer; weeks and months.  We are bound by time while we live here.  Sunlight and darkness help determine when we are active or sleeping (less so since the advent of electric lighting); summer and winter (or rainy/dry seasons) determine when we plant or harvest, what we wear, how we travel, and what activities we plan.

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But Solomon reminds us that there are also “seasons” that don’t depend on the weather or the amount of light filling the horizon.  There is a time to be born and a time to die; a time for laughter and a time for weeping; a time for war and a time for peace.  Our world is not static– it is filled with changes, and times for turning away from one thing and facing another.

Our prayers will change with these seasons– prayers of wonder and prayers of wondering why; prayers of great boldness and reluctant, halting prayers; prayers that come from joy, and those that come with wracking grief.  There will be seasons of chaotic busyness, and seasons of loneliness and long hours; seasons when we help lift the burdens of others before our own, and seasons where others help us lift burdens we cannot bear alone.  There will be seasons of fierce, pounding spiritual warfare, and seasons of relative peace and rest.

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Solomon lays out the concept, but I like Pete Seeger’s addition of the phrase, “turn, turn, turn.”  It reminds me that the seasons of my life will change, but I need to change as well.  I need to turn, first of all, to see where God is working in my life and the lives of others– that’s where I need to be and where I need to be focused.  God will never leave me nor forsake me, but He loves me too much to “leave” me in a rut– He needs me to move on and finish the race He has set out for me.  Change can be difficult, but without it, there is no growth!

Second, I need to turn from habits and activities that are “out of season”–young parents will have a completely different way of mapping out their time, including time for prayer and Bible study, than empty-nesters.  People in mourning will have a different approach to prayer and worship than those who are in a season of celebration.  There is a season to break down–to end bad relationships and turn from bad habits–and a time to build up healthy relationships and habits.  There is a time to speak– to share prayer requests and spend time in corporate prayer; to ask questions and persist in our requests.  But there is also a time to stay silent– to meditate and listen more than we talk; to be still and know, instead of pace and ponder.  I don’t wear a heavy coat in the middle of summer or run barefoot in the snow– I need to turn in alignment with the season I am passing through.

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Finally, I need to turn away from temptation and sin.  God gives me the power, through His Spirit, to turn and walk away from the quicksand of complaisance, the tidal waves of desire, the live wire of unchecked rage, or the bottomless pit of envy, but I must turn away from them.

This life is full of seasons and change– some good, some dangerous.  But God is outside of time and seasons.  He provides endless variety, but He never changes His essential nature.  No matter where we turn, He can be found!

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