Wednesday, January 21, 2009
For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill... (Eccl 2:21). The book of Ecclesiastes is an interesting book. It begins with the word translated "Teacher" from which the English title of the book is derived. Ecclesiastes is wisdom literature. This book acknowledges the value of wisdom. "Wisdom, like an inheritance, is a good thing and benefits those who see the sun. Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter, but the advantage of knowledge is this: that wisdom preserves the life of its possessor" (Eccl 7:11-12). This book imparts wisdom in many areas of life, including law and justice: "When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong" (Eccl 8:11). Our court systems could learn much from the book of Ecclesiastes about the necessity of justice being carried out quickly. The special emphasis of Ecclesiastes is relating the limits of wisdom. First, wisdom is often ignored or forgotten "The wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered; in days to come both will be forgotten" (2:16). Solomon remembered when a poor man saved a city by his wisdom, yet soon this man’s deeds were forgotten. Solomon concludes: "‘Wisdom is better than strength.’ But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded.... Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good" (9:16, 18). But the ultimate limit of wisdom is death: "Like the fool, the wise man too must die!" The "Preacher...boils everything down to two great realities, to the essentials, death and chance" Wisdom ends at death: "In the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom" (9:10). "What a heavy burden God has laid on men!" (1:13). Here is a key to this book. Solomon reflected on his material possessions, seeing them as empty and unable to provide meaning to his life. Many of his musings are somewhat cynical. Admittedly, he acknowledges God’s sovereignty: "I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it" (3:14). Solomon also realizes that the proper attitude toward God is awe and respect: "Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.... Stand in awe of God" (5:1, 7). Solomon even admits: "I know that it will go better with God-fearing men, who are reverent before God. Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them, and their days will not lengthen like a shadow" (8:12-13). But, despite all this, Solomon is wistful that God’s gift to humans is "to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him" (5:18). Solomon accuses God: "God gives a man wealth, possessions and honor, so that he lacks nothing his heart desires, but God does not enable him to enjoy them, and a stranger enjoys them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil" (6:2). Those who cannot see beyond themselves, even if they had the wisdom of Solomon, are bound to have a distorted view of God. Dr. Ken Copley is available for counseling, conferences, and local church meetings.