Ecclesiastes 9:3–18 comment (0)
August 15, 2013
By Douglas K. Wilson Jr.
Related Scripture: Ecclesiastes 9:3–18
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Dean, School of Christian Ministries, University of Mobile
IS THERE ANY HOPE?
Reading Scripture must always be done in context. If not, it would seem that Solomon was either a universalist or a fatalist here. After all, his summation of life and death is that the end is the same for the righteous and the wicked, the holy and the profane. The truth is, he is endorsing neither fatalism nor universalism. Rather the Teacher is addressing the hopelessness that accompanies death.
The recurring “under the sun” in the text reminds the reader of the author’s temporal, seemingly sense-driven view of life. If man is the measure of all things (because he can sense no one greater), then he will be dissatisfied. He experiences pain, frustration and injustice as normal realities in life. From time to time, though, he catches glimpses of hope.
As Long as You’re Alive (3–6)
Hope accompanies life. From “this mortal coil” worldview (thank you, William Shakespeare), one has hope in living, where there is none in death. Even Hamlet recognized that hope only exists in life; the “undiscovered country” held no such hope (Act 3, Scene 1).
From a Christian worldview, we must affirm that hope is for this mortal life, but on different grounds. The redeemed and the condemned face the same temporal gateway in death, but their destinations are vastly different. As such, both experience hope only in this life. The Christian holds to a confident assurance that God keeps His promises and that his hope is built on the righteousness of Christ. Our hope is fulfilled as we enter into eternity. Unbelievers only have whatever wishful thinking they cling to in this life. “It is appointed for people to die once — and after this, judgment” (Heb. 9:27).
Give Your Best (7–10)
Enjoy your food, as you express thanks to the Father for giving you daily bread. Drink your grape juice, smiling as you read this. Have a joyful heart, knowing that God knows the work that you do. Dress and groom yourself. Celebrate your marriage; it is a privilege to have one another. Make the most of your days before they are all gone.
These thoughts are not exclusive to Solomon, the international and cosmopolitan king who was well-versed with the wisdom literature of Mesopotamia and Egypt. Similarities between these and other ancient writings — “Gilgamesh” and the Egyptian “Harper’s Song” — offer substance to the claim that Solomon authored Ecclesiastes.
The longer I live, the more I am reminded of certain individuals while reading Scripture. As I read this section, a certain man comes to mind who recently entered into his rest. He dearly loved his wife, loved the Lord and committed himself to a life of service for others. Waking up early, as was his custom, he ran an errand on behalf of his church, went home to work in the yard and passed into eternity shortly thereafter. He found work to do, and he did it. No sitting and waiting for death to come; he simply walked through the door.
Letting the Chips Fall (11–18)
The author observed life. Conventional wisdom, like that found here, is based on noticing the surrounding world. The turtle beats the hare; the fastest do not always win the race.
In “Mere Christianity,” C.S. Lewis wrote about characteristics noted by Plato to which even nonreligious people adhere, called cardinal virtues. Lewis demonstrates that wisdom can be gained through observation. He distinguished these cardinal virtues from theological ones, unique characteristics of Christian faith.
Paul observes that God has a purpose for invisible people. When weak, foolish and common individuals find favor with God, He equips them for His work. When the mighty triumph, who glorifies God? When the nobleman shows honor, who is surprised? When the well-educated succeeds, who asks why? But when God uses a nobody (by worldly standards), God alone receives the glory. Soli Deo Gloria.