Ecclesiastes – Living with Meaning in a Meaningless World

Jan. 30, 2021

 

   Ecclesiastes is a unique contribution to our Bible in that it presents “the other side”, the experiences and consequences when someone lives without God at the center of their life. The main point is given in Ecclesiastes 1:14 and 12:8 that all is vanity, and in 12:13, ultimately God is all we have that gives us meaning. Likewise, Romans 8:20 says the whole world was subjected to futility. In 1 Corinthians 15:19 Christians are most to be pitied if there is no resurrection of the dead. It sounds very depressing. But sometimes you have to demolish all false hope before you can build on an enduring hope, the hope in Christ in Romans 8:24.

 

   The Name Ecclesiastes came from the Septuagint Greek title, which means “one who calls the assembly”. The Book in Hebrew is named after what the author calls himself: Qohelet/Qoheleth, or “preacher”. Ecclesiastes was one of the Megilloth, or Five Scrolls, of Job through Song of Songs. Jews read this book during the Feast of Booths. Key words in Ecclesiastes are vanity/meaninglessness (5 times), gain (7 times), profit (2 times).

 

Authorship and Dating: Until modern times, almost everyone except Martin Luther assumed that Solomon wrote it when he was old, according to Ecclesiastes 1:12 and 11:9. However, many modern authors say it had to have been written after Solomon’s death because the style and literary devices are similar to later Hebrew writing. However, some of these features can also be found in Canaanite and Phoenician literature in Solomon’s time and before

   If Solomon wrote it, he died about 980 B.C. If it was someone after Solomon in his honor, then it could be from 980 B.C. to 200 B.C. The Dead Sea scrolls, 175-150 B.C. has three separate copies of Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiasticus (190 B.C.) quotes from this book.

 

Early writers who refer to Ecclesiastes

Shepherd of Hermas (c.115-155 A.D.)

Gregory Thaumaturgus (240-265 A.D.)

Meleto of Sardis (170-180 A.D.)

Dionysius of Alexandria (246-265 A.D.)

Tertullian (c.213 A.D.)

Peter of Alexandria (306,285-311 A.D.)

Origen (225-254 A.D.)

Methodius (270-312 A.D.

Cyprian of Carthage (c.246-258 A.D.)

After Nicea Athanasius (367 A.D.) lists the OT

 

Two Types of Outlines of Ecclesiastes

The “enjoyment” outline:

1:1-2:26 - 2:24-26 speaks of enjoyment

3:1-5:20 - 5:18-20 speaks of enjoyment

6:1-8:17 - 8:15-17 speaks of enjoyment

9:1-11:10 - 11:7-10 speaks of enjoyment

12 - Epilogue

The “two-section outline”:

1:3-11 A poem on human vanity

1:12-6:9 Demonstrating the vanity of human effort

6:10-11:6 Demonstrating the vanity of human wisdom

11:7-12:14 Enjoy our life, as temporary as it is, as a gift from God

However, consider a classical music composer’s symphony. He may have distinct movements, but he may have themes that reoccur based on artistry, and not logical outlines. It would not be surprising to see Solomon, the writer of science, love poetry, Proverbs, and trade strategies, blend the components of art and logic together, and both outlines could each be partially correct.

Ecclesiastes 1:1-8 – Living in Vain vs. Living for Purpose

 

1. In Ecc, what is the value of a skeptical book like Ecclesiastes being in the Bible?

 

 

 

 

2. Why is Ecc not quoted in the New Testament?

 

 

 

3. Does Ecc have an Aramaic influence, which the Jews adopted in times later than Solomon?

 

 

 

4. Does Ecc and wisdom literature come from Greek influence?

 

 

 

5. In Ecc 1:2 how is everything vanity or meaningless?

 

 

 

 

 

6. In Ecc 1:2, is it kind of harsh to say that everything is meaningless?

 

 

 

 

 

7. In Ecc 1:1-2, was the author Solomon or someone else?

 

 

 

8. In Ecc 1:4, how can the earth abide forever, since 2 Pet 3:10 says the earth will be burned up, and Rev 21:1 says the first earth will pass away?

 

 

9. Does Ecc 1:5 show the sun moves around the earth?

 

 

10. Does Ecc 1:6 show the wind has to return to the place it came from, just like the sun?

 

 

11. In Ecc 1:7, how does the “river” return to where it came from?

 

 

12. In Ecc 1:8, what does it mean that the eye and ear are never satisfied?

Ecclesiastes 1:9-18 – What’s New? - That Matters

 

1. In Ecc 1:9-10, in our technological age, is there really nothing new under the sun?

 

 

 

2. In Ecc 1:11, since there is no memory of former things, then what about history?

 

 

 

3. In Ecc 1:11:9-1, what type of thinking is Solomon showing here?

 

 

  

4. In Ecc 1:12, what exactly does the Hebrew mean here?

 

 

 

5. In Ecc 1:16, did the preacher suffer from a problem with pride in his wisdom?

 

 

 

6. In Ecc 1:17 and Ecc 2:12, why would any believer want to give his heart to know madness and folly?

 

 

 

7. In Ecc 1:13-17, what was fundamentally wrong with what Solomon was doing?

 

 

 

8. In Ecc 1:17, is it a good thing to give your heart to know wisdom?

 

 

 

9. In Ecc 1:18, since in much wisdom there is much grief, then why does it cause happiness as Prov 3:13 says, and should we want to be wise?

 

 


 

Ecclesiastes 2:1-14 – The Quest for Meaning and Happiness Begins

 

1. In Ecc 2:1, why is Solomon “testing” himself with laughter here?

 

 

 

2. In Ecc 2:2 what should Christians think about laughter and joking.?

 

 

 

3. In Ecc 2:2 how can laughter be “mad”?

 

 

 

4. In Ecc 2:3, should Christians follow the writer’s example, and give themselves to wine?

 

 

 

5. In Ecc 2:7, what was the point of the livestock and slaves?

 

 

 

6. In Ecc 2:8, what were the delights of the sons of men”?

 

 

 

7. In Ecc 2:8, as Solomon was sharing his experience with so many wives, when should believers share with others their sinful experiences, and when should they not?

 

 

 

8. In Ecc 2:8, what are provinces here?

 

 

 

9. In Ecc 2:9, what was the point of the wisdom, flocks, herds, and slaves?

 

 

 

10. In Ecc 2:10, should a believer want to fill his heart with all pleasure?

 

 

 

11. In Ecc 2:12-14, how is Solomon saying that both are true: wisdom is worthless, and wisdom is more valuable than folly?


 

Ecclesiastes 2:15-26 – Foolish successors gives a foolish legacy

 

1. Does Ecc 2:14-15 prove non-existence after death?

 

 

 

2. In Ecc 2:15, what is the point of being wise?

 

 

 

3. In Ecc 2:16, how is there no more remembrance of the wise more than the fool after death?

 

 

 

4. In Ecc 2:17-18,20,23 should we “hate life”?

 

 

 

5. In Ecc 2:17-18, Solomon had all the wealth, slaves, wisdom, and status that he could want, so why could he hate his life?

 

 

 

6. In Ecc 2:18-19, why does it seem so unfair that the rich save up wealth only for another?

 

 

 

7. In Ecc 2:19, if someone is not foolish, then would a large inheritance be OK for him?

 

 

 

8. In Ecc 2:21, what can you do when it looks like your teenager is growing up to be foolish?

 

 

 

9. Does Ecc 2:24 show that Epicureanism is true?


 

Ecclesiastes 3 – Everything in Its Time

 

1. Ecc 3:1-8 and Jn 7:6 show that there can be a wrong time to do right things. How should we have “times and seasons” in our life?

 

 

 

2. In Ecc 3:1-8 what is the point of these fourteen opposites, or positives and negatives?

 

 

 

3. Since Ecc 3:2 says there is a time to be born and a time to die, when is euthanasia, including physician -assisted suicide, morally right?

 

 

 

4. In Ecc 3:2, what does the Bible teach about dying?

 

 

 

5. In Ecc 3:3, is there really a time to kill?

 

 

 

6. In Ecc 3:8, is there a time for believers to hate?

 

 

 

7. In Ecc 3:9-15, is this despairing or hopeful?

 

 

 

8. Is Ecc 3:13 sort of a Judeo-Christian Epicureanism?

 

 

 

9. In Ecc 3:16-17, why is there so much injustice and wickedness in the world?

 

 

 

10. Does Ecc 3:19-21 teach there is no afterlife?

 

 

 

11. Does Ecc 3:21 teach that an animal has a spirit like a person does?


 

Ecclesiastes 4 – Power and Weakness

 

11. In Ecc 4:1, Ecc 5:8-9; Ecc 8:9; and Ecc 10:16-20, how could all this injustice and oppression occur during Solomon’s reign?

 

 

 

2. In Ecc 4:1-3; 4:4-6, and 4:7-12 discuss the meaninglessness of oppression, envy, being lonely at the top of the ladder, storing up for a successor. What do these all have in common?

 

 

 

3. In Ecc 4:2, is it really better for the oppressed to be dead than alive?

 

 

 

4. In Ecc 4:4 how does most labor and achievement come from people’s envy?

 

 

 

5. Ecc 4:5 literally says, the “fool eats his own flesh”, so what does that mean?

 

 

 

6. In Ecc 4:7-9, people are often better at asking themselves how to do something than they are at asking whether they should do something, and to what degree should they do it. What are ways we should ask whether we should do something and how much?

 

 

 

7. What is Ecc 4:9-12, referring to?

 

 

 

8. In Ecc 4:11, since it is better to lie together than alone, is sexual relations outside of marriage better than celibacy?

 

 

 

9. To whom does Ecc 4:13 refer?

 

 

 

10. In Ecc 4:14-16, how do you handle holding on to power or influence (if you do), when someone younger or less experienced appears they can surpass you?

 


 

Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 – God has no pleasure in fools

 

Today, among other things, we are going to see how this applies to economics, your job, contracts, finance, psychology, and mathematics.

 

1. In Ecc 5:1, why does it mention going to the house of God, since Ecclesiastes tells of life under the sun without God?

 

 

 

 

2. In Ecc 5:1, what is a “sacrifice of fools”, and how do we avoid that?

 

 

 

 

3. In Ecc 5:1, how do some people do evil in offering sacrifices without even knowing it?

 

 

 

 

4. In Ecc 5:1-2, what is the point here about listening vs. speaking?

 

 

 

 

5. In Ecc 5:2-7, what are some examples of foolish commitments people make today?

 

 

 

6. In Ecc 5:2, how can people have a “hasty heart” today?

 

 

 

 

 

7. In Ecc 5:2-7, why do people find it so easy to promise something and then to break their promise?

 

 

 

 

8. In Ecc 5:3,7 what should are attitude towards our dreams be?


 

Ecclesiastes 5:8-20 – The bondage(s) of greed

 

1. In Ecc 5:8, what is the relationship between dreams and oppression?

 

 

 

 

2. In Ecc 5:9 what is the relationship between the king and the fields?

 

 

 

 

3. In Ecc 5:10, why is it that someone who chases money never thinks they have enough?

 

 

 

 

4. In Ecc 5:11, when does demand rise to the supply?

 

 

 

 

5. In Ecc 5:11f, what is the benefit of being able to look at their riches?

 

 

 

6. In Ecc 5:13, what is the severe evil of wealth that is mentioned here?

 

 

 

7. In Ecc 5:16, it is a humorous picture trying to keep back the wind. How do people do that today?

 

 

 

 

8. In Ecc 5:18-20, if you come to the realization that you have greed in your heart, how do you go about getting rid of your greed?

 

 

 

 

9. In Ecc 5:18-20, if you are a Christian, and you do not feel content like we should, what steps can you take??

 

 

 

10. In Ecc 5:20, how do we have joy amidst so much meaninglessness?


 

Ecclesiastes 6-7 – The Ironies of Life

 

1. In Ecc 6:1-3, how does life seem fully of irony?

 

 

2. In Ecc 7:1, why is the day of death better than the day of birth?

 

 

3. In Ecc 7:1, what is significant of the writer’s use of the word “oil” here?

 

 

4. In Ecc 7:4-7, what exactly is a fool?

 

 

 

5. In Ecc 7:5, what is a “song of fools”?

 

 

6. In Ecc 7:7 is it easier for a foolish person to become wise, or a wise person to become a fool?

 

 

 

7. In Ecc 7:10-12 why do people long for the good old days?

 

 

 

8. In Ecc 7:12, how does wisdom have some similarities to money?

 

 

 

9. In Ecc 7:14, how can we tell what we can change and what we cannot?

 

 

 

10. In Ecc 7:16, how should people not be overly righteous, since we are to aim for perfection as 2 Cor 13:11 says?

 

 

 

12. In Ecc 7:19, how is a wise man more powerful than ten rulers?

 

 

 

13. In Ecc 7:23-24, what are some limitations of wisdom?

 

 

 

14. In Ecc 7:28, why did the teacher find one upright man among a thousand but no upright women?

Ecclesiastes 8-9 – A Time and Place for Everything

 

1. In Ecc 8:1-5, what can proper manners before a king teach us?

 

 

 

2. In Ecc 8:1-5, how do you know when you can tell of your disagreement to someone in authority, and when you should not?

 

 

 

3. In Ecc 8:2-5, should we always obey kings, regardless of whether they command good or evil?

 

 

 

4. In Ecc 8:9-11, what checks are there on a person’s attitude, if “I will do it if I can get away with it”?

 

 

 

5. In Ecc 8:12, how come a wicked man can live a long time, since God gives the righteous long life?

 

 

 

6. In Ecc 9:5-6 and Ps 6:5, are people unconscious and non-existent at death, since the dead know nothing?

 

 

 

7. In Ecc 9:7-9 and Ecc 11:3-10 emphasize that we should be happy under the sun with our meaningless lives?

 

 

 

8. In Ecc 9:10, what does it mean to do whatsoever your hands find to do?

 

 

 

9. In Ecc 9:11, how can “time and chance happen to them all” since God sovereignly rules everything?

 

 

 

10. In Ecc 9:11b, what is chance?

 

 

11. Since Ecc 9:12 says no man knows when his hour will come, what about criminals who have a date and time set for their execution?

Ecclesiastes 1:1-8 – Living in Vain vs. Living for Purpose – some brief answers

 

1. In Ecc, what is the value of a skeptical book like Ecclesiastes being in the Bible?

A: God loves skeptics too. In fact, God longs to show people who have not found any purpose for their life His purpose for their life. Actually, people who see life as meaningless might have an advantage over some others. It can be easier for them to abandon their own ambitious purposes and submit to God’s purposes, if they already see how meaningless their own purposes are, apart from God. Unfortunately, many are like the Pharisees in Luke 7:30 who rejected God’s purpose for themselves.

   Ecclesiastes can be read from different angles. This book can be thought of as a work for workaholics, full or wisdom for people full of themselves, and the logical conclusion of existential thinking. As an aside, The Jewish rabbi Hillel agreed it should be in the Bible, but the rabbi Shammai said it was not canon.

   The book itself is an account of a struggle, a struggle to find meaning in a meaningless world. Ultimately the author finds true meaning, but he did not find it in this world.

   See Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties p.254-255, When Critics Ask p.254, Today’s Handbook for Solving Bible Difficulties p.48-50, and 735 Baffling Bible Questions Answered p.159-160 for complementary answers and also The Expositor’s Bible Commentary vol.5 p.1148-1149.

 

2. Why is Ecc not quoted in the New Testament?

A: While there is no requirement that it had to be in the New Testament, its teachings are echoed there. Jesus said we should not have many empty words in prayer (Matthew 6:7 and Ecclesiastes 5:2). Paul said the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10 from Ecclesiastes 5:10). We should avoid the lust of youth (2 Timothy 2:22 from Ecclesiastes 11:10) We reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7 from Ecclesiastes 11:1). All are to die once (Hebrews 9:2 from Ecclesiastes 3:2). As Geisler and Howe put it, “Whether, or even how often, a book is quoted does not determine whether it is inspired.” See When Critics Ask p.253 for more info.

 

3. Does Ecc have an Aramaic influence, which the Jews adopted in times later than Solomon?

A: First the facts, then three possibilities.

Facts: Linguists argue over Solomon’s writings. While one Conservative Christian scholar (Delitzsch) found 96 “Aramaisms” in Ecclesiastes, the conservative Christian scholar Hengstenberg found only 10. Solomon’s writings are unique, in not appearing any closer to fifth century Hebrew documents than tenth century Hebrew documents.

1. Contrary to what Asimov’s Guide to the Bible p.512 asserts, it was not written in a “later” style. Rather, it shows a Phoenician and Aramaic influence, which Solomon likely learned from his friendship with Hiram son of Abibaal, king of the Phoenician city of Tyre.

2. Later Hebrew scribes might have updated some of the language to the later style.

3. The writer never actually said he was Solomon. However, a son of David reigning in Jerusalem would either mean Solomon or one of his descendants.

   See Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties p.255-258, Hard Sayings of the Bible p.292-293, and The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.975-976 for extensive discussions.

 

4. Does Ecc and wisdom literature come from Greek influence, as the skeptical Asimov’s Guide to the Bible p.962 suggests?

A: No, Asimov is off-base here. He claims that “Wisdom” in post-exilic Judaism came from logos and the influence of Greek philosophy. However, Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Ugaritic wisdom literature was written long before the 6th century B.C. Greek philosophers.

 

5. In Ecc 1:2 how is everything vanity or meaningless?

A: A vanity may have the appearance of being important but it actually meaningless and worthless. Ecclesiastes was written from the perspective of life without God. Without God, our lives do not have any more meaning than an ant’s life.

Different people look at life in five ways: as a

Vexation – life is just full of trouble and suffering

Void - just meaningless or pointless

Vanity - looks important but meaningless

Vacation – always seeking pleasure though not having any lasting pleasure

Victory – living victoriously for God

(This neat summary was given in a sermon given on the Dallas radio station 100.7 The Word by Rev. Jack Graham of Prestonwood Baptist Church on May 14, 2009)

 

6. In Ecc 1:2, is it kind of harsh to say that everything is meaningless?

A: Not at all. It is not everything, but everything under the sun. A pastor once told a parable of a thief that snuck into a department store at night, but he did not steal anything. Instead, he just re-arranged all the price tags. Things that were unimportant ended up costing a lot of money, and things that were quite valuable were priced very cheaply. Satan and our society have kind of done that in our world. People highly value crowns that don’t last, but don’t highly value eternal things. As for importance, can you name the last six U.S. vice-presidents? How about the last five Nobel prize winners in Physics? The four greatest bloodthirsty conquerors? The last one is easy: there were no great men who were bloodthirsty conquerors.

   Even some heroes we looked up to, like Teddy Roosevelt, were racist towards Indians and did horrible things we like to forget. In the Philippine-American War from 1899-1902, 220,000 Filipinos, and 4,300 Americans lost their lives fighting. The U.S. Promised the Filipinos that we were fighting for their freedom from the Spanish, but then kept them as a colony. The Filipinos revolted; of the 224,300 killed, 200,000 were Filipino civilians who died by fighting, starvation after their villages were burnet, or of disease in American concentration camps. The good things that Roosevelt did, like building the Panama Canal, negotiating an end to the Russian Japanese War, and advocating for the U.S. to enter World War I, pale in comparison to the needless death of 224,300. On the other hand, nobody remembers the Christian who ran against McKinley and Roosevelt, speaking against America occupying the Philippines. His name was William Jennings Bryan. But he was defeated.

   The point is that we are to come to the enlightened realization that all the world holds dear is vanity, and turn and seek what is eternal. Henry Martyn won top academic honors at Cambridge, England. Then he left all that and went on the mission field in India and Persia from 1806 to 1812.

   As with C.T. Studd, we don’t care a bit for the world, but fervently and our entire lives seek after God’s kingdom. C.T. Studd was a national sport star, on England’s national cricket team in 1882. He came to Christ in 1878, but in six years he said he had not done much. When his brother came seriously ill, he wrote “What is all the fame and flattery worth ... when a man comes to face eternity?” From then 1888 to his death in 1931 he became a tireless missionary in China, Africa, and India. He wrote a book called, The Chocolate Christian. “Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.” He is famous for his poem, Only One Life, which includes “Only one life 'twill soon be past. Only what's done for Christ will last.” He never let malaria, other diseases, or old age stop him. He died when he was 70, of untreated gallstones.

 

7. In Ecc 1:1-2, was the author Solomon or someone else?

A: The author calls himself Qoholeth in Ecclesiastes 1:1-2; 1:12; 7:27; 12:8-10. This word means preacher, and is a description, not an actual name. The evidence that it was Solomon is that he was a king who was a son of David. He speaks being a king of Israel who reigned in Jerusalem. After Solomon the kings of Israel ruled in Samaria, and the kings Judea reigned in Jerusalem. Only David and Solomon were kings of Israel who reigned in Jerusalem, so this at the least is talking about Solomon. Also, Psalm 127 is said to be by Solomon, and it has the theme of the vanity of building without the Lord.

Arguments against Solomon being the author are it speaks of the oppression of the weak (4:1), corruption in government (5:8-9), attitude towards the king (8:2-5; 10:20).

Another argument is phrases that could be from a later time such as provinces (2:8; 5:8) like the Persians had or Israel in Ahab’s time in 1 Kings 20:14-15, or ten rules of a city (7:19) like the later Greeks had.

   There are also Aramaic phrases in Ecclesiastes, but Solomon very likely knew Aramaic too. Actually though, “certain inflections, pronouns, and participles are characteristic of Phoenicia” according to The Expositor’s Bible Commentary vol.5 p.1142. Aramaic is used in Genesis 31:47; Ezra 4:8-6:18; 7:12-16; Jeremiah 10:11; Daniel 2:4-7:28. It was a common language of trade in Isaiah 2 Kings 18:26.

See The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.885,976 and The Expositor’s Bible Commentary vol.5 p.1140 for more info.

 

8. In Ecc 1:4, how can the earth abide forever, since 2 Pet 3:10 says the earth will be burned up, and Rev 21:1 says the first earth will pass away?

A: The Hebrew word for earth had a range of meaning, as does the word for earth in English. Earth can mean soil, the land, this world, or what is on this world. God has chosen to make what is under the surface survive forever, but God will wipe the surface as clean as He says in Zephaniah 1:2-3. The new earth in Revelation 21:1 will be based on what is left of the old earth.

 

9. Does Ecc 1:5 show the sun moves around the earth?

A: First a fact that is not a part of the answer, and then the answer. When modern or ancient people use a colloquial term, such as something happening at sunrise or sunset, that does not mean they are discussing astronomy. However, that fact is not related to this verse, as the subject of Ecclesiastes 1:5 is the sun and its course.

   Solomon, in a pre-scientific way, is accurately describing the path the sun makes in the sky. It is true that we have no evidence that Solomon knew the earth actually went around the sun instead of vice versa. He is still accurately describing the periodic course of the sun.

   Interestingly, if one “translates” this verse into modern scientific terms, it is still completely true, since we can look at physics and astronomy from a relativistic sense and not just a 19th century view. Scientists today can indeed say the sun goes around the earth - from the frame of reference of the earth.

 

10. Does Ecc 1:6 show the wind has to return to the place it came from, just like the sun?

A: The writer of Ecclesiastes is truthful, but extremely vague here, probably because he does not know everything about the wind. However, his point is still scientifically valid. The earth has no net gain or loss of “wind”. When the local air pressure falls, that loss is restored when the air pressure rises. A more scientific way of paraphrasing Ecclesiastes 1:6 is that the air and wind around the world is in dynamic equilibrium.

 

11. In Ecc 1:7, how does the “river” return to where it came from?

A: Ecclesiastes 1:7 is simply a description of the earth’s water cycle. Even if you did not believe God inspired the author of Ecclesiastes, you have to admit this was an astute observation from a culture 1,000 years before Christ, that only had common, inexpensive iron tools for a few hundred years.

 

12. In Ecc 1:8, what does it mean that the eye and ear are never satisfied?

A: There are two different meanings, general and specific.

Generally, your eyes and ears have no limit. The eye never says, I have seen so much good stuff I don’t want to see anymore. Your ear never says “I have heard so much of beautiful music that I don’t want to hear any more, only lousy music.”

Specifically, people’s greed and lust are never satisfied, even though they think they will be. In the 2008 financial crisis with Bernie Madoff, there was a billionaire in Germany who committed suicide. He had the equivalent of $2 billion dollars, and because of his trusting in Madoff he lost $1 billion. Would you commit suicide, because you were down to your last billion dollars? Poor guy! Not poor because he had no money, but he is in a horrible situation because his heart was that way.

 


 

Ecclesiastes 1:9-18 – What’s New? - That Matters – some brief answers

 

1. In Ecc 1:9-10, in our technological age, is there really nothing new under the sun?

A: Much has changed in both technology and society. However, what about man himself is new? Regardless of technology, the most central questions about the meaning of life itself in Ecclesiastes have not changed. Life without God is as meaningless today as it was back then. Whether people live in a house in Jesus’ time, or in a centrally air-conditioned house today, everything else is insignificant compared to the eternal issues of the soul, and nothing has changed in that regard. See When Critics Ask p.254 and The Bible Knowledge Commentary : New Testament p.980 for more info.

 

2. In Ecc 1:11, since there is no memory of former things, then what about history?

A: The writer of Ecclesiastes is not communicating that nobody ever knows anything about the past, because the writer himself is recounting past events in his writing. Rather, after a person dies, their direct, personal knowledge is lost from this world forever.

   In a second, historical sense, the vast majority of the once vitally important information about past kingdoms and empires is not only lost, it is no longer of any value.

 

3. In Ecc 1:11:9-1, what type of thinking is Solomon showing here?

A: Of different types of wisdom, one of the types that Solomon had was the ability to point his finger back at himself. He could observe that the glory of most of the things thought great in their time was dimmed through time, if not completely forgotten. Then he deduced that the same thing will likely happen to key events happening now.

   Someone once said that experience is the best teacher, but the most expensive. But what if we had the gift, like Solomon, of being able to learn from the experience of others? We could have all the fruit, without paying the price, if we are only willing to learn.

  

4. In Ecc 1:12, what exactly does the Hebrew mean here?

A: Some have claimed this means “I … was [and am no longer] king.” However, The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.976 says the verb could just as well be translated “I …have been [and still am] king.” Thus, Ecclesiastes 1:12 does not address the question of how long the writer remained king. Solomon was king all of his life.

 

5. In Ecc 1:16, did the preacher suffer from a problem with pride in his wisdom?

A: What Solomon said was true; he did have great wisdom. But it is possible he took pride in his wisdom, also. It is a paradox that the same person could write Proverbs 3:5-7, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; and lean not on your own understanding…. Do not be wise in your own eyes…” and yet later Solomon was wise in his own eyes and sought wisdom first. (Ultimately Solomon saw that true wisdom was beyond him though in Ecclesiastes 7:23-24).

   This is a case of “do what Solomon said, not what he did.” We should listen to what God said through Solomon, and learn what the Bible honestly shows us from his mistakes.

 

6. In Ecc 1:17 and Ecc 2:12, why would any believer want to give his heart to know madness and folly?

A: Solomon likely wanted to for the sake of knowing wisdom by studying what it is not. However, Solomon (and us), should not want to do things just for the sake of learning about them. Do you want to learn firsthand what it is like to jump from an airplane with no parachute?

   This verse, like many others in the Bible (especially the Old Testament) is not a commandment to us, but an observation that we can learn from of what others did.

7. In Ecc 1:13-17, what was fundamentally wrong with what Solomon was doing?

A: Since he had the power and riches, he decided on his own that, somehow, he needed to do this. Since he had this position, why not instead just ask God what God wanted Solomon to do. The Israelites could be better taught the law. The truth could be spread to other people. But now, Solomon had to find out about apes, singing birds, and luxuries.

 

8. In Ecc 1:17, is it a good thing to give your heart to know wisdom?

A: Actually, no, wisdom should not be your highest goal. Solomon did this, but Solomon was disobedient to God for much of his earthly life. We should give our heart to God, and learn and use wisdom to serve God. However, loving and obeying God should be our number one desire and goal, not wisdom. Even wisdom, even godly wisdom, can become an idol.

   We should pray to God for wisdom, as James 1:5 tells us. In fact, we should pray that we could learn everything that God wants us to learn. But we should also pray to God that we not learn what God does not want us to learn. For example, there is so much about the experience and consequences of sin that we have not learned firsthand, and frankly, we don’t want to learn.

 

9. In Ecc 1:18, since in much wisdom there is much grief, then why does it cause happiness as Prov 3:13 says, and should we want to be wise?

A: Under the sun, (or apart from God), even wisdom is useless. Not only is it useless, but knowing everything that is going on, and knowing about death and suffering only causes grief. The common expression “ignorance is bliss” is not true, but without God ignorance can be less grievous than wisdom.

   The Bible does not teach that we should merely get wisdom. Rather it distinguishes between worldly wisdom and God’s wisdom (Isaiah 55:8-9; 1 Corinthians 1:19-25). We should seek God’s wisdom (Proverbs 9). Yet, we are foolish if we think that mastering all of God’s wisdom is a process we will complete in this life. Solomon wrote in Proverbs 3:5-7, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; and lean not on your own understanding…. Do not be wise in your own eyes…”. See When Critics Ask p.254-255 for more info.


 

Ecclesiastes 2:1-14 – The Quest for Meaning and Happiness Begins – some brief answers

 

1. In Ecc 2:1, why is Solomon “testing” himself with laughter here?

A: Solomon is saying that he is investigating if true happiness and meaning can come from amusement, entertainment, and living for fun. Unfortunately, some people have never grasped Solomon’s lesson. Many today are entertaining themselves to death.

 

2. In Ecc 2:2 what should Christians think about laughter and joking.?

A: The Hebrew word here does not only mean joking, but encompasses an entertaining and shallow joy according to the Evangelical Commentary on the Bible p.438. Here are five point to consider in the answer.

a) “Anything for a joke” is crazy. If you joke around all the time, then people might not take you seriously.

b) There is a proper time to laugh in Ecclesiastes 3:4. Some of Jesus’ parables, such as the camel through the eye of a needle, paint humorous pictures.

c) Being “unfunny” is sometimes better. If a joke is dirty, belittles others, or glorifies sin, they you should not tell it; even if it is very funny.

d) Be discerning: Jesus criticized some laughter Luke 6:25, but still promised laughter for the godly in Lk 6:21. Don’t laugh at things that are hurtful to others.

e) Be positive: Psalm 126:2 and Job 8:21 also mention the righteous laughing with joy.

   See When Critics Ask p.255 for more info.

 

3. In Ecc 2:2 how can laughter be “mad”?

A: While people suffering from insanity might laugh at inopportune times, that is probably not what is in view here. Sometimes hollow laughter is by people who are very sad.

   Billy Graham in The Secret of Happiness tells of a severely depressed patient who went to see a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist suggested he attend a show in one of the theaters, who made the audience convulse in laughter night after night. The psychiatrist thought this would be excellent therapy, that is, until the patient hung his head and said, “I am that clown.” This is relayed by the Believer’s Bible Commentary p.884.

 

4. In Ecc 2:3, should Christians follow the writer’s example, and give themselves to wine?

A: No, we should not “give ourselves” primarily to anything, or anyone, except God, and then secondarily our spouses, family, and brothers and sisters in the Lord. As in harems and materialism, there are many things mentioned in Ecclesiastes, under the sun, that we are not to follow, nor are we ever told to follow.

 

5. In Ecc 2:7, what was the point of the livestock and slaves?

A: While some fruit trees, herds, and flocks were necessary for food and clothing, that would not explain why he felt the need for vast numbers of these. These were not for his needs, but for status and making more money. Likewise, some slaves could be highly skilled as scribes, dancers, and musicians, but the main purpose of large numbers of slaves was for prestige. There is no indication her at all that Solomon was following God’s will. How much more of a name would Solomon have if he freed those slaves. 1 Kings 11:3 says that Solomon had 700 wives and he (apparently) also needed 300 concubines.

   In contrast to this, just prior to Jesus’ ministry there was a very wealthy Roman named Cornelius who lived in southern Italy. He used his wealth to buy 50,000 men as slaves. Then he freed all 50,000. All of the men, in his honor, changed their name to Cornelius. We don’t know if Cornelius the centurion in Acts 10 was one of these former slaves, but he could have been.

 

6. In Ecc 2:8, what were the delights of the sons of men”?

A: The meaning of the Hebrew word is not certain, but its probable meaning is “harem”. A harem is a large collection of wives and concubines. The Evangelical Commentary on the Bible p.438 and The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.982 say the same.

   The Expositor’s Bible Commentary vol.5 p.1156 adds that this rarely used word in a latter of the Egyptian Pharaoh Amenophis III. (ANETvp.487a).

 

7. In Ecc 2:8, as Solomon was sharing his experience with so many wives, when should believers share with others their sinful experiences, and when should they not?

A: First of all, Solomon might have thought he was not sinning, because he was married to all those 800 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). However, God said that the king must not have many wives, and so Solomon was actually disobeying God. Many of the wives were from nations the Israelites were not to intermarry with, according to 1 Kings 11:1-2. Solomon knew so much, yet he did not know, or else knew but did not follow, God’s law.

   We can share, as Solomon did, in order to show other people the unhappy consequences of the sin. But we should not share in such as way as to entice other people into wishing they had sinned like that too.

 

8. In Ecc 2:8, what are provinces here?

A: This word was used by Persians and later Israelites such as king Ahab in 1 Kings 20:14-15. Other kingdoms in Solomon’s time had provinces, so Solomon had them too. These probably were not lands of the twelve tribes of Israel, but rather other lands David had conquered that brought tribute every year. See The Expositor’s Bible Commentary vol.5 p.1157 for more info.

 

9. In Ecc 2:9, what was the point of the wisdom, flocks, herds, and slaves?

A: The point is succinctly summarized here: “I became greater”. That seemed to be Solomon’s real goal. The fact that he was a believer would mean he wanted to still worship God and not disobey his laws (or at least not too many), but still, his goal in life was “I became greater”. Many Christians in life want to love God and not disobey him, but for them tool, their primary goal in life is “I became greater.” If you look at the start of almost every verse in Ecclesiastes 2:1-9, almost all of the them start with “I”. You will look in vain for any indication that Solomon thought” I will wait upon the Lord for what God wants me to do.”

   However, though even by modern standards Solomon was very wealthy, he can tell us, it is all in vain.

   See the Evangelical Commentary on the Bible p.438 for more info.

 

10. In Ecc 2:10, should a believer want to fill his heart with all pleasure?

A: No. While a believer should not indulge in sinful pleasures, such as drugs, that is not what this verse is taking about. There are two points to consider in the answer.

1. This refers to legitimately acquired pleasures, such as purchased material things, which God’s Law did not specifically forbid?

2. It is still a sin to live a life in pursuit of pleasure, even if the pleasures are not evil ones. Our lives should be in pursuit of a closer relationship with God.

 

11. In Ecc 2:12-14, how is Solomon saying that both are true: wisdom is worthless, and wisdom is more valuable than folly?

A: Both are equally worthless as goals. However, a person walking in the light of wisdom can see where he is going, to get to the goal that he wants, while the one waling in the darkness of folly has no clue.

Ecclesiastes 2:15-26 – Foolish successors gives a foolish legacy – some brief answers

 

1. Does Ecc 2:14-15 prove non-existence after death?

A: No, this refers to life under the sun. It simply says one event, that is, death, happens to all. Under the sun, everyone who dies is not under the sun anymore.

 

2. In Ecc 2:15, what is the point of being wise?

A: Solomon found that there is no point in having wisdom for wisdom’s sake. Wisdom at best, is a flashlight that helps light our path. But it is not, or at least should not be our goal, any more than reaching the end of a flashlight’s beam should be your goal.

   See the Believer’s Bible Commentary p.888 for more info.

 

3. In Ecc 2:16, how is there no more remembrance of the wise more than the fool after death?

A: There are three distinct ways.

The Deceased: The direct memories in the minds of those who die are lost to this world forever.

Others: The memories of those left on this earth fade of the one who died. In history, many facts about ancient civilizations, which were crucial for people to know at the time, are forgotten and useless to all but archaeologists today.

Eternally: For both the righteous and unrighteous, the skills, knowledge, and wisdom of this world are useless after death.

 

4. In Ecc 2:17-18,20,23 should we “hate life”?

A: No, but don’t love life more than God. The point of Ecclesiastes concerns “life under the sun”. In other words, it is material life without God. Ecclesiastes never says we should hate life; rather the writer is saying he hates life. Proverbs 8:35-36 speaks well of those who find life. However, it is easy to hate life “under the sun” without God. In a strange sense, this is one place where the teachings of Buddhism and Christianity almost agree. Buddhism first point on the eightfold path says that life is suffering. While Christianity says that the Christian life is great, even despite suffering, Christianity partially agrees with Buddhism on one point, that life without the real God is and will be suffering.

 

5. In Ecc 2:17-18, Solomon had all the wealth, slaves, wisdom, and status that he could want, so why could he hate his life?

A: This was not a hate because of what he could not get or achieve. It seems more like a bitterness that he worked so hard, got and achieved all he wanted, and still felt empty. Which wife really loved him, when she only saw him once every couple of years? Which wife did he really love, since he might have only seen them once every couple of years?

   Sometimes the satisfaction comes not just from the goal, but from the journey.

   There was a play one time, where at night a poor husband and wife, striving to have more money, were lying awake in their beds wondering what rich people do. At the same time there was a wealthy couple, lying in their beds, wondering what poor people do. If you believe that getting rich will make you happy, you might not be rich now, but you have hope, something to look forward to, to the day that you (hopefully) will be rich and thus happy. Solomon, and some rich people, are so depressed because they have already achieved those riches, and they have discovered that it did not make them happy. Then what else could they hope for?

 

6. In Ecc 2:18-19, why does it seem so unfair that the rich save up wealth only for another?

A: The person was sacrificed their convenience, freedom, and perhaps even their family and own happiness to accumulate wealth might not enjoy it for many years until they die. The people inheriting the wealth, might lose it, or might enjoy for many years what they did not work for. This was depressing for Solomon. This happened to Solomon when the kingdom was split in two under his son Rehoboam. Even though Rehoboam did not start to reign until Solomon died, Solomon knew beforehand that this would happen because God told him in 1 Kings 11:11-13.

 

7. In Ecc 2:19, if someone is not foolish, then would a large inheritance be OK for him?

A: It could be disastrous for them. Proverbs 30:7-9 says, “Two things I have asked of you. Don’t deny me before I die. Remove far from me falsehood and lies. Give me neither poverty nor riches. Feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full, deny you, and say, ‘Who is Yahweh?’ or lest I be poor, and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” (World English Bible)

  With part of his wealth Solomon made gold shields for the guards in the temple in 2 Chronicles 9:16. Now gold is a soft and heavy metal, unsuitable for shields except for showing off. But in the reign of his son Rehoboam, Pharaoh Shishak carried off Solomon’s gold shields to Egypt in 2 Chronicles 11:9. The money could have been used to pay for teaches or help the poor.

   I heard of a new Christian who was a would-be graphics designer, except that he had no computer or software. The mission organization loaned him both, and he became a good graphics designer, and became prosperous. He left his wife for a girlfriend, he left the church, and he never paid back the money. It would have been better spiritually if he had never been given the help.

   There was a Christian who won tens of millions in a lottery, in (I believe) Florida. Immediately he gave 10% to Christian organizations, and set up funds so his children would not have to work.

The Christian in Florida who won millions in the lottery. Later he started visiting strip clubs, carrying large amounts of money in his car. Robbers figured that out, and robbed him and beat him up multiple times. His daughter got involved with drugs. He finally reached the point where he said he wish he could go back in time and just tear up that lottery ticket, for the sake of both himself and his family.

 

8. In Ecc 2:21, what can you do when it looks like your teenager is growing up to be foolish?

A: Perhaps Solomon personally wondered this about his son, the future king Rehoboam. Rehoboam ultimately was a fool who lost ten tribes from his kingdom.

   Simple foolishness is naively not knowing what is going on. But other types of foolishness are practiced and learned from those around them. You should make sure you are a good example for them. Certainly you should talk with your teenager. Sometimes parents will move to try to break free from the bad influences on their teenage daughter or son. You cannot insulate your child, or yourself, from bad influences, and some can help give your faith endurance. But stay away from bad influences you or your children cannot handle. Try to replace those with good influences instead. And there are cases, especially when they won’t listen, when sometimes the best thing is to let them fail.

 

 

9. Does Ecc 2:24 show that Epicureanism is true?

A: No. See the discussion on Ecclesiastes 2:3. 1 Corinthians 15:32 says that without God, there are not many choices, as Epicureanism is as good a choice as any. Though it might seem like a paradox, getting the wisdom to know that most things are meaningless is a valuable gift from God too. Briefly focus on your distractions, to see that they are just distractions. See When Critics Ask p.256 for more info.

   Hard Sayings of the Bible p.293-294 gives a careful translation of this and notes that the words “nothing better” are not present. In other words, this verse is saying that while eating and drinking is good and from God, under the sun without God, there is really nothing else for us to do except eat and drink.

 

 


 

Ecclesiastes 3 – Everything in Its Time – some brief answers

 

1. Ecc 3:1-8 and Jn 7:6 show that there can be a wrong time to do right things. How should we have “times and seasons” in our life?

A: The need for times and seasons in life is not always so obvious, so God gave them that in Old Testament times every Saturday with the Sabbath. By the way, there is no indication that Israelite farmers, traders, and craftsmen were any less productive than those in other countries that might work seven days a week.

   Even though Christians are not commanded to keep the Sabbath (Colossians 2:16), many Christians still have a time of rest, usually on Sunday. While every day is a Sabbath for believers now, since we have entered God’s rest in Hebrews 4:3-11, we are not required to observe the Sabbath (or Sunday), but it is fine to do so.

 

2. In Ecc 3:1-8 what is the point of these fourteen opposites, or positives and negatives?

A: Things tend to cancel out. Many things get built, but then they are torn down. For many of those things, there is a balance.

   A person could choose some of these seasons, many times we don’t have any choice; the times are determined for us. When you spend time because you or your family member is sick, don’t think that is keeping you from doing what God intended for you to do. At that time, it is God’s will to do exactly what He wants you to do, which is to care for the sick one.

   Sometimes when you are in a special time, such as mourning, or sickness, you can look at the moment and wrongly assume that it is going to be this way the rest of your life. Likewise, when things are going utterly fantastic, you can wrongly assume the rest of your life will be this way. One thing we can learn from this passage is to be prepared in your spirit, because seasons change. When a season turns to one you would not have chosen, remember that we are only temporarily on earth anyway.

   See the Believer’s Bible Commentary p.890-892 for more info.

 

3. Since Ecc 3:2 says there is a time to be born and a time to die, when is euthanasia, including physician -assisted suicide, morally right?

A: We must first distinguish between types of dying, and then see what the Bible says.

A definition of euthanasia, from the Greek words eu thanatos meaning “good/easy death”, is intentionally causing death by act or omission of a non-fetal being whose life is deemed not worth living, and thinking it is not morally wrong to do so. Euthanasia can be voluntary or involuntary on the patient’s part, and actively killing, or passively withholding treatment, food, water, or warmth. Of course, how one defines undesirable existence, whether of oneself or others, is subject to a wide range of interpretation.

Involuntary active euthanasia of undesirable existence was widely practiced in Nazi Germany; today we call that evil the Holocaust. Uganda, Communist China, and the Communist U.S.S.R. also had their own holocausts. Involuntary active euthanasia is only for certain criminals, but growing old should not be a crime.

Voluntary active euthanasia laws are most liberal today in the Netherlands. However, since physicians there have the right to administer voluntary euthanasia, the booklet A Christian Response to Physician-Assisted Suicide p.12-13 reports that a Dutch study (Herbert Hendin, Chris Rutenfrans, and Zbigniew Zylicz “Physician-Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in the Netherlands” Journal of American Medical Association 277 (1977) p.1720-1722.) found that there was more involuntary euthanasia than voluntary euthanasia. It apparently is a “slippery slope” from voluntary euthanasia to involuntary, as the victims rarely file complaints.

Allowing death, also called passive euthanasia, can be compassionate for the terminally ill, who wish to die more quickly and in less pain. It can merely mean not taking extraordinary medical measures. This is the only type of euthanasia that can be moral. However, some passive euthanasia can be cruel too, for those who do not wish to die, and who are not terminally ill. We should not let otherwise healthy people die simply from lack of food. Who are we to say someone else’s life is not worthwhile, especially when he or she thinks it is.

Suicide was only practiced in the Bible by Judas Iscariot, Saul, and Samson. In the early church, Lactantius (260-330 A.D.) writes that the crime of suicide is as bad or greater than murder of another in The Divine Institutes 3:19. Suicide is a sin, but the Bible does not say it is unforgivable. The early church historian Eusebius of Caesarea (c.325 A.D.) recounts how six Christian women, on three different occasions committed suicide rather than be abused sexually (Ecclesiastical History chapters 12 and 14).

In brief, the Bible prohibits murder, which includes suicide and most forms of euthanasia of people. The Bible does not prohibit what is called “voluntary, passive euthanasia”, where exceptional medical procedures are withheld, or the patient is allowed to die naturally. While the Bible does not say suicide is OK, see the next question for what the Bible does say that relates to dying.

   See A Christian Response to Physician-Assisted Suicide, New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Theology p.357-359,825-826, Christians in Pain, and the Wycliffe Bible Dictionary p.1631 for more info. Even though euthanasia is wrong, Christian decisions involving medical treatment can be far from trivial. See Life and Death Decisions for discussions for some of the issues involving medical treatment.

 

4. In Ecc 3:2, what does the Bible teach about dying?

A: While the Bible does not use the term “euthanasia” per se, we can learn from it the following 22 things related to dying.

…Values

In dying as in everything else, the world offers us hollow and deceptive philosophies, but we should follow what God teaches us (Colossians 2:9; 1 Corinthians 1:19-23; John 10:16). Do not just do what is right in our own eyes (Judges 21:25).

We are valuable because all people are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27; Psalm 8:4-5). We are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).

We are to honor the elderly (Leviticus 19:32; 1 Timothy 5:2) .

We are to help (not kill) orphans, widows, sick, prisoners, and others society might consider undesirable (James 1:27; Deuteronomy 15:11; Psalm 68:5; Matthew 25:35-36,42-44; Zechariah 7:9-10; Hebrews 13:3).

…Actions

We must not murder, and people who intentionally murder can be executed (Genesis 9:6; Exodus 20:13; 21:12; Deuteronomy 5:17).

Murder does not include lawful executions and war (Genesis 9:6; Exodus 21:12; Psalm 144:1; Deuteronomy 20:10-18) One can kill in self-defense (Exodus 22:2).

Killing and hunting animals is OK (Acts 10:10-15; Leviticus 17:13; Exodus-Deuteronomy), but do not be cruel to them (Proverbs 12:10).

Christians should offer the comfort of God (2 Corinthians 1:4-6) and be compassionate to all (Colossians 3:12; 1 Corinthians 13:4; Ephesians 4:32; Proverbs 11:16-17; 1 Thessalonians 5:15). God’s love to us endures forever (Psalm 107:1-2).

No one can take their earthly riches with them (Luke 12:18-21; Psalm 37:7-10), so provide for your family and others (Proverbs 13:22; 17:2; 19:14; Psalm 17:14; 1 Timothy 5:3-5,8,16) and give to the Lord’s work (Proverbs 3:9; 1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 8:1-8; 9:6-12; Haggai 1:3-11).

We should be courageous in the face of death (Psalm 23:1; Romans 8:35-39; Revelation 2:11,13), and not fear (1 John 4:18), for to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:20-21). Pray to God when you are close to death (Psalm 18:4-6; 116:3; 142; Philippians 4:6-7). We find rest in God alone (Psalm 62:1).

Though in general we are not to be intoxicated, intoxicants are good for the dying (Proverbs 31:6-7).

…Understanding

All the time, not just near death, we should realize that our lives on earth are fleeting (Psalm 39:4-6; 90:3-6; 144:4; James 1:10-11).

God already knows every day of our lives (Psalm 139:16).

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. (Psalms 116:15) God is there in a special way for those who call upon Him (Psalm 145:18,20).

People can be so depressed that they despair of life (2 Corinthians 1:8-9), but that does not justify suicide.

In some cases, suffering and trials can have beneficial results (James 1:2) and we can glorify God (2 Peter 4:7) as Job did. Our sufferings will seem small compared to the glories of Heaven (1 Peter 1:6-9, 1 Corinthians 2:9).

While often do not see God’s purpose for things now (Psalm 42,43,74,79,88; Job), in the end we will how God works things out (Habakkuk 1:1-11; 1:12-17; 2), see God’s wisdom, justice, love, and mercy, not have any mourning in Heaven (Revelation 21:4).

Suffering and death can be both arbitrary and unjust (Luke 13:1-2; Ezekiel 13:19), but Jesus understands our condition, because He experienced unjust suffering and death too (Psalm 22:1; Acts 3:13-15).

We should long to be with Christ, but see the value of remaining on earth, glorifying God and helping others (Philippians 1:22-23; 3:12-15; 2 Peter 1:5-8).

For non-Christians, God is not slow, but wants people to have time to repent (2 Peter 3:9).

…Hope

People dying was not good or natural, either prior to the Fall or in Heaven (Romans 8:20-23; 5:13; 1 Corinthians 15:22; 1 Corinthians 15:42-58). Nevertheless, all things work together as a part of God’s plan, and for good for those who love God (Ephesians 1:11; Romans 8:28).

Heaven is a place with no suffering, dying or pain (Revelation 21:4-5).

In conclusion, we are not to fear death or ignore it, nor to focus on it all the time. Rather, believers should see our life on earth, and our death, as integrated parts of our path to the best of all possible worlds, our eternal home with the Lord.

 

5. In Ecc 3:3, is there really a time to kill?

A: The Hebrew word for kill here, harag, is a different word than murder in Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17. There is a time to kill plants and animals, but that is not relevant to what this verse is saying. Yes, there is a time to kill, as there is a time for executions, and a time for war in Ecclesiastes 3:8. See The Expositor’s Bible Commentary vol.5 p.1161 for more info.

 

6. In Ecc 3:8, is there a time for believers to hate?

A: Yes in two ways.

In the Old Testament, believers were not yet taught about loving everyone, including their enemies.

In all times, believers are to hate sin.

 

7. In Ecc 3:9-15, is this despairing or hopeful?

A: While some could take it as despairing, it is “optimistic acceptance”. As you visit the seasons of your life, and some things get wiped away and new things take their place, as a believer you know that it is all in God’s hands. Romans 8:28 says that all things work together for good for those who love God. We need to remember that we are not of this world (John 17:14) but citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20).

 

8. Is Ecc 3:13 sort of a Judeo-Christian Epicureanism?

A: Ecclesiastes bring this attitude as an option, but does not recommend it. Judeo-Christian Epicureanism is staying away from major sins, tithing, going to church, and doing the minimum you ought to be doing, and just living the rest of your life how you want for yourself, with no further commitment to God. That is not what God wants for any of us. What about the love and passion for God? Do you take initiative in expressing your love for God by your works? Where is the concern for others, and what about the joy of being in God’s presence? God wants every Christian, regardless of whether they are in a paid ministerial position or not, to be committed to Him.

   In Ecclesiastes it is important to understand the main point before trying to make generalities out of individual verses. Ecclesiastes 3:13 in particular, and the whole book of Ecclesiastes in general, gives an accurate (and depressing) description of life under the sun without God.

 

9. In Ecc 3:16-17, why is there so much injustice and wickedness in the world?

A: One reason is that many people don’t mind injustice and wickedness, only injustice and wickedness done to them. Solomon was bemoaning the fact in verse 16, but concluded in verse 17 that God will judge everything correctly one day.

   While injustice and wickedness frequently have and will occur regardless of us, we have to responsibilities. First, we should make sure we are not unjust or wicked toward others. Second, we should help defend the oppressed.

   See the New International Bible Commentary p.695 for more info.

 

10. Does Ecc 3:19-21 teach there is no afterlife?

A: Not at all, if you read Ecclesiastes 3:18 too. Four points to consider in the answer.

1. Verse 18 starts off with, “I said in my heart”. God is not saying this; this is from the perspective of observation under the sun.

2. According to the NIV footnotes, this can be translated “Who knows the spirit of man, which rises upward or the…”, instead of “Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the…”. The word “if” is not actually present in the Hebrew.

3. Regardless of the translation, the context of Ecclesiastes is “life under the sun”, and within that context, afterlife is not something anybody can know about, except by God’s revelation. When Cultists Ask p.74-75 adds that physically in the body, death and decay are the same; however, at the resurrection and the judgment things are different. Psalm 49:15 also says God will redeem them from the power of the grave.

4. The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.977 points out that the “method” of Ecclesiastes primarily was empirical observation, as Ecclesiastes 1:14,17; 2:1-10; 2:11-13; 3:16; 4:1; 6:1,11; 7:15,27; 8:9,11; 9:11,13. Thus, the hesitation to teach life after death was consistent with both the method of Ecclesiastes, and the “if this be the only life” pessimism of the book.

 See also Hard Sayings of the Bible p.294-295, Bible Difficulties and Seeming Contradictions p.229-230, When Critics Ask p.256-258, the Believer’s Bible Commentary p.893, and 735 Baffling Bible Questions Answered p.160 for more info.

 

11. Does Ecc 3:21 teach that an animal has a spirit like a person does?

A: The Hebrew word here is actually “breath”, which has a range of meanings. This verse does not answer this question. All that the writer of Ecclesiastes is saying, is that from observing what goes on under the sun, one cannot tell what happens to the life of men or animals after death. See Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties p.258-260 for more info. See also the discussion on 2 Peter 2:5 and Revelation 16:3 for more info.


 

 

Ecclesiastes 4 – Power and Weakness – some brief answers

 

1. In Ecc 4:1, Ecc 5:8-9; Ecc 8:9; and Ecc 10:16-20, how could all this injustice and oppression occur during Solomon’s reign?

A: Regardless of whether Solomon was the author or not, the writer did not say it was under his rule during his time, though Solomon could have found out he had unjust officials under him. Solomon had knowledge of many other lands in his time, and he knew history, so it would be surprising if Solomon only wrote of his kingdom in his time. These things occurred many times to Israel in the book of judges, and in Solomon’s time to many other peoples. See The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.976 for more info.

 

2. In Ecc 4:1-3; 4:4-6, and 4:7-12 discuss the meaninglessness of oppression, envy, being lonely at the top of the ladder, storing up for a successor. What do these all have in common?

A: The common themes in this chapter are the vanity of power before powerlessness. Being oppressed gives a meaningless life, but oppressing others gives a meaningless life too. Envy toil, valuing a work above people, and lo longer being teachable are all meaningless. See The Expositor’s Bible Commentary vol.5 p.1165 for more info.

 

3. In Ecc 4:2, is it really better for the oppressed to be dead than alive?

A: It depends. There are two points to consider in the answer.

1. Ecclesiastes is written from the perspective of “life under the sun”, without God. From this perspective, it is definitely better for the oppressed to be dead than alive.

2. From an eternal perspective, it is also easier for oppressed believers to die and go to Heaven than to live on earth.

 

4. In Ecc 4:4 how does most labor and achievement come from people’s envy?

A: When people want a promotion, it can be to get more money, but that might only be part of it. Another part is to boss other people around, no longer be bossed around by someone, and to have a more impressive resume or be listened to more.

   A key motivator for starting a business is to “Be your own boss”. What small business owners sometimes fail to consider is that instead of having one or two manages as their boss, now, every single customer is in some ways their boss.

   Even in school people can graduate with “honors”, implying that those who were not able to score as high grades are somehow less honorable students.

   Most people have the desire not to be considered inferior in the eyes of others in general, in the eyes of certain specific individuals (such as your boss or spouse), and in their own eyes. Many take that farther and want to be thought superior or better in eyes of others in general, certain specific individual, and in their own eyes. Some people get pleasure in making an individual feel inferior to them. But a Christian should get rid of all of these motivations. Instead, their desire should be to be pleasing in God’s eyes.

 

5. Ecc 4:5 literally says, the “fool eats his own flesh”, so what does that mean?

A: This is a metaphor for destroying yourself. The example illustrates that a person does not have a net gain of nutrients when he eats his own flesh. Some people do things for short-sighted enjoyment that mortgage or severely limit their future. Sometimes a relationship, family, or life can be ruined for a moment of pleasure. As an example, even though Bernie Madoff until 2008 made millions with a stock fund pyramid scheme, eventually he was caught, went to prison, and one of his sons committed suicide. Now I don’t think Madoff would ever have thought having millions for a few years was worth going to prison and the life of his son; but I don’t think Madoff was thinking about the cost at all. People who “eat their own flesh” are often not deliberately choosing the consequences; rather they have chosen not to think about the consequences at all. But even when you don’t think about the consequences, the consequences still come. See also the discussion on Leviticus 29:29.

 

6. In Ecc 4:7-9, people are often better at asking themselves how to do something than they are at asking whether they should do something, and to what degree should they do it. What are ways we should ask whether we should do something and how much?

A: The hard negotiator might ask should they be more of a “win-win” situation than an “I win you lose” situation. If the other party is desperate to settle, do you take them to the cleanser, so to speak, or negotiate something that you would want someone to negotiate with you, if you were in their shoes. A lawyer might ask instead of going to blood with the other party, should I just take what is fair. A wronged party, struggling to get back what is theirs, should ask “where is the line between taking back what I should have and getting revenge. (Christians are never supposed to take revenge, but in the Old Testament they took back what was wrongfully taken and added a fifth to it.) The soldier should ask if a commanding officer is giving unlawful commands. When you can take something that is not really yours, because you know you can, do you refrain from doing so?

 

7. What is Ecc 4:9-12, referring to?

A: This is NOT referring just to marriage, just to a father and son, just to a successor, or just to co-workers. It is a general concept that has application to all of those situations and more. If there are no successors then there is no succession. If there are no partners then there is no partnership, and the endeavor goes down if you do.

 

8. In Ecc 4:11, since it is better to lie together than alone, is sexual relations outside of marriage better than celibacy?

A: No. While togetherness is a good thing, trying to disobey God and “take a shortcut” to this is sin. In a similar way, while it is better to have money that to have no money at all, a penniless person does not have God’s permission to rob banks.

   Many (but not all) sins are people trying to take “short-cuts”, disobeying God’s commandments, to achieve what in some circumstances are good things.

 

9. To whom does Ecc 4:13 refer?

A: Some would think it is Solomon. Solomon as a young man was wise, only moderately wealthy, and obedient to God. Solomon never left believing in God, but Solomon did leave being obedient to God. Perhaps he wrote Ecclesiastes after he returned to obeying God, after he saw that he was an old and foolish king, and would not be corrected.

   He was a wise and intelligent king, who became a foolish and intelligent king, and wanted to return to the path of wisdom. So Ecclesiastes could be referring to two different individuals, young and old, or it could be referring to same individual at one time young and then old.

   However, this does not completely refer to Solomon or any king anyone in the kingdom of Israel. This sounds similar to Joseph, as Joseph reigned under Pharaoh. However, the writer did not specify who this was, probably because he wanted to illustrate a general principle, and not get people bogged down in historical specifics.

   Sometimes when we write or speak, we need to know to put in more details or all the details we can. But other times, we should have less detail so people don’t miss the main point, getting lost in details.

Five choices for the young and old rulers are:

Young vs. old Solomon

Solomon vs. Rehoboam

Joseph and Pharaoh

Other individuals

The concepts in general, but no specific individuals

 

10. In Ecc 4:14-16, how do you handle holding on to power or influence (if you do), when someone younger or less experienced appears they can surpass you?

A: One approach is to fight tooth and nail to hold on to your influence. Even worse is to try to sabotage the other person’s work, or at least sabotage their achievements and reputation through slander. The opposite extreme is to never stand up for yourself and your work. However, Romans 14:16 says we are not to let what is good be spoken of as evil. Sometimes these situations can be complicated, both in what is happening to you, and the potential responses (appropriate or not) that you could do. A guiding principle is “what would Jesus have you do?” Don’t do anything that you will later be ashamed to explain to Christ at the bema-seat judgment. It is better to lose, than to win through underhanded means.


 

Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 – God has no pleasure in fools – some brief answers

 

Today, among other things, we are going to see how this applies to economics, your job, contracts, finance, psychology, and mathematics002E

 

1. In Ecc 5:1, why does it mention going to the house of God, since Ecclesiastes tells of life under the sun without God?

A: This illustrates an important point. One can still be very religious and yet just be going through the motions and still be very far from God.

 

2. In Ecc 5:1, what is a “sacrifice of fools”, and how do we avoid that?

A: Though it is strange, some can try to find meaning in giving a sacrifice to God, as a poor substitute for just loving and obeying God. Love and obedience will often include a sacrifice, but it is a sacrifice that God wants. Any old sacrifice is not a substitute for love and obedience, as Micah 6:6-8 shows. Jesus said that if you are about to offer a sacrifice, and your recall that your brother has something against you, pause the sacrifice, be reconciled with your brother, and only then resume your sacrifice, in Matthew 5:23-24.

   One time there was a little boy who wanted to buy a nice present for his mother’s birthday. So, he bought her a toy firetruck. That is what he would have wanted for his birthday, so in his heart he reasoned that is what she would want. Sometimes we are not much more mature and give a “sacrifice of fools”. We figure God would want us to do something, without paying attention to what God says He really wants.

   In English history, Robinhood was famous for “robbing from the rich and giving to the poor”. While there were injustices with the evil ruler, God does not want your money that you go from robbing other people. One of the worst sacrifices of fools was Jephthah’s vow in Judges 11:30-40. The entire period of judges was a dark period when each man did what was right in his own eyes.

   See The Expositor’s Bible Commentary vol.5 p.1169 for more info.

 

3. In Ecc 5:1, how do some people do evil in offering sacrifices without even knowing it?

A: There are at least three ways.

1) One way is that offerings to idols are offerings to demons and not to God in 1 Corinthians 10:20.

2) Even sacrifices done to the true God can be wicked. Jesus prophesied that some who kill Christians will think they are offering a sacrifice to God in John 16:2. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Roman Catholics, and to a lesser extent Lutherans and Calvinists persecuted others who claimed to be Christian. The Pope even organized crusades to “exterminate” the Waldenses. The church also had persecution against Jewish people, because their leaders thought that was pleasing to God.

3) Money given to God’s work from ill-gotten means is an evil sacrifice. Micah 1:7f says that the pay from the wages of a prostitute shall return to pay a prostitute. If you make money using means God does not want to use, and you give some of it to God as an offering, God is not pleased with that sacrifice. It is better to stop defrauding or taking from others and be able to offer less, then to offer more from doing things that displease God. Some jobs, are like being an accountant for planned parenthood, a leading abortion provider in the United States. You are not breaking any laws, and even if the company is not breaking any laws, you are a team member of an organization that is doing evil against God, you should leave.

   But in loving God, we are supposed to offer our bodies as living sacrifices in Romans 12:1.

   See the Evangelical Commentary on the Bible p.441 for a complementary answer.

 

4. In Ecc 5:1-2, what is the point here about listening vs. speaking?

A: Are you coming to the House of God more to share your opinions, or to learn and worship? James 1:19 says to be quick to listen and slow to speak. There are so many wise people in a church, perhaps you should make your points too, but not dominate the conversation. Also, the Hebrew word here means more than just to listen. It also means to understand and obey. See the Believer’s Bible Commentary p.896 and the Evangelical Commentary on the Bible p.441 for more info.

 

5. In Ecc 5:2-7, what are some examples of foolish commitments people make today?

A: Just like people can sign up for spam on the internet, or give their credit card to a malicious site, there are other ways to make foolish commitments too. Employment and other legal contracts that are given to you by the other side, are usually always written to favor the other side, many times unfairly. Though we are to be as innocent as doves, we are to be as wise as serpents too, according to Matthew 10:16. Be extremely reluctant to co-sign a loan for someone else. Their irresponsibility will become your commitment.

   We do need to make commitments so that people can depend on us. Usually you have to make a commitment with your employer, the church wants financial commitments from members so that they can know how much to budget, and if you take out a loan for a house, you have to agree to pay back the money.

   But whenever you make a commitment, ask yourself you making the commitment is necessary. Then ask is the level of commitment necessary. For example, if a prospective employer wants you to sign some agreement that you will have a restriction forever after you leave, ask yourself, and them, if it is more reasonable to make the term just six months or a year. On one employment agreement that wanted me to agree that any and all software I developed on the side, regardless of whether it had any relevance or possibility of competing with the company or not, would be their exclusive property. So, I wrote on my signed contract that this excluded things I was previously working on and gave a list. Then I signed it, sent it in, and told them what I changed. They had no problem with that.

 

6. In Ecc 5:2, how can people have a “hasty heart” today?

A: Rash words are not as much the root problem but rather the symptom of a hasty heart. While many people tend to have a “let’s solve this right now” bias, Americans are often more prone to this than others. People tend to remember the successes, and try to forget their defeats, so an average person can remember themselves as on the whole more successful.

   If there is a chance that something will succeed, no matter how remote, let’s do it without thinking of the odds or the consequences if we fail. This type of foolishness is actively taught in many action movies today. Rather than waiting for reinforcements, the hero bravely (or foolhardily) goes in with an overwhelming probability that he is just wasting his life with no benefit whatsoever, and by some rare luck, he comes out alive and successful, and everyone congratulates him on his judgment to do that.

Let’s look at the similarities between our heart, investing, and baking bread.

   Pretend you had a stock broker, who one month announced to you that he invested all your life savings buying very risky options. But instead of losing all your life saving, he was successful, and doubled your money. Would you congratulate him on his investment strategy and keep him as your stock broker or would you take all your money away from him? It tastes better to wait for the bread to bake than to just eat all the dough right now.

   A hasty heart can destroy a fortune over time. Let’s say the same stock broker, over five years gave you annual returns of 100%, 100%, 100%, 100%, -100%. The average annual return is 300% / 5 years, or 60% / year on the money you used to have, which is astoundingly good. But look at those numbers again. If the last year you lost 100%, that means you lost everything you had. Bread bakes much faster if you make the oven three times as hot, but the result might not give you anything to enjoy at the end.

   Both now the stockbroker has a more conservative strategy, so you trust his judgment and go with him yet again. The first year he makes 23% for you, the second year the market does some things he did not predict and he loses 20%, and alternates like that every year. How much money do you have at the end? For every $1,000, that is $1,000 * 1.23 * 0.8 * 1.23 * 0.8 * 1.23 * 0.8 = only $952.76. Swings work against your money, and a vacillating heart works against your relationships, your word, and people trusting you. If you bake bread at too hot a temperature, but alternate it with cooler temperatures so that the backing time if average, the result is still hard to swallow.

   See the Evangelical Commentary on the Bible p.441 for more info.

 

7. In Ecc 5:2-7, why do people find it so easy to promise something and then to break their promise?

A: People who value their own word so little might think that other people don’t value their word either, and it becomes self-fulfilling. If someone promises something promises something, especially if the net result is to their advantage, and later it appears to no longer be to their advantage, why not break it, if they live like there is no God? But Christians should be people who can be counted on. Deuteronomy 23:21-23 also says that people are supposed to keep their vows.

   It is fine to intend to do something and then change your mind, but say that you intend to do it, not that you promise to do it.

   See the Evangelical Commentary on the Bible p.441 for more info.

 

8. In Ecc 5:3,7 what should are attitude towards our dreams be?

A: Dreams here are not referring to what do when you are sleeping. Dreams here are plans and unplanned hopes. A person who thinks they will fulfill impossible dreams can often too easily break promises and commitments they have made. This connection of rash words and wild dreams includes unrealistic plans, sometimes promised with no thought of how to carry them through. Sometimes having “hyperactive dreams” leads to starting many projects that all fail, mainly because they are not carried through. It is better to have one successful project that lasts and keeps on flying than a lot of projects that never got off the ground.

   As believers should we give up on all of dreams that we want to do? Or should we wildly dram and start many projects that have no hope of success? Neither, instead, give God your dreams. Some He may take away. But for others, you might have a desire to pursue them because God wants you to pursue them. Even some dreams that might seem foolish and impossible, can become possible with God. But regardless, give all your dreams to God, and be OK with the fact that He will take some away.

   See the Believer’s Bible Commentary p.896-897 for more info.

 


 

Ecclesiastes 5:8-20 – The bondage(s) of greed – some brief answers

 

1. In Ecc 5:8, what are two relationships between dreams and oppression?

A: There are a couple of ways.

The oppressed: A poor person could have the dream of becoming wealthy, using only honest means. In some countries unfortunately that dream can only be a wild fantasy. There are times where the message to us is the same as God told Baruch in Jeremiah 45:5. Now is not the time to seek great things, but God will protect us.

The oppressor: Conversely, someone might realize that their dream of becoming wealthy can only be accomplished by taking wealth from others. As an example, in some African and Asian countries, a daughter is a means of bringing wealth to the family through the dowry. This might not be the boy the girl wants to marry, but the parent’s greedy heart has become a higher priority than the daughter’s heart.

In general, Ephsians 5:8 says that though we were once in darkness, now we must walk as children of light. We must abandon the deeds of darkness and treating others in an honorable when that we are not afraid when the light shines on what we did and our motives.

 

2. In Ecc 5:9 what is the relationship between the king and the fields?

A: The Hebrew says that even the King {himself] benefits from the fields. But the same words can cover two different aspects.

Profits from: even a rich king feels like he still needs to take a cut of the profits from even a small field. The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.988 thinks there is a hint of corruption by officials here.

Dependent on: even the greatest king still needs to eat, and thus depends on the lowly fields to live. However, there is no other clue that anything else in this chapter is about keeping the king alive.

   So while both are true, which is the primary intent here? Since verses 8-11 are about oppression and greed, so “profits from” is the primary application. But in addition to that, verse 9 is sort of a “pivot” here. Verses 8-9 talk about oppression, and verses 9-11 speak to greed, which often goes hand-in-hand with oppression. Verse 9 ties them both together as ever-increasing greed is one cause of oppression.

   See the Believer’s Bible Commentary p.897-598 for more info

 

3. In Ecc 5:10, why is it that someone who chases money never thinks they have enough?

A: You can never have enough money for a greedy heart. You can never have enough money to be truly “safe”, if you trust your safety to money. As the Believer’s Bible Commentary p.898 mentions, when the millionaire Cecil Rhodes was close to dying, he said, “I’ve found much in Africa. Diamonds, gold and land are mine, but now I must leave them all behind. Not a thing I’ve gained can be taken with me. I have not sought eternal treasures, therefore I actually have nothing at all.” (referenced from Choice Cleanings Calendar). In other words, he was sort of a Cinderella in reverse, a riches to rags story.

   Wealth without contentment is useless. While wealth does not bring contentment, the disappointment of trusting in wealth to bring contentment, finally getting wealth, and still not having contentment is sad. See the New International Bible Commentary p.696-697 for more info.

 

4. In Ecc 5:11, when does demand rise to the supply?

A: In economics, when too many dollars chase too few physical goods, investments, or real estate, then inflation causes the price of the physical goods, investments, or real estate to rise. When there is more of a supply of a commodity available for a fixed buying power, then the cost usually goes down, and buyers might buy a few more.

   On an individual level, when people start making money, their cost of living their lifestyle often goes up to match. When they start making less money again, now they have a problem if their lifestyle costs don’t go down.

   In software development, it is said that the estimate of the time to do something goes up with the number of available software people. The flip side can also be true. Innovation happens when there is too much to do and not enough time.

 

5. In Ecc 5:11f, what is the benefit of being able to look at their riches?

A: This is no benefit at all. It is not that they get to look at their riches, which might be locked away in a storeroom anyway. Rather, they are now forced to keep an eye on their riches, that they don’t lose them. 1 John 2:16 speaks of the lust of the eyes as one of three great motivators to sin. Like crows, people too can be senselessly attracted to shiny objects. See The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.989 for more info.

 

6. In Ecc 5:13, what is the severe evil of wealth that is mentioned here?

A: The Hebrew word for “severe evil” can also mean “sick” as in “I have seen something so bad it makes me sick.” While riches in general are neither good nor bad, these are riches that harm the owner. Proverbs 30:7-8 (written by Agur, not Solomon) asks God not to give him too many riches or else, being full, he might deny God. Riches do not provide certain protection against disaster. Worrying about riches can make a person lose sleep though. See The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.989 for more info.

 

7. In Ecc 5:16, it is a humorous picture trying to keep back the wind. How do people do that today?

A: If you inherit the wind, then good luck trying to hold on to it! If you had a million dollars, and you could spend it to prolong your life by a week, would you do so? If you could have some short-term pleasure today, at the expense of the rest of your lifetime experiences loss, would a person do so? Unfortunately, the answer is that many people would. The reason is not because they are thinking so foolishly about the future, but rather they are not thinking at all. When younger Americans were asked about spending now vs. saving for retirement, the answers almost indicated that they thought of the older person of themselves as a totally different person.

 

8. In Ecc 5:18-20, if you come to the realization that you have greed in your heart, how do you go about getting rid of your greed?

A: First what is not the answer, and then the answer.

Not the answer. We don’t not have the power ourselves to clean up our life, so some could reason that we just wait on God and do nothing. They could rationalize that we don’t have to take any action, as our overcoming greedy sin is God’s responsibility, and not ours. A problem with this answer is that you can so easily use to justify any sin you don’t want to work to stop doing.

The answer: But now we do have the power, not of ourselves but because of God working us. While we have no strength in ourselves, in Christ we have been given the ability to “purify ourselves”, a term used in 1 John 3:3.

   Don’t be in a position of trying to tell God, that even with your Holy Spirit working mightily in my life, your power is just not strong enough for me to overcome my greed, or whatever other sin I have. While we won’t stop sinning completely until we get to heaven, we are to be victorious in overcoming much of the sin in our life now.

 

9. In Ecc 5:18-20, if you are a Christian, and you do not feel content like we should, what steps can you take??

A: Here are some steps you can take to be content with what you have.

Perhaps you are settling for too little: maybe your greed stems not from wanting too much, but from wanting too little. Why would you settle for a crummy, tiny, tiny, 10,000 square foot multi-million-dollar mansion, that will fall into disrepair in a hundred years, when you can have an eternal mansion, and rule with Christ in heaven? Why would you settle for just a cheap-looking Lamborghini or Bugatti when you could fly between the new heavens and new earth? Why would you care at all about having a good doctor, if you are never going to get sick ever again? You are still on the road; you are not home yet.

Are you winning the race? Paul compared the Christian life to an athletic contest in Philippians 3:13-14, and 2 Timothy 2:5. Are you winning, and how can you tell? Maybe we try to tell by money, prestige, honor, or something else that we don’t feel we have enough of, and we fear we are missing out. But maybe we have the wrong yardstick; we win by glorifying God.

Do you count it all as loss? Imagine competing in a race with a full backpack on your back. You probably have no chance of winning unless you take the backpack off. Likewise, some Christians can’t overcome in the race of the Christian Life until the take off their backpack full of worldly things. Paul said we are to count all things as loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord, in Philippians 3:7-8.

Accountability: Do you have a willingness to be held accountable by others. Are there others that you will let talk candidly to you, and question how you have been doing in this area last week. Will you honestly tell them if you have been doing good, or not?

 

10. In Ecc 5:20, how do we have joy amidst so much meaninglessness?

A: It would be pretty hard, maybe even close to impossible, if a person thought this is all there is and then pondered his or her future. This is not our home. We don’t own it; God owns it. But as we pass through this fleeting life, “God keeps us busy” teaching us and preparing us for our permanent home of eternal joy with Him. When you travel on the road to see your family, there is no meaning in driving on the road for its own sake. The purpose is not the driving, but in going to see your family. By the way, there is a term for something that has benefit itself, but is essential to reach a goal that has benefit. It is called “excise”. See the Believer’s Bible Commentary p.899 for more info.

 


 

Ecclesiastes 6-7 – The Ironies of Life – some brief answers

 

1. In Ecc 6:1-3, how does life seem fully of irony?

A: While the end of chapter 5 speaks of how people can enjoy life, chapter 6 contrasts how people fail to enjoy life. Enjoy your life; rejoice in all things. Enjoy the restful periods, and enjoy the challenges too.

   If you have great blessings, but are not able to enjoy them, then what is the point? People seem more intent on gaining prosperity and blessings than enjoying them. We should be joyful in all things. We should be joyful for simple things, challenges we get to overcome, and lessons we can learn.

 

2. In Ecc 7:1, why is the day of death better than the day of birth?

A: A person’s name ties both days together. A person receives their name just after birth. But what people will remember about that name is not set until the day of death. The last part is more significant and lasting than the first part. Two points to consider here.

Ecclesiastes 7:8 explains exactly what he means. At the day of death, life under the sun is at an end, and we have completed on earth all we are going to complete. Before we develop pride in our accomplishments, wait until the end, the day of death, to see how things really turn out. The temporal and eternal legacy of a good name after you die, is better than temporary pleasure which does not last any longer than the smell of perfume.

Ecclesiastes 7:2 says why we should consider this. Remembering that death happens to all, will help keep us focused on the eternal perspective instead of the momentary life under the sun.

 

3. In Ecc 7:1, what is significant of the writer’s use of the word “oil” here?

A: “Oil” usually had a strong smell. It was used for joy (as in perfume) (Ecclesiastes 9:8), prosperity (Job 29:6), and reputation (Song of Songs 1:3). Oil was also used for anointing the body in death. See The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.992 for more info.

 

4. In Ecc 7:4-7, what exactly is a fool?

A: Being foolish does Not necessarily means you are less intelligent or would do poorer in school. Rather, being foolish can involve losing a sense of balance and restraint. The foolish corrupt their own minds, and lose the power to make unprejudiced judgments. Think of a person who knows the dangers of illegal drugs and then decides to start taking them anyway. See the Believer’s Bible Commentary p.901 for more info.

 

5. In Ecc 7:5, what is a “song of fools”?

A: As opposed to a wise, needed rebuke form a wise person, a song of fools is a happy song saying everything is OK, even when it is not. Maybe the point of a song of fools is to bolster the idea of being happy, satisfied and not needing to make any changes, regardless of reality. See the New International Bible Commentary p.697 for more info.

 

6. In Ecc 7:7 is it easier for a foolish person to become wise, or a wise person to become a fool?

A: It is easier for a wise person to become foolish. It is a little bit of a challenge to learn wisdom, but it is more of a challenge and work to practice and apply wisdom in your life. Our natural tendency is to act foolishly, trying to maximize short-term pleasure at the expense of the future.

See the Believer’s Bible Commentary p.901 for more info.

 

7. In Ecc 7:10-12 why do people long for the good old days?

A: When people nostalgically recall the good old days, sometimes they remember things with rose-colored glasses. We remember the good things, and try to forget the bad things. We remember the good things done to us, and not the people who were killed unjustly. For example, in the late nineteenth century there was the huge massacre of the War of the Triple Alliance in South America, the Taiping Rebellion in China, and a much smaller conflict than either of those, which American call the Civil War. In twentieth century, the world had the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1917, famine in India, many genocides, the United States had a polio epidemic in 1957, and later the world had the AIDS epidemic that hit Africa especially hard. The world saw World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Then you had the cold war and fear or nuclear war. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries had a lot of good things, too. But the bad things were so bad, let’s just remember the good things.

   See The Expositor’s Bible Commentary vol.5 p.1174, the Believer’s Bible Commentary p.901, and the Evangelical Commentary on the Bible p.443for more info.

 

8. In Ecc 7:12, how does wisdom have some similarities to money?

A: Both can help preserve from misfortune. Both can be of assistance in achieving an end. And just like wealthy people are rare, really wise people can be rare. See the Believer’s Bible Commentary p.901-902 and The Expositor’s Bible Commentary vol.5 p.1177 for more info.

 

9. In Ecc 7:14, how can we tell what we can change and what we cannot?

A: Some things we can change easily, sometimes too easily, for better or for worse. Some things can be changed with difficulty, and other things we cannot change, but God can. While we cannot make straight what God has made crooked in Ecclesiaster 7:13, Isaiah 40:4 says that God can make straight and smooth what was crooked. Some things we cannot change, and God chooses not to change either. The first step is to be accepting of each of those things. Rather than being anxious frustrated, and rather than being passive and fatalistic, we should be patient, persistent, and prayerful. See the Evangelical Commentary on the Bible p.444, See the Believer’s Bible Commentary p.902, and The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.993 for more info.

 

10. In Ecc 7:16, how should people not be overly righteous, since we are to aim for perfection as 2 Cor 13:11 says?

A: In Philippians 3:12-14 Paul encourages believers to press on toward the goal, and we are to strive to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect according to Matthew 5:48. We can never be too Christ-like. However, people can be “overly-righteous” in not just one but three ways.

Pride: We can unfortunately become proud of our righteousness, our service to others, our Bible reading, and our walk with God. There was a good Christian book titled The Seven Deadly Virtues. It described how even good virtues, such as honesty, hard-work, etc. when companied by pride can turn into vices.

Self-righteousness: This is actually slightly different (and perhaps worse) than just pride. We can start trusting in our own righteousness instead of trusting in God’s grace and mercy, as the Jews did in Romans 10:3. When Critics Ask p.258 uses different words to make the same point: a person cannot be too righteous, but he can be overly righteous.

Error of sinless perfection: Some people, especially in some Holiness churches, believe they can be sinlessly perfect in this life, contrary to 1 John 1:10. People like this either do not know themselves well, or more commonly, do not understand sin very well. One time a leader in a group like this told a camp director that he had arrived at sinless perfection. The camp director, mildly surprised at this claim, asked for the man’s phone number. The leader asked why. The camp director said it was to call his home and ask his wife if she thought he was sinlessly perfect. The leader backed off and said, “I did not mean I don’t make little mistakes.” Some false teachers, such as Rev. Moon, claim to be sinlessly perfect. Catholics claim that Mary was sinlessly perfect. However, when Mary praised God in Luke 1:46-55, Mary called Jesus her Savior too, in Luke 1:47. Apparently, even Mary needed a Savior.

   Likewise, a person can be “overly wise” as they can be overly wealthy. Being overly wealthy is not a dollar number, but rather when your money stops serving you, but rather you are servicing your money. Using wisdom, even godly wisdom, to know the right thing to do and how to please God is good, but sometimes the number one goal can shift from following God to just learning knowledge and wisdom.

   Hard Sayings of the Bible p.295-296 strongly emphasizes the point that this verse does not mean we appear overly righteous to others, but rather the reflexive form of the verb means we view ourselves to be more righteous than we really are. This is similar to Proverbs 3:7, where it says do not be wise in your own eyes. See The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.994 for more info.

 

12. In Ecc 7:19, how is a wise man more powerful than ten rulers?

A: Someone who can avert a war will have a stronger army than someone who has just finished fighting a war. Someone who can make friends and allies easily is more secure than someone who always has to fight to survive.

   Solomon personally experienced this. During the time of Solomon’s great kingdom, Assyria and Babylon were rather weak. The greatest powers in the Mideast on the land and sea were Egypt and Phoenicia, and Solomon had very friendly relations with both of them.

 

13. In Ecc 7:23-24, what are some limitations of wisdom?

A: Wise people still cannot figure out many things for which they have no data. Ecclesiastes 6:10-11:7 uses a phrase similar to “does not/cannot know/discover” section 10 times.

   The wise and foolish all will die, and they all can suffer under oppression. So, form Ecclesiastes 7:12, money and wisdom can both be helpful, but there is a limit to how helpful they can be. See The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.991,994-995 for more info.

 

14. In Ecc 7:28, why did the teacher find one upright man among a thousand but no upright women?

A: First of all, why the number 1,000? It might be because Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines according to 1 Kings 11:3. This is what Solomon discovered personally with all his wives and concubines; not what God says is true for all time. Actually though, there is one upright man, Jesus, and in Heaven, all men and women will be upright.


 

Ecclesiastes 8-9 – A Time and Place for Everything – some brief answers

 

1. In Ecc 8:1-5, what can proper manners before a king teach us?

A: As we serve the king of kings, not only should we do the right things, but we should do them in the right manner and timing. For example, when someone is very angry, that might not be a good time to bring up something. Similarly, if they have just suffered a tragedy, or even a good thing that upstages your news, you might not want to directly follow after that.

   It is also not good to bring up some things when you are very angry, or very tired. When disciplining your kids, it should be only their benefit, out of love for them, not out of your own anger. If you feel very angry about something a child has done, it is perfectly fine to tell them, “I am going to discipline you, but not right now. I am going to cool off a bit first.”

   See The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.996 for more info.

 

2. In Ecc 8:1-5, how do you know when you can tell of your disagreement to someone in authority, and when you should not?

A: If a king, government official, or a business executive has the power to get rid of you or your position on a whim, you might be cautious how you approach thing. Some things, that might like just a means to an end, such as more profits, a better economy, are not that at all, but rather in the ruler’s eyes and end in themselves. They are “sacred cow” in that it is impossible to criticize them without repercussions.

   If you determine that it is a “sacred cow” then don’t bring it up. But if you think it is not, you could first ask if they are interested in hearing an alternative or not. If they are willing, try to bring up the better way without making the people who were loyal to the first way from looking back or looking like you are criticizing them.

   If possible, if it looks like you two worked together to come up with a good idea, it will have a higher possibility of acceptance than if you alone thought it up.

   Don’t just try to do the right thing. Try to do the right thing, the proper way, in the right time. Jesus actually talked about the time of the harvest, night when no one can work, and timing in general. As Jesus told his disciples, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here.” John 7:6 ESV.

   See the Believer’s Bible Commentary p.905 and the Evangelical Commentary on the Bible p.444-445 for complementary answers.

 

3. In Ecc 8:2-5, should we always obey kings, regardless of whether they command good or evil?

A: No. An analogy might help here. Regardless of whether a governor likes all the laws of a country, patriotic citizens should obey the laws of the province, except where the laws of the province conflict with the laws of the country. Regardless of whether the premier like God’s laws or not, all citizens should obey the laws of the country, except where the laws conflict with God’s law.

 

4. In Ecc 8:9-11, what checks are there on a person’s attitude, if “I will do it if I can get away with it”?

A: One of Solomon’s points is that they are not checked by outcomes they see in this life. For every evil criminal that is caught more than one evil person goes free. The only check on that attitude is that after death justice will come and God will pay them back accordingly. See The Expositor’s Bible Commentary vol.5 p.1179 for more info.

 

5. In Ecc 8:12, how come a wicked man can live a long time, since God gives the righteous long life?

A: Ecclesiastes 8:12 is not promising anything to the wicked, but remarking on the unfairness of life as perceived only from “under the sun”. Some (not all) wicked do live a long life on earth. Of course, even the longest life on earth is nothing compared to eternal life.

   Martin Gardiner, a former editor of Scientific American, and an agnostic, wrote a great essay where he discovered this exact point in his book, The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener. Of course, Gardiner discovered this almost 3,000 years after Solomon did. Lactantius (c.303-325 A.D.) made a similar point in The Divine Institutes book 6 ch.9 p.171-172.

   See When Critics Ask p.258-259 for more info.

 

6. In Ecc 9:5-6 and Ps 6:5, are people unconscious and non-existent at death, since the dead know nothing?

A: Dead people have no memory in this world, not no memory of this world, as When Critics Ask p.259 says. The main thrust of Ecclesiastes is the meaningless of life under the sun. In one way, people on earth will forget what they remembered about them. In a second way, they themselves won’t be involved with the affairs of earth anymore. However, as Luke 17 shows in the parable of the rich man and the beggar, people will still remember things and other people they knew on earth.

   The Hebrew word for “know” in Ecclesiastes 9:5-6, yada, is interesting in that it has a wide

range of meaning. Strong’s Concordance says, “a primitive root; to know (properly to ascertain by seeing); used in a great variety of senses, figurative, literal, euphemism, and causat. Instruction, designation, punishment, etc. [as follow]:” acknowledge, acquaintance (acquainted with), advise, answer, appoint, assuredly, be aware, etc. Other interesting synonyms in Strong’s Concordance are declare, instruct, tell, and feel.

   Of the various words for “know”, this word is appropriate here, because “the dead know nothing” in at least four ways.

1. The dead do not see (ascertain) anything under the sun anymore.

2. Whatever knowledge and experience they may have learned, the knowledge is lost under the sun, for they cannot pass it on.

3. As in verse 5, the (spiritually and physically) dead have no hope and no knowledge of a future state. Even the wicked on this earth can have hope of repenting and being saved while they still breathe the air under the sun.

4. They know of no reward. As in Job 14:21, the dead have no knowledge of honor or dishonor paid to their memory, or how soon they are forgotten.

   Also see the discussion on Psalm 6:5, Jehovah’s Witnesses Answered Verse by Verse p.39-42, 1001 Bible Questions Answered p.162, and When Cultists Ask p.75-76 for more info.

 

7. In Ecc 9:7-9 and Ecc 11:3-10 emphasize that we should be happy under the sun with our meaningless lives?

A: Irony means to use various words to express the exact opposite of what they usually mean. God uses irony in a number of places in the Bible, and this is a clear example here.

   People “under the sun”, who are never going to seek God, should try very hard to enjoy life as much as they can, because they will not have any enjoyment after they die. Reflect on that sobering thought as you rush off to enjoy the pleasures of this season - and have a good time.

 

8. In Ecc 9:10, what does it mean to do whatsoever your hands find to do?

A: This is a part of a larger section, Ecclesiastes 9:7-10, where the advice to those who are not following God is ironic. (An irony is something that is said that has the opposite meaning of the words, such as “you should work hard today to make money for yourself, if you are going to die tomorrow.) The meaning here is that if you are going to live under the sun (without God), work hard at all you do, because it is going to be gone when you die.

   There is also a second meaning for believers who are living under God. It is not ironic for them, but rather we are to enjoy and also work hard at whatever we do, because we are doing it unto the Lord, as Colossians 3:23 says.

   See Now That’s A Good Question p.578-579 for more info.

 

9. In Ecc 9:11, how can “time and chance happen to them all” since God sovereignly rules everything?

A: God is beyond time, yet time was apparently constructed by Him for his creatures. God does not need to guess anything, but God constructed the laws of probability as a part of the natural law for His creation. Chaos, and what we commonly call chance, are just a few of the “brushes” God uses in painting the mural of reality.

 

10. In Ecc 9:11b, what is chance?

A: Nothing happens outside of what God knows and what God allows. But when people use the word “chance”, they mean one of two different things, and they usually don’t distinguish between the two. First, in nature “pure chance” is something happening for no natural reason whatsoever. We don’t know much about atomic decay and subatomic particles, but except for that murky area, scientists have never observed anything in nature that is “pure chance”.

   Second, when people speak of chance they usually mean what is called “chaos” as defined by mathematicians. Chaos is something that it is impossible to naturally predict, with any accuracy. For example, If you tried to predict the temperature in an American city a month from now down to the 0.001 degrees, you could read all of the temperatures, and the wind speed, in the United States down to 0.001 degrees at 100 foot intervals from the group up to 60 miles above. But even with that precision, you could still be wrong because you failed to account for some people turning on their fans in Europe. Simplistically, chaos is small changes in input causing large changes in output. Think of rolling dice. I slightly strong flick of the wrist could mean that a die landing on an exact edge would have a little more velocity and turn one more time to be a “6” instead of a “1”.

   Why don’t they just play one game for the baseball world series or the basketball national championship? Because there is a significant “chance” that the better team might not win the first game. When we are successful at something, we might like to hide or minimize the role that chance/chaos had in it. But some people see right through this. For example, when J. Paul Getty was asked how he got so successful, he replied, “Some people find out. Others don’t.”

   See the Believer’s Bible Commentary p.908 for more info and also The Expositor’s Bible Commentary vol.5 p.1183 for a different but complementary answer,

 

11. Since Ecc 9:12 says no man knows when his hour will come, what about criminals who have a date and time set for their execution?

A: People in general do not know when they will die, and it can often seem so sudden when it comes. Yet, this verse is true even if a criminal was told the exact second of his execution. For, until the event occurs, not even the executed criminals know for certainty they will die on that second, or will be pardoned at the last minute.


 

Ecclesiastes 10 – A – some brief answers

 

1. In Ecc 10:1, how come something with half good and half bad, is not halfway good, but rather stinks?

A: It is an interesting law of nature, or a law of entropy, that a little bit of rottenness brings the entire batch way down. This applies to medicine, food, and even buildings and beauty as well as perfume. Would you be interested in buying a very large, fancy, and expensive house with a foundation crack that you could see the inside of the house through the crack? 99% of the house is still good. In a similar way, a little evil in our lives can mess up a whole lot of good. A little evil tolerated in a church can wreak a lot of damage.

   See The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p. 1000 for more info.

 

Q: In Ecc 10:2, is God prejudice against left-handed people?

A: No. Some of the men of Benjamin were valued as soldiers for being left-handed in Judges 20:16. Though the Benjamites sinned in going to war, and left-handedness was specifically mentioned, their being left-handed or right-handed had nothing to do with their being good or bad.

   Ecclesiastes 10:2 is simply using colloquial language for good and bad. God can communicate in easy to understand, colloquial language as He wishes.

 

Q: In Ecc 11:2-4, how does the light grow dark, strong men stoop, grinding and singing sounds fade?

A: This refers to what believers consider a short, temporary condition: old age.

 

Q: Does Ecc 11:3, prove there is no chance for salvation after death as some say?

A: Ecclesiastes 11:3 neither proves nor disproves that. It is a poetic means of reminding us that some things in our life are irreversible. You cannot do anything more in this life, after you die.

 

Q: What does Ecc 11:6-7 mean?

A: These verses rapidly cover some complex types of events. There are two patterns interwoven here.

Reversibility vs. Irreversibility: A sprouting seed in Ecclesiastes 11:6 is an example of an irreversible event, while Ecclesiastes 11:7 shows a “reversible” event. Ecclesiastes 11:8 speaks of aging. Are you prepared for your final event, which is naturally inevitable and irreversible?

Hopeful vs. Inevitable: It is wise for a farmer to work hard on all his fields, even though he does not know which things will prosper, or if any will. On the other hand, without God, the coming “days of darkness” are inevitable.

 

Q: In Ecc 11:9, should a young person follow the ways of his heart, or God’s way?

A: Sarcasm is sometimes used in scripture, and the ironic sarcasm of Ecclesiastes 11:9 is only made clear in the last phrase of this verse. In other words, be happy, do all you desire, “but know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment.”

   Haley’s Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible p.250 mentions that the Jewish commentators Menasseh ben Israel, Aben Ezra, and Rashi all take this as ironic. (Ironic means the statement communicates the opposite of what the words literally mean, such as when someone says “so have fun without God”, when someone comes to the realization of how empty and un-fun eternal life ultimately will be without God.

   See When Critics Ask p.259 for more info.

 

Q: In Ecc 11:10, why are youth and vigor meaningless?

A: For someone living “under the sun”, their past youth and vigor can seem very meaningless when they are old.

 

Q: In Ecc 11:10, since everything the teacher wrote is upright and true, why do some statements in Ecclesiastes “under the sun” contradict other parts of the Bible?

A: A legalist is one who rejects using context, and the context, of life under the sun, is especially important here. One of the most blatant examples of taking a verse out of context is a dermatologist who claimed the Bible said, “skin for skin, a man will give all he has for his skin.” However, he forgot the preceding three words: “And Satan said”.

 


 

Don’t get Sunburn

Vanity

Our Limits under the Sun

Coming Back to God

The Use of Depression

Its painful and meaningless to toil on your own

Wasting your time and life on fruitless things

Learning to hate what is empty

What I have seen under the sun

What I have observed under the sun

 

Everyone would acknowledge that Solomon was very familiar with other cultures. See The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.975 for more info.

 

by Steven M. Morrison, PhD.

 

Q: In Ecc 7:7-14, there are seven “better than” proverbs.

See the Evangelical Commentary on the Bible p.443 for more info.

 

Ecc 9 “no one knows” introduces sections, not concludes them, according to The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.998.