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ECCLESIASTES: PART SEVEN

                                                PRESENTED ON 01-25-14

 

         Today will be the seventh sermon in the series I am doing on the writings of Solomon in what is the called the Book of Ecclesiastes. As I covered in Sermon one of this series, we get the word Ecclesiastes from the Greek translation of the Hebrew word kohayleth which is the title of this book in the Hebrew Language.  When this Hebrew word was translated into Greek, a work called the Septuagint, the translators used a Greek word which means “member of the assembly.”  

       The Septuagint translators apparently felt this Greek word most closely reflected the meaning of the Hebrew kohayleth as kohayleth appears to mean “to assemble” and can also can mean leader, speaker, teacher or preacher of the assembly.  Some rabbinic literature actually treats kohayleth as a title for Solomon.  Our English word Ecclesiastes is a transliteration of the Greek word used to translate kohayleth.  

       In view of the derivation of the word Ecclesiastes, it can be seen that this book is a book of instruction.  Its author is considered a teacher.  The NIV and NET translations render verse one of chapter one as “The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem.”  As we have studied the first five chapters of Ecclesiastes, it is important to understand that we have been taught a number of things about life as seen through the eyes of Solomon.  Solomon saw life through the lens of his own experience.  It is apparent in reading Ecclesiastes that Solomon wrote the material for this book after having experienced a great deal of life.  Life’s ups and downs are being expressed as seen through the eyes of Solomon.  It is apparent when reading through his narrative that Solomon was reflecting on his own life and nowhere does this seem to be more apparent than in chapter six which we are going to look at today.    

       Chapter six is a dark chapter.  It has some rather dark sayings.  In this chapter Solomon appears to be expressing a certain level of bitterness about life.  When we place what he says here in the context of his own life we can see why he says what he says.   

       Ecclesiastes 6:1-2:  I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on men: God gives a man wealth, possessions and honor, so that he lacks nothing his heart desires, but God does not enable him to enjoy them, and a stranger enjoys them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil.

       Why would Solomon say such a thing?  Why would Solomon say that God gives man what his heart desires but prohibits him from enjoying what God has given?  Why would Solomon say a stranger enjoys such things instead?  The answer to these questions appears to be found in looking at Solomon’s life. Solomon appears here to be reflecting on his own personal situation in life.  Solomon was the Son of King David.  David was considered a man after God’s own heart.  When David was about to die, he said these words to his son Solomon.

       1 Kings 2: 1-3:  When the time drew near for David to die, he gave a charge to Solomon his son. "I am about to go the way of all the earth," he said. "So be strong, show yourself a man, and observe what the LORD your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go,

       We read in 2 Chronicles that when Solomon became King, God appeared to him and told him that whatever he asked for God would give him.  Solomon asked for wisdom and knowledge so he could properly govern Israel.  God told Solomon that since he did not ask for wealth, riches or honor or for the death of his enemies, or for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern the people, God would not only grant him wisdom and knowledge but would also give him wealth, riches and honor, such as no king who was before him ever had and none after him would have.

       We know from the Scriptural account that Solomon was granted great wisdom and knowledge and attained to great prestige, wealth and honor.  In 2 Kings 4 it is recorded that God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore.

       It’s recorded that Solomon's wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the men of the East and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt and that his fame spread to all the surrounding nations.  The Scriptures record that He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five.  He described plant life and taught about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. Men of all nations came to listen to Solomon's wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom.

       Solomon appears to have been living a charmed life.  So what happened?  What led him to become cynical, depressed and downcast as is reflected in some of what he writes in Ecclesiastes?  What would lead this man to say “God gives a man wealth, possessions and honor, so that he lacks nothing his heart desires, but God does not enable him to enjoy them, and a stranger enjoys them instead.”

       God did give Solomon wealth, possessions and honor.  Did God not enable Solomon to enjoy his wealth, possessions and honor?  Did a stranger enjoy them instead?  What happened in Solomon’s life for him to have made a statement like this?  More importantly, what lesson is there in this for us?  

       The Scriptures show that Solomon was very successful.  Solomon built the first temple for God.  It was a magnificent structure for its time.  After the temple was completed, Solomon held an assembly of dedication and before the people acknowledged God as the source of all that had been accomplished.

       2 Chronicles 6:14-16: He said:   "O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven or on earth--you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way. You have kept your promise to your servant David my father; with your mouth you have promised and with your hand you have fulfilled it--as it is today. "Now LORD, God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father the promises you made to him when you said, `You shall never fail to have a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your sons are careful in all they do to walk before me according to my law, as you have done.'  

       At some point after Solomon had completed the dedication of the temple and had offered up this great prayer of acknowledgement and thanksgiving, God told Solomon that if he would walk before God as his father David did and do all God commanded him to do and observe God’s decrees and laws, God would see to it that there would never fail to be a man on the throne to rule over Israel.    

       But God also told Solomon that if he would turn away and forsake the decrees and commands given to him and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then God would uproot Israel from the land and reject the temple as Gods earthly dwelling.   

       1 Kings 9:6-7: "But if you or your sons turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you  and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. Israel will then become a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples.

       For a time things went quite well for Solomon and Israel.  Israel was living in peace and Solomon was obeying God and being blessed.  But apparently Solomon had an over active libido. And this got him into a lot of trouble as it has so many men throughout history.

       1 Kings 11:1-4: King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh's daughter--Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, "You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods." Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love.  He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.

       The Scriptures show Solomon built places of worship for these wives and concubines.  So what happened?

       1 Kings 11:9-11: The LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the LORD's command. So the LORD said to Solomon, "Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates.  

       This takes us back to Ecclesiastics 6:1.  “God gives a man wealth, possessions and honor, so that he lacks nothing his heart desires, but God does not enable him to enjoy them, and a stranger enjoys them instead.”  It should be apparent for what we see of Solomon’s life that the man he is writing about is himself.  God had given Solomon great wealth, possessions and honor only to have Solomon turn his back on God in disobedience and God did exactly what he said he would do. God began the process of removing the kingdom from Solomon.   

       Israel had been living in peace with the nations around them but that was about to come to an end.  First God raised up descendants of Edom to war against Israel.  Then a second adversary by the name of Rezon came against Israel to make war.  The Scriptures record these two adversaries caused trouble for Solomon for the rest of his reign over Israel.  As if this wasn’t enough, Jeroboam, who was a high ranking official in Solomon’s government, rose up in rebellion against Solomon and Solomon tried to have him killed but he escaped to Egypt.  

       As can be seen, the tranquility that Solomon and Israel had enjoyed was no more.  Enjoyment of the wealth and possessions Solomon had been given now took a back seat to having to deal with the many troubles he was facing.  After Solomon died, his son Rehoboan ascended to the throne of Israel but he wasn’t very bright.  Instead of responding to the peoples desire to have some of the heavy work load lifted off their shoulders that had been imposed on them by Solomon, he imposed even heaver burdens on them and they rebelled and ten of the twelve tribes formed a separate nation to the north of Judea with Solomon's exiled enemy Jeroboam as their King.   

       Thus the kingdom was removed from Solomon just as God had said and much of it was given to a former subordinate of Solomon’s, the man Jeroboam.  So for all good intents and purposes, what Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 6 is a reflection of circumstances that occurred in his own life. Solomon is bemoaning what has happened to him.  He is so depressed that he wishes he had not been born.

       Ecclesiastes 6:3-6: A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. It comes without meaning, it departs in darkness, and in darkness its name is shrouded. Though it never saw the sun or knew anything, it has more rest than does that man-- even if he lives a thousand years twice over but fails to enjoy his prosperity. Do not all go to the same place?

       Solomon is really bemoaning the fact that he is now unable to enjoy his prosperity.  He appears angry with the fact that he now has to deal with attack from both without and within.  He was now having to deal with war against Israel and insurrection within his own inner circle of leadership with the defection of his trusted friend Jeroboam.   Solomon was not longer a happy camper.

       The remaining verses of this chapter appear to be a continuation of Solomon’s displeasure with how his life had taken a turn for the worse.  It must have been quite a shock to Solomon’s system to have been at the top of the heap and now he finds himself just trying to keep his head above water.  We all now it is not easy to be riding high and having every thing going well and then all of a sudden there is a significant downturn.  For someone as powerful and successful as Solomon was, it must have been quite trying on his psychic to suddenly be buffered on every side.   

       But as can be seen, there was a reason why this happened to Solomon.  It wasn’t as if he hadn’t been warned.  It is not as if he had not understood what had happened and why it happened.  Remember, Solomon was considered the wised man on earth at the time.  He knew what God had instructed.  He knew the law given to Moses and the prohibitions against marrying foreign woman who worshiped other Gods.  He should have been able to figure out that by getting involved with these women that he was putting himself at risk for behavior contrary to what God instructed.   

       Yet not only did he behave in a manner that got him into trouble with God and virtually forced God’s hand into punishing him as God said he would, he appears to then have moped about the consequences of his behavior rather than own up to what he brought upon himself.  There is no record in Scripture that Solomon repented of his behavior. It’s simply recorded that he died.  There is even indication in what he says about a proper burial that he may not have had one.  By the time he died, things may have deteriorated so badly in his life that he wasn’t afforded a burial commiserate with who he was and what he had accomplished.

Lessons:

       There are several lessons we can learn from all of this.  Foremost, knowing what the right course of action is and knowing the consequences of failing to follow that course of action is like purposely shooting oneself in the foot.  We all make mistakes.  Sometimes we do things that bring negative results because we simply didn’t know any better.  In such cases we need to become educated in what is the right thing to do and strive not to make the same mistake again.    

       Sometimes we know what the right thing to do is but may be unaware of the consequences of behaving contrary to what we know to be right.  We take a risk and hope we don’t suffer negative consequences associated with failure to do what we known to be right.  However, in many cases the negative consequences occur and we have to deal with them.  

       Solomon new the right course of action, new the consequences of failing to follow the right course of action, and then seems to be pouting about having to suffering the consequences of following a wrong course of action.  But such behavior isn’t unusual for us humans.  We often know what is the right thing to do and we know the consequences of failing to do the right thing.  But we allow selfish ambition, unbridled seeking of self gratification and generally being self absorbed get in the way of doing the right thing.  Then we compound our error by trying to defend our actions or by displaying outrage over having to experience the negative consequences of our behavior.   

       What we learn from the life of Solomon is that sin will catch up with us eventually.  We may get away with not experiencing the negative consequences of sin for a while, but sooner or later we will experience such consequences.  Remember, the basic definition of sin is to miss the mark.  God has set for mankind a mark, a standard of behavior that if compromised will bring negative consequences.  This is why so much emphasis is placed on repentance in Scripture.  Repentance involves returning to hitting the mark.  We still may not hit it all the time but we will hopefully hit it much of the time and avoid the consequences of not hitting it at all.

       If Solomon, after getting involved with that first foreign wife or concubine would have stopped to take inventory of what he was doing and what the potential negative consequences might be, he may have corrected his course and got back to hitting the mark that he knew God had instructed him to hit.  But as so often is the case when there isn’t an immediate negative consequent, we humans just continue to keep missing the mark thinking we will somehow get away with whatever it is we are doing wrong.  Worse yet, if we don’t experience sufficient correction for missing the mark, we may continue to put ourselves at risk thinking that the consequences aren’t that bad after all.

       I recently read of a teenager in Forth Worth Texas who got very drunk and then drove his pickup truck 30 miles over the speed limit and hit four pedestrians, killing all four, and left a passenger friend of his brain damaged and paralyzed.  The teenage was the son of millionaire parents who apparently had set few boundaries for their teenage son and let him do pretty much what he wanted to do.  The defense for the teenage argued the boy was suffering from Affluenza.

       The defense attorney coined the term Affluenza to describe a “psychosis of extreme wealth.”  The defense argued that because this teenage suffered from this psychosis it diminished his understanding of the consequences of his actions.  A psychologist argued that this young man had freedoms that no young man would be able to handle.  Incredible as it may sound, the judge in this case actually agreed with the defense and spared the kid the 20 year jail term the prosecution was seeking.  Instead the kid was shipped off to a rehab facility in California that apparently had a number of amenities commiserate with the life style he was used to.   The thinking was that this kid could be rehabbed out of his Affluenza.  As one critic of this case said, “I can think of a more sure cure: a solid dose of state-inflicted poverty in a prison cell.   

       Was Solomon suffering from Affluneza.   Solomon was very affluent.  No doubt his affluence was a factor in his slide from grace.  His affluence allowed him to afford 700 wives and 300 concubines. It allowed him to build places of worship to foreign gods.  Money was never an issue with Solomon.  However, Solomon was not like this spoiled 16 year old teenager.  Solomon had great wisdom and knowledge.  Solomon started out as a loyal servant of God.  But somewhere along the line Solomon became self absorbed.  He became unduly absorbed with self gratification.  He simply lost focus.

       Elected officials are often like this.  I think that many elected officials get into public service with the intention of really doing good and helping their constituents. Their focus is to accomplish the public good.  But then something happens.  They lose their focus.  They become entangled in the culture of politics.  They fall to the enticements of easy money, easy sex and easy living in general.  They come to believed they are privileged and begin to be compromised in what they set out to do.

       Solomon began his kingship by asking for wisdom and knowledge so he could properly govern Israel.  His focus was to do the best job possible with the responsibility he had been given.  

       Solomon started as a responsible leader.  He was focused on doing the best for Israel. Ultimately he lost that focus.  Instead he focused primarily on gratification of the self.  If there is one lesson we can learn from the life of Solomon, it is that we should never lose focus. Scripture reveals what that focus should be.  It is God’s will that we live our lives in harmony with the law of love.  The law of love involves obedience to the moral law revealed in Scripture and serving the needs of others.  That should be our primary focus in life.  That is the focus we should take to our grave.  If we maintain that focus, we will avoid the pitfalls that many experience.  In some ways Ecclesiastes is a sad book because it reveals the downfall of a great man.   But maybe that is why this book is included in the Scriptures.  It provides a commentary on life for our instruction so we can hopefully avoid the pitfalls experienced by Solomon. 

PART EIGHT