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ECCLESIASTES: PART TWELVE

                                                PRESENTED ON 07-26-14

           Today we will continue the series I began last September dealing with the writings of Solomon as recorded in the book of Ecclesiastes.  I believe this will be sermon number 12 in this series on the book of Ecclesiastes.  The reason for the lengthy treatment of these words of Solomon is that I have not been just cherry picking certain passages to expound on but I have pretty much been looking at every single verse of these writings in an effort to understand where Solomon is coming from and to glean as much understanding as possible from his writings. Last time we were together we finished chapter seven and gave special attention to verse 25.

        Ecclesiastes 7:25:  So I turned my mind to understand, to investigate and to search out wisdom and the scheme of things and to understand the stupidity of wickedness and the madness of folly. 

       I pointed out that the stupidity of wickedness and the madness of folly are all around us and this has been the case throughout recorded history.  Just in the short time since I gave my last sermon, the conflict in the Ukraine has escalated to the point where a commercial airliner was shot down with nearly 300 people being killed.   Since my last sermon, the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has escalated into an all out war.  The “stupidity of wickedness and the madness of folly” continues as I speak. 

       Solomon was intent on searching out wisdom and the scheme of things and understanding the stupidity of wickedness and the madness of folly.  But, as we will see as we move through chapter 8 to which we now turn, Solomon was frustrated in his quest for understanding why thing are the way they are.   Solomon begins chapter 8 by writing the following:         

       Ecclesiastes 8:1: Who is like the wise man? Who knows the explanation of things? Wisdom brightens a man's face and changes its hard appearance.

       Solomon once again, as he does throughout his writings, exalts the virtue of being wise and able to explain things.  The virtue of having knowledge, understanding and wisdom is a constant theme in Solomon’s writings.  We see this in the Proverbs of Solomon.  Here are a few examples:    

       Proverbs 23:12: Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge.

       Proverbs 4:7: Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.

       Proverbs 16:16: How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver!

       Proverbs 23:23: Buy the truth and do not sell it; get wisdom, discipline and understanding.

       As can be seen, Solomon places great value on the pursuit of knowledge, understanding and wisdom.  As I explained in a previous sermon, knowledge is the acquiring of information about something, understanding is to comprehend the information acquired and wisdom is the proper use and application of the thing of which you have knowledge and understanding.    

       Ecclesiastes 8:2-6: Obey the king's command, I say, because you took an oath before God. Do not be in a hurry to leave the king's presence. Do not stand up for a bad cause, for he will do whatever he pleases. Since a king's word is supreme, who can say to him, "What are you doing?" Whoever obeys his command will come to no harm, and the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure. For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter, though a man's misery weighs heavily upon him.

       Here Solomon may have been reflecting on his own experience with his subjects.  The kings of Israel were appointed by God and anointed to be king by the reigning prophet at the time who acted as God’s agent in appointing an individual as king.

       1 Samuel 15:1: Samuel said to Saul, "I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD.

       You will find similar language in Scripture relative to the establishment of David and Solomon as king over Israel.  The kings of Israel were divinely appointed and anointed and as such acted as the human agent of God.  They had complete power and authority to govern as they saw fit and even if their governing left much to be desired, the people were expected to obey them in all things.  Solomon appears to be reflecting on this authority that a king over Israel processed and is expressing how one should behave in the presence of such authority.   

       He says don’t be in a hurry to leave the presence of the king.  You are to come and go at his command, not yours.  Don’t approach the king with a bad cause.  Don’t bring something to him that you already know is distasteful to him or you already know he has a firm position on.  The king is going to do what he pleases so don’t irritate him with a cause contrary to what he is doing or going to do.  Don’t question what the king is doing.  Use wisdom in how you interact with the king.  Though you may be miserable because of the king’s policies on a certain matter, use discretion in how you approach the king about the matter. There is a proper time and procedure as to how and when you approach the king on a matter and you better adhere to that protocol or you may end up suffering more than you currently are suffering.  

       The principle we can glean from this discourse of Solomon’s is that we all are under authority to someone and it behooves us to be careful how we approach and respond to such authority.   For example, we are all under police authority.  If you are stopped for a traffic violation, how we respond to the police authority can be the difference between spending a night or two in jail or being allowed to go on our way.  Many individuals have gotten themselves in a lot more trouble than necessary by failing to respond to governing authority with prudence.  

       Solomon wrote that “there is a proper time and procedure for every matter.”  It is of vital importance that we recognize the proper time and procedure in any given circumstance and conduct ourselves accordingly.  By so doing we can avoid a lot of trouble.  

       Ecclesiastes 8:7-8:  Since no man knows the future, who can tell him what is to come? No man has power over the wind to contain it; so no one has power over the day of his death. As no one is discharged in time of war, so wickedness will not release those who practice it.

       Solomon writes that no man has power over the wind to contain it, so no one has power over the day of his death.  Solomon associates not having power over the wind to contain it with not having power over the day of ones death.  It appears Solomon is not here speaking of the wind that blows in the atmosphere but is speaking of the breath of life.  The Hebrew for wind here is ruwach which has the basic meaning of moving air.  Elsewhere Solomon uses this word to describe the breath of life that goes back to God who gave it upon our physical death.  In 12:7 we read:

       Ecclesiastes 12:7:  and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit (Hebrew: ruwach) returns to God who gave it.

       The KJV renders Ecclesiastes 8 verse 8 in this manner:  “There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death: and there is no discharge in that war; neither shall wickedness deliver those that are given to it.”  

       In the latter part of verse 8, Solomon appears to be saying that we cannot win the war against death any more than we can escape wickedness if we give ourselves to its devices.     

       Ecclesiastes 8:9-10:  All this I saw, as I applied my mind to everything done under the sun. There is a time when a man lords it over others to his own hurt. Then too, I saw the wicked buried--those who used to come and go from the holy place and receive praise in the city where they did this. This too is meaningless.

       Solomon may here be expressing a single thought.  He says at times a man lords it over others to his own hurt and then he follows up this statement by speaking of seeing the wicked buried. He identifies the wicked as those who go from the holy place to receive the praise of men.  Solomon may have been referring to the religious leaders of his day who leave the temple and walk around looking holy when at heart they are behaving wickedly.

       We see in Jesus' day where he laid into the religious leaders for their hypocrisy in lording it over the masses while they themselves behaved just the opposite. Jesus relates how everything the religious leaders did was to glorify themselves before men.   

       Matthew 23:1-7: Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. "Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries  wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them `Rabbi.'

       It is very likely that Solomon was observing the same kind of behavior on the part of the religious leaders of his day and found such behavior disgusting.  

       Ecclesiastes 8:11: When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong.  

       Isn’t that the truth!  Our so-called criminal justice system is notorious for deferring punishment for criminal activity for long periods of time from the time a crime is committed.  Case in point: You all recall the bombing at the Boston Marathon back in April of 2013.  That is over a year ago.  Two brothers were the facilitators of this criminal act.  One brother was killed in a shoot out with police shortly after the bombing.  The other brother was apprehended hiding in a boat.  Fourteen months later this other brother has yet to be brought to trial let alone punished for this horrendous crime.  His trail has been scheduled for this coming November and could drag on for months as his attorneys try to defend him.    

       While this criminal is being held in jail, many criminals are able to be out on bail while their case is pending and continue their criminal behavior.  In states where the death penalty is legal, convicted murders languish on death row for years.  

       While criminologists deny that such deferred punishment leads to more crime, it should be obvious that if you allow criminals to go unpunished for long periods of time, it will reduce fear of continuing to live a life of crime.

       Now I know that when it comes to capitol punishment, there are probably mixed perspectives in this congregation as to whether the death penalty should be administered at all.  Under the Old Covenant, in addition to murdering someone, the death penalty was established for a variety of offenses.

       Exodus 21:15-17: "Anyone who attacks his father or his mother must be put to death." Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death.  "Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.    

       In today’s world, putting someone to death for such offences world would be considered barbaric and totally out of proportion to the offence committed.  I would bet, however, that if these regulations were enforced in ancient Israel, there were very few children attacking or cursing their father or mother.

       Does the New Covenant allow for the death penalty?  The New Covenant certainly allows for the establishment of civil authority and all that such authority implies.  Whether such authority should include the death penalty is a widely contested issue.  

       We have all seen the documentaries on television where someone on death row is exonerated when DNA evidence shows they were not the killer.  I have seen a number of documentaries exposing false convictions by aggressive prosecutors who fail to consider all the evidence in a case and end up wrongly convincing a jury to convict someone of a crime they didn’t commit.  

       You may remember that in our old World Wide Church of God days we were instructed not to serve on a jury.  While I always felt the reasons given by our leadership at the time for not serving on a jury were suspect, I had my own reasons for not wanting to serve on a jury.  One time when I was called for jury duty and gave indication I could not serve, the judge called me into his chambers and asked for a more complete explanation.  I explained that my main reason for not wanting to serve on a jury was that in the cross examination process there is selective introduction of information that is associated with the case.  Attorney's on both sides are not necessarily concerned with the truth but with what information will best serve their interest in trying to win the case.

       I explained to the judge that because of this I could never be totally sure that I have all the facts necessary to make a valid judgement.   Since the judge perceived that I was slamming the established protocol for how a case is handled, he became very angry and in no uncertain terms dismissed me from further jury duty which is exactly what I was hoping he would do.  I haven’t been called for jury duty since. If I were called, and with the former church prohibitions no longer extant, I would probably serve as a juror but I would be a very skeptical juror.

       Solomon wrote that punishment deferred is an invitation for people to be less reluctant to continue a life of crime.  It certainly is a dynamic of human nature to push the envelope when there is little or no reason to pull back and behave.  We see this in children all the time.  Misbehavior that goes unpunished in a timely manner usually leads to more misbehavior.  Solomon’s observation here is right on the mark.

       Ecclesiastes 8: 12-13:  Although a wicked man commits a hundred crimes and still lives a long time, I know that it will go better with God-fearing men, who are reverent before God. Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them, and their days will not lengthen like a shadow.

       Here Solomon recognizes that just because a person behaves criminally doesn’t necessarily mean their behavior will result in a shorter life.  There are multiple dynamics that determine how long one lives. If the right dynamics come together, even a criminal may live a long life.  But the chances of a God-fearing man living a long life are greater because such a person will not expose themselves to the level of risk a criminal does.  A God-fearing man will pursue righteous behavior and righteous behavior will eliminate many of the negative consequences of behavior that is contrary to the will of God.  Solomon did realize, however, that just because one is righteous in their behavior doesn’t mean one won’t experience some of the same negatives in life that the wicked experience and vice versa.

       Ecclesiastes 8:14: There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: righteous men who get what the wicked deserve, and wicked men who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless.

       While Solomon appears to have a difficult time understanding why this is the case, he recognized that good and bad happen to both the wicked and the righteous. As Solomon indicates elsewhere in his writings, much of life is fortuitous. Cause and effect, time and chance happen to us all.  It appears God allows the process of life to play out in this manner and only intervenes in that process when necessary in order to facilitate a particular aspect of His overall will.  So in view of this, Solomon instructs that it is best not to be overly concerned with how life works but to kit back and enjoy the life God gives.

       Ecclesiastes 8:15: So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.

       Sometimes we humans become so concerned with the dynamics of how life works that we fail to enjoy the life God has provided.  Solomon appears to conclude that we are not going to understand may of the dynamics of life and so rather than be pre-occupied with trying to understand such dynamics, simply take life as it comes and do the best we can with it and leave the rest to God. This is the attitude and approach that Solomon appears to be taking as revealed in his closing remarks in chapter eight.

       Ecclesiastes 8:16-17:   When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe man's labor on earth--his eyes not seeing sleep day or night-- then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it.

       As knowledgeable and filled with wisdom as Solomon was, he readily admits that no one can really comprehend all that God has done.  Nobody can really comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all man’s efforts to understand, man cannot discover the essence of meaning as to the how’s and why’s of the creation.  

       As I was hiking in the Smoky Mountains last week, I took note of the tremendous variety of vegetation all around me and got to thinking about the dynamics that produced such variety of vegetation.  I began to reflect on the genetic changes and cross pollinations that have occurred over time and is still occurring to produce a seemingly endless variety of plants to say nothing of the multiple thousands of other living organisms inhabiting the forest.

       While in Gatlinburg, we visited Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies which features a great variety of fish and other organisms that live in or near the water.  In the Tropical Rainforest area of the aquarium we saw both carnivorous and herbivorous piranha’s, and fish that have four eyes, and poison dart frogs.  In the Coral Reef area we saw multiple hundreds of very colorful fish that hang around coral reefs which are of themselves living organisms.  In the shark Lagoon there were sawfish, barracuda’s, squirrelfish and the sandtiger and nurse shark.     

       All this tremendous variety of sea life has developed from that initial creation of sea life as recorded in Genesis 1:21 where it is recorded that “God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds.” From the kinds that God initially created to populate the earth and the sea, have evolved the millions of livings organisms that we see all around us. 

       Science has discovered a great deal as to how living organisms are put together and how they work.  But there is a great gap between discovering how the stuff of life is put together and works and actually creating the stuff of life, let along the mechanisms that make the stuff of life work. Looking at the things of life from the perspective of how they come to be and how they are sustained, it is certainly a truism that “No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it.”  

       The meaning of all that exists is within the realm of Divine providence. What we know is virtually insignificant compared to what God knows.  Recognizing that fact should engender within each and every one of us the awe and respect the God of the universe deserves and should be receiving from His human creation. 

PART THIRTEEN