Archive for September, 2011


Solomon’s Fourth Test – Wealth

Solomon now tells us of a fourth pursuit in which he attempts to discover true meaning.  His pursuit and acquisition of great wealth is interspersed throughout the book of Ecclesiastes.

Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.  This too is meaningless.  As goods increase, so do those who consume them.  And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them?  The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep.  — Ecclesiastes 5:10-12

and later…

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.  — Ecclesiastes 6:1-2

We give Solomon a lot of credit for asking for wisdom from God when he could have asked immediately for wealth.  God chose to give him wealth in addition to wisdom – and I wonder if it is because He wanted Solomon to learn this lesson – that wealth does not satisfy – and write the book of Ecclesiastes for us, so that we might learn from his experience.  Of the four tests so far, this one conforms most closely to our modern society, for the pursuit of wealth is something that most people are deeply engaged in – or at least is something that most people desperately want (consider those who spend hard-earned money playing the lottery).  And yet, we should note that Solomon achieved vast wealth – something most of us will never do – but he found no satisfaction in it.  For with great wealth comes great worry, and eventually someone will take over our fortune when we die.  Who knows what they will do with it?


Solomon’s Third Test – Accomplishment

In Solomon’s third attempt to discover meaning in life, he turns from his previous experiment – the pursuit of pleasure – to something we would consider more noble – the accomplishment of great projects.  Surely this is a more honorable and unselfish endeavor!

I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards.  I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.  I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees.  I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me.  I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well—the delights of the heart of man.  I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;  I refused my heart no pleasure.  My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor.  Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.Ecclesiastes 2:4-11

This pursuit, like the two before it (wisdom and pleasure) is also a popular, modern method for those seeking satisfaction.  Countless hours are spent by Dad (and sometimes Mom) at work, evenings are devoted to community projects, and the whirlwind lifestyle we lead in pursuing sports, dance, music, art and other enrichment programs all lead us to believe that we are doing big things.  Sometimes, these things are right and good.  But according to Solomon, when we get to the point where we look back on what we have done and expect to see and feel eternal fulfillment – well, we will be disappointed.  Because the accomplishment of great projects – like wisdom and pleasure – is “meaningless” in comparison with…something else.


Solomon’s Second Test – Pleasure

King Solomon continues to tell the tale of his search for meaning in life.  His second test was to immerse himself in the pleasure-seeking lifestyle.

I thought in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless.  “Laughter,” I said, “is foolish. And what does pleasure accomplish?”  I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives.  — Ecclesiastes 2:1-3

This test is being run continually in our modern culture today.  While King Solomon had an extreme amount of wealth at his disposal, I am fairly confident that in many ways, most Americans live better today than he did.  He didn’t have air conditioning.  Or fast food.  Or DVD-on-demand.  Or the ability to fly to the other side of the globe in less than a day.  Please don’t misunderstand – these things are not inherently wrong.  Thirty-one flavors of ice cream is a wonderful gift, which I believe God made possible for our enjoyment.  But when a life is lived with the pursuit of laughter and enjoyment as its ultimate purpose, then it is called ‘hedonism’ and it goes too far.  In Solomon’s words, pleasure alone is not enough to make a life meaningful.


Solomon’s First Test – Wisdom

As Solomon recounts his experiences in Ecclesiastes, he tells how he has pursued various things in order to bring meaning to life.  Solomon is known for unselfishly choosing wisdom over any other gift from God when given the chance.  In 1 Kings 3, like a man getting a free wish from a genie in a bottle, Solomon is told by God, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”  He gets much credit for choosing wisdom, when he could have asked for riches, power, or comfort.  But in these verses, we see that even wisdom is not satisfying.

I thought to myself, “Look, I have grown and increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.”  Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.  — Ecclesiastes 1:16-17

In reading the story back in 1 Kings, one might get the impression that wisdom is the best (and only) thing that is necessary for true meaning in life.  Yet, per Solomon’s experience as the wisest man who ever lived, it was meaningless.  His test of this trait proved that even this unselfish request was not the ultimate gift that God has prepared for men.  Our current culture puts a great deal of emphasis on learning and education (which is, arguably, not always the same thing as wisdom), and yet here we learn that there is something else that is more important for which we must strive.


The Eye Always Wants More

I am skipping over Psalms and Proverbs for now, as there is so much material in those passages, and I want to think on how to present them best in this blog format.  So, we move over to the Book of Ecclesiastes, one of my favorite books in the entire Bible.  Ecclesiastes was most likely written by King Solomon (see 1:1), though some scholars call this into doubt.  I have always been fascinated by this book, because if it was indeed written by David’s eldest son, then it contains the words of the wisest mortal man who ever lived.  And so, we immediately begin to note some things in the first chapter.

“All things are wearisome, more than one can say.  The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.  What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”  — Ecclesiastes 1:8-9

I mention this verse because this statement is ageless (in fact, the statement even mentions that it is itself ageless – kind of a recursive proverb).  If it were indeed true that the eye is never satisfied in ancient times, how much more is this a fact in our culture today!  Entire industries are built on the fact that the eye is forever wanting more.  Serial television cliffhangers and advertisements bet on the fact that people want to see more – to turn the TV or DVD player back on at a later time – to see more.  Can you buy a movie on disc, or see a movie in the theaters without seeing this principle in action?  The next time that you skip through the ads on DVD (if you can), or you sit patiently through them waiting for the main feature in the theater, think on this – King Solomon knew that this would happen.  He mentioned it in pre-Christ times, and the phenomenon is still going on today.  And Satan is there, waiting to pounce on this weakness.  Thus, the author’s warning.


The Purpose Behind the Book of Job

The conclusion of the book of Job is now upon us.  We have seen Job’s life and possessions reduced to nothing, allowed by God at Satan’s request, we have seen Job maintain his innocence, and we have seen four of his friends attempt to explain his situation by claiming that he must have sinned specifically because God would not bring calamity on the righteous.  Finally, God answers this group of men, with these words:

Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said:  “Who is this that darkens my counsel
   with words without knowledge?”  — Job 38:1-2

In essence, God says that they are all wrong in what they have said.  And He goes on to list all the ways that He has demonstrated his power and control over all things – nature, man’s heart, and all of creation.  He is saying, “I am God, and you are not.  Only I possess truth and knowledge.”  In fact, we may strive to know the mind of God, and we may spend a lifetime doing it, but the fact remains that we can NEVER fully understand the Creator or His designs.  As mere men, His ways are beyond our comprehension.  As such, we should live humbly before Him.

God scolds the men who thought to give wise counsel to Job, and then we see these final humble words from Job himself:

Then Job replied to the LORD:

 “I know that you can do all things;
   no plan of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’
   Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
   things too wonderful for me to know.

 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
   I will question you,
   and you shall answer me.’
My ears had heard of you
   but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
   and repent in dust and ashes.”  — Job 42:1-6

What conclusion should we modern Christians reach?  No matter how much we think we know, or how righteous we believe our life has been, it cannot stand up to the standard of perfection and wisdom that God has set before us.  Truly, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” before Him (Isaiah 64:6).  What we believe to be righteousness and wisdom is still short of the mark, and always will be.  Knowing that, we better understand the grace that God offers to us, through the sacrifice of His Son.  Without God’s grace, we are lost – no matter how righteous we think we are.  Jesus Christ lived the only perfect human life – and so we will be blessed because of his perfection, and not because of anything we have done.


The Prosperity Gospel – Appearing In Job

Here is a further example of unwise words from Elihu, the young man who is correcting Job.  His speech starts off with some words which should be an immediate warning sound – if anyone ever says these words to me, I will know to be on guard for what follows.

Elihu continued:

“Bear with me a little longer and I will show you
   that there is more to be said in God’s behalf.
I get my knowledge from afar;
   I will ascribe justice to my Maker.
Be assured that my words are not false;
   one perfect in knowledge is with you.”  — Job 36:1-4

How prideful he is!  He believes that he has attained the level of knowledge equal to that of God.  And then he goes on to repeat the error that I have noted in the past week – the “prosperity gospel” that says God will only bring blessing upon those who obey Him.

“But if men are bound in chains,
   held fast by cords of affliction,
he tells them what they have done—
   that they have sinned arrogantly.
He makes them listen to correction
   and commands them to repent of their evil.
If they obey and serve him,
   they will spend the rest of their days in prosperity
   and their years in contentment.”   — Job 36:8-11

This last passage could be the closing words of a modern prosperity evangelist.  In essence, they claim to believe that “if you are suffering now, penniless or depressed, simply turn to God and He promises that He will make you happy and wealthy in this life.”  But these words are not true.  While God will give us a spiritual peace in this life, and riches beyond measure in the next, He has never promised that our earthly life will be filled with prosperity.  In fact, He may have opposite plans for us – just as He did with many of the prophets, or His own Son.

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