Saturday, February 28, 2015

Ecclesiastes 8:14-17 comments: the injustice of life and the endless quest for knowledge


14 ¶  There is a vanity which is done upon the earth; that there be just men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there be wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous: I said that this also is vanity. 15  Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun. 16  When I applied mine heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done upon the earth: (for also there is that neither day nor night seeth sleep with his eyes:) 17  Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea further; though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it.

Solomon said that one of the things about life that really bugged him was that sometimes good men suffered the things that should have happened to bad men and bad men seemed to receive the blessings that should have gone only to the good.

So, he sort of threw his hands up and recommended laughter, which is what the Bible defines mirth as in Ecclesiastes 2:2 and Proverbs 14:13. We might as well enjoy what God has given us and eat, drink, and be merry. Because, for all our efforts, to study and know the whys and the wherefores of life, the intricacies of God’s creation and the reasons for the way things are, we will never understand.

Now, remember that Solomon was a man of science, who held study in high regard.

1Kings 4:29 ¶  And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore. 30  And Solomon’s wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt. 31  For he was wiser than all men; than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol: and his fame was in all nations round about. 32  And he spake three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five. 33  And he spake of trees, from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall: he spake also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes. 34  And there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom.

So, he is not saying here that he literally thinks you shouldn’t think about or study God’s handiwork to try to understand how things work, but as we are finding out in the study of things such as the immune system or cell functions the detail and intricacy goes further and further and further and final scientific conclusions continue to escape us. For all we think we know there is always more to know. Secular man believes we share 98% of our genes with chimpanzees but then learns that we share 99% with a Swedish mudworm. Then, we learn that it is not the similarity of genes but their expression that matter. We learn that man has a gene that allows for a large brain that chimpanzees don’t. So-called knowledge keeps pushing back the frontiers of understanding and changing the way secular man thinks. And yet, secular man is confident that one day he can know the finality of any matter, a religious belief, a faith in reasoning ability called scientism.

But, here, Solomon points out that it will just go on and on and never end. We might as well not get too worked up about what some scientist spouts for the press about what he has learned as, like this year’s fashion, it will change. God’s word is unchanging, though, regardless of how some modern churches think they can lead Him by the nose to whatever progressive ideal the people cling to this season.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Ecclesiastes 8:9-13 comments: why do they get away with it?


9 ¶  All this have I seen, and applied my heart unto every work that is done under the sun: there is a time wherein one man ruleth over another to his own hurt. 10  And so I saw the wicked buried, who had come and gone from the place of the holy, and they were forgotten in the city where they had so done: this is also vanity. 11  Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. 12  Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before him: 13  But it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong his days, which are as a shadow; because he feareth not before God.

Solomon has observed what many Bible writers made note of and what we see every day. Wicked rulers, who have ruled over men and women to their hurt, would enter the temple and the palace and die and their evil was forgotten by the masses. Wicked men are emboldened because judgment often doesn’t come swiftly against them for every evil deed. Sinners of all ranks of life believe that because there are sometimes no consequences to their bad behavior that present themselves immediately that they can continue in their behavior. Solomon expresses here the faith, though, that should a wicked person live a lot longer than we think he should it will still go better with those who fear God and that, in the end, the wicked person will not generally see a long life because he cares nothing for God.

We have seen it both ways, as Solomon had. We have seen wicked people live long, full lives before they come to the grave and we have seen wicked people struck down in the prime of their life. This confirms Solomon’s previous statement that one fate comes to all men. His point is that those who fear and honor God will have a better time of it. Again, remember that Solomon is speaking temporally and from an earthly existence, not talking about future rewards or punishments after biological life ceases.

Hebrews 9:27  And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:

We, as humans, look for a cause and effect. We have interwoven our heart’s desires and our concept of justice in with our faith because we are not immersed in the Bible and fail to realize that God has laid out the truth of existence before us.

Good things happen to both the bad and the good. In the following Jesus does not give us a pass to treat unbelievers differently than our brothers and sisters in Christ. In fact, as God is perfect in how He rains down His providence on all people, so are we to be in our attitudes and behaviors.

Matthew 5:43 ¶  Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44  But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 45  That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. 46  For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? 47  And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? 48  Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

And we have the ultimate example of how terrible things can happen to the good man, as Judas, Jesus’ betrayer, lamented when he came to his senses briefly.

Matthew 27:3  Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, 4  Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that.

You want cosmic justice now but God denies you for many reasons, not the least I think, because it would lift up your head and make you proud and haughty. Otherwise, why would people like Falwell and Robertson   release to the press their explanation of why things like a hurricane or 911 happened, insisting it was God’s judgment on this or that national sin, when they really had no idea or no direct communication with God to explain the event?

You don’t know why your child seems to have gone off the deep end when you think you have done everything you knew that was right to make them into a Godly, wise young person. You don’t know why you got cancer because you have been faithful to God and to your convictions of what it means to be faithful to God. You don’t understand why dozens of Christians, even children, were allowed by God to be beheaded in a distant land by wicked men.

You will probably have no answers in this life for any specific instance of why this or that bad outcome happened to this or that person. Read Job. God never explained to Job the dialogue He had with Satan in the beginning. He never told Job why Job suffered. He merely confirmed His sovereignty over Job’s life and breath.

Here, Solomon says that evil men seem to be encouraged in their evil by getting away with it. But, that the person who fears God, no matter how it appears on the surface, will have a better time of it. This Bible fact doesn’t make us happy or feel comfortable but it is something we have to face. God is not sitting in the Heaven of heavens to make you feel justified and comfortable in your self-righteous, all-knowing, holier-than-thou attitude. You were created for one reason.

Revelation 4:11  Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.

Just be grateful that He loves you, came to live as one of us, and died for our sins, rising again from the dead for our justification and eternal life, if we will receive it. Be thankful of that and get off your high horse. Most conservative Christians will never change their religion because they can’t stop believing they or their favorite celebrity preacher are God in their omniscience or knowing all.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Ecclesiastes 8:6-8 comments: no discharge in that war


6 ¶  Because to every purpose there is time and judgment, therefore the misery of man is great upon him. 7  For he knoweth not that which shall be: for who can tell him when it shall be? 8  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.

Solomon has already pointed out that to every even there is a time. Now, he points out that to every intent of man there is a time and a judgment. Mankind’s end will be a fearful thing.

Revelation 20:11 ¶  And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. 12  And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. 13  And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. 14  And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15  And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

Many preachers who apparently have a reading comprehension problem have said that Hell and the Lake of Fire are the same thing. I’ve even seen it on gospel tracts. Clearly this sentiment is not Biblical.

All events that happen to man are foreknown by God. Even the wisest of men is caught by surprise by events that he has no idea will happen. We are in the dark about the future events of our lives and only have a general idea of what might happen and what we would like to happen. Death awaits even the wisest of men. No human being has the ability to keep himself from death when the time comes. Solomon likens our physical life and death as a type of war. There is discharge from it. Jesus was the only person in history to have the power to lay down His life and to take it up again. We see in the following that one type commandment from God is the power to do something, given by God, as in Hebrews 7:16.

John 10:18  No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.

The only way a believer in Christ will escape physical death is the translation of the church, generally believed on by the early church until the 300’s when the state-church took began to dominate thanks to the Emperor Constantine, and today by many conservative Christians. This is popularly called The Rapture.

1Thessalonians 4:13 ¶  But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15  For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 16  For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17  Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18  Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

Notice that the Lord has not actually come to earth but the church meets Him in the air. This precedes that time when Jesus physically returns to earth as prophesied in verses in the Old Testament such as this one.

Zechariah 14:3  Then shall the LORD go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. 4  And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south.

Christ will physically return with His people to rule the earth, saved Jew and saved Gentile alike.

Revelation 19:11 ¶  And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. 12  His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. 13  And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. 14  And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. 15  And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. 16  And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.

Of course, this is after the church, as the bride of Christ, enjoys that great marriage supper of the Lamb in Heaven.

Revelation 19:5 ¶  And a voice came out of the throne, saying, Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him, both small and great. 6  And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. 7  Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. 8  And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. 9  And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God. 10  And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

But, if this doesn’t happen in your lifetime then your physical body will eventually die, as those of us who are older are painfully aware. The following passage refers to our physical body.

2Corinthians 5:1 ¶  For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2  For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: 3  If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. 4  For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. 5  Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. 6  Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: 7  (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) 8  We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.

When death comes you will not escape it. You have not the power to keep your life from its power. You will die, your body will begin disintegrating, dissolving, and your soul will be in Hell until the final judgment when you are called forth to stand before God to answer for your rejection of His offer of eternal life through the Lord Jesus Christ by being judged by His Law rather than by Christ’s righteousness. You might not think this is important now but, remember, you will spend eternity in whatever state you are in when you die. That is a long time to not be very important, wouldn’t you say?

John 3:36  He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

John 14:6  Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

Acts 4:12  Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

Acts 16:31  And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.

Romans 10:9  That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. 10  For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11  For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.

    12 ¶  For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. 13  For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. [Note that Greek means anyone who is not a Jew, sort of like the Amish phrase about being careful out amongst the English. Confession is made to God for salvation, not to man in the form of a congregation, preacher, or priest. See Romans 14:11, although if you aren’t willing to tell anyone else it is questionable if you are sincere or just fooling yourself.]

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Ecclesiastes 8:1-5 comments: Solomon's counsel on obedience


1 ¶  Who is as the wise man? and who knoweth the interpretation of a thing? a man’s wisdom maketh his face to shine, and the boldness of his face shall be changed. 2  I counsel thee to keep the king’s commandment, and that in regard of the oath of God. 3  Be not hasty to go out of his sight: stand not in an evil thing; for he doeth whatsoever pleaseth him. 4  Where the word of a king is, there is power: and who may say unto him, What doest thou? 5  Whoso keepeth the commandment shall feel no evil thing: and a wise man’s heart discerneth both time and judgment.

Solomon speaks here of how God can bless the wise man. Remember his father, David’s, psalms.

Psalm 1:1 ¶  Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. 2  But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. 3  And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

It is important to understand that Solomon is the king in a kingdom that was founded by God, from a people he separated from the Gentile nations around them. There is no comparison between ancient Israel and 19th century Great Britain, or, 20th and 21st century America. The Hebrews lived under God’s authority with the Law given by Moses as their civil and religious duty.

Christians live in secular countries or countries devoted to other religions but our relationship with our chief executive is different. First, remember that the Hebrews, the people of Israel, having a king was not in God’s desire in the first place.

1Samuel 8:6  But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the LORD. 7  And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.

But, God knew they would do this long before they did, so He set certain rules down for their chief executive.

Deuteronomy 17:14 ¶  When thou art come unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me; 15  Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.

This is an important point to understand. God does not create cultures or civilizations. He modifies them as man moves them into being. God’s modification of a culture does not mean it has His approval. It means He is drawing that culture a little closer in line with what He wills.

The Hebrews were to follow their king as the anointed of God. Here, Solomon warns that a wise man will live in obedience to the king and follow his commandments. The person, in this case a wise Israelite, will do well to obey the authority of the king, someone he cannot oppose.

America is not ancient Israel. We live in a secular, pluralistic country founded in some part on Christian principles but our Federal Government was founded as much on the political theories of ancient Greece and Rome and the French philosopher, Montesquieu, and the English philosopher, Locke, as it was on any idea from the Bible. What was stated was that the secular freedom given to us could not be held by anything but a religious people. A people who do not have the inner restraints of religious belief in an authority higher than themselves and their government will be reduced to a choice, as one person said in the early days of this country, between the Bible and the bayonet.

While God may have anointed a king of Israel His attitude toward the rest of the nations of the world, including ours, is and has always been;

Daniel 4:17  This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones: to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men.

Luke 4:5  And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6  And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. 7  If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine.

The kingdoms of the world, including your own, are typically ruled by base men and women under the devil’s control. Satan, under God’s permissive will, who tries desperately to prevent the gospel of Christ from even being heard, is the god of this world.*

2Corinthians 4:4  In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.

We are to obey our earthly authority in that they do the job that God has authorized them to do as in punishing evildoers (Romans 13:4). We are to pay our lawful taxes (Matthew 17:27) and understand what belongs to government and what belongs to God (Luke 20:20-25). We are not to obey the government if its laws and demands go against the clear commands of God for Christians (Acts 5:29), particularly where the gospel of Christ and the salvation of men and women are concerned.

In America we live in a nation that has a show of Christianity, at least in name. But, Rome of Paul’s time had a philosophy that looked a lot like Christianity, called Stoicism. Seneca, the great Roman Stoic philosopher, is often confused with being a Christian because of things he said. But, he was no worshipper of Christ. Things look similar but are not the same. We live in a nation where church organizations believe that they can “progress” and change the commands of God to suit the times, whether it be whatever moral degradation is commonly accepted, or whatever so-called scientific postulate is put out by “experts.” We also live in a nation where conservative Christians have reduced God’s inspiration of the Bible to an event in space-time, the penning of the original autographs. The God they worship, who they insist answers their prayers, and turns human events upon his every whim, is incapable of preserving his words through copyists and translators. We even have Christians who believe that human government is God’s agent on earth and the power it wields in killing, imprisonment, and confiscation of property is always just and correct and God’s will unless it is performed by politicians of the political party they don’t like. We have war-loving Christians and government-theft loving Christians and most of them care little for God’s words other than as an excuse or a prop to justify their own bigotry or paranoia or lust for power. And why is that? It is a function of our democratic principles.

Judges 17:6  In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.

American Christians have chosen the bayonet, rather than the Bible, and that is what we shall have. God is very accommodating.

What is wrong with this nation? Why is God’s hand of judgment allowing our economy to be destroyed, our moral virtue (such as it was) reduced to the lowest level, and the future of our children a dismal prophecy? The problem with America is not the atheists, the homosexuals, the Muslims, the agnostics, and whatever else other you wish to name. The problem with America is Christians. America is, as one evangelist put it, a casualty of Christianity.

A wise American Christian would do well to listen to the God of the universe, the One who created him, speak to his heart through that God’s Bible. If that is his authority, his final authority in all matters of faith, practice, and doctrine then his or her going will be much more in line with God’s will and spiritual blessings.

*See the Book of Job as God’s Sovereignty and Permissive and Directive Will 101.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Ecclesiastes 7:11-29 comments: Solomon's indictment of his own life


11 ¶  Wisdom is good with an inheritance: and by it there is profit to them that see the sun. 12  For wisdom is a defence, and money is a defence: but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it. 13  Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked? 14  In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him. 15  All things have I seen in the days of my vanity: there is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his wickedness. 16  Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself? 17  Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time? 18  It is good that thou shouldest take hold of this; yea, also from this withdraw not thine hand: for he that feareth God shall come forth of them all. 19  Wisdom strengtheneth the wise more than ten mighty men which are in the city. 20  For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not. 21  Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee: 22  For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others.

Matthew Henry noted that an inheritance without wisdom is good for little. A fool who inherits a fortune will lose it soon. Wisdom will keep the poor man and the rich man on an even keel. Christ is the Christian’s wisdom. Read 1Corinthians 1:17-31. This wisdom gives glory to God, not to man. There are many in this country that hold to the philosophy of Christianity but deny its power, belief in the resurrection of Christ for salvation. They have been brainwashed to deny the supernatural power of God and to exalt man. They are fools.

We must be grateful in the good times and understand in the bad times that God has His hand in that, as well. Solomon has seen good men die too young and wicked men live long lives of abundance. He warns not to be self-righteous in the extreme. Denying yourself necessary food and clothing, trying to appear spiritual, and putting on a show are not pleasing to God. The self-mortifying monk and the fundamentalist Christian who tries to show how close they are to God by making themselves suffer unnecessarily would fall into this although I wouldn’t go so far as the famed revival preacher, Charles G. Finney, who insisted that if you don’t eat right, sleep right, and exercise you have a seared conscience. (4)

Solomon warns about living a life of sin and not being wise in your lifestyle as being one sure way to shorten your life. I think of people who live lives of excess in food and drink and die young, of those who care nothing for their health and wonder why God has allowed some terrible disease to consume them, and those who flaunt God’s commandments about sexual morality and then cry about their impending demise due to AIDS or some other cruel disease.

The man or woman who fears God will be in the best condition of all. Wisdom is more certain to strengthen you than mighty warriors will help a city. We need to live our lives prudently and thoughtfully, fearing God. There is no one that doesn’t sin, and Solomon has said this elsewhere in a public prayer he made.

2Chronicles 6:36  If they sin against thee, (for there is no man which sinneth not,) and thou be angry with them, and deliver them over before their enemies, and they carry them away captives unto a land far off or near;

Solomon goes on to say, almost as an afterthought, that it isn’t good to pay too much attention to what is said about you or worry about it. After all, you have said things about other people and you know that is true. This isn’t then about how other people see you but about your attitude.

So, in this passage Solomon suggests a balanced life, one lived prudently, with wisdom, not making a show of spirituality or falling into a life of carnality. He draws a fine line between the pious holy-roller with the Bible tucked under his arm and his nose held high in the air camped out on the church steps and the carnal man seeking to prove what a reprobate he can be by drinking in the world’s fleeting pleasures.

People who identify themselves by their sinful lifestyles as in, “I will,” will rarely come to Christ and, “shall not,” receive the Kingdom of God as they do the things listed in the following continually, as the identification of who they are. You’ve heard some carnal person call themselves, “a player,” on television referring to their lack of sexual restraint or a person bragging about how important partying is to them?

Galatians 5:19  Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20  Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21  Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God….

While on the other side of that divide no Christian is called to bigotry, prejudice, paranoia, or  a hateful, mean spirit but the following which is listed in direct opposition to the works of the flesh;

…22  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23  Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. 24  And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. 25  If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 26  Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.

So, ask yourself, how would the wisdom that is of Christ want you to identify yourself as a Christian? For the believer in Christ the antidote to carnality is not a self-righteous stuck-up attitude of being holier-than-thou but humility before God displaying the fruit of the Spirit. This is our prudence, our wisdom.

(4) Charles G. Finney, “A Seared Conscience,” SermonIndex.net, http://www.sermonindex.net/modules/articles/index.php?view=article&aid=36339 (accessed 12.9.2014)

 

    23 ¶  All this have I proved by wisdom: I said, I will be wise; but it was far from me. 24  That which is far off, and exceeding deep, who can find it out? 25  I applied mine heart to know, and to search, and to seek out wisdom, and the reason of things, and to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness: 26  And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her. 27  Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account: 28  Which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not: one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found. 29  Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.

Solomon, unlike many leaders and common people, set wisdom up for himself as a mark, a goal to be obtained, a thing of value. But, he admits that it was beyond him. He tried to understand sin, wickedness, and even madness. He contemplated, who can understand wisdom? He lamented on how he had been deceived by women and we know from the Bible that he married many women and had many concubines who turned his heart away from the true worship of God. Many of these marriages were probably for political purposes, to ensure peace between Israel and other countries but you can rest assured there was no peace in them for Solomon.

1Kings 11: 1 ¶  But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites; 2  Of the nations concerning which the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love. 3  And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart. 4  For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.

As a result of this carnal policy of Solomon’s, he, while admitting that one good man out of a thousand was the best he could come up with, he had yet to find a woman who filled that bill. Considering the idolatry he exposed himself to and the number of princesses he wed and concubines he kept one can easily understand why he could come to such a cynical conclusion. Ecclesiastes, then, while teaching us, becomes Solomon’s own personal indictment of his life.

This is a good lesson for us. While God can give us wisdom and understanding, how we use it is a function of our own heart. Don’t blame the person who gave you the hammer because you chose to break a window with it rather than drive a nail.

God gave man His law and His standard of righteousness but mankind had his own ideas, inventions, works that went against what God had laid down for him.

Psalm 106:29  Thus they provoked him to anger with their inventions: and the plague brake in upon them…39  Thus were they defiled with their own works, and went a whoring with their own inventions.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Ecclesiastes 7:1-10 comments: don't look backwards


1 ¶  A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth. 2  It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart. 3  Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. 4  The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. 5  It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools. 6  For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity.

For verse 1 of chapter 7 we can see that elsewhere Solomon said;

Proverbs 22:1 ¶  A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.

Ointment for anointing (Exodus 30:25) was very expensive and valuable. In John 12:5 we are told that ointment could cost the ancient equivalent of three hundred pence, the plural of penny. Since Matthew, chapter 20, shows us that a penny was a day’s wages, we know that, in Jesus’ day walking on earth in the flesh, at least, a box of ointment could cost nearly a year’s wages.

Here, Solomon tells the reader that a good name is worth more than something very expensive and the day of one’s death, after one has been proven good or bad and it is settled, is better than the day you were born.

The idea here is that once all is said and done, that is the time to praise someone or something. A similar thought was spoken by King Ahab to his Syrian oppressor.

1Kings 20:11  And the king of Israel answered and said, Tell him, Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off.

In this depressing vein Solomon expressed the thought that a wise man will be sober and even mournful and sorrowful while a fool will take things lightly. In this, he adds that it is better to hear the rebuke of the somber wise man than the light hearted advice of a fool. Remember, Solomon is speaking very temporally in these passages yet and is building a case that will have a conclusion later on.

When a man or woman comes up with a great idea, at least in their own mind, they will seek advice from na├»ve and foolish friends who tell them, “It’s your thing, man. You’ve got to live your life. Go for it!” While a parent or grandparent or older friend, who has already seen great damage in their lives and in the lives of others caused by so-called great ideas will warn them to be careful or simply tell them that their great idea is a bad idea. It is better to take their advice than to be like Solomon’s son and take the advice of the foolish. See 1Kings, chapter 12, for Rehoboam’s foolishness in taking bad advice resulting in great loss to himself and to his people.

Solomon’s focus is on this temporal existence, fleeting and shadowy like smoke from a small fire that drifts away in a breeze or fog that dissipates with the sun’s heat. Don’t let Solomon’s disgust with the ways of the world and the ways of man bring you down. Read the entire book, not just a drib and a drab here and there.

Solomon’s observations will help us when we consider the end of the matter, as his words imply.

    7 ¶  Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad; and a gift destroyeth the heart. 8  Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. 9  Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools. 10  Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this.

A ruler who shows wisdom in other things but who engages in oppression and takes bribes will lose his mind and see his spiritual heart turned into a gnarled, abominable thing. Solomon here may be referring to his own fears about how he will be perceived by future generations like presidents today worry about their historical legacy.

He repeats a sentiment that implies that the end of his life will be better than the beginning as time will have proved his goodness or wickedness, his success or failure. He must be patient in attitude and not proud, not hot-tempered because a hot temper is the pride of a fool. He said elsewhere;

Proverbs14:17 ¶  He that is soon angry dealeth foolishly: and a man of wicked devices is hated.

Proverbs 16:32 ¶  He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.

And Paul warned us;

Ephesians 4:26  Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: 27  Neither give place to the devil.(Neither here is like saying, don’t even. Sometimes it is not even. See 1Peter 2:22 and Galatians 2:3.)

He warns himself not to talk about the, “good old days,” because that is not a wise thing to do. We tend to do that as we get older, talking about how good things used to be. Unfortunately the more I study the former times by reading primary sources; letters, newspapers, eyewitness accounts, and other documents I don’t see that the former times in this country were all that good either physically or, most assuredly, spiritually. The compromises and bad faith Christians displayed in the last two hundred years have helped create the mess we have today; whether it be not living according to the clear commands of God in His Bible or looking to human government as God’s agent on earth, as if we were ancient Hebrews. No, the former times were most  certainly not something to brag about. For example, when eyewitness accounts reveal that the so-called Second Great Awakening was initiated in the early 1800’s, in part, by a “revival” where alcohol flowed freely and sexual immorality was rampant there isn’t a whole lot to stand on when it comes to how great the old days were. “Give me that old-time religion,” sort of leaves you cold when you look at the facts, rather than listen to the hype. (3)

Anyway, Christians are not supposed to be looking back. Your best times with Christ on this earth are right now. And then, of course, eternity with Him is waiting.

(3)  Gordon S. Wood,  Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), Kindle edition, Chapter 16.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Ecclesiastes, chapter 6, comments: what not to depend on


1 ¶  There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common among men: 2  A man to whom God hath given riches, wealth, and honour, so that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth, yet God giveth him not power to eat thereof, but a stranger eateth it: this is vanity, and it is an evil disease. 3  If a man beget an hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years be many, and his soul be not filled with good, and also that he have no burial; I say, that an untimely birth is better than he. 4  For he cometh in with vanity, and departeth in darkness, and his name shall be covered with darkness. 5  Moreover he hath not seen the sun, nor known any thing: this hath more rest than the other. 6  Yea, though he live a thousand years twice told, yet hath he seen no good: do not all go to one place?

Solomon goes on to show how useless it is for a man to pursue wealth his whole life and never enjoy the fruits of his labor. Though he have abundant offspring and live to be a ripe old age a miscarried infant is better off than he is because he did not enjoy what God had given him. His birth is pointless and he leaves the earth just as vainly. Better off, Solomon says again, is one that has never been born. All men die so who is more unhappy, the one who has struggled all of his life to get more and never enjoyed it or the one who never experienced that frustration and waste of time.

In America our national ethos revolves around always pursuing more. We are never to be satisfied with what we have. There must always be something else. But, that is not Biblical.

In the context of employment, Paul tells Christians;

1Timothy 6:1 ¶  Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. 2  And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort. 3  If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; 4  He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, 5  Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.

    6 ¶  But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7  For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 8  And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. 9  But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10  For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. 11  But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. 12  Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.

Though this man who struggles his whole life to create wealth for himself and his children were to live thousands of years his life will have been a misery and he will go to the same place, the grave, as anyone else. The Christian has two priorities when it comes to money. One is to take care of his own family, which is his first mission field, his first church, and his first gift from God.

1Timothy 5:8  But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.

The second is to help others in need.

Ephesians 4:28  Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.

As modern American Christians have surrendered the care of their poor and aged to the civil government the conservative Christians have reduced that calling to witnessing to lost people only and filling the pews. A great opportunity is lost this way to, as some would say, put skin on their profession of faith and make it real. I was not converted, in a temporal sense, by gospel tracts and fine speeches. I, personally, was converted by seeing a real, living faith in simple Christians who practiced what they preached in front of me, not by drive-by evangelism where someone pressed a tract into my hand as I was entering a bar. Handing out tracts is a great thing, don’t get me wrong. It is planting a seed in someone’s mind but if your life is about grasping greedily for the next rung of the social ladder as you quote Bible verses to strangers you will not impress many with the truth of the gospel.

Solomon here says that the evil he sees is common, that men work their whole lives for wealth and their lives are defined by it, and yet they are, in the end, worse off than a stillborn, for that life that God gave to them is wasted on the pursuit of gold.

I personally have known people like this. Their every moment must be in doing something to provide for their purse. A moment’s idleness is no better than a moment’s drunkenness to them. They cannot relax or enjoy anything because they are always looking ahead to the next thing. Every spare moment must be filled. Their capacity for reflection on their blessings or gratitude is limited. They are always about something and nothing. No night can be free. No weekend can be relaxing. No situation arises that is not an opportunity for fretting about what might happen if they don’t act. They are always busy and are the center of their own universe. They keep it all together and if they stop working, thinking, planning, worrying, or experiencing that gnawing fear and hunger for a second then it will all fall apart. This is no life that God has planned for us. It is not a life of faith and dependence upon God. It is a nightmare of our own making.

Prophecy enthusiasts make much of verse 6 being a reference to the last two thousand years, the time between Christ and the present, but literally, it is a part of Solomon’s argument about a man’s life although you may find some significance to prophecy, which you cannot prove until history is finished.

    7 ¶  All the labour of man is for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled. 8  For what hath the wise more than the fool? what hath the poor, that knoweth to walk before the living? 9  Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire: this is also vanity and vexation of spirit. 10  That which hath been is named already, and it is known that it is man: neither may he contend with him that is mightier than he.

In the first three chapters of Genesis there are over a dozen references to food and eating. Here, Solomon says that a man works hard to fill his belly and that appetite is never sated. We, in an age of plenty, and very little starvation, at least in industrialized countries, have little knowledge of how desperate life has been for humanity throughout the ages when it came to food. Starving was always just around the corner for most of our ancestors and each harvest was a miracle and a blessing you did not take for granted. In America the average person throws away more food than people in less advantaged places eat.  We are typically not very grateful.

The word, lust, is used first and foremost in the Bible in places like Numbers, chapter 11, and Deuteronomy, chapter 12, to describe man’s passion for eating.

Solomon said elsewhere;

Proverbs 16:26 ¶  He that laboureth laboureth for himself; for his mouth craveth it of him.

When you have enough food to live on, more food will do you little good. The poor health of Americans in general with regards to obesity shows us what an abundance of food can do to you.  Better it is to be content with what you have than discontent with your mind’s wanderings about what you want. What we will have has been ordained by God who sees the future and controls the present. We are in no way able to argue with Him over what He has given us.  The Book of Job discusses God’s sovereignty in great detail.

    11 ¶  Seeing there be many things that increase vanity, what is man the better? 12  For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow? for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?

No man on earth is promised one more day of life or even one more moment of it. We live in a constant dependence upon God’s mercy and providence. No man who plans for his future on earth, whether through education or savings or meeting people who can do him good has a certainty that his efforts will produce the effects he desires, regardless of any positive can-do attitude he possesses. The world of men is full of people who got an education, saved their money, and deliberately rubbed elbows with the crowd they thought would help them. Many of these people are jobless or underemployed with a high academic degree, have lost all of their money in market downturns, by fraud, or by poor choices, or have been held in contempt by their “betters” whose favor they sought.

Until we, as Christians, divorce our thinking from the world’s, we will never understand what God has said to us in His Bible, nor will we have peace, true prosperity, or joy. We must realize that we are called to do right and obey God and all consequences of our actions are in God’s hands. Our lives are fragile and apart from God are meaningless and insignificant. We have neither absolute control or knowledge of what will come after us on earth once we have departed this mortal frame.

One point of the Book of Job was that bad things happen to people and they may never know why in this life. We are just to trust God in knowing He has everything under control. One point in the Book of Ecclesiastes is that as all of our efforts will never make us content or guarantee success we must do right and obey God, and trust Him alone for life’s necessities, seeking no more than we need and trusting Him each day.

Philippians 4:19  But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

Isaiah 26:3  Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.

While ambition, hard work, education, savings, insurance policies, eating right, exercise, medical care, etc. etc. are all good and prudent and wise things Christians must never expect that any, or all, of those things guarantee them anything that God has not ordained for their lives. We must never engage in that idolatry that mistakes the hammer with which we build our house to be our Saviour or the money which we put to use for our benefit to be our benefactor. It is one day at a time, all by God’s providence, all from His hand.

Matthew 6:11  Give us this day our daily bread.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Ecclesiastes 5:4-20 comments: of rash promises and working for the wind


4 ¶  When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. 5  Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay. 6  Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands? 7  For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God. 8  If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter: for he that is higher than the highest regardeth; and there be higher than they.

Here, Solomon is recommending that a Jew not make a vow to the Lord as, he pointed out in the previous passage, those are often rash and not well-considered. Jephthah made a rash vow in a moment of excitement when he offered the first thing that came out of his house, which unknown to him was to be his daughter, to be a burnt offering (Judges 11:31). His daughter could have suffered that fate or have been dedicated to the Lord like Samuel (Judges 11:37), depending on which commentator you read, although it would seem doubtful that God would have approved of Jephthah in Hebrews 11:32 if he had committed such an egregious sin that God said such a thing never came into His mind for man to do in Jeremiah 19:5 and 32:35. It seems absurd that one would vow something for God that the fulfilling of results in a great and horrible sin against God. “Lord, if you let me get this job I promise I’ll go out and rob the first bank I come to.” Most likely, as their animals shared their living space as evidenced by passages in the Bible, he was thinking of a goat or a sheep, not a human.

For verse 7 we are reminded of the lament of Jeremiah;

Jeremiah 23:25  I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed. 26  How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart; 27  Which think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbour, as their fathers have forgotten my name for Baal.

Solomon then asserts that we should not be too dismayed over the injustices we see because God sees it all and will judge it. So, here, he says do not promise rashly to God, do not listen to people who include God as a co-conspirator in their lying agenda by saying He spoke to them in a dream, and understand that God does see all wrongs committed and will call into account. We must remember, though, that this is in reference to the kingdom of Israel, not to the lost heathen of the world around them. If we narrow the focus to God’s people we might be able to speak of the church by saying don’t make promises to God you either cannot keep or do not have the will to keep to get some mercy or benefit or impress others, don’t listen to people who say God told them to do something or laid something on their heart without comparing it to scriptural principles, and don’t worry when you see an injustice in the church organization as God is concerned about it.  I’m sure anyone can think of several things that would fall in line with that.

A person comes to church and has messed up at his job and is about to get fired over it. He promises God that if he can keep his job he’ll give half his income to the church. That’s not likely to happen, is it? Remember the old joke about the man who promises God that if God lets him win the lottery he’ll give 50% of it to God and God says to him, “Really? You don’t give me 10% now. Why would I believe that you would give me 50% of the lottery?”

Then, there is the man who tells his pastor that God has laid it on his heart to have a Bible study in a bar. Really? You think so? Sometimes what people say God has laid on their heart is just the result of their own carnal imagination.

On the last point, maybe you know someone in the congregation who has been falsely accused of some impropriety by someone in the congregation with influence who you know doesn’t like the person. Don’t worry or fret. God sees that and will deal with it. He is concerned about injustice among His people. I know you can think of better analogies to make this verse apply to today. Solomon is directly speaking of his own kingdom and God’s hand in its affairs.

    9 ¶  Moreover the profit of the earth is for all: the king himself  is served by the field. 10  He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity. 11  When goods increase, they are increased that eat them: and what good is there to the owners thereof, saving the beholding of them with their eyes? 12  The sleep of a labouring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much: but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep. 13  There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt. 14  But those riches perish by evil travail: and he begetteth a son, and there is nothing in his hand. 15  As he came forth of his mother’s womb, naked shall he return to go as he came, and shall take nothing of his labour, which he may carry away in his hand. 16  And this also is a sore evil, that in all points as he came, so shall he go: and what profit hath he that hath laboured for the wind? 17  All his days also he eateth in darkness, and he hath much sorrow and wrath with his sickness.

Solomon says that the bounty of the earth is for all people and beasts, capable of serving everyone. The king himself needs the produce of the earth to survive and prosper. But, men who are greedy are never satisfied with what they have and always want more. Men get more than they need and as it no longer satisfies the need it becomes just something to look at as the proverbial miser admires his pile of gold. Paul told a young preacher;

1Timothy 6:10  For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

But, a man who works for his living and has just enough to get by, trusting in God, can sleep well. The material possessions of the rich man do not give him that peace. The rich man piles up his goods and it is a harm to him, particularly spiritually.

The rich man can lose everything and pass nothing on to his offspring and what has the value been of all his efforts? He’ll leave the earth just as he came to it, naked and helpless. As Paul warned Timothy;

1Timothy 6:7  For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.

The man who seeks to be wealthy, then, is laboring for the wind, and he will struggle to gain and hold onto wealth his whole life only to leave it behind when he leaves the earth.

Proverbs 23:4 ¶  Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom. 5  Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven.

What the carnal man wants is more. What the Christian should want is enough.

    18 ¶  Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion. 19  Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God. 20  For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answereth him in the joy of his heart.

We are right to enjoy what God has given us. It is from God and is His gift to us, as we rejoice in the fruit of our labor. The Christian is called to give of what he has been given.

Ephesians 4:28  Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.

Lest someone say, though, that to have wealth is evil in and of itself, to create a sort of mental class warfare where you resent everyone who has more than you do, we are told clearly that if a man is given riches and wealth, by the hand of God, acknowledging the source of his abundance, then he, too, like the man who labors physically, should enjoy the gift God has given him. If both men understand that God is the source of their sustenance then the sorrows and pains of their labors will be forgotten. The laborer will not remember his aches and pains and the rich man will not suffer from the anxiety and care so often associated with wealth.

The key is to give liberally of your abundance, no matter how scant or how plenty, to those truly in need, and remember, all things come from the hand of God and your efforts, without his blessings, are merely laboring for the wind.

 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Ecclesiastes 5:1-3 comments: Solomon's warnings about worship


1 ¶  Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil. 2  Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few. 3  For a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool’s voice is known by multitude of words.

Solomon warns the faithful to be careful of their attitude when engaging in religious worship. It must be remembered that Solomon’s religion, the religion of the Jews, was a physical, temporal thing that revolved around a building, the temple, where worship was maintained, where God would meet with man. There was a sacred place set apart by God. The worship was physical revolving around hundreds of standards set down by God in the Law given to Moses for the Hebrews. The house of God in this context is a physical location.

Numbers 17:4  And thou shalt lay them up in the tabernacle of the congregation before the testimony, where I will meet with you.

2Chronicles 7:1 ¶  Now when Solomon had made an end of praying, the fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the LORD filled the house. 2  And the priests could not enter into the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD had filled the LORD’S house.

There are no sacred spaces in Christianity except in the believer’s heart. The Bible-believing Christian does not come to the church building to meet with God. He has God’s Spirit residing in him and his or her body is the temple of the Holy Ghost.

John 14:23  Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.

1Corinthians 6:19  What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?

The three parts of God abide in us by the Spirit which He has provided.

Romans 8:9  But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.

The house of God in that context then is not a physical location as in one place where Christians meet. The definition of the house of God then is the family of God, the body of Christ. When the church, the called out believers meet together, wherever it is, there is the house of God.

Here is an Old Testament definition of house as family or dynasty.

Exodus 1:21  And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that he made them houses.

Genesis 46:27  And the sons of Joseph, which were born him in Egypt, were two souls: all the souls of the house of Jacob, which came into Egypt, were threescore and ten.

Now, in the New Testament.

1Timothy 3:15  But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

1Peter 4:17  For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?

Notice Peter says, “us,” not it. We must remember that we set the church building apart, a building that did not exist in the physical world when the New Testament was lived and written, and it is special to us because we meet there to worship God. We can call it the house of God and talk about going to church rather than meeting with the church but we must always be careful of what we are thinking and also we must not confuse new believers with error based on the convenience of thought. Wherever the church meets, in a church building or  a store front or even in a home, there the house of God is.

It is not uncommon for us to say, “let God come down and walk among the pews,” but we must be aware that if God is not already in us then we are as lost as a goose in a horse race. More than walking among the pews (pews were a medieval creation) I would rather have God fill me with His Spirit which already abides in me.

Solomon says for those Jews of his day that when they go to the temple they should be more willing to listen than to speak rashly and foolishly, as that is evil. They were to come with an open heart and a closed mouth. This is applicable today in many ways. We should come to meet with the church with our minds attentive to what God wants to give us through the worship and the sermon. Face it, you often sit in front of the preacher with your mind filled with almost anything but what he is saying. We should ponder and consider what we hear and pray for guidance from God and not be too quick to speak and promise and demand.

Jesus Himself warns of repetitive, long-winded prayers that sound like so much pagan drivel. Before He gives His disciples an example, a model prayer, He says the following;

Matthew 6:7  But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. 8  Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

It is very disturbing to hear what is supposed to be a heartfelt appeal to or praise of God sound like a sermon to the congregation. Jesus spoke directly while speaking reverentially to God the Father without sounding like a lot of Christians sound, like a politician making an appeal for votes or an employee pleading for a raise or time off from work.

Solomon points out that we often have dreams because our minds are filled with unfinished business and the prayer of a fool sounds much like the confusing dream we have in the night, littered with so much mental rubbish. Sounds like he’s heard some really long-winded prayers that left him wondering what the point was. They may have been spoken because the king was present and the priest or petitioner wanted to sound spiritual to impress him. It didn’t work. Many Christians do the same today.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Ecclesiastes, chapter 4, comments


1 ¶  So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter. 2  Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive. 3  Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.

Life is full of oppressions committed by the powerful upon the weak. Even where a system is set up to avenge and assist the oppressed there is often corruption, even if only behind the scenes. As Stalin supposedly said that it doesn’t matter who votes but only who counts the votes so it is a logical thing to imagine that where there are great sums of money at stake and great power that the disposal of them is not going to be left any more to chance by those who have both than absolutely necessary.

In America many people have been bought off with a relatively comfortable standard of living so they are apathetic about the freedoms taken from them. What good is freedom if you are hungry and sick, it can be said. Other Americans are paid off by being offered a minimal standard of living from taxpayer funded government coffers where there is little or no opportunity to earn a living wage, as is often the case in Appalachia or the inner cities.

Over the last century or so we have come up with many laws and regulations to try to keep the common Joe or Josephine from being ripped off, manipulated, and exploited at work or in dealings with the business community. But, you can’t change human nature and wickedness and corruption are endemic even in countries with strong laws to protect the weak. Whether it be banks that foreclose on the homes of unsophisticated working people who have hit hard times and yet help criminals launder and hide money and avoid taxes or employers who cheat workers out of overtime or make them work in unsafe conditions it will just go on and on. Those are oppressed also who, by a culture of helplessness, are taught by government action to spend their lives with their hands out demanding payment just for existing without taking any action to better their own plight.

Solomon was aware in his time that it was impossible to stop oppression. Solomon, in the depths of his despair over the human condition, says that people are better off dead due to the oppressions of life and then goes on to even say those who had never been born in the first place are even more fortunate. I don’t think you can get any more negative than this.

4 ¶  Again, I considered all travail, and every right work, that for this a man is envied of his neighbour. This is also vanity and vexation of spirit. 5  The fool foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh. 6  Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit.

Solomon goes on to discuss envy. An honest man, by toil and effort, lifts himself up and creates a business or is successful in his own trade, and people are envious of him.

Proverbs 27:4  Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?

In an America that has been so corrupted by Marxist social theory it is often assumed that any man who achieves success is a crook, a charlatan, and cheat. Americans don’t think this of an actor whose livelihood depends on pretending to be someone he’s not, or a musician who can bang out almost any kind of trash if he can get someone’s ear, but they often think this of a businessman who has worked hard to be successful. Meanwhile, the fool in verse 5 is so unwilling to help himself, as he thinks badly of others who will help themselves, that he is likened to someone who eats his own flesh. So, he brings himself to ruin. In verse 6 Solomon says that it is better to have a little bit than to have much with overwork and stress. Another danger is expressed in the following;

Proverbs 30:7 ¶  Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die: 8  Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: 9  Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.

7 ¶  Then I returned, and I saw vanity under the sun. 8  There is one alone, and there is not a second; yea, he hath neither child nor brother: yet is there no end of all his labour; neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither saith he, For whom do I labour, and bereave my soul of good? This is also vanity, yea, it is a sore travail. 9  Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. 10  For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. 11  Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? 12  And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Here, Solomon points out, as Matthew Henry says in his commentary, the selfishness of a man who seeks only his own wealth and has no one in his close personal relations to depend on him. He is alone but greedy and never satisfied, the classic definition of the miserable miser.

Solomon expresses the ideal that a man should not be alone. Even in paradise being alone was not sufficient.

Genesis 2:18  And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet [meet = worthy, compare Matthew 3:8 with Luke 3:8 for word substitution] for him.

Having a fellow-laborer in life, in any endeavor, is always more helpful than going it alone. Two of us together working together are stronger than one alone.

One caution here can be brought up about a Christian who will not unite with even two or three other Christians in worship and Bible study regularly and thinks they can go it alone, just praying and reading their Bible. If you are alone, without the counsel of others, it is easy to fall into heresy, even to doubt your salvation. Whether you are attending a modern church, a face-to-face Bible study, or an internet discussion group speaking with other Christians, being taught and teaching, is important. It is difficult to go it alone.

A famous poet once wrote;

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee. (2)

Paul, as well, speaks at great length about the unity of Christians in the body of Christ and their separate abilities all joining together to form the body as he discusses spiritual gifts of the early church in 1Corinthians, chapter 12.

(2) John Donne, “No Man is an Island”, Poem Hunter, http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/no-man-is-an-island/ (accessed 2.11.2015).

13 ¶  Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished. 14  For out of prison he cometh to reign; whereas also he that is born in his kingdom becometh poor. 15  I considered all the living which walk under the sun, with the second child that shall stand up in his stead. 16  There is no end of all the people, even of all that have been before them: they also that come after shall not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and vexation of spirit.

For Solomon poverty and youth are to be preferred to foolishness in an old man who will not be corrected, who cannot be taught. This is particularly a tragedy if he is a ruler of his people. As Matthew Henry said in his widely available commentary on this section, “Nothing is more slippery than the highest post of honour without wisdom and the people’s love.”

Imagine that Solomon is referring here to Joseph, coming out of the Pharaoh’s prison, to rule.

Psalm 113:7  He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill; 8  That he may set him with princes, even with the princes of his people.

A king that is raised in the throne can become poor by his foolishness and refusal to concede to wise counsel. Think of Solomon’s own son, Rehoboam, in 1Kings, chapter 12.

A king must have an heir, as Matthew Henry noted, either his own son, who might be a fool, or the poor man who rises out of prison.

Solomon comments that a great many people have gone before and there will be a great many that come after. The people are fickle and those whom they admire and adore one day are despised the next. Note how the people welcomed Christ;

John 12: 12 ¶  On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem,13  Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.

And how quickly the people turned on Him;

John 19:14  And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! 15  But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar.

Solomon laments again as he does often that this is another empty, troubling of the spirit.