Dear Associates, Students and Friends:
The first human being to die, the person who has been dead longer than any other, was named Abel, murdered by his brother Cain. Abel in Hebrew is hebel, which means “vanity.” King David was probably thinking of Abel and vanity when he wrote: “Man is like to vanity [hebel]: his days are as a shadow that passes away” (Psalm 144:4). Even our thoughts are vain and empty: “The Lord knows the thoughts of man, that they are vanity” (Psalm 94:11). The more we live the more vanity increases: “Seeing there be many things that increase vanity, what is man the better?” (Ecclesiastes 6:11).
Vanity, emptiness, and the futility of life are the main themes of the biblical book which is the subject of this month’s article, “The Book of Ecclesiastes” 1 presented originally by Dr. Martin in 1974. The wisdom contained in this book, along with its common sense guide for life, crosses cultures and societies so that its message is appreciated and acknowledged everywhere, and at any time. Ecclesiastes deals with good and evil. Its basic premise is that “life is not fair.” And, indeed life is not fair — not yet.
Think of this month’s article “The Book of Ecclesiastes,” as sort of a companion to last month’s article for August, “Free Will and Predestination.” The two articles complement each other. Read them together, and you will have a good solid dose of reality, and know who is in charge of your life and salvation.
Ecclesiastes deals with reality. It deals with life as it is for every human being (not as we wish life to be), and it gives guidelines not rules. There are no formulaic presentations such as, “if you do this, this good result will happen.” No statements in Ecclesiastes are to be taken as absolutes. That is important to understand while reading Ecclesiastes.
Without God’s revelation the true nature of the universe, nature, and reality itself is impossible to understand. It simply cannot be done. We can learn small bits about God from the creation (Romans 1:19–20), but to understand the plan of God, the purpose of God, the reality of existence, you must have it revealed to you from God Himself. That is what the Holy Scriptures provide. It can only be found there. It cannot be revealed by men with secrets, it cannot be revealed by spirits that peep and mutter, it cannot be revealed by aliens from space. It can only be revealed by the Word of God, which has its living expression in Christ Jesus.
Every one of us has a short-term goal in life. Everyone you know or ever will know simply wants to be happy in their life. Nothing more, nothing less. While that goal is simply expressed, it is impossible to achieve in this life. We were created incomplete. We were created subject to vanity (Romans 8:20). The best that can we can hope to achieve in this life is to follow Solomon’s proscriptions for life in Ecclesiastes and in the Book of Proverbs. Even by following those proscriptions in Ecclesiastes (or any of the divinely inspired advice in all the Wisdom Books of the Old Testament), no results are guaranteed.
Our happiness and joy in life can only be found in Christ, and that only on a temporary basis:
“We also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.”
I say temporary because our happiness and fulfillment will only come at our resurrection from the dead to spiritual life. How can we be happy in this life when persecution is our expectation, and indeed a promise?
“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.”
2 Timothy 3:12-13
Even so, God does not want us to be anxious and paranoid, worrying about some future calamity or doom. He wants us to take proper consideration for the future, yet thinking on the good things that God and Christ have done, are doing now, and will do for us in the future. Evil has its place in everyone’s life and it will occur without our worrying about it (John 14:27, 16:33; Philippians 4:8). Evil will occur, so you should try to depart from evil when you can. Trials and sorrows will happen, so we should cast our worries upon God who cares more for you than you do for yourself. Read carefully this sequence of verses:
“Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and lean not unto your own understanding [which is a vain thing to do]. … fear the Lord, and depart from evil.”
Proverbs 3:5, 7
“I [Jesus] have told you these things so that you may have peace in Me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But be of good cheer, because I have overcome the world.”
“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he cares for you.”
1 Peter 5:6–7
“Do not be anxious about anything [worry about nothing]. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
This is excellent advice. It is wisdom superior to that of Ecclesiastes because our hope is in Christ, a real and living person. Solomon did not have that specific hope at that time. Most of the world does not share that hope today, but they will share that hope at a future time (1 Thessalonians 2:19). As Peter says “that your faith and hope might be in God” (1 Peter 1:21)
We like to think of ourselves as independent operators in life, and even independent from God. Most of us like to think of ourselves as mature independent adults. This too is vanity. In God’s eyes we are, as the apostle John phrased it, “little children” (1 John 2:1, 12–13, 18, 28, 3:8, 18, 4:4, 5:21). I am; we all are. The difference between a “mature” Christian and a “new” Christian is the difference between a 3-year old and a 2-year old. Both bump into walls and fall on their butts. The 3 year-old does it a bit less, but both are totally dependent on their parents. We are all dependent on God the Father, Christ, and the ekklesia, His body.
So too, we at ASK are dependent on your prayers, encouragement, and financial support. Lacking any of these things we would not be able to put forth the best spiritual nourishment we can provide to you. We greatly appreciate your encouragements whether it is a few words, a line, a paragraph, or an entire note or email, telling us how we are doing and how we may improve. Thank you so much.
David W. Sielaff
1 Ecclesiastes is the title of the book in the Greek Old Testament translation called the Septuagint, or the LXX. DWS
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