Ecclesiastes 10 Commentary Summary Meaning

Check out this Ecclesiastes 10 Commentary!

So, in chapters 10 and 11 of this book, the Preacher is going to give us wise counsel on wisdom and folly, rulers, the unpredictability of life, speech, business, and your perspective on life.

So, in chapter 10 verses 1 through 3, the Preacher begins by contrasting wisdom and folly…

Wisdom and Folly

KJV Ecclesiastes 10:1 Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary [perfume] to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for [is weightier than] wisdom and honour.

So, what’s the relation between dead flies in perfume and folly in a wise man?

Well, think about perfume. It smells nice. That’s why it exists. That’s why people make it and buy it. It smells good.

And then think about dead flies. Now, I don’t think I’ve ever smelled the smell of dead flies. But I’ve heard it’s a pretty awful smell. And yet, flies are so small. How could something so small invade something that smells so good and exists solely to smell good and turn it into something that smells awful? The flies utterly ruin the perfume!

That’s exactly what happens when foolishness enters into a man who’s known for his wisdom and honor. It only takes a little foolishness. His reputation may be impeccable. But just let a little foolishness enter him and be displayed by him – and all of a sudden, what he was renowned for is ruined.

The discussion of wise men and fools continues in verse 2…

2 A wise man’s heart [source of direction/guidance] is at his right hand [leads him to the right – a place of protection]; but a fool’s heart at his [leads him to the] left [no such protection, he’s vulnerable].

There’s no doubt that the heart leads the body. Your desires and values and such lead the path you take in life. And, for a wise man, his desires and values lead him into safe places. Whereas the fool’s heart leads him to many vulnerable and dangerous places.

And it’s not difficult to spot a fool, is it? That’s what verse 3 tells us…

3 Yea also, when he that is a fool walketh by the way, his wisdom faileth him, and he saith [by demonstration] to every one that he is a fool.

So, a fool cannot hide his nature. Even when he walks around it can be apparent that he lacks wisdom. It’s as if he’s literally telling people that he’s a fool – by the way he conducts himself.

It’s kind of a humorous picture – a guy walking around telling everyone that he’s a fool. But considering the dangers of foolishness, it really is tragic.

Now, in verses 4 through 7 the Preacher moves from considering wise men and fools to considering rulers…

Rulers

4 If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee, leave not thy place [don’t immediately leave your position]; for yielding [composure/a calm response] pacifieth great offences.

So, first of all, regarding rulers and those in authority, don’t lose your cool if a ruler’s spirit or temper rises against you. I think that’s what the admonition to not “leave” your “place” is saying. So, don’t get terrified and lose your cool, but rather yield to him! If you back down and yet remain in the presence of this person, even if you really offended and angered the man, your staying and yielding will pacify him. Fleeing is the only other option – and the Preacher does not advise you to do that.

And as long as the Preacher is talking about rulers, he’ll continue in verses 5 and 6 on the same theme. But this time he wants to tell us about wisdom and folly – again – but specifically as it applies to rulers…

5 ¶ There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, as an error which proceedeth from the ruler [ruler’s make]:

So, whatever is to come is viewed by the Preacher as evil. It’s an error – something that shouldn’t happen. And it has something to do with rulers. So, what is it?…

6 Folly is set in great dignity [many exalted places/many positions of authority], and the rich sit in low place [humble places/lowly positions]. 7 I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth.

So, foolishness is in many positions of authority. The rich sit in lowly positions. And in this case, “the rich” would need to refer to a type of person who is the opposite of foolish. He’s rich in this case because he’s not a fool and he’s living wisely and such.

And in verse 7, seeing servants where princes ought to be and vice versa is seen as an evil error. And if we take verse 7 to be parallel to verse 6 then we have to assume that the servants here are the fools and the princes are the wise rich men.

When fools are exalted and wise men are humiliated – this is an evil error in the Preacher’s mind.

And this is consistent with his outlook on situations where the thing that should happen – the thing that everyone would expect – doesn’t happen. It’s like when both evil and good men die with no distinction. We’d expect that good men will live forever – or at least a long time – and that evil men would die early. But that’s not the way it works in this sin-cursed world. And the Preacher says that this kind of reversal of the way things ought to be is evil.

And so next in verses 8 through 11 the Preacher goes from the unpredictable in regard to rulers – to the unpredictable aspects of life in general. Sometimes those rulers who should be ruling aren’t. Sometimes those who shouldn’t be ruling are. And sometimes – verses 8 and 9 …

Unpredictability of Life

8 He that diggeth a pit shall [or may] fall into it; and whoso breaketh an hedge [a wall], a serpent shall [or, may] bite him. 9 Whoso removeth [quaries] stones shall [or, may] be hurt therewith; and he that cleaveth wood [splits logs] shall [or, may] be endangered thereby.

Let me just point out that we have four verbs in these two verses, and the KJV translates them as “shall”. And that gives us the idea that this will certainly happen at some point in the future. But verbs in Hebrew are a little different than in English. Hebrew can leave a little more uncertainty as to whether a verb ought to be indicative (“shall”) or what grammarians call “modal” (“may” or “might”). And this is what we ran into last lesson where I was asked why I interpreted the verb “delivered” in chapter 9 as “could have delivered”. It’s the same issue here. In Hebrew, sometimes verbs can be either indicative in English or modal. If it’s indicative then it’s stated as fact. If it’s modal, then it’s less certain and more conditional. And what happens for us as interpreters is that we need to make a decision between one or the other possibilities. And context is probably the most helpful in determining how to translate the verb.

And in this case, what is the context? Someone digging a pit and falling into it. Someone breaking through a wall and a snake biting him. Someone quarrying stones and being hurt in the process. And someone chopping wood and being endangered by the process.

So, let me ask – does the one always involve the other? Does digging a pit always eventuate in falling into it? No. It’s potential. It’s a possibility. Someone MAY fall into it. Does breaking through a wall ALWAYS eventuate in a snake biting you? No. It MAY happen. But it doesn’t always happen. And on and on. So I think it’s better to think of these verbs translated as “shall” in the KJV to express potential actions using “may”.

But, getting beyond grammar, here’s the point of the Preacher. Just like there are uncertainties in the arena of who’s ruling in a society – so too is there uncertainty in everyday life.

Digging pits, breaking down walls, quarrying stones, and chopping down trees – all of these things take a lot of effort. They’re not passive events. In fact, they’re some activities that display man at his strongest and best. But even at his strongest and best – mankind is hopelessly at the whim of the unpredictability of life.

Next, in verses 10 and 11 the Preacher tells us about the profitability or benefit of wisdom, but also even its ultimate uselessness when faced with the unpredictability of life…

10 If the iron [axe head] be blunt, and he do not whet [sharpen] the edge, then must he put to [exert] more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct [give success]. 11 Surely [If] the serpent will bite without [before] enchantment; and a babbler [then the master of the tongue – snake charmer] is no better [has no profit].

So, if your axe head is blunt then you’ll need to exert more strength to cut down a tree or split wood. Or you could be wise about it and sharpen the axe. That would be wise and by that wisdom you would gain some profit and benefit. That’s the point of verse 10.

But unfortunately, life with its unpredictability sometimes nullifies the benefits of wisdom. That’s where the snake charmer – the master of the tongue, literally – in verse 11 comes in. You can be as skilled as a snake charmer – but ultimately if that snake bites before being charmed – which is something you have no control over – there’s no benefit to your wisdom. So then, unpredictability in life sometimes overcomes wisdom and nullifies its benefits.

Now, since the Preacher just spoke of the “master of the tongue”, he moves on in verses 12 through 15 to address speech – the action that’s typically associated with the tongue. And in this section he’s contrasting the speech of the wise with the speech of fools. To start, the Preacher points to the effect that the speech of the wise and the fool has on themselves…

Contrasting Speech of the Wise and Fools

12 [And speaking of the tongue…] The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious; but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself.

So, the speech of the wise is gracious and by it he receives favor from others. But the speech of a fool destroys himself. That’s because the speech of a fool goes from bad to worse…

13 The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness: and the end of his talk is mischievous madness.

And despite the fact that a fool’s speech is self-destructive and only gets worse as the words increase – he just doesn’t stop talking…

14 A fool also is full of words: a man cannot tell what shall be; and what shall be after him, who can tell him?

Who can tell you what shall be after you? Who can tell you what the future holds? Answer – certainly not a fool with all his words.

And the Preacher finishes the contrast between the speech of the wise and the fool in verse 15…

15 The labour of the foolish wearieth every one of them, because he knoweth not how to go to the city.

In other words, who would want to listen to a fool? He doesn’t even know how to get to the city to work! You’re going to listen to him advise you on what’s to come after you in the future? He can’t even find his way to the city!

So, the Preacher has addressed the speech of the fool. Now, he wants to return to the matter of rulers and authorities once again. But this time – at least to start with – he contrasts the woe that foolish rulers brings to a land… with the blessing of wise rulers…

Rulers

16 Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning!

The idea here is that the king is childish or naïve or unprepared for his duties and is therefore irresponsible. And the princes that attend that king “eat in the morning”. Now, I don’t think this is condemning eating breakfast. Rather, if you contrast this statement with the one in the verse to follow, you see that eating in the morning is associated with gluttony and overindulgence and a lack of self-control.

So, it’s bad for a land to have foolish and self-indulgent rulers. On the other hand…

17 Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles [and therefore prepared for the job], and thy princes eat in due season, for strength, and not for drunkenness [They’re self-controlled]!

It’s good to have rulers who are ready for the job. Rulers who are self-controlled and balanced.

Now, verses 18 and 19 seem to be unrelated to what we’ve just been talking about – the curse of self-indulgent rulers. But I think you’ll see that they contribute to what we’ve just been told…

18 By much slothfulness [extreme laziness] the building decayeth [roof-breams sink/rafters sag]; and through idleness of the hands the house droppeth through [house drips/roof leaks].

So, verse 18 I think is another instance of the great detriment that foolish rulers bring upon their country. And the picture is one of a house. And sometimes in Scripture a nation is described as a house – the “house of Jacob” represents Israel, for example. And here, a physical literal house is brought to our minds. If you’re lazy the roof-beams will sink. And if you’re idle the roof will leak. So, in both cases our attention is brought to the roof of the house. Laziness and idleness will eventuate in the roof sagging and leaking. And you don’t want that to happen to your country. You don’t want the very thing protecting you from the elements to be weakened so as to let through things that can make your life uncomfortable and that can harm you. And that’s what will literally happen when you have princes and kings that are lazy and foolish – they will let harmful elements into your society. And it won’t be good for anyone.

And then verse 19 I think is the way that these rulers tend to think and then express what’s on their mind…

19 A feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry: but money answereth all things. [Or so the wrong kind of ruler thinks]

So, this verse can be sort of confusing. Because it seems pretty materialistic and self-indulgent. But that’s exactly the kind of mindset in rulers that the Preacher is warning about – self-indulgent ones.

So then, I think what we have in verse 19 is a quotation from foolish rulers. They’re concerned only with laughter and merriment. They think money will solve all their problems. But it won’t. And reality will hit hard for them and their country someday.

And yet, whether your authority is wise or foolish, the Preacher will recommend in verse 20 that you speak well of him…

20 Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.

So, be so careful to not curse your king with your mouth, that you don’t even do it in your mind. Don’t even do it in your room. Because you never know how that curse might be conveyed to the very one that you’re cursing. So, just don’t do it, for your own good.

Ecclesiastes 9 Commentary Explained

We start our Ecclesiastes 9 commentary considering that death is inevitable.

9:1 For all this I considered in my heart even to declare all this, that the righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God: no man knoweth either love or hatred [he doesn’t know which he might experience — either or both of these] by all that is before them.

So, the wise are in the hand of God and don’t know what’s coming to them…

2 All things come alike to all: there is one event [death] to the righteous, and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not: as is the good, so is the sinner; and he that sweareth, as he that feareth an oath.

So, it doesn’t matter who you are. Death is coming to you. It doesn’t matter if you live life well or not. Death is coming. And you might not like that fact. And, you’re not alone. The Preacher doesn’t like it either. He calls this “an evil”…

3 This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event unto all:

The fact that all die no matter how they live is evil in the Preacher’s eyes. It’s a bad thing. And yet, it’s sort of necessary, given the heart of man and how evil it is…

yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead.

And this seems to be one reason that God shortened the life span of people after the flood. The longer man is able to live, the more evil he’s capable of accomplishing. Death ends that evil on this earth. But before death, there’s hope that a man will turn from his evil…

4 For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. 5 For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward [for their labor]; for the memory of them is forgotten. 6 Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.

The living know that they will die. And it’s that knowledge that the Preacher has continually commended to us through this book. This thought of death is somber and unpleasant. But it’s crucial. There’s hope for one who’s living and can consider his death – for him to consider God and his works and fear him.

So, in light of your inevitable death, the Preacher advises you to enjoy your life…

Enjoy Life in Light of Your Inevitable Death

7 ¶ Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth [already approved] thy works [that he just mentioned in this verse]. 8 ¶ Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment.

God approves of you enjoying the life that he gave you. Don’t deny yourself the simple joys that he gives in this life…

9 ¶ Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun. 10 Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.

If you have a wife, live joyfully with her. If you don’t have a wife, find one – and then live joyfully with her!

And verse 10 is a verse that’s oft-quoted when someone wants to encourage himself or others to work hard and not be lazy. And the context is helpful to consider. What motivates someone to work hard? Well, this at least – pretty soon you won’t be able to work or do anything. So do it now, while you still have time in this life. Work for the night is coming when no one can work anymore.

But, the Preacher can’t focus on anything positive for very long – because he wants to give us wise counsel about the reality of life – and the reality of life is often unpleasant. So, next the Preacher counsels us to be ready for the unpredictable…

Be Ready for the Unpredictable

11 ¶ I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Sometimes the fastest runner doesn’t win the race. Sometimes the strongest man doesn’t win the fight. Sometimes the wisest man doesn’t have the most stuff. Why? Because time and chance – from a human perspective – sometimes mess things up.

And just like everyday-things are unpredictable, so is your death…

12 For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.

Fish and birds are caught and they don’t expect it. Then comes their death. And just like them, death comes unexpectedly to us.

But – you know – sometimes death is avoidable. Sometimes – as the Preacher has said before – wisdom can preserve the life of him that posesses it. So, the Preacher ends chapter 9 with a story about the potential of wisdom to benefit a whole city… but we also see that wisdom has it’s limitations…

The Benefits and Limitations of Wisdom

13 ¶ This wisdom have I seen also under the sun, and it seemed great [impressive/a great burden] unto me:

Here’s the story…

14 There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it:

So, there’s no way that this city will stand against the great king…

15 Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom [could have] delivered the city;

Great! What a wonderful story. The city was outnumbered and outpowered – but a poor wise man was able to deliver the city through his wisdom! Well, not so fast. He had the potential of delivering the city. But…

yet no man remembered [listened to – based on v 16] that same poor man.

Ugh! There was such potential! Wisdom could have granted a great deliverance against all odds. And yet, the people didn’t listen to the wise man. And you can imagine what happened to that city because they rejected wisdom.

So, this story leads the Preacher to a conclusion about wisdom…

16 Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength: nevertheless the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard.

So, if you compare wisdom to strenth – wisdom wins. And yet, it’s strength that’s highy valued and wisdom is thought little of by many people.

And then the Preacher ends his message with two proverbs about wisdom…

17 ¶ The words of wise men are heard in quiet more than the cry of him that ruleth among fools.

In other words, fools won’t listen to wisdom…

18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war: but one sinner destroyeth much good.

Wisdom can be more effective than weapons. But – returning to the concept of vanity – all sorts of good things can be undone by one sinner. This is vanity.

Ecclesiastes 8 Summary Study Guide Sermon Commentary

As we enter this Ecclesiastes 8 summary article, we remember that chapter 7 ended with considering our need of wisdom in dealing with the unjust. Now, the Preacher talks more about wisdom…

External Marks of a Wise Man

KJV Ecclesiastes 8:1 Who is as the wise man? and who knoweth the interpretation [solution] of a thing [matter]?

Well, who is a wise man? Would you know one if you saw him? Well, the Preacher gives you one identifying mark of a wise man in the second part of the verse…

a man’s wisdom maketh his face to shine [illumines him/brightens his appearance], and the boldness of his face shall be changed [causes his stern (strong) face to beam/softens his harsh countenance].

So, what a man possesses on the inside – wisdom – will affect how he appears on the outside, particularly on his face.

Next, the Preacher counsels us regarding our relating to kings and authorities (vv2-9)…

Relating to a King

2 ¶ I counsel thee to keep the king’s commandment, and [do] that in regard of the oath of [that you or he made to] God.

So when a king or someone in authority gives a command, you do well to obey it. Why? Because either you or he swore an oath to God. It’s possible that this was referring to an oath that the citizens of a kingdom would make regarding obeying the king during his coronation. Or maybe it’s saying that the king himself made an oath to God concerning his duties while in office.

The US doesn’t coronate kings, but we do inaugurate our presidents. And each President thus far has put his hand on a Bible and recited an oath that begins “I do solemnly swear…” and ends with “So help me God.”

Again, the idea is that you ought to obey the king because both you and he have a solemn obligation to each other.

The Preacher continues with his counsel regarding how to relate to a king…

3 Be not hasty to go out of his sight: stand not [don’t join] in an evil thing; for he doeth whatsoever pleaseth him.

Going out of the king’s sight hastily and joining yourself to an evil thing are probably both referring to abandoning your allegiance to the king to go join a rebellion against him. Maybe the going out hastily is talking about having an angry attitude toward him that eventuates in joining a rebellion.

And why should you not abandon the king and join a rebellion against him? Because he does whatever he pleases. Including, putting down rebelions. So, you don’t want to be on the wrong side of that.

Still on the theme of obeying your king or authority…

4 Where the word of a king is, there is power: and who may say unto him, What doest thou?

This goes along with the idea that the king does whatever he wants. Nobody can question what he’s doing. And that’s where our system of government is a little different. We of course don’t have a king. We have a President or Executive Branch. We have Congress or a Legislative Branch. And we have the Supreme Court or the Judicial Branch. And we’re a Democratic Republic. We elect our rulers – well, most of them. And yet, the effect is the same. I mean, you can petition a king. And in the same way you can petition your American government. You can also try to vote people out of office. But ultimately, if the person is in office and the law is the law, then you better obey it because the government does whatever it will and no one can say “what are you doing?” to them because they have power. They have authority. And Romans 13 tells us that this authority actually comes from God. Ultimately, what was true of kings in ancient civilizations is ultimately true in our modern day, with a few adjustments.

And we’ll read the last verse that draws our attention to our duty to obey our authority…

5 Whoso keepeth the [king’s] commandment shall feel [know/experience] no evil thing [trouble]: and a wise man’s heart discerneth both time and judgment.

Again, this sounds a lot like Romans 13. Do you want to not fear authority? Then do what they say – so long as it doesn’t go against God’s commands to you. You’ll be prudent about this if you’re wise. That’s how verse 5 ends.

Now, in verses 6 through 8 it seems like the Preacher starts discussing something totally different from what he’s just been saying. But we have two reasons that would lead us to think that verses 2 through 9 are one section. First, the phrase “time and judgement” that just appeared in verse 5 also appears in verse 6. So, there’s some connection between verse 5 and verse 6. Second, look at verse 9. “…There is a time wherein one man–” what? RULETH OVER ANOTHER. Hey, that sounds like something a king does! So, even in verse 9 we’re still talking about kings.

So, I think verses 6 through 8 are related to the broader discussion about kings and how to relate to them. But this section also forms sort of an aside. And a big emphasis in these three verses is helplessness. So let’s read and try to figure this out…

Helplessness

6 Because to every purpose [pleasure] there is time and judgment, therefore the misery of man is great upon him.

So, the misery is great upon whom? I think it’s talking about the wise man from the previous verse – the one whose heart can discern time and judgement. The misery that’s common to man is great or heavy upon him. Why? Verse 7…

7 For he knoweth not that which shall be: for who can tell him when it shall be?

So, the wise man is miserable. And this seems strange – since he’s discerning enough to be able to deal rightly with a king. And yet, not all is well. For as wise as he is, he still can’t predict the future. And in particular, for all his wisdom, he still cannot predict the day of his death. That’s verse 8…

8 There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death:

In other words, if it’s your appointed time to die, you have no power to change that. You can’t “retain your spirit”. And in the context, I think this is speaking of what happens when you cross a king. If you don’t follow the Preacher’s advice and obey the king, then remember that you don’t have power over the day of your death – which is what you’re going to experience from your enraged king for your disobedience.

And, the Preacher makes it clear in the last part of verse 8 that disobedience to a king is wickedness…

and [just like] there is no discharge in that war; neither shall wickedness deliver those that are given to it.

There’s no discharge in a war. There may be discharge before a war – like when Gideon let go all those who were scared and who didn’t drink water in a certain way. There’s discharge after a war. But during a war? That’s called “going AWOL”. It shouldn’t happen. There’s no legitimate way of being released from the military during a time of war if you’re a soldier.

And just like that, there’s no way of being released from anything by wickedness. And I think this relates to the Preacher’s admonition in verse 3 to not leave a king’s presence hastily in order to join in a rebellion against him. That rebellion won’t deliver you from the wrathful king whom you’ve disobeyed.

So, we’ve seen that the Preacher is really advocating that his readers obey their king. But it’s not to say that the king is always going to be right – or even righteous. And that’s where the Preacher ends his consideration of relating to a king in verse 9…

Oppressive King

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.

So, this whole time, the Preacher has been urging us to obey the king. And yet, he’s not unrealistic about the character of some kings. Some kings do in fact rule over men in a hurtful way. They’re bad to their subjects. And yet, that doesn’t cancel out anything of what he’s just said. Those under authority still need to obey that authority – even when it results in their hurt.

Now, the Preacher moves on to consider several negative aspects of wickedness. Remember – he already considered that wickedness can’t deliver people who are given to it. And so he wants to explore that thought a little more in verses 10 through 13…

Drawbacks of Wickedness

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.

Here’s vanity or emptiness or meaninglessness – a wicked man who comes and goes from the Temple – “the place of the holy” – and then he dies and is buried. And the crowning emptiness to that situation is the fact that this man is forgotten in his city after he dies.

Next, the Preacher speaks of the spreading of evil due to its punishment not being executed swiftly…

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.

Which tells you that the common practice in our nation of having inmates on death row for decades is really not the best way to go. Evil needs to be punished swiftly – in order for the general populace to to be discouraged from committing the same evil.

And sometimes sinners do get away with their sin in this life. Sometimes sentences against evil are not executed swiftly – or even at all! And yet, the Preacher isn’t fooled about the sinner’s position in the sight of God…

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.

So, in this world it might appear that sinners are on top and the righteous are the losers. But it doesn’t matter how it appears. Take it from the Preacher that it will be well with the righteous. It will not be well with the wicked.

And yet, in this world, often that’s not the way it looks or how it goes. Often, we have the situation described in verse 14…

More Contradictions to the Law of Retribution

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 [they get what the wicked deserve]; again, there be wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous: I said that this also is vanity.

So, even though we know that ultimately it will be well for the righteous and not so for the wicked – in this life, it can look like the exact opposite is true. This is vanity and emptiness and frustrating.

So, in light of all of this, the Preacher again comes back to advising us to enjoy life…

Enjoy Life

15 Then I commended mirth [pleasure/enjoyment of life], because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that [joy] shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.

Enjoy your work – whatever it is you do. Eat, drink, be happy. And recognize that God gives you these things and fear him.

And the Preacher keeps his focus on God in verses 16 and 17, where he considers God’s work and concludes that it is unsearchable…

God’s Work is Unsearchable

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: [this is what this kind of quest requires]) 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.

God’s work is unsearchable. You can’t discover every single thing that God has done, is doing, or will do. It’s marvelous. It’s beyond our ability to comprehend – even if you never sleep! Even if you’re wise. You won’t get all of it.

Now, earlier in the book, we were led to consider that one of God’s works is humbling men through death. We just considered God’s works and how they’re ultimately unsearchable. And now, in 9:1-6 we’re reminded of this work of death again. And this time we’re led to think of its inevitability…

Ecclesiastes 7 Commentary Summary

Enjoy this Ecclesiastes 7 Commentary!

The value of difficult things over pleasant things

So, in Ecclesiastes 7:1-14, the Preacher talks to us about the value of difficult things over pleasant things.

We might notice that our life seems to be filled with difficult things – difficult people, difficult situations, problems that are over our head, etc. And it’s when life is filled with these kinds of things that we’re most likely to bitterly contend with God.

But, the Preacher wants us to think differently about difficult things. He asserts that they’re more valuable than the pleasant things that you and I prefer to experience.

So, let’s read Ecclesiastes 7:1…

7:1 A good name [reputation] is better than precious ointment [perfume];

Well, that’s not so bad. Who doesn’t want a good reputation? I’d want that. But would you agree that it’s hard to gain a good reputation and really easy to lose it? In that sense, it’s difficult. Whereas, perfume is pleasant and it’s a good thing – but the value of the difficult in this case is greater than the value of the pleasant.

And, so, I think that statement is easy to accept, but what do you think about the second part of Ecclesiastes 7:1?…

and the day of death [is better] than the day of one’s birth.

Now, when you think of it, both of these days are difficult. But at least you don’t remember the day of your birth. Plus, there’s so much hope when you’re born. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you. Your parents are happy. Everyone’s happy. In those senses it’s a pleasant thing.

But then the day of your death. What’s pleasant about that? I mean, really, the only pleasantness that we can derive from it is if we’re believers and if death is simply our entrance into life. And yet, even then, can’t you wish for some other way to enter into glory? Isn’t this one reason we yearn for the rapture of the Church? We don’t want to experience death. The day of one’s death is difficult. And yet, the Preacher wants us to value this day above your birth day.

Why? Let’s keep reading…

Why?

2 It is better to go to the house of mourning [a funeral], than to go to the house of feasting: for that [death] is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.

So, Ecclesiastes 7:2 sheds more light on why the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth. Death is the end of everyone. And therefore – don’t try to avoid it. Rather, take it to heart. Consider this truth and learn. Be ready for death. Be ready to face this God that the Preacher keeps talking about. And let your knowledge of death lead you to consider what comes after – not merely reality under the sun – but spiritual reality.

Sorrow vs. Laughter

Next, the Preacher compares another difficult thing with something pleasant…

3 Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better [in sadness of face (sober reflection) there is good for the heart].

The context here is the house of mourning – or a funeral. Sadness of face is good for the heart. There are things that God shows us through sorrow that teach us so much more than laughter ever can.

And that’s why Ecclesiastes 7:4 is true…

Mourning vs. Mirth

4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

If your heart is in the house of mourning – if you consider the end of your life and let that sober reality sink in and act on that reality – then you’re in good company. Because those thoughts are the exact ones that wise men have. It’s wise for you to consider your end and act based on what you learn.

On the other hand, the fool won’t go there. The fool doesn’t consider death. He’d rather be in the house of mirth. He’d rather just enjoy life and forget all about the reality of death. But whether he faces that reality now voluntarily or not – he will eventually meet his end. And he’s going to be completely unprepared.

Rebukes vs. Songs

Next, the Preacher moves from the value of the difficult task of considering one’s death to hearing rebuke…

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 [quick-burning] thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity.

Songs are lovely. Who doesn’t like music? It’s pleasant.

And at the same time, who likes rebuke? No one.

And yet, you would do better to listen to the difficult rebuke of a wise man than to listen to the pleasant song of a fool.

Then the Preacher pictures the fool’s song-producing voice as something fleeting that will quickly vanish in light of eternity. Those thorns under a pot will burn and crackle quickly and will be no more. That laughter and mirth enjoyed by a fool is vanity. It’s fleeting. It will ultimately end. And he’ll be unprepared for what’s to come.

Oppression and Gifts

And then it seems like the next verse is a warning about the potential of a wise man becoming a fool…

7 Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad [into a fool]; and a gift destroyeth [bribe corrupts] the heart.

So, this is saying that either – 1) when a wise man oppresses someone else he will become a fool or 2) that the wise man can become a fool by witnessing oppression happening around him. And whichever of those is the case, it’s similar to the effect that a bribe has on a person – it corrupts that person’s heart. So, too, does oppression turn a wise man into a fool.

End vs. Beginning

And then in Ecclesiastes 7:8 the Preacher goes back to comparing difficult things with pleasant things…

8 Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.

Again, the beginning of something is naturally more exciting and hopeful. But the Preacher sees that the value of the end of that thing is higher. And the second part of that verse holds the key to understanding this. You need to be patient to accept this. It’s hard to wait for the end of a matter. The beginning of a thing is right there immediately. You don’t need to wait for it. But waiting for the end of it takes patience. And in the Preacher’s mind, that’s a good thing. It’s good to patiently wait for the end of something. Patience is a good thing.

Haste and Anger

And as long as the Preacher is talking about patience and pride in one’s spirit, he continues in Ecclesiastes 7:9 talking about other potential problems within one’s spirit…

9 Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools.

Be patient. And don’t be hasty – the opposite of patient – to be angry. Only fools do that. And you want to be wise, don’t you? So, don’t be quick to anger. Be slow to anger, slow to speak, and quick to hear – as James says in the New Testament.

Wistful Thinking

Moving on, I’m thinking that most of us who are a little farther along in life have been caught thinking the way that the Preacher criticizes next in Ecclesiastes 7:10…

10 Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this [asking this question is not wise].

So, you and I might want to value the former days when things were easier and more pleasant for us. I assume that many things were easier and more pleasant for most of us when we were children than they are now. Now you have responsibilities. Now, when you make a mistake it can really cost you. You’re in the real world now. When you were a child, you were taken care of – or you should have been, at least. Your responsibilities were probably relatively few in comparison to what you face now. And sometimes you just don’t remember problems in the world back then – whereas maybe now you’re keenly aware of them, and even worried about them.

But the Preacher wants you to estimate the value of the easy days of old as far less than what you’re experiencing now. It’s not wise for you to say “Why were the old days better than what I have now?” And this admonition aligns well with all that we’ve seen so far. Hard and difficult things are good for you and me. They’re ultimately much better than easy and pleasant things. They sober you up and get you searching for God in the midst of the difficulty. Or at least, they should.

Wisdom vs. Money

Next, the Preacher goes on to consider the relative value of wisdom and money…

11 Wisdom is good with [like] an inheritance: and by it there is profit to them that see the sun. 12 For wisdom is a defence [protection], and [like] money is a defence: but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth [preserves] life to them that have it.

So, both wisdom and money can provide some protection in various ways. But money won’t save your life. Wisdom has the potential to do just that. And again, we have money here – which is pleasant and wisdom which is difficult to obtain. And again, the difficult wins over the pleasant.

Prosperity vs. Adversity

And lastly in this section, we’re directed to the relative value of adversity, which is difficult, and prosperity, which is pleasant…

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 [made] the one over against [as well as] the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him [can’t know what the future holds].

God has made both the day of adversity and the day of prosperity. Rejoice when things are pleasant and abundant. But also when you’re experiencing difficulty – just remember that God has made both.

And the reason he has made both is so that no one really knows what’s coming next – it could be prosperity or adversity. And I think the idea is that since you don’t know what’s next you need to get out of your mindset of life lived merely under the sun and start trusting the God who knows what’s coming next – indeed, who has foreordained what’s coming next and who can help you through it and whose work is unchangeable – you can’t straighten what he’s made crooked and vice versa.

So, now, the Preacher is going to move on – because he believes that you got the point of valuing difficult things over pleasant things.

Next, the Preacher considers contradictions to the law of retribution

Contradiction to the law of retribution

15 ¶ All [the following two] things have I seen in the days of my vanity: there is a just man that perisheth in [despite] his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in [despite] his wickedness.

It would seem that in a perfect world, a man who does right would have a prolonged life and one who is evil would have a very short life. And sometimes that is the case, but the Preacher has seen in his life instances where that is not the case. The man who does right dies young and the man who is evil lives a long time.

Long Life by Doing Right

And so, for the person who is going to try to achieve long life by doing right, the Preacher has a message in Ecclesiastes 7:16 and following…

16 Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise [do not depend upon your righteousness or wisdom FOR YOURSELF (reflexive) to obtain long life]: why shouldest thou destroy thyself [be disappointed when you die early]?

This is obviously not talking about the righteousness that’s imputed or credited to a person when he believes God’s promise – like Abraham did regarding God’s promise of a descendant or like New Testament Christians do regarding God’s promise of forgiveness and eternal life in Christ. I think this is more like right and wise living. And the emphasis I think is on having a long life. That’s what we saw in the previous verse – that emphasis on prolonging one’s life.

So, in light of that, If you try really, really hard to make yourself righteous and wise so that you have a long life – you’re going to be disappointed when you happen to die early. So, don’t waste your time trying to prolong your life by those means. It might not work.

Short Life by Doing Evil

And the flip side of that is also true…

17 Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?

So, don’t be evil and foolish either. Those actions might actually end your life prematurely. Yes, you might prolong your life even though you’re wicked and foolish. The Preacher said that he’s seen that happen. But there’s a really good chance that you’ll die earlier than usual if you live that kind of lifestyle.

Balance

So, there’s a balance to be achieved here…

18 It is good that thou shouldest take hold of this [one warning]; yea, also from this [other warning] withdraw not thine hand: for he that feareth God shall come forth of them all [go forth in both, obey both].

So, pay attention to both of these warnings. Don’t make great efforts to prolong your life through super-right living. You might be disappointed and there won’t be much to show for your extraordinary efforts. And don’t be a fool or you might die prematurely. Obey both commands. And – above all – fear God.

And lastly, the Preacher turns his attention to the need for wisdom in dealing with the unjust

Wisdom needed in dealing with the unjust

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 [do not give your heart to] 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.

You need wisdom precisely because of the absence of just men who do right and don’t sin. And because of that, don’t listen too carefully to people or you’ll likely hear your servant or your friend or whomever else curse you!

And you might think – what?! How can my servant or buddy or whatever curse me?! That’s where the Preacher comes back with this convicting thought – you, too, have cursed others, haven’t you?

What offense we take at people speaking poorly of us. But do we ever consider how we’ve spoken of others?

So, here’s the first piece of wisdom in dealing with the unjust – realize that no one is totally just and without sin under the sun. Not even you.

More Need of Wisdom

And the Preacher’s not done with this theme of needing wisdom in dealing with the unjust…

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:

Now, we’ve heard this kind of statement before. It seems to be the Preacher’s attempt to communicate his efforts to understand the way things are under the sun.

Latest Findings

But it’s in Ecclesiastes 7:26 that he gets to his latest findings regarding life under the sun…

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.

So, this is speaking of the evil, adulterous, seductive woman. This is another instance where we need wisdom in dealing with the unjust.

Women

And the Preacher continues…

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 [righteous] man among a thousand have I found [which isn’t saying much]; but a woman among all those have I not found [which is saying even less].

And I’m sure this kind of statement is very offensive to the broader culture in which we live. But this is what the Preacher says. He’s found maybe one righteous man in a thousand. He hasn’t found any righteous women. That’s not to say that there were no righteous women in the Preacher’s day. But he is saying that he couldn’t find any. And again since behind the Preacher is Solomon, it’s not hard to see why he might not have found any righteous women – since he got married to all those pagan wives.

God Made Us Good

But, whatever the case, this is what the Preacher ultimately arrives at –whether speaking of men or women…

29 Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions [evil schemes, devices].

And this unfortunately is why you and I need wisdom in dealing with unjust people. And sadly almost everyone is this way. And this is the case in spite of God originally creating man upright. But we’ve all sought out many evil schemes.

Summary of Ecclesiastes 6-7

So, enjoy the good things that God has given, submit to his sovereignty in your life, value difficult things over pleasant things, remember these contradictions to the law of retribution, and deal wisely with the unjust. That’s Ecclesiastes 6-7.

Ecclesiastes 6 Commentary Summary Meaning Explained

We’re starting in Ecclesiastes 6:1 for this Ecclesiastes 6 Commentary. But in order to get the significance of that verse and the section it’s in, we need to back up just a little.

In Ecclesiastes 5 we learned that for those to whom God has given riches and wealth, he’s also given the ability to eat from those things. This is a gift from God, we’re told.

But, there’s an exception to that rule. Sometimes things don’t work out that way.

The evil of not enjoying good things

And the Preacher wants to tell us about that situation in Ecclesiastes 6:1-9 where he discusses the evil of not enjoying good things

KJV Ecclesiastes 6:1 There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common [prevalent] among men:

So, actually I said that this is an exception to the rule. But really, this situation is common among men. It’s probably still an exception, but it’s a rather common one. So, here’s the evil exception…

Riches Without Enjoyment

 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 [someone else] eateth it: this is vanity, and it is an evil disease.

So, the situation is – a man who has everything he needs and should be enjoying it—but he isn’t. God – for whatever reason isn’t allowing it. God usually does – but in this common case, he doesn’t. And as a result, someone else gets to enjoy the fruit of this man’s labor. I don’t have many more details than this, so it’s hard to try to imagine what the Preacher had in mind. But this is what we have.

Horrible Situation

And if this is the case – if a man has everything he needs to enjoy life and yet he can’t for whatever reason, in the Preacher’s mind, the situation is so horrible that the man might as well never have been born. That’s what he says in Ecclesiastes 6:3…

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 [even if he’s never buried – because he never dies, hypothetically]; I say, that an untimely birth [a stillborn] is better than he.

So, the Preacher gathers a few hypothetical situations that are all positive. Begetting 100 children – which, mind you, the preacher sees as good and not evil. Having many years of life. Never dying, even!

Well, if any or all of these situations come to pass – so long as the man isn’t filled with good in this life, then he might as well have never lived. A baby who is born dead is better than that man.

Why would the Preacher say that?

Why?

Well, he explains himself in Ecclesiastes 6:4-5…

 4 For [Though] he [the stillborn] cometh in with vanity, and departeth in darkness, and his name shall be covered with darkness. 5 Moreover [Though] he [the stillborn] hath not seen the sun, nor known any thing: this [stillborn] hath more rest than the other [the man in v 2].

So, that’s what it comes down to. The still born at least had rest – whereas this man who had everything, but couldn’t enjoy it is just miserable.

They Both Die

And even more basic than that, both of these people die. That’s what he says in Ecclesiastes 6:6…

6 Yea, though he [the man] live a thousand years twice told, yet hath he seen no good: do not all go to one place? [both die]

So, to the Preacher, one of the worst things that can happen to a person in this life is to have stuff but not enjoy it. It’s a tragedy in his eyes.

But there’s another side to this problem of not enjoying what God gives you. We just talked about one side – which is having enough to be content but then somehow having someone else enjoy it.

Greed and Lust

But now in Ecclesiastes 6:7-9, the Preacher is going to explore another reason for not being able to enjoy what God’s given – greed and lust

7 ¶ All the labour of man is for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled [satisfied].

Isn’t that awful? Man works to feed himself and yet it’s not as if man’s appetite is ever satisfied. And since that’s the case, the Preacher asks…

Ever Satisfied?

 8 For [So] what hath the wise more than the fool? what hath the poor, that knoweth to walk before the living [by knowing how to survive]?

The work that man does, it’s all ultimately for his appetite to be satisfied. And yet his appetite is never ultimately satisfied. So, what does it matter if you’re wise or foolish? What does it matter if you’re poor and know how to survive? You still won’t be able to satisfy your appetite.

No Satisfaction

And, so, the Preacher says…

9 Better is the sight of the eyes [having what the eye can see] than the wandering of the desire [walking of the soul, pursuing what the soul desires]: this [this constant longing] is also vanity and vexation of spirit.

So, it’s better to have what your eye can see – what you have. In other words, be content with what you have. Don’t keep restlessly seeking more. If you do, it’s vanity and it will vex your spirit.

So, enjoy the good things that God gives you. That’s what the Preacher has admonished us thus far.

Submit to God’s sovereignty in your life

Now, it’s hard to enjoy the things that God has given you when you have a contentious spirit about the way that he’s ordering your life. When you’re consumed by greed and lust, you know that you’re not really bowing to God’s plans for you in this life.

And that’s why in the next section, the Preacher wants to urge you to submit to God’s sovereignty in your life in Ecclesiastes 6:10-12…

10 ¶ That which hath been is named already [foreordained], and it is [has been] known that it [what] is man: neither may he contend with him that is mightier than he [God].

So, God has foreordained everything. He has known man – what he is, what will happen to him, etc. And therefore, don’t think you can contend with him and somehow prevail.

Now, this doesn’t exclude prayer. But it definitely does exclude bitter contention with God. Don’t bitterly argue with God about what he’s doing in your life. He has a plan for you that he determined before you were born. So, don’t feel like you’re going to get ahead by bitterly arguing with God about his plans. Rather, submit to him who is mightier than you.

Feeling Contentious?

But if you do feel the need to be contentious, here’s what the Preacher says…

11 Seeing there be many things that increase vanity [the more (contending) words, the more vanity], what is man the better [how is man benefited by this]?

How are you benefited by angrily contending with God? You’re not. It’s vanity for you and me to do this.

The Main Thing

And, here’s the main thing…

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?

So, do you really think that you know better than God about how your life ought to be run? Your life is spent like a shadow. It goes by quick. You don’t know the future. How can you or I pretend to know how God ought to direct our lives? We need to submit to his authority.

And, you know, part of submitting to God’s sovereignty in our lives involves learning how to value various things that we experience. What is truly good for us in this life?

Ecclesiastes 5 Summary Commentary

Enjoy this Ecclesiastes 5 summary!

Relating to God

So, let’s get to thinking about God – seeing as nothing is worth anything apart from him. And the Preacher wants to help you do that. So, Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 he’s going to tell us about how we should relate to God. And throughout these 7 verses we’ll be repeatedly admonished about our speech in regard to God. Let’s first read verses 1 and 2 where we’ll be told that our words to God should be carefully thought out, and few.

Words to God Should be Carefully Thought Out and Few

KJV Ecclesiastes 5:1 Keep thy foot [guard your steps/be careful what you do] 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.

So, when you go to worship God, listen a lot and speak very little. Remember your sinfulness. Don’t be like a fool that doesn’t consider that he does evil. Don’t feel the need to be quick to say anything. Remember that God is in heaven and knows what you need. He’s in heaven and is the one in control. You want to hear what he says, rather than him hearing what you think. So, humble yourself, settle down, and listen to God. That’s what we should do as we come to worship the Lord.

First Proverb about Dreams and Words

Then the Preacher adds this proverb about dreams and words in Ecclesiastes 5:3…

3 ¶ For a dream cometh through the multitude of business [many cares – explain this]; and a fool’s voice is known by [comes through a] multitude of words.

He’s going to give another proverb about dreams and words in Ecclesiastes 5:7. But the idea is that you don’t want to be like the fool who isn’t careful about his words and just talks and talks.

Vows to God Should be Thoughtfully Made and Always Kept

Then, next in Ecclesiastes 5:4-6, we’re led to consider something else about our speech in relation to God. Your vows and promises to God should be thoughtfully made, and always kept.

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 [you] to sin; neither say thou before the angel [messenger/priest], that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice [because of what you say], and destroy the work of thine hands?

So, then, if you do end up opening your mouth and saying something and in this case you make a vow or a promise to God – don’t take that lightly. Do the thing you said you would do. If you have no intention of doing what you promised, you would be better to just not make any promises to God.

And in Old Testament Israel, this promise would be a formal thing that the priest would be involved in. And you don’t want that minister to have to come and then be faced with having to explain your rash promise to him. But it’s not just the human minister you have to deal with in a situation like that. You have God who is now angry and could potentially destroy the work of your hands because you lied to him. You told him you’d do something and you didn’t do it. He holds people responsible for this kind of thing. Don’t be light about making promises to God. Your words directed toward him matter.

Second Proverb about Dreams and Words

And then the Preacher ends this section about our words to God giving a second proverb about dreams and words in Ecclesiastes 5:7.

7 ¶ For in the multitude of dreams [I think not the ones from God, just natural ones] and many words there are also divers vanities: but [here’s the focus] fear thou God.

Fear God. Do this by:

  1. Really considering the things you say to God and
  2. Following through on whatever you say to him with those thoughtful words of yours.

So, God is very much in the picture in Ecclesiastes 5:1-7. We’ve been taught how to relate to him with our words.

How to Think of Oppression

But I think that God drops back out of the picture as we transition into the next section – in

Ecclesiastes 5:8-9 – where we’re brought back to the matter of oppression. In this case, we’re instructed on how to think about oppression. Before, we were just made aware of the awful reality of the matter. But now we’re going to be taught how to think – or, really, how not to think – about that awful reality…

8 ¶ If thou seest the oppression [oppression/extortion] of the poor, and violent perverting [robbery] of judgment [justice] and justice [righteousness] in a province, marvel [amazed/astonished/astounded/wonder] not at the matter: for he that is higher than the highest regardeth [a high official is watched over/protected by a higher official]; and there be higher than they [there are higher officials over them, who protect them]. 9 Moreover the profit [produce] of the earth is for all [of these officials]: the king himself is served by the field.

Don’t Be Amazed

So, the Preacher advises us against being amazed or astonished or astounded when we see the poor being extorted – their goods being seized unjustly. When we see justice and righteousness being robbed in a province.

Now, he’s not telling us to not be concerned. He’s certainly not telling us that extortion and robbery of justice and righteousness are good things. He’s simply advising us to not view this as some strange unusual thing that’s never happened before.

Why? Why not marvel at this? Because one official watches over another. And unfortunately, I think this is not talking about accountability. I think this is a use of the word “regardeth” that means something more along the lines of “protect”. So, one official is protected by another. And then there are higher officials over them that protect them.

So the idea is that there’s a plethora of corrupt officials and they’re all in on the corruption. So, is there really any reason you’d marvel at the fact that corruption runs rampant when you’ve got a pyramid of unprincipled evil men in control and watching over and protecting each other?

Corrupt Officials

In addition to those considerations, we have Ecclesiastes 5:9. There we’re told that the produce of the land is for all of these corrupt officials. And of course, the top of the line is the king. It doesn’t go any higher than him. And we can assume that he’s in on the take as well. And what Ecclesiastes 5:9 reminds us of is that he, too, like the rest of the officials that watch out for each other – he’s a recipient of the produce of the land.

Again, we have no mention of God and of his ultimate judgement of evil – like we saw earlier in the book. This is all you have to think concerning corrupt government apart from a knowledge of God. Just don’t marvel. Take it in stride. It’s inevitable. That’s a pretty miserable way to live. But it’s the reality of life under the sun apart from God.

Thinking Right about Riches

Now, the Preacher moves on to Ecclesiastes 5:10-17 where we’re taught how to think about riches.

Riches Alone Provide No Real Satisfaction

First, in Ecclesiastes 5:10 the Preacher tells us that riches alone provide no real satisfaction

10 ¶ He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.

Isn’t that a conundrum? And one reason that this is the case is the next verse where we see the truth that the more you have, the more people take

The More You Have, the More People Take

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?

Just ask a winner of one of these lottery jackpots and they’ll be able to illustrate for you the truth of this verse.

So, don’t love riches because the more you have, the more people take – especially those corrupt government officials we just talked about!

Relative Value of Labor and Riches Compared

So, that leads the Preacher to compare the relative value of labor and riches. Ecclesiastes 5:12.

12 ¶ The sleep of a labouring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much: but the abundance of the rich will not suffer [allow] him to sleep.

So, it’s not riches that we need to pursue. Rather, we should pursue work. And the Preacher looks at the sleep life of the rich and the laborer. The sleep of the laborer is sweet. The sleep of the rich is constantly interrupted by worrying about his riches. Maybe he has nightmares about the corrupt government officials that are out to get his money – or other people who want a piece of the pie.

Dangers of Hoarding Riches

And the last consideration concerning our thinking right about riches is in Ecclesiastes 5:13-17 where we explore the dangers of hoarding riches.

13 ¶ There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept [guarded/hoarded] for the owners thereof to their hurt. 14 But those riches perish by evil travail [a bad investment/bad luck/misfortune]: and [although] he begetteth a son, and [yet] there is nothing in his hand [to leave to his son]. 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.

So, the man here hoards riches and this results in hurt for him. But actually, the man ends up losing it all through a bad investment. As a result he doesn’t have anything to leave his children. He goes to the grave a poor man. And even if he kept all his money to the day of his death, he can’t take anything with him. So, what benefit does he have for all his work and all his hoarding and all his days of eating in darkness and being filled with sorrow and sickness? Absolutely none.

Enjoy Life

Therefore, the Preacher ends chapter 5 with this conclusion – enjoy life

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 [also he] 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 [keeps him occupied] in [with] the joy of his heart [that he derives from his labor].

Summary of Ecclesiastes 4-5

So, realize the awful reality of oppression and yet don’t be surprised at its existence. Find the right balance in regard to work and appreciate the benefits of companionship. Recognize the superiority but ultimate vanity of wisdom. Be sober in your speech to God. Think right about riches. And ultimately, enjoy God’s good gifts to you – one major gift being the ability to enjoy your work and its fruit.

That’s a fair summary of the message of Ecclesiastes 4-5.

Ecclesiastes 4 Commentary

Ecclesiastes 4 Commentary: In Ecclesiastes 4 and 5 the Preacher wants to talk to us about the following subjects:

  • Oppression
  • Work
  • Companionship
  • Wisdom
  • God
  • Riches
  • Enjoying life

And really – what more is there to life? So, in these chapters we get a good cross-section of issues of life and how to approach them.

So, let’s study first of all, what the Preacher has to say about the awful reality of oppression in this world in Ecclesiastes 4:1-3.

The Awful Reality of Oppression

So, first – let’s notice that oppression doesn’t go unnoticed. The Preacher considered it. And God notices it, too. But we need to understand that this is one of those sections where God seems to be out of the picture.

There’s a time when the Preacher can comfort himself that God will make all wrongs right – like we saw with the matter of injustice in the places of judgement. But here in Ecclesiastes 4:1-3, the Preacher doesn’t bring God into the picture.

Now, again, the Preacher wants to lead us through this thought about oppression – not as a king who can actually do something about oppression – but as one who is experiencing it just like anyone else who has no power to change it himself.

And in this case, the Preacher wants to lead us through this scenario as one who isn’t even able to comfort himself with the thought of God’s future judgement. How does a lost man – who’s sensitive to the plight of the oppressed, and yet can’t do anything about it – how does he view this oppression?

Well, the Preacher notices this oppression as I said. He sees the tears of the oppressed. He witnesses the total lack of anyone to comfort the oppressed. And in fact the ones who are doing the oppressing have power on their side. They can force their oppression on others.

The Dead Have It Better

And this is all the Preacher can come to as a hypothetical lost man – the dead are to be praised or considered more fortunate or congratulated. Why? Because they’re not around to see this maddening injustice.

Those Not Born Are Better

And actually – to take it a step further – this situation of oppression is so deeply disturbing to a sensitive but lost man that he’ll conclude that it is better to just never be born into this kind of world where oppression is ubiquitous and unstoppable.

I’m not saying that the Preacher is a lost man. In fact, he can’t be – based on other things he says. But I am saying that the Preacher is leading us through the mindset of a lost man – or at least how a lost man would logically think about this phenomenon of oppression in this world.

And then he just leaves it there for now!

There’s something perhaps a little unsatisfying with that kind of abrupt ending to this consideration. But isn’t that how life is apart from God? It’s unsatisfying. And the Preacher’s abrupt transition to another topic in Ecclesiastes 4:4-6 mirrors how life is without being able to rest in God and his sovereignty.

Finding Balance in the Realities of Work

Well, next, the Preacher turns to consider work. In particular, he leads us through finding balance in the realities of work in Ecclesiastes 4:4-6.

Envy or Rivalry

So, to start, every work and skill that a man has is – depending on how you translate the Hebrew – either:

  1. The stimulus that causes others to envy him or
  2. The result of rivalry between that man and others

And either way – the Preacher says that this is vanity. I think I actually prefer the first reading that we have here in the King James Version. Because competition isn’t necessarily – in my mind – meaningless. We benefit from competition. But no one benefits from envy. Envy is truly vain and meaningless and profitless. So, envying the abilities and skills and labor of others is vain.

So, avoid envy.

Laziness

And while you’re avoiding envy – Ecclesiastes 4:5 – avoid laziness in regard to work.  The fool sits back and folds his hands. He doesn’t work. And because he doesn’t work he won’t eat either. And that’s the idea in the second part of Ecclesiastes 4:5. The fool eats his own flesh – or is pictured as doing so – because there’s nothing to eat due to all of his laziness.

So, avoid envy and avoid laziness.

Be Happy

And as you’re avoiding envy and laziness – be happy with a tranquil and quiet life (Ecclesiastes 4:6).

Now, all else being equal, would you rather have one handful of something or two? Like – gold. Would you rather fill one hand with gold or two? You’d want two.

But balance that with the kind of lifestyle that attends your two handfuls of whatever it is. Sometimes it’s better to settle for less compensation or whatever else if it’s a calm and quiet situation – rather than receiving double and doing so through a great amount of labor and vexation.

So – in other words – don’t overcompensate in light of the last warning against laziness and swing totally to the opposite end of the spectrum where you’re working constantly and at a fevered pace simply to accumulate more stuff to yourself. Find a middle ground – I think is what the Preacher is advising us.

So, avoid envy. Avoid laziness. And avoid overworking yourself just to get ahead materially. Find balance in the realities of work.

The Benefits of Companionship

Now, the Preacher moves on to consider the benefits of companionship in Ecclesiastes 4:7-12.

Don’t be a Workaholic

Now, in a sense, Ecclesiastes 4:7-8 are a continuation of the previous section about finding a balance in your work life. The Preacher is still addressing work and an imbalanced view of it. The guy in this new section is working so hard. There’s no end to his work. And yet strangely he’s not satisfied with all that work and what it produces – riches.

But Ecclesiastes 4:7-8 also transition us into considering companionship. The man is “one” and he’s “alone”. He doesn’t have a “second” or a partner. He doesn’t even have a child or sibling. He’s all alone in this world. And he’s laboring so hard – but ultimately, he never asks himself – and he should! – whom he’s actually laboring for, to such an extent that he’s missing out on some good things in life that would be right for him to pursue and enjoy.

So, we find in Ecclesiastes 4:7-8 a combination of:

  1. A warning to keep work – and life beyond work – balanced and
  2. The benefits of companionship

And really, we see the negative argument for companionship here. The man doesn’t have anyone else to share his work and its fruit with. He’s not happy with riches and yet he’s not able to improve the life of others with his excessive labor.

Companionship is Important

And then we get into Ecclesiastes 4:9-12. Here, the Preacher keeps some of his earlier emphasis on work – but the emphasis is much heavier on the concept of companionship and its benefits.

Two is better than one. That’s the Preacher’s contention. Why are two better than one?

Well, first of all, generally speaking, two get more done than one. There’s a good reward for their labor.

Further, two people can support each other. If one falls and he’s all alone – there’s no one else there and so there’s no one to help him get back up. But if there’s a second, that person can help the first get back up. And that falling and getting back up can apply to physical falls or even to non-physical emotional or spiritual falls.

Next, two can keep each other warm. Now, of course if you want to keep yourself warm these days, this isn’t the first thing you think of – “oh, let me go get someone to help me keep warm”. We have heat. We have blankets. And you know – they had those things in the Old Testament as well. But do you remember what happened to David – the father of the author of this book? Remember when he was very old and about to die? He was cold. Very cold. And they didn’t just heap more blankets on him. They didn’t put warmer clothing on him. Apparently those things wouldn’t work for him. No, they found a person to lay down with him to keep him warm. It’s that kind of situation that I think the Preacher has in mind here.

Next, there’s strength in numbers. If one prevails against one man, then if another is with the one being attacked, the two will win.

And lastly, a three-fold cord is not quickly broken. Again, this is speaking of strength in numbers. And it might just be saying that a rope that’s made up of three separate cords is much stronger than one that is made of one or two cords. But some see here a reference to the rightful place of God in a life. We’ve been talking about two being better than one. But where did this “three” come from all of a sudden? Perhaps the third character is a reference to God.

And that’s the end of that section – verses 7 through 12.

So, we started chapter 4 dealing with the awful realities of oppression in this life. Then we explored work and finding the right balance in our minds regarding work. That led to a consideration of the benefits of companionship. And now, we jump to another seemingly-unrelated matter. Just like the jump from oppression to work seemed unrelated, now we’re making a similar move from work and companionship to wisdom.

In verses 13 through 16, to end chapter 4, we consider the superiority but ultimate vanity of wisdom. Let’s read.

Superiority but Ultimate Vanity of Wisdom

So, this section begins by asserting that wisdom is the trump card. It is better than anything – in particular, it’s better to have wisdom than to have age on your side or to have power and money on your side. That’s Ecclesiastes 4:13.

13 ¶ Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished.

Poor Child vs. Foolish King

Ecclesiastes 4:14 leads us through that poor and wise child coming out of prison to become king after that old and foolish king. And Ecclesiastes 4:15 tells us that everyone followed that new king who was the formerly poor wise child who came out of prison. So, that’s all so exciting. Who doesn’t love a Cinderella story?

14 For out of prison he [the king – maybe the child] cometh to reign; whereas also he that is born in his kingdom becometh poor [he was born poor in what would become his kingdom]. 15 I considered all the living which walk under the sun, with [coming to follow] the second child that shall stand up in his stead. 

No End to the People

But Ecclesiastes 4:16 brings us back out of fairy tale and into reality. There’s no end to all the people who come and pass off the scene. And because of that, that wise poor child who was formerly in prison and then became king – well, he ends up being forgotten just like anyone else!

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 [but even though he was so popular, neither those before nor after the wise young child will remember him]. Surely this also is vanity and vexation of spirit.

But what a remarkable life this child lived! And it was due to his wisdom. So, good for him. But the Preacher wants to remind us that in this life, wisdom is excellent – and yet, the one who has it will still end up being forgotten just like everyone else. And to the Preacher, that is vanity. It’s striving after wind or working so hard just to realize that what you’ve achieved is nothingness and ultimately empty.

And again, in this section, God is left out of the picture. Wisdom is great – but without God it’s useless. It doesn’t matter how wonderful your life is if you don’t have God. Because your life will end and everyone will forget about your remarkable achievements.

Ecclesiastes 3 Meaning Commentary

Now, as we move on to chapter 3 for our Ecclesiastes 3 Meaning article, it seems like God gets back out of the picture again. He isn’t mentioned in the first 8 verses. And yet I think the message of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 is still fairly positive. In these verses we see time viewed from a human perspective. And even from a human perspective, time is viewed as orderly. And that’s a good thing.

Season

So, there’s an appointed time – or “season” – for everything. And there’s a time for every activity or event – or as the KJV says, “purpose” – under the sun. Everything that happens on earth has an appointed time. It all happens in such an orderly manner. Again, this is a good thing.

3:1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven:

Birth and Death

There’s a time when you’re born. And that’s a time of joy. A time of newness. Of beginnings. There’s hope. There are aspirations. Plans are made. Parents prepare themselves to guide this new life through the various twists and turns that the world will present.

a time to be born,
and a time to die;

And just like there’s a time for birth, there’s also a time for death. It happens to all. It’s appointed for a man once to die.

Some people like to say that the death process is beautiful. Now, there’s a real sense in which death is very ugly. It isn’t the way that God originally created things. He didn’t make things to die. It’s an enemy and the result of sin.

And yet, even this ugly sad process has a place in life under the sun.

The joy and anticipation of birth is met and – from the vantage point of this life – overwhelmed by the sorrow and pain of death.

The newness of birth gives way to the finality of death.

This can be depressing. But you cannot deny that it’s orderly. Things begin and things end in this life. That’s just the way it is under the sun.

Planting and Uprooting

There’s also a time to plant and a time to pluck up or uproot. Farmers and amateur gardeners know about this.

a time to plant,
and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

There’s a time to plant your vegetables. You do so in hope of a harvest. You have plans for what you’re going to do with your vegetables and fruit and such.

And then the end of the season comes – and the very things you yourself planted with your own hands – now you’re uprooting them. And the uprooting happens at a certain time. You don’t just harvest when you feel like it. No – the crops give you signs that its time to uproot. And when the appointed orderly time comes, you do what comes naturally.

And unlike the life/death cycle we just spoke of previously, there’s really no sense of loss or grief with planting and reaping. At the same time, this cycle is just like the previous one – in the sense that it’s orderly.

Killing and Healing

Next, there’s a time to kill and a time to heal.

a time to kill,
and a time to heal;

If Qoheleth is looking at this from a perspective of agriculture – maybe he moves on from the last cycle of planting and harvesting crops to now speaking of taking care of animals.

There is a time to kill an animal – a cow or goat or chicken – whatever animals one might have on a farm. You raise that chicken or goat for a while – but the whole time you’re doing it with the end of slaughtering it and eating it eventually.

And yet – if while you’re engaged in that process, the chicken gets sick or injured or whatever – you’re going to try your best to heal it.

Those two actions – killing and healing – seem contradictory. But you and I know that in the cycles of life, these two things can and do happen together constantly. And they happen at the right time – in an orderly fashion.

Breaking Down and Building Up

Further, there’s a time to break down and a time to build up.

a time to break down,
and a time to build up;

I imagine that if we’re still on the farm in Qoheleth’s mind then this is either referring to a wall or to a house or maybe to a temporary shelter of some kind.

Maybe he’s thinking of pulling down an old barn and raising a new one.

Weeping and Laughing

Moving on, Ecclesiastes 3:4 tells us that there’s a time to weep and a time to laugh. There are appropriate times for each of these activities.

a time to weep,
and a time to laugh;

You wouldn’t necessarily laugh at a funeral. I mean, there might be some real joy in either of these venues. But you would think a person strange who was just spontaneously laughing during a solemn funeral ceremony.

You’d also think it odd if someone was weeping at the joyful birth of his child. Or at his wedding. Not just a tear here or there – but full-blown weeping. You would start worrying about that relationship if the groom was sobbing uncontrollably during the vows.

The point again is that there’s a right orderly time for everything on earth. Time – viewed from man’s perspective – is orderly. And that’s a good thing.

Mourning and Dancing

Similarly, there’s a time to mourn and a time to dance.

a time to mourn,
and a time to dance;

This is similar to the last phrase we looked at. And let me just say that – yes, dancing is good. It’s good – just like music is good or like clothing is good. It’s good when it’s done in a non-sensual manner. David danced. Miriam and the daughters of Israel danced. And it wasn’t wrong of them to do that. When it becomes wrong is when it’s sexualized in public.

So with that disclaimer, yes, there is a time to dance.

There’s also a time to mourn.

There’s an appropriate time for each of these activities.

Throwing and Gathering Stones

Next, there’s a time to throw stones and a time to gather them. Now, it’s simple enough to see what this text says. But it’s rather difficult to get at its meaning.

a time to cast away stones,
and a time to gather stones together;

Meaning: Sex?

Some say it’s a euphemism for sexual relations. And that might possibly fit with the next statement about embracing. Though I’m not sure how folks who think that this is what it’s talking about would prove their case. I didn’t see where else this phrase was used of sexual relations. So, I’d tend to think that’s not what this is speaking of.

Meaning: Revenge?

Others say it has to do with the practice of throwing stones into the field of an enemy to ruin his crops. But, I kind of doubt that Qoheleth is sanctioning that kind of destructive unloving behavior.

Meaning: Children’s Game

Or is this speaking more on the level of children’s activites? Maybe he has in mind the games that kids play. There’s a time when they throw the stones. And there’s a time that they need to gather them up… only in order to throw them again! That would fit in well with the cyclical nature of things on this earth — gather them, throw them, and on and on.

Meaning: Death Penalty

The only other possibility I could think of is perhaps this is speaking of stoning as a death penalty. There is a time – in ancient Israel, at least – to throw stones at a convicted criminal. And there would be a corresponding time of gathering those stones together – probably in order to use them again as an agent of punishment.

So, there are a number of interpretative options with that one, but I think it’s probably either referring to kids’ games or stoning as a death penalty.

Embracing or Not

Then we have that there’s a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.

a time to embrace,
and a time to refrain from embracing;

And I think this is speaking of interpersonal relationships.

Jesus himself knew what this was like. There was a time when he could rightly embrace each of his disciples. But then a day came when he would say in the words of David, “he who eats my bread has lifted up his heel against me,” referring to Judas. There was a betrayal in his life. And so the one whom he would normally embrace is now one he would not embrace.

And I don’t doubt that you personally have experienced that kind of reversal in relationships you’ve had. It’s heartbreaking. But there’s an appropriate time for each action.

You wouldn’t embrace one who has betrayed you – unless there’s been some serious reconciliation, of course. And you wouldn’t refrain from embracing someone close to you.

There’s an appropriate time for each of these postures.

Searching and Calling It Quits

Then there’s a time to get and a time to lose. Or – really – a time to search and a time to give up as lost what you’re searching for.

a time to seek,
and a time to lose;

Our oldest son used a pacifier when he was a baby. And there came a time when we wanted to get him to stop using the pacifier. We planned and prayed about how to get him to stop. Because we had heard how difficult it is for some kids to relinquish the pacifier. So, with a lot of prayer and planning, we were going to implement the “de-pacifiering”. But the thing was that one day my wife was with him at the table. And he was eating. My wife was making some food and had her back turned to him. He had his pacifier and he had taken it out of his mouth and it was in his hand. My wife remembers hearing him throw the pacifier to the ground. We looked for that thing for a while. There was – for us – a time to search for it. Not that we wanted it back – we just wanted to know where it was! But as much as we searched, we couldn’t find that thing! We asked our son where it went. He didn’t know. We ended up moving out of the apartment and we still couldn’t find it. So, hopefully someone since then has found it and put it to good use.

I give that as an illustration of the search process and the end of that process when you need to give up on the thing as lost forever. There’s an appropriate time for both events in this life.

Keeping and Throwing Away

Next, there’s a time to keep and a time to throw away.

a time to keep,
and a time to cast away;

My wife and I were in rare form on Friday. We somehow were given grace to go into cleaning mode. Oh, we were throwing away stuff left and right. It was great. I even got rid of some 3 ½ ” floppy drives. You might not even know what those are! Yeah, some of my wife’s old college papers were on them. And I had just kept them – maybe I could excuse my hoarding instincts as biblical. I mean, there is “a time to keep”, after all. No, that’s not why I did it, of course. But there is a time to keep. I mean, sometimes it’s fun to look at those documents. And you never know when you might want to access them. But when you don’t even have a device that can read the files anymore, you know it might be the appropriate time to – as Qoheleth says – throw away. And so, that was our appropriate event Friday – to throw a bunch of stuff out – magazines, old electronics, papers – it was the appropriate time to throw those things away.

Rending and Sewing

There’s also a time to rend and a time to sew. There’s a time to rip a garment apart and a time to sew it back up together.

a time to rend,
and a time to sew;

A lot of my old clothing ends up as rags around our house. Sometimes I see pieces of an old shirt and think – oh yeah, I remember that shirt! But then I see that it’s all ripped up and I’m brought back to the reality that the appropriate time had come for that old ratty shirt to be made into a rag. It was time for it to be rent or torn up.

At the same time, I might have a shirt or some pants that have a small tear in them. And it might be more appropriate to sew those back up instead of just automatically rending them and turning them into rags.

There’s a time for either course of action.

Silence and Speaking

There’s a time to keep silence and a time to speak up.

a time to keep silence,
and a time to speak;

And we can struggle with this one. When to speak and when to keep silent. There’s a right time for both.

Can you imagine a person that speaks all the time? Well, you actually may know someone like that. It’s not pleasant.

And you also may know what it’s like to have a person that never speaks – and not because he physically can’t. But because he won’t. He remains silent no matter what.

Neither of these people are ideal or healthy. There is indeed a time to both speak and to keep silent. You and I need wisdom to know which activity is appropriate at any given time. But both are appropriate in their appointed time.

Love and Hate

There’s a time to love and a time to hate.

a time to love,
and a time to hate;

There’s a balance to be achieved here, too. Someone who loves everything in this world is imbalanced. And someone who hates everything is likewise imbalanced.

That’s because God himself balances love and hate. The Bible tells us that God is love. That’s a direct quotation. But we’re also told that he hates certain things and individuals.

Jesus in the book of Revelation tells us that he hated the deeds of a certain group of individuals. Hate? Yes.

God tells us that he hated the individual Esau and loved the individual Jacob. Hate?? Yep.

The point is that God is balanced. He loves the world so much that he sent Jesus to die for our sins. But he hates the world so much so — that if you’re a friend of the world you make yourself an enemy of God — and he goes on and commands his people to not love the world, just like he doesn’t.

God’s love and hate is balanced. And it should be with his creatures as well. There’s an appropriate time to both love and hate.

War and Peace

And lastly, there’s a time of war and a time of peace.

a time for war,
and a time for peace.

Now, when I lived in Fort Atkinson I used to see a sign between there and the little town of Milton that said “Peace Now. Stop the War.” Now, I think I recall this sign being there from way back in 2004 or so. And it’s still there, the last time I checked. This guy has had this sign up for over a decade. What war is he talking about? I get the sense that he’s probably just against all war and so, it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, the war against the Islamic State, or whatever else – if it’s war, there are people who are just automatically opposed to it, no question.

But there is a time for war. We might wish that there wasn’t. And there will be a time when Jesus returns and reigns and then there will be no more war. But in this life there is war. There’s an appropriate time for war.

But there certainly also is an appropriate time for peace. Both activities find their appropriate time or season under the sun.

And so you have these 14 couplets of 28 activities that find their proper time under the sun. And all of them are the exact opposite of the other. And yet, the fact that these activities are the opposite of the one they’re paired with – that doesn’t change the fact that there’s an appropriate time for each of the activities mentioned.

So, we’ve begun to see the human quest for meaning being satisfied.

Enjoy life. It’s God’s gift to you right now.

And think of time as an orderly system in which every activity falls into place and has its appropriate time.

Time

So now, we’ll consider how God views time.

We’ve been seeing that the book of Ecclesiastes is very down-to-earth. Who would have thought that God wants our mindset to be on enjoying the simple pleasures he gives us in this life? Eating. Drinking. Working. We’re supposed to enjoy those things. That’s what we learned so far.

And the key to transform our meaningless, futile life under the sun? God! God is the key in turning the monotony of life into something meaningful. And that means that not even the things that he gives us to enjoy are the key to enjoyment and satisfaction. No – they’re his gifts to us. And we always need to be careful to look beyond the gift to the giver. But as we’re looking to the giver he wants us to enjoy his gifts.

And so now we’re going to be receiving some more counsel from God along the lines of what we’ve just been discussing. What is God’s advice to you regarding what you should do in this world? This is I think what we’ll see in Ecclesiastes 3:9-22 — Enjoy Your Life Now.

Wait. Did I — an Independent Fundamental Baptist — just say that? The title of my message is Enjoy Your Life Now?? This sounds like one of the titles on the racks at Walmart under the Spirituality section right next to Oprah’s new book!

But I trust that what I’m about to proclaim here is faithful to the Scripture. I trust it’s true and if it’s God’s truth then it’s what we need right now.

So let’s be counseled by God on Enjoying Your Life Now.

Verses 9-22 in Seven Sub-Sections

We’ll start by noting that there are 7 sections in Ecclesiastes 3:9-22. Let me just briefly give you the breakdown of this main section and then we’ll come back and consider each one individually.

Verses 9-10

In Ecclesiastes 3:9-10 we have Man’s Work Revisited. Did you notice that through these first 3 chapters the Preacher has been speaking a lot about work? Even when he was trying to pursue pleasure for satisfaction he ended up working! So, the Preacher in Ecclesiastes 3:9-10 comes back to this theme of Man’s Work.

Verse 11

After that, he turns in Ecclesiastes 3:11 to Man’s Relationship to Time and Eternity. He’s already dealt with the theme of time in the Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. Remember? A time to be born and a time to die, etc. But he hasn’t mentioned eternity yet. So, that’s what we’ll see in Ecclesiastes 3:11 – Man’s Relationship to Time and Eternity.

Verses 12-13

Then in Ecclesiastes 3:12-13, the Preacher restates his thesis that Man Should Enjoy His Life & Work. And the first two sub-sections we just glossed over contribute to that conclusion that Man Should Enjoy His Life & Work.

Verses 14-15

After that, we’ll see the Preacher turning his focus to God’s Work. And he’ll tell us there that God’s Work is Permanent & Continuous in Ecclesiastes 3:14-15.

Verses 16-17

Then the Preacher takes some time to speak of a particular aspect of God’s Work – His Judgement of evil. So Ecclesiastes 3:16-17 speak of God’s Work of Judgement.

Verses 18-21

Next, The Preacher focuses on another work of God. Ecclesiastes 3:18-21 point us to God’s Work of Humbling Man through Death.

Verse 22

And the last of the 7 sections summarizes everything. Ecclesiastes 3:22 – Man Should Enjoy Life & Not Worry About the Future – Enjoy Your Life Now!

Verses 9-22 In Detail

So, now that we’ve laid some groundwork, let’s go a little bit deeper with this section.

Man’s Work Revisited

As I said, Ecclesiastes 3:9-10 speak of Man’s Work Revisited.

3:9 What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboreth? 10 I have seen the travail which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised therewith.

So, again, we see the Preacher’s focus on work. In some ways these first three chapters at least seem to be the Preacher showing us the vanity and meaninglessness of work and labor and activity apart from God.

But we were led to believe that he was past all that negative stuff about how worthless work is. I thought he was just telling us about how we’re supposed to enjoy work and see it as a gift from God!

Well, then He goes on to ask about the ultimate profit that one can derive from work. Uh-oh. Again, this sounds negative – like he’s getting ready to smash all of our hopes again. But he doesn’t do that. No, look at the next section. It says that God has made everything – what? Beautiful. That sounds pretty positive.

Man’s Relationship to Time and Eternity

So let’s read Ecclesiastes 3:11 and consider Man’s Relationship to Time & Eternity.

3:11 He hath made everything beautiful in its time: also he hath set eternity in their heart, yet so that man cannot find out the work that God hath done from the beginning even to the end.

I would imagine that “everything” here must include man’s work. Everything – including that work, God has made beautiful or appropriate. He’s made everything to fit beautifully in his time – or in its appropriate time. Again, this hearkens back to the Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. There’s an appropriate time for everything. And when an activity is done at the right time, the Preacher is saying that that’s beautiful.

And yet, there’s something beyond that. There’s something more to life than the things done under the sun. And the reason we know that that’s the case is because God has put the world in our heart. The word there translated as “world” is the Hebrew Olam – forever, long time, eternity.

God has put eternity in our heart. We know there’s more than what we’ve experienced thus far in our life. And it’s just out of our reach. That’s what the Preacher says. There’s this eternity out there beyond our comprehension. And it’s just dark enough that we can’t find out the work that God has done from the beginning to the end.

We know that things happened before us and we know that things will happen after we’re gone from this life. But what those things were or will be – we don’t know.

But here again – God knows. And that’s what the Preacher wants us to remember. Yes, he focuses on the fact that we can’t know eternity past or future. But even more importantly – God does know those things.

And I think the idea is that you want to know that God. You want to make sure you’re on his side. He’s got work to do from eternity past to eternity future. And you want to be sure that you’re part of that work. I think that’s what he’s getting at.

Enjoy Your Work

So, the Preacher revisited the issue of man’s work. Then he admitted that even work in its time is a beautiful thing – while also adding the element of eternity that he wants his audience to be mindful of. And in light of all of that, in Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 he asserts that Man Should Enjoy His Life & Work.

3:12 I know that there is nothing better for them, than to rejoice, and to do good so long as they live. 13 And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy good in all his labor, is the gift of God.

So this is the Preacher’s conclusion – rejoice, do good, eat, drink, enjoy your work – in this life. And recognize that this is all a gift from God – both the actities and the enjoyment that you can find in any of those activites – it’s all God’s gift to you. As much as he allows you to have, take it.

God’s Work is Permanent

That’s the conclusion regarding man’s work. And with that, the Preacher turns to consider God’s work. In particular, he asserts that God’s Work is Permanent, Complete, & Continuous in Ecclesiastes 3:14-15.

3:14 I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it; and God hath done it, that men should fear before him. 15 That which is hath been long ago; and that which is to be hath long ago been: and God seeketh again that which is passed away.

So, God’s work is permanent. What a contrast we see between man’s work and God’s work. Man’s work can grant a certain amount of joy. And God wants us to enjoy it as a gift from him. And yet it’s fleeting. It ends at some point.

On the other hand, God’s work lasts forever. Isn’t that interesting?

The work of man, at its best remains for a while and is given to others after the death of the man who did it.

But what God does endures forever.

And I think the question that the Preacher extends to the man under the sun who has hitherto had no interest whatsoever in spiritual unseen realities is – “Don’t you want to know this God? The one whose work is eternal?

God’s Work is Complete and Perfect

So, God’s work is permanent.

Further, God’s work is complete and perfect. You can’t put or add to it. There’s nothing lacking from what God does – unlike the work of man. With human work, there’s always something that could have theoretically been done to improve on it. Not with God’s work, though.

And you can’t take away anything from it. It’s not as if he does anything inappropriate that needs to be corrected or taken out of his work. God’s work is complete and perfect.

Fear God

And we humans are supposed to take a lesson away from this fact of God’s permanent perfect work. We should fear before him. We should stand in awe of his work. We should see the great contrast between what God can do and what mere man can do.

Again, I think this is another chance that the Preacher is using to draw the natural man to the true God.

God’s Work is Perpetual

And lastly in this section we have that God’s work is continuous or perpetual. What happened in the past is happening now. And what will happen in the future already happened in the past. And the Preacher has used this line of argument before to discourage the natural man from being comfortable in seeking true fulfillment in the stuff of this life. But now he’s going to use this statement to point to God’s work and this attribute of it – that it’s continuous or perpetual.

I think that’s so significant. The same bare facts without God being placed properly in view can lead a man to despair. But put God back into the picture where he rightly belongs – and all of a sudden this is a good thing. Again, God makes all the difference. He makes the difference between you and me living a life of vanity and emptiness or living a life of fulfillment, being fulfilled by the only one who can provide that for us.

God’s Work of Judgement

But now we can move on to the next section in Ecclesiastes 3:16-17 where we’re directed to consider God’s Work of Judgement.

3:16 And moreover I saw under the sun, in the place of justice, that wickedness was there; and in the place of righteousness, that wickedness was there. 17 I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked; for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.

So, the Preacher’s eye turns to the fact of injustice in this life.

Now, it’s one thing when the injustice is perpetrated by individuals who are then judged in the place where that society designates as the place of justice – the place where justice is served out. The place where the righteous should be vindicated and where the wicked should be punished.

But that’s not what the Preacher observes. He observes the total overthrow of an institution. Because that’s what happens when you have an institution in a society that’s designed to mete out justice against evil-doers… when in fact the ones who are given such a charge are the evil-doers themselves!

And our minds jump immediately to perhaps several decisions made in our Supreme Court where it appears that there was wickedness and iniquity in the very place designed to condemn and stop those things. And this is a problem in our day. But we should be a little comforted – the Preacher experienced these exact same dynamics.

Now, I’ll just point out that this is one more reason that I think the author of this book doesn’t want to be too closely linked with Solomon. Because, if Solomon the king were to see injustice in places of judgement, you’d think that he’d do more than just say something in his heart – which we’ll see in the next verse.

Right? He could and would have been required to put an end to the injustice as the king. So, that’s another reason I would caution against equating the Preacher immediately with no distinctions with King Solomon.

So, the Preacher sees this injustice and iniquity and he does just like we do. He needs to work this out in his heart. It can be so distressing to see wicked men do the exact opposite of what even our consciences know is right and just. And here’s how the Preacher handles it.

He consoles himself with the undeniable and unavoidable fact that God will judge the righteous and the wicked. It’s going to happen. And – see – that conviction of future judgement is something that the natural man doesn’t have at his disposal. Because even if he does try to take comfort in it – he needs to come to terms with the fact that he’s a worthy recipient of that same judgement.

In the Preacher’s mind, his observation that there’s a proper time for everything to be done means that surely judgement is coming some day. Judgement is another activity – though when it comes to God’s judgement of course it won’t be under the sun. And yet just like every other activity, God has ordained a time for it to happen.

God Humbles Man

So the Preacher started considering God’s permanent, continuous, and perfect work. Then he zeroed in on God’s work of judgement. And next he’s going to lead us in considering God’s Work of Humbling Man through Death in Ecclesiastes 3:18-21.

3:18 I said in my heart, It is because of the sons of men, that God may prove them, and that they may see that they themselves are but as beasts. 19 For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; and man hath no preeminence above the beasts: for all is vanity. 20 All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. 21 Who knoweth the spirit of man, whether it goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast, whether it goeth downward to the earth?

So, the Preacher is kind of working backward in his thinking now.

He started speaking of God’s work of judgement. But when does that judgement occur?

Well, it’s not in this life. The New Testament book of Hebrews tells us – “it’s appointed unto man once to … die.” And then what? “After this – after death – the judgement.” That’s the order of things. Death. Then judgement.

We’ve considered judgement, which is the end of the road. But how does one get to the judgement? Through death.

And so that’s the Preacher’s logic. He spoke of judgement. Now it’s time to speak of the vehicle that conveys men to judgement – death.

And the Preacher says something in his heart again in Ecclesiastes 3:18. He muses about the estate of the sons of men. I think in the context this is speaking of the universality of death – the very matter he’s going to get to in this section. And concerning death, God has made it this way to humble men – by showing us that we’re beasts.

And of course this isn’t some hint of molecules-to-man evolution that was dreamed up by Charles Darwin. We are beasts in the sense that – Ecclesiastes 3:19 – as beasts die, so does man.

You might think that you’re above mere beasts. You might think you have some advantage or preeminence over – say – your dog. And yes in some ways you and I are higher than animals. We were made in God’s image. And yet, both you and your dog or cat or parakeet or your pet scorpion – both you and they will die some day.

We have the same breath that God gives and God takes away some day. Our bodies are all made of dust. And that’s interesting, because in Genesis we’re explicitly told that man was made of dust. And Genesis does tell us that God ordered the earth to bring forth living creatures. And between that reference and the one we have here in Ecclesiastes we discover that that process involved beasts being made of dust as well.

So, we’re all made of dust. And when that one breath we all have is removed we all go back to the dust.

And I think that last verse – Ecclesiastes 3:21 – is aimed at the man under the sun, who has no interest in spiritual realities. How do you really know – oh natural man – whether your end is any more special than the end of beasts?

And yet, if that natural man has been listening so far, he knows that there’s a judgement coming – and really, animals don’t seem to be a part of that judgement. So, there is a distinction between man and beasts – man is judged in the end. And yet in this life with what the natural eye can see, it appears that both man and beasts just cease to exist. Their bodies stop operating and they return to the ground from where they were originally created.

Enjoy Life and Don’t Worry

And in light of all that – in light of the fact that man will die just like a beast and that there’s a judgement to come and that all of this is God’s work and that it cannot be prevented and it cannot be changed – and certainly in light of man’s relationship to time and eternity – the Preacher returns to his assertion that Man Should Enjoy Life & Not Worry about the Future in Ecclesiates 3:22 to end this section.

3:22 Wherefore I saw that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him back to see what shall be after him?

Let’s start with that last statement. This is key – there will be events that occur after your death. And you’re not going to see them. You’re limited as a human. You die – as we’ve just been reminded of. And so, given that fact, you should enjoy your life now. Don’t worry about what’ll happen in the future. Just concern yourself with the present. And keep it in mind that the enjoyment of work and activity is your portion. It’s your inheritance. And like an inheritance, someone is leaving it you. Who would that be? Yeah, it’s God.

Conclusion

So, enjoy your life now – realizing the main role that God plays in it all – and reverencing him for that fact.

Ecclesiastes 2 Commentary Summary

Welcome to this Ecclesiastes 2 Commentary!

Based on how we finished Ecclesiastes 1, we might think – Ah! What about wealth and pleasure? Good times!

Let’s explore that possibility in Ecclesiastes 2:1-11.

Summary

So, Qoheleth gives his summary in advance of what he found when he sought meaning in wealth in Ecclesiastes 2:1. Mirth and pleasure – he tried these – and his conclusion? Vanity, futile, meaningless. No meaning here, folks!

2:1 I said in my heart, Come now, I will prove thee with mirth; therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also was vanity.

So, he kind of spoils the surprise. He tells us up front that there’s ultimately no satisfaction to be found in pleasure and wealth.

Laughter and Mirth

He goes on to question in Ecclesiastes 2:2 the value of laughter and mirth – they have no value in terms of being the source of meaning in life.

I said of laughter, It is mad; and of mirth, What doeth it?

And then he starts drinking alcohol! Because, maybe there’s some satisfaction and fulfillment to be found there. And it’s interesting what he says about this pursuit of his. The whole time he’s testing the value of alcohol, he says his heart is guiding him with wisdom.

Not Drinking for Pleasure Alone

Now, a less exacting figure than Qoheleth might drink for the mere pleasure of it. But what Qoheleth is admitting here is that he’s not drinking for pleasure. He’s drinking to test whether that pleasure is worth pursuing and whether it’s an activity that would bring meaning into one’s life. That’s what he says in Ecclesiastes 2:3 – he’s trying to find out what’s good for the sons of men to do with their lives under the sun.

I searched in my heart how to cheer my flesh with wine, my heart yet guiding me with wisdom, and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what it was good for the sons of men that they should do under heaven all the days of their life.

And – surprisingly – Qoheleth doesn’t actually relay his findings on that matter. Because the pursuit of wine is tied into the next several activities he tells us about engaging in. So, you need to wait until he describes everything else he’s pursued as far as wealth and pleasure. He’ll get to it.

All that Qohelet Did!

So, for now, let’s turn our attention to Ecclesiastes 2:4-8. Look at all the activities that Qoheleth did!

I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards; I made me gardens and parks, and I planted trees in them of all kinds of fruit; I made me pools of water, to water therefrom the forest where trees were reared; I bought men-servants and maid-servants, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of herds and flocks, above all that were before me in Jerusalem; I gathered me also silver and gold, and the treasure of kings and of the provinces; I gat me men-singers and women-singers, and the delights of the sons of men, musical instruments, and that of all sorts.

He made great works, built houses. He had vineyards, gardens, and orchards. He had trees and pools to water those trees. He bought servants. He had servants born in his house. He had more cattle than any before him who were over Jerusalem. He had entertainment. He had things that were looted from other nations. He had musical instruments. Or since that word appears only once in the Old Testament it’s hard to know if it’s speaking of musical instruments or actually, a harem of women. I tend to think he’s saying he had a harem of many women.

And notice the pronoun you keep seeing. “I made me x”. “I planted me x”. “I built me x”. It’s all for him. That’s the focus. He’s focused on doing these things for himself.

I mean, if Qoheleth did these things for altruistic reasons, he might not know if the reason he’s not finding meaning in them is because he’s actually doing them for others and so others are finding meaning instead of him. So, Qoheleth cuts out anyone else from the picture. He does all these things purely for himself – leaving no room for wondering whether he could have tried to squeeze just a bit more satisfaction and meaning out of his activities.

Gaining Stuff

Now, he sums up all of this in Ecclesiastes 2:9. He gained all of that wealth and stuff and pleasure. And yet, his wisdom remained with him. He didn’t allow himself to be sidetracked by all those things. He was still on a solemn pursuit to find meaning in this life apart from God.

So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me.

And think of it, what else can you think of that would make a natural man happy? Buildings, food, beautiful landscaping, water, entertainment, people to serve you, sexual fulfillment, money. What more can a natural man ask for? I would venture to guess that almost every lost man in your city right now would think that this would all make him happy and fulfilled in this life – if only he could have it all.

Some Benefits of Pleasure

And – you know what? – Qoheleth did experience some benefit from these pursuits. He says in Ecclesiastes 2:10 that he didn’t withhold anything from his eyes. Anything he wanted he took and did. He didn’t withhold any pleasure from himself.

10 And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them; I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced because of all my labor; and this was my portion from all my labor. 11 Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labor that I had labored to do; and, behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was no profit under the sun.

And what was the result? Pretty simple. He gave his heart joy. And so… his heart rejoiced. That’s it. That was his portion or payment for all his work.

But that’s it. That’s all. No ultimate fulfillment. No ultimate meaning. It’s just like the sun that does the same thing day after day – or the ocean that keeps receiving water but never gets full – or the wind that just blows around all the time and never really accomplishes anything.

This pleasure that Qoheleth heaped unto himself – what did it really accomplish? What permanent accomplishment had he made by all of this labor?

Is Anything Going to Last?

And I think that’s on his mind as we enter into the next section that occupies Ecclesiastes 2:12-17.

Yeah – all these things are fun. They give me some joy. But is any of this going to last? Is there any lasting meaning to it? Any permanent value?

I’m afraid not.

And so, we see Qoheleth here coming to terms with the fact that he cannot find meaning in any permanent achievement that will survive his death.

Discerning Madness and Folly

Qoheleth starts again in Ecclesiastes 2:12 speaking of his seeking to discern wisdom and madness and folly. And then it’s as if the following thought breaks into his consciousness – What will the man who comes after him do with all his stuff? He spent so much time and effort and money to accumulate all this stuff.

2:12 And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what can the man do that cometh after the king? even that which hath been done long ago.

Well, he comes to think that probably not much will change. The guy who comes after him will just do whatever he’s done.

Wisdom is Better Than Folly

And, now, do you remember how Qoheleth got all of his stuff? It was through his superior and exceeding wisdom. And he recognizes still that wisdom is a good thing. That’s what he says in Ecclesiastes 2:13. If you’re to compare wisdom and folly – well, hands down – wisdom exceeds folly like light is better than darkness.

13 Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.

Then he breaks into a proverb comparing the wise man and the fool. And there’s no doubt that Qoheleth believes that wisdom is a help to those who have it. The wise man can see – while the fool walks and stumbles around in darkness. So, no doubt, having wisdom is better than being a fool.

Death

But then look at the end of Ecclesiastes 2:14. Despite the advantages of earthly natural wisdom – both the wise man and the fool suffer the same fate in the end. What fate is that? Death.

14 The wise man’s eyes are in his head, and the fool walketh in darkness: and yet I perceived that one event happeneth to them all. 15 Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so will it happen even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then said I in my heart, that this also is vanity.

And that bothers Qoheleth. Worldly wisdom is great and all. It’s certainly better than foolishness. But it doesn’t even prevent you from dying.

And so, Qoheleth looks at that reality and he despairs. He had spent his whole life gaining and increasing in earthly wisdom. And in the end? He – the one who worked so hard to be wise – will die just like the one who spent no time at all gaining wisdom.

Wise People Die Like Foolks

The man who is wise about things of this life won’t be remembered any more than a fool will, generally. And again – Qoheleth asks in Ecclesiastes 2:16, How does the wise man die? His response – Just like the fool!

16 For of the wise man, even as of the fool, there is no remembrance for ever; seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. And how doth the wise man die even as the fool!

Hating Life

And that caused him to hate life in Ecclesiastes 2:17. Because he did all this stuff through his great wisdom and yet – even if that stuff survives him after his death – he’s still going to die just like a fool.

17 So I hated life, because the work that is wrought under the sun was grievous unto me; for all is vanity and a striving after wind.

Despair

And so ultimately I think we see Qoheleth despairing of his work. And I think that’s what he comes to in Ecclesiastes 2:18-23.

And we’ll get to that. But let me just summarize what we’ve seen so far.

Qoheleth started off on a quest for meaning in life. He first considered whether human wisdom could provide for that meaning and fulfillment. It didn’t. That was Ecclesiastes 1:12-18.

Then he turned to pleasure and wealth. Would that satisfy? No. That was Ecclesiastes 2:1-11.

And that search for meaning in pleasure and wealth included all the work he did – the gardens, buildings, orchards, etc. So, in the last section – Ecclesiastes 2:12-17 – we saw Qoheleth’s being confronted with the reality that all that work he did – ultimately even if it lasts forever, he’s going to die just like someone who has no concern for being wise. And so he could be as humanly wise as possible and do as much work as is humanly possible – and yet, he’s still going to die and his work will go to someone else.

And it’s that last idea that he’ll focus in on in Ecclesiastes 2:18-23. Ultimately, work for work’s sake – work without an eye on God – is meaningless – because it goes to someone else ultimately.

Hating Work

So, Qoheleth came to hate his work. He didn’t just dislike it. He hated it. Why?

2:18 And I hated all my labor wherein I labored under the sun, seeing that I must leave it unto the man that shall be after me. 19 And who knoweth whether he will be a wise man or a fool? yet will he have rule over all my labor wherein I have labored, and wherein I have showed myself wise under the sun. This also is vanity.

Because – Ecclesiastes 2:18 – that work that he worked so hard to accomplish and which he applied wisdom to achieve – it will survive him and someone else will inherit it. And really – who knows if that person will be wise or foolish?

And let’s think of this – if Qoheleth is truly Solomon, and I think there are reasons to believe that he is – then who inherited all of his stuff? It was Rehoboam. Was Rehoboam wise? No, he was foolish. And really, even a generation after Solomon, a good deal of his work had been squandered by the foolishness of the one who would come after him. And that kind of situation Qoheleth looks at and says “it’s vanity!”

Despairing of Work

And so in Ecclesiastes 2:20 he causes his heart to despair of all his work – the work he did with no consideration of God. He puts no stock in it. He realizes now that his work will achieve nothing lasting. And he repeats in Ecclesiastes 2:21 basically what he’s just said already.

20 Therefore I turned about to cause my heart to despair concerning all the labor wherein I had labored under the sun. 21 For there is a man whose labor is with wisdom, and with knowledge, and with skilfulness; yet to a man that hath not labored therein shall he leave it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil.

And you might get annoyed with this kind of thing.Where the author repeats and repeats the same point. He’ll make the point in verse 1 and verse 8 and verse 16 (just to throw out some numbers). He’ll return to it in a few chapters. And on and on.

And you might wonder why he’s doing that. To us modern western readers, this might seem like an idiosyncracy. But really, others have picked up on this happening in Hebrew writing – especially wisdom writing like Proverbs and Psalms – and they say that this was actually how the Hebrew author would make his point. He will repeat it time after time and in different ways with different nuances and different emphases – until you and I finally get it! So, that’s what he’s doing here.

So, yeah, a man can exercise all sorts of wisdom in this life and accumulate all sorts of wealth from his work. And yet, the next guy in line to inherit it hasn’t done anything to deserve it. And yet, he’ll own it all.

Under the Sun

And then Ecclesiastes 2:22-23 I think shed some light on the kind work we’re talking about here. Again, it’s done “under the sun” – without an acknowledging of God’s role in one’s life.

22 For what hath a man of all his labor, and of the striving of his heart, wherein he laboreth under the sun? 23 For all his days are but sorrows, and his travail is grief; yea, even in the night his heart taketh no rest. This also is vanity.

And the work is along the lines of what Qoheleth said he did – basically back-breaking labor. You don’t think it’s easy to construct buildings or build houses or arrange landscaping and food sources, do you? Especially in Qoheleth’s day. No, it was hard painful work. The kind that doesn’t even let you rest at night because there’s so much to get done the next day and you were working so late already to achieve your goals.

Do you know Qoheleth’s opinion of that kind of work? It’s meaningless. If you’re looking for meaning and fulfillment in this life through work alone – you’re not going to find it.

Update

So, let’s take some stock of where we stand at this point.

Everything apart from God is worthless. It’s empty. There’s no way you can find meaning in anything like that.

Put yourself in the place of someone who doesn’t know God – who doesn’t have any thoughts of spiritual realities – who has no hope of eternity. And the wisest man that’s ever lived is telling you that no matter what you pursue – human wisdom, pleasure, wealth, work, sexual intimacy, you name it – none of that stuff is going to infuse meaning into your life.

I imagine that if you were actually listening, you would be faced with the utter bleakness of life. If all the things I’ve been led to believe will satisfy me… really won’t? What do I do? Where do I turn? I want meaning! I want satisfaction! I want my life to count and I want what I do to last an eternity!

Well then, if that’s how you’re thinking, you’d be in the position to receive Qoheleth’s teaching in the next section. And we’ll get to that next time. We’ll see a glimpse into a worldview that isn’t dominated solely with the here-and-now. A worldview that values spiritual realities.

In other words…

Imagine that you were a man who interprets life completely apart from an awareness of God. You go about your life as if God didn’t exist. You’re living for the here-and-now without any consideration or knowledge of God.

And under those circumstances, you’ve been taught what to value in life. You’ve been told that certain things will give you fulfillment – money, achievements, relationships, knowledge.

But just then the wisest man to ever live sits you down and lays out for you how none of those things will provide for real meaning in your life. He tells you about the vanity or futility of all those things that you’ve come to place your hope in. Here you were, thinking they would somehow provide meaning and satisfaction in this life. But now you’re left with nothing.

When a man who previously placed his hope in something that now all of a sudden he comes to see as being virtually useless – you know there are going to be some changes.

None of us enjoys being anchor-less in our life. We want to have something to hold on to and sense that it won’t move.

So, when the man who takes no thought for God – when he all of a sudden comes to realize that the things he’s hoped in are worthless, he will instinctively seek elsewhere for satisfaction and meaning.

And it’s for exactly that kind of person that Qoheleth writes the section of Ecclesiastes that we’ll be studying now.

In the rest of Ecclesiastes 2, we’ll see the first part of the Human Quest Satisfied.

Enjoyment is a Gift from God

So, let’s read Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 to begin, where we learn that enjoyment of life is a gift from God.

2:24 There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and make his soul enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw, that it is from the hand of God. 25 For who can eat, or who can have enjoyment, more than I? 26 For to the man that pleaseth him God giveth wisdom, and knowledge, and joy; but to the sinner he giveth travail, to gather and to heap up, that he may give to him that pleaseth God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.

Eat and Drink?

Ecclesiastes 2:24 might make you a little uneasy. If you know your Bible, there are a few verses in the New Testament that seem to hearken back to this one. And those verses are not very positive.

The Foolish Godless Farmer

One of those verses is in the Gospels where Jesus is exhorting us to be rich toward God – to pay attention to him and not be living for stuff with no concern for him and his wishes in your life.

That’s the passage where the foolish farmer gets a wonderful bumper crop one season. He says to himself “take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” And now, it’s OK to have a bumper crop and get a lot of food from the work you put in to that.

Then the farmer planned to tear down his current facilities and build new ones to store his extra produce. And again – that’s alright. There’s nothing wrong with upgrading facilities to accommodate increased needs.

So, what is wrong with this farmer? Why is Jesus finding fault with him?

The main problem is this – the guy thought so much about his earthly issues and needs that he completely left God out of the picture. And the farmer died and his stuff went to someone else. And now he’s in eternity needing to face the God who demands faith and love and service of his creatures.

The Faithless Servants

There are other passages in the Gospels that warn Christians to keep alert and keep waiting for the Lord’s return. And in those passages, we’re given parables about a master leaving and putting his slaves in charge until he returns. And some of them begin to “eat and drink” and get drunk and abuse their fellow slaves. So, these passages also put “eating and drinking” in a bad light.

Deniers of Jesus’ Resurrection

And one more – Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 tells us that if the resurrection won’t happen, then we might as well “eat and drink”. And in this case again, eating and drinking is viewed as an activity that excludes God and basically amounts to living one’s life just for your own pleasures and without thought for God.

But, That’s Not What Qoheleth Means…

So, coming from a New Testament perspective we can view a verse like Ecclesiastes 2:24 rather negatively. But Qoheleth doesn’t intend this verse to be taken negatively. And by extension neither does God.

This is what God wants us to consider. There is nothing better than for you and me to eat and drink and enjoy good in our work. Did you know that? Did you know it’s OK – and really, commended by God – to enjoy your work? To eat? To drink? That’s what God wants us to do. Don’t be ashamed if you find simple pleasure in food and drink and work. That’s the way it ought to be.

But we can’t miss the crucial aspect here. End of Ecclesiastes 2:24 – God gives the ability to find such enjoyment. It’s God who allows you to eat and drink and work. And with that recognition, Qoheleth opens the curtains and lets the light pour in.

Here’s the secret: God. God makes all the difference.

What’s the antidote to life lived merely “under the sun” as a lost man who has no interest in or knowledge of spiritual realities? It’s God.

So much of what we’ve already read in this book has been getting us ready for this. We’ve endured almost two whole chapters in which we’ve been told how useless and worthless everything is. We’ve been told that we can’t find meaning or satisfaction in anything. And we’ve been left wondering where we can find meaning in life – because we all want it. And so now we’re given the key. It’s God.

God gives us the ability to enjoy such mundane things as eating and drinking and working. So enjoy them! Don’t think that these things are somehow below you. That somehow it’s sub-Christian to enjoy food and drink and work. No – enjoy them. God wants you to.

Enjoy Things From God

And then Ecclesiastes 2:25 follows this admonition to enjoy these things with an argument. Qoheleth says “who can eat or have enjoyment without him?” The word “hasten” in the KJV can also mean “enjoy” and the phrase “more than I” can also mean “apart from him”.

So – who can eat without God? Who provides you with food? Who created the plants that give seed? Who sends rain to water the seed so that it grows? Who created animals for our food? Yeah, God did it all.

And who can have enjoyment without God? Did you know that God isn’t against enjoyment? Oh! – sometimes we get the wrong idea that God wants us to shun enjoyment and love misery. But who’s the one who has prepared a new heavens and new earth for his people? Who’s the one who has glorious realities in store for those who love him? Yes, God.

He gives us food and pleasure. And there is no real lasting satisfying pleasure apart from him.

God Gives Joy

And the benefits of knowing God just keep accumulating in this section. Ecclesiastes 2:26 tells us that in addition to joy – the joy that only God gives – the joy we ought to have in our eating and drinking and work – well, in addition to that joy, God gives wisdom and knowledge.

And that’s interesting. We’ve already seen in this book that wisdom and knowledge are areas in which a man might try to find meaning and satisfaction – and yet he won’t find it in them.

But look at this – the wisdom and knowledge in Ecclesiastes 2:26 comes from God. The wisdom and knowledge that we considered previously – we have to assume – is – maybe we can call them “so-called” wisdom and knowledge or maybe “human” wisdom and knowledge. Wisdom and knowledge – so-called, not given by God – is futile and useless. But throughout this book, Qoheleth views wisdom and knowledge – the kind given by God – as something of great value.

Now, let’s just consider this as well. Even though Qoheleth is now speaking very highly of wisdom, knowledge, joy, work, food, and drink – these things in and of themselves are still not where people find meaning and satisfaction. Right?

Where is the locus of meaning and satisfaction in this life? Again, God, only. Even to the man who knows God – it’s not as if work in and of itself or wisdom or knowledge by themselves is what provide meaning to our life. It’s God who provides that meaning. We find our purpose in him. We find meaning and satisfaction and lasting achievement in him.

But not all men are like that. In fact, most don’t recognize God. Ecclesiastes 2:26 tells us how God provides wisdom, knowledge, and joy to the one who pleases God – who is good in his sight.

But then we have the sinner. What does God give to him? Travail. Labor. Hard work. And that work contributes not to his own well-being – but to the benefit of the one who pleases God. And it is God who actively makes this happen.

What a contrast we see then in this section from what came before this. God was all but totally absent from this book until this point. But now all of a sudden, we’re given this view of God – he gives joy and wisdom and knowledge. He gives the sinner the task of accumulating stuff just to hand it over to the one who knows God – the one who has transcended mere life under the sun.

So – the message of Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 for you is enjoy the life that GOD has given you – emphasis on God. Emphasis on Joy. Emphasis on Life!

Psalm 20 Meaning

Let’s consider Psalm 20 meaning. Psalm 20 is a very positive, upbeat kind of psalm – even though it shares some characteristics with lament psalms. And typically – as you know – lament psalms aren’t really upbeat. But this one is.

Psalm 20 Meaning
My Experience

In fact, I can recall a time when I was living on a sheep farm and was having all sorts of struggles. The owners of the farm were expecting more work out of me than I was able to give them – so they weren’t very happy with me. My fiance at the time – who’s now my wife – was experiencing some pretty perplexing health issues – which required more guidance than I really could give at the time. Those health issues brought about dynamics that quite honestly threatened the continuation of our engagement. I felt alone. I felt directionless. I was very discouraged.

And then I went to my room and sat down and opened my Bible. And Psalm 20 was next on my Bible reading schedule. And as I read, this sense of encouragement came over me. I mean – look at what was there to greet me – this nameless chorus of voices saying things like this:

  • The LORD hear thee in the day of trouble!
  • The name of the God of Jacob defend thee!
  • Send thee help from the sanctuary, and strengthen thee out of Zion!
  • Remember all thy offerings, and accept thy burnt sacrifice!
  • Grant thee according to thine own heart, and fulfil all thy counsel!
  • We will rejoice in thy salvation, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners!
  • The LORD fulfil all thy petitions!

Now, obviously, this chorus of voices wasn’t addressing me directly. I mean, this psalm wasn’t written for me – Paul Donald Weir living in the early 21st century. But it did encourage me. And my experience with this psalm helps me to know how the original recipient of this psalm might have felt when he heard these words.

Psalm 20 Meaning
A Prayer for the King

You see, this psalm was something of a prayer to God on behalf of the Davidic king of Israel. The people of Israel apparently would sing this song as a prayer to God to deliver their king – maybe right before a battle. Their fate was wrapped up with their king’s. If he won, they won. If he lost, they lost. It was in their best interest for the king to win. So, they pray to God for him.

Psalm 20 Meaning
Protected in the Battle

And so, here’s one way you could summarize the prayer of the people in this psalm. They’re praying for their king to be Protected in the Battle.

In Psalm 20:1-4 we see a prayer to God for the protection of the king.

The LORD hear thee in the day of trouble;
the name of the God of Jacob defend thee;
2 Send thee help from the sanctuary,
and strengthen thee out of Zion;
3 Remember all thy offerings,
and accept thy burnt sacrifice; Selah.
4 Grant thee according to thine own heart,
and fulfill all thy counsel.

So, here in Psalm 20:1-4 we see the people’s prayer to God. They’re praying for their king to be delivered or saved or – as I prefer, protected. Now, you wouldn’t know necessarily that it’s the king that this unidentified group of people is praying for.

Psalm 20 Meaning
A Prayer

But you do get the sense that they are praying, first of all. They say — The Lord hear. The Name defend. Send. Strengthen. Remember. Accept. Grant. And Fulfill. All these verbs – and the way they’re stated – alert us to the fact that they’re being spoken as a prayer. They’re requests. And they’re being directed to – Psalm 20:1 – the Lord and the name of the God of Jacob. Those two descriptors point to the same exact being – the only living and true God. So, these people are uttering a request – well, many requests actually. And those requests are being directed to God. So, yes, it’s prayer.

Psalm 20 Meaning
A Prayer for a King

Now, on whose behalf are these people praying and making these requests? Look at the pronouns being used. Thee – 4 times in Psalm 20:1-2. Thy – twice in Psalm 20:3. And thee, thine, and thy in Psalm 20:4. The requests are being made on behalf of someone. Not multiple someones. Just one someone. I’ve already let the cat out of the bag and told you that the prayers are being offered for the king of Israel. But this becomes very clear in the next few verses that we’ll turn to shortly.

And, so – though there are multiple requests being made here – there’s really only one underlying burden of these people. It’s that their king be protected.

Psalm 20 Meaning
Verse 1

In Psalm 20:1, the people ask God to hear or answer their king in the day of trouble. This phrase “day of trouble” or “day of distress” appears over a dozen times in the Old Testament. And in several of those instances, it’s speaking of the invasion of a foreign army. And I think that’s the point here. The king is going into some military skirmish – whether to aggressively attack the enemy and gain ground or to defend his nation from an invading enemy. And the people are asking God to answer him as he leads the army in battle.

Well, what do you suppose a godly king who’s going into a battle would request from the Lord at that moment? Certainly whatever he would request would include the concept found in the next line of Psalm 20:1.

So what will the king likely be asking for in the battle? The second line or statement of Psalm 20:1 asks the Lord to defend the king. In the battle to come, that king will certainly himself be asking the Lord for defense. And the word there for “defense” has the idea of setting something in a high place. The idea is security. So, the picture is that he’d be out of the way of danger.

Now, this is metaphorical and poetic. The people and the king himself wouldn’t ask for him to be able to find a high mountain so that he could avoid danger during the battle. Sometimes those kings would be in the battle themselves. No, this is figurative and asking that the king would be protected from danger – as if he were set securely on high – away from all threat of harm.

And it’s interesting that the description “the name of the God of Jacob” is in parallel to “the Lord”. When the people use this word, “name” – it might be a little confusing to us, because we wouldn’t say something like this. This is definitely idiomatic. The word “name” in Hebrew expressed a concept that’s just lost on us when it comes over into English as “name”. In English, a “name” is something someone is known by. It identifies a person. “Oh, that person over there? Oh, her name is Sue.” And I can’t really think of any other way we use that word “name”.

But in Hebrew, “name” could also communicate the character of someone. So, whatever it was in the Lord that would make these people think that he would defend the king – that’s what they were calling on to defend their king. And, now, what was in the character of the Lord that would cause him to defend his Davidic king? How about the fact that God had promised to keep a Davidic king on the throne forever. How about the fact that God keeps his promises. I think those kinds of thoughts are what the people had in mind as they made the requests of Psalm 20:1 to the Lord. Protect our king by answering and defending him in the battle to come. That’s the idea.

Psalm 20 Meaning
Verse 2

Next, in Psalm 20:2 the people are still asking God to protect their king. But this time they’re focusing on the location from which God will protect the king. They ask that God send help to the king from his sanctuary. Literally, from his “holy”. Like a holy place. And that’s why “sanctuary” makes sense here.

And this sanctuary is – next statement of Psalm 20:2 – in Zion. In Jerusalem. And so, it’s obvious that the people are picturing God as helping the king from his base in the Temple in Jerusalem. It’s as if the Temple is God’s command center, from which he will send help and strengthen his king. And so in a real sense, the king is leading the army – but the Lord himself is the one sending reinforcements and seeing to it that the battle is won by the good guys.

Psalm 20 Meaning
Verse 3

Next, in Psalm 20:3 – the people ask that the king’s religious devotion to the Lord would be accepted. That the Lord would remember and accept all the times when the king had offered an offering according to God’s rules.

Now, I admit that sometimes the thought of God answering someone because of what that person does can be uncomfortable. I mean, we’re rightly taught that salvation is by grace through faith. It’s not because of what we do. It doesn’t happen through our works.

But we’re not talking about salvation here – spiritual salvation, that is. We’re talking about the Lord physically protecting the king of Israel in a battle and giving him victory.

And we need to keep in mind that the Lord actually has answered the prayers of people – apparently based on their deeds. I’m just going to reference one. You have Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20. Remember – he was sick and Isaiah the prophet came to him and told him that he would die. Do you how Hezekiah responded? He turned to the wall and prayed to the Lord. And he said this “I beseech thee, O LORD, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight.” And the Lord heard him and healed him. Hezekiah pointed the Lord to his good deeds and his following the Lord in order to appeal to him to answer his prayers. So, I just point this out to say that – while you can’t point to your works in order to appeal to the Lord to save you – the people in this psalm have some precedent to beseech the Lord to protect their king – in part because of his acts of genuine devotion to the Lord.

Psalm 20 Meaning
Verse 4

And lastly, in Psalm 20:4, the people are praying that God would give the king anything he desired and that God would bring all his plans to pass. Now, in context I’d have to imagine that they’re asking specifically for the king’s battle plans to succeed.

And so, that’s the people’s prayer to God for the protection of their king.

In Psalm 20:5-6 we have the realization of the people’s prayers for their king. They picture their king being protected by God. And that causes them to rejoice.

5 We will rejoice in thy salvation,
and in the name of our God we will set up our banners:
the LORD fulfill all thy petitions.
6 Now know I that the LORD saveth his anointed;
he will hear him from his holy heaven with the saving strength of his right hand.

Notice the words “salvation” or “saveth” or “saving”. One of those words is used 3 separate times in these two verses. This is where we get the idea that the people are asking for the salvation or deliverance or protection of their king. In the first four verses of the psalm, we saw individual requests. And they all – taken together – amounted to this repeated concept here of “salvation” or protection.

Psalm 20 Meaning
Verse 5

In Psalm 20:5, the people state their plan to rejoice when the Lord protects their king. They’ll shout for joy when it happens.

They go on to state in Psalm 20:5 that they planned to set up banners – just like an army does. An army has banners. These people – then – are likely even involved in the military effort for which they’re praying. Really, maybe the army itself is the group that would sing this song before a battle. But whatever the case, these people will set up these banners in the name of their God. That name which they prayed in Psalm 20:1 would defend their king, who’s leading them into battle.

And then it’s as if these people are just overflowing with good desires for their king and his leading them into victory – and they end Psalm 20:5 with just one more request to the Lord for their king. They want the Lord to fulfill all the king’s desires.

You just can’t help but notice this sense that the people are 100% behind their leader. They want the absolute best for him. There’s no hint of the ever-present rebellion that’s just been kind of codified into our collective national conscience. It’s like – as an American – there’s something wrong with you if you’re not constantly agitating against authority. Sometimes that’s the sense you get from reading the news and seeing society at-large – anarchy is great, that’s the message! But that’s not how the people reciting this psalm felt. They were totally behind their leader. They knew that their success was wrapped up in his. And so they prayed accordingly.

And I don’t want to go too far afield, but I’ll just remind us all that it’s a Christian practice to pray for those in authority – whether you voted for them or not. Whether you think their main goal in life is to destroy this country or not. In fact, this is a practice – according to 1 Timothy – that the men in the church ought to be doing as we come together for worship. We should be praying for our authorities. And that without wrath or dissension. We should be agreed on this, in other words.

Psalm 20 Meaning
Verse 6

Now, when we enter into Psalm 20:6 it’s as if we’ve turned a new page. The people have been praying for their king to be protected. And now in Psalm 20:6 it’s as if the deliverance has been granted. The king has been protected and all is well. And the crowd of praying people has now been reduced to one. The speaker says “now I”. It’s just him now. And this single individual has come to learn something. Now he knows that God saves his anointed. His Messiah. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament – it’s his Christ.

Now, let me explain that a little bit. When that term is used in the Old Testament, it’s not necessarily speaking of Jesus the Messiah. I think that in Psalm 20, this reference to God’s anointed is directly speaking of the Davidic king who’s going out to battle the enemy. So, that’s the Messiah in this case – the Davidic King for whose deliverance the people are praying. And yet, the Jews were encouraged to believe that there would be some day THE Messiah. The Ultimate Davidic King – who would rule from Jerusalem and restore the fortunes of Jacob. And yet, that Messiah isn’t the one in view here. Right now in Psalm 20, the Messiah or anointed one is simply the Davidic king leading his army into battle.

Alright, now this individual speaker in Psalm 20:6 confirms in the second statement of the verse that God will hear his king. This “hear” is the same word used in Psalm 20:1. It was the very first prayer uttered for the king. That the Lord would hear and answer him. Now this individual is convinced that the Lord will answer their prayers and hear their king.

Further, this individual is convinced that the Lord will do this hearing and answering from his holy heaven. The word “holy” there appeared in Psalm 20:2. There, it was translated “sanctuary”. So, while the people prayed that God would send help to their king from his sanctuary on earth, this individual recognizes that God’s deliverance will come from some place even higher and loftier than that. It will come ultimately from his sanctuary in heaven.

So, we had the prayer of the people for the protection of their king. Then, we just saw their rejoicing in and realizing the answer to their prayers for protection. And now in Psalm 20:7-8, we have some contrasts. Namely…

7 Some trust in chariots, and some in horses:
but we will remember the name of the LORD our God.
8 They are brought down and fallen:
but we are risen, and stand upright.

There are two main contrasts in these two verses.

Psalm 20 Meaning
Verse 7

The first contrast is between the things that a person trusts in. That’s Psalm 20:7. And once again, the individual has given way to the group of people – see the term “we”? And now the people are stating this, literally, “These in chariots, and these in horses, But WE the name of the Lord our God will invoke”.

In other words, there are some who call upon – as it were – their chariots and horses in the battle. And after all, that makes sense on a certain level. I mean, in ancient Israel, you do battle with chariots and with horses. Those are the materials available to you. But even if it might make some sense, it’s totally wrong. And the people of the king know it.

They will certainly use chariots and horses to great profit. But they don’t call upon those things. They don’t invoke them. They don’t put their trust in them. The king’s people – in contrast to the enemy – will invoke the name of the Lord. The name that we’ve seen in Psalm 20:1 defending the king. The name by which the people in Psalm 20:5 were setting up their banners. That name – that’s the one that the people call upon.

So, that’s the first contrast – the one to whom you call when you’re in distress – pragmatic, practical things like horses and chariots. Or the Lord. The king’s people chose the Lord. Was that choice justified?

Psalm 20 Meaning
Verse 8

Well, that’s where we get to the second contrast in these two verses. Psalm 20:8 is the contrasting results of choosing the Lord for protection or choosing any other means.

What happened to the enemy of Israel in the battle? Psalm 20:8 – they were brought down and they fell. Not what you want to have happen in a battle. But in contrast – “but we” – the king’s people proclaim – we are risen and stand upright. Praise the Lord.

Psalm 20:9 serves as the concluding prayer for God to protect the king.

9 Save, LORD: let the king
hear us when we call.

Now, I’m going to suggest that the way Psalm 20:9 is translated can be improved. The last phrase “hear us when we call” is correct. It’s a request from the people for the Lord to again hear them and the prayers they’ve offered for their king.

Everything before that phrase – though – is what I think we need help with. You can translate that first part like this – “Lord, save the king”. And that would be a perfectly good way to translate the Hebrew there. And doesn’t that go along with the entirety of the psalm as we’ve seen it this morning? That’s all we’ve been hearing about for this whole psalm – that God would deliver his king. So, yes, I think this is a better way to take the Hebrew here.

Plus, this helps us avoid the awkwardness of the people all of a sudden — in the very last verse of the psalm — introducing this idea that they want the king to hear them when they call. But, throughout the whole psalm, they’ve been calling to the Lord – not the king. They’ve been wanting the Lord to hear – not really the king to hear. And now at the very end of the psalm, the people change their approach and start asking the king to answer them? No, I think the people are still calling to the Lord to save their king – even in this last verse of the psalm.

Psalm 20 Meaning
Applying Psalm 20

So, that’s Psalm 20. Protected in the Battle. That’s what the people are praying for their king. It’s what they rejoice in and what they come to see actually happen. It’s what they experience — while the enemy gets cut down because they’re looking to something else for protection.

And ultimately it’s what we need – we need protection in the battle. And most of our battles are not literal and physical. They’re spiritual in nature. But they’re just as real and just as deadly. We have an enemy who is unseen. He has forces that are more powerful than we are. And he’s constantly influencing wicked people to oppose us. But we need to remember that the true battle isn’t against those people. It’s against the animating force behind them – the Adversary. This is why we pray, “Lord deliver us from evil” and the evil one. And this is why it’s so crucial to put on the whole armor of God. We don’t stand a chance otherwise against our unseen enemy.

So, may the Lord hear thee. May he defend thee. And we will rejoice in thy salvation when he does.