Relationships are Fleeting and Frustrating(Ecclesiastes 4:1-16) 

Solomon has thus far spent time discussing the vanity of life under the sun. He has been examining common ways people search for relevance and meaning and finds them fleeting and frustrating. If wisdom, pleasure, and work cannot bring contentment, what can? Solomon next examines relationships. Can our relationships provide happiness and meaning to our lives? The answer is the same as the answer given for wisdom, pleasure, and work: relationships can provide temporary happiness and moments of satisfaction, but it is fleeting and frustrating. Relationships are good, but because sin has distorted relationships they are vanity. You will not find relevance and meaning in relationships.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Man’s Hatred of His Neighbor (1-3)

Relationships are vanity because of man’s oppression of his neighbor. Solomon starts chapter 4 by saying, “I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them!” (1). Robert Burns wrote: “Many and sharp the num’rous ills Inwoven with our frame! More pointed still we make ourselves Regret, remorse, and shame! And man, whose heav’n-erected face The smiles of love adorn, – Man’s inhumanity to man Makes countless thousands mourn!”

Solomon sees the ugliness of man’s inhumanity to man by declaring “I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive” (2). He goes further than this by saying: “but better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun” (3). Solomon laments that those who have not lived in this world are better off than those who have lived in this world because of the oppression and wickedness in this world.

Man’s Envy of His Neighbor (4-6)

Relationships are vanity because of man’s envy of his neighbor. Envy manifests itself when someone is discontent and/or resentful of someone else (their possessions, personality, etc.). Solomon examined the toil and the skill of those around him and he came to the conclusion that it is infested with “man’s envy of his neighbor.” Any good that is done is done not for God’s glory but so that someone can be better than someone else. This is vanity.

In verse 5 Solomon uses a Hebrew idiom “the fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh.” This idiom means that a foolish person refuses to work (is lazy and loves to sleep) and therefore wastes away (ruins himself). In Proverbs 6:10-11 we find a similar statement: “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber and want like an armed man.” In verse 6, we are told that a handful of quietness is better than two hands of toil. More is not always better. Proverse 15:16 says, “Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it.

Man’s Absence of His Neighbor (7-12)

Relationships are vanity when they are non-existent. How horrible it is when a person does not have a good friend. It is vanity because we were designed for relationships. Solomon gives an example of an overworked person with no one to share life with (7-8). He then speaks of the blessing of good friends who can: 1) help one another when one falls (9-10), 2) keep one another warm (11), 3) protect one another from an enemy (12). God designed humans to be in community and life is vanity without loving, meaningful relationships. 

Parable: Wise Youth and Foolish King

Chapter 4 closes with a parable of a poor boy and a foolish king (13-16). Solomon says it is better to be a poor youth who is wise than a rich king who is foolish. Wisdom is better than wealth. Once again, this is supported by the Proverbs. Proverbs 3:13-15, “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.” The king is rich and powerful but foolish because “he no longer knew how to take advice.

Relationships Require Redemption

Relationships are vanity when hatred, envy, and absence infest them. You cannot find satisfaction and meaning in relationships unless you have been redeemed. Romans 3:24 says that Christians “are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Redemption involves many things including forgiveness of sin (Eph 1:7) and adoption into the family of God (Gal 4:5). Through the Gospel, we are redeemed from sin and given eternal life. The Holy Spirit indwells us (John 14:17) and begins the work of sanctification (1 Cor 6:11) so that we will grow in spiritual maturity and become mature disciples of Christ.

Once we have been redeemed and reconciled to God, we can have meaningful relationships with those around us. Jesus can enable us to be peacemakers. Jesus can enable us to forgive those who have hurt us. Jesus can enable us to humble ourselves so that we can seek forgiveness for those we have hurt. Jesus can replace our hatred with love. Jesus can replace our envy with compassion. Jesus can develop key relationships around us and help us to reach out to those who are in need of a friend. Let us seek God’s wisdom and watch Him redeem our relationships for His glory and our good.

Embrace God’s Appointed Seasons (Ecclesiastes 3:1-22) 

Solomon has thus far spent time discussing the vanity of wisdom, pleasure, and work. These things can promise temporary happiness and moments of satisfaction, but it is fleeting and frustrating. In chapter 3, Solomon focuses on the first major method of living a life of relevance and meaning. Solomon, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, calls us to embrace God’s appointed seasons of life. In verse 1 we read, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.

Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com

Embrace the Contrasts of Life

In verses 2-8, Solomon expounds on verse 1 by showing how life is full of contrasts and these contrasts comprise our lives on earth. No one is immune from the contrasts of life. There is a time to be born and a time to die. A time to weep and a time to laugh. A time to keep silent and a time to speak. John Maxwell wrote: “You don’t control the timing of most events; the best you can do is recognize the timing.”

Some commentators believe that this section speaks of fatalism. Fatalism is the belief that all events are predetermined and therefore inevitable. It doesn’t matter what you do or do not do, whatever is going to happen will happen. It was notably summarized in the song by Doris Day “Que Sera, Sera”. She sang: “Que sera, sera Whatever will be, will be The future’s not ours to see Que sera, sera What will be, will be.” Solomon is not teaching fatalism as if we are just to accept whatever random chance determines. Solomon is teaching that no one is immune from the seasons of life and that each season is used by God to mature His children. It is a call for us to seek God who has appointed our times. We must seek Him and His wisdom to successfully navigate God’s appointed seasons of life. 

Trust in God’s Gracious Providence

After calling us to embrace God’s appointed seasons of life, Solomon speaks (vs 9-15) of God’s gracious providence over all of life. When we speak of providence, we are talking about God’s good governance over the entire universe. RC Sproul said of God’s providence, “One way in which the secular mindset has made inroads into the Christian community is through the worldview that assumes that everything happens according to fixed natural causes, and God, if He is actually there, is above and beyond it all. He is just a spectator in heaven looking down, perhaps cheering us on but exercising no immediate control over what happens on earth.” He goes on to say, “Historically, however, Christians have had an acute sense that this is our Father’s world and that the affairs of men and nations, in the final analysis, are in His hands.”

Providence is mentioned in Ecclesiastes 3:11. Solomon writes about God: “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” Therefore, life is not subject to random chance, but has purpose and meaning. Everything is under the authority, care, and concern of God. Paul wrote in Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” All things work together for good because God causes it to do so. Everything is beautiful in its time because it is according to God’s appointed time. This does not guarantee that we’ll understand it or enjoy it, but we receive it in faith.

Expect God’s Impending Judgment

God is not only governing His creation, but He is also holding all creation accountable for their actions. In verses 16-22, Solomon moves from God’s gracious providence to God’s impending judgment. He wrote: “Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness.” God will permit wickedness to exist in the world and even persist at times, but that does not mean that He approves of it. Solomon continues: “I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work.” Just like the beasts, the body returns to dust. He said, “All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust.” Therefore “nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities for that is his lot. For who will bring him to see what will occur after him?

Application

Embrace God’s appointed seasons of life, trust in God’s providence, and expect God’s judgment. You will find yourself in different seasons of life because time marches on and waits for nobody. Each season is something to dread but an opportunity to draw closer to God and mature in faith. God is the one who determines which season we are in and how long we will remain there.

We will all experience times of prosperity and adversity. Times of plenty and prosperity remind us that God delights in giving us good gifts. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Ps 50:10). Embrace it, enjoy God’s blessings and prepare for times of scarcity. Times of scarcity and hardship remind us that God (and not His good gifts) are all we need. Embrace it, focus on what is most important, and prepare for times of plenty. You may not know why things happen, but the Christian can rest assured that God knows, and it is all part of His glorious plan. Rather than saying, “Que sera, sera Whatever will be will be”; say “Glory to God, who has made everything beautiful in its time!”

Your Work is Vanity; Enjoy It!(Ecclesiastes 2:18-26) 

Ecclesiastes is necessary for our spiritual maturity because it eloquently captures the beauty and the frustration of life. This book exposes to us man’s longing for relevance and meaning in a sinful world. Its overarching theme is that life should not be expected to be self-fulfilling because life only has meaning when it is lived in a right relationship with God. Ecclesiastes 1:2 states that life under the sun is “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!” 

Photo by Anamul Rezwan on Pexels.com

After discussing the vanity of wisdom and pleasure, Solomon turns his attention to the life of a workaholic who fails to find satisfaction in work. In our section this morning (2:18-26), we shall learn that we will not find satisfaction in our work when our work becomes our god. Only God can enable our work to become satisfying. 

Unenjoyable Toil

Toil is vanity. It is fleeting and frustrating. Solomon wrote: “I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun…” (2:18). Toil is vanity for the four following reasons:

  1. The fruit of our toil will be left to someone who didn’t toil for it. (2:18,20-21)
  2. All our hard work could be left to a foolish person who will squander it. Solomon wrote: “and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun” (2:19).
  3. What have we actually accomplished? Solomon wrote: “What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart for which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation” (22-23).
  4. It is difficult to rest. Solomon wrote: “even in the night his heart does not rest” (24).

We work and work and work and what do we have at the end of the day? More work! You will not find satisfaction in working. This is especially important for those of us in the United States. It is common to ask when meeting someone for the first time: “What do you do?” It’s an understandable question and not necessarily a bad one. But, it could also be a subtle way to try and determine someone’s value. Consider: “You’re a doctor!” vs. “Oh, you are unemployed?” In other words, tell me your occupation so that I can properly assess your value. A person’s value is not determined by the work they do. Many “successful” people are miserable while many “unsuccessful” people are filled with joy. Toil is vanity because it is fleeting and frustrating. It cannot provide lasting meaning.

Enjoy Your Toil

Toil is vanity because it is fleeting and frustrating. Since toil is vanity, what should we do? Solomon answers: “there is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil” (2:24). If that answer seems confusing; that is because it is! Toil is vanity so enjoy it. This answer reminds me of a few Yogi Berra quotes: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” When he was asked about a particular restaurant, he said: “No one goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”

The answer given in verse 24 may seem unhelpful, but let’s keep reading. Solomon wrote, “this also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from Him who can eat or who can have enjoyment” (2:25). Derek Kinder wrote: 

The compulsive worker of verses 22-23, overloading his days with toil and his nights with worry, has missed the simple joys that God was holding out to him. The real issue for him was not between work and rest but, had he known it, between meaningless and meaningful activity. As verse 24 points out, the very toil that tyrannized him was potentially a joyful gift of God (and joy itself is another, 25), if only he had the grace to take it as such.

In 2:26, we are told: “For to the one who pleases Him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but the sinner He has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to the one who pleases God.” Herein lies a warning to the ungodly: God may give you prosperity, but He will not give you the means in which to enjoy it.

Enjoy God

Work is not the result of sin. Adam was placed in the garden of Eden to cultivate and care for it (Gen 2:15). Extremely hard and incessant toil is a curse God has placed upon mankind as a result of sin. It was after Adam’s rebellion that he was told: “by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19). Life without God leads to emptiness, futility, and a lack of meaning. Toil is vanity and will lead us to despair. But, if we heed Paul’s instruction in Colossians 3:17 we can find joy in our toil. Paul wrote: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”

Application

Is your toil unenjoyable? Do you dread doing what you are doing? No matter what you are doing, recognize that all work that is done on this earth will be extremely hard and exhausting. Therefore, remember that God cares for you. Enjoy God and allow Him to transform your anxious toil into a joyful gift. Do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father. This will make the difference between anxious, vain toil and gracious, meaningful labor.

Pleasure is Fleeting and Frustrating (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11) 

In the book of Ecclesiastes we are told that life should not be expected to be self-fulfilling because life only has meaning when it is lived in a right relationship with God. Solomon, the writer of Ecclesiastes, summarized this when he said, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (1:2). The meaning of the word Vanity, as used by Solomon throughout this book, is best described as fleeting and frustrating. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon is an old man who captures the vain attempt of mankind’s longing for relevance and meaning in a sinful world. 

Photo by Don Hainzl on Pexels.com

Solomon’s first attempt at finding meaning in a meaningless world was wisdom. Wisdom is vanity because it cannot provide lasting solutions in our world and therefore increases sorrow. Solomon’s second attempt at finding meaning is in pleasure. Let us consider the vanity of pleasure in that pleasure can quickly move from a gift to be enjoyed into an idol that demands worship. 

Proper Pursuit of Pleasure Produces Praise

Let us begin with what should not be a controversial statement: God wants us to experience pleasure. Pleasure is not a result of sin. Pleasure was built into the creation that God declared “very good” (Gen 1:31). The world before the Fall (Gen 3) included fields, plants, fruits and vegetables, etc. Genesis 2:9 says, “And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” There was only one thing that was not good before Genesis 3. The Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Gen 2:18). God created woman for man to be a helper fit for him. Therefore, we can conclude that pleasure is good. We have a body with a sensory nervous system. We have 5 primary senses that recognize what is pleasurable and not pleasurable: Sight, Hearing, Smell, Taste, and Touch. 

It is wrong to assume that pleasure is bad. It was the ascetics who practiced a severe form of self-discipline; abstaining from many forms of pleasure in the belief that abstaining from sensual pleasure was a means of becoming more godly. Simeon Stylites is notable because he lived on a small platform on top of a pillar for 37 years. It is said that the Gnostics believed the physical world was inherently evil and that salvation constituted escape from the material world. This may have been behind Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 4:3-4: “who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods…” Pleasure is not evil. 

Improper Pursuit of Pleasure Induces Idolatry

It is wrong to assume that pleasure is bad and it is also wrong to assume that pleasure is always good. Pleasure can become very bad. It is important to stress that pleasure must only be pursued according to God’s standards, not our own. We must not pervert pleasure. God wants us to experience pleasure and He graciously provides avenues for pleasure to be pursued that will be a blessing to us and glorify God. For example, God gave us taste buds that let us know what is good and bad. Good food is a blessing; especially when it tastes good and is good for you. Food is good and is necessary, but the abuse of food is the sin of gluttony. Food is a good gift from God that helps us live that must be used appropriately.

God warns us about how pleasure can quickly become an idol. Pleasure is good, but sin can pervert pleasure. Solomon, in Ecclesiastes, warns us about making pleasure the goal of life. Pleasure is vanity because it cannot produce meaning. Solomon tells us that pleasure is temporary. He laments after pursuing pleasure: “there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Ecc 2:11). All that he was left with after the pursuit of pleasure was a desire for more. Solomon said to himself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself” (Ecc 2:1). To summarize Ecclesiastes 2:1-22, Solomon says enjoy yourself…but this is vanity (1). Life is short (3). He “made great works…built houses and planted vineyards” (4). He had gardens, parks, fruit trees, pools, slaves, flocks, silver, gold, singers, concubines, etc. He said,  “whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil” (10).

Enjoy Pleasure as You Love God

It is wrong to assume that pleasure is bad and it is wrong to assume that pleasure is always good; therefore, we should pursue pleasure as a means to enjoy God. Going back to what Paul told Timothy “Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim 4:4-5). Holiness is not determined by what you give up, but on how you use what you have been given. Remember our discussion of food earlier? Food is necessary and a source of enjoyment. It must be used appropriately. One does not become more holy by abstaining from foods, but intentional fasting can be very beneficial if it is done to draw closer to God and to break the hold that food may have on your heart. Pleasure is vanity if it becomes idolatry. There are many things provided by God for our enjoyment, but sin can corrupt anything into an idol. How can we keep good things from becoming idols? Ask yourself these three questions: 1) Would I sin to get it? 2) Would I sin if I didn’t get it?  and 3) Would I sin to keep it? 

Like wisdom, pleasure overpromises. This is why it is vanity. Pleasure promises to make you happy. For Solomon, this was sought in possessions, money, beautiful people around him, beautiful landscaping and gardens. It has been said that Solomon attempted with his grand gardens that he wanted to recreate the Garden of Eden. Let us enjoy God’s good gifts and that we use them to love God and enjoy Him more. If we are fearful that one of God’s good gifts is becoming an idol, let us abstain from it for a time so that we may keep it in its proper place. In Deuteronomy 11:16 we read, “Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve others gods and worship them.” Isaiah prophesied of the Lord, “I am the Lord; that is My name; My glory I give to no other, nor My praise to carved idols” (Isaiah 42:8).

Wisdom is Fleeting and Frustrating (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18, 2:12-17) 

In the book of Ecclesiastes we are told that life should not be expected to be self-fulfilling because life only has meaning when it is lived in a right relationship with God. Solomon, the writer of Ecclesiastes, summarized this at the beginning when he said, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (1:2). The meaning of the word Vanity, as used by Solomon throughout this book, is best described as fleeting and frustrating. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon is an old man who captures the vain attempt of mankind’s longing for relevance and meaning in a sinful world. This brings us to Solomon’s first attempt at finding meaning in a meaningless world: Wisdom. He writes: “I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind” (1:13-14). 

Photo by Nitin Arya on Pexels.com

Wisdom is Vanity Because the World is Crooked

Solomon illustrates the problem of wisdom in this world in chapter 1, verse 15: “What is crooked cannot be made straight, what is lacking cannot be counted.” Our present world is fleeting and frustrating because it is crooked. What does Solomon mean by crooked in the book of Ecclesiastes? Crooked has a few possible meanings: 1) Evil, 2) Twisted/Bent, and 3) Inscrutable/Mysterious. So, which is it? Crooked, in this verse and elsewhere in Ecclesiastes, means inscrutable because the second part of the verse has the same understanding. Consider how the Good News Version translates Ecclesiastes 1:15: “You can’t straighten out what is crooked; you can’t count things that aren’t there.” Wisdom suffers in an enigmatic world.

Wisdom is Vanity Because it Increases Sorrow

The false presupposition of modern man is that knowledge and wisdom will free us from the futility of this world. Mankind tries to straighten what is bent by trying to figure everything out (Wisdom). Wisdom, however, is fleeting and frustrating. Wisdom is good, but sin has distorted wisdom. You will not find relevance and meaning in wisdom. Solomon tells us “For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow” (Ecc 1:18). We are told that the more we figure out, the unhappier we will be.

How did the world get in this condition? We read in Ecclesiastes 7:13: “Consider the work of God: who can make straight what He has made crooked?” The world is crooked/bent because God made it that way? God did not originally make the world this way, the world became subject to futility (Rom 8:20) after Adam and Eve rebelled against God (Gen 3). What is bent by nature cannot be made straight by man. It has to be reformed by its Creator.

Wisdom is Vanity Because it Over Promises

Before we go much further let us define some key terms. What does Solomon mean when he speaks of wisdom in Ecclesiastes? Solomon tells us that wisdom is fleeting and frustrating when it is “according to worldly standards” (1 Cor 1:26). Because the world is crooked/bent, wisdom is fleeting and frustrating. Solomon “turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly” (2:12). What is remarkable is that wisdom cannot be considered apart from madness and folly. What does this mean? First, wisdom is better than foolishness (2:13). There is more gain because wisdom helps us see the world in a more productive way. Just as it is better to have light in the dark than to have no light; so too it is better to be wise than a fool. Second, while wisdom is better it alone cannot keep you from suffering the same events that happen to a fool. Also, wisdom alone cannot keep you from dying. You can be wise and end up in the same place as a fool. Solomon concludes: “For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind” (2:16-17).

Wisdom is Vanity Without God

Worldly wisdom tries to fix man’s problems, but only exacerbates them. It promises answers but fails to provide solutions. One common example in our time is the wisdom of education. There are some who believe that the answer to man’s problems is education. Nelson Mandela went so far as to say, “Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world.” There are few who doubt that education can be very beneficial, but education alone cannot change the world. Without a change of heart, all education will do is create smarter criminals. We do not need to make everyone smarter, we need everyone to surrender to Jesus Christ. We need the Holy Spirit to regenerate our hearts so that we find our satisfaction in Jesus Christ and serve Him. We need repentance. Some believe that the government holds the answer to man’s problems. Let’s give the government more and more power so that they will take care of us. No government–Republican or Democrat–can solve our problems. Sure, a good and wise government can help and a wicked government can hurt; but man’s hope is not found in the capital but in the cross. 

Solomon applied his heart to wisdom but found it to be vanity. Therefore, we conclude that wisdom, to have any meaning and purpose, must come from God Himself through His Son Jesus. Solomon wrote in Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” Wisdom that is found under the sun is fleeting and frustrating so we need “the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:24). The wisdom of God is enduring and powerful. Wisdom is good as long as it begins with the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 9:10). 

Let us seek to be as wise as possible, with the understanding that our wisdom must be rooted and grounded in God. We must see the benefits and limitations of wisdom in this world that is fleeting and frustrating as we look to Jesus who will bring the world to come.

A Proverbs 31 Woman

Today is Mother’s Day. A special day set aside in which we honor women who have raised, are raising, and will raise children. This day also includes women who may not have ever raised children, but have been a loving influence in a child’s life. A woman’s role in this life under the sun is powerful. An old Jewish proverb says “A mother understands what a child does not say.” Another person commented on the fact that “a mother’s hug lasts long after she lets go.” Today, let us show the women in our lives our utmost respect and appreciation. Let them know how much you love them and how blessed you are because of them. Godly women are a blessing from God and today we thank God for them.

Photo by George Dolgikh @ Giftpundits.com on Pexels.com

What is a Woman?

Just a few years ago, I would never have thought to begin a Mother’s Day sermon by needing to define the word woman. Sadly, more and more people are either saying they cannot define the word woman or giving this doozy of an answer: “A woman is anyone who identifies as a woman.” Imagine this kind of answer given for anything else. “What is a hammer? Anything you want to call a hammer!” “What’s a child? Anyone who identifies as a child?” This circular reasoning assumes the conclusion and proves nothing. Consider: “What is a woman? A woman is anyone who identifies as a woman. Ok, but what do you mean by woman? A woman is anyone who identifies as a woman.” When we refuse to define what a woman is, it is women who suffer.

Thankfully, as of May 2022, the Merriam-Webster dictionary still defines a woman as “an adult female person.” Men (Male) and women (Female) are the two sexes created by God. A female is a human who is biologically distinct from a male. As Christians, we believe that God wonderfully creates each person as male or female. These two distinct, complementary genders together reflect the image of God (Gen 1:26-27). A doctor does not make an educated guess about a baby’s gender when the child is born. Christians acknowledge that since sin entered into our world (see Gen 3) there are profound physical, spiritual, and mental effects on us and our world. None of these diminish God’s creation of humans as male and female. Rejection of one’s biological sex is a rejection of the image of God within that person. 

What is a Proverbs 31 Woman?

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s discuss what we mean by a Proverbs 31 woman. What do you think of when you hear about the “Proverbs 31 Woman”? Do you think of a spiritual Wonder Woman? Do you see an unattainable standard that leaves you depressed? How should we understand Proverbs 31? Proverbs 31:10-31 is part of “The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him” (Prov 31:1). In the original Hebrew, this is an acrostic poem where each verse begins with the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet in consecutive order.

What Proverbs 31 is Not About.

We must be careful with Lemuel’s mother’s oracle. This acrostic poem is designed as a blessing for women and not a burden. In other words, Proverbs 31 is not a checklist for women to see how godly they are. It is not a “Noble Woman Quiz” designed to reveal how they rank in moral courage. For example, wives/moms, you are not a failure if you don’t buy imported food (14) or don’t buy property with your own money (16) or don’t have strong arms (17). You are not a failure if your children fail to appreciate you (28a) or if your husband fails to praise you (28b). It is also interesting to note that the Proverbs 31 woman rarely (if ever) sleeps (15, 18). Steven Altrogge has wisely noted “when we turn Proverbs 31 into a checklist to be rigidly followed, we crush the women in our churches.” Proverbs 31 must not be misconstrued as a burden for women.

What is Proverbs 31 About?

Proverbs 31 is a call for godly women to be appreciated. King Lemuel’s mother taught him this oracle that contains principles to help him (and us) better appreciate the godly women around us. For example, a godly woman:

  1. Fears the Lord (10, 30). She fears the Lord and has high moral standards. Her identity is not found in profit or praise. Her identity is not found in her husband, kids, or her beauty. Her identity is in Christ. She loves the Lord and serves Him first.
  2. Honors her Husband (11-12,23,26). If married, she is committed to loving and respecting her husband. Her husband trusts her and she desires good for him and not harm. Her conduct and character is known among those in the community. 
  3. Cares for her Family (15,21,26-27). She deeply loves her family and is committed to caring for them. She works hard to provide for their needs and well-being. She desires that her teaching is done with wisdom and kindness. She wants her family to follow Jesus.
  4. Considers the Needy (20). Her heart is compassionate towards those who are in need. She is grieved when those around her are suffering and wants to provide for them. She opens her hands towards them and does not turn them away.
  5. Tends to Her Character (22-25). While her identity is not found in her beauty, she does not neglect herself. Her adorning is “the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:4). Because she trusts in God, she is not living a life of fear over the future. 

Today is a special day of the year in which we show our appreciation for Mothers. A mother is special because she is specially created by God. God created women to be “like corner pillars cut for the structure of a palace” (Psalm 144:12). God desires for women to grow gracefully and be like cornerstones which connect and unite families together. Godly daughters become godly women. It is a great blessing when they are graceful and beautiful both in body and mind. May they embrace their identity as nurturers. Lord, bless us with godly women.

All is Vanity (Ecclesiastes 1:1-11) 

We begin our study of Ecclesiastes in chapter 1. The writer of Ecclesiastes is King Solomon. Even though he does not identify himself by name, the evidence points to him. For example he calls himself “the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem” (1:1). Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes as an old man reflecting on his life. In the first section of Ecclesiastes (1:1-11), Solomon presents his thesis of this book: “Vanity of vanities…vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (1:2). Vanity of vanities is a Hebrew idiom which means “greatest of vanities”. This idiom can take on many forms. For example, it is also used for Song of Songs (greatest of Songs), Holy of Holies (greatest of holies), and King of Kings (greatest of kings).” When the writer of Ecclesiastes uses the word vanity, he means “fleeting and frustrating.” Therefore, vanity of vanity captures the magnitude of the meaninglessness of life.

The Futility of the Natural Order

Solomon reflects on the fleeting and frustrating nature of man’s toil under the sun. He wrote: “What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever” (1:3-4). Sure, humans are busy doing various things but what is actually accomplished? All life is fleeting and a vapor. Solomon uses two examples to show the futility/vanity of life. He speaks of the vanity of the natural world and the vanity of the natural man.

Photo by Ian Turnell on Pexels.com

The Vanity of the Natural World

Solomon first mentions the Sun. He said, “The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises” (1:5). Everyday the sun goes up and comes down. Up and down, up and down. He then mentions wind: “The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns” (1:6). Jesus said it this way, “the wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes” (John 3:8). Next, Solomon mentions water: “All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again” (1:7).  What is Solomon’s point? He is showing the vanity of the world around us in the endless repetition of natural seasons and cycles. For us in Scott City, our year starts cold and then it gets hotter and then it gets colder. April and May have a lot of rain. The natural world just keeps going on and on and on without any stop.

The Vanity of the Natural Man

Solomon next turns his attention away from the vanity of what is going on around us to the vanity of what is happening in us. He speaks of the mouth. He says, “All things are full of weariness, the mouth cannot speak of it.” He next talks about the vanity of our eyes and ears. He wrote: “the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.” Life is fleeting and frustrating because the eye is never satisfied with what it sees and the ear is not satisfied with what it hears. Listen to Solomon’s pronouncements: “A generation goes, and a generation comes”, “all things are full of weariness”, “there is nothing new under the sun”, “there is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.” Man just continues on unsatisfied. 

The Fruitfulness of the Natural Order

Solomon reflected on the fleeting and frustrating nature of man’s toil under the sun. Jesus is redeeming the natural order and will fully remake it at His second coming. While we are on this earth, Christians are given work to do that accomplishes God’s will and mission of redemption. Let’s see how this works in the natural world and in the natural man.

The Glory of God in the Natural World

The heavens declare the futility of life by revealing that it is not self-fulfilling. In order for life to have meaning it must be lived in a right relationship with God. Therefore, by declaring the futility of life, the heavens also declare the glory of God. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.” The sun, which rises and sets everyday, serves as a reminder of God’s power in creation (Gen 1). It also serves to remind us of God’s faithfulness. Jeremiah prophesied the Lord’s message: “Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar–the Lord of hosts is His name. If this fixed order departs from before Me, declares the Lord, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before Me forever” (Jer 31:35-36). 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The sun’s light testifies about Jesus. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). Water testifies about Jesus. Jesus said, “If any man thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37). The wind testifies about Jesus. Jesus used the wind to illustrate the Spirit of God which regenerates a person causing them to be born again (John 3:3).

The Glory of God in the Natural Man

The natural man continues unsatisfied and needs to die and be born again. You must “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:22-24). Each generation comes and goes because God knew that it was not good for man to have a sinful nature and live forever. The brevity of life serves to restrain sin and remind us of our need to be reconciled to God. The natural man’s mouth, ears, and eyes need to be redeemed so that they can find satisfaction in Jesus Christ.  

Life should not be expected to be self-fulfilling because life only has meaning when it is lived in a right relationship with God. Wisdom, pleasure, work, relationships, and wealth are unable to satisfy us because God designed us to find our satisfaction in Him. Augustine said of God, “Our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.” J. Vernon McGee wrote, “Man has tried to be happy without God; it is being tried every day by millions of people. This book shows the absurdity of the attempt.”

Ecclesiastes: Introduction – It’s Good for You!

I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God Has done from the beginning to the end.”

Ecclesiastes 3:10-11 (ESV).

Ecclesiastes is an often overlooked Christian book. But, this book must not be overlooked because it is necessary for our spiritual maturity. How can we describe this book? If the books of the Bible were likened to a meal, Ecclesiastes would definitely be a vegetable; in fact, it would most likely be the Brussels Sprouts. Brussels Sprouts (also known as Cabbage Patch Kids) are extremely nutritious, but not very delicious. We have been told it is good for us, but we really don’t know what it is. It looks funny, tastes weird, and smells awful. Like Brussels Sprouts, the book of Ecclesiastes is good for us even though it sounds different and is confusing. Consider this statement: “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting.” Here is another one: “Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.” Here is a particularly interesting one: “Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself?

Photo by Public Domain Pictures on Pexels.com

The Beauty and Frustration of Life

Ecclesiastes is necessary for our spiritual maturity because it eloquently captures the beauty and the frustration of life. We know this is true and it is good for us to have a book of the Bible that hits this head on. In Ecclesiastes we learn that life should not be expected to be self-fulfilling. The two verses above capture this truth vividly. God has given mankind time and space so they may busy themselves with earthly pursuits. With this “business that God has given”, He has also given mankind an awareness (but not a full comprehension) of a greater reality above and beyond them. 

The beauty and frustration of life can be compared to a spot of color on a painter’s canvas. If you were able to ask that spot: “What are you doing? How did you get there? What is your purpose?” We can imagine it replying: “I’m not entirely sure. The painter put me here and I can only assume he knew what he was doing.” That spot of color has a role to play but at that moment cannot fully appreciate its role in the overall picture. Its awareness is limited. This little spot of color, hopefully, can help us better understand our current situation. We, on this earth, are like that spot of color on a painter’s canvas. We know we are a vital part of something glorious; we long to see it, but are unable. We are told there will come a day when we will be able to see the entire masterpiece, but until then we try to be patient. Walter Kaiser wrote, “God has made all the events and relationships in life ‘beautiful,’ each having an appropriateness in and of themselves. And in addition to the beauty and appropriateness of this order of things, God has also implanted in the hearts of men a desire to know how His plan makes all the details fit together.”

The Meaning of Life

Life should not be expected to be self-fulfilling. Ecclesiastes teaches us that life under the sun is full of vanity. Ecclesiastes 1:14 says, “I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.” When the writer of Ecclesiastes uses the word vanity, he means “fleeting and frustrating.” James wrote: “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14).

Ecclesiastes can help us remain faithful as we see dimly. In this great book we learn that life should not be expected to be self-fulfilling because life only has meaning when it is lived in a right relationship with God. Walter Kaiser once again helps us when he says: “All life unfolds under the appointment of divine providence…Since everything has its time from God, all the labor of a person by itself cannot change the times, circumstances, or control events.” The sooner we grasp hold of the truth that life is not intended to be self-fulfilling, the sooner we can grasp hold of the One who made it that way and we can better trust Him. 

In this great book we learn that life should not be expected to be self-fulfilling because life only has meaning when it is lived in a right relationship with God.

Ecclesiastes helps us comprehend that the meaning of life cannot be found under the sun. The world and all its various parts do not and cannot provide meaning in themselves. Life, apart from God, can feel like playing a board game without the instructions. The meaning of life is therefore only ultimately found under God and His judgment. The meaning of life cannot be found under the sun, but only through the Son.

How to Understand Life

How does the book of Ecclesiastes help us understand life? In our study of Ecclesiastes, we shall learn that wisdom, pleasure, work, relationships and wealth are not meant to be self-fulfilling. Therefore, we must:

  • Live our life with an appreciation for the work of God (7:13). 
  • Embrace God’s appointed seasons of life (3:1-22). 
  • Recognize God’s assigned authorities in life (8:2-17). 
  • Enjoy God’s approved lifestyle (9:1-11:10). 
  • Fear God and keep His commands (5:1-7, 12).

In conclusion, man has been created by God to long for relevance and meaning. Man cannot find it in this world, it must be sought and found in His Creator (God). Paul told the men of Athens that God has placed humans in their particular place and particular time “that they should seek God” (Acts 17:27). Ecclesiastes can hopefully help us react properly to the inevitable suffering we will endure. Will we do it in a way that is destructive or in a way that is edifying? You may not like the Brussels Sprouts, but they are good for you. Let us all pray that God would help us through this study of Ecclesiastes and continue to grow in spiritual maturity.

Palm Sunday: Behold Your King! 

Today is Palm Sunday and on this day the Church celebrates Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. It is called Palm Sunday because the crowd “took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him” as He entered Jerusalem (John 12:13) and “spread their cloaks on the road” (Mark 11:8) before Him. It is called the Triumphal Entry because on this trip into Jerusalem the crowd shouted “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9-10).

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

Normally, Jesus walked into Jerusalem but on this particular occasion He instructed two of His disciples: “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it…the Lord has need of it” (Mark 11:2-3). Why did the Lord need to ride a colt to enter Jerusalem at this time? Jesus rode on the colt as a public demonstration to the Jews that He is the King of Israel who was spoken of by the Prophet Zechariah.

Zechariah’s Prophecy

Approximately 500 years before Jesus was born the Jewish exiles returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. It was at this time that “the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah” (Zech 1:1). Zechariah’s primary message was a call to the Jewish people to repent and renew their covenant with God. The Lord spoke through him: “Return to Me…and I will return to you” (Zech 1:4). Zechariah called the people to repentance and also prophesied of a future time when the Messiah (Future King) would appear. Zechariah prophesied, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech 9:9). Jesus’ Triumphal Entry is a profound event in Jesus’ ministry. All four Gospel writers refer to it with Matthew and John specifically quoting Zechariah (Matt 21:5 & John 12:15). 

Hosanna!

The people who were familiar with Zechariah’s prophecy rejoiced when they saw Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a colt. Jesus was publicly declaring that He is the coming king who, as Zechariah prophesied, would “cut off the chariot…and the war horse…and the battle bow…He shall speak peace to the nations” (Zech 9:10). The Lord of hosts said that through the King, He would “set your prisoners free” (Zech 9:11), “protect them” (Zech 9:15), and “save them” (Zech 9:16). They responded with joy and they “spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields” (Mark 11:8). Mark writes, “And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9-10). 

Why were they shouting Hosanna? Hosanna is a rare word that is transliterated rather than translated. For example, Hosanna is our English word that comes from the Greek word “Hosanna” which comes from the Hebrew word “Hosanna”. It means “Save us, now!” (“now” indicates intense emotion). Literally, it is when someone experiences intense emotion and cries out for immediate help. For example, in Psalm 118:25 we read: “Save us [Hosanna], we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success!” In this context it is a plea for the Lord to help quickly. The crowd is shouting joyfully (Luke 19:37) because they recognized that Jesus is entering Jerusalem as the King prophesied by the prophet Zechariah. 

What’s Happening?

If you are familiar with the rest of the story, you know that the next week did not go as many of the people expected. Within days of shouting “Hosanna, save us!” they mocked Jesus, saying: “save yourself” (Matt 27:40). A few days after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a colt is His horrific exit from Jerusalem with a cross. What happened? The crowd was shouting “Hosanna!” because they wanted a King who would drive out the Romans and restore the kingdom of Israel. It is understandable for them to think this because Zechariah’s prophecy speaks of winning battles and setting prisoners free. But what was happening?

What did the Crowd think was Happening?

The crowd wanted Jesus to become King (John 6:15). They wanted Him to go to Pilate’s palace and Herod’s palace and drive them out. They wanted Him to fulfill Isaiah 61:1-2 (see Luke 4:14-19) their way. Specifically, they wanted Him to:

  • Proclaim good news to the poor (those who lack money)
  • Proclaim liberty (to those who were held captive in Roman prisons)
  • Proclaim recovery of (physical) sight to those who are blind
  • Proclaim liberty to those who are oppressed (by Rome)
  • They wanted the year of the Lord’s favor to be Jesus sitting in Jerusalem on David’s throne having defeated Rome.

What was Really Happening?

Jesus was not going into Jerusalem to sit on a throne (John 18:36), but to the cross to make an atoning sacrifice for sins (1 John 2:2). Jesus didn’t drive out Pilate and Herod, but the money changers in the Temple (Matt 21:12-13). Jesus truly fulfilled Isaiah 61:1-2. He:

  • Proclaimed good news to the poor (in Spirit)
  • Proclaimed liberty (to those who were held captive to sin)
  • Proclaimed recovery of (spiritual) sight to those who are blind (cannot see their sin)
  • Proclaimed liberty to those who are (spiritually) oppressed (by Satan)
  • Proclaimed the year of the Lord’s favor in the forgiveness of sins and receiving of mercy and grace.

Your Only Comfort (Psalm 146)

The first question of the Heidelberg Catechism asks: What is your only comfort in life and in death? The answer is:

That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to Him, Christ, by His Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for Him. 

https://www.crcna.org/welcome/beliefs/confessions/heidelberg-catechism
Photo by Tara Winstead on Pexels.com

Psalm 146 is a psalm of praise that reminds us that the Lord is our only comfort in life and in death. Because the Lord reigns supreme, He is our sure hope in times of adversity and prosperity.

Praising the One In Whom You Place Your Trust (1-2)

Verses 1-2 calls God’s children to burst forth in praise. The faithful cry out: “Hallelujah! HaIlelujah, O My soul!” Hallelujah is a word that is meant to be shouted. Hallelujah means “Praise the Lord!” The psalmist continues, “I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.” We are called at the beginning of this psalm to exclaim praise to Yahweh (the Lord – see Exodus 3:14) and we should do it for as long as we have breath. Every moment of every day is the perfect opportunity to praise the Lord. The Lord is worthy to be praised because of His good character and nature. He is worthy of praise because He has proven Himself to be faithful and will always be faithful to His good name and to His people. 

Put Your Trust in People? No Way! (3-4)

Verse 3 is a reminder that our trust must be in God alone. Other people can help us—and it is nice to have powerful friends—but man’s help is temporary and unreliable. Even the most dependable person you know can disappoint you. The psalmist writes, “Put not your trust in princes.” Princes or those who are in authority can offer help but they cannot save; “there is no salvation…in a son of man.” Man’s help may or may not come when you need or expect it. 

The main problem with mankind is that “when his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.” Why do we place so much trust in people and possessions? It is because we desperately want to put our trust in something we can see and manipulate. We are like Jacob sending his goods before him in order to appease Esau (Gen 32:20). Do not put your trust in anyone or anything other than God.

Put Your Trust in Yahweh! (5-9)

Man’s help is temporary and unreliable, but God’s help is enduring and complete. The psalmist declares: “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God.” Then the psalmist lists 12 reasons to place your trust in the Lord:

  1. He is our Faithful Creator. 
    1. He made heaven and earth and the sea. If you have a problem while living on Earth, doesn’t it make sense to trust the one who made Earth?
    2. He keeps faith forever. His character is without reproach! He is always faithful.
  2. He is our Compassionate Helper. 
    1. He executes justice. True justice that is based on His perfect righteousness.
    2. He gives food to the hungry. The Lord takes care of His children and will supply all our needs. 
    3. He sets the prisoners free. He frees us from the bondage of sin.
    4. He opens the eyes of the blind. He opens our eyes to be able to see Him and to know Him.
    5. He lifts up those who are bowed down. The Lord opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourself before God and He will lift you up.
    6. He loves the righteous. He delights in His children. He provides for us when we are living and welcomes us in our death. Even our death is precious (Ps 116:15)
    7. He watches over the sojourners.  The Lord never loses any of His children. No matter where we are or what we are doing, God is watching over us.
    8. He upholds the widow and the fatherless. The Lord cares for the weak and those who are in need. The widows and the orphans are especially cared for by God.
  3. He is our Almighty King.
    1. He brings the way of the wicked to ruin. The Lord will not spare the guilty and will not be mocked. Whatever a man sows, that shall he reap (Gal 6:7).
    2. He reigns forever to all generations. There is no end to the Lord’s reign. His kingdom is expanding daily. Men and women are coming into the kingdom every moment. The whole world shall rejoice in God (Is 49:13)

Praising the One In Whom You Place Your Trust (10)

What is your only comfort in life and in death? Is it that you have a good job? Good health?  Nice family that isn’t fighting with one another? Good friends? Plenty of money in the bank account? All these things are nice (and I hope you have them), but none of these can really help you in your times of need. As the old song says, “Place your hand in the nail-scarred hand…He will keep to the end, He’s your dearest friend, Place your hand in the nail-scarred hand.” And another song echoes: “What is our hope in life and death? Christ alone, Christ alone. What is our only confidence?  That our souls to Him belong.”