ECCLESIASTES-SERIES NR 3
Scripture: Ecclesiastes 3
Living life in view of the future
Look, in Ecclesiastes 3 one can clearly see why Ecclesiastes is not such a popular book in the Bible!
Imagine if you should send your child to university with verses 12-13 as guideline:
“Now remember Johnnie, the best thing you can do there is eat, drink, and have as much fun as possible!”
Worst of all is verse 21 that implies that it is immaterial whether an animal is lying dead on one side of the road or a dead person is stuck in a wreck on the other side. Oh well, a man die the same as an animal. Not much difference between a man and a dog. It seems as if Ecclesiastes just pulls up the shoulders when it comes to the question about what happens to us after our death. One do not expect to find such an attitude in a chapter in the Bible. Oprah Winfrey may shrug this off, but one do not expect this of Ecclesiastes 3?
Therefore: On the surface it seems as if Solomon is saying the following:
Man and animal are more or less the same, and they die the same way. In the period between birth and death the passage of life is very boring. There is a time for everything. Time to laugh, time to cry, time for struggle, time for peace. All you can do therefore, is to enjoy yourself. When you die, you are dead the same as an animal.
The point is, however: when one looks at life with the naked eye, then that is exactly how it looks, is that not so? Indeed, the entire life looks like a meaningless circle of time for this and time for that. And no one has any proof that a person’s fate after death is any different from that of an animal. The organs of both stop to function, the heart of both stops beating, the eyes of both close. The breathing of both ends. Nobody has ever seen/observed what happened after that. That which makes a man human, is on a very different level.
But what an accurate description it is of how the average unbelieving person looks at life. People are more anxious to let a computer be like a human than what they are to discover how they themselves can be more human. Tongues are busy when there is talk about how a robot can become more human. But no one concern themselves with the question about what exactly makes us human.
When we do not look after our own body or destroy it with bad habits or put ourselves needlessly in danger, we actually have in the back of our mind that we and a dog have more or less the same fate. Let me eat, drink and be happy, because tomorrow I die in any case. Is this not an accurate illustration of the average person’s look at life today? And Ecc 3 reveals it to us – through Solomon’s blatantly honest pen.
But now we have to be careful. Remember: Ecclesiastes 3 is part of the holy Scriptures. It is inspired by the Holy Spirit. Every syllable is the Word of God. And therefore we see an amazing thing in Ecc 3. On the surface it looks as if he looks at life as described above, but between the lines he is moving (lead by the Spirit) in a completely different dimension. Yet Solomon suspects that man is unique. Solomon suspects there is something unique that makes the human human. What is it makes man human?
Answer: The Lord poured eternity into the heart of man. Man does not end when his organs give in. The human has a wonderful awareness of eternity in his heart. Although no one can prove that the human spirit continues after death. Even if it seems as if man dies the same as an animal. Do not believe your eyes! Believe Scripture!
According to Ecclesiastes 11:5 a mysterious miracle takes place in the womb. The Lord sets “something” inside that little foetus that cannot be brought about by merging physical entities. The Lord sets a human SPIRIT inside that tiny little foetus. An animal does not have that. And inside that spirit, the Lord sets an awareness of eternity, according to Ecclesiastes 3:11.
In among all his negative talking in chapter 3, Solomon adds (lead by the Spirit) verse 11: man has the “Olaam” (eternity) in his heart. Literally: time that is above time (indefinite time). That is the time where God is.
What is the central-power of Ecclesiastes 3? It reveals to us the dimension that the Living God opens in our lives, that makes us HUMAN. You will never notice this dimension unless you see it in the Word. And, if you do not see it, you will always feel as if you are a prisoner of TIME. You will always remain searching/restless. St Augustine: “Our heart remains restless inside us until we find rest in You.” You will feel frustrated.
Who of us do not know something of this frustration that Solomon describes here? It feels as if the Lord is sitting with a journal wherein He is setting down everything that will happen to us AND then allows it to happen to the last detail. As if man is a puppet and the Lord pulling the strings. As if He is sitting with a daily record book, recording and planning everything that must happen, and with whom it must happen. As if He is a rigid ice cold robot who presses the buttons the same way one controls a model airplane by remote control.
Do you know that helpless feeling?
We can do absolutely nothing about TIME. It feels as if the Lord has us locked up in a time-prison. You can be the strongest man, but you can do nothing against what time is doing to you. There is a time to plant, and a time not to plant.
Look at the list in Ecclesiastes 3. There is a time when a husband and wife can embrace, but there is a time to refrain. Time to gather and time to discard. When you have to move to a Home for the Elderly, you have to get rid of almost all your possessions. Time to fight war and time to make peace. A time to speak and a time to be quiet. Time for birth and time for dying. And so forth. And we can do nothing to these times.
It is no wonder that Solomon asks in verse 9: “What does the worker gain from his toil?” It sounds very pessimistic. But, it is not. It is exactly how we experience life. We are truly bound by time. Just think how often we plan things, but then it does not work out that way. Often we feel: “WHO is it that draw such boundaries in our lives? Is it perhaps the Lord?“ What then is the difference between myself and animals? Animals are also bound by time. Animals are also mortal. Me too. Also time-bound. Also mortal. When this feeling penetrates into our mind, we start wondering about the meaning and purpose of our lives. As did Solomon.
Ecclesiastes reveals to us that the Lord made TIME and that He placed us IN that time. Correct. BUT: That He is exalted above time.
Just think for a moment: If you know the Lord, you (who are bound in time) are in contact with Someone who is exalted above time! The Lord is outside time. He is greater than time. That is why we cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. The LORD is exalted above time. He is not caught up in the time which we live in.
And now verse 11 says the beautiful thing that God has set eternity in the hearts of men! Yes, we are caught up in time. But, deep in our hearts there is a great mystery. The Lord has given us something of His exalted-above-time in our hearts. Not to animals. To us. A consciousness of indefinite time/eternity is given to us.
Therefore, we know that there has to be something more than the time we are caught up in. There is a yearning inside us. It is like the chick of an eagle raised in a chicken coup and that has a yearning for the wide open sky. Why? He was created to fly. In the same way, the Lord has set in our hearts a yearning for something more than what we are experiencing now.
The unbeliever also has this yearning, but he does not know what it is. He also does not know what to do with it.
But, when a person knows Jesus – he who broke through the bondage of time at His resurrection – then you suddenly know how this yearning is fulfilled. You know that you have life eternal. Because Jesus rose from the grave. Time could not hold Him. He is exalted above time.
Ecclesiastes wants to show us that the Lord has made time, but that He is greater than time. And therefore He allows us to experience joy in this life WHILE we often feel as if we are prisoners of time.
You see: On the surface it seems as if man and animal suffer the same fate. We can do nothing about the time we are caught up in. We are mortal. Things happen to us that we do not understand. Generally, we feel very powerless in this life.
BUT: There is something that animals do not have. The Lord did not give them an awareness of indefinite time. We BROKE THROUGH the time that we are caught up in with our timepieces, diaries and day-planners, because the Lord has given us a realization of ETERNITY. The eternal life. We are allowed to be bound to THE ONE who is exalted above time. We hear echoes of a far off land. Now and again we hear the sound of music, the notes of which come to us out of the future. We feel that, should we hear the complete music one day, we would immediately recognise it.
Do you understand the Word of the Lord this morning? Do you understand it for your own life? A believing child of the Lord possesses a dimension in his/her life that no one or nothing else has. No, you are not elevated above an ordinary life. You ARE bound in time. BUT: You possess an inexplicable joy, because you have ETERNITY set in your heart. You have crossed the boundary to the timeless life where God lives (John 5:24). You know HIM who is exalted above time. You know Him who is involved in your life, whatever happens. He never changes the way He deals with His children. In that He is unchanging. He is caring. He reaches out. Verse 14-15. What is, will happen again. Meaning: The LORD does not change His attitude towards His children. He involves Himself with His people.
He called to Adam when Adam hid. He spoke to Cain before and after he killed Abel. He blessed Jacob even though he deceived Esau and Laban. He led the nation through the desert even though they moaned and complained. He remained bound to His flock, even though most of the kings turned bad. Jesus reached out to the woman at the well. He involved Himself with the demon-possessed man. He did not try to prove His innocence against His opponents. He did not leave the cross, but He saved people with the same cross upon which they nailed Him.
He is not bound by time. He is living in Eternity. That is the God you may know in the countenance of Jesus Christ. Therefore you can FIND MEANING in this life.
There is a second thing that makes man truly human – different from animals. Verse 17 -> The living God – will judge. He is going to serve judgment. He is going to establish law and justice. That is the second dimension that will arise BEYOND our time on earth.
Yes, there is a time to be born and a time to die. BUT: HOW you live your life for the short time you are on earth is changed when you realize that you will have to give an account one day. It gives meaning and purpose to your earthly life and an accountability. You are NOT like a dog who dies. All the things that happen to you – the injustice you suffer, the loss, suddenly receive a voice in God’s presence. What is past is past, certainly, but it is not past in God’s presence. On the last Great Day we will see the greater picture that we cannot see now. Our individual life history is not THE life history! We absolutely trust in God’s character of goodness and holiness and mercy and love, that perfect right and justice shall be done, and then we will understand how our life history fitted into the bigger picture.
It is true that the unsaved person should fear with trembling the reality of the coming Great Day. BUT: it is also a wonderful opportunity to discover the salvation that Christ brought and to surrender to Him with faith-confidence. The discovery of Ecclesiastes 3:17 can become a day of salvation.
But to those already saved, the realization of the coming Judgment is a great deliverance, because it gives the assurance that justice – not done on earth – SHALL then be done. And that sets the believer free from the desire to control and manage everything that takes place. Of course life is full of good times and bad times – we cannot control that. But it is part of God’s bigger picture. And if I NOW live in the light of THEN, it makes a huge difference in the way I live NOW!
That is the question that Ecclesiastes is wrestling with: What difference does it make how I live and how I approach life if I NOW live in view of the fact that there shall be a THEN?
Translated by Marthie Wilson