Day 157 (June 6): Solomon says ‘wisdom is useless,’ companionship is beneficial, leadership and wealth is futile

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Ecclesiastes 1:12-6:12

Questions & Observations

Q. (Ecclesiastes 1:13b-14): In Proverbs, I respected most of Solomon’s wisdom that he shared.  But now, he seems to have lost his focus on God.  What I have figured out is that he has put the ungodly wisdom that he has found above God’s laws and completely lost the meaning of life.  He used to be so light and bright.  Now, he has applied his wisdom to futile ways and it is now his downfall?

A. I suppose that’s possible (though we don’t have any evidence of that), but it could also be a form of “mental exercise” in which the writer (most likely Solomon) looks at the futility of life without God.  Let’s hang in there and see where he goes, ok?

Q. Why does Solomon repeat the phrases, “under the sun” and “chasing the wind”?

A. He’s using images from nature to make his points, almost like refrains.  I would say the futility of chasing the wind is pretty obvious, right?

Q. (2:15, 22b): I believe David had knowledge of the after life, but Solomon had none.  Why?

A. The way that I would phrase that same sentiment is David had faith in the afterlife, and from these verses, it would appear that Solomon did not.  Jewish thought on the existence, or not, of an afterlife was considered an unsettled matter even in Jesus’ day, so it is in no way a surprise to me that father and son were not in agreement on it.

Q. (3:1-8): I know this has been made into a song.  Solomon’s unsound mind aside, this song tells me that there is a season for everything and it all will pass with time.  But, frankly, I don’t know what we are supposed to get from it, given that Solomon was a little psycho.

A. I wouldn’t assume he’s out of his mind.  There is great wisdom in much of what he is saying.  Among the things I saw: there is a time for everything (which was made famous by the Byrds’ song Turn Turn Turn in 1965), that in the end wealth does not separate rich from poor and the wise are not separated from the foolish — everyone dies (macabre, yes, but wise also), that we are better off with companions than alone, etc.  Like Song of Solomon before it, this is truly one of most unique books of scripture, but I believe that God inspired the words, so that means there is value in my reading it and learning from it.

Q. (5:4b-5): This scares me a little.  Eight or nine years ago I was struggling with something that I deeply regretted.  I was on a walk and God told me that He forgave me.  We struck a deal that I would write a book about it.  I feel like this is something I must do.  I have started it, but haven’t worked on it for probably 5 years and I’ve barely even thought about it in a year.  Even seeing some of the material that I’m using for it doesn’t even remind me of the pact.  God did give me the idea to do this blog to fulfill my desire to know the Bible better before I continue on the book.  But, the blog — which I LOVE doing — takes up all of my time.  So, the book will have to wait.  I hope that’s OK.  I haven’t got any disappointing signs from God.

A. I think he’s talking about oaths and promises that we make to others, not necessarily personal ones.  Oaths in that day (and in Jesus’ day, as we will see in the Sermon on the Mount) were often abused and God’s name was used to cover people’s deceit (i.e. people would swear promises by God’s name that they had no intention of fulfilling).  Such abuse greatly displeases God (remember our commandment discussion about treating God’s name with respect).

Q. (5:12): Solomon is acknowledging that there is satisfaction in working hard.  We have talked about how those who inherit wealth and don’t know hard work usually waste their money and their lives.  Maybe with not having to work hard for the vision God gives you — because you have everything you need — one can have no focus and lead an unfulfilled life.  But, then Solomon retracts and says all their hard work is for nothing (6:16b).

A. 6:16 strikes me as a rather cynical statement: he clearly has laid out value in work, and he goes on to talk about how work is helpful towards building relationships with others (v. 18).  But, on some level, I see his point: while wealth can make it so that your offspring have it better than you had it, in the end, this makes no difference to YOU, since you’re dead.  So there are multiple perspectives that we can take on some of these verses, and perhaps even disagree with what he is saying.

Q. (5:19b): So, Solomon continues his thought process: If you can accept the path God has for you, then you will be fulfilled.  Personally, I don’t think God would give someone a “lot” that they didn’t enjoy?  He goes on to say that the love of their work keeps their mind occupied so they keep moving forward.  I do like this wisdom.  Listen to God’s direction and you don’t become despondent.  You stay busy and happy.  I think Solomon gets depressed at the fact that through Gods lots, our future and happiness are dictated by Him.  I totally understand this because I want to be in control of my own life.  But, I find that I am more and more satisfied the more I let go of the control.  It’s a long, hard process.  Why do we have this desire to control our own lives … and others’ lives?

A. It is part of the nature that God gave us when He made us in His image.  On some level — which is impossible to know this side of heaven — we have some role to play in the shape of our lives and in Creation itself: this is why God gave us a task to do in the beginning.  Don’t forget, work predates the “fall,” it is a genuine good that God has created/given to us.  And since we have this role to play and work to do, the natural extension is to work hardest at the things related to our own lives and families (sometimes doing so at the expense of the people God desires us to be!)  We desire control because, ultimately, we have a role to play in how the story of Creation plays out.

Q. (6:1-2): My understanding that God gives everyone a gift, it may be on the front lines, behind the scenes or something that seems totally unimportant.  But, whatever it is, take His direction and ignore your own ideas and motivations.

A. Careful.  That is not what those verses are saying.  They are saying that ones’ wealth can be taken and given to others, it says nothing about gifts and talents God has given to us.  Besides, you’re assuming that the ideas and motivations that we have in our day-to-day lives don’t come from God, when very often, I believe that they do.

Q. (6:9): Solomon is seeing that possessions and coveting your neighbor’s possessions is pointless?

A. I doubt he ever forgot.  But his wisdom, and wisdom in general, has a particular downfall.  His wisdom could not overcome the sinful nature of his heart, and in the end, no matter how smart or wise Solomon was, he made poor choices. I am certain that he knew he was making wrong decisions (as most of us do when we sin: we know its wrong, but do it anyway), but the corrupted nature of his heart allowed him to “overrule” his mind, and all of that wisdom ended up being wasted.

Q. (6:10): We have read that God has given us free will.  What is Solomon talking about?

A. While we have some role to play in the destiny of our own lives (which we can’t know the extent of), we are ultimately subject to the grand design that God is weaving among the totality of human life.  I think it is cynical of the writer to say that there is “nothing” we can do about it, and I think that it is a false notion that if we could truly see the big picture — which we can’t in this life — we would complain to God about how our role in it was futile.  One of the messages that the scriptures keep repeating is that God is good: it is His very nature.  One of the blessings of heaven, I believe, will be the ability to see how our “little” lives made an impact on so many other people in exactly the way God intended.  God is that good and that powerful that He can interweave our free will and His ultimate desire for our lives in a manner that I think will be beyond our comprehension.  Let’s see how Solomon wraps this up, shall we?

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