“God’s Person in an Upside-Down World” — The Be-attitudes Series #5 Happy Are the Merciful (5:7)

Shari Fenn on Twitter: "SHOW MERCY "Blessed are the merciful, for they will  be shown mercy." Matthew 5:7 #Mercy is not giving others what they  deserve.…"

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. (5:7)

The first four beatitudes deal entirely with inner principles, principles of the heart and mind. They are concerned with the way we see ourselves before God. The last four are outward manifestations of those attitudes. Those who in poverty of spirit recognize their need of mercy are led to show mercy to others (v. 7). Those who mourn over their sin are led to purity of heart (v. 8). Those who are meek always seek to make peace (v. 9). And those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are never unwilling to pay the price of being persecuted for righteousness’ sake (v. 10).

5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”NIV Merciful people realize that, because they received mercy from God, they must extend mercy to others. The word “merciful” implies generosity, forgiveness, and compassion, and it includes a desire to remove the wrong as well as alleviate the suffering. Jesus repeated this warning several times in this Gospel (see 6:12, 14-15; 18:21-35). We must be people who show mercy. That they will be shown mercy is not contingent upon how much mercy they showed; it is not that God will be merciful because these people have been merciful. Instead, believers understand true mercy because they have received mercy from God. Also, this promise does not guarantee mercy in return from people. The believers’ comfort comes in the knowledge that, no matter how the world treats them, God will show them mercy both now and when he returns.

The concept of mercy is seen throughout Scripture, from the Fall to the consummation of history at the return of Christ. Mercy is a desperately needed gift of God’s providential and redemptive work on behalf of sinners—and the Lord requires His people to follow His example by extending mercy to others.

His Mercy is More by Matt Boswell and Matt Papa

What love could remember no wrongs we have done
Omniscient, all knowing, He counts not their sum
Thrown into a sea without bottom or shore
Our sins they are many, His mercy is more

Praise the Lord, His mercy is more
Stronger than darkness, new every morn
Our sins they are many, His mercy is more

What patience would wait as we constantly roam
What Father, so tender, is calling us home
He welcomes the weakest, the vilest, the poor
Our sins they are many, His mercy is more

What riches of kindness he lavished on us
His blood was the payment, His life was the cost
We stood ‘neath a debt we could never afford
Our sins they are many, His mercy is more

 Obtaining mercy—rejecting mercy (vv. 23-24; 5:7).

(Matthew 9:13)  “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.””

(Matthew 12:7)  “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”

Justice, mercy, and faithfulness are the important qualities God is seeking. Obeying the rules is no substitute. While it is good to pay attention to details, we must never lose our sense of priorities in spiritual matters. Jesus did not condemn the practice of tithing. But He did condemn those who allowed their legalistic scruples to keep them from developing true Christian character.

To discover its essence we will look at three basic aspects of mercy: its meaning, its source, and its practice.

The Meaning of Mercy

For the most part, the days in which Jesus lived and taught were not characterized by mercy. The Jewish religionists themselves were not inclined to show mercy, because mercy is not characteristic of those who are proud, self-righteous, and judgmental. To many—perhaps most—of Jesus’ hearers, showing mercy was considered one of the least of virtues, if it was thought to be a virtue at all. It was in the same category as love—reserved for those who had shown the virtue to you. You loved those who loved you, and you showed mercy to those who showed mercy to you. That attitude was condemned by Jesus later in the Sermon on the Mount. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy’” (Matt. 5:43).

But such a shallow selfish kind of love that even the outcast tax-gatherers practiced (v. 46) was not acceptable to the Savior. He said, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?… And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (vv. 44-47).

Yet many people have interpreted this beatitude in another way that is just as selfish and humanistic: they maintain that our being merciful causes those around us, especially those to whom we show mercy, to be merciful to us. Mercy given will mean mercy received. For such people, mercy is shown to others purely in an effort toward self-seeking.

The ancient rabbi Gamaliel is quoted in the Talmud as saying, “Whenever thou hast mercy, God will have mercy upon thee, and if thou hast not mercy, neither will God have mercy on thee.” Gamaliel’s idea is right. When God is involved there will be mercy for mercy. “If you forgive men for their transgressions,” Jesus said, “your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matt. 6:14-15).

But as a platitude applied among men, the principle does not work. One writer sentimentally says, “This is the great truth of life: if people see us care, they will care.” Yet neither Scripture nor experience bears out that idea. God works that way, but the world does not. With God there is always proper reciprocation, and with interest. If we honor God, He will honor us; if we show mercy to others, especially to His children, He will show even more abundant mercy to us. But that is not the world’s way.

A popular Roman philosopher called mercy “the disease of the soul.” It was the supreme sign of weakness. Mercy was a sign that you did not have what it takes to be a real man and especially a real Roman. The Romans glorified manly courage, strict justice, firm discipline, and, above all, absolute power. They looked down on mercy, because mercy to them was weakness, and weakness was despised above all other human limitations.

During much of Roman history, a father had the right of deciding whether or not his newborn child would live or die. As the infant was held up for him to see, the father would turn his thumb up if he wanted the child to live, down if he wanted it to die. If his thumb turned down the child was immediately drowned. Citizens had the same life-or-death power over slaves. At any time and for any reason they could kill and bury a slave, with
no fear of arrest or reprisal. Husbands could even have their wives put to death on the least provocation. Today abortion reflects the same merciless attitude. A society that despises mercy is a society that glorifies brutality.

The underlying motive of self-concern has characterized men in general and societies in general since the Fall. We see it expressed today in such sayings as, “If you don’t look out for yourself, no one else will.” Such popular proverbs are generally true, because they reflect the basic selfish nature of fallen man. Men are not naturally inclined to repay mercy for mercy.

The best illustration of that fact is the Lord Himself. Jesus Christ was the most merciful human being who ever lived. He reached out to heal the sick, restore the crippled, give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and even life to the dead. He found prostitutes, tax collectors, the debauched and the drunken, and drew them into His circle of love and forgiveness. When the scribes and Pharisees brought the adulteress to Him to see if He would agree to her stoning, He confronted them with their merciless hypocrisy: “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” When no one stepped forward to condemn her, Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more” (John 8:7-11). Jesus wept with the sorrowing and gave companionship to the lonely. He took little children into His arms and blessed them. He was merciful to everyone. He was mercy incarnate, just as He was love incarnate.

Yet what was the response to Jesus’ mercy? He shamed the woman’s accusers into inaction, but they did not become merciful. By the time the accounts of John 8 ended, Jesus’ opponents “picked up stones to throw at Him” (v. 59). When the scribes and Pharisees saw Jesus “eating with the sinners and tax-gatherers,” they asked His disciples why their Master associated with such unworthy people (Mark 2:16).

The more Jesus showed mercy, the more He showed up the unmercifulness of the Jewish religious leaders. The more He showed mercy, the more they were determined to put Him out of the way. The ultimate outcome of His mercy was the cross. In Jesus’ crucifixion, two merciless systems—merciless government and merciless religion—united to kill Him. Totalitarian Rome joined intolerant Judaism to destroy the Prince of mercy.

The fifth beatitude does not teach that mercy to men brings mercy from men, but that mercy to men brings mercy from God. If we are merciful to others, God will be merciful to us, whether men are or not. God is the subject of the second clause, just as in the other beatitudes. It is God who gives the kingdom of heaven to the poor in spirit, comfort to those who mourn, the earth to the meek, and satisfaction to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Those who are merciful… shall receive mercy from God. God gives the divine blessings to those who obey His divine standards.

Merciful comes from a word from which we also get eleemosynary, meaning beneficial or charitable. Hebrews 2:17 speaks of Jesus as our “merciful and faithful high priest.” Christ is the supreme example of mercy and the supreme dispenser of mercy. It is from Jesus Christ that both redeeming and sustaining mercy come.

In the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) the same term is used to translate the Hebrew hÖesed, one of the most commonly used words to describe God’s character. It is usually translated as mercy, love, lovingkindness, or steadfast love (Ps. 17:7; 51:1; Isa. 63:7; Jer. 9:24; etc.). The basic meaning is to give help to the afflicted and to rescue the helpless. It is compassion in action.

Jesus is not speaking of detached or powerless sentiment that is unwilling or unable to help those for whom there is sympathy. Nor is He speaking of the false mercy, the feigned pity, that gives help only to salve a guilty conscience or to impress others with its appearance of virtue. And it is not passive, silent concern which, though genuine, is unable to give tangible help. It is genuine compassion expressed in genuine help, selfless concern expressed in selfless deeds.

Jesus says in effect, “The people in My kingdom are not takers but givers, not pretending helpers but practical helpers. They are not condemners but mercy givers.” The selfish, self-satisfied, and self-righteous do not bother to help anyone—unless they think something is in it for them. Sometimes they even justify their lack of love and mercy under the guise of religious duty. Once when the Pharisees and scribes questioned why His disciples did not observe the traditions of the elders, Jesus replied, “Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death’; but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother, anything of mine you might have been helped by is Corban (that is to say, given to God),’ you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down” (Mark 7:10-13). In the name of hypocritical religious tradition, compassion toward parents in such a case was actually forbidden.

Mercy is meeting people’s needs. It is not simply feeling compassion but showing compassion, not only sympathizing but giving a helping hand. Mercy is giving food to the hungry, comfort to the bereaved, love to the rejected, forgiveness to the offender, companionship to the lonely. It is therefore one of the loveliest and noblest of all virtues.

The Source of Mercy

Pure mercy is a gift of God. It is not a natural attribute of man but is a gift that comes with the new birth. We can be merciful in its full sense and with a righteous motive only when we have experienced God’s mercy. Mercy is only for those who through grace and divine power have met the requirements of the first four beatitudes. It is only for those who by the work of the Holy Spirit bow humbly before God in poverty of spirit, who mourn over and turn from their sin, who are meek and submissive to His control, and who hunger and thirst above all else for His righteousness. The way of mercy is the way of humility, repentance, surrender, and holiness.

Balaam continually prostituted his ministry; trying to keep within the letter of God’s will while conspiring with a pagan king against God’s people. He presumptuously prayed, “Let me die the death of the upright, and let my end be like his!” (Num. 23:10). As one Puritan commentator observed, Balaam wanted to die like the righteous, but he did not want to live like the righteous. Many people want God’s mercy but not on God’s terms.

God has both absolute and relative attributes. His absolute attributes—such as love, truth, and holiness—have characterized Him from all eternity. They were characteristic of Him before He created angels, or the world, or man. But His relative attributes—such as mercy, justice, and grace—were not expressed until His creatures came into being. In fact they were not manifest until man, the creature made in His own image, sinned and became separated from his Creator. Apart from sin and evil, mercy, justice, and grace have no meaning.

When man fell, God’s love was extended to His fallen creatures in mercy. And only when they receive His mercy can they reflect His mercy. God is the source of mercy. “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness [mercy] toward those who fear Him” (Ps. 103:11). It is because we have the resource of God’s mercy that Jesus commanded, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).

Donald Barnhouse writes, When Jesus Christ died on the cross, all the work of God for man’s salvation passed out of the realm of prophecy and became historical fact. God has now had mercy upon us. For anyone to pray, “God have mercy on me” is the equivalent of asking Him to repeat the sacrifice of Christ. All the mercy that God ever will have on man He has already had, when Christ died. That is the totality of mercy. There could not be any more…. The fountain is now opened, and it is flowing, and it continues to flow freely. (Romans [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983], 4:4)

We cannot have the blessing apart from the Blesser. We cannot even meet the condition apart from the One who has set the condition. We are blessed by God when we are merciful to others, and we are able to be merciful to others because we have already received salvation’s mercy. And when we share the mercy received, we shall receive mercy even beyond what we already have.

We never sing more truthfully than when we sing, “Mercy there was great and grace was free; pardon there was multiplied to me; there my burdened soul found liberty, at Calvary.”

The Practice of Mercy

The most obvious way we can show mercy is through physical acts, as did the good Samaritan. As Jesus specifically commands, we are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, and give any other practical help that is needed. In serving others in need, we demonstrate a heart of mercy.

It is helpful to note that the way of mercy did not begin with the New Testament. God has always intended for mercy to characterize His people. The Old Testament law taught, “You shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks” (Deut. 15:7-8). Even in the year of release, when all debts were canceled, Israelites were to give their poor countrymen whatever they needed. They were warned, “Beware, lest there is a base thought in your heart, saying ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,’ and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing” (v. 9).

Mercy is also to be shown in our attitudes. Mercy does not hold a grudge, harbor resentment, capitalize on another’s failure or weakness, or publicize another’s sin. On a great table at which he fed countless hundreds of people, Augustine inscribed, Whoever thinks that he is able,To nibble at the life of absent friends,

The vindictive, heartless, indifferent are not subjects of Christ’s kingdom. When they pass need by on the other side, as the priest and the Levite did in the story of the good Samaritan, they show they have passed Christ by.

Mercy is also to be shown spiritually. First, it is shown through pity. Augustine said, “If I weep for the body from which the soul is departed, should I not weep for the soul from which God is departed?” The sensitive Christian will grieve more for lost souls than for lost bodies. Because we have experienced God’s mercy, we are to have great concern for those who have not.

Jesus’ last words from the cross were words of mercy. For His executioners He prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). To the penitent thief hanging beside Him He said, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (v. 43). To His mother He said, ‘“Woman, behold your son! ‘ Then He said to the disciple [John], ‘Behold, your mother! ‘ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own household” (John 19:26-27). Like his Master, Stephen prayed for those who were taking his life, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:60).

Second, we are to show spiritual mercy by confrontation. Paul says that, as Christ’s servants, we should gently correct “those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25). We are to be willing to confront others about their sin in order that they might come to God for salvation. When certain teachers were “upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach, for the sake of sordid gain,” Paul told Titus to “reprove them severely that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:11, 13). Love and mercy will be severe when that is necessary for the sake of an erring brother and for the sake of Christ’s church. In such cases it is cruel to say nothing and let the harm continue.

As Jude closed his letter with the encouragement to “keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life,” he also admonished, “And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh” (Jude 21-23). Extreme situations require extreme care, but we are to show mercy even to those trapped in the worst systems of apostasy

Third, we are to show spiritual mercy by praying. The sacrifice of prayer for those without God is an act of mercy. Our mercy can be measured by our prayer for the unsaved and for Christians who are walking in disobedience.

Fourth, we are to show spiritual mercy by proclaiming the saving gospel of Jesus Christ—the most merciful thing we can do.

The Result of Mercy

Reflecting on the fact that when we are merciful we receive mercy, we see God’s cycle of mercy. God is merciful to us by saving us through Christ; in obedience we are merciful to others; and God in faithfulness gives us even more mercy, pouring out blessing for our needs and withholding severe chastening for our sin.

As in the other beatitudes, the emphatic pronoun autos (they) indicates that only those who are merciful qualify to receive mercy David sang of the Lord, “With the kind Thou dost show Thyself kind” (2 Sam. 22:26). Speaking of the opposite side of the same truth, James says, “For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:13). At the end of the disciples’ prayer Jesus explained, “For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matt. 6:14-15). Again the emphatic truth is that God will respond with chastening for an unforgiving disciple.

Neither in that passage nor in this beatitude is Jesus speaking of our mercy gaining us salvation. We do not earn salvation by being merciful. We must be saved by God’s mercy before we can truly be merciful. We cannot work our way into heaven even by a lifetime of merciful deeds, any more than by good works of any sort. God does not give mercy for merit; He gives mercy in grace, because it is needed, not because it is earned.

To illustrate the working of God’s mercy Jesus told the parable of a slave who had been graciously forgiven a great debt by the king. The man then went to a fellow slave who owed him a pittance by comparison and demanded that every cent be repaid and had him thrown into prison. When the king heard of the incident, he called the first man to him and said, ‘“You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you entreated me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, even as I had mercy on you?’ And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart” (Matt. 18:23-35).

In that parable Jesus gives a picture of God’s saving mercy in relation to forgiving others (vv. 21-22). The first man pleaded with God for mercy and received it. The fact that he, in turn, was unmerciful was so inconsistent with his own salvation that he was chastened until he repented. The Lord will chasten, if need be, to produce repentance in a stubborn child. Mercy to others is a mark of salvation. When we do not show it, we may be disciplined until we do. When we hold back mercy, God restricts His flow of mercy to us, and we forfeit blessing. The presence of chastening and the absence of blessing attend an unmerciful believer.

If we have received from a holy God unlimited mercy that cancels our unpayable debt of sin—we who had no righteousness but were poor in spirit, mourning over our load of sin in beggarly, helpless condition, wretched and
doomed, meek before almighty God, hungry and thirsty for a righteousness we did not have and could not attain—it surely follows that we should be merciful to others.

Even as it stands this is surely a great saying; and it is the statement of a principle which runs all through the New Testament. The New Testament is insistent that to be forgiven we must be forgiving. As James had it: “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:13). Jesus finishes the story of the unforgiving debtor with the warning: “So also my heavenly Father will do to everyone of you; if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:35). The Lord’s Prayer is followed by the two verses which explain and underline the petition, “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors”. “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:12,14,15). It is the consistent teaching of the New Testament that indeed only the merciful shall receive mercy.

But there is even more to this beatitude than that. The Greek word for merciful is eleemon. But, as we have repeatedly seen, the Greek of the New Testament as we possess it goes back to an original Hebrew and Aramaic. The Hebrew word for mercy is chesedh; and it is an untranslatable word. It does not mean only to sympathize with a person in the popular sense of the term; it does not mean simply to feel sorry for someone in trouble. Chesedh, mercy, means the ability to get right inside the other person’s skin until we can see things with his eyes, think things with his mind, and feel things with his feelings.

Clearly this is much more than an emotional wave of pity; clearly this demands a quite deliberate effort of the mind and of the will. It denotes a sympathy which is not given, as it were, from outside, but which comes from a deliberate identification with the other person, until we see things as he sees them, and feel things as he feels them. This is sympathy in the literal sense of the word. Sympathy is derived from two Greek words, syn which means together with, and paschein which means to experience or to suffer. Sympathy means experiencing things together with the other person, literally going through what he is going through.

This is precisely what many people do not even try to do. Most people are so concerned with their own feelings that they are not much concerned with the feelings of anyone else. When they are sorry for someone, it is, as it were, from the outside; they do not make the deliberate effort to get inside the other person’s mind and heart, until they see and feel things as he sees and feels them.

If we did make this deliberate attempt, and if we did achieve this identification with the other person, it would obviously make a very great difference.

(i) It would save us from being kind in the wrong way. There is one outstanding example of insensitive and mistaken kindness in the New Testament. It is in the story of Jesus’ visit to the house of Martha and Mary at Bethany (Luke 10:38-42). When Jesus paid that visit, the Cross was only a few days ahead. All that he wanted was an opportunity for so short a time to rest and to relax, and to lay down the terrible tension of living.

Martha loved Jesus; he was her most honored guest; and because she loved him she would provide the best meal the house could supply. She bustled and scurried here and there with the clatter of dishes and the clash of pans; and every moment was torture to the tense nerves of Jesus. All he wanted was quiet.

Martha meant to be kind, but she could hardly have been more cruel. But Mary understood that Jesus wished only for peace. So often when we wish to be kind the kindness has to be given in our way, and the other person has to put up with it whether he likes it or not. Our kindness would be doubly kind, and would be saved from much quite unintentional unkindness, if we would only make the effort to get inside the other person.

(ii) It would make forgiveness, and it would make tolerance ever so much easier. There is one principle in life which we often forget—there is always a reason why a person thinks and acts as he does, and if we knew that reason, it would be so much easier to understand and to sympathize and to forgive. If a person thinks, as we see it, mistakenly ,he may have come through experiences, he may have a heritage which has made him think as he does. If a person is irritable and discourteous, he may be worried or he may be in pain. If a person treats us badly, it may be because there is some idea in his mind which is quite mistaken.

Truly, as the French proverb has it, “To know all is to forgive all,” but we will never know all until we make the deliberate attempt to get inside the other person’s mind and heart.

(iii) In the last analysis, is not that what God did in Jesus Christ? In Jesus Christ, in the most literal sense, God got inside the skin of men. He came as a man; he came seeing things with men’s eyes, feeling things with men’s feelings, thinking things with men’s minds. God knows what life is like, because God came right inside life.

It is only those who show this mercy who will receive it. This is true on the human side, for it is the great truth of life that in other people we see the reflection of ourselves. If we are detached and disinterested in them, they will be detached and disinterested in us. If they see that we care, their hearts will respond in caring. It is supremely true on the divine side, for he who shows this mercy has become nothing less than like God.


(5:7) Merciful (eleemones): to have a forgiving spirit and a compassionate heart. It is showing mercy and being benevolent. It is forgiving those who are wrong, yet it is much more. It is empathy; it is getting right inside the person and feeling right along with him. It is a deliberate effort, an act of the will to understand the person and to meet his need by forgiving and showing mercy. It is the opposite of being hard, unforgiving, and unfeeling. God forgives only those who forgive others. A person receives mercy only if he is merciful (cp. Matthew 6:12; James 2:13). Several significant facts need to be noted about mercy.

  1. The person who is merciful has a tender heart—a heart that cares for all who have need, seen or unseen. If he sees the needful, he feels for them and reaches out to do all he can. If he does not see them, he feels and reaches out through prayer and giving as opportunity arises. The merciful just do not hoard or hold back any kind of help, no matter the cost.
  2. They have the love of God dwelling in them.
  3. They know that it is “more blessed to give than to receive.”
  4. Every believer can be merciful. Some may not have money or other means to help, but they can be tender and compassionate and demonstrate mercy through expression and prayer. In fact, God instructs the believer to be merciful. He charges the believer to do some very practical things:
  5. “Deal…bread to the hungry” (Isaiah 58:7; James 2:15).
  6. “Bring the poor that are cast out to thy house” (Isaiah 58:7).
  7. “Cover him [the naked]” (Isaiah 58:7; James 2:15).
  8. Strengthen and comfort the broken and grieving soul (Job 16:5).
  9. Pity the afflicted (Job 6:14).
  10. Bear the burdens of others—even to the point of restoring them when they sin. But we reach out to them in a spirit of meekness. (Galatians 6:2 cp. Galatians 6:1).
  11. Support the weak (Acts 20:35).
  12. The results of being merciful are numerous.
  13. A person is given the mercy of God—forgiveness of sins (Psalm 18:25; cp. 2 Samuel 22:26).
  14. A person does good to his own soul (Proverbs 19:17).
  15. A person is paid back what he gives—by God Himself (Proverbs 19:17).
  16. A person behaves like God Himself (Luke 6:36; cp. Psalm 103:8; Joel 2:15).
  17. A person is blessed (Psalm 51:1).
  18. A person is assured of finding “mercy in that day” (2 Tim. 1:18).
  19. A person shall inherit the Kingdom of God—forever (Matthew 25:34-35).
  20. The unmerciful are warned by God.
  21. They shall face “judgment without mercy” (James 2:13).
  22. They shall face the anger and wrath of God (Matthew 18:34-35).
  23. They are not forgiven their sins (Matthew 6:12, 14-15).
  24. Two opposite attitudes are shown toward mercy.
  25. The attitude of shutting up one’s compassion from those in need (1 John 3:17; cp. James 2:15-16).
  26. The attitude of putting on a heart of mercy (Col. 3:12).


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Posted by on February 25, 2021 in Be-Attitudes


Ecclesiastes: The Good Life #3 Disgusted with Life? Ecclesiastes 2

“There is but one step from the sublime to the ridiculous.”

Your Purpose Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Clouds and Sky.Napoleon is supposed to have made that statement after his humiliating retreat from Moscow in the winter of 1812. The combination of stubborn Russian resistance and a severe Russian winter was too much for the French army, and its expected sublime victory was turned into shameful defeat.

As part of his quest for “the good life,” King Solomon examined everything from the sublime to the ridiculous. In the great laboratory of life, he experimented with one thing after another, always applying the wisdom that God had given him (vv. 3, 9). In this chapter, Solomon recorded three stages in his experiments as he searched for a satisfying meaning to life.

Satisfaction cannot be found in pleasure (2:1-11).

(Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 NIV)  “I thought in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. {2} “Laughter,” I said, “is foolish. And what does pleasure accomplish?” {3} I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly–my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives. {4} I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. {5} I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. {6} I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. {7} I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. {8} I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well–the delights of the heart of man. {9} I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me. {10} I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. {11} Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”

In this section, Solomon describes his grand experiment into pleasure and its total failure. He followed the philosophy of the advertising slogan, “You only go around once in life, so grab all the gusto you can get.” He grabbed for all the pleasures of life. But after some time he realized that the “gusto” was less fulfilling and did not taste so great.56 In the first eight verses, he speaks of at least six kinds of pleasure he tried in his effort to find satisfaction.

  • Humor (2:2). Solomon writes, “I said to myself, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure. So enjoy yourself.’ And behold, it too was futility. I said of laughter, ‘It is madness,’ and of pleasure, ‘What does it accomplish?’”57 Solomon mocks “laughter” as “madness.” I don’t know if the comics he listened to were as bad as the ones we see on TV today, but if so, I’m not surprised he labeled it “madness.” Do you really think the leading comedians of our day are sincerely satisfied with life? Has humor given them an inside track on human happiness? Hardly.58 It is easy to seek to lose ourselves in comedy and entertainment whether it is in a theater, in front of our TV, or on-line. Although it can seem like a great escape, it leaves us empty in the end.
  • Wine (2:3). Solomon writes, “I explored with my mind how to stimulate my body with wine while my mind was guiding me wisely, and how to take hold of folly, until I could see what good there is for the sons of men to do under heaven the few years of their lives.” Many people assume Solomon was a “party animal” who got drunk like a skunk. Not so! He was too smart for that. Getting drunk for pleasure is about as dumb as jumping off a ten-story building to enjoy the breeze. Rather, Solomon was a connoisseur of fine wine, but he clearly states that he didn’t drink so much that it would prevent his mind from guiding him wisely. Rather, wine became a socially acceptable way to loosen up and enjoy people and conversations. Yet, he states that it is futility.

Solomon had the means and the authority to do just about anything his heart desired. He decided to test his own heart to see how he would respond to two very common experiences of life: enjoyment (1-3) and employment (4-11).

Enjoyment (2:1-3).

The Hebrew people rightly believed that God made man to enjoy the blessings of His creation (Ps. 104, and note 1 Tim. 6:17). The harvest season was a joyful time for them as they reaped the blessings of God on their labor. At the conclusion of his book, Solomon admonished his readers to enjoy God’s blessings during the years of their youth, before old age arrived and the body began to fall apart (12:1ff). Eight times in Ecclesiastes, Solomon used the Hebrew word meaning “pleasure,” so it is obvious that he did not consider God a celestial spoilsport who watched closely to make certain nobody was having a good time.

Solomon specifically mentioned wine and laughter as two sources of pleasure used in his experiment. It takes very little imagination to see the king in his splendid banquet hall (1 Kings 10:21), eating choice food (1 Kings 4:22-23), drinking the very best wine, and watching the most gifted entertainers (2:8b). But when the party was over and King Solomon examined his heart, it was still dissatisfied and empty. Pleasure and mirth were only vanity, so many soap bubbles that quickly burst and left nothing behind.

Perhaps many of the king’s servants envied Solomon and wished to change places with him, but the king was unhappy. “Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful,” he wrote in Proverbs 14:13, “and the end of that mirth is heaviness.”

Today’s world is pleasure-mad. Millions of people will pay almost any amount of money to “buy experiences” and temporarily escape the burdens of life. While there is nothing wrong with innocent fun, the person who builds his or her life only on seeking pleasure is bound to be disappointed in the end.

Why? For one thing, pleasure-seeking usually becomes a selfish endeavor; and selfishness destroys true joy. People who live for pleasure often exploit others to get what they want, and they end up with broken relationships as well as empty hearts. People are more important than things and thrills. We are to be channels, not reservoirs; the greatest joy comes when we share God’s pleasures with others.

If you live for pleasure alone, enjoyment will decrease unless the intensity of the pleasure increases. Then you reach a point of diminishing returns when there is little or no enjoyment at all, only bondage. For example, the more that people drink, the less enjoyment they get out of it. This means they must have more drinks and stronger drinks in order to have pleasure; the sad result is desire without satisfaction. Instead of alcohol, substitute drugs, gambling, sex, money, fame, or any other pursuit, and the principle will hold true: when pleasure alone is the center of life, the result will ultimately be disappointment and emptiness.

There is a third reason why pleasure alone can never bring satisfaction: it appeals to only part of the person and ignores the total being. This is the major difference between shallow “entertainment” and true “enjoyment,” for when the whole person is involved, there will be both enjoyment and enrichment. Entertainment has its place, but we must keep in mind that it only helps us to escape life temporarily. True pleasure not only brings delight, but it also builds character by enriching the total person.

Employment (2:4-11).

Next, Solomon got involved in all kinds of projects, hoping to discover something that would make life worth living. He started with great works (4-6), including houses (1 Kings 7), cities (2 Chron. 8:4-6), gardens, vineyards, orchards and forests (1 Kings 4:33), and the water systems needed to service them. Of course, Solomon also supervised the construction of the temple (1 Kings 5ff), one of the greatest buildings of the ancient world.

He not only had works, but he also had workers (7a). He had two kinds of slaves: those he purchased and those born in his household. He might have added that he “drafted” 30,000 Jewish men to work on various projects (1 Kings 5:13-18). His father David had conscripted the strangers in the land (1 Chron. 22:2), but Solomon drafted his own people, and the people resented it (see 1 Kings 12).

Of course, Solomon accumulated wealth (7b-8a), in flocks and herds (1 Kings 8:63) as well as gold and silver (1 Kings 4:21 and 10:1ff). He was the wealthiest and wisest man in the whole world, yet he was unhappy because activity alone does not bring lasting pleasure.

There can be joy in the doing of great projects, but what happens when the task is finished? Solomon found delight in all his labor (2:10); but afterward, when he considered all his works, he saw only “vanity and vexation of spirit” (2:11). The journey was a pleasure, but the destination brought pain. “Success is full of promise until men get it,” said the American preacher Henry Ward Beecher, “and then it is a last-year’s nest from which the birds have flown.”

We must not conclude that Solomon was condemning work itself, because work is a blessing from God. Adam had work to do in the Garden even before he sinned. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Gen. 2:15, niv). In the Book of Proverbs, Solomon exalted diligence and condemned laziness; for he knew that any honest employment can be done to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). But work alone cannot satisfy the human heart, no matter how successful that work may be (Isa. 55:2).

This helps us to understand why many achievers are unhappy people. Ambrose Bierce called achievement “the death of endeavor and the birth of disgust.” This is often the case. The overachiever is often a person who is trying to escape himself or herself by becoming a workaholic, and this only results in disappointment. When workaholics retire, they often feel useless and sometimes die from lack of meaningful activity.

Solomon tested life, and his heart said, “Vanity!”

  • Projects (2:4-6). Solomon writes, “I enlarged my works: I built houses for myself, I planted vineyards for myself; I made gardens and parks for myself and I planted in them all kinds of fruit trees; I made ponds of water for myself from which to irrigate a forest of growing trees.” Solomon tried to create his own Garden of Eden. His buildings, vineyards, gardens,59 and irrigation canals are legendary. Solomon’s temple is known to be one of the most magnificent buildings of all time. It took 153,000 workers seven years to build.60 However, it took them thirteen years to build Solomon’s own house! Imagine what you could build with unlimited resources and 100,000 plus workers. Imagine what it looked like! But did all this beauty satisfy? No, it didn’t. The projects described here don’t seem to resemble an ongoing job or trade as much as leisure projects. The house-building, tree-planting, and reservoir-constructing in Ecclesiastes might correspond to a new shed, some tomatoes, and a sprinkler system in your backyard—on a grander scale than we’re used to, certainly, but the intended result of personal enjoyment is the same. Yet, this will never satisfy.
  • Possessions (2:7-8). Solomon writes, “I bought male and female slaves and I had homeborn slaves. Also I possessed flocks and herds larger than all who preceded me in Jerusalem. Also, I collected for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces.” He bought more and more slaves and even bred them. He amassed larger herds than anyone before him—the real measure of wealth to the average man. He collected gold and silver and all manner of luxurious gifts from other kings and countries. So great was Solomon’s fortune that silver and gold were soon regarded in Jerusalem as stones (1 Kgs 10:27; 2 Chron 1:15). Not one of all the above good things brought satisfaction or joy. For centuries, the old saying that “money can’t buy happiness” has been espoused by many, but few ever live their lives as if there is any truth to this statement—in fact, quite the contrary. As one wise pundit with deep insight put it, “All I want is the chance to prove that money can’t buy happiness.”61

The classic movie Citizen Kane illustrates this point. In the film, you watch the character Charles Foster accrue an incredible amount of wealth, until it ultimately destroys him. As Foster is progressively tainted by his desire for wealth, power, and pleasure, there is a recurring shot of a fireplace in his home. As the wealth grows and becomes more destructive, the fireplace gets bigger and bigger until in the last few frames, it is the largest thing in the movie. The fireplace is always burning and consuming. By the end of the movie, the fireplace takes up almost an entire wall of his house.

Foster’s life is nothing but this raging inferno that never, ever is consumed until he dies. And when he dies, all his possessions are burned. The viewer watches his entire life go up in smoke. The only difference between Foster and most of us is that his stuff produced a lot of smoke. He had a big trash bag. We will have little-bitty trash bags. But in the end, it all goes up in smoke.62

  • Music (2:8b). Solomon says, “I provided for myself male and female singers.” He didn’t need an iPod; he had live musicians with him whenever he wanted. Can you imagine having your favorite musician or band travel with you wherever you go? All you have to do is snap your fingers and they are at your beck and call. This too is futile.
  • Sexual Pleasure (2:8b). Solomon says, “I provided the pleasures of men—many concubines.” Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. One thousand women available to him any time of the day or night! Surely that ended his search for satisfaction, didn’t it? Well, it ended his close relationship with God, but it didn’t end his quest for meaning and significance. It only left him bored, empty, and frustrated. Several years ago, I read an article about Hugh Hefner in Christianity Today. The author explained that Hefner is completely desensitized to sexual activity due to excess. Even though he owns the Playboy mansion, for many years he has not had a sexual relationship with a woman. What a glaring example of the futility of immorality.

Solomon summarizes his pursuit of pleasure with his own analysis in 2:9-11: “Then I became great and increased more than all who preceded me in Jerusalem. My wisdom also stood by me. All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart was pleased because of all my labor and this was my reward for all my labor.63 Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun.” I cannot help but think here of Jesus’ question in Mark 8:36: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” Solomon would answer, “Nothing. It profits him nothing at all.” Solomon says, “It won’t work. You can earn more, spend more, collect more, drink more, eat more, sin more, you name it, but none of those things will put meaning into life.”

Solomon hated life (ECCL. 2:12-23)

(Ecclesiastes 2:12-23 NIV)  “Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom, and also madness and folly. What more can the king’s successor do than what has already been done? {13} I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness. {14} The wise man has eyes in his head, while the fool walks in the darkness; but I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both. {15} Then I thought in my heart, “The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?” I said in my heart, “This too is meaningless.” {16} For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered; in days to come both will be forgotten. Like the fool, the wise man too must die! {17} So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

 “I turned myself to behold” simply means, “I considered things from another viewpoint.” What he did was to look at his wisdom (12-17) and his wealth (18-23) in light of the certainty of death. What good is it to be wise and wealthy if you are going to die and leave everything behind?

The certainty of death is a topic Solomon frequently mentioned in Ecclesiastes (1:4; 2:14-17; 3:18-20; 5:15-16; 6:6; 8:8; 9:2-3, 12; 12:7-8). He could not easily avoid the subject as he looked at life “under the sun,” for death is one of the obvious facts of life. The French essayist Montaigne wrote, “Philosophy is no other thing than for a man to prepare himself to death.” Only that person is prepared to live who is prepared to die.

[So far we have seen that the pursuit of knowledge is futile and the pursuit of pleasure is futile. Now Solomon will tell us that…]

Satisfaction cannot be found in wisdom (2:12-17).

It’s been said that a good preacher makes points that are bluntly stated, clearly explained, and endlessly repeated. That’s what Solomon is doing here. Solomon has already talked about wisdom and knowledge at the end of chapter one, so perhaps he is going back to the subject rather than pursuing a new topic, but I prefer to think that his previous discussion dealt primarily with the acquiring of knowledge or education, while now he is more concerned with the application of wisdom and knowledge. Solomon shares two important principles.

  • The wise man and the fool die alike (2:12-14). Solomon writes, “So I turned to consider wisdom, madness and folly; for what will the man do who will come after the king [Adam, the ‘king’ of creation] except what has already been done? And I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness. The wise man’s eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I know that one fate befalls them both.” Solomon concedes that wisdom has certain advantages over ignorance. However, despite its advantages, even the remarkable gift of wisdom falls under the general condemnation of hebel. The grim reaper stalks the wise and the fool, the righteous and the wicked, the believer and the unbeliever. Death is the great equalizer, and if it makes no distinctions, then why bother to be overly wise? Why not act the fool if we all end up in the same grave anyway?
  • The wise man and the fool are both forgotten (2:15-17). Solomon writes, “Then I said to myself, ‘As is the fate of the fool, it will also befall me. Why then have I been extremely wise?’ So I said to myself, ‘This too is vanity.’ For there is no lasting remembrance of the wise man as with the fool, inasmuch as in the coming days all will be forgotten. And how the wise man and the fool alike die! So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind.” The intellectual’s real hope is that he will achieve lasting fame and be long remembered for his great contributions. Solomon pronounces all this to be an illusion. Future generations will no more remember the scholar than they will the beggar on the street. In fact, a good case could actually be made for the fact that fools are remembered longer than the wise. At least the crazy get more press. And what is Solomon’s response to all this? He says in 2:17, “So I hated life.” Notice carefully that he doesn’t say, “So I hate life,” but “I hated” This is not his final conclusion, not even his present outlook, but it was his attitude when his pursuit of wisdom turned up a dry hole—he despaired of even living.

Consider the sum total of all our knowledge, all our progress, all our technology. Has any of it really made the experience of life richer? Yes, we are thankful to God for medical advances and jet travel. Most of us have more information on the hard drives of our computers than entire nations once possessed in their ancient libraries. Yet, there have never been so many unhappy people, so many illiterate, so many hungry, diseased, and disowned. All our accumulated knowledge of history cannot keep us from terrorism and war and discord on every continent.64 We spend millions on AIDS awareness, yet people who “know better” regularly engage in promiscuous sex. We have more consultants and experts in business than ever before, yet bankruptcies continually occur. We have learned about fat grams and exercise routines, yet we are the most obese nation in the world. Books on parenting and marriage appear regularly, yet families seem to struggle as never before.65

[Solomon has pursued education, pleasure, and wisdom. His personal experience takes him on one more excursion, but the result is the same.]

Satisfaction cannot be found in work (2:18-26).

{18} I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. {19} And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. {20} So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. {21} For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. {22} What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? {23} All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless.”

Since both the wise man and the fool will die, what is the value of wisdom? For one thing, we can leave our wisdom for the guidance of the next generation; but how can we be sure they will value it or follow it? “What can the man do that cometh after the king?” suggests that it is folly for successive generations to make the same “experiments” (and mistakes) when they can learn from their forefathers; but they do it just the same! There is nothing new under the sun (1:9); they can only repeat what we have already done.

In spite of the fact that all men must die, wisdom is still of greater value than folly. They are as different as night and day! The wise man sees that death is coming and lives accordingly, while the fool walks in darkness and is caught unprepared. However, being prepared for death does not necessarily relieve Solomon of his burden about life; for it takes a person a long time to learn how to live, and then life ends. All of this seems so futile.

Both the wise man and the fool die, and both the wise man and the fool are forgotten (v. 16). Solomon’s fame has remained, of course (1 Kings 4:29-34; Matt. 6:28-30); but most “famous” people who have died are rarely mentioned in ordinary conversation, although their biographies are found in the encyclopedias. (I note that some of these biographies get smaller from edition to edition.)

“So I hated life!” concluded Solomon, but he was not contemplating suicide; for death was one thing he wanted to avoid. “I hate life and yet I am afraid to die!” said the French humanist Voltaire; Solomon would agree with him. Life seemed irrational and futile to Solomon, and yet it was still better than death. We might paraphrase his statement, “Therefore, I was disgusted with life!”

The healthy Christian believer certainly would not hate life, no matter how difficult the circumstances might be. It is true that some great men have wanted to die, such as Job (Job 3:21-7:15), Moses (Num. 11:15), Elijah (1 Kings 19:4), and Jonah (Jonah 4:3), but we must not take these special instances as examples for us to follow. All of these men finally changed their minds.

No, the Christian should “love life” (1 Peter 3:10, quoted from Ps. 34:12ff), seeking to put the most into it and getting the most out of it, to the glory of God. We may not enjoy everything in life, or be able to explain everything about life, but that is not important. We live by promises and not by explanations, and we know that our “labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).

Not only did Solomon hate life, but he hated the wealth that was the result of his toil. Of course, Solomon was born wealthy, and great wealth came to him because he was the king. But he was looking at life “under the sun” and speaking for the “common people” who were listening to his discussion. He gave three reasons why he was disgusted with wealth.

First, you can’t keep it (v. 18). The day would come when Solomon would die and leave everything to his successor. This reminds us of our Lord’s warning in the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21) and Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 6:7-10. A Jewish proverb says, “There are no pockets in shrouds.”

Money is a medium of exchange. Unless it is spent, it can do little or nothing for you. You can’t eat money, but you can use it to buy food. It will not keep you warm, but it will purchase fuel. A writer in The Wall Street Journal called money “an article which may be used as a universal passport to everywhere except heaven, and as a universal provider of everything except happiness.”

Of course, you and I are stewards of our wealth; God is the Provider (Deut. 8:18) and the Owner, and we have the privilege of enjoying it and using it for His glory. One day we will have to give an account of what we have done with His generous gifts. While we cannot take wealth with us when we die, we can “send it ahead” as we use it today according to God’s will (Matt. 6:19-34).

Second, we can’t protect it (vv. 19-20). It’s bad enough that we must leave our wealth behind, but even worse that we might leave it to somebody who will waste it! Suppose he or she is a fool and tears down everything we have built up? Solomon didn’t know it at the time, but his son Rehoboam would do that very thing (1 Kings 11:41-12:24).

Many people have tried to write their wills in such a way that their estates could not be wasted, but they have not always succeeded. In spite of the instruction and good example they may give, the fathers and mothers have no way of knowing what the next generation will do with the wealth that they worked so hard to accumulate. Solomon’s response was to walk about and simply resign himself (“despair” v. 20) to the facts of life and death. As the rustic preacher said, “We all must learn to cooperate with the inevitable!”

Third, we can’t enjoy it as we should (vv. 21-23). If all we do is think about our wealth and worry about what will happen to it, we will make our lives miserable. We do all the work and then leave the wealth to somebody who didn’t even work for it (v. 21). Is that fair? We spend days in travail and grief and have many sleepless nights, yet our heirs never experience any of this. It all seems so futile. “What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun?” (v. 22, niv)

At this point, Solomon appears to be very pessimistic, but he doesn’t remain that way very long. In a step of faith he reaches the third stage in his experiment.

Now a significant number of people will agree with me on this point, for all of us at one time or another lose interest in our work and wonder if it’s even worth it. But let’s see the reasons behind Solomon’s analysis. Again, Solomon shares two critical principles.

  • You can’t take it with you (2:18-20). Solomon writes, “Thus I hated all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun, for I must leave it to the man who will come after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the fruit of my labor for which I have labored by acting wisely under the sun. This too is vanity. Therefore I completely despaired of all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun.” It’s a pretty sure bet that Solomon was a Type-A personality. He’s like many Americans today. It’s easy for some of us to work, work, work, strategize, plan, skip vacations, miss out on family time and leisure, and work, work, work some more. Then, when everything is in place, when all the ducks are in a row, wham! We die and have to leave it all to others. That is a fact that applies to every one of us. King Tut tried to take it with him, and we smile at the futility of his effort. But millions after him have acted as though they could take it, amassing great fortunes while fearful of spending them lest they die penniless.
  • You can’t control it when you’re gone (2:21-23). Solomon writes, “When there is a man who has labored with wisdom, knowledge and skill, then he gives his legacy to one who has not labored with them. This too is vanity and a great evil. For what does a man get in all his labor and in his striving with which he labors under the sun? Because all his days his task is painful and grievous; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is vanity.” Some people amass great fortunes, not for their own benefit but for their children’s benefit. But there’s no guarantee that the child will show the same wisdom that the parent showed. Typically, large fortunes are squandered by those who inherit. More often than not it also ends up destroying relationships. Leaving our loved ones too much might be worse than leaving them too little.

The disappointing reality is that significance cannot be found in work. Some time ago, an aspiring television star was given a shot at a network series. He went to the NBC studios, saw his name on a parking space, found the crew treating him like royalty, and admired the star on his dressing room door. The series pilot was shot in five days, but television executives rejected it. When the young actor left, no one said goodbye, the name was gone from his parking space, and his dressing room was locked. “All the success was like smoke,” he said. “I couldn’t get a handle on it; like cotton candy, once it was in my mouth it was gone.” Our culture is a cotton-candy world—sugary and seductive—a pink swirl of empty calories. Today you might be the “flavor of the month,” with Hollywood or Wall Street at your command.

Tomorrow your pockets may be as empty as your soul.66 If you don’t believe me, ask Britney Spears.

Solomon, the Preacher, has taken us on his search for satisfaction through the pursuit of education, pleasure, wisdom, and work. Each effort he has judged to be futile. None of these areas, when pursued for their own sake, are able to provide meaning and satisfaction in life. So he concludes this entire section in 2:24-26 with these words: “There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God. For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him? For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give67 to one who is good in God’s sight.68 This too is vanity and striving after wind.”69

At first glance, 2:24 almost appears that the Preacher has flipped and is telling us that since life is hebel, the best thing you can do is to gorge yourself, get drunk, and tell yourself that your labor is worthwhile, even though you know it isn’t. But that is a serious misunderstanding of his point. Solomon is saying that eating and drinking and laboring, while devoid of ultimate meaning in and of themselves, are infused with meaning and purpose and happiness and satisfaction, when done in accord with God’s regulations and with His blessing. What spoils these activities is our greediness to get out of them more than they can give or our tendency to do them to excess.

Nevertheless, God longs for us to enjoy these activities. He wants us to enjoy a good meal with friends. He encourages us to drink in moderation. He expects us to have a positive attitude toward work, for “The highest reward for man’s toil is not what he gets for it, but what he becomes by it.”70

God also wants us to realize that He will grant three gifts to those who please him: wisdom, knowledge, and joy. But to the sinner who persists in trying to remake God’s world, there is also an outcome: “a chasing after the wind.” This reference to the chasing of wind is to the frustrating activity in which the sinner works night and day to heap things up only to find in the end that he must, and as a matter of fact does, turn them over to the one who pleases God.71 This again demonstrates the utter futility and transient nature of life.

Picture your hands out in front of you, cupped together, palms up. In your open hands are all the things He has entrusted to you—money, cars, a home, furniture, everything. All of these are His gifts (Jas 1:17). We are the stewards, and faithfulness is our charge. That means our hands must never close over the gifts, but remain open so that He may use them as required—and refill our hands.72

The main conclusion of Solomon’s search is: Get satisfaction from God’s gifts. Satisfaction is a gift from God, just like salvation. When we can take our education, our pleasure, our wisdom, and our work as gifts from God, then our search has found its goal. And all the good things that God has in store for us are ours. Death will take none of that satisfaction.73

He accepted life (ECCL. 2:24-26)

This is the first of six “conclusions” in Ecclesiastes, each of which emphasizes the importance of accepting life as God’s gift and enjoying it in God’s will (3:12-15, 22; 5:18-20; 8:15; 9:7-10; 11:9-10). Solomon is not advocating “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die!” That is the philosophy of fatalism not faith. Rather, he is saying, “Thank God for what you do have, and enjoy it to the glory of God.” Paul gave his approval to this attitude when he exhorted us to trust “in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17, nkjv).

Solomon made it clear that not only were the blessings from God, but even the enjoyment of the blessings was God’s gift to us (v. 24). He considered it “evil” if a person had all the blessings of life from God but could not enjoy them (6:1-5). It is easy to see why the Jewish people read Ecclesiastes at the Feast of Tabernacles, for Tabernacles is their great time of thanksgiving and rejoicing for God’s abundant provision of their needs.

The translation of v. 25 in the King James Version is somewhat awkward; the New American Standard Bible is better: “For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him?” The farmer who prayed at the table, “Thanks for food and for good digestion” knew what Solomon was writing about.

The important thing is that we seek to please the Lord (v. 26) and trust Him to meet every need. God wants to give us wisdom, knowledge, and joy; these three gifts enable us to appreciate God’s blessings and take pleasure in them. It is not enough to possessthings; we must also possess the kind of character that enables us to usethingswisely and enjoy them properly.

Not so with the sinner. (The Hebrew word means “to fall short, to miss the mark.”) The sinner may heap up all kinds of riches, but he can never truly enjoy them because he has left God out of his life. In fact, his riches may finally end up going to the righteous. This is not always the case, but God does make it happen that “the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just” (Prov. 13:22). At their exodus from Egypt, the Israelites spoiled their Egyptian masters (Ex. 3:22; 12:36), and throughout Jewish history their armies took great spoil in their many conquests. In fact, much of the wealth that went into the temple came from David’s military exploits.

It is “vanity and vexation of spirit” (“meaningless, a chasing after wind,” niv) for the sinner to heap up riches and yet ignore God. Apart from God, there can be no true enjoyment of blessings or enrichment of life. It is good to have the things that money can buy, provided you don’t lose the things that money can’t buy.

This completes the first section of Ecclesiastes—The Problem Declared. Solomon has presented four arguments that seem to prove that life is really not worth living: the monotony of life (1:4-11), the vanity of wisdom (1:12-18), the futility of wealth (2:1-11), and the certainty of death (2:12-23). His argument appears to be true if you look at life “under the sun,” that is, only from the human point of view.

But when you bring God into the picture, everything changes! (Note that God is not mentioned from 1:14 to 2:23.) Life and death, wisdom and wealth, are all in His hands; He wants us to enjoy His blessings and please His heart. If we rejoice in the gifts, but forget the Giver, then we are ungrateful idolaters.

In the next eight chapters, Solomon will consider each of these four arguments and refute them. At the end of each argument he will say, “Enjoy life and be thankful to God!” (See the outline.) In his discussions, he will face honestly the trials and injustices of life, the things that make us cry out, “Why, Lord?” But Solomon is not a shallow optimist wearing rose-tinted glasses, nor is he a skeptical pessimist wearing blinders. Rather, he takes a balanced view of life and death and helps us look at both from God’s eternal perspective.

“Life isn’t like a book,” says Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship ministry. “Life isn’t logical, or sensible, or orderly. Life is a mess most of the time. And theology must be lived in the midst of that mess.”

Solomon will provide us with that theology.

It’s up to us to live it—and be satisfied!



56 Kurt De Haan, “Why in the World am I Here?” (Grand Rapids: RBC, 1987), 8.

57 Identifying Eccl 1:3; 2:2; and 6:8a as verses that present questions that “are among the most [sic] important questions in the book,” Miller observes: “Toil, pleasure, wisdom. In one sense, each of these is a rhetorical question: by implication they make a statement that there is no surplus for toil, that pleasure accomplishes nothing, and that the wise have no advantage over the fool. Yet, their form as questions raises the possibility of an answer and Qoheleth finally does supply one in each case: he eventually allows for value in toil (2:24; 3:13; 4:9; 5:17 [Engl. v. 18]; 11:6); he urges that to seek pleasure accomplishes little (2:1), although life without it is worthless (2:24; 3:12-13; 4:8; 5:17 [Engl. v. 18]), and it is particularly to be found in companionship (4:8-9; 9:9); he says finally that though wisdom has limitations, it preserves life (7:11-12; 9:16-18; 10:10). By delaying his answers, Qoheleth raises tension and uncertainty for the reader.” Douglas B. Miller, “What the Preacher Forgot: The Rhetoric of Ecclesiastes,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 62 (2000): 229.

58 Prov 14:13 states, “Even in laughter the heart may be in pain, and the end of joy may be grief.”

59 One of the reasons we love gardens is because man was first made in one. It was the only place on earth that was completed, then Adam and mankind was given the task of cultivating the rest. Gardens are an echo of home.

60 See 1 Kgs 6:38 and 7:1.

61 Tim A. Krell, “Chasing the Wind: Philosophical Reflections on Life”: unpublished paper (3/1/1996).

62 Tommy Nelson, The Problem of Life with God (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2002), 31-32.

63 Davis writes, “In 1:3, the author directs his readers’ attention to what is arguably the key question of the book: ‘What advantage does man have in all his work which he does [works] under the sun?’ (NASB; emphasis, mine). In our current section of the book, the author begins to address the amal (noun — labor, toil, trouble; verb — to work, to labor, to toil) concern of that question. Throughout the book (though significantly more frequently in the first half of the book [30x] than in the second half [5x]), the author utilizes the various grammatical forms of amal (labor) 35 times, 15 (i.e., nearly 43%) of which he uses to drive the thought of the latter portion of chapter 2 (vv. 10[2x], 11[2x], 18[2x], 19[2x], 20[2x], 21[2x], 22[2x], 24). Davis, The Book of Ecclesiastes.

64 David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 23-24.

65 Wayne Schmidt, Soul Management (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 35-36.

66 Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 39.

67 The word “give” (nathan) appears in Ecclesiastes with God as its subject eleven times.

68 Solomon is not speaking of believers and unbelievers. It is speaking of those who please God or are displeasing to Him. Roland Murphy, Ecclesiastes (WBC Vol. 23a; Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1992), 26-27.

69 This is the first of seven passages in which the writer recommended the wholehearted pursuit of enjoyment (2:24a; 3:12; 3:22a; 5:17; 8:15a; 9:7-9a; and 11:7-12:1a).

70 Preaching Today citation: John Ruskin, Leadership, Vol. 7, no. 4.

71 Walter C. Kaiser, Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1997, c1996), 293.

72 Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 41.


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Posted by on February 22, 2021 in Ecclesiastes


God’s Person in a Upside-Down World” — The Be-attitudes Series  #4 “Happy Are The Hungry, the Thirsty”

Very few of us in modern conditions of life know what it is to be really hungry or really thirsty. In the ancient world it was very different. A working man in Palestine ate meat only once a week, and in Palestine the working man and the day laborer were never far from the border-line of real hunger and actual starvation.

It was still more so in the case of thirst. It was not possible for the vast majority of people to turn a tap and find the clear, cold water pouring into their house.

So, then, the hunger which this beatitude describes is no genteel hunger which could be satisfied with a mid-morning snack; the thirst of which it speaks is no thirst which could be slaked with a cup of coffee or an iced drink.

It is the hunger of the man who is starving for food, and the thirst of the man who will die unless he drinks.

If we recognize our deep spiritual need (the first beatitude), we will be filled with profound sorrow (the second beatitude), and we will be ready and anxious to yield ourselves to God and His will (the third beatitude).

This will make us cry out, “God, I want You in my life. Please bless my life. Tell me what to do, and I’ll do it!” This is hungering and thirsting after righteousness (the fourth beatitude).

Christians growing closer to the Lord Jesus want what he wants. Whenever you pray for God’s will to be done, you are getting hungry for righteousness. Pray often, until the little pangs become a passion and your heart becomes centered on what God wants most.

This beatitude is in reality a question and a challenge. In effect it demands. “How much do you want goodness? Do you want it as much as a starving man wants food, and as much as a man dying of thirst wants water?” How intense is our desire for goodness?

Most people suffer from what Robert Louis Stevenson called “the malady of not wanting.” It would obviously make the biggest difference in the world if we desired goodness more than anything else.

In his mercy God judges us, not only by our achievements, but also by our dreams. Even if a man never attains goodness, if to the end of the day he is still hungering and thirsting for it, he is not shut out from blessings.

This beatitude puts righteousness is in the direct accusative. The meaning is that the hunger and the thirst is for the whole thing. To say I hunger for bread in the accusative means, I want the whole loaf. To say I thirst for water in the accusative means, I want the whole pitcher.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for the whole of righteousness, for complete righteousness.

The psalmist wrote, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?” (Psalm 42:1-2 nrsv).

Those who have an intense longing for righteousness are blessed.

This refers to being so filled with God that the person completely does God’s will, without tripping up, sinning, making mistakes, and disappointing God.

Righteousness refers to total discipleship and complete obedience. It may also refer to righteousness for the entire world—an end to the sin and evil that fill it. In both cases, God’s promise is sure—they will be filled. He will completely satisfy their spiritual hunger and thirst.

Regarding the longing for a righteous world, Peter wrote “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13 niv).

The fourth beatitude bridges the God-centered concerns of the first three and the neighbor-centered focus of the last four. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness experience that longing in at least three forms:

The desire to be righteous—to be forgiven and accepted by God; to be right with God.

The desire to do what is right—to do what God commands; imitating and reflecting God’s righteousness.

The desire to see right done—to help bring about God’s will in the world.

The Bible has a number of examples of how strong the motivation of hunger can be. Esau became so hungry that he “sold his own birthright for a single meal (Hebrews 12:16; Genesis 25:27–34).

The Israelites in the wilderness angered the Lord by crying for “the fish . . . , the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic they had eaten in Egypt (Numbers 11:5; see v. 10).

They shall be filled … The desire for righteousness is the only desire of man that can be truly and finally satisfied. Appetites of the flesh, all of them, can be satisfied only for the moment.

The question each of us should ask is “Do I have that intensity of hunger and thirst for God, His way, and His will?”

Following are some tests that might help you determine whether or not you really hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Are you more concerned about physical things or spiritual things? Is being close to God more important to you than acquiring possessions? Is being right with God of greater concern than being popular with people?

Are you more desirous of living a godly life than you are of being successful? What are your priorities? Some find it difficult to sit still for a sermon, while they have little trouble sitting for hours of entertainment.

Do you take advantage of every opportunity to be “fed spiritually, to learn about God and His way? An old farmer told a preacher, “You seem to spend a lot of time urging people to come to Bible classes and worship. I never have to urge my cows to come to the feeding trough.”

A starving person does not have to be begged to go where food is available.

Are you on time for spiritual “meals,or do you show up late? A really hungry person is waiting at the table when mealtime is near.

Is your spiritual appetite growing and maturing? Are you starting to enjoy “solid food,” or are you still on a “milk” diet (see Hebrews 5:12–14; 1 Corinthians 3:2)?

Develop an appreciation for spiritual nourishment. Is there some physical food you enjoy now that you did not enjoy the first time you ate it?

Perhaps you had parents who insisted you eat it, so you gradually learned to like it. Perhaps, as an adult, you discovered you needed certain foods for good health and have persisted in eating them until you now enjoy them. Even as we can develop an appreciation for physical food, so we can develop an appreciation for spiritual food.

Improve your spiritual appetite by spiritual exercise. Nothing makes food taste better than a hard day of physical labor. Even so, spiritual exercise will make us long for and enjoy spiritual food.

Paul told Timothy, “Exercise thyself . . . unto godliness (1 Timothy 4:7b).

Improve your spiritual appetite by “eating” regularly. A person who does not have regular mealtimes may lose his appetite or fill himself with “junk food” which destroys his appetite for healthy food.

Spiritually, we need to have regular “mealtimes.” The Bereans were complimented by Luke because “they received the word with great eagernessand examined the Scriptures “daily (Acts 17:11). We need to be present for congregational “mealtimes,” and we also need daily times for personal study and prayer. Regular study will enable us to handle the Word accurately (2 Timothy 2:15).

(5)  Beware of appetite killers. Even as physical junk food can destroy one’s appetite for healthy food, mental junk food can diminish our interest in God’s Word. We can so fill our minds with worldly matters and worldly entertainment that spiritual food loses its appeal for us. Some people long for things of this world which cannot satisfy the soul (see Isaiah 55:2).

Even as God satisfied the physically thirsty and hungry  in the  wilderness, so He satisfies the spiritually thirsty and hungry today.


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Posted by on February 18, 2021 in Be-Attitudes


Ecclesiastes: The Good Life #2 Trivial Pursuits Ecclesiastes 1:11-18

Your Purpose Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Clouds and Sky.

Ecclesiastes 1:12-18 (ESV)
12  I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem.
13  And 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.
14  I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.
15  What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted.
16  I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.”
17  And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind.
18  For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.

The historian now becomes the philosopher as Solomon tells how he went about searching for the answer to the problem that vexed him. As the king of Israel, he had all the resources necessary for “experimenting” with different solutions to see what it was that made life worth living. In the laboratory of life, he experimented with enjoying various physical pleasures (2:1-3), accomplishing great and costly works (2:4-6), and accumulating great possessions (2:7-10) only to discover that all of it was only “vanity and grasping for the wind” (v. 14, nkjv).

But before launching into his experiments, Solomon took time to try to think the matter through. He was the wisest of all men and he applied that God-given wisdom to the problem. He devoted his mind wholly to the matter to get to the root of it (“seek”) and to explore it from all sides (“search”). Dorothy Sayers wrote in one of her mystery novels, “There is nothing you cannot prove if only your outlook is narrow enough.” Solomon did not take that approach

What would it take to make you happy? What if you had the wealth of Bill Gates or Donald Trump? Would this make you happy? What if you had the success of Oprah or Martha Stewart? Do you think you could be happy? What if you had the brains of Carl Sagan or Stephen Hawking? Do you think you could be happy? Let me guess. Your answer is, “I don’t know, but I’d sure like to give it a try.”

A few people have been able to possess wealth, success, and intelligence just as I described. Solomon, the third king of Israel, was one of them. In some ways he had everything. He had a thousand wives and concubines, enormous wealth, international respect, and unparalleled wisdom. What he didn’t always have, however, was a reason for living. He didn’t always have happiness. He fits the pattern of the highly gifted, extremely ambitious person who climbs the ladder of success—only to contemplate jumping off once he’s reached the top.

In the first eleven verses of Ecclesiastes chapter one, Solomon examined three broad categories in his search for the key to life: human history, physical nature, and human nature. Now in 1:12-2:26, he narrows his search to his own personal experience.40 In a sense he takes us on his own spiritual sojourn as he searches for satisfaction in life. In the memoirs that follow Solomon informs us that he sought satisfaction in four broad categories, but wound up empty-handed.

Satisfaction cannot be found in education (1:12-18).

In this first section, Solomon states that even the best education is powerless against life’s enigmas. In 1:12-15, he begins seeking wisdom externally: “I, the Preacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I set my mind41 to seek and explore42 by wisdom43 concerning all that has been done under heaven. It is a grievous task which God44 has given to the sons of men45 to be afflicted with. I have seen all the works [intellectual] which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind.46 What is crooked cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted.”

Solomon begins by giving his credentials once again (1:12; cf. 1:1). Why does he reiterate his position as king? To remind us that he is a man who had everything this world could offer. If anyone could have found satisfaction in life, it was Solomon. After citing his credentials, Solomon states that he purposely set out to find the ultimate principles behind everything in the universe (1:13).

I assume he studied literature and art, psychology and sociology, astronomy and physics, and theology and philosophy.47 But he found his search to be a “grievous task,” for there are so many things that yield no answers, even when assaulted by the highest of human intelligence. Everywhere Solomon turned with his knowledge and wisdom he found hebel (1:14).48 Things that were crooked to his mind he couldn’t straighten out; and there were many gaps he couldn’t fill in (1:15).49

In 1:16-18, Solomon transitions to seeking wisdom internally.50 He writes, “I said to myself, ‘Behold, I have magnified and increased wisdom more than all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has observed a wealth of wisdom and knowledge.’ And I set my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly; I realized51 that this also is striving after wind. Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.” If Solomon were alive today, he would say, “You’ve heard of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle? Morons!”52

Solomon’s point in 1:16 is that he is the wisest man that has ever lived, yet he still couldn’t find satisfaction in education and learning. At first glance, it is natural to assume that Solomon’s quest led him to observe insanity. However, in Scripture both “madness” and “folly” imply moral perversity rather than mental oddity.53

Having felt that he had mastered intellectual pursuits, Solomon decides he will seek to understand the pursuit of pleasure. These verses anticipate 2:1-11, where the actual pursuit of physical pleasure is described, but here he means that he examined the life of pleasure from a philosophical standpoint. Yet, in the end, he finds that much wisdom leads to “much grief” and “increasing pain.” Every pursuit for wisdom and knowledge under the sun is like “striving after wind.”

Have you ever tried to catch the wind in your hands? It is impossible. In fact, it is a ridiculously futile waste of time. It can’t be done! This is exactly Solomon’s point. Wisdom “under the sun” fails to satisfy the soul. This observation actually demonstrates Solomon’s wisdom, for the more knowledge we acquire the more we realize just how ignorant we are. As Socrates himself said, “I am the wisest of all Greeks, because I of all men know that I know nothing.”

The more we are educated in current events, the more serious the world’s problems appear. The better we understand the vastness of our universe, the more insignificant we become. In other words, increasing knowledge often compounds our sense of futility.54 T.S. Eliot once remarked, “All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance.”55

[So the pursuit of education is not the answer to life’s dilemmas. Now we will see that…]

Here are some of his tentative conclusions: Life is tough, but it is the gift of God (v. 13).

He described life as a “sore travail” (“grievous task,” nkjv) that only fatigues you (“may be exercised”, nkjv). Of course, when God first gave life to man, the world had not been cursed because of sin (Gen. 3:14ff). Since the Fall of man, “the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs” (Rom. 8:22, nkjv); this is one reason why life is so difficult. One day, when our Lord returns, creation will be delivered from this bondage.

While sitting in my backyard one evening, I heard a robin singing merrily from atop a TV aerial. As I listened to him sing, I preached myself a sermon: Since early dawn, that bird has done nothing but try to survive. He’s been wearing himself out hiding from enemies and looking for food for himself and his little ones. And yet, when he gets to the end of the day, he sings about it!

Here I am, created in the image of God and saved by the grace of God, and I complain about even the little annoyances of life. One day, I will be like the Lord Jesus Christ; for that reason alone, I should be singing God’s praises just like that robin.

Life doesn’t get easier if you try to run away from it (v. 14).

All the works that are done “under the sun” never truly satisfy the heart. They are but “vanity and grasping for the wind” (v. 14, nkjv). Both the workaholic and the alcoholic are running away from reality and living on substitutes, and one day the bubble of illusion will burst. We only make life harder when we try to escape. Instead of running away from life, we should run to God and let Him make life worth living.

The ultimate door of escape is suicide, and Solomon will have something to say about man’s desire for death. Some specialists claim that 40,000 persons commit suicide in the United States annually, and an estimated 400,000 make the attempt. But once you have chosen to live and have rightly rejected suicide as an option, then you must choose how you are going to live. Will it be by faith in yourself and what you can do, or by faith in the Lord?

Not everything can be changed (v. 15).

It is likely that Solomon, who was an expert on proverbs (1 Kings 4:32), quoted a popular saying here in order to make his point. He makes a similar statement in 7:13. If we spend all our time and energy trying to straighten out everything that is twisted, we will have nothing left with which to live our lives! And if we try to spend what we don’t have, we will end up in bankruptcy.

In short, Solomon is saying, “The past can’t always be changed, and it is foolish to fret over what you might have done.” Ken Taylor paraphrases verse 15, “What is wrong cannot be righted; it is water over the dam; and there is no use thinking of what might have been” (tlb).

We must remind ourselves, however, that God has the power to straighten out what is twisted and supply what is lacking. He cannot change the past, but He can change the way that the past affects us. For the lost sinner, the past is a heavy anchor that drags him down; but for the child of God, the past—even with its sins and mistakes—is a rudder that guides him forward. Faith makes the difference.

When He was ministering here on earth, our Lord often straightened out that which was twisted and provided that which was lacking (Luke 13:11-17; Matt. 12:10-13, 15:29-39; John 6:1-13). Man cannot do this by his own wisdom or power, but “with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37). Solomon was looking at these problems from a vantage point “under the sun,” and that’s why they seemed insoluble.

Wisdom and experience will not solve every problem (vv. 16-18).

Those who go through life living on explanations will always be unhappy for at least two reason. First, this side of heaven, there are no explanations for some things that happen, and God is not obligated to explain them anyway. (In fact, if He did, we might not understand them!) Second, God has ordained that His people live by promises and not by explanations, by faith and not by sight. “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

If anybody was equipped to solve the difficult problems of life and tell us what life was all about, Solomon was that person. He was the wisest of men, and people came from all over to hear his wisdom (1 Kings 4:29-34). His wealth was beyond calculation so that he had the resources available to do just about anything he wanted to do. He even experienced “madness and folly” (the absurd, the opposite of wisdom) in his quest for the right answers. Nothing was too hard for him.

But these advantages didn’t enable Solomon to find all the answers he was seeking. In fact, his great wisdom only added to his difficulties; for wisdom and knowledge increase sorrow and grief. People who never ponder the problems of life, who live innocently day after day, never feel the pain of wrestling with God in seeking to understand His ways. The more we seek knowledge and wisdom, the more ignorant we know we are. This only adds to the burden.

“All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,” wrote T.S. Eliot in “Choruses From ‘The Rock.’ ” An old proverb says, “A wise man is never happy.”

All of this goes back to the Garden of Eden and Satan’s offer to Eve that, if she ate of the fruit, she would have the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3). When Adam and Eve sinned, they did get an experiential knowledge of good and evil; but, since they were alienated from God, this knowledge only added to their sorrows. It has been that way with man ever since. Whether it be jet planes, insecticides, or television, each advance in human knowledge and achievement only creates a new set of problems for society.

For some people, life may be monotonous and meaningless; but it doesn’t have to be. For the Christian believer, life is an open door, not a closed circle; there are daily experiences of new blessings from the Lord. True, we can’t explain everything; but life is not built on explanations: it’s built on promises—and we have plenty of promises in God’s Word!

The scientist tells us that the world is a closed system and nothing is changed. The historian tells us that life is a closed book and nothing is new. The philosopher tells us that life is a deep problem and nothing is understood.

But Jesus Christ is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24), and He has miraculously broken into history to bring new life to all who trust Him.

If you are “living in circles,” then turn your life over to Him.

41 The phrase “I set my mind” (1:13, 17) is what is known as an inclusion (i.e., the bracketing off of a passage by beginning and ending a section with the same or similar word or phrase). The use of this particular inclusion again emphasizes Solomon’s personal experience.

42 The word translated “seek” (darash) means to penetrate to the very core of a matter, while the word translated “explore” (tur) means to investigate a subject on all sides. In his quest for satisfaction, Solomon did his homework—he did a thorough job.

43 “Wisdom” (chokmah) in this context does not refer to living life with God in view. It means using human intelligence (“under the sun”) as an instrument to ferret out truth and significance.

44 Ecclesiastes does not use the divine title Yahweh, God’s covenantal name (Exod 3:14-15). Instead, the book uses the word Elohim for God twenty-eight times, a word that stresses His sovereignty over all creation. The wisdom writers often use Elohim when they wish to speak of universal truth instead of truths that are peculiar to God’s covenantal relationship to Israel. Ronald B. Allen, “Ecclesiastes,” in Nelsons New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), 782.

45 Most of our Bibles have translated the Hebrew word adam (“man”) as “men.” The phrase then reads: “It is a grievous task which God has given the sons of men to be afflicted with.” Yet, Solomon seems to be alluding to Adam and the effects of the Fall. Therefore, the idea is: On account of Adam’s fall, the sons of Adam seek and explore in pursuit of the meaning of life, but to no avail.

46 “Striving after wind” is only used in the book of Ecclesiastes. Seven of its nine occurrences follow hebel (“vanity,” futile,” etc.) statements (1:14; 2:11, 17, 26; 4:4, 6; 6:9). Constable suggests, “This phrase ‘striving after wind’ occurs frequently in Eccl 1:12-6:9 and is a structural marker that indicates the end of a subsection of Solomon’s thought (cf. 1:17; 2:11, 17, 26; 4:4, 6, 16; 6:9).” Dr. Thomas L. Constable, “Notes on Ecclesiastes”; 2007 edition:, 10.

47 A universal theme in wisdom and philosophic writings is that the life of wisdom is the highest of all callings. In Plato the task of the philosopher is the purest of all. Here, however, it is a grievous task (we could translate the phrase as a “lousy job”). Duane A. Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (NAC; Nashville: Broadman, 1993).

48 In Rom 1:21-32, Paul says that man’s thoughts are foolish, futile, dark, immoral, and perverted.

49 Solomon observes that it is God who has “afflicted” us with this task. This is significant because the “affliction” that we experience should be the very thing that drives us to God, the ultimate goal of living.

50 The external and internal divisions come from Barry C. Davis, The Book of Ecclesiastes, Multnomah Biblical Seminary unpublished class notes.

51 The phrase “I realized” and its synonyms occur frequently in Ecclesiastes (cf. 1:13; 2:1, 3, 14, 15; 3:17, 18, 22; 7:25; 8:9, 16; 9:1).

52 This is a great line from Vicini in the classic movie Princess Bride.

53 Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs.

54 Michael P. Andrus, “The Search for Satisfaction” (Ecclesiastes 1:12-2:26): unpublished sermon notes.

55 Quoted in David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 23.

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Posted by on February 15, 2021 in Ecclesiastes


God’s Person in a Upside-Down World” — The Be-attitudes Series  #3 “Reacting Responsibly: Strength Under Control”  

Matthew 5:5 “Blessed (or happy) are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

We are studying the eight keys to real happiness in the form of beatitudes—attitudes of the heart. And they really do run against the grain of our modern culture. If we ever wondered what we’re dealing with in this world–read the beatitudes and reverse them because our human nature and our modern culture recoils at everything Jesus said in Matthew 5. Let’s just read a few of them and see if we’re not right.

  1. He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”The world would say, “Blessed are the proud in spirit.”
  2. “Blessed are those who mourn.” We know that means to mourn over the sinful state. The world would say, “Blessed are those who mock at sin, who are proud because of their sins.”
  3. “Blessed are the meek.” The world would say, “Blessed are those who will try to get ahead by any means.

But I think perhaps the most misunderstood beatitude that we have is the one that is before us this morning, “Blessed are the meek.”

A study of its usage in Scripture reveals, first, that it is linked with and cannot be separated from lowliness: “Learn of Me: for I am meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29)

“Walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called; with all lowliness and meekness” (Eph. 4:1, 2).

Second, it is associated with and cannot be divorced from gentleness“I beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:1)

“To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men” (Titus 3:2).

Third, the Divine promise is “the meek will He guide in judgment, and the meek will He teach His way” (Ps. 25:9), intimating that this grace consists of a pliant heart and will.

Meekness is the opposite of self-will toward God, and of ill-will toward men.

“The meek are those who quietly submit themselves before God, to His Word, to His rod, who follow His directions and comply with His designs, and are gentle toward men” (Matthew Henry).

Our modern culture thinks and equates meekness with weakness. And people today crave power and strength and authority and we men want to be macho.

Galatians 5 gives several fruit of the Spirit: Peace, patience, kindness, one of them is gentleness. This is the same Greek word that Matthew translates as meekness.

Meekness or gentleness…it’s not something that I can muster of my own power, of my own ability, it’s got to come from God, or it’s not going to come from me at all. And this word really is a word that was used to describe a wild animal that had been tamed or had been domesticated.

I want you to imagine a wild stallion. No one has ever ridden him. Bridle and bit have never been put upon him. He’s wild. He’s full of energy and strength and spirit. Now you take that horse and you tame him, you domesticate him. He becomes meek. You can put a saddle on him. His master can ride him, you can put a bit in his mouth and reins over his neck and he’s meek.

Now what have you done to that horse, for that horse? Have you taken away any of that horse’s strength? None at all. Have you taken away any of that horse’s spirit or his power? None at all. Have you taken away any of that horse’s energy? No.

The only difference is, now that horse’s strength and energy, that horse’s life force are being controlled by his master and channeled for youthful purposes. The wild stallion was controlled by himself, his wants, his passions, his emotions. But the domesticated, saddled horse is controlled by his master, and he has learned to obey his master’s touch on his reins.

When Jesus says how very happy are the meek, he’s not saying, happy is the person that has no strength, that has no spirit, that has no personality, that has no energy. He’s not saying, blessed is the whimp, or the timid, or the coward.

He IS saying, blessed, happy is that person who has all of his strength, and all of his spirit, or all of her personality or energy, but they’ve allowed someone else to master them and to control them.

Why are you happy if you’re meek? Because you’re no longer at the mercy of your own passion. You’re no longer at the the whim of your emotions or your anger or your temper. You can take an insult without giving one back. You can turn the other cheek, not because you’re weak, but because you’re stable and because you’re strong in the Lord.

You’re happy because you’re free, free from bitterness, and you’re not easily provoked to anger. You don’t have to resort to revenge. You’re God-controlled, you’ve allowed his Spirit to direct your spirit.

It takes strength and power to be meek. Way back in the book of Numbers 12:3, the Bible says that Moses was the meekest man on the face of the earth. Now I doubt that anybody that really knows Moses would call him a weak person, but the Bible says he was meek.

Do you remember when Moses came down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments and he saw that the people were worshipping a golden calf? Moses was hot, he was mad, and he was angry at the right time. He was angry because the people had insulted God.

But in Numbers 12:1, it says that Miriam and Aaron were speaking against Moses, perhaps they were jealous of him. But they personally attacked him, and Moses there was the meekest man on the face of the earth. So when he was personally attacked, he was very humble. But when he was noticing people that were insulting God and disobeying God then he was angry at the right time.

Abraham was God’s chosen father of the nations, and when Abraham decided that he and Lot needed to part company, he didn’t say, Lot, now God has chosen me, I want all of this land that I want, then you can have what’s left. He said, “Lot, you choose and I’ll take what’s left.” Abraham had the power to take what he wanted, but he was meek and he let Lot have the good land.

David had several opportunities when he was in Saul’s court to take that kingdom by force, to even kill Saul if he wanted to. But he would not raise his own hand and take by his own power what he knew God had promised to him. He was patient, he was meek.

When Jesus saw the merchants in the Temple, he was angry. They were making a mockery of the place of worship. And he made himself a weapon, and he drove them out. When Jesus denounced the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, he was angry.

But our Lord said of himself, “I am meek and lowly in heart.” He was angry at the right time. Near the end of Jesus’ life when he was beaten, when he was ridiculed and spat upon and crucified, he remained meek and compliant. Do you think he acted that way out of weakness? No. He acted that way out of the strength that he received from his Father.

So meekness is when strength and gentleness are perfectly combined. It takes more power for a person to be meek than to do anything else in this life that we usually equate with power. You know all of us have so much God-given energy and passion, so much life and so much spirit, it needs to be controlled.

Now our human tendency is to just let that energy and spirit just run its course, just do what it wants to do. But the Bible says that leads to ruin.

How is meekness shown? Jesus gives us a great picture of this if you’re still in Matthew 5. Look down at verse 38, let’s read a few of these verses together. Jesus says, ‘”You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go wit him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.'”

“‘You have heard that it was said, (verse 43) ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'” By the way, the law never did say that, that was a pharisaical addition to the law. Verse 44 says, “‘But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.'”

And then he says what God would do in a situation, “‘God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, (or whole) as your heavenly Father is perfect.'”

Have you noticed that everything Jesus talked about in those ten verses had to do with how we react to things? You see meekness is not shown in our action, but in our reaction.

Most of us evaluate our Christianity based on how we act. God never has that as the final and ultimate evaluation of our Christian life. It’s not how you act, it’s how you react. It’s easy to act right…it’s tough to react right.

Aristotle, speaking of the ancient Greeks, listen to what he said about meek. “A meek man is angry on the right ground and against the right persons and in the right manner and at the right moment and for the right length of time.”

Meekness rewarded, the Bible says, “The meek will inherit the earth.” One version says the meek inherit all. This is probably a quotation from Psalm 37 where David says the meek will inherit the land or the land of Canaan, and to us we’re talking about heaven here, about being in heaven and being rewarded.

Part of inheriting the earth in Matthew 5:5 is enjoying the earth now. The meek have the greatest capacity to appreciate the blessings that God has given us.

If you’re controlled by your own anger or by vindictiveness of being revengeful, you can’t enjoy God’s creation. But if you’re God-controlled and love-controlled, you may have less than others in the world, but God enables you to enjoy it more.

You inherit the earth in the sense that you really possess it more than the other person, you possess more of what God has given mankind.

To inherit the earth is to grow more and more alive to the presence of God in the world. And then that awareness enables you to prosper in the ways that really count.

Number one, you’ll prosper because your calmness gives you good judgment. Now that’s a blessing from God when you can be calm enough and meek enough to exercise good judgment for you, for your family, for your business associates, that’s a gift from God.

Secondly, if you’re meek, your contentment will give you security and peace of mind, and that’s being happy in this life.

Thirdly, if you’re meek, your gentleness and your fairness with others will gain the confidence of others. You know folks like to deal with people they can trust and people with whom they feel at ease.

So we inherit the earth and we’re going to enjoy God’s blessings more in this life, but secondly, there is a future blessing. The meek will have their ultimate reward in heaven in that land beyond.

To be meek, is to be eternity-controlled. God wants us to look toward eternity and let that control our actions here. The person who is controlled by his own lust, by his own selfish ambitions is going to struggle and strain to get every ounce of dirt he can here in this life. What a miserable life. And really that’s foolish the Bible says because the world is winding down, it’s passing away. And so if we’re putting our eggs in this basket, we’re going to be ultimately unhappy and not blessed.

I heard the other day that in the past several years the eastern Atlantic seacoast is sinking into the ocean at a rate of about a foot every 30 years. Now it’s going to take a while before it sinks, but it’s interesting how God keeps giving us these little reminders that this earth is not eternal. He gives us reminders in our own bodies as we age and the pains come and the feebleness comes.

This earth is not going to last forever. He seems to be tapping us on the shoulder and saying, son, this world is passing away. But he that does the will of God abides forever. The will of God is, “Blessed are the meek.” See, everything is eventually coming under God’s control.

So God wants you to experience the peace of mind that comes by letting Christ rule your heart, how very happy are the meek. You know you’ll never ever be sorry for yielding to God’s control. That has a lot to do with the invitation of Christ. I’ve never known anyone who has completely given their life to the Lord and who later regretted it.


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Posted by on February 11, 2021 in Be-Attitudes


Ecclesiastes: The Good Life #1 Is Life Worth Living? Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

Your Purpose Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Clouds and Sky.

Ecclesiastes 1:1-18 (ESV)
1  The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
2  Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
3  What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?
4  A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.
5  The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises.
6  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.
7  All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again.
8  All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
9  What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.
10  Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us.
11  There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.

“Everything an Indian does is in a circle,” said Black Elk, the Sioux religious leader. “Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood ….”

You would think Black Elk had been studying the first chapter of Ecclesiastes, except for one fact: for centuries, wise men and women in different nations and cultures have been pondering the mysteries of the “circles” of human life. Whenever you use phrases like “life cycle,” or “the wheel of fortune,” or “come full circle,” you are joining Solomon and Black Elk and a host of others in taking a cyclical view of life and nature.

But this “cyclical” view of life was a burden to Solomon. For if life is only part of a great cycle over which we have no control, is life worth living? If this cycle is repeated season after season, century after century, why are we unable to understand it and explain it? Solomon pondered these questions as he looked at the cycle of life “under the sun,” and he came to three bleak conclusions: nothing is changed (1:4-7), nothing is new (1:8-11), and nothing is understood (1:12-18).

Nothing is changed (Eccl. 1:4-7)

In this section, Solomon approached the problem as a scientist and examined the “wheel of nature” around him: the earth, the sun, the wind, and the water. (This reminds us of the ancient “elements” of earth, air, fire, and water.) He was struck by the fact that generations of people came and went while the things of nature remained. There was “change” all around, yet nothing really changed. Everything was only part of the “wheel of nature” and contributed to the monotony of life. So, Solomon asked, “Is life worth living?”

To clarify his meaning and to support his contention in 1:3, Solomon cites four examples from nature. In 1:4-7, Solomon answers his own question: There is no advantage for one to work from earth’s perspective because everyone is caught in the unending and unalterable cycles of life.23

The Earth (1:4). The transitory nature of human generations contrasts with the permanence and apparent immutability of the physical world. Solomon writes, “A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.” You are born into the world, you live your life, and then you die, but the earth keeps right on going. Birth announcements are on one page and obituaries are on the next. Generations passing parade. It’s like you’re walking across the desert, leaving footprints in the sand that the wind erases as though you were never there.24

From the human point of view, nothing seems more permanent and durable than the planet on which we live. When we say that something is “as sure as the world,” we are echoing Solomon’s confidence in the permanence of planet Earth. With all of its diversity, nature is uniform enough in its operation that we can discover its “laws” and put them to work for us. In fact, it is this “dependability” that is the basis for modern science.

Nature is permanent, but man is transient, a mere pilgrim on earth. His pilgrimage is a brief one, for death finally claims him. At the very beginning of his book, Solomon introduced a topic frequently mentioned in Ecclesiastes: the brevity of life and the certainty of death.

Individuals and families come and go, nations and empires rise and fall, but nothing changes, for the world remains the same. Thomas Carlyle called history “a mighty drama, enacted upon the theater of time, with suns for lamps and eternity for a background.” Solomon would add that the costumes and sets may occasionally change, but the actors and the script remain pretty much the same; and that’s as sure as the world.

The Sun (1:5). Solomon writes, “Also, the sun rises and the sun sets; and hastening to its place it rises there again.” The sun is on a monotonous cycle of rising, setting, and then racing back to the place from which it rises. The verb translated “hastening” means “to pant.” The sun is like a runner endlessly making his way around a racetrack. As each generation comes and goes, so also each day comes and goes with a regular and monotonous passing. It has been said, “The problem with daily living is that it is so DAILY.”

We move now from the cycle of birth and death on earth to the cycle of day and night in the heavens.

“As sure as the world!” is replaced by “As certain as night follows day!” Solomon pictures the sun rising in the east and “panting” (literal translation) its way across the sky in pursuit of the western horizon. But what does it accomplish by this daily journey? To what purpose is all this motion and heat? As far as the heavens are concerned, one day is just like another, and the heavens remain the same.

The Wind (1:6).25 “Blowing toward the south, then turning toward the north, the wind continues swirling along; and on its circular courses the wind returns.” As the movement of the sun implies an east-west course, now the wind is described as moving north and south. The repetition in “going round and round” heightens the sense of monotony and purposelessness.

From the visible east-west movement of the sun, Solomon turned to the invisible north-south movement of the wind. He was not giving a lecture on the physics of wind. Rather, he was stating that the wind is in constant motion, following “circuits” that man cannot fully understand or chart. “The wind blows where it wishes,” our Lord said to Nicodemus, “and you … cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes” (John 3:8, nkjv).

Solomon’s point is this: the wind is constantly moving and changing directions, and yet it is still—the wind! We hear it and feel it, and we see what it does, but over the centuries, the wind has not changed its cycles or circuits. Man comes and goes, but the changeless wind goes on forever.

The Rivers (1:7). “All the rivers flow into the sea, yet the sea is not full. To the place where the rivers flow, there they flow again.” The sense of accomplishing nothing is reinforced here. The rivers continually empty into the sea but cannot fill it. The last phrase does not refer to the cycle of evaporation and rainfall as implied in the NIV translation. The implication here is not cyclic motion but futile activity.

These verses profoundly impress certain sensations on the reader. First, there is a sense of the indifference of the universe to our presence. It was here before we came, and it will be here, unchanged, after we have gone. Second, however, the universe, like us, is trapped in a cycle of monotonous and meaningless motion. It is forever moving, but it accomplishes nothing. Finally, a sense of loneliness and abandonment pervades the text. No one has described this better than the apostle Paul. The creation is “subjected to frustration,” in “bondage to decay,” and awaiting “freedom” (Rom 8:19-21).26 [Solomon has argued that life is fleeting. In 1:8-11, he shares a second problem with life.]

Solomon described here the “water cycle” that helps to sustain life on our planet. Scientists tell us that, at any given time, 97 percent of all the water on earth is in the oceans; and only.0001 percent is in the atmosphere, available for rain. (That’s enough for about ten days of rain.) The cooperation of the sun and the wind makes possible the evaporation and movement of moisture, and this keeps the water “circulating.” But the sea never changes! The rivers and the rains pour water into the seas, but the seas remain the same.

So, whether we look at the earth or the heavens, the winds or the waters, we come to the same conclusion: nature does not change. There is motion but not promotion. No wonder Solomon cites the monotony of life as his first argument to prove that life is not worth living (1:4-11).

All of this is true only if you look at lifeunder the sun” and leave God out of the picture. Then the world becomes a closed system that is uniform, predictable, unchangeable. It becomes a world where there are no answers to prayer and no miracles, for nothing can interrupt the cycle of nature. If there is a God in this kind of a world, He cannot act on our behalf because He is imprisoned within the “laws of nature” that cannot be suspended.

However, God does break into nature to do great and wonderful things! He does hear and answer prayer and work on behalf of His people. He held the sun in place so Joshua could finish an important battle (Josh. 10:6-14), and He moved the sun back as a sign to King Hezekiah (Isa. 38:1-8). He opened the Red Sea and the Jordan River for Israel (Ex. 14; Josh. 3-4). He “turned off” the rain for Elijah (1 Kings 17) and then “turned it on” again (James 5:17-18). He calmed the wind and the waves for the disciples (Mark 4:35-41), and in the future, will use the forces of nature to bring terror and judgment to people on the earth (see Revelation 6ff).

When, by faith, you receive Jesus Christ as your Saviour through baptism for remission of sins, and God becomes your Heavenly Father, you no longer live in a “closed system” of endless monotonous cycles. You can gladly sing, “This is my Father’s world!” and know that He will meet your every need as you trust Him (Matt. 6:25-34). Christians live in this world as pilgrims, not prisoners, and therefore they are joyful and confident.

Life is Disappointing (1:8-11).

If nothing changes, then it is reasonable to conclude that nothing in this world is new. This “logical conclusion” might have satisfied people in Solomon’s day, but it startles us today. After all, we are surrounded by, and dependent on, a multitude of marvels that modern science has provided for us—everything from telephones to pacemakers and miracle drugs.

How could anybody who watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon agree with Solomon that nothing is new under the sun? In this discussion, Solomon stopped being a scientist and became a historian. Let’s follow the steps in his reasoning.

Man wants something new (v. 8).

Why? Because everything in this world ultimately brings weariness, and people long for something to distract them or deliver them. They are like the Athenians in Paul’s day, spending their time “in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:21). But even while they are speaking, seeing, and hearing these “new things,” they are still dissatisfied with life and will do almost anything to find some escape. Of course, the entertainment industry is grateful for this human hunger for novelty and takes advantage of it at great profit.

In Ecclesiastes 3:11, Solomon explains why men and women are not satisfied with life: God has put “eternity in their heart” (niv, nasb, nkjv) and nobody can find peace and satisfaction apart from Him. “Thou hast made us for Thyself,” prayed St. Augustine, “and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” The eye cannot be satisfied until it sees the hand of God, and the ear cannot be satisfied until it hears the voice of God. We must respond by faith to our Lord’s invitation, “Come unto me … and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

The world provides nothing new (vv. 9-10).

Dr. H.A. Ironside used to say, “If it’s new, it’s not true; and if it’s true, it’s not new.” Whatever is new is simply a recombination of the old. Man cannot “create” anything new because man is the creature, not the Creator. “That which hath been is now, and that which is to be hath already been” (3:15). Thomas Alva Edison, one of the world’s greatest inventors, said that his inventions were only “bringing out the secrets of nature and applying them for the happiness of mankind.”

Only God can create new things, and he begins by making sinners “new creatures” when they trust Jesus Christ to save them (2 Cor. 5:17). Then they can walk “in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4), sing a “new song” (Ps. 40:3), and enter into God’s presence by a “new and living way” (Heb. 10:20).

Why we think things are new (v. 11).

The answer is simple: we have bad memories and we don’t read the minutes of the previous meeting. (See 2:16, 4:16, and 9:5.) It has well been said that the ancients have stolen all of our best ideas, and this is painfully true.

Solomon wrote, of course, about the basic principles of life and not about methods. As the familiar couplet puts it: Methods are many, principles are few / methods always change, principles never do. The ancient thinkers knew this. The Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote, “They that come after us will see nothing new, and they who went before us saw nothing more than we have seen.” The only people who really think they have seen something new are those whose experience is limited or whose vision can’t penetrate beneath the surface of things. Because something is recent, they think it is new; they mistake novelty for originality.

In these next four verses, Solomon demonstrates that everything and everyone in life will ultimately disappoint us. There are three basic reasons for this: There is no satisfaction under the sun, there is nothing new under the sun, and no one is remembered under the sun.

No satisfaction under the sun (1:8). Solomon states that nothing is truly fulfilling. He writes, “All things are wearisome; man is not able to tell it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear filled with hearing.”27 The Rolling Stones made famous the song, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” Sadly, this song could have been written by Solomon himself. Just like Mick Jagger and the rest of the Stones, Solomon had it all…and then some, yet everything was wearisome to him since one can never say, see, or hear enough. Man just can’t get NO satisfaction! Have you seen a good movie? Read a good book? Listened to a great song? Enjoyed a restful vacation? Delighted in a special experience? It is never enough. It never satisfies, for ultimately you want MORE.

Nothing new under the sun (1:9-10). Solomon writes, “That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one might say, ‘See this, it is new’? Already it has existed for ages which were before us.” The French have a proverb that goes: “The more things change, the more they turn out to be the same.” While there are new inventions, and God does do new things, Solomon is talking about how man can never be satisfied “under the sun.” Solomon is saying that there is no advantage for one to work from earth’s perspective because one’s work will never result in anything new, but only that which has been. If it appears that something new happens from time to time, it is only because our memories are short.28 Seriously, most of us don’t know history, so we keep thinking we’re coming up with new ideas!29 We often mistake movement with progress. We think we are making progress but in reality we are driving around a cul-de-sac and wondering why the neighborhoods all look the same.

Some people track their year, not on the basis of the months or seasons but on sports: baseball in the summer, football in the fall, basketball and hockey in the winter, and NASCAR in the spring. Where do you go when you conclude that there is nothing truly meaningful in life? Back to the stadium, where at least there are games with consistent rules, rewards, and penalties.30

Not remembered (1:11). Solomon writes, “There is no remembrance of earlier things; and also of the later things which will occur, there will be for them no remembrance among those who will come later still.” We need not look any further than the sports page to have this verified. One injury is all it takes to become forgotten. Household names can be discarded quickly. Yet the simple truth is: No one will remember anyone in the future. One hundred years from now everything and everyone will have been forgotten, regardless of what occurs today.

There is good news and bad news in 1:11. The good news is for those people who worry about what others think about them. In the end, no one will think about you at all. The bad news is for those who seek some type of temporal immortality. In the end, no one will think about you at all.31

When you die, there will be a funeral. You may have twenty-five or 2,000 people attend. But do you know what they’ll do after the funeral? They will catch lunch and have a great old time together. Then they will hurry back to work because somebody was covering for them. That night they’ll go home to their families, watch a sitcom rerun, and forget all about your memorial by morning. Are you ready for that?32 Mark Twain was right, “The world will lament you for an hour and forget you forever.”33

Perhaps this makes you feel empty. That’s exactly what Solomon is seeking to accomplish. He wants you to feel an overwhelming sense of emptiness, for emptiness is designed to draw us to God. We must learn to value emptiness. As we acknowledge our sense of meaninglessness, we are motivated to search for more. We must learn to value emptiness for its positive potential. As an empty cup invites water or a vacant room invites entrance, so an empty heart can lead us to search for God-given ways to fill it.34

By putting on biblical binoculars, we can see how Solomon concludes his book. In 12:13-14 he writes, “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” These two verses and the message of the Bible tell us that the best way to live under the sun is to live in the Son. The good news is that God has not left us “under the sun.”

If you have believed in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord through baptism for remission of sins, life is not “under the sun” but rather in the SON. He brings purpose, peace, and significance. He gives you the opportunity to live an abundant life (John 10:10).

However, the Bible is clear that apart from the Lord Jesus life under the sun is terribly disappointing. It is cursed! It is disjointed! It is upside down! It is in bondage to decay! It is meaningless! It needs to be liberated!35 This will happen when we leave this life and go and be with Jesus.

In the meantime, the best way to live under the sun is to live in the Son. This means we must “fear God and obey His commandments…for God will bring every act into judgment.” The question of 1:3 is the most important question of the book: “What advantage36 does man have in all his work which he does under the sun?” Solomon’s concern is what do humans have “left over” after life is over. What difference do the activities of this life have in the next life? Does anything last beyond the grave? Can we make certain (beyond the shadow of a doubt…beyond the shadow of death) that what we do in this life has some lasting value? This should be the key question of our lives (and of the lives of all other people). What can we do to guarantee a return on our life-investment?37

The answer that Solomon gives is to fear God and obey His commandments. When we do this, our fleeting lives begin to count for eternity. The disappointments that we experience in this life are bearable. When everything around us seems meaningless and monotonous, Christ—the Meaning in life, gives us meaning. When we are weary from the wearisome nature of life, Christ says, “Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28).

When we can’t get no satisfaction under the sun, we can find satisfaction in the Son. When we can’t find anything new, we remember that Christ has created a new covenant, given the new birth, and new life. When we feel like no one will ever remember us, we can take confidence in the truth that God remembers us, and one day we can overcome this world and receive a new name that Christ Himself will give to us. In the meantime, the best way to live under the sun is to live in the Son.

The Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote, “They that come after us will see nothing new, and they who went before us saw nothing more than we have seen.” The only people who really think they have seen something new are those whose experience is limited or whose vision can’t penetrate beneath the surface of things. Because something is recent, they think it is new; they mistake novelty for originality.

23 Albert Einstein has been quoted as saying: “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.” See

24 Nelson, The Problem of Life with God, 13.

25 Solomon is particularly interested in the wind. He refers to it once in the Song of Solomon, six times in Proverbs, and fourteen times in Ecclesiastes. Jesus also spoke of the wind when he was sharing the gospel with Nicodemus (John 3:8).

26 Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs,

27 This last phrase is a loose quotation of Prov 27:20: “As Death and Destruction are never satisfied, so the eyes of a person are never satisfied” (NET).

28 Ronald B. Allen, “Ecclesiastes,” in Nelsons New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), 781.

29 David Fairchild, “Futility Under The Sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:1-11):

30 Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 12.

31 Ray Pritchard, Something New Under the Sun: Ancient Wisdom for Contemporary Living (Chicago: Moody, 1998), 29.

32 Nelson, The Problem of Life with God, 12.

33 Nelson, The Problem of Life with God, 5.

34 Wayne Schmidt, Soul Management (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 15. Schmidt quotes David Augsburger who states, “Emptiness is at the center of our humanness. To flee it is to miss the creative openness toward creation and Creator. To stuff it full of things is to block our ability to receive others in listening love. To anesthetize it with addictive experiences is to deaden the creative springs of the true self. Emptiness is to be embraced as a gift.” See David Augsburger, When Enough Is Enough (Ventura, CA: Regal, 1984), 52.

35 Ardel B. Caneday, “Qoheleth: Enigmatic Pessimist or Godly Sage?” Grace Theological Journal 7.1 (1986): 55.

36 The noun yithron (“advantage, profit, excess”) appears only in the book of Ecclesiastes in the following passages: Eccl 1:3; 2:11, 13 [twice]; 3:9; 5:8, 15; 7:12; 10:10, 11. Profit is always on our minds (e.g., profit margins profit shares). God has wired us this way; however, He wants us to look toward eternal profit.

37 Barry C. Davis, The Book of Ecclesiastes, Multnomah Biblical Seminary unpublished class notes.

also Bible Exposition Commentary – Bible Exposition Commentary – Be Satisfied (Ecclesiastes).

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Posted by on February 8, 2021 in Ecclesiastes


God’s Person in an Upside-Down World’ — The Be-attitudes Series: #2 “How Sadness Becomes Happiness”

Few people like to weep. We pay comedians to make us laugh.

Most agree with the sentiment expressed by Ella Wheeler Wilcox: “Laugh, and the world laughs with you; Weep, and you weep alone, For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth, But has trouble enough of its own.”

The Greek word for to mourn, used here, is the strongest word for mourning in the Greek language. It is the word which is used for mourning for the dead, for the passionate lament for one who was loved.

In the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, it is the word which is used of Jacob’s grief when he believed that Joseph, his son, was dead (Genesis 37:34). It was used to describe David’s mourning when his son Absalom died (see 2 Samuel 19:2).

It is defined as the kind of grief which takes such a hold on a man that it cannot be hid. It is not only the sorrow which brings an ache to the heart; it is the sorrow which brings the unrestrainable tears to the eyes.

How can I be happy when I’m mourning? By receiving the comfort of God.

The fourth century religious leader John Chrysostom says in one of his writings that the Beatitudes with which Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount succeed one another “like links in a golden chain”. . . . Jesus did not group the Beatitudes haphazardly; He arranged them in a divinely logical sequence. Each of them builds on the one before it.

James Tolle called the mourning of Matthew 5:4 “the emotional expression of poverty in spirit.”

The first beatitude underlines the fact that we must depend on God and not on self, while the second beatitude is an initial step toward God. Mourning over sins produces a penitent heart which leads to obedience and forgiveness.

Jesus reminded his disciples that the prophet Isaiah had promised that the Messiah would “comfort all who mourn” (Isaiah 61:2 niv).

Scholars differ on the exact nature of this mourning. Some say that Jesus was referring to the nation of Israel mourning for its sins; others interpret this more personally, explaining that it refers to those who mourn for their own sins or even for personal grief or oppression.

Tied with the 1st beatitude, this means that humility (realization of one’s unworthiness before God) also requires sorrow for sins.

Still other scholars see in the word mourning a picture of God’s people who suffer because of their faith in him.

Whether Jesus’ followers mourn for sin or in suffering, God’s promise is sure—they will be comforted.

Only God can take away sorrow for sin; only God can forgive and erase it.

Only God can give comfort to those who suffer for his sake because they know their reward in the kingdom. There he will “wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:17 niv).

Jesus explained to his disciples that following him would not involve fame, popularity, and wealth. Instead, it could very well mean sorrow, mourning, and suffering. But they would always know that God would be their comfort.

The Arabs have a proverb: “All sunshine makes a desert.” The land on which the sun always shines will soon become an arid place in which no fruit will grow.

There are certain things which only the rains will produce; and certain experiences which only sorrow can beget.

Sorrow can do two things for us. it can show us, as nothing else can, the essential kindness of our fellowmen; and it can show us as nothing else can the comfort and the compassion of God.

“I walked a mile with Pleasure, She chattered all the way, But left me none the wiser For all she had to say. I walked a mile with Sorrow, And ne’er a word said she,  But, oh, the things I learned from her When Sorrow walked with me!”

Blessed are those who are desperately sorry for the sorrow and the suffering of this world. It is never right to be detached from people.

This world would have been a very much poorer place, if there had not been those who cared intensely about the sorrows and the sufferings of others.

Christianity is caring. Blessed is the man who cares intensely for the sufferings, and for the sorrows, and for the needs of others.

Blessed is the man who is desperately sorry for his own sin and his own unworthiness.

Christianity begins with a sense of sin. Blessed is the man who is intensely sorry for his sin, the man who is heart-broken for what his sin has done to God and to Jesus Christ, the man who sees the Cross and who is appalled by the havoc wrought by sin.

How do I get through that by the power of God so that I’m happy way yonder more than I’m sad?

Realize God is with you.

You know when we’re hurting, we tend to forget where God is. We think he’s distant that he is far away. Look at Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

When you’re mourning, when you’re in pain, remember three simple things: God is aware, God cares, and God is there.

I’ve heard people say hundreds of times, nobody knows what I’m going through. That may be right if you’re talking about somebody else in the flesh, but somebody knows what you’re going through. God is keenly aware of everything you’re going through.

He cares. Nahum 1:7, “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him,” Our pain matters to God.

He’s there. That’s the best thing of all. Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Release the hurt. Here’s the key thing, you stop focusing on what’s lost and start focusing on what’s left.

The whole idea here is to quit looking backward and start looking forward. Isaiah 43:18 says, “‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.'”

The Bible says your past is your past, let it go. It doesn’t need to hurt you anymore. Some of you are letting memories of people who have hurt you in the past, hurt you right now.

You can repress those hurts.

You know you can just push them down. You can swallow them, try to keep them way down deep inside. But I’ve said many times, if you swallow your feelings, your stomach keeps score.

There are so many thousands and thousands of Christians right now who are walking wounded, and they are walking wounded because they have repressed their hurt. They’ve never dealt with them, they’ve never even admitted them, they just keep them deep.

You can rehearse the pain.

Have you ever seen somebody who just won’t let it go? They keep bringing it up in their mind and going over and over and over.

There’s a big difference between mourning and moaning. Mourning is legitimate grief. There are times for bona fide sadness. And when you go through that, God wants to comfort that; but moaning is self pity.

And if you’re moaning, you’re doing it honestly because you want to. You just kind of want to hold on to that hurt because that’s your attention-getter.

Resent those things.

I guess that’s the greatest tendency of all. We tend to resent what we believe to be the cause of our pain.

If that’s another person, we tend to resent them. If it’s our job, we tend to resent it.

If we can’t blame it on a specific person, place, or thing, then often God is resented for just letting it happen. The problem with resentment is, it hurts you more than the person you resent.

  1. The way God will comfort me is by relying on God’s resources When you’re mourning and when you’re hurting, people try all kinds of things. Some get drunk, some pop pills, some watch tv all day long, some escape in novels, or just 1,001 things, all trying to dull the pain.

God says, “No, no, those don’t work.” There are escapes, diversions, but they’re all dead-ends, they bring you right back to where you were.

God’s word. Psalm 119:25: “I am laid low in the dust; preserve my life according to your word.”

Psalm 119:62, David says, “I remember your ancient laws O Lord, and I find comfort in them.”

His people. That’s why he designed his church. See we weren’t made to be individually isolated or islands unto ourselves. There’s no such thing as a “lone ranger” Christian. We need each other. We’re supposed to be a family. We’re a God-given resource to provide comfort.

God also uses his Spirit to comfort us. When Jesus was here physically, knowing he was going to a cross, he made a promise, John 14:26, he said, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

Then he said, “My peace I leave with you;…” That was a promise to the apostles, but the Bible says that promise of the comfort from the Spirit is still applicable.

Romans 15:13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

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Posted by on February 4, 2021 in Be-Attitudes


Ecclesiastes: The Good Life – An Introduction

Your Purpose Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Clouds and Sky.

“Life is filled with difficulties and perplexities,” King Solomon concluded, “and there’s much that nobody can understand, let alone control. From the human point of view, it’s all vanity and folly. But life is God’s gift to us and He wants us to enjoy it and use it for His glory. So, instead of complaining about what you don’t have, start giving thanks for what you do have—and be satisfied!” (Warren Wiersbe)

Our Jewish friends read Ecclesiastes at the annual Feast of Tabernacles, a joyful autumn festival of harvest. It fits! For Solomon wrote, “There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God” (Eccl. 2:24).

Even the Apostle Paul (who could hardly be labeled a hedonist) said that God gives to us “richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17).

Life without Jesus Christ is indeed “vanity and vexation of spirit” (Eccl. 1:14). But when you know Him personally, and live for Him faithfully, you experience “fullness of joy [and] pleasures forever more” (Ps. 16:11).

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions to lose weight and get into shape? Many Americans have great intentions at the start of a new year. Perhaps you have already purchased a gym membership or a piece of exercise equipment. If so, good for you!

It’s important to get in shape and be healthy. I own an stationary exercise bike…and I love it. I work out on it nearly every day. I cycle miles on this bike and burn calories and increase my heart rate. The cool thing is: I don’t even have to leave my house. But if I am honest, it is a terribly boring and tedious way to exercise. When I look down at the odometer and it says I’ve cycled five miles, I’ve actually gone nowhere. I work up a sweat and ride until I am weary, yet I know that I am going to have to hop back on the bike all over again tomorrow. It is rather depressing!

Life is like riding on a recumbent bike. It is a boring, tedious, and repetitive ride. A thoughtful person will ask, “What is the purpose in life?” Have you ever asked this question? Most people have. For some of us, this question has plagued us over the course of our lives…even our Christian lives.

A few years ago, scientists at John Hopkins University surveyed nearly 8,000 college students at forty-eight universities and asked what they considered “very important” to them. What do you think these college students said? Make a lot of money? Get married? Get a job? Buy a home? I can tell you this: only 16 percent answered “making a lot of money.” But a whopping 75 percent said that their first goal was “finding a purpose and meaning to my life. This is a staggering piece of research, isn’t it?

From the human point of view (“under the sun”), life does appear futile; and it is easy for us to get pessimistic. The Jewish writer Sholom Aleichem once described life as “a blister on top of a tumor, and a boil on top of that.” You can almost feel that definition!

The American poet Carl Sandburg compared life to “an onion—you peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.” And British playwright George Bernard Shaw said that life was “a series of inspired follies.”

What a relief to turn from these pessimistic views and hear Jesus Christ say, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Or to read Paul’s majestic declaration, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58, nkjv).

Life is “not in vain” if it is lived according to the will of God, and that is what Solomon teaches in this neglected and often misunderstood book.

Before we go any further, we need to take care of some business, understanding the author of this amazing book and seeing some of the major themes.

The Author

Nowhere in this book did the author give his name, but the descriptions he gave of himself and his experiences would indicate that the writer was King Solomon. He called himself “son of David” and “king in Jerusalem” (1:1, 12), and he claimed to have great wealth and wisdom (2:1-11, and 1:13; see 1 Kings 4:20-34 and 10:1ff). In response to Solomon’s humble prayer, God promised him both wisdom and wealth (1 Kings 3:3-15); and He kept His promise.

Twelve times in Ecclesiastes the author mentioned “the king,” and he made frequent references to the problems of “official bureaucracy” (4:1-3; 5:8; 8:11; 10:6-7). Keep in mind that Solomon ruled over a great nation that required a large standing army and extensive government agencies. He carried on many costly building projects and lived in luxury at court (1 Kings 9:10-28 and 10:1ff; 2 Chron. 1:13-17). Somebody had to manage all this national splendor, and somebody had to pay for it!

Solomon solved the problem by ignoring the original boundaries of the twelve tribes of Israel and dividing the nation into twelve “tax districts,” each one managed by an overseer (1 Kings 4:7-19). In time, the whole system became oppressive and corrupt; and after Solomon died, the people begged for relief (2 Chron. 10). As you study Ecclesiastes, you sense this background of exploitation and oppression.

King Solomon began his reign as a humble servant of the Lord, seeking God’s wisdom and help (1 Kings 3:5-15). As he grew older, his heart turned away from Jehovah to the false gods of the many wives he had taken from foreign lands (1 Kings 11:1ff). These marriages were motivated primarily by politics, not love, as Solomon sought alliances with the nations around Israel. In fact, many of the things Solomon did that seemed to bring glory to Israel were actually contrary to the Word of God (Deut. 17:14-20).

Ecclesiastes appears to be the kind of book a person would write near the close of life, reflecting on life’s experiences and the lessons learned. Solomon probably wrote Proverbs (Prov. 1:1; 1 Kings 4:32) and the Song of Solomon (1:1) during the years he faithfully walked with God; and near the end of his life, he wrote Ecclesiastes. There is no record that King Solomon repented and turned to the Lord, but his message in Ecclesiastes suggests that he did.

He wrote Proverbs from the viewpoint of a wise teacher (1:1-6), and Song of Solomon from the viewpoint of a royal lover (3:7-11); but when he wrote Ecclesiastes, he called himself “the Preacher” (1:1, 2, 12; 7:27; 12:8-10). The Hebrew word is Koheleth (ko-HAY-leth) and is the title given to an official speaker who calls an assembly (see 1 Kings 8:1). The Greek word for “assembly” is ekklesia, and this gives us the English title of the book, Ecclesiastes.

But the Preacher did more than call an assembly and give an oration. The word Koheleth carries with it the idea of debating, not so much with the listeners as with himself. He would present a topic, discuss it from many viewpoints, and then come to a practical conclusion. Ecclesiastes may appear to be a random collection of miscellaneous ideas about a variety of topics, but Solomon assures us that what he wrote was orderly (12:9).

The Aim

Solomon has put the key to Ecclesiastes right at the front door: “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun?” (1:2-3). Just in case we missed it, he put the same key at the back door (12:8). In these verses, Solomon introduces some of the key words and phrases that are used repeatedly in Ecclesiastes; so we had better get acquainted with them.

Vanity of vanities.

We have already noted that Solomon used the word “vanity” thirty-eight times in this book. It is the Hebrew word hevel, meaning “emptiness, futility, vapor.” The name “Abel” probably comes from this word (Gen. 4:2). Whatever disappears quickly, leaves nothing behind and does not satisfy is hevel, vanity. One of my language professors at seminary defined hevel as “whatever is left after you break a soap bubble.”

Whether he considers his wealth, his works, his wisdom, or his world, Solomon comes to the same sad conclusion: all is “vanity and vexation of spirit” (2:11). However, this is not his final conclusion, nor is it the only message that he has for his readers. We will discover more about that later.

Under the sun.

You will find this important phrase twenty-nine times in Ecclesiastes, and with it the phrase “under heaven” (1:13; 2:3; 3:1). It defines the outlook of the writer as he looks at life from a human perspective and not necessarily from heaven’s point of view. He applies his own wisdom and experience to the complex human situation and tries to make some sense out of life. Solomon wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (12:10-11; 2 Tim. 3:16), so what he wrote was what God wanted His people to have. But as we study, we must keep Solomon’s viewpoint in mind: he is examining life “under the sun.”

In his Unfolding Message of the Bible, G. Campbell Morgan perfectly summarizes Solomon’s outlook: “This man had been living through all these experiences under the sun, concerned with nothing above the sun … until there came a moment in which he had seen the whole of life. And there was something over the sun. It is only as a man takes account of that which is over the sun as well as that which is under the sun that things under the sun are seen in their true light” (Fleming H. Revell Company, 1961, p. 229).


The Hebrew word yitron, usually translated “profit,” is used ten times in Ecclesiastes (1:3; 2:11, 13 [excelleth]; 3:9; 5:9, 16; 7:12 [excellency]; 10:10, 11 [better]). It is used nowhere else in the Old Testament, and its basic meaning is “that which is left over.” It may be translated “surplus, advantage, gain.” The word “profit” is just the opposite of “vanity.” Solomon asks, “In the light of all the puzzles and problems of life, what is the advantage of living? Is there any gain?”


At least eleven different Hebrew words are translated “labor” in our Authorized Version, and this one is amal, used twenty-three times in Ecclesiastes. It means “to toil to the point of exhaustion and yet experience little or no fulfillment in your work.” It carries with it the ideas of grief, misery, frustration, and weariness. Moses expressed the meaning of this word in Deuteronomy 26:7 and Psalm 90:10. Of course, looked at only “under the sun,” a person’s daily work might seem to be futile and burdensome, but the Christian believer can always claim 1 Corinthians 15:58 and labor gladly in the will of God, knowing his labor is “not in vain in the Lord.”


This is the familiar Hebrew word adam (Genesis 1:26; 2:7, 19) and refers to man as made from the earth (adama in the Hebrew: Genesis 2:7; 3:19). Of course, man is made in the image of God; but he came from the earth and returns to the earth after death. Solomon used the word forty-nine times as he examined “man under the sun.”

These are the basic words found in the opening verses of Ecclesiastes, but there are a few more key words that we need to consider.


This word is used thirty-one times and in the King James Version (kjv) is also translated “sore” (1:13; 4:8), “hurt” (5:13; 8:9), “mischievous” (10:13), “grievous” (2:17), “adversity” (7:14), “wickedness” (7:15), and “misery” (8:6). It is the opposite of “good” and covers a multitude of things: pain, sorrow, hard circumstances, and distress. It is one of King Solomon’s favorite words for describing life as he sees it “under the sun.”


In spite of his painful encounters with the world and its problems, Solomon does not recommend either pessimism or cynicism. Rather, he admonishes us to be realistic about life, accept God’s gifts and enjoy them (2:24; 3:12-15, 22; 5:18-20; 8:15; 9:7-10; 11:9-10). After all, God gives to us “richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). Words related to joy (enjoy, rejoice, etc.) are used at least seventeen times in Ecclesiastes. Solomon does not say, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you die!” Instead, he advises us to trust God and enjoy what we do have rather than complain about what we don’t have. Life is short and life is difficult, so make the most of it while you can.


Since it is one of the Old Testament wisdom books, Ecclesiastes would have something to say about both wisdom and folly. There are at least thirty-two references to “fools” and “folly” and at least fifty-four to “wisdom.” King Solomon was the wisest of men (1 Kings 4:31) and he applied this wisdom as he sought to understand the purpose of life “under the sun.” The Preacher sought to be a philosopher, but in the end, he had to conclude, “Fear God, and keep His commandments” (12:13).


Solomon mentions God forty times and always uses “Elohim” and never “Jehovah.” Elohim (“God” in the English Bible) is the Mighty God, the glorious God of creation who exercises sovereign power. Jehovah (“LORD” in the English Bible) is the God of the covenant, the God of revelation who is eternally self-existent and yet graciously relates Himself to sinful man. Since Solomon is dealing exclusively with what he sees “under the sun,” he uses Elohim.

Before we leave this study of the vocabulary of Ecclesiastes, we should note that the book abounds in personal pronouns. Since it is an autobiography this is to be expected. Solomon was the ideal person to write this book, for he possessed the wealth, wisdom, and opportunities necessary to carry out the “experiments” required for this investigation into the meaning of life. God did not make King Solomon disobey just so he could write this book, but He did use Solomon’s experiences to prepare him for this task.


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Posted by on February 1, 2021 in Ecclesiastes


“God’s Person in an Upside-Down World” — The Be-attitudes Series #1 “The Poor in Spirit”

A devotional book from Gary: The Measure of One’s Life book

Matthew 5:1-3 (ESV)
1  Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
2  And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
3  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

In Matthew 5 we have the opening lines of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount, and that sermon begins with eight positive statements about happiness that we’ve come to call the Be-attitudes.

Jesus says I want to teach you that happiness doesn’t depend on having the right circumstances, it depends on having the right attitudes.

Now it’s interesting to me that of all the subjects that Jesus could have picked to start the greatest, most famous sermon of all time, he chose to speak on, “How to Be Happy.”

Isn’t that fascinating? Do you know why? Because he knew that is what everybody wants and what so few people find.

Being a master Teacher, our Lord did not begin this important sermon with a negative criticism of the scribes and Pharisees. He began with a positive emphasis on righteous character and the blessings that it brings to the life of the believer. Jesus described Christian character that flowed from within.

Jesus says it’s not how much we have that makes us happy, it’s what we are that makes us happy.

It doesn’t depend upon the circumstances outside, it depends upon the attitude inside.

What Jesus is getting at then is that happiness is a choice. You choose it as you choose the right attitudes.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit.” What is poverty of spirit? It is the opposite of that haughty, self-assertive, and self-sufficient disposition that the world so much admires and praises.

It is the very reverse of that independent and defiant attitude that refuses to bow to God, that determines to brave things out, and that says with Pharaoh, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice?” (Ex.5:2).

Our attitude toward ourselves (v. 3).

In Greek, the word that is used for poor is the word ptochos. In Greek there are two words for poor. There is the word penes. Penes describes a man who has to work for his living; it is defined by the Greeks as describing the man who is autodiakonos, that is, the man who serves his own needs with his own hands. Penes describes the working man, the man who has nothing superfluous, the man who is not rich, but who is not destitute either.

The word used in this beatitude, it is ptochos, which describes absolute and abject poverty.

It is connected with the root ptossein, which means to crouch or to cower; and it describes the poverty which is beaten to its knees.

So this beatitude becomes even more surprising. Blessed is the man who is abjectly and completely poverty-stricken. Blessed is the man who is absolutely destitute.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit” means: Blessed is the man who has realised his own utter helplessness, and who has put his whole trust in God.

The poor in spirit realize that they cannot please God on their own. They are “poor” or “bankrupt” inwardly, unable to give anything of value to God and thus must depend on his mercy.

Only those who humbly depend on God are admitted into the kingdom of heaven. In this beatitude and in the very last one (5:10) the reward is the same. And in both places the reward is described in the present tense—”theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

To be poor in spirit is to realize that I have nothing, am nothing, and can do nothing, and have need of all things.

To be poor in spirit means to be humble, to have a correct estimate of oneself (Rom. 12:3).

It does not mean to be “poor spirited” and have no backbone at all! “Poor in spirit” is the opposite of the world’s attitudes of self-praise and self- assertion.

It is not a false humility that says, “I am not worth anything, I can’t do anything!”

Being poor in spirit doesn’t mean to have low self-esteem.

It doesn’t mean to walk around having some kind of inferiority complex.

Jesus didn’t die for junk. God didn’t make trash in his own image.

You are infinitely valuable to God because you’re made in his image, and Jesus died on that cross redeeming you with his precious blood.

You weren’t paid for by silly stuff like silver and gold.

It is honesty with ourselves: we know ourselves, accept ourselves, and try to be ourselves to the glory of God.

The first step to happiness….be humble.

Verse 3: “Happy are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

It simply means to depend on God. It means to be humble. It means admitting daily, I don’t have it altogether, because you don’t.

It means admitting that I haven’t arrived, that I’ve got more to learn, that God didn’t build the universe to revolve around me.

I think maybe the best way to get a picture of what being poor in Spirit is, is to tell you what the opposite is. It is the opposite of being arrogant. It’s the opposite of being prideful and egotistical. Jesus says if you’re full of pride, if you’re full of ego and arrogance, you’re never going to be really happy.

But the more you depend upon the God and the more that you’re humble, the more you open the door to happiness.

Humility and happiness are twins. They go together, you can’t have one without the other. If you want genuine happiness, you start by humbling yourself before God.

People who want to live for God must be ready to say and do what seems strange to the world. Christians must be willing to give when others take, to love when others hate, to help when others abuse.

By putting aside our selfish interests so that we can serve others, we will one day receive everything God has in store for us.

To find hope and joy, the deepest form of happiness, we must follow Jesus no matter what the cost.

Three ways that humility will bring you happiness:

  1. humility will bring you happiness by reducing your stress.

Jesus talks about this principle later in his Sermon on the Mount in the section about worry that begins in Matthew 6:25, where he basically says, why do you fret about over what you’re going to eat, what you’re going to wear, and how long you’re going to live, and how many hairs you have?

He says, why do you worry about all that when you’ve got a God who’s bigger than everything you can worry about?

Humility accepts the fact that things aren’t ideal, and yet I can still be happy because I’m depending upon an ideal God. He’s going to make everything all right. It’s not perfect until we get to heaven, but he’s going to make it all right. Humility re duces my stress because I don’t have to take myself that seriously.

Do you know what I think one of the biggest problems in the world is? This is my opinion, but I think one of the biggest problems in the world is that we take ourselves too seriously, and we don’t take God seriously enough. I think that’s the crux of the human problem.

We’re out there trying to do it all, impress people with who we are, and because we know who we really are underneath, there’s all this stress. But when I walk humbly, dependent upon God, the stress goes down and happiness goes up. That will make you happy.

  1. Here’s the second way humility will make you happy, it will improve your relationships.

How many of you love to be around big-headed, egotistical people? How many of you love to do that? How many of you wake up on a Monday morning and say, “Man, I hope I can take an irritating, conceited jerk out to lunch today?”

You know the fact is, prideful people are a pain to be around. Somebody says that pride is the only human disease that makes everybody else sick.

I mean egotists are irritating, and they wreck relationships. Why? Because self-centered people are never happy. And because they aren’t happy when they come into a relationship, they tend to drag everybody in that relationship down.

On the other hand, how many of you like to be around humble people? Don’t you just love that. Because they’re always lifting you up. Don’t you love to be around somebody who when you tell a little story, they don’t have to top it?

When you are humble, you get along better with others, not because you think less of yourself, but because you’re thinking more about others. And this is a key to good, happy social living.

When you become more interested in others, you become more interesting to others.

So you have better relationships when you’re humble. You’re not afraid to say, “Hey, I’m sorry. I messed up, I didn’t mean to. Forgive me, I’ll do better.”

If you walk humbly before the Lord, you’re almost immune to insults. It doesn’t mean that you don’t accept criticism, it’s just that you don’t take it so personally that you get all upset. Humility will improve your relationships. It will make you happy.

  1. This is the best of all. How am I happy through humility? Humility unleashes God’s power. This is the best one. It’s humility that unleashes God’s power.

The Bible says the secret of spiritual power is to walk humbly before God. Let me read to you about three verses. Isaiah 66:2, God says through Isaiah, “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.”

James 4:6: “God opposes the proud, but he gives grace to the humble.”

James 4:10, James says, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

I want to tell you this morning that if you are not humble before God, you’re cutting the cord through which he’s going to channel all of his power.

If you’re not humble, your prayers are not answered. Is anybody going through a barren period with your prayer life? Check your humility before God.

The man didn’t leave justified because he was full of arrogance. But that old publican who committed every sin in the book, he followed beatitude number one, and he was poor in spirit, and he said, “Lord, please be merciful to me, I’m a sinner.” And God said, “He walked out of there with his sins washed away.”

The secret of strength is admitting weakness. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “Therefore I boast all the more gladly in my weakness so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”



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Posted by on January 28, 2021 in Be-Attitudes


“God’s Person in an Upside-Down World” — The Be-attitudes Series and The Good Life: Ecclesiastes An Introduction


(Sermon presented as introduction to the Be-Attitudes series but also a class study of the book of Ecclesiastes)

What would it take to make you happy? That’s the question Psychology Today asked 52,000 Americans. And their answers in rank order included:


A good job

Being in love

Recognition or success


Personal growth

A good house or apartment

Being attractive or beautiful

Good health

The city that I live in

My religion

Recreation and exercise

Being a parent

Ironically, the last one was: My partner’s happiness

The most interesting thing about that entire list is that virtually everything the respondents named was an external thing or an external situation.

In other words, the popular idea of happiness is that I’ll have it if I can ever line up the right circumstances.

Now that’s not a new idea. In fact, our English word “happiness” is from the same root word as our English word “happening.” Do you get the connection? If I can just get enough positive happenings in my life, then surely I will receive happiness. I call it “WHEN AND THEN” thinking:

  • Like, when I get out of school then I’ll be happy.
  • Or, when I get a job then I’ll be happy.
  • Or, when I get rich then I’ll be happy.
  • Or, when I get married then I’ll be happy.
  • When I have children then I’ll be happy.
  • When all the children have left home then I’ll be happy.
  • When and then…When and then…When and then…I’ll be happy.

Well maybe, it’s some consolation to know that man has always thought that way. If you’ll turn with me to Ecclesiastes 2, we’re going to take a look real quickly at a book, a journal, that was written by King Solomon as he chased that elusive pot of gold called, “happiness.”

 “I thought in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find  out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless.”    (Ecclesiastes 2:1)

By the way, if you want to save yourself a lot of time, a lot of frustration, and a lot of heartache in your quest for happiness. Go home and read very thoroughly, the book of Ecclesiastes.

Solomon, who was far and away the most powerful man in the world in his day and likely the richest man who ever walked the face of the earth, he said, “I tried it all and I found three dead ends.

The first dead end was accumulating things.

7  I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem.
8  I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man.

O Solomon said, you name it, I had it. But, we’ll see what the result was in just a moment.

The second thing he tried was experiencing pleasure.

1  I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity.
2  I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?”
3  I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life.

10  And 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.

And the third thing he tried was achieving success.

4  I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself.
5  I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees.
6  I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees.
9  So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me.
11  Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.

 Do you see what he tried? He said, I tried accumulating things, experiencing pleasure, achieving success.

3,000 years later, those are still the things we think we’ve got to chase to achieve happiness. Isn’t that right? Starting with accumulating things.

A bumper sticker: “Whoever said money can’t buy happiness just doesn’t know where to shop.” That’s the way most people think. How many times have I heard somebody say, “Man, if I could just win the lottery, I’d be so happy.”

Two newspaper articles a few years back, one was about a man by the name of Buddy Post. Buddy is now 58 years old, a former carnival worker and cook. He hit the jackpot in the Pennsylvania lottery. He won $16.2 million. Buddy is on Easy Street now, isn’t he? NOT!

He has been convicted of assault. His sixth wife has left him. His brother has been convicted of trying to kill him for the money. His landlady has sued him for one-third of his winnings. And the gas company has shut off the gas to the decrepit old mansion that he bought and can’t keep up.

From the Dallas Morning News, about Jim and Lynette Nichols. Lynette bought 23 one-dollar tickets and she was thrilled when one of those was good for one-third of a $48,000,000 jackpot.

Now Jim and Lynette are getting a divorce after 12 years of marriage. The divorce proceedings have taken over two years because, you guessed it, they’re trying to sort out who gets how much of the money. Lynette Nichols, who had the ticket, said, “We had one month of good times and three years of misery. It was a curse. It didn’t help at all.”

Solomon found it out the hard way. You don’t get happy by accumulating things. You don’t get happy by experiencing pleasure: sex, drugs, gambling, whatever, anything to give a thrill, anything to give a rush, anything to give a buzz. It’s like the old Eagles song says, “After the thrill is gone, you’re unhappier than you ever were.”

And you don’t receive it by achieving success. The idea that if I can just get to the top of the ladder, at least make everybody think I’ve got it made, then I’ll be happy.

Ecclesiastes 2:17 (ESV) So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.

If you don’t leave here with anything else today, leave here knowing this. Your happiness will not come from your happenings. Your happiness will not come from any external force.

Turn in your Bibles to Matthew 5 where we’ll camp for the rest of our time together.

We’re going to see what Jesus says about happiness. I’ll tell you right now that he says your happiness doesn’t depend on your circumstances, it depends on your attitudes.

In Matthew 5 we have the opening lines of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount, and that sermon begins with eight positive statements about happiness that we’ve come to call the Be-attitudes.

Now it’s interesting to me that of all the subjects that Jesus could have picked to start the greatest, most famous sermon of all time, he chose to speak on, “How to Be Happy.”

Do you know why? Because he knew that is what everybody wants and what so few people find. So for the next eight weeks we’re going to look at those eight beatitudes.

Being a master Teacher, our Lord did not begin this important sermon with a negative criticism of the scribes and Pharisees. He began with a positive emphasis on righteous character and the blessings that it brings to the life of the believer.

In the Beatitudes and the pictures of the believer, Jesus described Christian character that flowed from within.

If you’ve turned to Matthew 5 beginning in verse 3, you see that each beatitude begins with the word, “Blessed.” The word, “blessed,” in English is really a holdover in the Old English in the King James. The Greek word there is “makarios” and it just literally means “happy.”

The meaning of makarios can best be seen from one particular usage of it. The Greeks always called Cyprus the makaria, which means The Happy Isle, and they did so because they believed that Cyprus was so lovely, so rich, and so fertile an island that a man would never need to go beyond its coastline to find the perfectly happy life.

It had such a climate, such flowers and fruits and trees, such minerals, such natural resources that it contained within itself all the materials for perfect happiness.

Makarios then describes that joy which has its secret within itself, that joy which is serene and untouchable, and self-contained, that joy which is completely independent of all the chances and the changes of life.

The beatitudes are not pious hopes of what shall be; they are not glowing, but nebulous prophecies of some future bliss; they are congratulations on what is.


The blessedness which belongs to the Christian is not a blessedness which is postponed to some future world of glory; it is a blessedness which exists here and now. It is not something into which the Christian will enter; it is something into which he has entered.

True, it will find its fulness and its consummation in the presence of God; but for all that it is a present reality to be enjoyed here and now.

Let me ask you something right now.

  • If you’re going to have to have all your problems solved before you’re going to be happy, will you ever be happy? NO.
  • If you’re going to have to have everything perfect in your life before you’re going to be happy, will you ever be happy? NO.
  • So Jesus says I want to teach you that happiness doesn’t depend on having the right circumstances, it depends on having the right attitudes.


In other words, “My happiness is not determined by what’s happening to me, but what’s happening in me.”

  • Jesus says it’s not how much we have that makes us happy, it’s what we are that makes us happy.
  • It doesn’t depend upon the circumstances outside, it depends upon the attitude inside.
  • What Jesus is getting at then is that happiness is a choice. You choose it as you choose the right attitudes.


Mark Twain over 100 years ago had a great statement. He said, “Do you know what happens to most people over life?…About the same things.” Mark Twain concluded, he says then most people are about as happy as they choose to be.


The world can win its joys, and the world can equally well lose its joys. A change in fortune, a collapse in health, the failure of a plan, the disappointment of an ambition, even a change in the weather, can take away the fickle joy the world can give.


But the Christian has the serene and untouchable joy which comes from walking for ever in the company and in the presence of Jesus Christ.


The greatness of the beatitudes is that they are not wistful glimpses of some future beauty; they are not even golden promises of some distant glory; they are triumphant shouts of bliss for a permanent joy that nothing in the world can ever take away.


We all cry, we all laugh, we all smile, we all frown, we all hurt, we all have pleasure. You know if you live long enough about the same things happen.


You hurt and you cry, does that mean you cannot be happy? Absolutely not. Your happiness depends upon the right attitudes. And that is what we will be seeing in coming weeks.





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Posted by on January 21, 2021 in Be-Attitudes, Ecclesiastes

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