Jeremy Sarber, Reformed Baptist pastor

 

Ecclesiastes, Sermon Transcripts

Despite the Frustrating Enigmas of Life

If we think of Ecclesiastes as being the ground, then I never intended for us to walk through the book. Rather, I wanted us to fly over it. I wanted to provide a sense of its lessons and philosophies. I wanted us to see the observations of the Preacher as a whole more than focus every detail. But along the way, I’ve let us drop altitude. So today, I’m going to pull up and fly a little higher.

I hope everyone’s comfortable.

If you will please, go with me again to Ecclesiastes chapter 7. We’ll pick up where we left off last time, starting with verse 15. And if possible, I’m going to take us all the way through chapter 10. Again, we’ll start with Ecclesiastes 7:15.

As a reminder, the Preacher of Ecclesiastes launched a series of attacks on secularism beginning in chapter 4. In chapter 3, he essentially concluded his sermon. He pointed to the one thing that gives our lives meaning and purpose. Namely, there is a God, and God is in sovereign control of the universe. So even if we don’t understand the purpose of everything, we know there is a purpose. Furthermore, that purpose ultimately leads to life beyond what the Preacher calls life under the sun. In short, though the Preacher has not said this explicitly, the only remedy for the problems of secularism is faith in God.

But to drive his point home, he wanted to make his hearers painfully aware that secularism does have many problems. For instance, he’s talked about oppression, injustice, isolation, and loneliness. He alluded to the shortcomings of human companionship. He spoke extensively about poverty and wealth. In the first part of chapter 7, he addressed suffering and death. And he continues his assault on secularism all the way through chapter 10.

So let’s begin reading at Ecclesiastes 7:15. I won’t read our text all at once. We’ll take it one passage at a time.

Don’t Be Too Righteous Or Too Wicked

In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing. Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them. (Ecclesiastes 7:15-18)

As the Preacher reflected on his life, which he described in chapters 1 and 2, he noticed a number of anomalies. Life didn’t always work in a predictable way. If you read The Book of Proverbs, for instance, you might come away with this notion that there is a formula you can follow that will guarantee certain outcomes. If you live just the right way, you’ll always be happy, you’ll live a long life, and so on. But it didn’t work out that way for the Preacher, and he noticed that it didn’t work out that way for a lot of people. Good men die and wicked men seem to live forever.

But rather than attempt to explain these anomalies or remove them, the Preacher encourages us to live with them by offering two pieces of advice.

First, “be not overly righteous.” That may seem like a strange thing for the inspired Word of God to tell us, but the Preacher makes this statement with a hint of irony. Later in the chapter, he says, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecc 7:20). He knows the depravity of man, but he also knows that our depravity makes us prone to self-righteousness. So what he means is, don’t think of yourself as more righteous than you are. I suspect that King Solomon may have been preaching to himself here. He was wise and prosperous, the leader of God’s covenant people. And despite his sins, perhaps he still thought of himself as a righteous man.

Second, “be not overly wicked.” We need to find authentic balance. On the one hand, we don’t want to think of ourselves as more righteous than we actually are. On the other hand, we don’t want to let our depravity run wild either. We shouldn’t give in to every temptation just because we’ll never be as righteous as we should be. Don’t throw in the towel because the end result could be an untimely death.

Ultimately, it is our sincere fear of God that grounds us. Revelation 15 asks the question, “Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name?” (Rev 15:4).

Wisdom In the Midst of Sin

Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.

Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.

Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others. (Ecclesiastes 7:19-22)

Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” So from our general attitude of fear comes wisdom. And wisdom is absolutely vital if we are to find the balance between legalistic self-righteousness and moral indifference. In fact, wisdom that stems from our fear of God is worth more than the collective wisdom of experienced leaders.

In case you’re uncomfortable with the idea of fearing God, you need to remember who you are by comparison to God. We are unholy sinners. The Preachers says there is no one who does good or never sins. That is an emphatic, universal truth with absolutely no exceptions apart from Jesus Christ himself. Remember, God is our Sovereign Creator. He is the Ruler of the universe. He is perfectly holy and just. So the obvious response of sinners to our Almighty God should be fear. Even if we have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, The Book of Hebrews tells us, “Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:28-29).

Now if you need proof of your depravity, look no further than your tongue. We’ve all been guilty of disobeying God by the terrible things we’ve said to others. In Matthew 5, Jesus said, “Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Mt 5:22). With that in mind, we shouldn’t let ourselves get too bothered by what others say to us or about us. It’s going to happen, and we’re going to be guilty ourselves from time to time.

Full Wisdom Remains Elusive

All this I have tested by wisdom. I said, “I will be wise,” but it was far from me. That which has been is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out? (Ecclesiastes 7:23-24)

The Preacher was a man with immense wisdom, but some things about life still alluded him. Given the context of this chapter, I suppose he still had death on his mind. It was easy enough to study the events playing out each day here on earth. But what’s the master plan? Apparently, the full will and purpose of God was beyond the Preacher’s grasp.

Universal Sin Is the Problem

I turned my heart to know and to search out and to seek wisdom and the scheme of things, and to know the wickedness of folly and the foolishness that is madness. And I find something more bitter than death: the woman whose heart is snares and nets, and whose hands are fetters. He who pleases God escapes her, but the sinner is taken by her. Behold, this is what I found, says the Preacher, while adding one thing to another to find the scheme of things— which my soul has sought repeatedly, but I have not found. One man among a thousand I found, but a woman among all these I have not found. See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes. (Ecclesiastes 7:25-29)

Now we know why the Preacher’s wisdom had limitations. It wasn’t because he failed to be thorough in his search for answers. It was because the world is full of sin. The world is like a “woman whose heart is snares and nets, and whose hands are fetters.” She’s dangerous. She’ll trap unsuspecting victims like the Sirens in Homer’s Odyssey. Only those who trust in God—remember, “without faith it is impossible to please him”—can escape the Siren’s song (Heb 11:6).

It would appear the Preacher looked for others who might have the answers, but he couldn’t find anyone. Maybe one man in a thousand had even the faintest trace of wisdom. Why was it so rare? Because everyone has been tainted by the sin that corrupts our world. God created us upright, but we sought out many schemes. It began in Genesis chapter 3 when Adam rebelled against God for what I suppose was curiosity’s sake. And according to Paul, “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Ro 5:12). This sin is perverse, deliberate, and universal. As a result, it’s impossible for us to see the plan of God clearly.

Identifying the Wise Among Us

The first verse of chapter 8 is a fitting conclusion to chapter 7:

Who is like the wise?
And who knows the interpretation of a thing?
A man’s wisdom makes his face shine,
and the hardness of his face is changed. (Ecclesiastes 8:1)

Who is really wise in this world? Who can interpret the mysteries of God’s providence, his plan? The Preacher doesn’t provide an answer because there is none. However, there are wise people. Maybe they’re not wise enough to understand every mystery, but they have more wisdom than the fool who ensnares himself with the fleeting pleasures of secularism.

Do you know how to spot a person with wisdom? You’ll see it in his or her demeanor. They’ll have faces that shine as a result of their peace with God. Their hardness is turned to gentleness because they’ve discovered the secret to living under the sun. What is that secret? Listen to this passage from Hosea: “Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them” (Hos 9:14).

Now as we continue through the chapters, you’ll notice that the Preacher gravitates to addressing life on a national level. That shouldn’t come as a surprise since the Preacher was the king of Israel. But I think we can often apply these lessons to many situations from our jobs to our families. If the Preacher talks about the role of a king, we could apply that to the role of an employer or a parent. Again, this is wisdom literature, so you’ll have to meditate on these things to find their myriad applications.

So in chapter 8 through some of chapter 9, we see the grim realities of a king’s authority, more of life’s injustices, the enigma of life, the certainty of death, and finally, we come again to the only remedy to our problems which is faith.

Even Kings Have Limited Power

I say: Keep the king’s command, because of God’s oath to him. Be not hasty to go from his presence. Do not take your stand in an evil cause, for he does whatever he pleases. For the word of the king is supreme, and who may say to him, “What are you doing?” Whoever keeps a command will know no evil thing, and the wise heart will know the proper time and the just way. For there is a time and a way for everything, although man’s trouble lies heavy on him. For he does not know what is to be, for who can tell him how it will be? No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death. There is no discharge from war, nor will wickedness deliver those who are given to it. (Ecclesiastes 8:2-8)

According to Romans 13, every person should “be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Ro 13:1). No human ruler will ever be perfect, but our submission is still required because God has designed the secular world to have structure and order through governing authorities.

But that’s not to say submission is the same as blind passivity. The wise person will be alert to what’s happening. The thing is, not every ruler is put in place by God for the nation’s blessing and prosperity. God uses even wicked rulers to accomplish his will. Sometimes he judges a nation by putting terrible rulers in charge. And the wise person will be aware of this. They won’t fail to submit, but they’ll understand that God uses even vexations to accomplish his purpose.

If we are frustrated by the situation, it is only because we are ignorant of this one important fact: “There is a time and a way for everything.” You see, that’s a callback to the Preacher’s poem in chapter 3. Even when the world seems to be descending into madness and chaos, God is still in control.

Of course, the Preacher also makes the point here that even the most powerful kings have serious limitations. This is good news for us, especially when we don’t like the governing authorities over us. First of all, “no man has power to retain the spirit.” As Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Mt 10:28). No one can imprison our spirits. Second, rulers have no power over death. Sure, they can execute someone, but ultimately the timing of one’s death is in God’s hand. Third, they can’t prevent this ongoing war against death, proving that death is beyond their control. They don’t have as much power as it seems they have.

“Nor will wickedness deliver those who are given to it.” That last statement is difficult to interpret. I believe the Preacher was continuing the theme of rulers versus death. In short, no one using any measure, good or evil, can rescue us from death. The point is, there are authorities higher than our earthly authorities. The fact that the most powerful people in our world cannot stop or control death proves it.

The Wicked Seem To Prosper

All this I observed while applying my heart to all that is done under the sun, when man had power over man to his hurt.

Then I saw the wicked buried. They used to go in and out of the holy place and were praised in the city where they had done such things. This also is vanity. Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil. (Ecclesiastes 8:9-11)

Verse 9 bridges the passage before it and the passage that comes after it. The primary focus here is oppression.

In ancient Israel, a proper burial was how they honored the deceased. But the Preacher noticed that even wicked people were being honored in death. Worse yet, they were praised for their supposed righteousness. Well, just because a person can be seen going “in and out of the holy place” doesn’t mean he’s righteous. Moral indifference and even evil seemed to go unpunished. There were no consequences. The sinfulness of man—and you’ll notice this sinfulness stems from the heart because we’re corrupt at our very core—just grows and grows. It reminds me of the days before the flood where the Bible says, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Ge 6:5).

The Wicked Won’t Live Forever

Verse 12 takes a quick turn away from the problems of life toward the solution.

Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they fear before him. But it will not be well with the wicked, neither will he prolong his days like a shadow, because he does not fear before God. (Ecclesiastes 8:12-13)

So you’ve seen the injustice, the oppression, and the wickedness that runs rampant in our world. You’ve noticed that the unrighteous seem to prosper. Well, the Preacher says, be patient. The righteous will be vindicated.

To paraphrase part of this passage, though the wicked may live long, God will not make his days long. In other words, his days will still be like a shadow, and he will not flourish beyond the grave. Eventually, the veil of secularism will fall. And what will the wicked person be left with? Nothing if he did not fear God.

I know it can be maddening to try to understand why things happen the way they do. People commonly ask, “Why do good people suffer? Why do the wicked prosper?” Well, that’s exactly what the Preacher was trying to figure out. Part of what makes life like a vapor is that it’s mysterious. It’s an enigma. Vapor is a physical thing which you can see, but you can’t reach out and take hold of it. It’ll slip right through your fingers.

Life’s Enigmas Have a Purpose

There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked, and there are wicked people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I said that this also is vanity. And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.

When I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done on earth, how neither day nor night do one’s eyes see sleep, then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out.

But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him. (Ecclesiastes 8:14-9:1)

There are several connected thoughts here. First, life is perplexing. Things don’t happen in the way we think they should. Wicked people prosper while righteous people suffer. But you’ll notice that the Preacher doesn’t attempt to unravel the enigma. He chooses instead to enjoy whatever God has given him. The subtle imperative is this: Trust God. Whatever happens, trust God.

Second, the Preacher studied the matter thoroughly. He realized that life’s mysteries cause restlessness. Our work, our persistent endeavors, our skills, our experiences—none of it brings us any closer to understanding the totality of God’s will and purpose. The lesson here is that we should strive for contentment. Everything is in the hand of God. We don’t have to know the reasons to know there is a reason. So whether we are subjected to love or hate, good things or bad things, we won’t necessarily understand why.

Secular Life Is Fleeting

It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 9:2-6)

One thing we can be sure of is that death does not discriminate. So if the Preacher is right about the existence of God and eternity, then there will be a reckoning. Eventually, the wicked will stand before God in judgment. But that goes beyond his point here in this passage.

Interestingly enough, he examines death in secular terms. Earlier in this book, he told us to study death because it will encourage us to think about God and eternity. But here he wants us to think about death for a slightly different reason. He wants us to think about death because it motivates us to make the most of our time. At the very least, it prevents us from being envious of the wicked who seem to prosper.

You see, life under the sun can’t be enjoyed in retrospect. Whatever pleasures that exist here, don’t exist to someone who has died. In death, the lion, the mightiest of animals, is worse off than a dog who is still living, which the Israelites believed to be an unclean scavenger. If you’re still alive, you have hope for the opportunities offered in this world. But once your dead, from a purely secular standpoint, you have nothing. Love, hate, passions—your share is gone forever and cannot be recaptured.

That may sound depressing. It may sound as though life on earth is better than life after death. But again, that’s from a secular perspective. There’s another way to look at life.

Faith Produces Joy and Confidence

Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.

Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.
Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going. (Ecclesiastes 9:7-10)

The Preacher says, “Go.” This is a call to action. Get up and do this. Do what? Enjoy life. Enjoy the things you have. “But wait a minute,” you say. “I thought life was vanity. How can we enjoy it?” You can enjoy it by recognizing that it is God who gives enjoyment. The basis of contentment is God himself.

So put on your white garments and rub oil on your head. What does that mean? Well, both white clothing and oil were welcome comforts in the hot climate of the Middle East. Oil was often used to relieve irritations on the skin caused by dryness.

To be clear, the Preacher is not promoting hedonism. He’s talking about contentment. He’s talking about accepting life for what it is and putting your trust in a sovereign God.

If you remember back to chapter 4, there is one area of life of which the Preacher has nothing negative to say, and that is companionship. He has something critical to say about virtually everything except companionship. And here again, he talks about marriage being a help to us. Marriage is our solace in the midst of a vain, confusing life. It is a gift of God.

So “whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might.” But also remember that life under the sun is fleeting. We need to maintain a balanced perspective. Enjoy life, but know that it is eternity that ultimately matters most. If you put these verses together, we are shown contentment in verse 7, comfort in verse 8, and companionship in verse 9. These three things are from God, and they allow us to work our way through the hebel of life with ease and confidence.

Life Is Unpredictable

Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them. (Ecclesiastes 9:11-12)

While you try to enjoy life, the Preacher doesn’t want us to forget that life will have frustrations. Here he names five separate accomplishments, but none of them guarantee success or prosperity. Why? Because time limits us. Either death comes or that particular season of life ends. Either way, the events of life are unpredictable, often abrupt, and inescapable.

Wisdom Is Often Disguised

I have also seen this example of wisdom under the sun, and it seemed great to me. There was a little city with few men in it, and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siegeworks against it. But there was found in it a poor, wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man. But I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard. (Ecclesiastes 9:13-16)

The Preacher speaks of this incident as though he witnessed it firsthand. And what it prompted him to think about was the way in which wisdom often goes unnoticed. True, godly wisdom is often disguised as foolishness. Paul told the Corinthians, “Consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise” (1Co 1:26-27).

Here wisdom was disguised as a poor man. He could have saved the city, but everyone overlooked him to their own detriment. And the Preacher concludes that simple wisdom can deliver us from many of life’s troubles, but we’re prone to ignore it. It doesn’t have the flash of a king. It looks more like a poor man, and who wants that?

Wisdom Is Easily Thwarted

The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.

Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a stench;
so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor. (Ecclesiastes 9:17-10:1)

Once again, wisdom is thwarted. Everyone listens to the powerful rulers who shout the loudest while ignoring the guy who actually has some wisdom. Also, we see here that it only takes one fool in the right place (or the wrong place) to overthrow the potential benefits of wisdom.

Finally, you’ll notice that even small acts of foolishness can overpower wisdom. By the way, when the Preacher refers to “folly,” he usually means that not in an intellectual sense, but a moral sense. He’s referring to moral shortcomings.

Foolishness Reveals Itself

A wise man’s heart inclines him to the right,
but a fool’s heart to the left.
Even when the fool walks on the road, he lacks sense,
and he says to everyone that he is a fool. (Ecclesiastes 10:2-3)

You see, moral folly is a matter of the heart, not the brain. You can be highly educated and still be a foolish person. And a foolish person cannot conceal his foolishness forever.

Foolishness Is Everywhere

If the anger of the ruler rises against you, do not leave your place,
for calmness will lay great offenses to rest.

There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, as it were an error proceeding from the ruler: folly is set in many high places, and the rich sit in a low place. I have seen slaves on horses, and princes walking on the ground like slaves. (Ecclesiastes 10:4-7)

Here we see that folly is not limited to the general public. It reaches even the heights of government. But—and this is a valuable lesson for Americans—we should not respond to bad government with anything less than calm forbearance. Even foolish rulers can be powers put into place by God.

As frustrating as it is, men with the resources to do good will often lack opportunity. At the same time, men with opportunity will often lack spiritual resources. As an illustrative anomaly, the Preacher says, “I have seen slaves on horses, and princes walking on the ground like slaves.” Horses were once considered a sign of royalty and wealth.

Foolishness Has Consequences

He who digs a pit will fall into it,
and a serpent will bite him who breaks through a wall.
He who quarries stones is hurt by them,
and he who splits logs is endangered by them.
If the iron is blunt, and one does not sharpen the edge,
he must use more strength,
but wisdom helps one to succeed.
If the serpent bites before it is charmed,
there is no advantage to the charmer. (Ecclesiastes 10:8-11)

There are four thoughts here.

First, malicious endeavors will often produce unintended consequences. The Preacher provides examples that sound like something from a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. A man digs a pit presumably to trap someone else but falls into it himself. He breaks through a wall, which was a common way to break into someone’s house, but he finds a serpent waiting to strike on the other side.

Second, all of life proves to have inherent dangers. Quarrying stone or chopping logs are not foolish activities, but a person could still get hurt.

Third, careful thoughtfulness is more likely to bring success than brute force. You don’t need a lot of strength to fight someone as long as you remember to sharpen your sword before battle.

Fourth, laziness will nullify any skill you possess. A snake charmer may be capable of charming snakes, but a snake could bite before he has a chance to prove it.

The Tongue Will Not Lie

The words of a wise man’s mouth win him favor,
but the lips of a fool consume him.
The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness,
and the end of his talk is evil madness.
A fool multiplies words,
though no man knows what is to be,
and who can tell him what will be after him? (Ecclesiastes 10:12-14)

All wisdom literature will eventually deal with the subject of our tongues. Proverbs has a lot to say about our speech. James is probably the closest we have to wisdom literature in the New Testament, and he covered the topic as well. Perhaps nothing is a better test of wisdom and moral uprightness than what comes out of our mouths.

According to the Preacher, the wise person will speak gracious words. That’s what he means by “the words of a wise man’s mouth win him favor.” The fool, on the other hand, will destroy himself with his words. His speech will be irrational, morally perverse, and arrogant. He’ll talk a lot. He’ll act as though he knows everything. But his words will prove otherwise.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

The toil of a fool wearies him,
for he does not know the way to the city. (Ecclesiastes 10:15)

If the fool’s speech doesn’t prove he’s a fool, his actions surely will. In particular, they’ll prove his incompetence. He’ll be the guy telling everyone that he can lead them to the city, but thirty minutes later, he’ll be farther away from the city than when he started.

Stay Calm and Trust God

Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child,
and your princes feast in the morning!
Happy are you, O land, when your king is the son of the nobility,
and your princes feast at the proper time,
for strength, and not for drunkenness!
Through sloth the roof sinks in,
and through indolence the house leaks.
Bread is made for laughter,
and wine gladdens life,
and money answers everything.
Even in your thoughts, do not curse the king,
nor in your bedroom curse the rich,
for a bird of the air will carry your voice,
or some winged creature tell the matter. (Ecclesiastes 10:16-20)

Once again, the Preacher pulls out to look at mankind on a national level. This is his rhetorical climax. We can either be a nation of disaster or a nation of safety. He goes back and forth from woe to bliss, woe to bliss.

First, the nation needs a mature leader. “Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child.” He has no self-control. He eats his feasts in the morning. He’s probably drunk by noon. But “happy are you, O land, when your king is the son of the nobility.” In other words, he’s a proper king. He was raised to act responsibly.

Remember, let’s not limit the application of these proverbs to kings alone. For me, I think about this in the context of being a husband. For you, it may apply in a different way.

Next, we see that laziness brings about slow, subtle judgment. It causes a steady decay. You may not patch the roof because it’s only a minor leak. Well, eventually, that minor leak will become a major leak. By then, it may be too late, and the roof collapses.

This may be an indictment against poor stewardship as well. It could be a warning against those who don’t take care of what God has given them. Notice the contrast in verse 19: “Bread is made for laughter, and wine gladdens life,
and money answers everything.” Of course, the Preacher presumes a person is living a wise, godly life. But the difference between verses 18 and 19 is that one man cares so little that he lets his house go to ruin while the other enjoys what he has and makes good use of it.

By the way, don’t take the expression “money answers everything” too far. That’s a proverbial statement, not a literal one. However, it does show us that money itself is not evil. Money is a tremendous blessing as long as we remember its dangers and realize that it cannot satisfy our souls.

Finally, the Preacher tells us to remain calm. So maybe we have a lazy, immature king with no real wisdom to speak of, but don’t get too upset. Whether it’s a politician or a co-worker or a family member, don’t be consumed by bitterness or resentment. Be very careful concerning what you say about them even in private. The walls have ears. Word gets around. The truth has a way of exposing itself.

Now, what’s the connection between all of these observations? In a word, vanity. It’s all hebel. It’s a fleeting enigma. But that’s not to say all of life is meaningless. It is to say, however, that a purely secular life is meaningless.

Regardless, the world is full of paradoxes and vexations that we can’t begin to understand because we’re not God. The secret is to stop trying to figure everything out. Take life for what it is. Become a realist like the Preacher. But also, and most importantly, live your life day by day, taking what is given to you from the hand of a sovereign God.

Preached at Joy Christian Church (Benson, NC) on March 5, 2017