Ecclesiastes

Ecclesiates-A Presuppositional Apologetic

The recently published, expanded, and updated commentary on Ecclesiastes by Walter C. Kaiser, ‘Coping With Change’, is a worthy investment. Along with Derek Kidner’s ‘The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiates,’ he sees the book as an apologetical discourse.

Kidner, quoting G.S. Hendry believes that Qoheleth, the preacher, wrote his book as “a critique of secularism and of secularized religion.” (p.93)

I would say that the preacher, in true presuppositional fashion, seeks to argue from the presuppositional basis of the unbeliever to show the futility of their worldview, carried to it’s logical conclusion, and how only the scriptural worldview can make any sense of life.

God-Given Joy

For God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man who is good in His sight. (Eccl. 2:26)

In his recently republished updated and expanded commentary on Ecclesiastes, ‘Coping With Change,’ Walter C. Kaiser brings out an often overlooked theme of the book-that of joy. He writes, “What unifies this book is the assertion that there is a God-given joy that can be found in life…joy in such basic functions of life such as eating, drinking and happiness in one’s work.” (p.57)

Possessions or these “basic functions” cannot provide the joy in and of themselves-this is the preacher’s main point in his apologetic. Joy can only be had when everything is received as a gift from God. Yet even this power to enjoy must come from Him (5:19).

All the things that we call the “goods” of life-health, riches, possessions, position, sensual pleasures, honors, and prestige-slip through one’s hands unless they are received as a gift from God. Until God gives persons the ability to enjoy them and obtain satisfaction from them, they simply cannot in and of themselves compensate for the joy that comes from fearing God and knowing Him. (Kaiser, p.87) One must begin with the God who is, and is the giver of all good things.“Knowing that God is in sovereign control of life (Eccl. 3:1), we can submit to Him and be at peace. “God holds the key of all unknown, and I am glad; If other hands should hold the key, or if He trusted it to me, I might be sad I cannot read His future plans, but this I know; I have the smiling of His face, And all the refuge of His grace, While here below.”-J. Parker” Warren Wiersbe, ‘Be Satisfied,’ p.58

Everything Beautiful In Its Time

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has set eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. Eccl. 3:11

The self named ‘preacher’ has just declared everything a “vanity of vanities” (1:2), but running through this sobering reflection on life is the golden cord of God’s providence. “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” As Paul would later write, “all things work together for good.” (Rom. 8:28) Nothing is random or by chance-it would be a mistake to think that this was the “wisdom” of Solomon. Not only does God order the individual events, but he sets everything is its place-together-“to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” This is something which also did not escape the preacher-2:26.

However, there is one thing all humanity shares-“He has set eternity in their hearts.” Again, as Paul would write later, “what may be known of God is manifest in them…they knew God.” (Rom. 1:19-22) The fool, however, does not like to retain this knowledge (1:28), having suppressed it in unrighteousness (1:18) “No one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end,” except as God reveals it. “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Dt. 29:29) This is why gospel preachers need to be sent. (Rom. 10:14-15) Like that which is beautiful in its time, the gospel proclaimed is like “apples of gold in settings of silver.” (Prov. 25:11) “Then I said, ‘Here am I, send me.’” (Is. 6:8 cf. Jn. 20:21)

All To His Glory

I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor-it is the gift of God. (Eccl. 3:12-13)

The cultural mandate was given at the dawn of creation-“Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion…’(Gen. 1:26). It is important to remember that this came as a blessing, but also necessitated a revelatory word-even before the fall. However, as the preacher reiterates, because of the fall (Gen. 3:19), this mandate has now become “burdensome” (1:13). Nevertheless, there is still nothing better, and to enjoy the fruit of one’s labour is a gift from God.

But yet, the preacher returns again to the golden cord of God’s providence. Only the knowledge of God’s sovereignty can rescue us from this seeming vanity. “I know that whatever God does, it shall be forever.” (3:14) Why does God do this? One purpose is “that men should fear before Him.” All is indeed vanity without this ultimate purpose apprehended. Not only so, but as the Maker and Sustainer of all that is, and as the Giver of this mandate, He will “require an account of what is past.” (3:15)

As the Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” (Q and A #1) Yes, as the preacher said, not only does God’s sovereign decretive will stand forever, but so does His prescriptive-it is God’s will and purpose that in apprehending the former men would fulfill the latter-“That men should fear before Him.” “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (I Cor. 10:31)

Rejoicing In One’s Own Work

So I perceived that nothing is better than that a man should rejoice in his own works, for that is his heritage. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him. (Eccl. 3:22) Again, I saw that for all toil and every skillful work a man is envied by his neighbor. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind. (4:4)

There are interesting verses in Galatians, which capture some of the thought of the preacher here. “For if anyone thinks himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.” (6:3-4) Or as the NIV renders verse 4: “Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else.”

Tradition would have it, that all pride is sin, in fact a “deadly” sin. Scripture would seem to suggest otherwise. An anecdote to envy-which is a sin and as with all sin is deadly (Rom. 6:23)-is proper pride in one’s own works. Of course, all that we do as believers is as a result of God working in us (Phil. 2:13), but even here Paul wrote, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (2:12) Beware of comparing your own work in sanctification with that of another-it is “your own salvation.”

It is “vanity and grasping for the wind,” to compare yourself to others. Rather, rejoice in your own works. After all, you are uniquely His creation, and He is at work in you for His own good pleasure. Not to rejoice in one’s own work is to take away from the glory do to God and to open the door to envy of God’s work in another. The only standard is God’s word. There is a pride which shows when we think we are something when we are nothing. But when we test ourselves we glorify Him when we rejoice in the works which He has uniquely gifted and called each of us to do.

Companionship

There is one alone without companion. (Eccl. 4:8)

Two are better than one. (4:9)

A threefold cord is not quickly broken. (4:12)

Companionship is a good thing. Even before the fall, God said, “It is not good that man should be alone.” (Gen. 2:18) A companion increases one’s reward in labour (Eccl. 4:9), is there should one fall (4:10), can keep each other warm (4:11), and can fight battles together (4:12).

So why does the preacher say, “a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (4:12) Well, a single strand of cord is much weaker than a threefold, and so is a two strand cord. Try buying a two strand cord. There is a reason why a rope is at least three strands. Some, like Matthew Henry, see Christ as the third cord, and there is no doubt that there is something unique about Christian fellowship. “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” (Mt. 18:20) The one thing the preacher is saying is, three are even better than two, and two is better than one.

Justice

I said in my heart, “God shall judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.” (Eccl. 3:17)

Although it might appear that all humanity returns to the dust, just like the animals, the preacher makes it clear, that judgment from God will come. He did not subscribe to the pagan philosophy of “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die,” and that’s the end of the matter. “Who knows the spirit of the sons of men, which goes upward, and the spirit of the animal, which goes down to the earth.” (3:21) Though it is often the case that justice is perverted (3:16), there will ultimately come a time when everyone will be judged by God almighty.

Human beings are more than flesh and blood. We are also spirit. This is a truth that runs throughout the whole of scripture. Man is both soul or spirit and body. The biblical witness is so crystal clear on this that it is hard to understand how anyone could be mistaken about it. It also sets us apart from all the other creatures that God has made. “Who knows the spirits of the sons of men?” God does, and one day judgment will come. “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.” (Heb. 9:27)

Generally Speaking-Something Better

Better a handful with quietness than both hands full, together with toil and grasping for the wind. (Eccl. 4:6)

Better a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who will be admonished no more. (4:13)

Generally speaking there is a basic principle that runs through the preacher’s discourse, and that is, generally speaking certain things hold true. Generally speaking, it is better to have much than to have little, whether of riches, or family, or health. However, “Better a handful with quietness than both hands full, together with toil and grasping for the wind.” (4:6) The more important principle is to be content and satisfied in one’s own labours and lot, accept such as coming from God, rejoice in Him, and be thankful.

Generally speaking, those who are older should be wiser, and youth would do well to be silent and learn from their elders. However, “Better a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who will be admonished no more.” (4:13) It sometimes happens that those who are older think that they know it all and have no more need of instruction or correction. This constitutes them “foolish”. The more important principle again is contentment with what one has, and one’s lot in life, and to always seek out wisdom, and be thankful.

Listen

Walk prudently when you go to the house of God; and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they do evil. (Eccl. 5:1)

Here the preacher lays out his most fundamental principle or axiom-for man to truly know anything as he ought he needs to get a word from God. Fools “do not know” therefore their many words are foolishness-they speak only from their own dreams and ignorance. This also is vanity. “But fear God.” (5:7)

“For God is in heaven, and you on earth.” (5:2) There is a fundamental Creator-creature distinction between God and man. To believe otherwise is to believe the lie. To do anything other than accept scripture as the fundamental axiom is to be a fool. The irony is that “a fool’s voice is known by his many words.” The fool thinks he has so much to say, but by rejecting the axiom of scripture, anything he does say is foolishness and vanity. “But fear God.”

If the fool would shut up and listen he might learn that his thoughts and actions, indeed his very heart, is evil. One who is rash with words, makes vows they can’t keep. Like Ananias and Sapphira, it would be better not to vow than to vow and not keep the vow, or to lie about it. (cf. Acts 5:1-11) The most fundamental axiom for one to think correctly and speak rightly is to accept God’s word as the number one axiom. Anything other than this is foolishness and vanity.

God-Given Joy

For God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man who is good in His sight. (Eccl. 2:26)

In his recently republished updated and expanded commentary on Ecclesiastes, ‘Coping With Change,’ Walter C. Kaiser brings out an often overlooked theme of the book-that of joy. He writes, “What unifies this book is the assertion that there is a God-given joy that can be found in life…joy in such basic functions of life such as eating, drinking and happiness in one’s work.” (p.57)

Possessions or these “basic functions” cannot provide the joy in and of themselves-this is the preacher’s main point in his apologetic. Joy can only be had when everything is received as a gift from God. Yet even this power to enjoy must come from Him (5:19). “All the things that we call the “goods” of life-health, riches, possessions, position, sensual pleasures, honors, and prestige-slip through one’s hands unless they are received as a gift from God. Until God gives persons the ability to enjoy them and obtain satisfaction from them, they simply cannot in and of themselves compensate for the joy that comes from fearing God and knowing Him. (Kaiser, p.87) One must begin with the God who is, and is the giver of all good things.

Busy With Joy

As for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and given him power to eat of it, to receive his heritage and rejoice in his labor-this is the gift of God. (Eccl. 5:19)

It is good to be kept busy with the joy of one’s heart. For those whom God favours He grants joy, and enjoyment in one’s labour. It is better to be occupied with joy than to dwell on the years of toil. But there is no joy if these things are not seen as gifts from God. The second part of the Westminster Shorter is often missed-to enjoy Him forever. One could safely argue that it is not possible to glorify God without also enjoying Him. Not to enjoy Him is to fail to glorify Him.

Speaking from experience, it is not as hard to enjoy the fruit of one’s labour as it is to enjoy the labour itself. We still toil by the sweat of our brow. It seems to me this is part and parcel of being sanctified-finding satisfaction in one’s work. Sometimes it seems like slavery-and as Paul pointed out, it is no sin to seek one’s liberty, if one can do so lawfully. But even the slave can find enjoyment in work done as received as a gift from God, because God keeps the heart busy with joy.

Consider The Work Of God

Consider the work of God; for who can make straight what He has made crooked? In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: surely God has appointed the one as well as the other, so that man can find out nothing that will come after him. (Eccl. 7:13-14)

The preacher returns to his overriding theme of God’s sovereignty. Everything that occurs in life comes by divine appointment. There is a time for everything, including death. “In the day of prosperity be joyful, but…” Only the soul satisfied with goodness will find rest at death (6:3), and when that day comes it is better to have a good name than a costly funeral (7:1). No amount of costly ointment can cover the stench of a bad name.

Jesus said, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.” (Mt. 19:17) Of course, this was just another way of Jesus also asking whether one believes He is the One. “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) Take His name and trust in His goodness, and remember that when adversity comes, “God has appointed the one as well as the other.”

Ecclesiastes 9 Garments Of White And Wisdom Received.

As noted in the intro to these thoughts on Ecclesiastes, the preacher wrote as an apologist, in modern parlance, as a presuppositional apologist. He argues on the basis of the presuppositions of a secular-humanistic worldview to show its logical conclusions and futility thereof, and the wisdom of the biblical worldview by way of contrast.

The wisdom of the biblical worldview starts with revelation-the secularists think they can start on some kind of neutral ground, and from their own imagination arrive at the truth. “No man knows what is to be; who can tell him what will be after him?” (10:14 cf, 3:22, 6:12, 7:23-24, 8:7,17, 9:12, 11:5) Man does not know the most basic and essential things of life, like love and hate, just by what they see (v. 1).

Another one of these biblical truths is justification by faith. “For God had already accepted your works.” (Eccl. 9:7) This is so because “the righteous and the wise and their works are in the hand of God. (v. 1) The preacher affirmed the doctrine of original sin (7:29), and total depravity (7:20). He also affirms that the good and clean are those who offer sacrifice (9:2).

There is no second chance after death (9:4-6). Better to heed the revelation of God’s word in the here and now, acknowledge one’s sin, and offer sacrifice, and be justified by faith. Acceptance by God comes when He clothes a person in white (9:7-8). God does not accept a person after their works are done but before.

The heart is the core of a person-the preacher took these thoughts to heart-to his core (v. 1). It is a reality that those with wicked hearts, and those made righteous by sacrifice, often suffer the same things in life. It is a mistake to think that one can determine who is clean and who is unclean just from the outward circumstances. But make no mistake-there is clean and unclean, and the latter are made so by acknowledgement of sin and sacrifice.

“The living know that they will die.” (v. 5) But not everyone knows that there is something that can be done about it. The clean know they have hope-because God has given it by revelation. For the unclean there is “no more reward.” For the unclean, this life is all there is (cf. v. 10). What happens after they die escapes them (Job. 14:21).

There can be no doubt that sin has brought in a measure of vanity and frustration in the work and life we live (v. 9, cf. Gen. 3:17-19) “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23) But from the time of that sad event, God in His mercy has still determined that a man “live joyfully with the wife whom you love.” (v. 9) Hate continues, but so does love, and joy.

The unclean are as devoid of knowledge as is the grave. The clean know how to live because God has revealed His will-this is the first axiom of all thought and existence. As such, it is the conclusion of the whole matter. “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all.” (12:13) So while we live we do whatever our hand finds to do, in keeping with His commands, and we do so with all our might (v. 10).

When we die that is it-no second chance (vv. 4-6). After this comes the judgment (v. 14) Are you among the clean, who on the basis of the revelation of God’s law-word have offered sacrifice, for whom God has already accepted your works? There is no place in the preacher’s message for the idea that we will be justified for future works, even in this life. We are justified by faith in the sacrifice He has provided.

The secularist thinks that everything is by blind chance (v. 11). But the preacher shows how foolish is this thinking (v. 12). Instead of turning to the God who made all things and governs all things, and has revealed His will, secular man thinks that what he sees is all that there is-victims of fate. But is it fate that determines the course of a city? No. A city is saved providentially by a man who governs it by wisdom which comes from the fear of God (vv. 13-15, cf. Job 28:28; Ps. 11:10; Pr. 1:7, 26; 9:10; 15:33; Eccl. 12:13).

The secularist does not remember (v. 15). “Wisdom strengthens the wise more than ten rulers of the city.” (7:19) “The excellence of knowledge is that wisdom gives life to those who have it.” (7:12, cf. Pr. 3:18) The fool thinks that shouting louder somehow makes their nonsense more truthful (v.17). This is the slavery of self-deception. The louder the fool the less he hears the quiet words of the man of wisdom (vv. 17-18).

Justified By Faith

For God had already accepted your works. (Eccl. 9:7)

So the preacher affirms the doctrine of original sin (7:29), and total depravity (7:20). He also affirms that the good and clean are those who offer sacrifice (9:2). There is no second chance after death (9:4). He also continually makes the point that the answers to life and death lie outside himself. “No man knows what is to be; who can tell him what will be after him?” (10:14 cf, 3:22, 6:12, 7:23-24, 8:7,17, 9:12, 11:5) It is the fool who multiplies words about things he knows nothing of.

The preacher’s answer remains-only “God who makes everything,” (11:5) knows. Acceptance by God comes when He clothes a person in white (9:7-8). God does not accept one’s works after they are done-He accepts the person before. And so, the preacher also affirms the doctrine of justification by faith. There is more than one way to express these biblical truths. From the garden (Gen. 3:21), to the end (Rev. 3:18), only those who are clothed by God are free to serve. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.” (9:10)

A Godly Woman-A Gift

And I find more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, whose hands are fetters. He who pleases God shall escape her, but the sinner shall be trapped by her. “Here is what I have found,” says the Preacher, “adding one thing to the other to find out the reason, which my soul still seeks but I cannot find: one man among a thousand I have found, but a woman among all these I have not found.” (Eccl. 7:26-28)

One suspects that Solomon is accepted as wise except when he touches on certain subjects. However, I prefer to believe that God answered his request and gave him wisdom about many things. This is a neat expression-“adding one thing to another to find out the reason,” or “the reason of things” (7:25), for his reflections upon life. Many lament as to where all the men have gone-but Solomon’s insight is true to this day-“but a woman among all these I have not found.”

Sadly, one can find many girls, but few if any woman-at least true godly women of faith. With all his many wives and concubines it seems that Solomon knew something about what most women seem to seek. The Queen of Sheba sought out his wisdom though. So, where are the queens?

“Schemes” (7:29) seems to be the order of the day for most men and…I have been young and now am older, to use a Solomonic expression, and rare is the woman who does not play games. But lest we forget-it is this same Solomon who when he personified wisdom-called it a she. “Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies. The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain” (Proverbs 31:10-11) Do you have a woman that you trust with all your heart? Cherish her. According to Solomon she can’t be found-she must be a gift from God then.

Wisdom Is Better-It Brings Success.

Words of the wise, spoken quietly, should be heard rather than the shout of the ruler of fools. (Eccl. 9:17)

If the axe is dull, and one does not sharpen the edge, then he must use more strength; but wisdom brings success. (10:10)

Too often volume is mistaken for importance. How often have you seen someone try to make their point by thinking that the louder they shout the more true it is. The preacher notes the poor wise man who saved a little city-yet he was forgotten. Strength, riches, and weapons of war cannot take the place of wise words spoken quietly among the din of the fool (9:13-18).

“Even when the fool walks along the way, he lacks wisdom.” (10:3) Even the simple acts in life require wisdom. Try to chop wood with a dull axe (10:10). But some people think that more force is always the answer, more weapons of war, more riches, and shouting ever louder. Read through the Psalms and note how many times it speaks of how those who dig a pit or lay a snare for another are caught in the very traps they lay (10:8). This is as foolish as trying to chop wood with a dull axe. “But wisdom brings success.” Do not despise the words of the wise spoken quietly among the din of the foolish. If it can save a city it can save you.

An Eternal Home

For man goes to his eternal home. (Eccl. 12:5)

Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it. (12:7)

Man, unlike the other creatures (3:21), has an eternal home. All men know this, for God “has put eternity in their hearts.” (3:11) It will be a personal encounter with God, the “God who makes everything.” (11:5) “And God requires an account of what is past.” (3:15) “God shall judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.” (3:17) This is more than simply life returning to God who gave it. Man is both body and spirit, and a personal encounter and assessment awaits the righteous and wicked alike.

But who are the righteous except those whom God has clothed in white (9:7-8). These are those who are made righteous by sacrifice (9:2), whose works are already accepted (9:7). As Paul would put it later-“for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls.” (Rom. 9:11) Therefore, draw near to God (5:1), and offer the sacrifice He has appointed to make one good and clean (9:2), and you will find rest for your soul (6:3).

One Shepherd-One Word

The preacher sought to find acceptable words; and what was written was upright-words of truth. The words of the wise are like goads, and the words of scholars are like well driven nails, given by one Shepherd. (Eccl. 12:10-11)

Amongst the many authors of the 66 canonical books, including the preacher, there is one Shepherd whose words “are like well driven nails.” “No man knows what is to be; who can tell him what will be after him?” (10:14 cf, 3:22, 6:12, 7:23-24, 8:7,17, 9:12, 11:5) The answer is-the Shepherd. Come to His house and listen to His words (Eccl. 5:1), “whose house we are.” (Heb. 3:6)

Solomon indeed wrote other proverbs (12:11). But like all scripture, they “are like well-driven nails, given by one Shepherd.” The Shepherds words are acceptable and upright words of truth. This is the first and most important axiom for any who would seek “the reason of things.” (7:25) “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (12:13-14)