In our Ecclesiastes reading today a verse occurs which has caused much discussion, “Again I saw that under the sun” writes Solomon, “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favour to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all” (9:11).
The clue as to how it should be understood is at the start of the very next verse, “For man does not know his time”. This reminds us of the parable of Jesus about the wealthy man who built bigger barns and stored abundant crops and goods and said to himself, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years, relax, eat, drink and be merry. But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you … So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God’” (Luke 12:19-21).
But those who are rich toward God, and serve Jesus as their Lord, do not necessarily think in terms of the accidents of time and chance. Paul said to the elders at Ephesus, “I do not account my life of any value nor precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:24). The time came when he wrote, “the time of my departure has come” (2 Timothy 4:7). His time had been in God’s hands.
Similarly in the Gospels it is recorded that John the Baptist said, “this joy of mine is now complete … I must decrease” (John 3:29,30). Those who are “working together with him” wrote Paul (2 Corinthians 6:1) know that their “time” is in his hands – not that of total chance.
What Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes should be understood as his perception of the Godlessness that sadly possesses the heart of most people: what he writes in verses 3 and 5 of today’s chapter is so true of today, “the hearts of the children of men are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead … the dead know nothing, they have no more reward”. If we are “rich toward God” then our time is in his hands, so let us make sure we have committed our lives to him.
Today we read the familiar and oft quoted chapter 2 of Acts and pondered how to correctly understand and apply the quotation Peter made from the prophet Joel. The promise of Jesus to his disciples that they would receive a ‘Counsellor’, the Holy Spirit that would “be in you” (John 14:16,17) and would, among other things, “bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (verse 26) was given to the twelve that day of Pentecost when “they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1).
The first effect of this was to enable them to speak in other languages (verse 11) and gain great attention and opportunity to witness. Peter stood up “with the eleven” (verse 14) and protested to those who mocked (verse 13) that “these men (obviously meaning the eleven) are not drunk” (verse 15) but this event was the fulfilment of “what was uttered by the prophet Joel: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh …” (through to verse 21). It is evident that the disciples had a special dispensation of that Spirit, and had already received one portion of it (see John 20:22,23).
It seems obvious that only the opening part of the quotation was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. These were “the last days” of the nation of Israel because they, as a nation, had rejected their Messiah. The rest of the prophecy Joel received, we conclude, applies to the last days of the Gentiles and that surely is our days! We read, “I will show wonders in the heavens above, and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day” (verse 19,20).
An awesome time that we can parallel with God’s many messages through the Old Testament prophets, for e.g., Isaiah 2:12-21, Zephaniah 1:14-17, Malachi 4:1, etc. If they are not literal what do they symbolize? Surely they can only mean God intends a fearful time to come on human beings “in the last days” on a world that has become totally godless! But the verse that those seeking to be godly must note is the final verse (21) in Peter’s quotation. “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
But how can you call on the Creator if you have never established a relationship with him? Those who did so on the day of Pentecost, “devoted themselves to the Apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers” (verse 42). May we follow their example
The Bible Book of Proverbs is not merely a collection of witty remarks. It is a treasure-chest of spiritual wisdom. The words were spoken by Solomon, ancient King of Israel, but in common with the rest of Holy Scripture, they are from God Himself. After all, Solomon himself requested God’s wisdom in order to rule the people of Israel and he was given “a wise and understanding heart” (1 Kings 3:12). Many of the words he spoke were a goad to careful thought (Ecclesiastes 12:9-12).
2 To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding;
3 To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity;
4 To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.
The verbs in this opening section reward careful attention: know, perceive, receive, give. As readers, we are to come to know God’s wisdom and instruction (that is, warning). We are tounderstand or discern the words of understanding: they are God’s words, and as such they are of His understanding. These Proverbs help us to come to grips with what His wisdom means in daily life. But that requires us to receive them with the right attitude – a humility of mind. We are to receive the warning of wisdom, that is, being prudent or circumspect. And these words give good sense and discretion to the silly and foolish, and a plan to guide the steps of the young along the tortuous paths of life.
These are some of the ideas underlying the first few verses of the Book of Proverbs. They underline the nature of Divine wisdom – it is a practical help for daily life, to guide us towards God and His ways. But that is not all: Proverbs shows the humble attitude required in order to gain Divine wisdom. The truly wise will not consider they ‘know it all’ already. Rather, they will be willing to learn from God: “A wise man will hear, and will increase learning” (Proverbs 1:5). And attitude, in coming to God, is very important. For “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7).
Tragically, while Solomon was world-renowned for his great wisdom in judging his people, it seems he failed to apply it to his own life. Let us not make the same mistake. Rather, we must follow Solomon’s son, the Lord Jesus Christ. He applied that wisdom in every aspect of his life, to the point where he embodied it in his every action. That is why he described as “Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24).
Ecclesiastes again attracted our meditation. The reminisces of the wisest of kings, Solomon, on the nature of his life’s achievements are thought provoking. He was blessed with a special dispensation of wisdom, but what is wisdom? One evidence of it is the Proverbs Solomon wrote. As we read Ecclesiastes we perceive the exercise of his wisdom in a material way followed by his reflections on this from a human perspective.
His second chapter details how Solomon uses his wisdom to accomplish everything physically possible, “… my heart still guiding me with wisdom … I made great works, I built houses and planted vineyards … made myself gardens and parks and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water … had slaves … also great possessions of herds … also gathered for myself silver and gold … I got singers … many concubines … so I became great and surpassed all who were before me … whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure … this was my reward for all my toil” (verses 3-11). Note that comment! “This was my reward” – but we noted even more his next comment, “then I considered all that I had done and the toil I had expended”. And what is the outcome of this wisest man’s consideration?
“Behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind”. Other versions have, “I saw everything was emptiness and chasing the wind” (NEB) “meaningless” (NIV) You cannot grasp the wind, Solomon is seeing that life has no lasting substance, yet we all strive after things we can possess, but at the end of the day there is nothing ‘eternal’ in what we have achieved!
Then Solomon makes an astonishing declaration (verse 17) “so I hated life” – this was because he came to see it as ‘meaningless’ from an eternal perspective. Solomon lacked the clear vision his father David possessed. Look at Psalm 17 where David comments on the “men of the world whose portion is in this life” (verse 14), but he ends the Psalm by stating, “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness” (verse 15). David rejoiced in that vision, he also knew it would be only because of God’s “mercy” and because “you (God) teach me wisdom in the secret heart” (Psalm 51:1,6). A diligent and meditative reading of the scriptures teach our hearts this wisdom, it is “the wisdom from above” (James 3:17,18) – and reveals the time of eternal satisfaction to come for those who embrace that wisdom.