Reading Ecclesiastes 2
It was a moment of excitement. The crowd gathered into the place where the event was about to begin. There was a lot of anticipation. All had come with hopes in their hearts to hear something that would inspire them, something that would lift them up out of their day to day lives. They longed to be taught something that would answer those deep dark questions that lingered inside them. They longed to know the true meaning of life.
Cartoons capture images of men struggling up a very tall mountain and coming before a wise man with a long white flowing beard. The men have traveled a long way to reach this wise man and to ask him a very important question. A question that men seek long and far to find the answer to. They have come to ask what the meaning of life is.
It was the same today. The crowd was gathered from long and far to hear from Solomon who was very well known for his wisdom. Solomon had been working hard preparing and writing down what he would preach the people today. He chose the words very carefully.
Solomon came into the room and all the people were quiet. All eyes were fixed on the preacher as he opened the scroll. Everyone leaned forward to hear the words of wisdom that would now be spoken. The room was completely silent. Solomon looked up and around at the people and then he began to speak. Finally they would have the answers they longed for. Finally they would know the meaning of life.
Solomon read from the scroll words which he had longed to share with the people. He spoke as he read: “Meaningless. Everything, everything is meaningless. Everything is utterly futile, empty, worthless, and pointless”
The people were in shock. This was not what they had come to hear. They wondered if they were in the right place. How could the wisest man in the world, the man who had everything that could be desired, the man who had wisdom and riches, homes, gardens, beautiful wives, how could this man be telling them that their lives, their whole lives were meaningless? And yet, over and over again Solomon spoke and uttered the same words. Everything is meaningless.
The words Solomon wrote and spoke are so dismal that many of the hearers would reject them. Even today there are church groups that reject the words as not being part of the inspired word of God. Some doubt that Solomon even wrote them even though the book itself clearly identifies the speaker as “the Preacher, the son of David, the king in Jerusalem”. To the world, the words of Solomon are not wisdom. They are far from it. The things said in the book do not agree with what many Churches teach. It is not what men want to hear. And yet, for those who really look closely into the words. For those who really think about what Solomon was writing. The words written in the book are very true.
In much wisdom is much grief, and he that increases in knowledge, increases in sorrow.
Solomon taught that those dead are better off than those who are alive. In fact, better are the ones who have never been born, because their eyes have been spared from seeing all the evil that is done under the sun. Unless we have lived very sheltered lives, all of us have seen just how evil this world can be. Much of it is just tragic and pointless. Much of it just tears our heart apart inside and we can’t even begin to imagine the horror that others go through.
What comfort can we give to the mother of one of the little girls who were shot in the head by some mad man who had broken into the place they went to school? What could we do that would make the pain go away? The pain of never seeing your little child again. The pain of never hearing her speak again. What would make the pain go away of missing that child each and every day for the rest of your life? What meaning can you give to the whole tragic event? It all just seems meaningless.
What comfort can we give to the father of the children who were drowned by their very own mother? Five small children, a 7 year old, a 5 year old, a 3 year old a 2 year old and a 6 month old baby. What could we say to the father to take away that empty feeling in his heart, and the longing he is left with, knowing that he never will again ever hear his kids laugh and call him daddy? It all just seems meaningless.
What could we say to the mother of the girl who was kidnapped and strangled by the hands of some cruel stranger? Does her life have more meaning knowing that her daughter suffered a horrible death? What meaning can be given to living the remainder of her days visiting the grave of her dead daughter and never being able to hold her hand again?
And what of the countless drunk driving deaths, shootings, kidnappings, torturing and rapes? What of the countless accidents, still births, deformities, suicides, arsons? What of the people cutting off the heads of other people? What of people pouring fuel on people and then setting them on fire while they are still breathing? What of those who blow up so many other people with bombs and airplanes? It’s all around us and it’s all just so senseless.
Yes, these horrible, horrible events are tragic, senseless and meaningless. No one would debate that. But the wisdom that Solomon spoke did not just focus of the horrible and tragic, but he also spoke of day to day living as being senseless and meaningless.
It doesn’t matter what we build, it doesn’t matter what we own, it doesn’t matter what we do. There is not one of us that can ever take possession of any of it. Oh we think we can grasp onto it, we think we own it. But it is like trying to take possession of the wind. The wind is all about us, we can feel its force against our face, we can feel its strength against our back, but there isn’t a person alive in the world that can catch the wind and keep it. If you try to grab your hand around it to catch it you will only find your hand empty when you open it back up again. The same is true for anything we try to grab or take possession of in this world. We may feel we own it for a while, but sooner or later we will become bored with it, we will want a new one or the natural forces at work around us will take it away from us. Rust will break it down, moth with eat it up, corruption with destroy it, thieves will steel it, fire will cause it to perish, and death will completely take it away. Even our memories, the one thing we think that no one can ever take from us. Even our memories do and will fade away.
There are moments in life which are really beautiful and we should enjoy those moments. It can be the thrill of climbing a mountain and reaching the top and then looking down on the beauty of creation. It can be the birth of a baby child into the world and hearing them cry for the first time. It can be the times we watch our children grow, play and learn. It can be the wedding of a man and woman who exchange vows of love. It can be building or buying your first home and decorating it and sharing it with others. To everything there is season and a time to every purpose under the heaven. But just as there is a time for beauty and laugher, there is also a time for pain and sorrow. The thrill of being at a top of the mountain changes during the harsh winter months when the temperatures drop well below zero. The joy of the birth of a child is replaced by the sorrow that comes from the burying of a loved one. The happy pictures of a man and women joining together are often replaced with the sad pictures of marriages breaking apart. The thrill we have watching the young grow older is replaced by the agony we have of seeing the elderly struggle to do the simple things they learned to do as a child. Struggle to walk, struggle to breath. The joy of building a house and living in it is replaced by the frustration of watching it fall apart or evidentially having someone else live in it.
Solomon was fascinated by the cycles of life. He saw the sun rising up in the morning, and then going down again in the evening. He saw the wind coming and then going and coming again. He saw the waters flow to the sea and yet the rivers never being empty. He saw generations being born and generations dying. There is so much activity going on all around us, sometimes it is hard for us to notice that we are all a part of a cycle. We see our children crawling on the floor, and yet years ago it was us crawling on the floor and before that it was our parents. And the cycle goes on. In the same way just as we have seen others fall asleep, we to will also end up in the dust of the earth, just as our parents have, and likewise so will our children.
There is a time to live and there is a time to die.
Some writers think Solomon wisdom was limited to worldly wisdom. But the wisdom given to Solomon came from God and Solomon could see things much deeper than men give him credit for. He not only saw the vanity of life, he also knew the state of the dead. No other writer in scripture, no other book of scripture explains death as completely and as detailed as Solomon does. He wrote, what ever you find in life to do, do it with all your might, put everything you have into it – because in death you will have nothing. In death there is no work, in death there is no thoughts, there is no knowledge, there is no wisdom, even your memory is gone, you don’t have love, you don’t have hate, you don’t envy, you don’t have anything. You are no longer and you no longer have any portion in anything that is happening.
Some years after Solomon spoke these words, Jesus was sitting in front of another assembly in the temple. He was soon interrupted. A group of Pharisees and religious lawyers came in, dragging with them a terror-stricken woman. With hard, eager voices they accused the woman of committing adultery and pushed her in front of Jesus and asked him if they should stone her.
“There is no question about it” they said, “there are witnesses, and she is guilty. Now, Moses in the law strictly commands us that such a person should be stoned to death, but what do you say about it?"
To them they had backed Jesus into a corner and there would be no way out.
Jesus looked upon the trembling victim in her shame, he looked at the hard-faced accusers surrounding her and then at the crowd watching for his response. Then giving no sign that he had even heard the question, he stooped down and, fixing his eyes upon the ground, and began to write in the dust with his finger.
The temple's floor was dusty from many feet moving about in the large court. As tension filled the air, he kept writing for a few moments. The men kept demanding an answer. Finally Jesus stood up and looked at them and said, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." After saying this, he bent down again and continued to write in the dust with his finger.
The accusers stood there, awestruck at what Jesus had said. For as much as they hated Jesus and wanted to trap him, they were left bothered by their own conscience. Some commentators think that Jesus wrote something in the dust that caused the men to stop their madness. But since it is not specified what he wrote, we can only conclude that there really wasn’t anything magic in what Jesus was writing on the ground. However, the whole act of Jesus rubbing his finger through the dust of the earth while these men stood there tempting him was very symbolic of what was really happening at that moment. Take away all the things of the world, take away the religious positions, take away the homes and cars, take away the stocks and bonds, take away the education and diplomas, take away everything owned by man and then see what we really are. We are all just dust. From the dust of the ground we were born and unto the dust of the earth we will return. The only thing of meaning is that we fear God and keep His commandments, this is the only duty and all else is just dust blowing in the wind.
Perhaps the men realized this as they stood there watching Jesus stir his finger in the dust. Perhaps they realized that they were the dust and just as Jesus had power over the dust with his finger, God has power over the lives of the men. The only thing that matters, that really matters is where they stood with the God who sees the secrets of men. It doesn’t matter how many things we accumulate, it doesn’t matter how much money we have, it doesn’t matter how many friends, how much power. Because in the end, we all end up in the same place, we lose everything. We lose our riches, we lose our homes, we lose our friends, and we lose our family. In the end, the field is leveled. The judgment is come and only those who have feared God and kept his commandments will stand.
After realizing this, the men turned and left. Who were they to destroy the life of another? Who were they to pick up a stone and cast it?
The power of the words that Solomon wrote is that they tear us down so that we become more aware of who we really are. They help us to realize that the season of pleasure that we all enjoy, that we all are taken in by, that we all are swallowed up by. The season of pleasure will end. The end may come quickly, or it may come painfully or it may be already here. A time when the sun, the light, the moon, and the stars are dark. A time when the rain is followed by clouds. A day when men tremble in fear and there is no strength left. A time when the doors on the streets are shut and there is terror on the road. A time when the mourners come.
In the meantime, we see many who don’t care about God. Many who just live their lives pursuing pleasures. We see many who indulge in sins and seem to be doing very well. Solomon spoke of this when he wrote “Because sentence against an evil deed is not executed immediately, the human heart is fully set to do evil”. The illusion of life is that there is no God. Men can’t see Him, so they don’t believe. Injustice is all around and the greed of men flourishes and there is none to stop the madness. But that illusion is just that. It’s an illusion. For as much as men choose to live their lives in ignorance, for as much as men choose to thumb their nose at God, for as much as men put their trust in their own devices, there isn’t a man who has ever proven the words of scripture wrong. Instead the word of scripture always stands in the end, and the arrogant just disappears.
Knowing the distractions of life, knowing the weakness of flesh, knowing how easy it is for us to forget, Jesus asked his disciples to remember him. Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail have gathered to remember the one whose blood was shed for us.
This is what it is all about. This is the only thing in this life that if we strive for, if we catch it, we will succeed. Nothing else will last. So if you want to truly have life, a life filled with satisfaction, a life free from the fear of evil and death, a life that never ends, if you truly want to be more than dust blowing in the wind, more than just sand upon the sea shore, then it should be clear after reading the words Solomon wrote for us, that there is only one way, there is only one path, there is only one hope and that is by remember the Creator and being fully baptized into the one who said:
For God so loved the world, He so much desires to adorn it and dress it and keep it, to make something lasting and beautiful out of it, that he gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes on him will not perish but have eternal life.
This is the power behind the wisdom that Solomon taught that day. Its not that we should be depressed because of the frailty and meaningless of this life, but instead we should count every day as precious and not waste it, but use it to serve fully the Creator who made us. For the meaning of life, the whole duty of life, the whole purpose of our existence is that we fear God and keep His commandments. This is the whole duty of man.