From the third lecture in the audio seminar Abounding Emptiness, Abundant Living
But why does he permit all of this toil and trouble? Well, verse 14, Koheleth says, "I know that everything that God does will endure forever. Nothing can be added to it. Nothing can be taken from it. God does it so that men will fear before Him." Or the NIV reads, “revere Him.” It literally says, “fear before him.” This is not terror of God; it’s a worshipful commitment to stand before God in awe of his holiness. In recognition of Him as creator. All that God permits is with one purpose finally and that purpose is you come to a recognition of before whom you stand. Before whom you shall be judged, the one who orchestrates, who oversees all of life, the seasons, the times, the events. To stand in relationship with Him is total commitment of your being in trust and obedience. That is what God is looking for and that is why he permits so much of this toil and turmoil and trouble. Because if we fear Him, then He gives us the gifts and ability to enjoy this life.
Turn to Romans, Chapter 9. Hold your finger in Ecclesiastes. Koheleth here is hitting upon a very profound point. It is mentioned in Proverbs, “Lean not to your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge God.” Romans 9, verse 16, Paul says, “It does not therefore depend upon man’s desire or effort but upon God’s mercy.” In the ultimate sense, it’s God’s mercy that is going to save you from meaningless. Not your effort, not your strength, not your intellect, not your will, not natural capacities in the final sense; it’s to God who shows you mercy that you have any hope for abundant living in this life. We must not lean to our own understandings when it comes to ultimate realities. We must totally trust and obey the Lord. Therefore, we must stand before him in awe, we tremble at this Word.
Look at Psalm 96 with me, please, verses 9 and 10. The Psalmist declares, “Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness. Tremble before Him all the earth,” – there’s the word for fear in the Biblical sense, awe, commitment. “Tremble before him, all the earth. Say among the nations, Yahweh, the Lord reigns. The world is firmly established. He will not be moved. He will judge the people with equity.” The whole point is this. An attitude of Biblical fear is an attitude of total submission to God’s authority, total obedience to God’s word. The issue of fear is directly related to the issue of God reigning. “Tremble before Him because the Lord reigns.” You will never be in a fully productive relationship to God until you recognize that the crux of the matter is, who is in charge? Who is in the driver’s seat? And when you come into the recognition of who He is and you acknowledge that, then that is the beginning of wisdom. Fear, this kind of awareness, is the beginning of wisdom, the kind of wisdom that brings you into abundant living. The point is our highest good, our chief calling in life, is to serve God. That goes against the grain of our culture, of our rugged individualism, of “do your own thing” Americanism. But, Biblically, speaking, Kohelethis telling you that all of that is meaningless. You fool, as you are going to see in a moment. You are no better than a dog. Your destiny is the same as an animal. You end up six feet under the ground in Sheol. So you did it your way. It’s meaningless. Millions have done it their way and millions more will do it their way. What has been done will be done. There is nothing new under the sun. But it’s all vanity; it’s empty, it’s vacuous. What counts is to obey God. Recognize who He is and that your highest good is to serve him. To say as Isaiah said, “Hineni, here I am, Lord, send me.” That’s where real joy and meaning in life comes from, to serve. Otherwise, if we don’t have that awareness, what’s the point of life, really? What’s the point?
Well, let’s see what Koheleth has to say. Chapter 3:18, he begins now to play upon a theme that has become very powerful in modern philosophy. The theme of death. He says, “I thought, as for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals.” Man’s fate (actually the word here is not fate, because there was no concept in the Bible of fate such as we have in the Greek world) - the word here is really “event.” The event, the main event of man’s life is like that of animals. The same event awaits them both. As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same ruach, the same spirit or breath. Man has no advantage over the animal; everything is meaningless. All go to the same place, all come from dust and to dust all return. Don’t get all antsy on me. Wait, doesn’t he know about heaven? He is speaking here about life under the sun, life in the natural. And if you stop and think as he did, you will recognize that, in the final analysis, he is right. What is the difference between a dog, he runs around, he enjoys a few things, he copulates, he eats, he chases cars and he’s gone. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty here. We run around, we copulate, we eat, we chase after possessions and wealth and power and so forth, and then we’re gone. But, do you see the point... in the natural, where is the gain in all this? How is man any better. He’s not.
Now, what is being talked about here is Sheol. The is the word for the grave. It is not the word Gehenna for hell; it’s the word for the grave. You go to the earth, back to dust from which you came. There’s no profit in it in the natural, but notice now what he says, in verse 21, “who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” The NIV also, in a footnote, has rendered this, "who knows the spirit of man, which rises upward or the spirit of the animal, which goes down into the earth." And actually, that second rendering is far more accurate. Because in the Hebrew, if we had time to go into this in detail, I can show you, for example, this same terminology occurs nine times – this “who knows” – terminology. It occurs nine times in the Hebrew scripture and, in only three of those nine times, is it a question. It does not have to be a question. Also, by the nature of these active participles here, with a definite article before them, the suggestion here is not that this is a question, but it is a statement. And the statement simply is, “the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the animal goes downward.” But in the natural, under the sun, where is the gain, where is the profit, you’re both in the grave. Clearly, he has just said, for example, in verse 17, God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked. There will come judgment. How can there come judgment if we all just dissolve in the grave? But the point he is making is that, in the natural, there is no gain. There is no profit in chasing after these things. You’re no better than a dumb animal. And yet, that is how we invest most of our time in our lives, chasing after these things.
* This is an audio transcript, listen to the original message here.