From the third and final lecture in the audio seminar Abounding Emptiness, Abundant Living
The fourth and final section begins with Ecc. 8:16 and then continues to the end of the book. In this portion, Koheleth again begins to give several applications of his conclusions. He supplements all of his previous philosophizing with a series of very practical admonitions. Look at verse 16 of chapter 8: “When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe man’s labor on earth, his eyes not seeing sleep day or night. Then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it." Koheleth, in all of his wisdom, says, look, despite the fact that we can resolve a lot of the apparent discrepancies in life between God’s sovereignty and man’s destiny, in the final analysis, there are some things that simply are mysterious. There are some things that we just do not understand and, in fact, will never understand, under the sun, in this natural life. There are some things beyond knowing. God’s wisdom is inscrutable in some respects. Much is revealed by his mercy and grace. But some things we simply will never quite understand.
But so what, what does that mean? What is the practical application of that? What does it really mean to us in practice, that we cannot understand everything? Does that mean that we should cease trying? Does that mean sit back and simply worry and contemplate and analyze? Do we cease toiling? Do we cease working? What do we do? Well, let’s see what else he has to say. What are some of these dark things? In chapter 9 he deals with the dark side of life, the suffering and sin that goes on under the sun.
Notice verse 1: “I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God’s hands. But no man knows what whether love or hate awaits. All share a common destiny, the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not." Continuing in verse 3, “This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun. The same destiny overtakes all.” What is that destiny? Sheol. The grave. Death, as a final specter, awaits and oversees all of human activity. And so, in verse 4, at least anyone who is among the living has hope, “Even a live dog is better off than a dead lion.” That may seem a strange combination to you, but it is interesting in the Middle East, because a dog is not thought of so highly as in our culture. A dog is just a dog. But a lion, that’s a regal animal. The Messiah is called the Lion of the tribe of Judah. What he is saying is, hey, even a dead dog is better than a live lion! Because in life there is hope and the point is simply this, live for the moment. You don’t know what awaits you. You don’t know what this mysterious destiny is before you. But now is the day of salvation. Now is the time for righteous action. Now is the time for enjoyment, for satisfaction, for working diligently on behalf of God. Life, in other words, is precious; it is so precious in the Biblical scheme of things. Hope is valuation.
Jesus says a similar thing in John, chapter 9. He says, “Work while it is still day. For the night comes when no man can work." Now is the time to work, despite our failure to understand everything, despite the perplexities. Now is the time to be about it. And what are we about?
Verse 7, please, of chapter 9, “Come on, he says, eat your bread with gladness. Drink your wine with a joyful heart. For it is now that God favors what you do. Always be clothed in white and always anoint your head with oil.” This is such beautiful imagery. Bread and wine here are common biblical symbols for God’s provision, that which is given to comfort and to cheer God’s people. Go ahead, rejoice, come on, he says. God has provided for your comfort and for your cheer. He has given you provisions. Put on your white garments and your fine ointments. You see, the common man did not go around with white pressed shirts everyday. The poor man could not afford to have these washed and kept up nicely by servants. But everybody had this special garment that would be kept very clean for those special occasions, and which would be pulled out for festive occasions in which the white garment would be put on and the rare ointments, expensive and valuable, would be applied for the festivities. Koheleth is saying, despite the darkness, despite the gloom, despite the inequities, despite the mysteries - put on your white garments. Put on your fine ointments. Come on! Don’t over-spiritualize everything. Enjoy food, enjoy drink. In other words, accept gratefully God’s provisions for you. Accept them gratefully, as well as your capacity to enjoy them. Rejoice, rejoice.
* This is an audio transcript, listen to the original message here.