From the third and final lecture in the audio seminar Abounding Emptiness, Abundant Living
Here is something that should cheer you... and I hope it does! Notice what he says in Ecc. 9:9, “Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun.” It's being said here that a wife, or for you women, a husband, is one of God’s most precious gifts. At the beginning of verse 9, the word translates as joy. What is it in the King James? Live joyfully. It literally says in Hebrew, “See, see life with your wife.” And the word see here means the whole range of human emotions and expressions and enjoyment. The marriage bed, as the writer of Hebrews says, is undefiled. Marriage is the final act of creation. It is the supreme conclusion to God’s creation. It is not to be diminished; it is not to be put down for spiritual reasons, in fact, it is the final, joyful act of a creative God, who says that it is not good for man to be alone. And so he gives him one who is adequate for, and equal to, in every respect. Because together, says Peter (1 Peter 3:7), “Be considerate toward your wife because, together, you enjoy the grace of life.” The Biblical view of marriage is one of very high standards. But it is not just spiritual in this sense. In fact, quite honestly, I’ve been reading a book that has brought a lot of this home to me even more. Some of these “spiritual” marriages are in serious spiritual trouble. A man who has an idealized vision of his wife, a marriage in which there is not a full enjoyment of the whole man, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritual, is in need of mending, in need of repair. Because God intends that all of you, the whole part of you, enjoy life as a gift from him.
Notice what he says in verse 10: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave where you are going, there is neither working or planning, neither knowledge nor wisdom." In other words, now is the acceptable time to be about your work. Paul says in Colossians 3:23, “whatever your task, do it heartily as unto the Lord, and not unto men.” The same philosophy. We must work with all of our might. We must rejoice and be glad because this is the day that the Lord has made. Let us be glad and rejoice in him. Nagilah vanishmahah vo. Not necessarily in it - the day - but in Him. Because this very Psalm 118, Jesus sang with his disciples, as he left that Passover Seder in the upper room and made his way to Gethsemane, to his destiny, his fate. He sang this very song. He rejoiced in this day which the Lord had made. So despite the difficulties you’re beset by or you are heading for, despite the problems, rejoice and work hard, work diligently as unto the Lord, with all your might. Make your way through this world as you fear before the Lord. Don’t be deterred by trouble, tribulation, mysteries or inequities. Through it all, remember that the joy of the Lord is your strength. Run into that strong tower and rejoice.
You see, to the world, under the sun, the message of Koheleth is one of pessimism, futility and despair. It provides a scathing critique of the futility of man’s efforts to have happiness and meaning in life. Here’s a man who has done it all. He has this incredible capacity to show the foolishness of man. So to the natural man, Koheleth’s message is one of nihilism. It is nothing. But on the opposite side of that coin, to the church it is also a challenging message, because it rebukes the church for rejecting the good things of life as a gift from God. It rebukes a false asceticism. It rebukes a false spirituality or piety, which says that the only spiritual thing is the immaterial. All the natural is fallen and corrupt and I shouldn’t have anything to do with it, except as I just have to. It is a rebuke to this church mentality, this super-pious, unhappy, super-critical lot of Christians, immersed in prune juice, all scrunched up and negative. Koheleth says, Hey, that’s futile! That’s meaningless. That’s vanity. Life is given to you as a gift from God and it is his intention that you enjoy it to the extent that you always acknowledge that it is from him and that you trust and obey him.
So, Koheleth is a message of liberation, believe it or not. I know that you did not think it would end up this way. But Koheleth is a message of rejoicing. Since so many of us are hung up, strung out, uptight, Puritan Christians, we need to hear Koheleth. We need to loosen up a little bit. We need to realize that every act can be traced back to its ultimate source. And if we do so, every act, whether eating or drinking, or working can be joyous, can be meaningful, can bring satisfaction, can bring joy.
Chapter 11 challenges us, therefore, despite this condition under the sun of this world, we should cast our bread upon the waters, for after many days, you will find it again. Have you heard that scripture before? Cast your bread upon the waters? It’s a peculiar scripture, isn’t it, some kind of idiom? Yet we know of it in other sources. We know it, for example, in Ben Sira. There is also an Arabic proverb, very similar. It says the following, “Do good, cast thy bread into the water. Thou shall be repaid some day.” And I think that this gives us a clue as to perhaps what is the meaning here. Do good. And how do we do good? Well, before I answer that, let me just say that there is no definitive explanation of what this means, to cast bread upon the water. It’s some peculiar, idiomatic expression. But one scholar has suggested that this may be an image drawn from the realm of commerce, actually, it may have to do with ships that are sent out. They are gone for extended periods of time. They venture out into the unknown world. And then they return with their gain, with their booty.
The whole point here is that Koheleth is saying to us, live wholeheartedly. Live with a diligence and a joy that the natural man can’t have. Venture out into this world, in faith, knowing that to the extent that you do so, you fear before God, these things will come back to you. Do good, in other words, and it will be provided for you. Now, the reason that I think that Proverbs hints at the meaning is simply because of the next part. Look at verse 2 of Cchapter 11. “Give portions to seven, yes to eight, for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.” Have you heard that expression? “Oh, it’s just the same old seven and eight.” What he is saying here is, give portions to others. I think the imagery is simply one of generosity, so that your needs, in turn, will be met. God gives to you. You should give to others.
* This is an audio transcript, listen to the original message here.