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Ecclesiastes

God's Story in Scripture  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  37:52
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Life According To Aladar

We’ve had a few pets in our house over the years - a cat, bunny, some small fish, a newt, a couple of hamsters and one leopard gecko named Aladar. Most of these animals don’t have long life spans, but Aladar has outlasted them all. He is about 15 years old. He even outlasted two other geckos that shared the space with him. He’s a survivor.
For the last few years, Danielle has had Aladar in her classroom at the pre-school. Each day, 4-year olds play, learn, laugh, cry, and eat right outside his tank. Occasionally their curious eyes will look to see if he is awake or moving. Most often, the answer is no. You see, he’s nocturnal - so his most active time is when the kids are not there. There are, however, a couple of things that arouse him during the day. Occasionally, his rock gets disturbed as a caring hand cleans the sand on which he lives - he is forced to move. The thing that awakens him most is the day when the crickets come. This is the funnest day for the kids too! In the moment when 20-30 crickets are placed in his cage - he begins to awaken. It’s a slow awakening, but an awakening nonetheless. It’s not just an awakening from his slumber, it’s an awakening within him. Whether it’s the moving of the crickets feet, or their gentle whistling, or their aroma - something prompts this normally sleepy lizard into action. He crawls out of his rock, pauses, and then snaps. As he swallows the first, he sets his senses on the next and the process continues for a while.
For the last few years, Danielle has had Aladar in her classroom at the pre-school. Each day, 4-year olds play, learn, laugh, cry, and eat right outside his tank. Occasionally their curious eyes will look to see if he is awake or moving. Most often, the answer is no. You see, he’s nocturnal. There are a couple of things that arouse him during the day. Occasionally, his rock gets disturbed as a caring had cleans the sand on which he lives - he is forced to move. The biggest part of his month though is the day when the crickets come. This is the funnest day for the kids too. In the moment when 20-30 crickets are placed in his cage - he begins to awaken. It’s a slow awakening, but an awakening nonetheless. It’s not just an awakening from his slumber, it’s an awakening within him. Whether it’s the moving of the crickets feet, or their gentle whistling, or their aroma - something prompts this normally sleepy lizard into action. He crawls out of his rock, pauses, and then snaps. As he swallows the first, he sets his senses on the next and the process continues for a while.
The crickets dwindle as his appetite is satisfied. Slowly the instinct fades and he returns to his rock. He returns to tolerating the gazes from the kids and the occasional disturbing of the sand.
There is something more, but what? Born in captivity this is all he has known.
The world that Aladar knows is in this glass container - but his instincts seem to reveal a shadow of something more, something different, a bigger container with more plants, naturally flowing water, crickets in the wild. If he even thinks about what this could be, if we could have a conversation with him about what’s going on in his mind in his little glass enclosed world about the shadow of that former place, he might call it paradise or Eden.
Today, as we consider the book of Ecclesiastes, we are getting to have a conversation with an old man who reflects on a world that is not how it should be. You see, like Aladar, this old man has never been to Eden’s perfection, he has only known life outside of Eden. He sees Eden’s shadows in “life under the sun” - a phrase he uses some 26 times as he considers what seems like the vanity or meaninglessness of life here.
Ecclesiastes lands in the middle of the Old Testament with the other wisdom books. It addresses life from a different, even dark perspective. The melancholy mood of the teacher reads a bit like the rambling reflections of a man who has lived a long and sometimes painful life.
The man identifies himself as a “son of David, king in Jerusalem” (). Many have assumed it was Solomon because of his wisdom and worldly experiences - but some of the internal linguistic clues don’t seem to match Solomon’s lifetime. Like Job, Ecclesiastes sits in a sort of timelessness as the old man shares his thoughts on life.
But who is this old man? He is identified in some translations a “Teacher” and in other translations as a “preacher.” The Hebrew word is Qoheleth which generally refers to “the gathering or assembly of a community of people, especially for the worship of God.” (Eswine, Recovering Eden, p. 3). He is the one who gathers. In fact the name we use for the book - Ecclesiastes - comes from the Greek translation and is related to ecclesia - the word we often translate as church or assembly. So he is sort of a preacher - one who assembles for religious purposes.
Structurally, Ecclesiastes is quite simple. One commentator notes that “The book of Ecclesiastes is divided into three parts. It begins with a short prologue introducing some of the themes of Qohelet’s [preacher’s] thought (), continues with a long monologue by Qohelet (), and concludes with a brief epilogue ().....The prologue and epilogue are differentiated from the body of the book by its third-person references to Qohelet.” (Longman, 282). In the middle section of the book, The preacher seems to wander and meander almost aimlessly, repeating things and and even occasionally contradicting himself. Part of the beauty of this aimlessness is its realism. It’s not unlike a long afternoon front porch conversation with your grandfather has he shares the wisdom he’s gained over the long years of his life.
The prologue and epilogue are differentiated from the body of the book by its third-person references to Qohelet.
While it is simple in structure, one commentator referred to it as the “strangest” of all of the books of the Bible (Dever, 528). It does’t speak with the praise and lament of the Psalms or the logic and reason of Proverbs.
In fact, Zack Eswine, a Pastor in the St. Louis area, in his book of on Ecclesiastes entitled Recovering Eden, compare Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, said...
“If Proverbs is like math, mostly dealing in equations in which one thing adds up to equal another, then Ecclesiastes is like music, all mood with melody and tone. If Proverbs is like meteorology giving us indicators so as to predict certain outcomes, then Ecclesiastes is like the actual weather, fickle and unpredictable in its ability to rant with storms or breath easy with a mid-morning breeze. In Proverbs a good man plus God’s love and wisdom equals a good life. In Ecclesiastes a good man plus God’s love still dies like a beast or the fool. In Proverbs, wisdom gives us eyes to recognize the storm clouds and what to do in response. In Ecclesiastes, death is a piece of tornado from which no proverbial basement can shelter us.” (Eswine, p. 9)
As we consider the message of think it’s important for us to have two perspectives in mind.

Perspectives of the Preacher

“Life under the Sun”
“Gain”

Life under the Sun

Life under the sun - the Preacher is reflecting on life in the here and now, in the physical space, in what we can see. In some ways he is preaching an apologetic sermon with out the benefit of Scripture - he’s simply reflecting on the life that God assigns for us to live. He does not quote or reflect on other scriptures or even reflect on Israel’s national history and relationship with God. He’s simply reflecting on the “lot” that humans have. He does have glimpses of what Eden should have been and he does reflect on an eternal longing () - but that’s not what drives his perspective.
In this life under the sun, the preacher has a sort of resignation - but he’s not pessimistic. (the following paragraphs are gleaned from Eswine - p. 100-102).
Some people look at life under the sun in a “nihilistic” manner - kind of like Eeyore in the Winnie the Pooh stories - everything is bad and doomed - death beating at the door. That’s not the Preacher’s perspective.
Other people may have a “cynical but not despairing” approach. These people see uselessness of striving for anything. While the preacher may seem to lean in this direction, this is not his perspective either.
Other people will take a purely hedonistic approach to the meaninglessness of life and will simply seek to live with all the gusto they can - soaking up every pleasure possible and ignoring whatever consequences may come. While the preacher did allow himself to learn from the pleasures of life, he sees life under the sun as more than mere pleasure.
But even among the religious, there are people who have a different perspective than what the preacher is teaching. Some choose a sort of “pietism or escapism.”
The pietists seek to be holy, running to the “closet to pray” - seeing all attention to the physical world as waste of time because “death is coming” and “eternal matters are all in the balance.” (Eswine, 101-102).
The escapists seek to re-write the realities that exist. They “romanticize” life under the sun with spiritual jargon and feel good sentiments - longing to escape the pain and futility that seems to plague life under the sun. (IBID).
The preacher is taking a different path than so many around us. For him, life under the sun and the work we are assigned is a gift from God.
Ecclesiastes 3:12–13 ESV
I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.
He reflects on life under the sun in this way, but has glimpses of more.
The other perspective that we need to consider is that the preacher’s objective is...

Gain

As the Preacher reflects on life and his experiences, his objective is “gain.” He’s not just after more, but he is after something that is fulfilling, lasting, eternal. Part of the meaninglessness or vanity that he wrestles with is that the gain he seeks cannot be achieved in life under the sun. Time and again the preacher uses the word “vanity” or “meaningless” - the Hebrew word that he is using is something like a mist or a vapor - it is, and it’s visible but then its gone and seems to leave no lasting effect.
Look at what he says in his introductory comments:
Ecclesiastes 1:2–11 ESV
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.
The gain he seeks is something lasting, but it can’t be achieved in life under the sun. The care we take for the things in life will make a difference now and are ultimately better than not caring for things now, but they will eventually be passed from us to the next person and our work will be forgotten.
We’ll come back to the idea of gain, but I think it’s important for us to see that the the Preacher has reflected on his life and has some good things to say, but ultimately, he can sing with the band U2 - “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” He even sort of answers that question - it is not to be found in life under the sun.
There is one other word that I think
Now I realize that all of this sounds a bit depressing. There is a melancholy mood to the preacher’s message, but there are some lessons we can learn from the preacher.

Lessons from the Preacher

This little list that we’ll consider today certainly does not exhaust the Preacher’s lessons, but I hope it gives us some practical things to consider in the season in which we live and the time in history in which God has placed us.

Life is full of Seasons - adjust for them

In 1965, the Byrds popularized Peter Seeger’s song “Turn, Turn, Turn,” a song that reflects on the Preacher’s poem in
Ecclesiastes 3:1–8 NLT
For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to turn away. A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace.
The preacher is not so much endorsing the seasons, but acknowledging their existence. Seasons come and seasons go. Each season requires something different from each of us.
For example, in verse 5 it talks about a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing or turn away (NLT). We are clearly in one of those times of refraining right now. For those who are more affectionate and touch oriented, this is a challenging time - but for the safety of ourselves and others around us - refraining from embracing is a good policy right now.
The point I think that the preacher is laying before us is that seasons are! They simply happen. Our call is to adjust to the needs and expectations of each season.
Another lesson that we can learn from the preacher is to...

Find pleasure in our lot from God

The preacher uses the word “lot.” A “lot” is like drawing straws or rolling dice. It seems random to us, but as we learned from Proverbs, the outcome is from God.
One of the things that the preacher did in his life of experimentation is that he took pleasure in pleasure. He sought gain in a hedonistic outlook, denying himself no pleasure. The end result of this experiment was meaningless. He could not find gain in the pleasure.
But God is not against pleasure. The Psalmist calls us to delight in God and His Word (; ). The writers of Proverbs call us to find pleasure in the spouse that God has blessed us with (Pv. 5). Even Westminister Catechism calls on us to enjoy God.
Now, I realize that this pleasure may not be the pleasure that comes to our minds - but pleasure is really a matter of perspective or attitude. I can choose to find pleasure in what I’m doing.
Famously, Brother Lawrence who was a monk found delight in the menial tasks of working in the Kitchen - because he found it as an act of worship to God.
The Preacher says:
Ecclesiastes 3:22 NLT
So I saw that there is nothing better for people than to be happy in their work. That is our lot in life. And no one can bring us back to see what happens after we die.
He goes on to say...
Ecclesiastes 5:18–19 ESV
Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God.
I guess in some ways the Preacher is calling us to be content and enjoy the work we have. Delight in the “lot” that God has cast before us - because the grass is not greener elsewhere and that other person or drug or intoxication will not satisfy in the ways we hope it would - it will not bring us the gain we ultimately desire.
Another lesson that we can learn from the Preacher of Ecclesiastes is that...
(pleasure is not all bad, but pleasure for pleasure sake does not benefit)

Death happens to all - but a life of wisdom is better than folly

As the preacher reflects on his life, there are times when he acknowledges a sort of fatalistic outcome - everyone dies, everyone is forgotten. The wise, the fool, the hedonist, the cynic, the good, the wicked - all pass from this life. In fact he famously says:
Ecclesiastes 3:20 ESV
All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.
The physical end is the same for all.
He even acknowledges that...
Ecclesiastes 1:18 ESV
For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.
And yet he concludes that the pain of wisdom and the sorrow of knowledge is worth the price because wisdom is better than folly.
Ecclesiastes 2:13 ESV
Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness.
Ecclesiastes
The life filled with wisdom will generally leave this earth better than he found it - and that’s a good thing for life under the sun.
There is one final lesson that I think we can glean from the preacher. We need to...

Remember God - He exists beyond the sun

Throughout the preacher’s rambling thoughts he contemplates what seems like vanity - and yet his perspective is not one that is atheistic. He believes in God. He sees God at work. He acknowledges God’s hand in things. He also seems to recognize that God does not exist under the sun. There is an eternal perspective in God.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 ESV
He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.
As the preacher speaks, you can almost here the resignation in his voice that this life is not all there is - living life on this side of Eden is not all that it’s cracked up to be, but God is with us under the sun, even though he exists beyond the sun.
God has assigned a lot or work for us, God has given us good things in this life. God is aware of our life under the sun.
And yet recognizing we can become short-sighted in what may seem like a vain and meaningless life, the Preacher reminds young people:
The Preacher even reminds young people:
Ecclesiastes 12:1 ESV
Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”;
Ecclesiastes 12:1-
The foolishness of the world around us can be tempting and can easily distract us from God if we don’t have a solid foundation on which to stand. Parents, keep up the good work of training up your children in the Lord. I realize that in this season things are different. Let me encourage you to make use of the lessons that the Sunday School teachers are sending out. Take time to read and discuss the Word of God together as a family.
Students, the things that your parents are trying to teach you about God and His word now will be beneficial when difficult days come; when challenging seasons envelope us. Your parents, Sunday School teachers, elders and older Christians in the faith have been through some of those seasons and want the best for you!
There are many lessons that we can learn from the Preacher beyond just these few. And yet as wise as the Preacher is, he does not have all of the answers, but he is leading us to come to the conclusion that...

The Gain we seek is beyond the sun - it’s found in Jesus Christ

The Preacher closes with this admonition:
Ecclesiastes 12:13–14 ESV
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
We have to realize that there is a standard and there will be a judgement. God has given us a great deal of choice. We can choose to obey. We can choose to disobey. God gave Adam and Eve the choice to obey in the garden. They had perfect fellowship with God there and they choose to disobey. Creation’s beauty was corrupted by sin’s influence - resulting in the fallen world in which we live this side of Eden. We know there is more, we know this is not all there should be. We may try to find meaning and purpose in the life under the sun, but ultimately that purpose and meaning and gain cannot be found in the wisdom of this world.
But when we turn to God, who exists beyond the sun, when we gain his perspective, that all of our attempt are meaningless, then we can learn that he has made a way.
Galatians 4:4–5 ESV
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
The gain we seek, the purpose we seek is only found in the One beyond the sun who chose to take on our pain and our misery under the sun in order to bring us eternal gain beyond the sun.
As we’ve been walking through God’s story in scripture, we began by considering several C’s of History. If we were to reduce it to five, we would see that:
Creation - the way things were meant to be was messed up in the
Corruption of the fall - all of our decisions under the sun exist here - corrupted, a faith shadow of Eden, but messed up, but God sent his son, Jesus...
Christ - to be born under the son of a woman. He lived the perfect life under the sun that we can’t live. In his death on the...
Cross - he paid the way for us to have life and meaning under the sun - an abundant life that leads to eternal life. One day, when the sun burns out and the stars fall from the sky and the time when God determines that the end is at hand, he will bring a
Consummation - when we will see fully from beyond the sun. We will understand God’s glorious plan and our work under the sun will be judged and the things that have been invested for eternity will last. When “the things of this earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.”
Friend - if you are tired of toiling in a meaningless endeavor, turn your eyes beyond the sun to the Son of God. Repent of your sin and your meaningless toil, trust in the finished work that Jesus did on the cross, paying for your sin’s consequences. Your physical life - bios - will take on new purpose and meaning and abundance - zoe - that leads toward life eternal beyond the sun.
Beloved - take heart - seasons will be good and bad, find enjoyment in what God allows us to encounter, but trust that He sees the beginning from the end; trust that he is still at work under the sun and is refining us for eternal life beyond the sun!
Let’s pray.

Benediction

Discussion Questions

Why is it important to keep in mind that the Preacher in Ecclesiastes is viewing things “under the sun” and seeking “gain”?
There are seasons that happen to us all at the same time and then seasons that impact us individually. Can you describe the season(s) you are encountering now? What do you think God is expecting of you in this season?
How would you describe the “lot” that God has given you? Why is it important to find enjoyment in what He has assigned? Are you enjoying it?
Why is a life lived in wisdom better than a life of folly?
Why is it important to remember God’s existence beyond the sun?
Have you trusted in Jesus to bring purpose, meaning, and eternal gain to your life?
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