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Bible: What Does Ecclesiastes 8-12 Teach Us About God's Ways?
The Wisdom of Solomon
Ecclesiastes 8-12: God's Work and Ways Are Inscrutable; Wisdom and Folly; Seek the Creator While You Are Young; Summary Questions
God's Ways Are Inscrutable
Wisdom affects a man's face, transforming it from sternness to radiance (v. 1).
Solomon now changes gears and offers three sage pieces of advice regarding one's relationship to the king:
(1) Obey him, for God's sake (v. 2);
(2) Do not run away when guilty (v. 3; cf. 10:4); and
(3) Do not support a bad cause (v. 3).
Obedience to the Sovereign's law brings safety; the wise knows that the authorities will eventually judge evildoers (vv. 4-5; cf. Rom. 13).
The guilty becomes distraught and feels his powerlessness as his inevitable death approaches (vv. 6-8).
Wicked ones, who once participated in divine worship, are forgotten after death (v. 10).
[Apparently, a community does not learn wisdom from their bad example, and thus it perpetuates their errors].
Delaying the punishment of criminals encourages continued mischief (v. 11).
Sinners may prolong their lives despite their evil ways, but those who fear God will live good lives and prosper spiritually (vv. 12-13).
Yet Solomon acknowledges that such is not always the case, because the righteous sometimes suffer as though they were wicked, and the wicked prosper as though they were righteous (v. 14).
Therefore, he recommends enjoyment of life's legitimate pleasures (v. 15), since mortal, finite man, even though he may be wise, cannot understand the big picture.
God's work is inscrutable (vv. 16-17).
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Enjoy Life's Pleasures
After deep thought, Solomon concludes that the lives of God's people are under His control, and man still does not know what destiny awaits him (v. 1).
One thing (presumably death) happens to everyone, regardless of his moral standing (vv. 2-3a).
While alive, man's heart is evil and insane; yet hope remains with those who are still "joined" to the living (vv. 3b-4).
Verses 5-6 reveal the total emptiness of the future of the "dead."
Solomon then encourages the righteous to enjoy life's pleasures: eating, drinking, marrying, and working (vv. 7-10). Why?
(1) Life's rewards are not certain to come in “the now-time,” and
(2) Death comes unpredictably (vv. 11-12).
The Preacher recounts an anecdote about a poor wise man who saved his city from a great king and his army, but whom the survivors of the onslaught forgot to honor (vv. 13-15).
On the contrary, a ruler of fools shouts, all his subjects run at his heels and, as the result of such blind obedience, much good is destroyed (vv. 16-17).
Wisdom Vs. Folly
Solomon continues his comments on the relationship between wisdom and folly.
A wise man can act foolishly once and ruin his effectiveness in ministry (v. 1).
Fools demonstrate their character even by the way they walk (v. 3).
Wisdom manifests itself in the courage to face a ruler's displeasure, and in the desire to seek peace with him (v. 4).
When a reversal occurs—such as when the foolish receive honor instead of the noble—it is an evil event (vv. 5-7).
Verses 8-10 suggest that normal life activities may result in injury if one does not exercise wisdom.
While the wise speak words of grace, the foolish bite and devour one another with their speech (vv. 11-12).
Merely foolish initially, the latter's talk deteriorates into utter insanity (v. 13).
He speaks too much, and comments about things he cannot know with certainty (v. 14).
Weary of their "work," they do not know where they are going (v. 15).
Solomon announces a "woe" and a "blessing" upon the land; which one the citizenry experience depends upon the quality of leadership that exists among them (vv. 16-17).
Sound fiscal policy and diligence preclude societal deterioration (vv. 18-19).
Verse 20 cautions against showing disrespect for civil authorities and others with power.
Judgment Day Approaches
Enjoy Your Life Now
Verse one, as traditionally understood, refers to the blessing that the generous receive.
Feed the needy now, for evil times may prohibit it someday (v. 2).
Solomon encourages daily diligence in one's work and less speculation about whether or not things will work out.
God has made all things in such a way that man cannot know what will happen (vv. 3-6).
Life is both light and dark, sweetness and vanity (vv. 7-8).
Enjoy your youth now, for it is fleeting; but also realize that God will judge you if you sow to the flesh (vv. 9-10).
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Remember Your Creator When You Are Young
Take thought of and seek God your Creator when you are young, strong, optimistic, and even idealistic about life, because the latter years are almost always full of pain, weakness and decay (v. 1).
Verse 2 seems to refer to the younger years when life is lighter, cheerier, and good times last longer, while verses 3-5 describe various physical and mental failings in later life.
These failings include:
(1) Your hands shake;
(2) Your backbone curves;
(3) Your teeth fall out;
(4) Your eyesight dims;
(5) Your sleep becomes lighter;
(6) Your hearing decreases;
(7) Heights and even walking frighten you;
(8) The chirping of crickets disturbs you, and
(9) Your ambition wanes.
Solomon begins another series of descriptions in verse six, this time he writes about death.
He employs some very helpful verbs to aid in interpreting the cultural figures of speech: loosed silver cord, broken golden bowl, shattered pitcher, broken wheel.
When these events occur, so does death (v. 7). [Leland Ryken, The Literature of the Bible, 258.]
Verses 9-14 conclude the Preacher's book of proverbial knowledge. In his writing, he concerned himself with choosing proper words—words that would be acceptable, upright, true, and penetrating—yet he also realized that they were inspired by the Shepherd (v. 11).
He summarizes his work in vv. 13-14: man's duty is to fear God and keep His commandments, for Judgment Day is coming.
SUMMARY QUESTIONS OF ECCLESIASTES
1. What do you think Solomon means by his lamentation "All is vanity"?
2. In light of life's vanity, what is Solomon's advice on how to live?
3. What are some of the king's attitudes toward money?
4. Why shouldn't man spend much time trying to figure out life?
5. How does God's sovereignty figure in Solomon's philosophy?
6. What, according to Solomon's conclusion, is man's whole duty?
7. According to chapter twelve, what should the young do?
8. What evidence does Solomon give for the inspiration of this book?
9. How should you respond toward the authorities?
10. What verses discuss the hydrologic cycle?
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