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The Book of Ecclesiastes
Arguments to the Thesis
Ecclesiastes 4
 
So the wisest man who ever lived has proposed a thesis in the book called Ecclesiastes, and that that thesis is that God has a wonderful plan for our lives and sometimes that plan includes happy and joyful experiences and other times are filled with pain and mourning.
 
And all the opposite experiences found at the beginning of chapter 3 are to be viewed in that light. To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under the sun.
 
And that is a great thought to ponder, but it also raises some valid questions, and beginning in chapter 3, verse 16 and continuing through chapter 5, Solomon explores some of the arguments that might be advanced against that thesis.
 
He begins with injustice, and in particular, the presence of injustice in the place where justice ought to be found, the courts and judicial systems of the land. If God has a wonderful plan for life, what about injustice?
 
  1. gives us two answers. First, we must remember that the final court appearance is still in the future. God has appointed a time when he will bring to light all the hidden things and straighten them out; and second, even injustice teaches us something of great value: it reveals to us the baseness of our own nature.
There is a nasty quality that we share with the animals which injustice will bring out, and, like the animals, we have a temporary existence.
 
The next objection is found in
 
Ecclesiastes 4:1-3
 
Most of us feel his outrage when those who cannot defend themselves are taken being victimized. Oppression almost invariably preys on the helpless, the weak and the infirm, the people who cannot defend themselves, and Solomon realizes this.
 
Notice how he records the anguish, the misery that it causes. He speaks of "the tears of the oppressed," the weeping, the sorrow and the brokenness which the oppressed feel over something they can do nothing about.
 
Then he twice categorizes the awful sense of helplessness that is brought about by oppression. "They have no one to comfort them". The hopeless and the helpless ask, "Who can we turn to? Where can we go for deliverance?"
 
They feel that death would be preferable to what they are going through; they even come to the point where they wish they had never been born. Job felt that way. "Let the day perish wherein I was born" (Job 3:3), he said. "Why did I not die at birth?" (Job 3)
 
And to be honest, if you show up in the neighborhoods of the oppressed and announce that "God has a wonderful plan for your life", you probably won't be heard.
How can you say that to someone who is being oppressed? Solomon doesn't try to answer that for the moment.
 
First, he looks at another objection and this time it is the idea that rather than enjoyment being man's target, his motivation is really envy and ambition. That's why man does what he does.
 
verse 4
 
That's a pretty accurate assessment of human history! A lot of people really do not want things as much as they want to be admired for the things they have. What they want is not the new car itself, but to hear their neighbors say, "How lucky you are to have such a beautiful car!" That is what people want -- to be the center of attention.
 
And Solomon is warning about letting the drive to be admired become the true objective of life. His assessment is that is "is vanity and a striving after wind."
 
There is also a danger in flipping over to the opposite extreme. We'll just quit work and let the government take care of us and get out of the rat race and drop out of society.
 
But that is not the answer either.
 
verse 5
 
In other words, if you sit in idleness, you self-destruct. You devour yourself. Your resources disappear, your self-respect vanishes and you forfeit your contribution to society.
And Solomon is advocating for finding a position in the middle.
 
verse 6
 
  1. your expectations, choose a less ambitious lifestyle and learn to be content with what you have rather than destroying your life by chasing the wind.
 
Yet, he says, so powerful is ambition and the desire to be envied that men actually keep working and toiling even when they have no one to leave their riches to.
 
verses 7-8
 
How true! Some people keep on toiling although they have no one to work for, and nothing to do with the money they make. They even deny themselves the pleasures of life in order to keep laying up funds.
 
Remember Howard Hughes? He amassed unbelievable riches and in the meantime, sat around in his underwear! After he died, it was almost impossible to determine who was his legal heir. And he died a lonely paranoid old man!
 
That is the folly of toiling for riches as Solomon describes in verse 8.
 
Then in verses 9-12, he lists the advantages to companionship.
 
First, it will increase the reward.
 
verse 9
You've heard it said that two can live as cheap as one, and in some ways that is true. The rent's about the same and the utilities are already paid. You actually get some tax breaks if you're married and have kids.
 
Secondly, he says, a friend will provide help in time of trouble.
 
verse 10
 
If you get into difficulty your friend or roommate will be there to help you.
 
Third, on a cold night, you can stay warm
 
verse 11
 
When I read that I understand the advice my dad gave to find a big girl! On cold night, you can lay down on the downwind side!
 
And fourth, the presence of another or more than one other in your life makes defeat unlikely
 
verse 12
 
So what is Solomon's point by interoducing these advantages in the middle of his list of potential arguments to his thesis.
 
I think his argument advances like this:
 
God has a wonderful plan for your life, even in the mix of pleasant and unpleasant and happy/sad experiences.
 
And that's true even when you experience injustices in life. So don't waste your life trying to find fulfillment in recognition or notoriety. And don't just ignore the responsibility you have to work and provide for yourself.
 
And as good as it is to have friends and companions and help when you need it and a shelter form the wind at night, those things still only add up to emptiness because God has put eternity in our hearts.
 
And there are people all over the world who have more than they know what to do with, yet they sit across the room from their spouse staring at a television screen or play together with their toys trying to find some diversion to the emptiness and misery of their lives.
 
No, companionship, though better than loneliness, is not the answer either.
 
The final objection is raised in the latter part of Chapter 4.
 
verse 13-14
 
Solomon says just because you live a long life doesn't guarantee you'll figure out the secret of enjoyment and satisfaction.
 
And maybe this is the most important point he makes. We have all these experiences that he begins with in chapter 3, and they are a part of God's plan as we move through life, and God is willing to teach us as we go.
That means if you live long enough and listen carefully enough, you will learn that enjoyment is a gift of God. But just because you live a long time doesn't mean you learn the lesson.
 
In fact, it's better to be a wise youth with nothing than it is to be n old foolish king who had great opportunities handed to him.
 
All of us know people who ought to know better, people who have forgotten, as this points out, the lessons they learned in their youth.
 
Here was a king who had gone from prison to the throne because he understood life, he had been poor and he was exalted to a position of power, but he had forgotten all the lessons he had learned.
 
And by the way, just because you are a wise youth doesn't guarantee you'll retain that wisdom as you age.
 
verses 15-16
 
Here is a young man who went through the same difficulties, who had won his way to popularity and power, yet he did not learn those lessons either. Although he had the example of his predecessor, he ultimately lost the respect of others. So even old age, even time, does not always teach us these lessons. It still winds up "vanity, emptiness, and grasping for the wind."
 
Let's pray.
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