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Ecclesiastes 7:1-13 Crook in the Lot
A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth. 2 It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. 3 Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad. 4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. 5 It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools. 6 For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fools; this also is vanity. 7 Surely oppression drives the wise into madness, and a bribe corrupts the heart. 8 Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. 9 Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools. 10 Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this. 11 Wisdom is good with an inheritance, an advantage to those who see the sun. 12 For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money, and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it. 13 Consider the work of God: who can make straight what He has made crooked?
There is an internet meme well known to folks of my generation that goes something like, “We are the middle children of history—born too late to explore the earth, born too early to explore the galaxy.” This is usually followed by a third phrase: “born at just the right time to ___,” where the blank is often a piece of trivial piece of pop culture or contemporary politics, expressing mockery and dissatisfaction at our present cultural moment. In this time of spreading disease, social and political upheaval, and growing violence in the streets, do you find yourself discouraged? Do you find yourself longing for an imagined better future, or saying with the Preacher, “Why were the former days better than these?” This morning, the readings from God’s Word, and the hymns we sing in response, dispel this notion. Psalm 62:8 charges us to “trust in Him at all times,” and Psalm 27:14 instructs, “be strong, and let your heart take courage,” as we wait upon the Lord’s providence. The hymn Be Still, My Soul encourages us to “leave to thy God to order and provide,” because He guides the future as He has the past, and Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah reminds us that though we may face anxious fears, death, and destruction, we serve a God who is faithful to land us “safe on Canaan’s side.” The crooked world we find ourselves in this morning is the world He ordained for us. We are planted not too late, not too soon, but at just the right time. —Henry C. Haffner
Key Words: Death, Mourning, Sorrow, Sadness, Oppression, Wisdom
Keystone Verse: Consider the work of God: who can make straight what He has made crooked? (Ecclesiastes 7:13)
Ecclesiastes 5:10-6:12 10 Filthy Lucre
Ecclesiastes 5:10-6:12 10 He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. 11 When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? 12 Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep. 13 There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, 14 and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand. 15 As he came from his mother's womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. 16 This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind? 17 Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger. 18 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. 19 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. 20 For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart. 6:1 There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: 2 a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil. 3 If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life's good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. 4 For it comes in vanity and goes in darkness, and in darkness its name is covered. 5 Moreover, it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet it finds rest rather than he. 6 Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy no good—do not all go to the one place? 7 All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied. 8 For what advantage has the wise man over the fool? And what does the poor man have who knows how to conduct himself before the living? 9 Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind. 10 Whatever has come to be has already been named, and it is known what man is, and that he is not able to dispute with one stronger than he. 11 The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man? 12 For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun?
In this morning’s sermon text, the Preacher of Ecclesiastes exposes the utter futility of materialism: “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). By contrast, the hymns we sing will point us away from the fruitless search for worldly wealth and success, looking to Christ instead. We’ll confess that we will trust only in Jesus, unlike the “worldling” who clings to his toys of dust (All For Jesus). We’ll declare that we need no riches or the empty praise of man, because our treasure is found in the “High King of Heaven” (Be Thou My Vision). We’ll ask for the Lord’s help, that we might not boast in any vain thing, but only in the death of Christ (When I Survey The Wondrous Cross). With this perspective, we can joyfully give thanks for our material blessings with the words of Psalm 68: the Lord gives abundant
Ecclesiastes 5:1-9 Mind The Gap Cameron Clausing Assistant Pastor
Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. 2 Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. 3 For a dream comes with much business, and a fool's voice with many words. 4 When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. 5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. 6 Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? 7 For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear. 8 If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them. 9 But this is gain for a land in every way: a king committed to cultivated fields.
We open and close the service this morning with two classic hymns which joyfully proclaim the transcendence of God. God, My King, Thy Might Confessing asks the question “who can reach His majesty,” and calls us to proclaim to a watching world His “dread acts,” “deeds of wonder,” and His “sovereign power.” O Worship The King presents us as the “humble creation,” whose feeble voices nevertheless praise our Lord’s “measureless might” and “ineffable love.” In between these robust declarations of God’s transcendence, we find more meditative hymns which encourage us to respond in awe and silence. Fret Not Yourself—Psalm 37, Answer, Father, When I Call—Psalm 4, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, and My Soul Waits In Expectation—Psalm 62 ask us to “be still,” to “wait,” to “lay your silent hearts before Him,” to “keep silence” and stand before Him with “fear and trembling.” When confronted with the truth that God is God, and we are not, often our best response is to humbly say with Job, “I am of small account … I lay my hand on my mouth.” —Henry C. Haffner
Key Words: Words, Vow, Heaven, Earth
Keystone Verse: Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. (Ecclesiastes 5:2)
Ecclesiastes 4:4-16 Endlessly Striving Alone
4Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man's envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind. 5The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh. 6 Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind. 7 Again, I saw vanity under the sun: 8 one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business. 9 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. 13 Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice. 14 For he went from prison to the throne, though in his own kingdom he had been born poor. 15 I saw all the living who move about under the sun, along with that youth who was to stand in the king's place. 16 There was no end of all the people, all of whom he led. Yet those who come later will not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and a striving after wind.
In the long list of “evil deeds that are done under the sun” in Ecclesiastes 4, Solomon makes special mention of loneliness: “woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up” (vs. 10), and “how can one keep warm alone” (vs. 11). By contrast, many of the hymns we sing this morning speak to God’s provision in building up the community of believers. The hymn Glorious Things Of Thee Are Spoken describes the Christian as a member of Zion’s city, a city whose repose can never be shaken and who smiles at all her foes. Both The Church’s One Foundation and O Lord, How Joyful Tis To See celebrate Christian unity—though we are “from every nation,” we are “one o’er all the earth,” and it is truly joyful when “brethren join in love” for our Lord. Though in times of distress we may cry out, in the words of Jesus, Lover Of My Soul, “Leave ah! Leave me not alone,” we also look forward eschatologically to the day when “every heart and tongue” is filled with the blissful theme of salvation (To Our Redeemer’s Glorious Name) and “the whole creation joins in one” to bless the name of our God (My God, My Portion, And My Love). Have you experienced loneliness, or struggled with isolation, particularly these last months and weeks? Take courage—we serve a God who is building up His people, and He will not leave you alone. —Henry C. Haffner
Key Words: Toil, Better, Alone, Vanity, Swift, Envy, Two, Sun
Keystone Verse: Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
Ecclesiastes 3:16-4:3 Harsh Realities
16Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. 17 I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. 18 I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. 19 For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. 20 All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? 22 So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him? 4:1 Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. 2 And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. 3 But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.
In this week's sermon passage, Solomon wrestles with the unjust state of the world. Everywhere he looked, he found wickedness and oppression. We too have reason to lament when we see "evil [...] prosper in the land" (Fret Not Yourself—Psalm 37), when we encounter "change and decay" (Abide With Me), when we must confront the sin we find in our own hearts and acknowledge that "all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment" (Isaiah 64:6). It is tempting to conclude that "the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive" (Ecclesiastes 4:2). But we are not left alone in our despair. We hear from Psalm 50 that "Our God comes; He does not keep silence." We sing that "there's a wideness in God's mercy," and a "kindness in His justice" (There's A Wideness). We are assured that "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). And so we can pray with David in Psalm 51 for God to "wash us thoroughly from our iniquity and cleanse us from our sin" (Psalm 51:2), and know with certainty that He will. Is there still evil in this world? Do we still sin week after week? Yes. But we also serve a God who calls us here every week, who delivers all who take refuge in Him, whose "grace, all-sufficient, shall be [our] supply" (How Firm A Foundation). So "come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel," and know that "Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal" (Come Ye Disconsolate). —Elizabeth Dowdell
Key Words: Sun, Justice, Wickedness, Righteousness, Beasts, Dust, Oppression
Keystone Verse: God will judge the righteous and the wicked. (Ecclesiastes 3:17)
Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 Times and Seasons
Key Words: Season, Time. Eternity, Beginning, End, Pleasure
Keystone Verse: He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity into man’s heart. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
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