Thursday, 18 September 2014

(262) September 19: Ecclesiastes 7-9 & 2 Corinthians 11:1-15

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read consider how we are encouraged to cope with the injustices of life.

To ponder:
The teacher continues his explanation of what is “better” in this life: the aroma of a good name (righteousness) over that of a good perfume (wealth); death rather than birth, because it can mean freedom from suffering; mourning rather than feasting, because it keeps us mindful of our own mortality and so more likely to live wisely in the light of it; and to heed a wise man’s rebuke rather than listen to the idle song of fools, which are good for nothing just as crackling thorns give off no heat (7v1-6).
            Proverbs follow: Bribes can corrupt the wise, turning them into a fool. It is better to be patient and slow to anger because it is better when problems are resolved than begun. It isn’t wise to say the past was better than the present for, as we’ve seen, nothing really changes. Wisdom is then commended by its benefits in sheltering the individual like a financial inheritance, keep their life relatively safe from the ups and downs that might come (7v7-12). The fixity of God’s purposes is also noted: No-one can straighten what he has made crooked. So we should be happy in good times, but note that God has determined the bad times too, and we just cannot know what is going to come to us in the future (7v13-14). As throughout the book, this is a strong affirmation that God purposes all that happens for his own reasons. And the teacher doesn’t duck this, going on to observe how the righteous sometimes perish and the wicked live long. In the light of his concern that God is feared, 7v16-18 can’t imply we shouldn’t be righteous. More likely, they condemn those who are self-righteous and arrogantly consider themselves wise. The point is that this, as well as being excessively wicked and foolish, brings death under judgement. So we should take firm hold of our tendency to both these things out of fear of God. As if to counter any pride, the teacher then notes that although the wise can be extremely powerful, this doesn’t mean they are absolutely righteous. In fact, no-one is free of sin, and this would be born out by listening to what people say about us. Indeed, deep down we all know we have been cursed many times for things we’ve done (7v19-22).
            At this point the teacher humbly acknowledges his own limits: he had considered all these things by the wisdom he had, determined to be wise. But he has now realised understanding all these things was ultimately beyond him. This is the right perspective when unable to fathom God’s purposes in the world. Knowing this, the teacher limited his investigation to simply understanding what is wise in terms of the way life actually is (the scheme of things), and understanding how stupid and insane it is to follow wickedness and folly (7v23-25). Here he highlights the woman who ensnares the sinner (probably the adulteress or a prostitute) as worse than death, no doubt because of the damage she brings and the judgement the sinner ultimately experiences (7v26). He adds that he has found only one man in a thousand upright, and even less women, concluding that although God made us in Adam upright, we have veered off into many sinful schemes. And so he commends wisdom to navigate this sort of world, affirming how it is good, brightening the wise man’s face – ie. granting them peace and happiness (7v27-8v1).
            Reflections on government (the king) follow. A ruler should be respectfully and submissively obeyed, out of allegiance to God (8v2). Quickly leaving a king’s presence may suggest a lack of readiness to listen to him. The teacher probably has a courtier in mind, who made an oath to the king, but all government is to be obeyed in this way (Rom 13v1-7). Yet there is caution too: The reader is advised not to join the king in standing for a bad cause, even though unable to question what he is doing. But he is to be diplomatic in how he does this. Knowing that it is obeying the king that guarantees safety, he must pick his time and manner of broaching the issue carefully, even if it weighs him down. And he must be realistic, death may result, as no-one can control that (8v3-8). Verse 8 may suggest that if the king is wicked, he won’t stop being so when spoken to, and so may bring about the death of the supplicant. Nevertheless, despite rulers hurting those they lord over, wicked hypocrites being given honourable burials as if righteous, crime multiplying because courts don’t carry out their sentences, and major criminals enjoying long life, the teacher is confident that God-fearers will receive good from God, and it won’t ultimately go well with the wicked. In this, he therefore looks to the final judgement for comfort in the face of the injustices of this world, where the righteous get what the wicked deserve and vice-versa (8v9-14). And in the meantime, he once more commends enjoying, food, drink and work (8v15).
            The teacher’s humble acceptance of God’s ways continues: Having observed man’s toil and all God has done, he concludes none can fathom the meaning of it all, even those who claim to be wise (8v16-17). All he knows is that the righteous and wise are in God’s hands, but unable to know what they will face – whether love from others or hatred. All they do know is that they will die just as the unclean sinner who offers no worship to God (9v1-2). This is the great evil (ie. injustice) of life, together with the fact that men in general are full of evil and madness as to what they do (9v3). Nevertheless, on this matter life is better than death, because the living know they will die and can still enjoy the reward of sharing in the simple pleasures. By contrast, the deeds of the dead have passed, they are forgotten, and their opportunity to make the most of their life is gone (9v4-6). The author therefore continues describing the enjoyment of food and wine as stemming from the favour of God, and adding the joys of celebration (ie. dressing in linen and using oil as a cosmetic) and marital love (9v7-9). With the satisfaction of hard work, these things are our lot in this life, to be enjoyed now, before our opportunity has passed through death, or through time and chance, which often mean the deserving aren’t rewarded, nor the wise, who can achieve much, remembered (9v10-16).
Praying it home:       
Praise God for his kindness in giving much to offset the trials of life. Pray that you would delight in the fellowship of food and drink, the joy of celebrations and of marital love as demonstrations of God’s favour to you.

Thinking further:                             
None today.

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