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Living in a fallen world (Ecclesiastes 8:1-9:12)

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

Life in a fallen world

We live in a fallen world, where things aren’t as they should be.

Mass shooting in the US

This year alone there have been 250 mass shooting in the US. According to the Washington Post, “not a single week in 2022 has passed without at least four mass shootings.” As of the 8 Jun, twenty-seven of them have been school shootings with innocent children dying . Each day 12 children die from gun violence in America . It is a leading cause of death among children. We live in a world where things aren’t as they should be.

Putin’s twisted ambitions

We live in a world where innocent people suffer because of the twisted ambition of powerful men who put their ambition above the lives of innocent people. Thousands of people have lost their lives in the Ukraine, others their loved ones and homes and livelihoods, atrocities have been committed, cities have been destroyed, millions have been displaced to what President Putin at one time referred to as his “noble cause”.
We live in a fallen world where terrible things happen to innocent people and where the wicked don’t always seem to get what they deserve. We live in a world where these things can happen without any warning. Children are just going to school expecting nothing more than having to get through a day of maths and English and a bit of history and out of the blue someone walks into a school randomly killing children.

It’s the same world

We live in a fallen world, the same world that the Teacher whose teaching we have in Ecclesiastes looked out upon and observed and attempted to understand. The teacher tried to fathom all that was going on. He wanted to know how God would make all things right, and although he never could come up with an answer, he believed that a wise person always had an advantage over a fool in such a world.
The teacher in chapter 8 and verse 1 quotes what was probably a saying about wisdom brightening a person’s face changing its sternness. While wisdom doesn’t resolve the problem of the fallenness of our world it does help us to navigate life so that we can enjoy what we have while living in this fallen world.
In what follows in chapters 8 and 9 the Teacher shows us how wisdom helps us to navigate life under the sun where there are rulers who can do us harm (8:1-10); where there is wickedness and injustice that seem to go unchecked (8:11-17) and where all of us (both the righteous and the wicked) live under the shadow of death (9:1-12).

Living under authority

The first ten verses of chapter 8 deal with rulers in authority who have the power over others to do them great harm (8v9). In the teacher’s mind is the situation of a wise person who finds themselves perhaps serving in the court of a ruler whose word is authoritative, who does whatever he wants to do and only has to say the word for something to be carried out.
In the Bible we have people like Joseph in Egypt and Daniel and his three friends Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego in Babylon who found themselves in autocratic rulers. In such a situation, the teacher says that the wise person submits to those in authority over them obeying the king but not forgetting their oath made before God or perhaps to God.

Obey the king but fear God

You might have noticed that I’ve taken the second half over verse 2 a little differently to the way that the CSB and frankly a lot of the modern translations have gone which means I could be wrong. But although I’m not a Hebrew scholar myself, one commentator noted that with respect to verses 2 and 3 it is possible “to punctuate … and construe the grammar differently.” That same commentator points out that the Hebrew verb bahal which has been translated “hurry” in the CSB can also be translate “fear” or according to Strong’s Concordance, “terrify”. The old KJ translated it “be not dismayed”. It is also possible to read the words “because of your oath made before God” as the introduction to the words in verse 3 encouraging the wise person not to fear the king or be dismayed by him but to remember their oath made before God. This would change the sense of what is being said.
“Keep the king’s command but because of your oath made before God, don’t fear, leave his presence, and do not persist in a bad (or literally an evil) cause for he (the king) will do whatever he wants.”
If taken this way the teacher would be saying that the teacher obeys the king but is also mindful that ultimately, they answer to one higher than the king, to whom they have made an oath.

Don’t persist in an evil cause

The wise man doesn’t persist in a bad or literally an evil cause even if it is the king’s cause. Instead, they remove themselves from his presence for the king will do whatever he wants. In verse 5 to 6 the teacher explains that while the one who keeps the kings command might manage to avoid coming to any harm the wise heart knows that there is a right time for everything including judgment.
The word that the CSB has translated “procedure” is the Hebrew word (mispat) that, in chapter 3, was translated judgment. I don’t think the teacher is telling the wise person to bide their time and follow the right procedure, I think he is reminding him or her of what he told them in chapter 3, that there is a time for everything including the judgment of God.

Ecclesiastes 3:16-17
I also observed under the sun: there is wickedness at the place of judgment (mispat) and there is wickedness at the place of righteousness. 17 I said to myself, “God will judge the righteous and the wicked, since there is a time for every activity and every work.”

I think the Teacher is reminding the wise person that even before the king they are to fear the Lord and do what is right and not to persist in an evil cause. If you do what your told you will avoid harm, but the wise heart knows that there is a time for everything and that ultimately God will judge the righteous and the wicked for God is in control and we don’t know what will happen.

We don’t know what will happen

The teacher explains that no one has the authority over the day of death except God. You might be tempted to think that a ruler does, but really, he or she is like everybody else.

Ecclesiastes 8:7-9
Yet no one knows what will happen because who can tell him what will happen? 8 No one has authority over the wind to restrain it, and there is no authority over the day of death; no one is discharged during battle, and wickedness will not allow those who practice it to escape. 9 All this I have seen, applying my mind to all the work that is done under the sun, at a time when one person has authority over another to his harm.

Our days were numbered before we ever entered this world. As the psalmist wrote…
“All my days were written in your book and planned before a single one of them began.” (Psalm 139:16).
We don’t know that number and no king or authority has the power to change that number. A king might think that they are in control and have that authority, but as with King Nebuchadnezzar throwing Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the fiery furnace, God can rescue his people (see Daniel 3). God doesn’t have to or may not, but the point is no one knows what will happen, but what we do know is the wicked won’t escape. The teacher says that he has seen this in verse 10. He has seen the wicked buried. All we can do is to fear the Lord and keep on doing what we know to be right.

Fear the Lord not people

Here is the thing we often don’t do what we ought to be doing because we fear how those around us might respond. We fear people and what they might do, rather than fearing the Lord and wanting to please him we are terrified of what might happen to us. We might not be serving in the court of a king whose word is law and who had the authority to throw us into a fiery furnace, but none-the-less we fear what might happen to us. We don’t act at work with the courage or the conviction that we should act with because we are too concerned with what others might think or say of us instead of having the courage of our convictions. But we don’t know what will happen and isn’t people, and what they might do to us that we are to fear, but God. The teacher saw the destiny of the wicked who at one time were the ones who were honoured and praised by all in the city. He saw them buried and gone. He saw their ultimate end. He saw God’s judgment.

Living with wickedness and injustice

But justice doesn’t always turn out to be speedy in this world and sometimes it just appears to be absent or even non-existent at times. The wicked can seem to prosper and good people get the raw deal. The teacher had seen the wicked come to an end, but he also had lived and seen a lot of the wickedness and injustice that goes on in the world. He has seen the futility that has gone under the sun when judgment on the wicked isn’t speedy.

Ecclesiastes 3:10-14
This too is futile. 11 Because the sentence against an evil act is not carried out quickly, the heart of people is filled with the desire to commit evil. 12 Although a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, I also know that it will go well with God-fearing people, for they are reverent before him. 13 However, it will not go well with the wicked, and they will not lengthen their days like a shadow, for they are not reverent before God.

People seeming to get away with it

The teacher has seen people seeming to get away with it. He has seen people seeming to prolong their lives perhaps through doing one evil thing after another. He has seen wickedness multiplied when it has gone unchecked.
When one person gets away with something, others are tempted to think they can get away with it too. You’ve probably seen this. You’ve might have been told to wait in the line with others, but then one person decides to leave the line and get in another way, and if they seems to be successful then another goes off and soon you have this steady trickle until just about everyone has gone from the line that they were told to wait in apart from the few who remained wishing that they had gone. The teacher has seen evil multiplied through people seeming to get away with it and he has seen wicked people prolong their lives through committing one evil deed after another.

It will go well for those who fear the Lord

However, he says that no matter what the wicked do or how long they manage to get away with it that it won’t go well for them. But it will go well for those who fear the Lord. Even though the wicked manage to prolong their lives for a time, he says that their days won’t lengthen like a shadow.
Exactly how this will work out, I don’t think the teacher explains or even knows how it does work out. But he knows the Lord and he knows that there is time for everything, and that the Lord will judge the righteous and the wicked (Ecclesiastes 3:17) and the righteous will be better off.
He doesn’t know how it all works out (this is what he says in verses 16 and 17 of this chapter), that is the mystery that the Teacher hasn’t be able to solve, but he doesn’t need to solve it because he knows enough to know what he needs to know to live wisely. He knows that a person must live by faith and not by sight. We do that by trusting what God has revealed. The wise person fears the Lord and trusts what he has told us. They listen and obey because they walk by faith and not by sight.

Don’t join them

But again, the implication is clear. We are to fear the Lord. We aren’t to be afraid of what others might do to us or to envy the wicked who seem to be doing well and getting away with it. We aren’t to join in with them. But we are to trust the Creator who knows the beginning from the end. We are to listen to him and put his words into practice, obeying them and building our lives on them and not just doing what everyone else is doing..
The Lord Jesus said that the road to destruction is a broad road for many are on it or it is and easy road to travel. You just go along with crowd, doing what everybody else around you in this fallen world is doing. But we are to not join in with those around just because they are the ones being praised and admired in our cities or by those on our TVs at night. It is the man who pleases the Lord who escapes lady folly, but the sinner will fall into her snare (see 7:26).

Even when life seems unfair

Don’t fall into the trap even when life seems unfair and righteous people seem to be getting what the wicked deserve and wicked people what the righteous deserve. This is the other thing that the teacher has seen that says is futile. Have a look with me at verses 14 and 15 of chapter 8.

Ecclesiastes 8:14-15
14 There is a futility that is done on the earth: there are righteous people who get what the actions of the wicked deserve, and there are wicked people who get what the actions of the righteous deserve. I say that this too is futile. 15 So I commended enjoyment because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat, drink, and enjoy himself, for this will accompany him in his labour during the days of his life that God gives him under the sun.

Enjoy what God has given you

The teacher, as he has done before in chapter 3 commends the enjoyment of the life that God has given us under the sun. He commends finding joy and satisfaction in our labour. But contentment isn’t something you can just manufacture through your hard work or dedication. The Teacher said in chapter 3 that the ability to eat, drink and find joy in your labour is something that comes from God’s hand (3:24). It is a gift. He said that we can’t enjoy life apart from him (3:25). It is gift from God but strangely you only find this joy as you shift your focus from yourself to the Lord and take what he has given you as a gift and you use it to glorify and please him.

Living under the shadow of death

The wise person lives this way even under the shadow of death and even though we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. In chapter 9 the teacher describes the situation that we all face and that he has given himself to understand.

We all share the same fate (9:1-6)

Firstly, he says that we all share the same fate, and we share it in at least two ways. Firstly, we all don’t know what tomorrow will bring. While the righteous and their works are in God’s hands, they like the wicked don’t know whether tomorrow will bring them love or hate.
As the Teacher said back in chapter 3 there is time to love and time to hate. There is a time for everything both those things that we would regard as good and would welcome and those that we don’t welcome and would rather avoid. He has talked about mourning or dancing, embracing or letting go etc. But the times are not in our hands, and we don’t know which thing tomorrow will bring, whether it will be love or hate. It is the same for everyone whether we are righteous or wicked. We all don’t know what the future will hold.
But this isn’t the only way that the experience of the righteous and the wicked is the same in this world for the Teacher argues that the same fate, death comes to all.

Eccl 9:2
2 Everything is the same for everyone: There is one fate for the righteous and the wicked, for the good and the bad, for the clean and the unclean, for the one who sacrifices and the one who does not sacrifice. As it is for the good, so also it is for the sinner; as it is for the one who takes an oath, so also for the one who fears an oath.

Our experience of life under the sun is the same for everyone whether we are wise or fools, or righteous or wicked. Death comes to all of us, no matter who we are or what we have done in life and once we are dead, we don’t get a second chance at life under the sun. That’s why the teacher says that a living dog is better than a dead lion (9:4).
The teacher didn’t have any way to resolve death for only the Lord Jesus through his own death and resurrection would be able to do that. What the teacher does know is that somehow God will lengthen the days of the righteous like a shadow, but he doesn’t really know what that will involve or how it will happen. Death remained an enigma. It was an unsolved mystery for him. He can’t see beyond the end of a life under the sun. He doesn’t know what, if anything will happen, for as far as he can see it is over.

Live joyfully and wholeheartedly

But this didn’t change the way he thought about life. The teacher goes on to encourage us to live joyfully and wholeheartedly – to not take what we have for granted, but to live it joyfully and with all our strength and heart because you only get one crack at living life under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 9:7-10
7 Go, eat your bread with pleasure, and drink your wine with a cheerful heart, for God has already accepted your works. 8 Let your clothes be white all the time, and never let oil be lacking on your head. 9 Enjoy life with the wife you love all the days of your fleeting life, which has been given to you under the sun, all your fleeting days. For that is your portion in life and in your struggle under the sun. 10 Whatever your hands find to do, do with all your strength, because there is no work, planning, knowledge, or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.

The emphasis here is, firstly, to live life joyfully. Getting on with the everyday things of eating your bread and drinking your wine and doing your work, but doing it with a cheerful heart, not ignoring God, but being grateful for what he’s given you, seeing it as gift from him and knowing that God accepts our works for the one who fears the Lord is pleasing in his sight (2:25).
As Christians we are to celebrate what we have been given. We are told to always be giving thanks to the Lord for what he has done for us and to rejoice in him. We not winch or complain. We are not to grumble or be ungrateful. As we have said in a previous sermon, joy is an attitude of heart, it isn’t a set of circumstances but confidence in God. The apostle Paul writing from prison, say “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice.” (Eccl 4:4).
The teacher also calls us to enjoy life – to find joy in what we have been given. Life is a gift and the only way to wisely live is to live joyfully, thanking God for what he has given us. It’s the wise person who understands this whose face is brightened and changed so that it isn’t dour or stern.
We are also to live life wholeheartedly. You only get one go at it. When the ride is over, it is over, says the Teacher. So, whatever you put your hand to do, do it with all your strength and might. But let me caution, you here, don’t go chasing the wind, thinking that your work can deliver what it can give you. It can’t give you gain. But do whatever you do in life to please the Lord and do it wholeheartedly.
The Teacher didn’t know how it would all work out. But we do know. Paul said that death for him was better even than life for to be away from the body was to be present with the Lord (see 2 Cor. 5:10). He was confident of this and explained that we live by faith and not by sight. He went on to also says, “So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body of away from it” (2 Corinthians 5:9). He didn’t fear death and nor should we, but he also wanted to make the most of life. He told the Philippians that if he went on living in the body, then that would mean fruitful labour for him.
This didn’t mean just doing lots of things and making a name for himself. Rather it meant doing whatever he did, he did it joyfully and wholeheartedly to please the Lord. Such godly wisdom brightens a person’s face even in a fallen world.