Month 7:30, RC Preparation, Year:Day 5940:206 AM|
2Exodus 3/40, Yovel - Year 50/50
Gregorian Calendar: Sunday 30 October 2016
Reflections on a Wasted Life
Introduction to Ecclesiastes
The Book of Ecclesiastes is perhaps one of the strangest books in the Bible, a litany of pessimism. So what is it doing in the scriptures? It has been included by Yahweh, I have concluded, as a warning to you, the believer, not to throw away your life by turning away from Yahweh in an orgy of disobedience and self-indulgence. Though the author and object lesson is Solomon, it really could be the story of anyone. And in that respect, it is a valuable resource, telling the story of an older man looking back on his life. These are not the words of an atheist but of one who has behaved like one.
This is the story of payback, of what happens when you sow the seeds of idolatry, selfishness and discontent with what Yahweh has given you in life. What could this great and wise king possibly have been discontented with? Incredibly, perhaps, this rich and powerful man with his ridiculously large harem of a thousand wives and concubines not only became discontended with his family life but, with a limitness bank account, with his friendships and business relationships too. In Ecclesiastes we read the sad and pitiful story of a man who has learned emet (truth) the hard way, that life apart from Yahweh and His Torah makes no sense at all. Like the parable taught by Yah'shua's (Jesus) of Dives, finding himself in hell but unable to do so, and wanting to return to earth after his death to warn his family not to emulate him, Solomon, who is yet alive and actually able to issue his warning, sets out to spare his readers the bitterness of learning through their own experience that life is meaningless apart from Elohim (God).
How Israel Became Rich
'But how could Solomon possibly help us understand our own modern world?' you might ask. All that is present today - all the 'alternatives' to the Derech Elohim (Way of God) were present in Solomon's day. You may recall that Solomon made Israel rich not only by his political alliances to local clans and tribes, and with neighbouring countries, through numerous marriages but he was also a great trader. And when you trade you come in contact with the ideas, philosophies and religions of your trading partners.
Contact With Neigbouring Countries
In Solomon's day, and especially when this book was written around 935 BC, Greece was experimenting with paganism, India with pantheism and China with mysticism. Greece also had its atheistic and agnostic philosophers. So Solomon would have encountered all of these human systems of thought and belief both through his trading contacts but also - and as we learn in Scripture - through his pagan wives whom he ought not to have married had he been true to the teachings of his own religion.
Solomon Goes Liberal
In an attempt, no doubt, to be 'big-minded', Solomon had looked into all of these religious and philosophical ideas, experimented in occultism and paganism, and doubtless, like so many before and after him, had tried religious syncretism - the mixing of the true and the false together. In spite of the initial intellectual, psychic and sensual pleasure initially gained from this experimentation, he found all of this quite unsatisfying in the end, by which time he had dissipated and squandered the energy of his youth and abandoned the sound wisdom of his father David.
The testimony of other writers in the Bible does not necessarily leave me with the sense that Solomon ever really repented. At the end of his book he writes:
The Author of Discontentment
"The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear Elohim (God), and keep His mitzvot (commandments); for that is the whole duty of everyone. For Elohim (God) will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil" (Eccl.12:13-14, NRSV).
Because of the many good things Solomon did, his reign came to be somewhat idealised, even though his social and economic policy was unsound. He used forced labour or corvée in his building operations, and in that simply reproduced the evil that Israel's former slavemasters had used in Egypt (1 Ki.5:13; 2 Sam.20:24). He not unnaturally created much national discontent which finally broke out in open rebellion in the reign of Jeroboam. Yet he remained popular, no doubt in large part because of his wisdom (1 Ki.3:5ff.) and understanding of human nature which always creates resonance in people. But in time his religion, and particularly as his wealth and prestige increased, became progressively more outward and showy. His early idealism gave way to his desires for show and power through those foreign allegiances which came to so corrupt him.
Broadminded is the Way to Destruction
Progressively the wise one became more and more foolish, beginning with 'broadmindedness' and a 'liberalism' in his family which he subsequently embraced. "He loved many foreign women" (1 Ki.11:1, NASB), we are told, as he disregarded the Torah's prohibition against marrying unbelievers, allowing them to worship their own gods and then becoming fascinated by them himself, no doubt deceived by the sophistication of some pagan religions which played with his pride. The upshot of this soveriegn's tolerance and finally open embrace of paganism meant, inevitably, imitation and resulted in widespread idolatry throughout the nation.
So are Solomon's final words in the Book of Ecclesiastes evidence of a belated repentance? Bigger still is the question as to whether he was saved - in right relationship with Yahweh - when he died. Movies on his life usually depict him as a lost and bitter man at his deathbed. The damage he did was enormous and quite beyond his ability to undo. He had set a terrible example to his nation and brought disgrace to the Name of Yahweh. He will one day have to give account for this.
The Least Valuable Old Testament Book?
It is the opinion of a great many theologians and Bible teachers that Ecclesiastes is the least valuable of the Tanakh (Old Testament) books. It is extremely human, faithfully mirroring the experiences of those who wholly dwell in the realm of material things, and shows how little the world can satisfy the soul of man apart from Elohim (God). In that respect, it is successful - as a warning against dissipation. But do you get the impression that the author had made shalom (peace) with Yahweh? Do you get the impression that there was simcha (joy) and true teshuvah (repentance) in his life finally? I do not necessarily come away with that sense. It ends philosophically rather than spiritually in one who has seen the light but has no zest for any more living.
The Motive for Writing the Book
Solomon writes his book in the form of a self interview. You can picture him asking himself his first question, "You've lived a full life. What would you like to tell everyone watching and listening tonight?" The audience leans forward in anticipation of the answer, waiting for a profound response, some helpful words that might make their lives as successful as his own. And if that is true, is Solomon's purpose to give glory to Yahweh or to get some admiration for himself at his wisdom?
His answer is melodramatic and full of depressing self-pity: "Life is meaningless...utterly meaningless" (Eccl.1:2, NLT) or as older English translations render the same passage, "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity" (NASB). You can almost hear him sighing. The interviewer (himself) is speechless, awed by his own response. The audience is stunned. Is this all there is to life?
A Psychological Assessment
Now you may dispute my psychological assessment of Solomon's self-analysis, and you have every right to. That brilliant brain is still at work, but is it merely intellectualism we are hearing, or can spiritual remorse be detected? What actually is he saying? "How would I protray life to others," he asks himself. "Absolutely meaningless!" is his reply. "Empty, hollow, without significance", he insists.
Getting Our Attention
These are the sentinments being expressed by a man viewed by many as the wisest man who has ever lived and also possibly the richest, though perhaps the Rothschilds of the modern world have surpassed him in the latter. He writes his book in the same vein as he once used to judge and instruct Israel at the beginning of his reign. It's not actually until we arrive at the end of the book that the penny drops and the reader realises that he started his account simply as a way of getting our attention. Life isn't utterly meaningless but saying it was designed to shock. And a shocked person is more likely to listen to you than someone passively following a very ordinary talk.
Why We Have the Book
Solomon did have it all. He had as much as any Bill Gates of his day (in terms of wealth and influence) or any Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens of his day (in terms of intellectual prestige). He just didn't realise it until his closing days, after he had made a total mess of his life. And before we, the readers, make any more mess with our lives, Solomon is seemingly trying to show us the futuility of life without Elohim (God). And I suspect it is primarily for this reason that his discourse has been left to us in the canon of Scripture - as a warning, an object lesson.
So what did Solomon do? Like so many, he looked at life as one grand experiment, and in the end he concluded that the experiment has failed. The relationships he developed apart from Yahweh were disappointing. The business ventures he explored apart from Elohim (God) brought no real simcha (joy) or satisfaction. The music, the gardens, the arts, the architecture - what was the point if they could not be seen as a gift from the eternal Elohim (God) who loves us?
The Reason for the Warning
All of this dawned on Solomon, but was it too late? We may never know for sure and really only Yahweh can judge whether he was saved in the end or not. Everything he tried apart from Elohim (God) was either disastrous or meaningless. As the years rolled by and as his life started approaching its end, he realised he couldn't take another dead end. Now, having tried virtually everything his heart desired, it seems as though he may have returned to the one true desire of his heart - a relationship with Yahweh himself. That is how I would like to believe the story ends, and I am sure that is what you would like too. Let us hope he did, and let us hope that he finally realised that Elohim (God) is the only hope for meaning and an eternal future. Let us hope that he wrote Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth) in order to prevent this heartache for others. I suppose that is why this book is to be found in our Bibles. It's one I recommend atheists read.
So perhaps, after all, Solomon did repent at the end of his life. "Fear Elohim (God) and obey His mitzvot (commandments)" is Solomon's final plea and we can almost sense his wistfulness as he says this, wishing above all else that he had had the ordinary common sense to follow this guidline throughout his life, common sense that the less intellectually brilliant more readily understand, embrace and use.
Don't Experiment With the Commandments
My plea today is to those of you who are young and have your life ahead of you. Don't squander it. Don't experiment to see what mitzvot (commandment) works and what doesn't. In other words, live a life of loving emunah (faith), not a life of doubt and scepticism towards Yahweh's Davar (Word). I have met so many people in my ministry, including family, who decided to 'experiment' and ended up miserable and lost. It seems Solomon may have repented toward the end of his life, but not all do. And those who don't, have a very awful appointment with emet (truth) and judgment for not trusting in our loving Heavenly Father. Take Him at his word. Trust the conclusion of this once very brillianht man.
Not About Equality
There are reasons we are not given equal stations in life. There are reasons why some are born rich and others poor. There are reasons some are called to be professionals and others common labourers. This life is not about equality among men (even if that should be the agenda of politicians) but about learning to work out your salvation in the circumstances Yahweh has placed you in.
Achievements and Salvation
Solomon could not take his wealth with him to heaven and his intellectual brilliance did not count when it came to trusting Yahweh's Davar (Word) or not. Your achievements do not factor into the equation of salvation, which is by emunah (faith) alone, but they will most certainly be judged as to whether they were for your own personal glory or for Yahweh's. And you will be rewarded for your works after you have got saved properly. Provided we do all to the glory of Elohim (God), then whether rich or poor, professional or common labourer, we will be counted as equal and receive the same salvation and rewards for our faithful stewardship over what we were given.
Lazarus and Dives
The beggar Lazarus in Yah'shua's (Jesus') story of Dives (Lk.16:19-31) reposed in Abraham's bosom, a picture of Paradise, but the selfish rich man (Dives) was in hell. It need not have been. Both could have been in Heaven had the rich man treated Lazarus decently.
Do Your Best
Yahweh simply asks us to do our best with what we have been given:
Much is Expected
"For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have" (2 Cor.8:12, NIV).
Yet if you have been given much, know proportionally more will be expected of you:
What Will You Invest Your Life In?
"From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more" (Luke 12:48, NASU).
It boils down to this: will I invest in myself or will In invest in Yahweh? That is the choice. Solomon started well, using his gifts and position to do much good. Then he switched to using them for his own sensual gratification, and fell. At the end of his life he took stock and realised what a fool he had been. If nothing else, he left us his wisdom - he was a wise man with counsel (Jer.18:18). And that is his enduring legacy, not his temple which has long disintegrated into dust, not his empire which is also gone. Yet for a period of his life his attempt to be wise was far removed from him (Eccl.7:23).
Interestingly, in his last work - the Book of Ecclesiastes as we call it - he describes himself first of all as the "teacher" (NLT, NIV, NRSV) or "preacher" (NASB, NKJV) before being the "king in Jerusalem" (Eccl.1:1, NASB). The Hebrew word for 'teacher' or 'preacher' is qoheleth which literally means "assembly-man" which is why in English we call it 'Eccelsiastes' or 'church-man'. Solomon was first of all a teacher or preacher in the Assembly of Israel and qoheleth was the title of his spiritual office. He was a Torah-teacher! Where did he teach and preach? Close by to the House of Elohim (God) or the Temple (Eccl.5.1) where men come and go from the place of that which is qodesh (holy, set-apart).
Teach What You Know
Though all of us may not be teachers in the Messianic Assembly all of us are teachers of what we know to be true. We are to teach all who will listen to whom Yahweh sends us. We all of us have toqef (authority) to do that. And this is what I was telling you about yesterday when I said that the Remnant Bride must first of all become a teacher of righteousness, not just in word but by example in her lifestyle, and until this has happened, Yahweh cannot raise up in her the true pastoral, prophetic and apostolic gifts.
To Many Aspirant Kings
Before you start worrying about whether you are going to be a 'king' - a ruler or person of importance in the Assembly, you must first exemplify the life of the talmid (disciple) by living out the true doctrine for all to see. At first Solomon did this, then he stopped, and fell. There are so many believers who abandon their callings because they want to become 'kings', 'mighty men', forgetting what Yahweh has said about those with such ambitious attitudes:
"The mighty man will become tinder and his work a spark; both will burn together, with no one to quench the fire" (Isa.1:31, NIV).
We need to be in a constant state of teshuvah (repentance) so that we do not go the way of Solomon and squander away our lives needlessly, misleading others and possibly being the unwitting as well as witting instruments in their destruction. Let us know the true doctrine and live it diligently, becoming lights to the world. Then Yahweh will take care of the apostles and all the rest. Amen.
 Touch Point Bible, New Living Translation, 'Ecclesiastes' (Tyndale House Publishers, Wheateon, Illinois: 1996), pp.573-674
Comments from Readerts
 "Thanks for sharing, pastor. You are appreciated! Your wisdom reminds me of Solomon" (AMN, South Africa, 31 October 2016)