What can we learn about vanity from Ecclesiastes? How does seeking pleasure for the moment lead to disaster? The author of Ecclesiastes pleads with us to learn from his mistakes.
Here a short while back, Mr. Pinelli sent out a questionnaire, passed it among the church here in Cincinnati East, asking what you would like in the way of socials, events to do here as a congregation. He also asked what would you like to hear preached, some of the sermon titles, or sermon materials, not necessarily the title but material, something you’d like to have covered. That included everything from Christian living to prophesy to various and sundry things. One of those was — the question was, “Why don’t you ever speak on one of those books in the bible that we rarely hear spoken of? Like Lamentations, Song of Solomon and the book of Ecclesiastes?” Well Mr. Metzel covered Lamentations some here a little while back. Song of Solomon — I’m going to leave that one for somebody else to cover lest I get in hot water! So I thought today I would cover for you just a quick overview of the book of Ecclesiastes. It’s one of the hardest to understand, so some of the commentators say. It’s one of the most difficult to understand because it seems to be so negative, so pessimistic, so downcast because you keep hearing the theme or the phrase or the wording “vanity of vanity, all is vanity.”
Now we could take a long time just to prove who wrote it, about what time and so on because the scholars are disagreed on that. For many many, well even millennia, everybody was in agreement that Solomon was the author of the book of Ecclesiastes and that he wrote it somewhere late in his life around 935 B.C. In the age of “enlightenment” there came along some of those, Martin Luther was one of the leaders who began to dispute and doubt that, saying that it was not Solomon, it was somebody who picked up on some of maybe Solomon’s experiences and way down late some say pre-exilic, that is before Judah went into exile, in the days of Daniel and Ezekiel and so on, or post-exilic or afterward. Some down maybe even as in the inter-testamental times and they use certain little things that they jerk out of context or say the phraseology or the wording of the Hebrew there which was changed over to Greek in the Septuagint does not jive with Solomon’s day. Lo and behold, when they found the Dead Sea scrolls at Qumran, they found fragments of Ecclesiastes. Lo and behold, it proved that some of the language was exactly the Palestinian and the Phoenician wording back in the days of Solomon. So suffice it to say, we won’t go into a lot of that back and forth, we’ll just take for granted that it was Solomon because it does say he was king in Israel, he was the son of David, Solomon fits all of that. So it was sometime late in his life, most of the commentaries agree that it was after Solomon learned his lessons and had so many wives and they turned him away from God and all of the things that Solomon did wrong, it is felt that late in his life he came to his senses and in this book of Ecclesiastes, comes to a final conclusion that I’d like to impress upon our minds today.
We know that in the book of Ecclesiastes, we start out with the very first chapter, we’ll notice just some of the wording there. Why some think that it might not have been Solomon was it does not say “The words of Solomon” in the first verse. It says:
Ecclesiastes 1:1 Ecclesiastes 1:1The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
American King James Version×— These are the words of the…dabar in Hebrew, the advice, the instruction on how events happened or in other words, some of the advice that the teacher wants to give. It says: the words of the teacher…
Now the Hebrew word qoheleth which has actually been translated by some as “preacher” as you find in the King James, the New King James, the Revised Standard Version, some of those or “the teacher” as it is in some of the others like the NIV, the New Revised Standard Version, the New Living Translation and so on. Today I’m going to be using the New Living Translation. It’s not the old paraphrase of Ken Taylor at all but it’s one that has been put out by numerous scholars, around 90 scholars went through trying to put it into a language that would be a little more understandable for people and not be paraphrased, so it’s all of the old stuff of the Living Bible that Ken Taylor put out, so I’ll be quoting that. It just says:
V. 1 — These are the words of the teacher…qoheleth or the instructor, the assembler. In Hebrew it means the one who convenes or draws an assembly together to teach, to speak, to preach to them. In fact in the Moffitt translation it says “the words of the speaker” or preacher or teacher…King David’s son who ruled in Jerusalem.
So that begins to tell us it was Solomon who ruled in Jerusalem. Now as you read on, you begin to see that Solomon is about the only known person that could have fulfilled this role. It certainly was not in some of the kings that came after him like Abidjah and Asa and on down the line through Manasseh until finally you got down to Jehokim and Jehoikin and Zedekiah whose eyes were put out and led away captive in the Babylonian captivity. So Solomon is about the only one that could have filled this role and you begin to read here certain things that he is saying would lead you to think, Boy what a pessimistic outlook on life that this man is writing here.
Now there are numerous things that you will recall immediately when we talk about the book of Ecclesiastes, one of them I just quoted, “Vanity of vanities…” here in the second verse. Now here again, this word vanity is habel in the Hebrew and it merely means “meaningless,” without ability to understand, it’s something that is transitory or just for lasting fleeting quick moment and so we hear “vanity of vanities” quoted, we hear “there is a time for everything, a time to be born, a time to die” — you remember that. There’s another one where it says “the living know that they shall die, but the dead know nothing.” That’s in the third chapter. The ninth chapter explains some of this. Then you’ve heard, “Remember your Creator and the days of your youth.” Remember that one? You also remember, “What’s the sum of the matter? Fear God and keep His commandments.” So these are some of the words that we think of and hear quoted when somebody refers to the book of Ecclesiastes. I’d like to go into it just a little bit deeper there as we go into the Ecclesiastes and try to unravel in about 40-45 minutes some of what would be a good bible study to go through chapter-by-chapter, verse-by-verse. We won’t take that time, we’ll just try to hit some of the highlights to give us what is he talking about, what does he want us to learn from the book of Ecclesiastes?
Most of the commentators say that Solomon wrote to try to teach people to not follow in his footsteps but follow in the footsteps of God, to follow God. Because of course his life turned into shambles in many respects in many of the things that happened to him along the way. Solomon actually tried it all and what we’re going to be finding here, Solomon tried to point out to us from Ecclesiastes, three distinct propositions or premises that he would like for us to look at life.
The first and much of the book is spent on that, that is, trying to live life apart from God. Without any respect or any awareness of a God who certainly will hold us accountable. So you find Solomon trying that. Solomon was one who had much wisdom and he talked about him having great wisdom, there in the 16th verse.
Ecclesiastes 1:16 Ecclesiastes 1:16I communed with my own heart, saying, See, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yes, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.
American King James Version×— I said to myself, “Look, I am wiser than any of the kings who ruled in Jerusalem before me. I have greater wisdom and knowledge than any of them.”
Now do you remember it was back when David died and Solomon came to reign in his stead that God said, “Ask what you want Solomon and I’ll give it to you.” And Solomon said, God, I need wisdom, how can I rule this people, such a great nation as this, with all that he had seen his father going through in trying to be ruler, I need wisdom. Do you remember that in I Kings 3 it says, “God said to Solomon, ÔBecause you have not asked for riches…you’ve not asked for your enemies, you’ve not asked for power, prestige or any of this, but because you’ve asked for wisdom, I’m going to grant you wisdom so they’ll never be anyone as wise before you or after you.’”
You remember Jesus said in His day there was a greater than Solomon standing there, that was Jesus Himself, greater than Solomon. But God says, I’ll give you wisdom. So Solomon did have wisdom. Do you remember the two women that came to him, they each had a baby and one of them rolled over on to her baby and killed the baby. The next morning she saw the dead baby and she took the live baby and claimed it was hers. The real mother said “no, it’s mine.” So they came to Solomon, told him the matter…what would Solomon do in a matter like this? In his wisdom he perceived there is a way to test true love. Do you remember the account? It said, “Here, give me a sword, I’ll cut the baby half in two and give each one of you a half.” The real mother said, “No, no, no, let the child live, I would not want to see my child killed.” Solomon said, Now I know which is the right mother. Many things like that, even when the Queen of Sheba came and talked with Solomon, she came to ask him wisdom, ask him to solve riddles and tell her the meaning of proverbs, she said she found nothing in all of the world like the wisdom of Solomon.
So we can say Solomon certainly had wisdom, physical, fleshly wisdom. Now what about wealth? You remember Solomon was the one who built the temple, building projects, great architect; he had all of these things going for him. You remember David was the one who wanted to build God a house and God said to David, “Because you’ve been a man of blood and shed blood and a man of war, you’ll not build Me a temple, Solomon your son will build a temple.” But they did gather all of the material together, Solomon and David laid out the plans but David died and Solomon then was the one to build it. He had gold everywhere, all over the temple, gold. In fact it said gold was as common as silver and silver became as common as iron in the reign of Solomon. He had it, he had wealth, immeasurable amount of wealth. But you remember when he turned his back on God and began to have to pay out tribute money to bribe friends and keep peace? Finally, he had to strip all of this gold and silver away and it went to buy friends. I’ve likened that many times — we in the United States, the wealthiest nation on the face of the earth and all that we’d amassed, we owe it all to foreign countries who had to loan to us to keep us afloat and we’re going down and our economic situation is in a terrible crisis right at the moment. It’s just a matter of confidence, as long as the nations keep confidence in us, they’ll keep loaning, they’ll keep buying our stocks and bonds but eventually, that will end. Woe be to us when it happens and that happened in Solomon’s day. So he tried wealth, but wealth didn’t bring him happiness, only brought him sorrow and other things.
Now what about power? He was supreme. What about prestige? He was the ruler of all! What about position? Well, he was the king! And so he had power, position, prestige, money, wealth, all of these things. But then he would wind up saying, “It’s all useless, meaningless, it comes to an end.” He said, “I’ll die for all of this that I’ve worked for, I’ll die and who knows what my son will be like when he comes on?” Little did Solomon realize what was going to happen when the reign went to Abijah and Asa and Jehoshaphat and right on down the line. A few good ones but the preponderance of them were bad ones and they went and did even more evil than the fathers before them and they would not heed the prophets that God sent to them and eventually the northern kingdom, kingdom under Jereboam, after the split, after Solomon died, the kingdom split and the northern kingdom of Israel under Jereboam, with their headquarters in Samaria went into captivity first, around 721 B.C. under the Assyrian invasion and conquering them. It said foolish sister Judah went and did worse and they went into captivity around 604 B.C., somewhere thereabouts, to 585 B.C., in that neighborhood and they went into captivity and it was all gone.
So it was just as Solomon said, it’s vanity of vanities — meaningless. And this is what the New Living Translation renders it, “Everything under the sun is meaningless.” Under the sun meant right here on this earth where we dwell, mortal man dwelling upon this earth under the sun, right here, he said it’s so meaningless. And he talks about the cyclical patterns that went on. He said, You know, the sun comes up and the sun goes down and hastens back where it came from.” Now you see Solomon didn’t have a satellite to back off, he didn’t even know the earth was round for a long time. You were very much anathema to the church if you believed the earth was anything but flat. So when Columbus, Magellan and these others took off, how were they to know that they wouldn’t just keep going on water, on and on because that was the popular belief at the time, the earth was flat. Then they found out it was round and so when he said the sun came up, the sun goes down, basically what he’s talking about, the earth was rotating on its axis and he’d see the sun go down, the sun come up but it was just a meaningless cycle. What about the wind? The wind blows here there, wherever, it hastens right back where it came from — again, just a cyclical pattern that goes on.
We understand that with our satellites and with our barometers and all these things, these fancy gadgets, they can tell you what the weather is going to be like or can be. I usually say, when they say it’s going to rain, I’ll say we’ve got a nice day coming! They say it’s going to be pretty, we’ll have a nice weekend, it will snow, it will rain, it will do something! But yet with all their instruments they can understand the movements of the winds and all of these things, Solomon just said, it’s a meaningless cycle that just goes on and on. The river goes to the sea, the sea is never full.
We went on a cruise not long ago in mid-January and we were down in the Caribbean and you see all of this water out here — where did it come from? You know it rains, fills the Mississippi, the Ohio and all of these rivers full, they run into the Gulf, but it doesn’t overflow the banks and keep going till there is no more United States. It’s a cyclical pattern and so when we look at these cyclical patterns, we begin to realize, what is the end of it all? Apart from God, just living a physical human being, obviously you would take the notion that he does say here, So let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die and it’s all over. Even in I Cor. 15 that was quoted earlier in the first split, If there is no resurrection, then we might as well eat, drink and be merry because what’s to happen thereafter? No, it’s all over. Paul said that’s foolish talk, don’t be misled by that, there is a resurrection coming; we will have to face God. So the first premise is, you could try to live life without God and its going to be frustrating, meaningless, vanity of vanities, without any good purpose because we will have to stand before God and give an account.
Now the second premise is, we can know God, we can know God has supplied these things and we believe in God philosophically, we can enjoy all the things that God has given us, but God is just kind of whenever it becomes handy for us. In other words, we say “God,” we talk about God, we pretend to be Christian but are we really? Are we really? Is it a real thing for us? Is religion “real?” I don’t like the word “religion.” Is salvation, is obedience, is Godly living, is it real? Or is it just ho-hum, live for the day? Or is it like it was in the days of the Pharisees? They, of course, went through all of their ritualistic things but you know the end of it all? Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, you’ll in no wise enter the kingdom. Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, you’ve covered the land to try to make a proselyte, a follower, and once you’ve made him, he’s more a two-fold child of hell than before.” It’s of no good. You remember Jesus came to the end of the Sermon on the Mount there in Matthew 7? He said, “It’s not everyone that says unto me, ÔLord, Lord’ that shall enter into the kingdom but he that does the will of My Father in heaven.” He said, “Many will say to Me in that day, ÔLo we have done all these good works, we’ve preached in Your name, we’ve prophesied in Your name, we’ve done all these good things. Jesus said, ÔI will say to you, “Depart from Me, you who work iniquity, I don’t know you, you are working iniquity.” You claim to be religious but it’s an empty shell, an empty faade, it’s just so much warming of seat.
No, religion or obedience to God, Godly living must become real and that we’ll get to in the third premise. But in the second premise, we have certain things here where he said we can try to live life apart from God, we can use all the different things that we’ve got but how do we really find the way to go? How can we really know the way to go? We can hear about God, know about God but it’s got to be more than that. Jeremiah 10:23 Jeremiah 10:23O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walks to direct his steps.
American King James Version×has an amazing statement here where he pretty much shows man as man really is. Again reading in the New Living Translation, he says:
Jere. 10:23 — (Jeremiah is praying) I know O Lord that a person’s life is not his own; no one is able to plan his own course.
So we need God more than just a knowledge or an awareness of God, we need God in our life, our life is not our own. As Colossians 3 says, if we’ve been baptized into Christ, we must put on Christ and we must seek the things above as a Christian. He said no one is able to plan his own course apart from God, we’re trying to live a godly life but apart from God.
V. 24 — Do not correct me in anger for I would die. Be gentle with me was what he was saying.
Now Solomon of course wrote the Proverbs. In the Proverbs you find many proverbs that say that we as human mortals can think we got a hold on, we think we really understand it and as he says here, I know that it’s not within man to know the way that he should go or direct his path. You remember Proverbs 14:12 Proverbs 14:12There is a way which seems right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.
American King James Version×? And 16:25? He said:
Proverbs 14:12 Proverbs 14:12There is a way which seems right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.
American King James Version×& 16:25 — There is a way that seems right to a man but the ends thereof are the ways of death. He says also:
Proverbs 16:2 Proverbs 16:2All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the LORD weighs the spirits.
American King James Version×— The ways of a man are right in his own sight but God knows his heart.
So what he’s saying is, we approach the book of Ecclesiastes from the premise we can enjoy life, we can enjoy all the things God has given us but unless God becomes real and becomes more than just a “eat, drink and be merry” and claim religion and say “Well God gave me this that and the other,” then it is of no lasting value. Let’s notice something here also about God telling us some very important things here in the book of Ecclesiastes. Ecc. 3 — Solomon, of course, did write some very important things for us to keep in mind as we live this life but go on to the third premise or the third step that we’ll be talking about in a moment. Let’s notice here in Ecclesiastes 3:9 Ecclesiastes 3:9What profit has he that works in that wherein he labors?
American King James Version×.
In other words, the first premise is you can work, work, work, you die, you leave it to others and what good is it, it’s just a striving after wind. Solomon says, I’ve thought about this in connection with the various kinds of work God has given people to do. God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart but even so people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. It takes the spirit of God into ones life to begin to comprehend and understand what God has. So he says:
Ecclesiastes 3:12 Ecclesiastes 3:12I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life.
American King James Version×— So I concluded there’s nothing better for people than to be happy, to enjoy themselves as long as they can and people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor for these are the gifts from God.
V. 14 — And I know that whatsoever God does is final, nothing can be added to it or taken from it. God’s purpose in this is that people should fear Him. Note that, very important!
God’s purpose in all of this, what He gives us, the gifts we have, the home, the car, the furniture, the clothing and everything we have that makes life comfortable for us, He says He gives that to us, lets us enjoy it but remember, we must fear God, stand in awe of God, review God, to reverence God and stand in awe of God. Solomon said, I tried it without God and it didn’t work. With God it will work if we learn that third lesson or the third premise and that is, God becomes a living reality in our life. So he said:
V. 15 - Whatever exists today and whatever will exist in the future has already existed in the past for God calls each offense back in its turn.
In other words, life does become cyclical, we live, we die, one generation comes and goes and another comes on. Let’s notice something else that he tells us here in the fifth chapter. Now a lot of people say, Well this is a pessimist book. No, it’s not really a pessimist book; it talks about God and what God does and so on and how to try it without God but doing it with God is what brings success. The word “God” is actually found 41 times in this book of Ecclesiastes so quite often he’s talking about it. Let’s notice Ecclesiastes 5:10 Ecclesiastes 5:10He that loves silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loves abundance with increase: this is also vanity.
American King James Version×.
Ecclesiastes 5:10 Ecclesiastes 5:10He that loves silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loves abundance with increase: this is also vanity.
American King James Version×— Those who love money will never have enough.
How absurd to think that wealth brings true happiness. Solomon said, I had it, I had it all, I had more than anybody could ever ask for, but it wasn’t the answer. We’ve had a lot of rich people that have lived miserable lives; they were successful in their endeavor. Of course, we can think of J. Paul Getty who was an oilman, a billionaire, multi-billionaire. You know what he said? He had I think seven wives, whatever the case might have been. He said, “You know, I would give all my wealth if I could have just one happy marriage with happy children.” But he hadn’t found it because his money kept him in all these different ways. Howard Hughes is another man who made millions and even billions in the aircraft industry and so on. He became so paranoid that he was afraid to even eat food that his selected chef made for him, he was afraid he was trying to poison him and he lived a miserable life even though he was fabulously rich.
Somebody sent me something on the e-mail the other day talking about a commencement address that Bill Gates, you’ve heard of Bill Gates — Microsoft and all of the computer guru that he is and the billions, billions, billions he’s made — you know what he said to the graduating class? He said, “Life isn’t fair, there is no free lunch, there is no substitute for hard work.” And his admonition to those graduating seniors was, “Learn to work, learn to make your own way, don’t wait for a handout to come along.”
So he said to think wealth could bring happiness is absurd. Let’s notice now Ecclesiastes 5:18 Ecclesiastes 5:18Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor that he takes under the sun all the days of his life, which God gives him: for it is his portion.
American King James Version×.
Ecclesiastes 5:18 Ecclesiastes 5:18Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor that he takes under the sun all the days of his life, which God gives him: for it is his portion.
American King James Version×— Even so, I have noticed one thing…Solomon is saying…at least that it is good for people to eat well, drink a good glass of wine and enjoy their work, whatever they do under the sun for however long God lets them live.
So what he’s saying is, enjoy life, enjoy life! That’s what He wants us to do as Christians; we should be the happiest people on the face of the earth! We have a hope that you heard about in the first message. We have a hope of the kingdom of God and all of the vast eternity and beauty that God has for every last one of us. So as long as we’re alive, let’s enjoy that hope and live toward that hope. He says:
Ecclesiastes 6:9 Ecclesiastes 6:9Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire: this is also vanity and vexation of spirit.
American King James Version×— Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have.
In other words, there’s an old prayer that says, “Lord, help me to be thankful for what I have and not grumble about what I don’t have.” And so this is what Solomon is saying, enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have! Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless; it’s like chasing after wind. So if you think you can get happiness, meaning, purpose in your life by just grabbing for physical things, whether it be for power for a moment then you’re in for a sad awakening and a sorry end because it will be short lived. He talked about this popularity being just a short-lived thing. You can be popular, you can be, as we say, king of the hill, for one moment and tomorrow you’re nothing. There’s an old saying, “You don’t want to treat badly those that you step on to get to the top of the ladder, because they may be your boss on your way down.” And so it is one of those things, we must treat our fellow human beings in a right and proper way, popularity and all of that will come much much too quickly to an end. Let’s notice in Ecclesiastes 8:14 Ecclesiastes 8:14There is a vanity which is done on the earth; that there be just men, to whom it happens according to the work of the wicked; again, there be wicked men, to whom it happens according to the work of the righteous: I said that this also is vanity.
American King James Version×— again, he’s talking about God.
Ecclesiastes 8:14 Ecclesiastes 8:14There is a vanity which is done on the earth; that there be just men, to whom it happens according to the work of the wicked; again, there be wicked men, to whom it happens according to the work of the righteous: I said that this also is vanity.
American King James Version×— And this is not all that is meaningless in our world. In this life good people are often treated as though they were wicked and wicked people are often treated as though they were good. That is so meaningless.
V. 15-17 — I recommended having fun because there is nothing better for people to do in this life than for people to eat drink and enjoy life, that way they will experience some happiness along with all of the hard work God gives them. So he said…in my search for wisdom, I try to observe everything that goes on all across the earth and I discovered that there is ceaseless activity day and night. This reminded me that no one can discover everything God has created in our world…It reminded Solomon that…no one can discover everything God has created in this world no matter how hard they work at it, not even the wisest people know everything even if they say they do.
So he is saying there are things there are things that we cannot learn unless God opens it up and reveals it to us. Let’s notice Ecclesiastes 9:7 Ecclesiastes 9:7Go your way, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God now accepts your works.
American King James Version×, just picking out a few of these along the way to get the thrust or the thought of what Solomon is getting at. Notice Verse 7:
Ecclesiastes 9:7-8 Ecclesiastes 9:7-8  Go your way, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God now accepts your works.
 Let your garments be always white; and let your head lack no ointment.
American King James Version×— Go ahead, eat your food and drink your wine with a happy heart for God approves of this. Wear fine clothes with a dash of cologne.
So he’s saying, Do we sit in sackcloth and ashes and woe is me? No! God wants us to be happy, He wants us to enjoy life, He says, eat food, and drink your wine with a happy heart for God approves of that. But He says:
V. 9 — Live happily with the woman you love through all the meaningless days of life that God has given you in this world. He said…the wife God gives you is your reward for all your earthly toil.
I am sure I can say, many of you sitting out here with many years under your belt, that’s a great reward when God rewards you with a wonderful wife, a wonderful companion, wonderful children and we live life as God would want us to live it, in fear of Him. He said:
V. 10 - Whatever you do, do it well. Or the King James says, Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might. The New Living says: Whatever you do, do well, for when you go to the grave, there will be no more work or planning or knowledge or wisdom.
So what he’s saying is, enjoy life to the full, being aware of God in our life and our need for God. So let’s go then now into that third area. Well just before we do, let’s just look at chapter 10 and 11 just real quickly. It was Solomon who wrote the Proverbs and here we find in this book of Ecclesiastes some of those very proverbs which again will remind us, this is like you would find right in the book of Proverbs but here it is in the book of Ecclesiastes in the 10th and 11th chapters. Let’s notice something here in chapter 10, just some words of wisdom because we’ll find Solomon saying in chapter 12 that he sought wisdom, some wise things that he could teach people about life and how to enjoy that. He said, even the very first verse says:
Ecclesiastes 10:1 Ecclesiastes 10:1Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking smell: so does a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honor.
American King James Version×— Dead flies will cause even a bottle of perfume to stink.
Now you might have a nice bottle of perfume that smells good — put a dead fly in it, you’ve got rotten perfume! So he says, a little bad, a little evil is like a little leaven leavens the whole lump principle. And so he says:
V. 1 — Yes an ounce of foolishness will undo a pound of wisdom and honor.
In other words, a little bit of compromise with God’s word as law can undo the good life, the straight life, the obedient life that you’ve been living by just compromising. Now, let’s notice as we get to one of his proverbs here.
V. 5 — There’s another evil I have seen as I have watched the world go by. Kings and rulers make a grave mistake…now what’s the mistake kings and rulers can make? It’s a proverb…if they give foolish people great authority and if they fail to give people of proven worth, competency and abilities their rightful place of dignity.
In other words what you are doing is the old Peter Principle if you ever studied the books by Peter, the Peter Principle, the Peter Prescription, you know what he builds around? Exactly what Solomon is here saying, promote someone beyond their competency and the organization suffers. When you appoint somebody who is a foolish incompetent person to be in a power of authority, he says that’s a grave mistake and we know that all too well to be the truth. He said:
V. 7 — I’ve even seen servants riding like princes and princes walking like servants.
So what he’s saying here is, the guy in charge is not always the one who ought to be there. There is the one who is walking along like he didn’t have a dime in his pocket might be the guy who could own half of the bank. But he said, you know things become very temporary this thing of working hard, trying to leave a name for yourself to show you were the one who was in charge. Here in the book of Ecclesiastes, he talks about how that you can work hard amass a fortune and then who remembers it? Who remembers it? I remember Mr. Armstrong used to tell about the days when he was in the advertising business and he would call on people who were bankers and financiers and so on. He went to this one bank and he wondered, just as a kind of an experiment, wonder how many people here know the founder of this bank? It was a successful bank. You probably remember him say it and tell the story. He said he got to asking this one and that one, Who built this bank, who started this bank? I don’t really know. It was not that many years hence that it was built, maybe 40-50 years later, I don’t know. He looked all over the bank and no one knew who the founder was. Finally, he asked the janitor, somebody told him, said, Joe, the janitor, you might ask him, he’s been around a long time and he asked him, Do you know who founded this bank? He said, Yeah I remember and he told him a little bit about the beginnings of it, the struggles that the man went through and the bank became successful and he built it to a big bank but he died and then, of course, those who followed behind, maybe his sons or whatever, the first thing you know, the memory of him was gone. We’ve often said, the same could be said of Mr. Armstrong, he’s been dead twenty years coming next January and sometimes the memory of him, some of his words, some of his sayings will be floating away from people’s mind, never talked about and he’ll be forgotten. He will only be just a name and one epic in time from the thirties to the eighties in the century of 1900.
So Solomon is saying, we want something to be more lasting than that; we want to put competent people in the competent places so that the right result will happen. He said, “When the righteous rule, the people rejoice, but when the wicked are in authority, the people languish (or mourn or groan).” So Solomon just basically says, the man that is competent, has his head on straight, his heart right, he should be the one who is given a good position. Now he says here in verse 10, here is a good one; here is a little axiom or proverb:
Ecclesiastes 10:10 Ecclesiastes 10:10If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct.
American King James Version×— A dull ax requires great strength…I mean a lot of whacking and trying to chop it with a dull ax, you ever try to do that? You know it helps a lot if you sharpen it, that’s what he’s saying here. He says: A dull ax requires great strength, sharpen the blade! That’s the value of wisdom, it will help you succeed. So it’s smart, sharpen the blade and then you’ll be able to chop your wood. It’s just one of the proverbs that he is pointing out to them.
Let’s notice in Ecclesiastes 11:4 Ecclesiastes 11:4He that observes the wind shall not sow; and he that regards the clouds shall not reap.
American King James Version×. If you wait for perfect conditions, I’m going to get around to it and they developed the “tuit” you know, the little round “tuit” in it. I’ll get around to it when the time gets right or the conditions get right. Notice what Solomon says.
Ecclesiastes 11:4-5 Ecclesiastes 11:4-5  He that observes the wind shall not sow; and he that regards the clouds shall not reap.
 As you know not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so you know not the works of God who makes all.
American King James Version×- If you wait for perfect conditions, you’ll never get anything done. How true. God’s ways are as hard to discern as the pathways of the wind and as mysterious as a tiny baby being formed in a mother’s womb. Miraculously!
David said, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made and who can know me?” Only God! And so here he is merely saying God’s ways are past finding out. The only way we can find the right way is through God and God’s word and His instruction. It says over there in Ephesians 1:11 Ephesians 1:11In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his own will:
American King James Version×, it says:
Ephesians 1:11 Ephesians 1:11In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his own will:
American King James Version×— God works all things after the counsel of His own will. God will work it out in due time, in His way.
That’s why we’re going to find out as we move into that third area, it’s time that we trust in the living God who will show us the way to go, the way to happiness and the right ending and the right result. Let’s look real quickly to chapter 12, I think I’ll just read most of this chapter here for you if you’ll bear with me because it basically tells you the cyclical pattern, all of the things that Solomon had experienced and said “Vanity of vanities, it’s all vanity” or meaningless or temporary or transitory or passing into end. So he’s going to say the same thing happens to you and me as physical beings. No one is exempt, not a one in this room. This is exactly what has happened or will happen as we go along. ABC students, you’re here as young people most of you, there are a few of our seniors that we love and appreciate them coming along, still young at heart and want to learn too, but ABC students, listen up, he says:
Ecclesiastes 12:1 Ecclesiastes 12:1Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw near, when you shall say, I have no pleasure in them;
American King James Version×— Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator.
You’ve come here for a purpose, to learn and to develop your lives, your mind and to apply yourself into the words you’re going to be hearing through the professors or the lecturers who will lecture to you, Mr. Ken Graham is here today, you must be here for some of the lecture classes, good to see him again. He said:
V. 1 — Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor Him in your youth.
Honor Him while you’re young and vivacious and have get up and go! I often say jokingly, I used to just jump out of bed and go do what I wanted to, just right now, without a thought. I don’t anymore, now it’s “Come on bones, let’s get up bones and get going!” You move a little bit slower! So what he’s saying here…Before you grow old and no longer enjoy living, it will be too late then to remember Him.
In other words to try to really get out and serve and so on, when you’re old, laid up, practically blind, can’t get about. He said it’s too late then.
V. 2 — When the light of the sun and the moon and stars has dimmed your old eyes and there is no silver lining among the clouds…we always talk about you know when it’s a cloudy day, there is always a silver lining, there’s a good day behind it. No, he said:
V. 3 — Your limbs will tremble with age. In other words, your arms will grow weary and trembling and not be able to pick up what they used to. Your legs will grow weak. You’ll hobble along on two, then three, then four and then push our cart along to walk. Your teeth will be too few to do their work. Now why I’m reading this is, it begins to tell you some of the symbolism that Solomon is using in the NKJ or the KJ, it puts it into what he’s really talking about here in this New Living Translation. Your teeth will be too few to do their work and you will be blind too. And when your teeth are gone….of course, he’s not talking about the days now when we use dentures, used to people just gummed it! And a lot of people still gum it you know, they decide not to get dentures, they gum it and their gums get so hard they can bite an apple! But you know he says…when your teeth are gone, keep your lips tightly covered when you eat. Does that make pretty good sense? You wouldn’t want to be eating hamburger and somebody without teeth, out it comes. He said, no keep your lips tightly closed.
V. 5 — Even the chirping of birds will wake you up…in other words, it will be hard for you to sleep at night, the least thing will wake you up, you’ll be a light sleeper…but you yourself will be deaf and tuneless…in other words you don’t appreciate that beautiful music once you are deaf and not discerning the tune or the rhythm of it. With a quavering voice you will be afraid of heights and of falling. White-haired and withered, dragging along without any sexual desire. He’s saying exactly what the Hebrew there actually is meaning. That part of your life is over. You will be standing at death’s door and as you near your lasting home the mourners will walk along the streets. Now he says:
V. 6 — Remember your Creator now while you’re young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well, it’s too late, life is over then. Enjoy it now while you have life and can enjoy all of the things that you can get about and do and all of your activity.
V. 7 — Then the dust will return to the earth and the spirit will return to God who gave it. Then he said:
V. 8 — “All is meaningless,” says the teacher, “utterly meaningless.”
V. 9 — Because the teacher was wise he taught the people everything he knew…that’s the purpose Solomon is writing the book of Ecclesiastes, that’s why we’re going through it and considering it today, as we begin to wind down what Solomon is saying, he taught the people everything he knew, what not to do and that’s try to live life without God, or with God, trying to compromise with God. No, it’s better to go all the way and be obedient to God. So he wrote the Proverbs, classified them, indeed the teacher taught them…you have the New Living Translation in your lap there? If not, there are amazing words here, you know what the teacher taught them? It says…the teacher taught the plain truth!
I thought wow, isn’t that something, that’s the name of our flagship magazine we had back in earlier days. He taught the plain truth and he did so in an interesting way. That’s why our teachers and lecturers here try to give you, in an easy and understandable way, some of the basics, some of the rudiments in many cases, but some of the basics and even advanced knowledge of what the bible is talking about and the prophecies and in the history and the many things you need to know.
V. 10-11 — I watched teachers words spur us to action…that’s what we try to do…and emphasize important truths. The collective sayings of the wise are like guidance from the shepherd or like goads…or like prodding sticks to prod the cattle along. You know the shepherd had a rod and staff, not to beat and hurt his sheep but to guide his sheep when they step out of the way, he’d go over with his hook and bring them back with his rod and his staff. He said, The collected sayings of the wise are like guidance from a shepherd with his sheep.
V. 12 — But my child…that’s all of us, whatever age we are here in this room this afternoon…be warned, there is no end of options ready to be expressed. Everybody has his own opinion, there is no end of opinions ready to be expressed…studying them can go on forever and become very exhausting.
That’s why Paul said, “Avoid genealogies and these foolish and unlearned questions, they just gender strife, they stir trouble.” Don’t argue about genealogies; don’t argue about these little twigs and other things that God has not revealed to us yet, don’t argue about those, it’s exhausting, it’s a frustration, a wasting of time.
V. 13 — Here is my final conclusion…now we’re down, as we say, to the nitty-gritty, down to the brass tacks, down to the nuts and bolts… Fear God… reverence God, stand in awe of God, submit to God, yield to God is what he is saying…and obey His commands. Yet there are those who say the commandments are not to be obeyed, he said if you want to have a really successful ending in life in God’s kingdom, obey His commands…for this is the duty of every person. I know it says “the man” or the whole man…no, the Hebrew is saying it is the duty of every person.
V. 14 — God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing whether good or bad.
Now does this square with what Jesus taught and Paul taught? Absolutely. Jesus said in Matthew 10:26 Matthew 10:26Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known.
American King James Version×there is coming a time when God will bring every secret thing to bear and to open and we will be there. Romans 2:16 Romans 2:16In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.
American King James Version×says very plainly that we will give account for every secret thing.
There’s a scripture I’d like to leave with you, let’s go over to II Corinthians 5:10, pretty much sums up what here Solomon is saying. You can find several of those over in I Cor., you can also find them in the book of Romans. Let’s notice here:
II Cor. 5:9 — So our aim is to please Him always…that is the Lord…whether we are here in the body or away from the body, whether we’re dead or whether we’re alive.
V. 10 — For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or the evil we have done in our bodies in this life. Whatever we do God says we will give an account thereof.
We will give account for every idle word we say, we’ll give an account for all the evil thoughts we think and we’ll stand in judgment facing them unless repented of. Once repented of, then he says, I’ll remove from you your sins as far as east is from the west and hide them under the sea, cast them behind me, never to remember them again…if we repent of those. If we don’t, God says you’re going to stand before the judgment seat and give account for what you have done, good or bad and that’s what here Solomon is ending up. He says: Fear God, keep His commandments, for this is the duty of every one of us, for God will give us into account for what we do.
So Solomon says you can live life without God, seeking pleasures for the moment, just living for the moment and it will absolutely be to our failing and undoing and being cast out of His kingdom. He said we can play games with God, we can take in the good things of God, talk about God but in our hearts really deny Him. As he says in Titus 1:16 Titus 1:16They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and to every good work reprobate.
American King James Version×, we can profess to know God but in works deny Him, then we’re abominable, we’re disobedient and unto every good work void of judgment. So he says, let’s not play games with God, let’s be real Christians, let’s revere God, worship God, honor God, submit to God, obey God and then we will be invited into His kingdom with nothing to be repented of or be ashamed of and he said, Come, enjoy the joys of the Lord.
So hopefully we’ve learned a little bit from the book of Ecclesiastes today, let’s not try to leave God out of our life, God must be a vital active part of our life and fear Him, obey Him and then the end results will be forever, not meaningless or temporary or transitory, it will last forever, that’s what we want.