I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good
as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil —this is God’s gift to man.
Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 (ESV)
June 10 Proverbs 27-29
June 11 Ecclesiastes 1-6
June 12 Ecclesiastes 7-12
June 13 1 Kings 10-11; 2 Chronicles 9; Proverbs 30-31
June 14 1 Kings 12; 2 Chronicles 10
June 15 1 Kings 13-14; 2 Chronicles 11-12
Let’s talk vanity. Not pride in physical beauty, but the vanity written about in Ecclesiastes. Vanity refers to the vaporous nature of everything under the sun. On the surface the writer, who was probably addressing a group of people outside of the temple, seems to feel that there’s no point in life. But upon closer reading, we see the underlying theme of God’s beautiful world (3:11), the blessing of the food, drink and human relationships God has given us (2:24-26; 3:12-13; 8:15 and elsewhere), and the most important blessing – the wisdom of the fear of God, whose work, love, and steadfastness endures forever (3:14). The bottom line here is that without God, all the “stuff” of the world is useless. When we look at the list of “vanities” from the perspective of how fleeting they are, they take on a whole new meaning.
The natural world: there is nothing truly new in nature. Wow! We have scientists trying to tell us that we have evolved, but here we are told that everything has been “in the ages before us”.
Wisdom: man can strive for complete wisdom and knowledge, but it’s impossible. The only One Who can know everything is the One Who created everything – God.
Wise living: Good and bad happens to both the wise (believers) and the foolish (unbelievers). The writer uses the word “hate” here, but not as an expression of abject despair. Instead, it’s a rhetorical technique which states a relative contrast in absolute terms. In other places (9:4, 5, 9) life is commended.
Work: have you ever wondered whether your work is useful? Thought that there was no point because the person who came after you would just mess up all you’d done? That’s where the writer is! He wonders if his work (or any work) makes a lasting impact on the world. He’s not sure, but he knows that he needs to make the best of his situation, doing his best to enjoy his work and the fruits of his labor. The only way to truly find enjoyment with anything in life is to see it as a gift from God’s hand.
Wealth: Greed, the love of money for money’s sake, is useless. Those who are interested in accumulation are never content. They always want more. Be content with what God gives you!
This week we also finished the Proverbs, so we have completed the section of the Bible known as “wisdom literature”. Proverbs ends with a listing of characteristics for a woman of excellence. Why are women singled out here? Some commentators think it may be because the authors wanted to make a point that although the rest of the book used male pronouns, the book’s teaching applies both to male and female. It is written to show what the ideal woman would look like, just as the remainder of the book shows aspects of what the male ideal is. Look at what an excellent woman was supposed to do:
Earns her husband’s trust
Works willingly to provide household needs
Secures food for her family (she couldn’t go to the local grocery store!)
Makes sure that the family is taken care of before it’s time to start the day
Negotiates for land (or is wise and in control of the family finances)
Superior planning skills mean she is prepared for whatever comes
Skill in many areas, interpersonal as well as commercial
Generous to the poor and needy, using money wisely
Her character contributes to her husband’s success
Inner strength and dignity
Diligently cares for her household
Her children call her blessed
She fears the Lord
No need for “equal rights”. God has gifted women differently than men, but look at what He expects!
We also read more in Kings and Chronicles. We begin with the visit of the Queen of Sheba. After testing Solomon’s wisdom, she agrees that it comes from God. She gives him literally tons of gold and spices. Solomon had it all – riches, wisdom, God’s grace, a gorgeous palace … and then …
We go back to the intermarriage to the daughter of Pharaoh (among others apparently). God clearly told His people not to intermarry. It was not a racial issue. The problem was that His people were set aside, and intermarriage could cause the people to worship other gods. (Today, intermarriage is also a no-no [2 Corinthians 6:14]. God doesn’t want a Christian to marry a non-Christian. If, however, one partner becomes a Christian, they are exhorted to stay [1 Corinthians 7:12-16]).
Solomon’s love led him to divide his loyalties. He began to worship the planets (Ashtoreth, goddess of Venus), the underworld (Milcom, Chemosh), and accept child sacrifice (Molech). As a result, the peace that had reigned was shattered and the kingdom is divided. Throughout the book of Kings we will see 20 kings in Judah (Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah were good; Josah, Amaziah, Azariah and Jotham were good and bad; the rest “did evil”) and 19 in Israel (none called “good”; only Jehu was good and bad). Some kings ruled for just one month; Manasseh ruled for 55 years.
As an aside, why does each king’s death mention that he “slept with” his fathers? Probably because tombs were communal, family things (like today’s mausoleums) and families were buried together.
We have a few weeks of reading about the divided kingdom. We will see the cycle of abundance, turning from God, punishment, repentance and restoration repeated. We will see the effects of sin on the kingdoms (remember, God didn’t want Israel to have a king in the first place). We will see a prophet or two (some reluctant, some happy to do God’s will). In short, we’ll see a summary of us today.
Which parts of the blog are most inspiring? Which parts are most boring? I want to make this experience as valuable as possible. If you have suggestions (and OF COURSE if you want to interject what you’ve learned), feel free to email me or leave a comment. God bless you as you serve Him this week.