Today: [Ecclesiastes 4] No – Never Alone! In chapter 4 of Ecclesiastes, Solomon gives an unvarnished, unapologetic assessment of the vanity of life – outside of Christ. Though we might by providence live a full life with many experiences, and much loved by all – in the end all is a vapor when we face the yawning chasm of our own mortality. The world, and sadly most Christians bury their head in the sands of oblivion to the truths that Solomon refused to ignore. All is vanity, vanity and vexation of spirit – outside the reality of a life poured out like a drink offering at the foot of the cross.
[Ecc 4:1-16 KJV] 1 So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of [such as were] oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors [there was] power; but they had no comforter. 2 Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive. 3 Yea, better [is he] than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun. 4 Again, I considered all travail, and every right work, that for this a man is envied of his neighbour. This [is] also vanity and vexation of spirit.
In chapter 4 Solomon takes up the difficult subject of suffering and oppression. These are the scandalous objections that unbelievers cast in the teeth of God’s mercy such as “if God exists why do little babies die” or “if God exists why does he allow war, famine, earthquake, etc.”? Summoning up all the prowess of his prodigious, God given intellect Solomon faces these things head on without equivocating. For his troubles, he has been denigrated by lesser men, theologians and scholars who insist that in the very taking up of these issues Solomon is simply not hearing from God but is in their view speaking from an unenlightened, uninspired, jaded viewpoint. To this I would vociferously object. The reader must take into account that in all of Solomon’s observations the context of his words is given in consideration of that plight that is left to men “under the sun”, in other words leaving out the consideration of a loving, caring God who is intimately involved in every matter that pertains to us.
In verse 1 Solomon compares the plight of the oppressed and the oppressor and observes that there is no comforter to be found for them. Who is the comforter? The Holy Spirit of course which Jesus came to bring to us. Is it not an indication to us of the familiarity that Jesus must have had with Ecclesiastes for Him to choose the descriptor “Comforter” to denote the very heart of His mission in regard to what He came to bring to us? There is no comfort to the oppressed, but likewise there is no comfort to the oppressor. The rich do not sleep any better than the poor. Those that know fame and fortune as their portion demonstrate no greater composure in life in fact they universally demonstrate the dysfunctional condition whereby their riches only afford them the dubious capacity to immerse themselves into what at the end of their days when facing their maker, they will only conclude “vanity, vanity, all is vexation and vanity…”
Again, comes the sobering thought that I have experienced from the very first day I laid flowers on my mother’s grave: Looking around in the cemetery at the forgotten dead I heard the dread angel declare to my ears “if it doesn’t matter here – it doesn’t matter…” What weight would we not give in the shadow of death to all those things that have so foolishly occupied our minds in the oblivion of the mundane, daily existence that thinks no deeper than the next cup of coffee or the next social interaction? Take Steve Jobs for instance: here is a man of the world, a great inventor and innovator who brought us the Apple computer. In the last years of his life he reconstituted the focus of his company to bring it to even higher heights by turning to the smart phone market and revitalizing the tablet industry with the introduction of the iPad. These are no small feats but into this man’s life that shadow of his own mortality stretched long and upon his premature death what accolades could he take into eternity to lay at the Master’s feet in hopes of gaining whatever grace is accessible on the other side of the grave?
For those of us who are of the community of faith we realize that what Solomon saw – the comfort that he observed was so lacking to both the small and the great in their lives of desperation – is given to us in Christ. We have the Comforter. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a vital reality that while we cannot quantify the same to a skeptical world who would not lay their life on the crimson altar of self-sacrifice rather than deny the indwelling glory of a loving God who we know – though the world denies – lives on the inside of us.
5 The fool foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh. 6 Better [is] an handful [with] quietness, than both the hands full [with] travail and vexation of spirit. 7 Then I returned, and I saw vanity under the sun. 8 There is one [alone], and [there is] not a second; yea, he hath neither child nor brother: yet [is there] no end of all his labour; neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither [saith he], For whom do I labour, and bereave my soul of good? This [is] also vanity, yea, it [is] a sore travail. 9 Two [are] better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. 10 For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him [that is] alone when he falleth; for [he hath] not another to help him up. 11 Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm [alone]? 12 And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
Continuing his discourse Solomon remarks on the chasm of isolation that outside of Christ surrounds every one of us. He speaks of the reality of being alone even when we are in a crowd. We might be surrounded our whole life with laughter and conviviality but in verse 10 we see that when we fall in sleep, when we fall upon death there is none to support us though all the world mourn our passing – we cross that Jordan alone and where is our solace, where is our Comfort? When attending recently my father’s passing there were many observations that could be made. It was not a sweet sorrow but a bitter one. His body with which he had served the Master for 83 years had betrayed and denied him. He was frustrated, and resistant. He refused for hours to lay his head down for what he knew would be the final time. He was in pain and he was chagrined at the anxious, concerned faces that gathered around obviously resigned in expression to the passing that he was anything but ready to yield to. Yet in the midst of all of his agonies I never once saw in my father the desperation and fear I have seen in so many, including many who professed to believe in Jesus, yet at the moment of death feared as though they were taking a leap in the dark. Whatever the indignity of death was for my father his unspoken, unshakeable, absolute faith in the presence of God and the accompaniment of angels to attend his passing was undeniable. If I read Psalm 23 to him (which I did) I read it for myself and not for him because it was a redundant sentiment. Though all men face death and many, most the majority even Christians understandably show fear at that final hour – in reality we know that unlike those who only believe in what is found under the sun – we have a savior ready at hand, who says in His word that precious in His sight is the death of His saints and we know that in death as in life we are not alone!
13 Better [is] a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished. 14 For out of prison he cometh to reign; whereas also [he that is] born in his kingdom becometh poor. 15 I considered all the living which walk under the sun, with the second child that shall stand up in his stead. 16 [There is] no end of all the people, [even] of all that have been before them: they also that come after shall not rejoice in him. Surely this also [is] vanity and vexation of spirit.
Solomon concludes remarking on the vanity of riches and fleeting nature of fame. When man’s end comes, no matter how highly regarded he is in life, it is a cold comfort in view of history that will only make the greatest man a mere footnote in an unread tome of history. Under the sun – if that is where our hope lies and our meaningfulness of existence lived out – all is vanity, vanity and vexation of spirit. Over and again the wisdom of Solomon calls out to us across the centuries and bids us wake from the stupor of a shallow existence to realize and affirm that we draw each breath as a sacrament bestowed from the hand of God Himself and choose to live our lives in humility and deference to Him who sits on the throne and takes up residence in our hearts on a daily basis.
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