Special Insights No. 9
First Quarter 2007
(Produced by the Editorial Board of the 1888 Message Study Committee)
“Whatever Your Hand Finds to Do”
There are precious gems of Good News in Ecclesiastes Chapter 9 that we need to examine. However, there are also perplexing passages in the chapter, and we need to be honest as we study them.
Here is a man who began his life with a precious marvelous gift of wisdom conferred on him with God’s rich blessing. But Solomon proved for us all to see that the possession of marvelous wisdom does not make one happy when he comes to the later portion of his life. Obviously, what that means to us moderns is that our high achievements in universities are not of themselves happiness-producing. Education built on the love of self is pitiful in the end.
Those who have seen cynicism in Solomon’s Ecclesiastes will find a passage in this chapter that bolsters that conviction (cf. vss. 1-6).
And to our embarrassment as a denomination, this passage contains our most famous “proof text” with which we support our important doctrine of the “state of the dead.” To those who have inherited the pagan-papal doctrine of natural immortality and who quote the mistaken punctuation in Luke 23:43 that says that the believing thief crucified with Christ will be with Him “in Paradise” that very day, we have rather triumphantly quoted Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6 that says: “The living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.”
Thus we establish our point and walk away from the argument feeling like we have won the day about the state of the dead. (I remember when I was a new Seventh-day Adventist how I felt that text was so clear, why couldn’t people see it?)
And it is clear that dead people are not conscious; but can we conscientiously defend the context if people read it as well? Is this a happy man who is writing? Does he make clear that he cherishes “the blessed hope” (cf. Titus -14)?
Perhaps as time goes on we as a people will learn to defend our “state of the dead” doctrine with some more clear “state of the living” truths. We could “use” Psalm 146:1-4 that says virtually the same thing that has no sad context to wrestle with. And we can show how Jesus “emptied Himself” in His sacrifice on the cross (cf. Phil. 2:5-8), which is the definition of what death is as the real thing—the second death. To present this doctrine of the state of man in death, we must stay very close to the cross of Christ, else we will not win souls as the Lord want s us to. When “the third angel’s message in verity” as the “most precious message” He has sent to us is proclaimed to lighten the earth with glory (Rev .18:1-4), “Christ and His righteousness” will be the most prominent element of the message as His cross is uplifted as no others will do at the end.
Verses 7, 8 about going our way and eating our bread with joy and drinking our wine with a merry heart sound like a repetition of . But we who have read the book to its end know that the solemn call to judgment comes in , 14. We can’t avoid it.
But here’s a warm and joyous bit of counsel for us that poor Solomon missed out on: we should “live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of [thy] life” (vs. 9). That is parallel with Malachi 2:14-16 where He reminds us to “live joyfully with the wife of thy youth.” Note: the “wife” is singular.
Perhaps the old king remembered that he has written The Song of Solomon as a delightful love-poem in his younger years. To the one who has seen the revelation of love in Christ, the love affair of youth lives on so long as both shall live.
And we thank God for the encouragement in verse 10 to enjoy our labor and “do it with thy might,” not for a cynical reason that there is no such work after death comes; but in the context of that living “joyfully” of verse 9.
And for sure it doesn’t take a lot of wisdom to see that success and happiness in life does not automatically come with the endowment of talents (cf. vs. 11). But is it true that “time and chance” casino–style “happeneth to them all”?
A poignant little story.
Solomon remembered this account that brings comfort to many faithful followers of Christ who do not see a reward in this life (vss. 13-16). The “little city” had “few men” in it to defend it in time of besiegement when an enemy “built great bulwarks against it.”
But there was a “poor wise man” therein who had the wisdom to deliver the city. The story appears to say that he actually was successful in delivering the city from its would-be conquerors. Yet “no man” thought to thank him; no one built a monument to commemorate the victory at his hand.
Often in sacred history, God’s faithful servants have labored unselfishly and yet have either been rejected outright or have suffered at the hands of God’s true people being unappreciated. An example is the story of the message brought by two young men at a great General Conference Session at one time (1888) when Ellen White was almost the only person present who expressed appreciation for their work and their message. Solomon’s little story is apropos. “The poor man’s wisdom is despised” (the very word Ellen White used repeatedly to describe the reception this heaven-sent message received among “us” over a century ago).
Whether that “little city” ever repented, we do not know; but thank God it is still our privilege to repent before time says it is too late. Solomon draws a precious lesson: history will record that “the words of wise [men] heard in quiet” make a greater impact than those who loudly seek credit for themselves (cf. vs. 17). And this too is being fulfilled in history today!
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