Wise Counsel

Relationships Above Things

“Then I returned and saw vanity under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 4:7, texts from ASV).

— Ken Allison

The phrase “under the sun,” occurs only in the book of Ecclesiastes, some 29 times. Solomon uses it to describe an earthly life, notably without direction from or respect for, Jehovah. He saw and experienced self‑indulgence, which left him frustrated and unsatisfied. He eventually saw that appreciating the beauty of God’s creation and feeling His presence gave the only true satisfaction. The message for us in this section of Ecclesiastes is to value our relationships above our things, and to see that possessions and enjoyment are transient. This is the key to joy in life.

“There was a certain man without a dependent, having neither a son nor a brother, yet there was no end to all his labor. Indeed, his eyes were not satisfied with riches, and he never asked, ‘And for whom am I laboring and depriving myself of pleasure?’ This too is vanity, and it is a grievous task. Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up” (Ecclesiastes 4:8‑11 NASB).

Why are two better than one? Because there is an intrinsic reward in having close friends. We can lift each other both physically and emotionally. In difficult times, it is far better to have someone alongside you to encourage you. In moments of failure, it’s far better to have another person beside you to walk with through the pain and to help get recover. On a busy street in one of India’s congested cities, traffic had ground to a halt. A large tree had fallen across the narrow thoroughfare. A young boy poked his head out a bus window. He walked to the tree, backpack over his shoulder, surveying the impossible barrier. The boy dropped his backpack and leaned his full body weight into the tree trunk to no avail. A few other boys joined, but still they could not budge the huge log. Adults began to join, one by one. Soon, there was an army of monsoon‑soaked citizens pushing against the log. Finally, they reached critical mass and managed to pivot the huge log to the side of the road. Traffic moved again. We may encounter large trees in our earthly or spiritual life that can only be moved by opening ourselves up to help from others.

The profound statement in verse 12, “And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (KJV) shows the further value of camaraderie with the illustration of a rope. As the previous story illustrates, two or more people are not easily divided when weaved together with a common goal. The word “cord” is the Hebrew khoot (Strong’s H2339). This same word is translated “thread” in Joshua 2:18, “Behold, when we come into the land, thou shalt bind this line of scarlet thread in the window which thou didst let us down by: and thou shalt gather unto thee into the house thy father, and thy mother, and thy brethren, and all thy father’s household.” The scarlet thread, or cord, was an illustration of Rahab’s faith. This same faith saved Rahab and her entire family.

The scarlet thread is “woven” throughout the bible as a picture of the ransom. The ransom is what weaves us together spiritually. Without it, none of us could approach God for help. With it as the basis of our belief, Paul assures us that all experiences will work together to help us achieve our goal of spiritual victory. Those who trust in God and wear the robe of righteousness given by Jesus will not be defeated in the long run (Romans 8:28).

Wisdom Valuable

“Better is a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king, who knoweth not how to receive admonition any more” (Ecclesiastes 4:13).

When Solomon was young, his heart yearned for wisdom. In later years, he found that he had lost the satisfaction that was such a part of his early rule. Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). The loss Solomon experienced haunted him.

“For out of prison he came forth to be king; yea, even in his kingdom he was born poor. I saw all the living that walk under the sun, that they were with the youth, the second, that stood up in his stead. There was no end of all the people, even of all them over whom he was: yet they that come after shall not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and a striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 4:14-16).

When Solomon rose to the throne, he sought after God, and God gave him an opportunity to request for whatever he desired. Solomon humbly recognized his inability to rule well and nobly asked God for the wisdom he would need to govern God’s people righteously. God gave him wisdom and also wealth (1 Kings 3:4‑15). Now he realized that he could not escape the memories of his contentment as a youth who had humbly received the wisdom from above (James 3:17). Everything he had done as an adult in pursuing pleasure and self‑indulgence, meant nothing. It was like trying to walk in a Middle‑Eastern sirocco.

Chapter 5

“Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God; for to draw nigh to hear is better than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they know not that they do evil. Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thy heart be hasty to utter anything before God; for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:1, 2). The word “God” in these verses is the Hebrew elohim (Strong’s H430). The term elohim means “supreme one” or “mighty one.”

It is not only used of the one true God but is also used to refer to human rulers, judges, and even angels. Even after God revealed His name to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14), the term elohim appears in order to emphasize God’s power and might. The Lord told Moses to take off his shoes because he was on sacred ground. Elders from India remove their shoes before giving a discourse. Although we come into a personal relationship with Jehovah after our consecration (James 4:8), we must remember to approach Jehovah in reverence for His power and authority. He remains the elohim of the universe.

“For a dream cometh with a multitude of business, and a fool’s voice with a multitude of words. When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou vowest. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay. Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thy hands? For in the multitude of dreams there are vanities, and in many words: but fear thou God” (verses 3‑7).

Proper reverence and learning will bring forth a desire to serve God and to learn how we can serve him best (Jeremiah 29:11). Someone has euphemized “take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth.” Our consecration vow needs prayerful, thoughtful, and complete consideration.

“You cannot be my disciple unless you love me more than you love your father and mother, your wife and children, and your brothers and sisters. You cannot come with me unless you love me more than you love your own life. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. What is the first thing you will do? Won’t you sit down and figure out how much it will cost and if you have enough money to pay for it?” (Luke 14:26‑28 CEV).

Our consecration vow is a sacrifice unto death. It entails rewards, tribulations, and experiences that solidify our character. God takes no pleasure in those who hold back. Solomon knew that it is better not to promise to do something for God than to not follow that promise with action. It would be better never to make that promise (Numbers 30:2‑4). Even noble distractions can take us away from our desired course. When we consecrate to the cause of Christ, priorities must change.

Verses 8‑17 discuss two distractions that can lead us away from a focus on our consecration.
● Injustices we see in the world
● The attraction of wealth

Solomon’s father, David, wrote of injustice in many Psalms, one of the most prominent cases being Psalms 94. “God of vengeance, O LORD, God of vengeance, shine forth!” (verse 1, Alter). This characterization of God is in Hebrew, el neqamot, and occurs only in this Psalm. Most translations render it as “God of retribution.” David is here filled with rage at the dominance of injustice in the world and exhorts Jehovah to manifest a spectacular appearance, “shine forth!,” in order to exact grim vengeance against the perpetrators of evil.

David follows in verse 3 with, “How long the wicked, O LORD, how long will the wicked exult?” Charles Spurgeon remarked on this cry of anguish: “Many a time has this bitter complaint been heard in the dungeons of the Inquisition, at the whipping posts of slavery, and in the prisons of oppression. In due time God will publish his reply, but the full end is not yet.”

One of the doctrines we appreciate most in this Harvest period is that of the permission of evil. When questions are asked as to why bad things happen to good people, it is the only satisfying answer. Note this reasoning from The Divine Plan of the Ages: “God could have prevented the entrance of sin, but the fact that he did not should be sufficient proof to us that its present permission is designed ultimately to work out some greater good … God designed to permit evil, because, having the remedy provided for man’s release from its consequences, he saw that the result would be to lead him, through experience, to a full appreciation … of the matchless brilliancy of virtue in contrast with (evil) … In view of the great plan of redemption, and the consequent restitution of all things, through Christ, we can see that blessings result through the permission of evil which, probably, could not otherwise have been so fully realized” (pages 117‑135).

Many noble people have dedicated their lives to righting the wrongs of the world, but it can never be done on a mass scale. That does not mean that we who are consecrated must ignore individuals who have been subjected to Charles Spurgeon injustice. As Paul admonishes, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).

A second distraction of this world is the temptation to gain and keep wealth. “Do not store up riches for yourselves here on earth, where moths, and rust destroy, and robbers break in and steal. Instead, store up riches for yourselves in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and robbers cannot break in and steal. For your heart will always be where your riches are” (Matthew 6:19‑21 GNB).

Our world today proclaims a culture of success. There is a belief that material wealth produces happiness and contentment, a belief that value of life is measured by the size of a bank account, the square footage of one’s home, or the make of the cars in one’s garage. The American Heritage Dictionary defines greed as “An excessive desire to acquire or possess more than what one needs or deserves, especially with respect to material wealth.” Prosperity is viewed as an end, not a means. Wealth is meant to be used as a reservoir, not as a river, and not to feed one’s personal empire.

Our material goods belong to God, and they ought to be used to help accomplish his purpose on earth. If our treasure is in the bank, our heart will be as dark and cold as a metal bank vault. If our treasure is in heaven, our heart will overflow with joy, peace, and contentment — things money cannot buy.

“Behold, that which I have seen to be good and to be comely is for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy good in all his labor, wherein he laboreth under the sun, all the days of his life which God hath given him: for this is his portion. Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labor — this is the gift of God. For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answereth him in the joy of his heart” (Ecclesiastes 5:18‑20).

The Church’s commission is to eat and drink deeply from the fountain of the Lord and to labor in his vineyard. To the extent that one can accomplish this, God will answer this effort with joy. Our present happiness enhances our earthly life and multiplies the joys to follow. The sorrow and pain eventually will descend into oblivion. “But, as the Scripture says, they are: Things which eye has never seen and ear has never heard, and never have occurred to human hearts, which God prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9 Williams).

The Value of a Good Name

“A good name is better than precious oil; and the day of death, than the day of one’s birth. It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart. Sorrow is better than laughter; for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise than for a man to hear the song of fools. For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity. Surely extortion maketh the wise man foolish; and a bribe destroyeth the understanding. Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof; and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit” (Ecclesiastes 7:1‑8).

Solomon wrote elsewhere of the value of a good name: “A good name is better than riches; it is greater than silver and gold” (Proverbs 22:1). Having a good name means living in a way that earns the trust of others. It means demonstrating integrity that people can depend on. Maintaining a good name doesn’t mean that we never err, but when we do make mistakes, we do what we can to make things right.

Our life should be one of total integrity. The word “integrity” comes from a math term, integer, which means “one” or “a whole number.” There should be no division between our spiritual commitment and our earthly practices. When we make a promise to someone, just as when we make a vow to Jehovah, we must keep it, even if the circumstances change under which we made it. When others can depend on us, they will see that we conduct our lives in a higher order (1 Peter 3:10‑12, 2 Corinthians 8:21).

Solomon also suggests the value of a rebuke to correct behavior. Rebukes are seldom pleasant. However, they teach us wisdom (Hebrews 12:11).

“Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry; for anger resteth in the bosom of fools.” The reaction of anger can go against the spirit of peacemaking and may prove foolish. “Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this. Wisdom is as good as an inheritance; yea, more excellent is it for them that see the sun” (Ecclesiastes 7:9‑11). “Surely there is not a righteous man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not” (verse 20).

Faith means giving up all hope for a different past (Philippians 3:14, 15). It is important to have a proper perspective of oneself. The church on this side of the veil has no righteousness within itself. It does, however, have an example and an advocate in Christ. This wisdom shall overcome ten rulers of a city (Ecclesiastes 7:19), a complete number representing the earthly governments.

“Also take not heed unto all words that are spoken, lest thou hear thy servant curse thee; for oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others” (Ecclesiastes 7:21, 22).

The final lesson is that there is none righteous (Romans 3:10). Love must be the compass that guides our heart. Perfect heart intention must saturate the spirit of the new creature. Let us strive to emulate our Lord Jesus and put on a character that reflects, to the degree possible, his life and ministry. Let us learn from Solomon that life under the sun is best lived in service to our Heavenly Father.

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