Part 12 of a series through the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes
TIME AND CHANCE
What if you knew you were going to die in 30 days? How would your life change? The truth is that each day could be our last, so we should live life to the full.
But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him (v. 1).
We don’t know how long we will live, but God knows. Our lives are "in the hand of God."
Remember that the Preacher is making observations about "life under the sun." From the human perspective, we can't tell if God loves us or hates us based on our circumstances since bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Of course, when we read the New Testament, we discover that God proved His love for the world by sending Christ to die on the cross and will accept all who put their faith in Him.
The Preacher makes two observations about life:
1. Life is short.
It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all (vv. 2-3a).
Over and over again in Ecclesiastes, the Preacher says that life is "vanity." The Hebrew word for "vanity" (hebel) literally means "vapor." In this passage, "vanity" means "brief" (v. 9). Vapor rising from a tea kettle appears and vanishes quickly. Life is like that. James writes, “What is your life? For you are a mist [vapor] that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14). According to one death clock website, I will die on Tuesday, May 16th, 2051. Of course, I could die before that date or after. No one knows, but God. One bumper sticker says, “Eat well, stay fit, die anyway.”
2. Life is unpredictable.
Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and life birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them (vv. 11-12).
Human ability is not a guarantee of success in life. For example, the winner of the race is not always the most “swift.” We see this in the Olympics. The fastest runner doesn’t always win the gold medal. Sometimes he pulls a muscle or falls down or is disqualified.
Disaster and death often arrive unexpectantly. Here is an example. Bob Cartwright was disappointed when he was unable to accept an invitation to fly to New York with his friend Tyler Stanger and MLB pitcher Cory Lidle for a playoff game between the Yankees and the Tigers. He felt differently when he saw the news that Stanger and Lidle had crashed into an apartment building and died. “I was supposed to be on that plane,” Cartwright said. Yet just one month later Cartwright died in another plane crash, near his mountain home in California (Philip Ryken, Why Everything Matters, pp. 221-222).
LIFE’S PLEASURES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
In light of life’s brevity and unpredictability, how should you live?
1. Enjoy your life!
Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun (vv. 7-9).
God wants us to enjoy our food and drink (v. 7). “God has already approved of what you do.” In the Garden of Eden, God gave Adam and Eve a variety of fruit to eat (Genesis 1:29). We don’t necessarily need to drink wine, but whatever you drink (coffee, tea, etc.), enjoy it. (Once a week I enjoy a café mocha at Starbucks.)
God also wants us to enjoy our spouse (v.9). God did not create us to be loners. It was “not good” for Adam to be alone (Genesis 2:18). (While not all of us are married, we all need companionship.) “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones” (Proverbs 12:4). A wife (or husband) can be a crown or a cancer. To those who are single but looking, choose your husband or wife wisely. Choose someone you can enjoy for a lifetime. However, if your husband or wife is not enjoyable, you are to love him or her (“the wife whom you love”).
Enjoy life’s simple pleasures, not just life’s big events. “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).
White garments and oil are symbols of joy (v. 8). (Black garments and ashes are symbols of sorrow.) God made us to not only need these things (food, drink, marriage), but to also enjoy them. The good things of life are not guilty pleasures, but godly pleasures.
Jesus was criticized for enjoying life. He once said, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard’” (Matthew 11:19). Jesus attended the wedding at Cana and even turned the water into wine (John 2:1-11). When Jesus knew that “His time was at hand,” He made preparations to share a final meal with His closest friends. The eating and drinking of the Last Supper anticipates the eating and drinking of a future meal with Jesus: the “marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9) when the bride of Christ (the church) will be clothed in white and eat and drink with Jesus.
If we don’t enjoy God’s gifts, we dishonor the Giver.
Imagine giving your friend an expensive watch and they never use it. You would probably be very disappointed. God wants us to enjoy the blessings He gives us. The Bible doesn’t teach spirituality by abstention.
2. Don’t waste your life!
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going (v. 10).
We can apply this verse to our service as believers. We need to avoid three enemies of Christian service: (1) Excuses – “Whatever your hand finds to do.” Do “whatever” you have the opportunity to do, even things you would rather not do. For example, don’t waste opportunities to share your faith with others (pray, prepare, look for opportunities). (2) Procrastination – “Do it.” Turn intentions into actions. Charles Spurgeon, in his sermon on the verse, said, “No man ever served God by doing things tomorrow.” (3) Apathy – “With all your might.” Over time, we often become apathetic. “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Romans 12:11). Jesus said, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4). Death is coming, and then our earthly work will be finished. Work now with your whole heart!
Obviously, there needs to be a balance between enjoying life’s pleasures and fulfilling life’s responsibilities. We are not to be gluttons or drunkards, but we are also not to be workaholics.
On my parents’ kitchen wall, there used to hang a picture containing a poem called “Life’s Clock.”
The clock of life is wound but once,Life is short and unpredictable. So enjoy your life. But don’t waste your life. Live as if you only have 30 days to live. Live your life to the full.
And on man has the power
To tell just where the hands will stop—
At late or early hour.
To lose one’s wealth is sad indeed,
To lose one’s health is more,
To lose one’s soul is such a loss
As no man can restore.
The present only is our own;
Live, love, toil with a will.
Place no faith in tomorrow,
For the clock may then be still.