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The last three chapters of Ecclesiastes bring together a reflective parenthesis (chap. 10) and a positive conclusion (chaps. 11–12). First, however, Ecclesiastes 9 strips us of any final illusions if our vantage point is “under the sun” (Eccl. 9:3).
The Teacher has come to the conclusion that “the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God’s hands” (Eccl. 9:1). But what kind of a God is he, when you look at things only “from below,” from “under the sun”? Considering all the morally ambiguous things that happen in this world, does God love us or does he hate us (Eccl. 9:1)? Does he accept us or does he reject us? The world overflows with both beauty and ugliness, with warm intimacy and cruel terror. How can those who think only from below sort this out?
The Teacher lays out three vicissitudes that make certainty impossible for such people—yet he sets out the case as far as they can take it:
(1) We all face death (Eccl. 9:2–10). The case is put most baldly in Ecclesiastes 9:2–3: the just and the unjust, good people and sinners, face the same end. Qoheleth himself protests that this is not right; this is an evil that happens under the sun (Eccl. 9:3). He is not yet ready to provide any answer. But even from this perspective, there is a robust common sense conclusion to be pursued: even though life here may be hard and ambiguous, most of us concur that it is better than death (Eccl. 9:4–6). From this “under the sun” vantage point, verses 7–10 tell us how we should attack life, knowing that life is better than death. One hears the tension in a verse like Ecclesiastes 9:9: “Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun.” The problems of coherence, self-fulfillment, and meaning have not been resolved; but pragmatic conclusions, even by the worldly person who lives exclusively “under the sun,” quickly pile up and drive us toward robust and even grateful living—if the only alternative is a meaningless death.
(2) We all face time and chance (Eccl. 9:11–12). Apart from a God who tells us more, there is such a randomness to life that thoughtful human beings must not count on too much.
(3) We all face the fickle folly of other human beings (Eccl. 9:13–18). Even when genuine wisdom is offered, the masses are more likely to be impressed by wealth than by wisdom.
Qoheleth is frank and honest. But we cry for God’s perspective.
One of the common features of ancient suzerainty treaties — treaties between some regional superpower and a vassal state (see March 13) — was some section near the end that spelled out the advantages of compliance and the dangers of noncompliance. Inevitably, these blessings and curses were primarily promised the vassal states.
In many respects, Leviticus 26 mirrors this ancient pattern, promising blessings for obedience (i.e., for compliance with the covenant) and punishments for disobedience (i.e., for noncompliance with the covenant). The pattern is repeated, somewhat modified, for the covenant renewal in Deuteronomy (see especially Deut. 27–30).
We must not think of the alternatives offered in this chapter as promises made to mere individuals, still less as a simple scheme for acquiring eternal life. That the promises are not individualistic is demonstrated by the nature of many of the blessings and curses. When God sends rain, for instance, he does not send it on discrete individuals, but on regions, in this case on the nation, the covenant community; and similarly when God sends plague, or sends his people into exile. The same evidence shows that what is at stake is not in the first instance the acquiring of eternal life, but the well-being of the covenant community in terms of the blessings promised them.
Nevertheless, we may reflect on two of the many parallels between these old covenant sanctions and what still pertains under the new covenant.
First, obedience is still required under the new covenant, even though some of the stipulations to be obeyed have changed. It is therefore not surprising that John 3:36 contrasts the person who believes in the Son with the one who disobeys (NIV: rejects) him. Those who persist in gross sin are specifically said to be excluded from the kingdom (1 Cor. 6:9–11). The Apocalypse repeatedly contrasts those who “overcome” (i.e., in fidelity to Christ Jesus) with those who are cowardly, unbelieving, vile (e.g., Rev. 21:7–8 ). The undergirding reason is that the new covenant provides for a new nature. Though we do not achieve perfection until the consummation, an utter lack of transformation under the terms of such a covenant is unthinkable. The result is that judgment is spelled out on both unbelief and disobedience; the two hang together.
Second, one of the striking features of the punishments listed in Leviticus 26 is how God gradually ratchets them up, culminating finally in exile. Disease, drought, military reverses, plague, the dreadful famine of siege conditions (26:29), and even a sovereignly induced fearfulness (26:36) all take their toll. The Lord’s forbearance with covenant-breakers, over generations of delayed judgment, is massive. But the only real solution is confession of sin and renewal of the covenant (26:40–42).
26:1 “You shall not make idols for yourselves or erect an image or pillar, and you shall not set up a figured stone in your land to bow down to it, for I am the LORD your God. 2 You shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the LORD.
3 “If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, 4 then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. 5 Your threshing shall last to the time of the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall last to the time for sowing. And you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely. 6 I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid. And I will remove harmful beasts from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land. 7 You shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. 8 Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand, and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword. 9 I will turn to you and make you fruitful and multiply you and will confirm my covenant with you. 10 You shall eat old store long kept, and you shall clear out the old to make way for the new. 11 I will make my dwelling1 among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. 12 And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. 13 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.
14 “But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, 15 if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, 16 then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. 17 I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies. Those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you. 18 And if in spite of this you will not listen to me, then I will discipline you again sevenfold for your sins, 19 and I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. 20 And your strength shall be spent in vain, for your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit.
21 “Then if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins. 22 And I will let loose the wild beasts against you, which shall bereave you of your children and destroy your livestock and make you few in number, so that your roads shall be deserted.
23 “And if by this discipline you are not turned to me but walk contrary to me, 24 then I also will walk contrary to you, and I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins. 25 And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute vengeance for the covenant. And if you gather within your cities, I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. 26 When I break your supply2 of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven and shall dole out your bread again by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied.
27 “But if in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, 28 then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins. 29 You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. 30 And I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols, and my soul will abhor you. 31 And I will lay your cities waste and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing aromas. 32 And I myself will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled at it. 33 And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.
34 “Then the land shall enjoy3 its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies' land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. 35 As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it. 36 And as for those of you who are left, I will send faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies. The sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight, and they shall flee as one flees from the sword, and they shall fall when none pursues. 37 They shall stumble over one another, as if to escape a sword, though none pursues. And you shall have no power to stand before your enemies. 38 And you shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up. 39 And those of you who are left shall rot away in your enemies' lands because of their iniquity, and also because of the iniquities of their fathers they shall rot away like them.
40 “But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, 41 so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies—if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, 42 then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. 43 But the land shall be abandoned by them and enjoy its Sabbaths while it lies desolate without them, and they shall make amends for their iniquity, because they spurned my rules and their soul abhorred my statutes. 44 Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the LORD their God. 45 But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the LORD.”
46 These are the statutes and rules and laws that the LORD made between himself and the people of Israel through Moses on Mount Sinai.
33:1 Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous!
Praise befits the upright.
2 Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre;
make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!
3 Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.
4 For the word of the LORD is upright,
and all his work is done in faithfulness.
5 He loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.
6 By the word of the LORD the heavens were made,
and by the breath of his mouth all their host.
7 He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap;
he puts the deeps in storehouses.
8 Let all the earth fear the LORD;
let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!
9 For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm.
10 The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
11 The counsel of the LORD stands forever,
the plans of his heart to all generations.
12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,
the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!
13 The LORD looks down from heaven;
he sees all the children of man;
14 from where he sits enthroned he looks out
on all the inhabitants of the earth,
15 he who fashions the hearts of them all
and observes all their deeds.
16 The king is not saved by his great army;
a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
17 The war horse is a false hope for salvation,
and by its great might it cannot rescue.
18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him,
on those who hope in his steadfast love,
19 that he may deliver their soul from death
and keep them alive in famine.
20 Our soul waits for the LORD;
he is our help and our shield.
21 For our heart is glad in him,
because we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us,
even as we hope in you.
9:1 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. 2 It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil,1 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. 3 This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. 4 But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. 5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. 6 Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun.
7 Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.
8 Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.
9 Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain2 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. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might,3 for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.
11 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. 12 For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them.
13 I have also seen this example of wisdom under the sun, and it seemed great to me. 14 There was a little city with few men in it, and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siegeworks against it. 15 But there was found in it a poor, wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man. 16 But I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man's wisdom is despised and his words are not heard.
17 The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. 18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.
1:1 Paul, a servant1 of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, 2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began2 3 and at the proper time manifested in his word3 through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;
4 To Titus, my true child in a common faith:
Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.
5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife,4 and his children are believers5 and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer,6 as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound7 doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party.8 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans,9 a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.”10 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.