Prosperity with satisfaction is a rarity. But if it
occurs even briefly in our lives it is the gift of God. The book of
Ecclesiastes looks at human experiences with God in view, and throughout
it remains consistent in its testimony that all that we experience is
given to us by Elohim.
Ecclesiastes 5:10-7:12 considers a number of human
situations including, specifically, prosperity with satisfaction and
prosperity without satisfaction both of which are from God. But along with
these considerations, the Assembler points to one experience that we all
share alike, and that is our mortality and the certainty of death. In this
also Ecclesiastes keeps God in view as the One Who gives what we receive.
This "high" view of Deity is unusual outside the
Scriptures, and by itself it may tend to pessimism and bitterness, but
within the context of God's Word as a whole, it is most edifying and
uplifting. When God is seen not only as the wise and powerful Subjector
and Placer but also as the God of expectation and goodness, His deity in
giving and withholding is seen as full of purpose and glory.
Like the book of Job and much of the book of Proverbs,
Ecclesiastes stands out from most other books of the Sacred Scriptures in
that it does not deal in a special sense with the nation of Israel and
God's distinct promises concerning that chosen people. What is said
concerns humanity as a whole and its common, transitory experiences of
struggle, gain and loss. Yet it accords fully with all of God's Word in
focusing attention on God.
ELOHIM IS GIVING
Hence in speaking of the days of life given to each of
us, all filled with times of much vexation and toil as well as times of
repast and good, the Assembler observes that these are given to us by that
One, Who is Elohim (5:17,18). If some of us are given riches and
substance, along with the power and occasion for rejoicing in them even
for a short while, Elohim is the One Who gives them. Such good "is a gift
of Elohim" (5:19).
ELOHIM IS NOT GIVING
On the other hand, for some who are given illness and
toil and then granted riches and substance and glory, all given by Elohim,
there is no strength and time and occasion for the enjoyment of the
riches. This also is from Elohim Who does not give such a one the power or
opportunity to eat of the fruit of his toil (6:2,3). Entirely apart from
whether or not a pattern of fairness and needed discipline or deserved
reward may be detected, this is a fact of human life, and more importantly
a fact of divine operation.
God gives toil and vexation. He gives riches and
substance. He gives joy and satisfaction. And He withholds that joy and
satisfaction. Our days as human beings, whether Israelites or not, and our
many experiences are all to be traced finally to God.
HE WHO IS MIGHTIER
In Ecclesiastes 6:3-6 the Assembler gives an example of
human experience in life, a unique life of one individual which is not
different in its ending and its vanity from the life of anyone else. God
gives a certain individual many years and many children, but He also gives
this man the experience of never getting to enjoy the good he has and even
being denied a tomb commemorating his memory. His life ends exactly the
same way as that of a stillborn child who never saw the light of day.
At this point the whole problem that is greater than the
transitoriness of life, that is, the problem of death, is brought before
us once again in Ecclesiastes. The stillborn child "comes in vanity, and
in darkness it goes away" (6:4). But the same fate awaits us all. "Are not
all going to the same place?" (6:6).
That is tragic and sad and depressing. But it is true to
the human situation. But what is hopeful and uplifting in all this is the
truth that God has given the life and experience of both this man and the
stillborn child. It is a great blessing to know that "no one can
adjudicate against [God]" (Ecc.6:10). God is mightier than any human
being, and this is our hope and the source of great satisfaction for us
WHO KNOWS WHAT IS GOOD?
It may seem that we have jumped too quickly from the
Assembler's words of apparent pessimism concerning mankind to conclusions
of optimism concerning God. Yet this is poetry, and it calls for
interpretation based on what is suggested as much as on what is said. "Who
knows what is good for a man in life during the number of days in his
transitory life?" (Ecc.6:12). Only God, Who is in charge of our days, and
Who "makes them like a shadow" to us, can know what is truly good for us
in life and in the times that shall come after us. Only He can know. And
it follows that since He can know He does know, and in truth
He Who is making them like a shadow to us, is making them for good even
though we cannot see that this is so.
But we who have heard the evangel of God's righteousness
and love in the giving of His Son for sinners, the truth of a good purpose
and consummation is no longer like a shadow. For "we are aware"-it is
clear to us "who are loving God" that God is working all together for
the good (Rom.8:28). Where the Assembler could only hope with poetic
suggestion we believe with explicit expectation.
We do not apologize for bringing the evangel presented in
Romans into the shadowy longing for an evangel presented in Ecclesiastes.
The Assembler records the facts of the human situation, and he points to
Elohim as responsible and involved, and he expresses the questions that
arise from these facts. Now we who believe find that what we are believing
is indeed the answer to the Assembler's questions. "For even as in Adam,
all are dying, thus also, in Christ, shall all be vivified" (1 Cor.15:22).
Dean H. Hough