E C C L E S I A S T E S 2
Updated: Jan 16, 2020
What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted.
K I N G S O L O M O N
"They say money doesn't buy happiness, but I say, I'd like the chance to prove it." Solomon was given that chance. He was, after all, the richest man living. His lifestyle was the equivalent of that of a multi-billionaire.
I like to imagine him, relaxing on a wide balcony decorated with gorgeous pottery and exotic plants. I imagine him dressed in luxurious robes, eating the choicest of foods, handmaids and menservants at his beck and call. From what we know of his gene pool, he was most likely very good-looking (the Bible specifically mentions the significantly good looks of both David, Bathsheba, and several other of David's children). He possessed a harem full of the most beautiful women of his time. He had all the gold, silver, precious stones, and exotic possessions that his heart could desire. And I'm imagining this man who literally has it all looking out from his balcony over the hazy, jewel-toned slopes of Israel and saying:
12 I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.
Let's look a bit closer at what he actually said. The word in Hebrew for "unhappy" is "ra'" (7451 in Strong's) and it means "evil, adverse, miserable." The word for "business" is "inyan" (6045 in Strong's) and it means basically "occupation, task." From what I understand, it basically has the connotation of a job, or a form of employment. Here we see "life" viewed in a unique perspective.
Solomon is literally saying that God is our Great Employer and that He has given us a "miserable" job.
Not only this, but Solomon tells us why He did it. "To be busy with." Another translation says, "by which they may be exercised." Now the original word for that is a word that contains from the root "anah" (6031 in Strong's) which means to be "bowed down, afflicted, or humbled." However, the unique word used here actually means "to be occupied with, to keep busy with."
The Futility of Work
What's so miserable about work, Solomon? Before we answer that question, I want to make sure we are all on the same page. When Solomon talks about work, I believe he is referring to the work we do to stay alive. Very, very practical stuff. Cleaning our houses and taking care of our yards. Vacuuming
out our cars. Feeding ourselves and brushing our teeth. Going to our daily jobs. And then the bigger picture stuff, like philosophizing on our existence, creating societies and establishing civilizations, designing infrastructures and inventing technologies. With his acute sense of insight, Solomon sees a very true and very tragic fact.
Every time we do work, it undoes itself. Nothing really ever gets accomplished.
Obviously, because of the third law of thermodynamics and entropy, things are in a constant state of decline. We are, in a sense fighting a losing battle, trying to keep order in a system that of itself goes towards disorder. However, people only tend to think about "entropy" when it comes to the physical world. I believe that Solomon is talking here about the human race itself.
14 I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.
15 What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted.
Like the physical world that is constantly degenerating, the human race is in a constant state of decay. Sure, we try to fix things. We seem to have fixed things. We've gotten rid of slavery, for example (or have we?). And dark-age behavior like religious wars, power struggles, and mass genocide (oh, really?). And of course, we've campaigned and fought political battles and now both genders are treated respectfully (have you read the news?). We are always trying to improve the human condition, but sadly, whenever it seems like a battle has been won (women's suffrage, the Emancipation, the end of the Holocaust), the same problem emerges in a different place, in a different form. Just to give an example, women in many cultures are still treated as subhuman, sex slavery is a thriving business, and about 40-50 million abortions are committed each year.
Here's another example. We have made medical progresses from the times of the Dark Ages. We discovered antibiotics and have extended life expectancy drastically. And yet we haven't solved the problem. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria have emerged and now we have a growing problem of illnesses that antibiotics can't solve.
The Deceptiveness of Success
The interesting thing is that because the "problem" pops up in a different area every time, people get deceived into thinking that as a human race, we are actually making progress. We perceive our successes in solving an issue as an accomplishment. We have solved THE issue. We have pushed and campaigned to change people's minds and hearts. But in all examples I gave, the root problem has never been solved. Superiority and racism are not conquered. Illness is not eliminated. Hate is not eradicated.
As humans, our work amounts to merely changing the form of the monster we are fighting. Our work NEVER eradicates the problem and Solomon's catchy little statement is meant to convey just that.
"Work all you want," he is seeming to say. "What's broken about this world will never get fixed."
The Cosmic Gym
You may find the title of this section strange but hang on. I want you to think about the world in a different way. I want you to compare living on this earth to going to the gym. What on earth do I mean?
Remember talking about cycles, and how the nature of our living seems to be cyclical? When I read the phrase "by which they may be exercised," it made me think of a treadmill. You run and run and run. It seems that you are doing work, but you really aren't moving anywhere. The reason is that you are running on a rotating band. A circular band that is going on a cycle. Round and around and around it goes.
In a sense, all exercise machines could be considered futile because they are cyclical. I remember sitting in physics class and learning that unless an object is being moved a certain distance no actual work is being done. So are you doing work when you are on an exercise machine? Yes and no. It depends from what perspective you are looking at it. Let's say you are sitting on the rowing machine and pulling the handlebar over and over. If you are looking from the perspective of the environment you are doing absolutely no work on the environment around you. You're not on a boat and you're not displacing water and you're not moving anywhere.
However, from a different perspective, work is being done. The work is being done on you.
Every time you pull that bar towards you, you build strength, endurance, and a healthy heart.
The Purpose of Futile Work
Herein lies the key to why God may be asking us to do this "miserable work." Like going to the gym, the work God asks us to do can be viewed from two perspectives. Part of its futility lies in the fact that we are making no lasting change to the environment. Our physical work will always degenerate. Bridges will break down and highly organized systems will eventually fail. Our work on the human race will never solve the human predicament of sinful, degenerative behaviors. However, this same futile work is highly purposeful. There is great work being done ON US.
Make sense, right? After all, nothing God does or asks us to do could possibly be truly meaningless.
We've covered a lot, so I would like to take a moment to summarize. So far, we are to understand that God not only made us, but He seems to have made us with the ability to work. Some might go so far as to say that one of the very purposes He had for creating us was to work. In that sense, He is our Great Employer. He set us on this earth and gave us a job. However, when we analyze the nature of the "work" God has given us to do, it becomes evident that it has the appearance of futility and meaninglessness, due to the fact that it is cyclical and undoes itself. It doesn't seem to have lasting impact. A closer look, however, shows us that though no lasting work is done on the environment, there is a lasting work that is being done on we who are working.
As we continue to explore Ecclesiastes, I would like to show you how truly meaningful this realization is and how it can affect everything you do in your daily life. Solomon is not called the wisest man lightly, and it is for good reason that the book of Ecclesiastes was included in the 5 wisdom books at the center of Scripture. There are two main takeaways that I see so far, two practical things that you can do:
1. Give glory to God. I personally am encouraged to see God's infinite wisdom in making the most miserable and seemingly meaningless of tasks meaningful by making the work not so much about what we are doing, but what the work we are doing is doing to us. A mouthful, but you get it. Take a moment and praise God in your heart for that. Treasure the beauty and wisdom of Christ, Who is the Word, and was there when this purpose of God was being established.
2. Meditate on the work you are called to. This is different for each and every one of us. We are all called to different careers and even in the mundane, we are called to different types of work. Try to spend time before the Lord in prayer and ask Him what His purposes are for you. What is He trying to teach you? What "spiritual muscle" is He trying to exercise? Pray that His work is accomplished in you.
Only one life, 'twill soon be past. Only what's done for Christ will last.
C H A R L E S S T U D D
There is depth to that quote. We have a precisely-numbered amount of "exercise" days on this earth. A precisely-calculated "training time." We'll talk more about that next time, but for now, as always, I challenge you to "Carpe Diem."
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today.”
H E B R E W S 3 : 1 3 A
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