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Meditation No. 37

Meditation Title: Like Animals


Eccles 3:18,19  I also thought, "As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Man's fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless.


When you lose contact with God, you lose contact with reality and when you lose contact with reality it means you lose contact with the truth. You may still retain partial truth, but away from God you are prey to negative thoughts, half truths and utter deception. Three dangerous little words: “I also thought.” How different from the strong words of the prophets who were able to say, “God said…. and God showed me….” It is a sad thing to watch an elderly person lose their grip on reality. Solomon was never a prophet but he was known to be the wisest man in the world – while he stuck with God, but once the deception of idolatry entered the royal palace it was a downward slope, and he's left thinking his own thoughts, not God's thoughts!

We have to be careful here for indeed all Scripture is inspired (see 2 Tim 3:16) but sometimes that means God inspired or nudged the writer to write, not that what they wrote was absolute truth. We see this in the arguing of Job; some of it is distinctly off the rails – but it is still useful to teach us! What Solomon says in these verses is basically true, but the sense of it is negative and it is only half truth. Let's explain.

As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. In ONE sense this is true. In many others it is false. It is the one sense that Solomon is focusing upon. So what is he saying? He is saying that when pride takes a turn and we think we are so great, we need to see that we are just on the same level as all animals. Why? Man's fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. There is it; we are on the same level as the animals in that both we and they are all going to die. That is a common feature of every living creature.

See how he continues: “All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” (v.20,21) There he moves in the same thinking – we're all going to die and what is worse, we don't know what is going to happen then, so like the animals we don't know our eternal future. Well of course this was Solomon speaking without the revelation that we now have in the New Testament. Don't join in Solomon's ‘Doubt Club' for that is not where we are today. The New Testament is quite clear that when we receive the Lord Jesus Christ into our life we receive eternal life and that means a life that goes on after death, a life in heaven with God.

But look at the negativity that Solomon is left with: “So I saw that there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him?” (v.22) Just try and get some enjoyment out of your work today because you don't know what will happen when you leave this earth. That indeed is what many people are left with – godless people, unbelievers. Try to get the most out your work; that all you can hope for. Well fortunately there is much more we can hope for.

In the beginning we are told that God made us in his own image (see Gen 1:26.27). Now what does that mean? What characteristics or abilities do we see in us that makes us anything like God and which differentiates us from the animals? We have the abilities to communicate, think, reason, invent, create, write, work, order, purpose and plan . Put another way, He has given us self-consciousness, imagination and conscience, and ability to grow and develop. Go back over these things and catch the wonder of who He has made us to be. So this doesn't just leave us with mundane work; this opens up a panorama of possibilities of doing things for pleasure and to please others that means far more than struggling for survival. We are fortunate to live in a part of history where these things are beginning to come to fullness and we have opportunities to do far more than only work. Meaning in life comes with a sense of fulfilment as we allow God to lead us to become the people He's designed us to be. Yet there does need to be a warning. We can do all these creative things and yet still not find meaning for that only comes when we are in harmony with God. That IS how He's designed us to work best and anything less than that means we struggle for meaning just as Solomon did in his latter days. Let's ensure we avoid the ‘aged-Solomon syndrome'!







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Meditation No. 38

Meditation Title: The Oppressed


Eccles 4:1 Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed-- and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors-- and they have no comforter.


To the shallow thinker, the presence of the oppressed of the world must raise a question about the nature of God. This question we find Habakkuk raising with God: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” (Hab 1:13) i.e. God, I know you are holy and good, so how can you just stand back and do nothing in the face of all the evil in the world? It is a legitimate question.

For Solomon (who had been a hard taskmaster) it was a valid problem. He looked at what he saw happening in the world and he saw oppression and he saw the tears of the oppressed and he saw that no one was giving them comfort, and he saw that the people with the power were the oppressors. These are the basics of oppression wherever it takes place. Because people are the same throughout history, it is exactly the same today. It may be kings or rulers holding their people in a rod of iron, it may be those dealing in people trafficking, it may be gangs terrorizing neighbourhoods, or it may simply be parents abusing their children or employers exploiting their workers. Whatever it is, it is the same: powerful people oppressing weaker people.

As Solomon looked he didn't come up with any answers beyond the philosophical: “And I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun.” (v.2,3) If the world it like this, he concludes, the person who has died is better off now they no longer have to endure the oppression they had been suffering, but of course, the people in the best position are those who have never yet been born because at least they haven't been through it. That's a very negative way of viewing it. Perhaps it would be better if we asked two questions: why does this happen and what can we do about it?

First of all, why does this happen. There are two factors that contribute to this. First there is the free will that God has granted to mankind. He has made us so that we choose how we will live, what we will do. Second is the fact of sin in every human being, that tendency to godlessness and self-centredness that leads to unrighteousness. Put these two things together and people oppress people. It is as simple as that. We don't have to but we choose to – and it is sin and it is evil.

But then this usually raises an even bigger question, the question that Habakkuk raised: why doesn't God step in to do something about it. The answer here is also twofold and it involves what God can't do and what He can do.

First of all what God can't do. It is logically very simple and yet so many people just can't see it. Ask yourself the question, what would you like God to do? Step in and stop it. How? Er…. MAKE every person good. You've just taken away their free will, their ability to choose, that human ‘ingredient' that makes us who we are. Do that and we have grey robots who are all the boring same and who are incapable of the thing we call love. So tell people to be good! He does, all the time. I am utterly convinced that God speaks to every single human being but many of us are like Pharaoh – hard hearted. We have set our hearts on oppressing those weaker than ourselves and so we refuse to listen to God.

OK then, let's ask the other part: what can God do? So does God stand back and do nothing? No, He works in the hearts and lives of individuals. A slave can know the wonder of God's love, even in the face of oppression. But more than that revolution comes when many people rise up against the oppressor. We have seen it a number of times in the last fifty years. Something we have to accept is that God knows that some of these things take time, but that doesn't mean to say He is doing nothing today. It just means we may have to wait a while to see what He's been working on!

So let's ask the second question: what can we do about it? Wherever we see it we should ‘blow the whistle' on it and shout it from the rooftops. That won't always have effect, but it will sometimes. Wherever we see it, we should be praying against it and not only ask the Lord to act to stop it, but also ask what part we might play in bringing it to an end. The truth is that the Lord does want to act against oppression, but largely through other people. In a civilised society He has prompted us to create legal systems that seek to deal with criminal activity. Unsaved world government will never get it completely right, but at least we can pray and speak out to encourage governments to speak and act against other governments who oppress their people or allow oppression within their countries. The world is a constantly changing kaleidoscope of changing nations and changing activity. The fact that there is oppression doesn't mean to say that we have to tolerate it.






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Meditation No. 39

Meditation Title: Learning to be Content


Eccles 4:4   And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man's envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.


Motivation is a strange thing. What is it that motivates us? If you like crime dramas or detective novels, you'll know about motivation; it's the thing that drives someone to commit a crime. Or every now and then you come across a story of someone who has battled against the odds and persevered and pushed on to achieve great things, and somewhere in the story you'll look for the motivation. What was it that drove this person on when most people would have given up?

In our verse above today we come to one of those verses that has to be held lightly for it is not the entire truth. All Scripture may be inspired by God (2 Tim 3:16) in the sense the He prompted the people to write the things on their hearts, but sometimes, as in Job's case and Solomon's case not everything they wrote was true for they both wrote from a difficult perspective. Job wrote from the perspective of pain and Solomon here from the perspective of old age when he had lost contact with God. So hold lightly what he says here!

In his jaded outlook he maintains that everyone works and seeks to achieve because of their envy of others. Now that is no doubt true of a very large number of people but not everyone. Some people work to simply stay alive, some at the opposite end of the scale who are rich simply to fulfil personal desire to do something with little care about others, and finally, there will be those who work to fulfil their calling before God - but we'll come to them later.

Without doubt many people are motivated to work and motivated to achieve by other people. The person who presses on in a career and lays down their life to achieve great things in it, if they were honest, would acknowledge that they were trying to rise above the rest, or get the things they see rich people have. It is looking at other people that drives them on.

Indeed, if our motivation is to “keep up with the Jones's” then we will always be seeking more and more and more because the first set of people we see who have more than us, are just above us in the social or economic scale; they're the ones we know and want to catch up with. Once we've done that we encounter the next tier in the affluence stakes and they become our target and so it keeps on. There will always be a Bill Gates above us to spur us on if that is our motivation.

We may not like the word ‘envy' but that ultimately is what it is if we look to other people and wish we had what they have – which is of course what modern capitalism is built upon. Unfortunately there is that echo back to the Ten Commandments where we are exhorted not to ‘covet' what other people have, but that is slightly stronger than envy because coveting implies we plot to get what they have. Envy is just an attitude thing although, as Peter shows here, it can be a motivating force.

Again, with our modern knowledge of how people work we might suggest that envy that motivates in this context is an indicator of a low self esteem. We think other people are better than us because they have more than us and so we work to improve our self esteem by working or achieving more. It is, as we showed above, a futile task because it is rather like working to be good; we never know when we've arrived, so we have to keep on striving.

For the Christian we need to learn to hold a balance between being content with what we have and stretching forward to reach what God is holding out to us. For herein is the truth, that the Lord always has something more for us and it requires us to reach forward in faith to take it. Yet this is not a striving thing, this is not a personal effort thing. This is simply resting in the provision of God – in terms of things and personal abilities – reaching out to what HE puts before us and although that may stretch our faith, it doesn't stretch us to straining point which so much world activity does.

No, contentment for the Christian is being happy with what the Lord has given us at the moment and NOT having to strive to catch up other people. It is a very different thing to emulate someone and to envy them. My wife had an uncle who in old age still followed and served the Lord and was a tremendous witness. He truly experienced what the writer of Psa 92 wrote about: “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age , they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, "The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him." (Psa 91:12-15) As I encountered this aged saint I felt, “This is a life I would truly like to emulate because here is a wonderful example of godliness!” That is different from envy which desires for personal gratification. It is good and right to desire to flow in God's will as revealed in His word and by His Spirit. Envy is born out of self-interest and leads us into wrong attitudes and actions and robs us on contentment. Don't let it!







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Meditation No. 40

Meditation Title: Learning to be Content (2)


Eccles 4:5-7 The fool folds his hands and ruins himself. Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind. Again I saw something meaningless under the sun:


I never cease to be amazed at the practicality of the Bible's teaching. Those who deride the Bible for being outdated teaching just haven't read it or thought about it. Even in the midst of this jaded writing by Solomon in Ecclesiastes there is still wisdom to be meditated upon! The trouble is that sometimes it almost comes to us in shorthand and we need to pause up and think about it for it to really make sense. Take this opening sentence of these verses as an example: “The fool folds his hands and ruins himself.” What a simple picture! This man just sits back and folds his hands. It is a picture of complete inactivity. He does nothing. When you sit there with folded hand or folded arms, it is a sign that you are just looking and watching and doing nothing.

This inactivity, says Solomon, ruins a man. How so? Well first of all he is not working and so he is not earning and so he is drifting towards poverty. But actually constant inactivity is dull, it is boring and it is soul destroying. We need to be doing something purposeful. The person who sits back and does nothing has lost all purpose in life. They have no sense of achievement, no sense of fulfilment. Their mind is inactive and their hands are inactive. They are ruining themselves and not entering into the fullness of who they were designed to be.

This picture of laziness or idleness bringing downfall arises a number of times in Scripture in Solomon's writings: “If a man is lazy, the rafters sag; if his hands are idle, the house leaks,” (Eccles 10:18) and “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest-- and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man,” (Prov 6:10,11) and “I went past the field of the sluggard, past the vineyard of the man who lacks judgment; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins.” (Prov 24:30,31) The signs are all there around this person who Solomon calls a fool, meaning someone who lacks moral wisdom.

But then Solomon paints two swift pictures of contrasting lifestyles. Let's take the second one first: “ two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.” This is the person who struggling and striving and working all the hours of the day, chasing after that illusory success. We live in a day when this lifestyle is clearly visible in this world of excessive materialism. The farmer of Jesus' parable is often seen in those who work in the City: “he said, `This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." ' "But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'” (Lk 12:18-20) We try for bigger and better but in the process lose our soul. One day we'll be separated from all we have earned and will face God empty handed. How tragic!

Yet he contrasts that lifestyle with one that is described as “one handful with tranquility.” The ‘handfuls' in the two lives refer to the wealth that has been achieved. One achieved a lot but in reality it was nothing. The first one achieved not much in material terms but yet it was the better lifestyle because it was accompanied with ‘tranquility'. What a lovely word that is! I always like the image of “the Sea of Tranquility ” on the Moon. When somewhere is tranquil it lacks stress or upheaval, it is full of peace. When a mind is tranquil it lacks stress and is at peace. How little tranquility there seems to be in modern lives, in modern minds! What a cost we have paid for our affluence. How few homes know this ‘tranquility'! How often there is bickering and arguing, hostility and upset. Some families I know of, I am convinced, never know the experience of tranquility in their homes; there is an atmosphere of stress and upset that lingers there in the background and people tolerate it because it only bursts to the surface from time to time, but even in the times when it is not outright war, there is no tranquility!

Dare we assess our lives in this modern world against Solomon's words? Are we working all hours, are both partners working all hours? What sort of people totter in the door in the evening? What is the quality of our times together in the remaining hours of the day? What are our weekends like? Do we fill them with the activity we hadn't had time for in the week? Is this really ‘life'? Many of us live on the basis of “it will be different next year – when I get a raise, when I get promotion,” but it never is. Are these the lives we really want?







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Meditation No. 41

Meditation Title: Learning to be Content (3)


Eccles 4:7,8 Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. "For whom am I toiling," he asked, "and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?" This too is meaningless-- a miserable business!


You may remember at the beginning of Ecclesiastes Solomon started off, “Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Eccles 1:2) A number of times he has put content to that initial declaration and so now we find yet another thing that he has seen that he considers meaningless or pointless. Perhaps that word ‘pointless' is one that might ring more bells for us than simply ‘meaningless'. There is no point in this, is what Solomon is saying.

Look, he says here, I have see one of these people that I have been talking about, who struggle and strive for meaning through work, to achieve greater and greater things, but this particular man has been working all the days God gives but the trouble is that he hasn't got any close relative to leave it to or who could even benefit from it now. He's just working for himself and as he comes to this realization of having no close family, he wonders why ever he is working and working like this. His work just goes on and on and yet there is no one else to benefit from it. Meanwhile as he is working away all the hours he has, he has no time to enjoy life; it is just passing him by.

I have observed a number of people who do exactly the same as the man in Solomon's illustration. There are of course, those workaholics who use every waking hour to prosper their business but have no enjoyment of life. Their family never sees them so they cannot enjoy their wife or children and so becomes a virtual stranger to them. They may benefit from the wealth he accumulates but when it comes to relationships, their lives are empty.

Over the years I have watched a number of Christian leaders, good men given over to serving God, but as I have observed their lives I've sometimes wondered at the lack of variety, lack of creativity and indeed lack of enjoyment of life generally for these men. We may give ourselves over to sharing the Gospel and building up the church, but if we ourselves are not living in the good of God's world and having time to build relationships with those closest to us, surely we are missing something and surely the form of Christianity we portray is seriously lacking!

There is another group of people in the world today that I have become aware of who are missing out on life. This isn't to do with work though, so I am going off at a slight tangent here. I am thinking about the thousands and thousands of young people who are addicted to computer games or addicted to a social networking sites such as Facebook. Many young people (and no-so-young as well!) are spending hours and hours and hours on their computers or mobile phones while all around them the wonder of the world is being ignored. These are the new addictions to be added to those of drink and drugs. All such addictions mean that such people are missing out on the wonderful world that God has given us. Oh yes, it's not just work that does this to us.

Perhaps we might sum it up by suggesting that contentment, real contentment, that is not one-sided or single-focused, involves having balance. Balance here means keeping work in proportion and ensuring that it doesn't take over your life. In fact, I would suggest, anything that takes over your life means that it robs you of the wonder of the experience of being a human being who has been designed by God to enjoy His world. Many of us forget that being a human being means we are a combination of capabilities and so we miss out on one of more of them. For instance, God has made us physical beings and so we have the capacity to enjoy the use of our senses – sight, hearing, taste, touch – all of these things given to us by the Lord for our enjoyment of His world. But we also have mental capabilities so we can read or write, think, reason and plan. We have a full range of emotional abilities and so we may laugh or cry, feel for others, enjoy, anguish and so on. But we are also spiritual beings and so we have the capacity to seek and know the Lord and be aware of the spiritual dimension to life.

A balanced person seeks to use all these capabilities, but even that needs the wisdom of God, for He has laid down boundaries and if we cross them, we harm ourselves. Over emphasis of our physical abilities means we fall into gluttony, alcohol abuse and so much more. Over emphasis of the intellect can lead us into pride and arrogance. Spiritual ignorance means we miss out on the most exciting side of our lives – encounter with the living God, the Creator of all things. In all these things we need to come to Him and ask Him to show us how to live our lives, show us how to avoid the pitfalls that Sin and Satan would lead us into. Failure to do this means we are likely to fall into a jaded view of life that Solomon ended up with. May that not happen!







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Meditation No. 42

Meditation Title: The Strength of Two


Eccles 4:9-12 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.


I find there are times when I am challenged by my casual approach to Scripture. When I first looked at these verses, I thought, “Whatever made Solomon jump to thinking about companionship?” and it wasn't until I looked again at the context that I realised that these verses flow on in small section that starts, “Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: There was a man all alone” (v.7,8) and yesterday we considered the frustration of that man as he worked with no one to hand it on to. But now Solomon thinks on and essentially declares, “It's not good to be alone.”

He lists the benefits of not being alone. First two working together can achieve far more than two individuals working alone. Second, if one stumbles and falls, it is good to have another alongside to help you up. Third, when it's cold at night, it is good to have one to warm you. Fourth, when you come under attack it is good to have another alongside you to stand against the attacker with you.

Yes, these are the obvious benefits of not walking through life alone. It may refer to friendship, it may refer to having a partner in business or it may refer to having a spouse. There are many circumstances in life where two together are better than being alone, yet sadly in our day, I believe loneliness is growing. With the fragmentation of families there are individuals separated off from the group and that makes the loneliness even harder. In a permissive age there are those who have been encouraged to express their difference but who have found that doing that has isolated them from many others.

I was part of a conversation only yesterday that was talking about tattoos which have become very common, and yet despite that, they still act – in many people's eyes at least – as a brand that separates out and declares that this is a certain sort of person who is wanting! So many things in modern life, it seems, separate and divide and cause loneliness.

Possibly one of the most obvious ways in our modern society is what used to be called ‘courting'. How alien that concept seems to have become in a world where it seems it is common to not even wait for the third date to end up in bed. Yet sexual intimacy has proved to be elusive for many. Sex isn't necessarily intimate; it can be purely exploitive, and we feel used. The excitement of once-forbidden fruit lasts only a while and then the couple realise they are miles apart; there is inner loneliness, even though there is outer closeness.

The advice I used to give to young people, and still do if they are willing to listen, is develop your relationship in three slow stages. First of all get to know each other by just being with each other, talking and sharing and finding out about each other, i.e. build the social aspect of the relationship first. Second, if the couple are Christians (and if they're not I have no hope for their long-term relationship, and if one is and the other isn't, generally, don't walk this path together) then develop your spiritual relationships together – read the Bible together, pray together, go to church and worship together, and seek God's will together and serve God together. Then, and only then, if these two facets of your relationship together indicate you are compatible, you talk about life-long commitment and only when you are committed for life, do you develop the physical side of your relationship.

Our modern society is full of young people who are essentially lonely, even though they go to clubs together, bed together and whatever else together. I have been there and I have seen it and that is how it is for so many young people who are desperate for closeness, desperate for real intimacy, desperate for trust and desperate to find real love, which is all about commitment as well as feelings, and yet the way that the world proclaims is not bringing home the goods!

I said as an aside earlier, and you may not have liked it, that I have no hope for a long term relationship without God. Yes, there are married couples who have lived it out for decades without God, but increasingly that is becoming a rarity with the pressures of modern life. Solomon's enigmatic final phrase hints at the truth: “ A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” What is the third strand? God, of course! With God genuinely in your relationship you have a real fighting chance of have a good life together ahead.

But why do Christians get divorced, I hear you ask, before I finish. Consider Jesus' words: “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard.” (Mt 19:18). If we have allowed ourselves to get into a place where we have been hardened (and it may only be one in the partnership) so that we are no longer open to hear God's counsel, either directly or through a counsellor/leader, then yes we will end up divorcing, but that is a path where we have hardened God out of our experience, which is why just now I spoke of having God genuinely in your relationship. These are serious matters in these days of anguish and loneliness.






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Meditation No. 43

Meditation Title:  A Grumpy World?


Eccles 4:13-16 Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to take warning. The youth may have come from prison to the kingship, or he may have been born in poverty within his kingdom. I saw that all who lived and walked under the sun followed the youth, the king's successor. There was no end to all the people who were before them. But those who came later were not pleased with the successor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind


There are times in Scripture when I feel I need to create a memo pad which I take with me to heaven and ask the writer exactly what he meant. Today's verses would be on that memo pad. They start out fairly clearly but they go on to leave us wondering. Let's try and unravel it. Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to take warning. Well that seems fairly straight forward. Solomon compares wisdom and folly and says it is better to be young and poor with wisdom, than old and a king without wisdom. Who has he in mind when he speaks of this ‘foolish king'? Himself? It couldn't have been David, his father, for that description really didn't fit him. Perhaps it was Saul the first king of Israel who failed to realise that God's blessing had left him and died for it.

But look next what he says: The youth may have come from prison to the kingship, or he may have been born in poverty within his kingdom. The implication is that the youth becomes a king and, further, if he has wisdom it doesn't matter what his origin was – prison or poverty. Prison? Perhaps he was thinking back to the stories of Joseph Poverty? Perhaps he was thinking of David as a shepherd boy when he was called by God.

But then he continues, I saw that all who lived and walked under the sun followed the youth, the king's successor. What is this about? He has in mind the youth who succeeded this (presumably) foolish old king. Did he see himself as that youth who came with wisdom and received more wisdom? Or was he foreseeing what would happen after him? That seems unlikely because his own son, Rehoboam, acted very foolishly and his opposition, Jeroboam who took over the northern tribes, also acted foolishly. No, it is unclear who Solomon is thinking of. Yet this youth seems to have a great following in the people – but not for long! But those who came later were not pleased with the successor. A week in politics is a long time, they say. After the honeymoon period is over this new young man in the place of ruler, no longer seems to win the hearts of the people.

So what is Solomon saying here? This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. He looks at the coming and going of leaders. Some are wise and some are not. Even when he looks at the example of a wise young man who becomes ruler, he sees that this young man's popularity soon wanes. It seems that even wisdom doesn't please the people for ever. Yes, that is the message here. We may not know who Solomon had in mind when he gave these examples, but the message is clear: it seems that wisdom is an elusive thing that can be lost, but even where there is wisdom that doesn't always satisfy every one.

Perhaps another way we might express this is that in a Fallen World where every person is tainted by sin – that tendency to self-centred godlessness which leads to unrighteousness – it will always be going wrong. You can be as wise as you like, as good as you like, but still sinful people will get upset with you. Does that mean we just give up and become miserable, critical and cranky? No, of course not! We, those of us who are Christians especially, should get the grace God provides and seek to be salt and light to impact the world for good. So Solomon may be right, that without God all the coming and goings in high places are meaningless, but that shouldn't stop us seeking to bring good to the situation.

Surely this must apply to every area of life. In the Fallen World where sin infects and Satan seeks to upset, there is always the potential for things to go wrong, for people to be nasty, for people to get upset, for people to be selfish and uncaring. Yes, all of this is true, but it doesn't mean we have to go along with it; in fact Solomon's declaration at the end should provoke us to change it. When he looks at this situation and declares it is pointless like chasing after the wind, our conclusion ought to be, well yes it is, so let's not live like this, let's not go along with this way of behaving, let's work to be different, let's work to bring peace and harmony to this world, let's work to love people and accept them when they are less than perfect, let's be there for them and bring blessing to them. Can we be that salt and light (Matt 5:13 -16) that Jesus spoke of?







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Meditation No. 44

Meditation Title: Right Worship


Eccles 5:1 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.


Before we think much about this verse we first need to confront a major change between the times of the Old and New Covenants. In Solomon's day he had the Temple to go to for meeting with God. He had just built it, and it became the central focus for worship in the land. The Temple was ‘the house of God'. But now of course that Temple and subsequent temples have been destroyed and there is no temple in Jerusalem . More than that, the teaching of the New Testament is that WE are the temple of the Lord (see 1 Cor 3:16, 6:19, 2 Cor 6:16, Eph 2:21) so contrary to much popular thought our church buildings are NOT the house of God – we are.

Solomon's warning was to be careful when you went into the Temple . Unlike, say a modern cathedral the temple wasn't a place for beautiful singing and inspiring liturgy, it was a place for offering incense and sacrifices and both were forms of worship, although the latter also involved a coming to put things right between God and man. Far more than modern religious buildings, the Temple was primarily a place where lives were put right with God through sacrifices and by affirming love for God by burning incense.

Now in the light of the description that I have just given Solomon's exhortation to go in to listen, seems rather strange. In what follows Solomon is going to consider speaking before God and particularly uttering vows before God (which would have been accompanied by a sacrifice). We'll consider this more in the meditations to come, but the problem with vows is that they are so often given in order to try to persuade God to perform in some way. An example of this is the silly vow that Jephthah made in Judges: “And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD: "If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD's, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.” (Judg 11:30,31) This ended with him foolishly sacrificing his daughter which was not what God wanted. Jephthah was so unsure of God's love and God's good intentions for Israel , that he felt he had to ‘bribe' God with his blatant, over-zealous commitment.

But this is the thing, we don't need to bribe God, we don't need to ‘get Him on our side'; He already is! When we find individuals praying in the Bible so often they rehearse the truth before they ask for whatever it is. A good example of this is the apostles praying in Acts 4:24-31 where they declare what God has said, then what has happened and put it in the context of the divine will and then, and only then, asked for God to move. In those cases they are declaring the truth as an act of faith. That is a very different thing from trying to get God on your side.

No, says Solomon, rather than going in to the Temple and uttering meaningless words and offering meaningless sacrifices, you would do far better to go in and simply listen. Listen? Yes. Have you ever been into a church building or cathedral in the absence of people and just listened in the silence? As you look in awe you sense something of the greatness of God. As the Israelite would have gone into the great Temple they would have seen the altars for offering incense and sacrifices and seen the great curtain at the end behind which was the Holy of Holies, or Most Holy Place , where God was said to reside. There in the near presence of the Almighty, if the individual would just stand still and listen in silence, they would know the truth. They were sinners in the presence of a Holy God and they had to make sure they put their lives right with Him.

I wonder sometimes how much modern Sunday Services come under the same corrective words of Solomon. In so many ‘churches' we know exactly what is going to happen, in general terms at least. We know there is going to be singing and there will be prayers uttered and the Bible read and expounded. It is all very predictable and unfortunately predictability so often linked with familiarity which, the saying goes, breeds contempt. Solomon's ‘sacrifice of fools' simply means doing something because it is expected, not because you are inspired to do it or need to do it. How many of our actions on a Sunday morning are born out of loving desire for God? How many are born out of a need to put things right with God? How many are born out of an awesome sense of reverence? Even in so-called ‘free churches' the predictability is just the same.

Put aside Sunday mornings which aren't very good at doing this anyway, how often do we sit still and listen to the Lord? Oh, we say, I pray and read my Bible. Yes, but how often do we sit still and just let Him speak to us? Living in this noisy and hectic world today, it is not easy to sit quietly and let God speak to us. If you are like me, our minds are full of things to do, places to go, people to see. There are worries and concerns and all these things are like a background noise that makes it difficult to listen to the Lord. Then when He does speak, we wonder was it Him or was I making it up. Time and experience are primary learning ingredients here. You've just got to do it and learn to discern His voice. Do we prefer to pour out shopping-list prayers or listen to God? I know which is easier, but it's not the best.








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Meditation No. 45

Meditation Title: Wisdom with Words


Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 45 :


Eccles 5:2,3    Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words.


If anyone has the temerity to say the Bible isn't practical, they have obviously never read large parts of it. Solomon has just counselled listening in the presence of God and now, before he actually comes to the subject of vows that he has in his mind, he gives a general warning about the way we speak in God's presence. It is very much a continuation from verse 1 where he counselled listening. If you listen you don't speak!

Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. An aspect or expression of sin, I believe, is stupidity, and a part of stupidity is thoughtlessness and therefore sometimes our rash statements before God as simply thoughtless and comes from remnants of the stupidity of sin left over in our lives from the past. Probably the greatest example of a big mouth in the Bible is the apostle Peter. For example, remember the time when Jesus is explaining he will have to die, Peter launches out, “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!” (Mt 16:22) Or there was the time at the Last Supper when Jesus wanted to wash the feet of the disciples: “No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet.” (Jn 13:8) You don't say no to Jesus! He has a reason.

How easy it is to make surface or shallow commitments. It is one of the reasons that I am wary about commitment times at the end of a sermon. It is important to bring people to a place of decision but I wonder how often those decisions are shallow and the seed has fallen on ground that will not be long-term fruitful (See Mt 13:18 onwards).

Now having said this and having used Peter as an example, there is one instance where Peter's rashness led him out into an experience no other human has ever had. It was in the midst of the wind on the lake and Jesus walked to them across the water and spoke to them. Observe Peter: “Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water.” (Mt 14:28) Do you ever have those times when God turns up and you find yourself saying crazy things? Sometimes it enables us to step out in faith like Peter did but sometimes it is something we later rue and don't follow through on. Solomon's warnings hold true.

Solomon obviously had this sort of thing in mind when he was writing his proverbs: “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” (Prov 10:19). The more we speak the more likely we are to get it wrong! But Solomon now gives another reason: God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” What does he mean? God is not human like us; His home is in heaven because He is the Lord and from there (implied) He sees all things and therefore He knows all things. So, you'd better be careful what you say because God sees and knows and knows the truth. To be on the safe side you'd do better to keep your words few (just like he says in Proverbs).

To conclude these particular thoughts, Solomon uses a comparison: “ As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words.” First the comparison: dreams. Dreams, he says, naturally flow when we are worried. Similarly words naturally flow from a fool. Remember in this sort of writing, a fool is someone who is morally limited, and who lacks wisdom. Sit on a bus and listen to chattering conversations, go on Facebook and note the shallow chattering there, and go on chat rooms and see the multitude of words poured out there. I have given up writing in such places because I am aware that it is so easy to just pour out shallow words that really don't touch the truth which is often far more complex than chat rooms allow. I used to write a weekly blog commenting upon the affairs of the world. I gave it up for two reasons. First, because it is so depressing commenting on the many negative things in the world and, second, because I came to realise that to make any meaningful comment that really touched on the truth meant that you had to cover so many points that you couldn't do that with a limited length blog.

So Solomon's warning comes to us: check out your speech – especially before God. Be careful not to just pour out meaningless words, words which we sometimes utter because we feel we will achieve something by them. Yet the truth is that they need to come out of the heart and need to be truthful, for that is what the Lord looks for.









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Meditation No. 46

Meditation Title: Care with Vows


Eccles 5:4-7 When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, "My vow was a mistake." Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God.


Handling the Bible requires a little wisdom. Perhaps that is why in the Middle Ages the Church wasn't very keen on it being left in the hands of the layman. I would never take that stand but I do encourage people to read the Bible and read it with understanding. Now this is one of those times where we need to realise three things about the text before us. The first thing is that it was written by Solomon from an earthly standpoint, hence the phrase which crops up again and again, “under the sun.” The second thing is that it was written during a phase in his life when he had drifted from God and succumbed to the folly of his foreign wives who worshipped idols. The thirds thing to note is that the Bible is progressive and so we now have far more revelation through the New Testament than Solomon ever had.

Now I say all this because I am going to make a suggestion that is almost unique in these meditations and it is this: Solomon's understanding was limited and therefore his teaching is limited and we shouldn't let it condemn us. It is wrong in its incompleteness!. Having spoken in earlier verses about keeping quiet before God, he does recognise that there will be times when people feel constrained to come before God and make a vow or promise before God. An example of such a vow from the Old Testament would be that of Hannah: “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD. And she made a vow, saying, "O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life.” (1 Sam 1:10,11) In the New Testament there is a reference to a vow that the apostle Paul had made: “Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchrea because of a vow he had taken.” (Acts 18:18 ). In other words he needed a haircut because probably he had previously made the vow of a Nazirite (see Num 6:1-21) and separated himself off to the Lord for a period. We see a similar reference in Acts 21:22-26.

Now previously Solomon has said, “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God.” (v.2) so here he adds, “ It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin.” i.e. guard your mouth and don't make hasty promises before God that you cannot keep, for in so doing you are committing a sin. Look, he says, don't turn up in the Temple one day and make a vow before the officials there and then later do not protest to the temple messenger, "My vow was a mistake." Yes, it obviously was a mistake and you shouldn't have made it if you can't keep it now but, he says, don't try and just squeeze out of it now.

Now we come to the part where I believe Solomon is adrift in his old age: “ Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands?” i.e. God will destroy what you do because of your sin. This is only half the story! The whole purpose of the Temple was to provide a place where people could come and meet with God – and especially when they had sinned! A large part of the sacrificial system was about saying sorry to God, of repenting and seeking to put things right as God had decreed.

A chunk of the early chapters of Leviticus is all about coming to God when you have sinned! You came to say sorry; you came to put it right in the prescribed manner. Solomon in his jaded state seems to have forgotten that. The deception of his idolatry seems to have wiped from his mind the big thing that separates off God from his idols. The Lord is holy and will deal with sin and where there is a hard heart that fails to repent, then He will take severe action, but God is primarily a God of redemption! The plan of redemption, we've seen before, was in God's heart before He created the world. He knew people would sin and so He made provision in the Law for that failure to be dealt with. There WAS a way back to God!

Yes, his final words are right, we are to “stand in awe of God” because He is holy and we were not, but both in the Law and the Gospel God has provided for us to come back to Him. So even where there was a foolish vow that would lead to bad things (see Jud 11:30 on) the right way of dealing with it was to acknowledge that the making of it was presumptuous sin and to confess it and seek forgiveness through a sacrifice according to the Law. Today we do it through the blood of Jesus shed on the Cross for us, but the process is ultimately the same: conviction, confession, repentance and cleansing and forgiveness (1 Jn 1:9). If you are rash with you mouth, the way back to God is through the Cross – but there IS a way back! Hallelujah!








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Meditation No. 47

Meditation Title: Corruption in High Places


Eccles 5:8.9 If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields.


We have a phrase in life about ‘taking a rake off.” I looked it up in online dictionaries and found, “ a share or amount taken or received illicitly, as in connection with a public enterprise” or “part of stakes raked off by the croupier as profit for the house”. It is about taking a share from what has been gained and it seems an apt description of what Solomon is now talking about here. It is, I suggest, a further expression of his jaded view of life. It may not be a wrong view but just a one-sided view. A realist looks the world in the eye and observes all the sins and failures of the world. A Christian looks it in the eye and sees a field ripe for harvest in the light of the awareness of those sins and failures. One feels gloomy about what he sees, the other full of hope. Solomon seems gloomy.

Solomon has been around and he knows that life isn't always fair in this Fallen World: If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things. Look, he says, the poor are also the weak (by implication) and because there will always be more powerful people around, don't be surprised that the powerful exploit or oppress the weak. No, we may not be surprised but that doesn't mean we have to sit back and accept it.

Then he gives this ongoing ‘raking off' process: for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields. In some parts of the world we hear of this style of approach, each official taking a rake off, from the lowest to the highest. We tend to call it corruption; they call it the way of life. But what it means is that the farmer or producer has to work that much harder to provide that much extra which he knows he going to be required, to pay off each level of officialdom, and that is unfair. The people of power are abusing the poor individual at the bottom of the ladder. It means they are getting paid for doing nothing and he is having to work harder to make sure they get their something-for-nothing. It is definitely unjust!

Now I don't know about you, but I don't get exactly blessed by meditating on these verses, but perhaps it is more than the fact that they are not about my spiritual life; perhaps it is that they are about aspects of life that we would rather ignore and pretend were not there. When we are living comfortably it's much nicer to ignore the unpleasant aspects of life around the world. We excuse ourselves: “What can I do to affect what happens on the other side of the world?” The clear implication being, nothing! But is that actually true? Maybe there is a charity working in that area, addressing just that very problem, maybe they need our support. Or maybe it needs people to speak up for the poor, by writing about them, visiting them, photographing them, bringing them to the attention of the world, and especially those in power who could do something. Nothing happens because we do nothing.

The truth is also that God IS concerned for the poor. The Bible testifies to that again and again. In the Law we find, “Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits.” (Ex 23:6) and “Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien.” (Lev 19:10) and similarly, “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien.” (Lev 23:22) and “If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs.” (Deut 15:7,8) Yet, “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.” (Deut 15:11) Also “Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns. Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it.” (Deut 24:14,15)

Thus the basis of life within Israel warned them through the Law that God looked after the poor and if they disregarded these laws they would have a serious issue with the Lord. Obviously by Solomon's time, people were being casual about the Law and were making excuses why they could break it. Throughout the rest of the Bible the testimony is similar: God cares for the poor! Therefore what Solomon says may be true, but such people who oppress the poor and are corrupt, taking a rake off from their earnings, will have to account to the Lord. The same applies today!






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Meditation No. 48

Meditation Title: The Money Trap


Eccles 5:10-12 Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them? The sleep of a labourer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep.


This is one of those passages that is loaded with significant wisdom and truth. Living in what is certainly the most affluent part of history so far, modern man is experiencing this like no previous generation. Each sentence is loaded with truth and we know it is truth because we are experiencing it today.

Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. When we have hardly any money we think we would be content with sufficient to put us at ease, but once we come to the place where we have enough to be at ease, we start wondering what life would be like if we had luxuries – but one luxury is not enough and there is always a bigger and better one than the one we have at the present – whatever it is. Even when it comes to yachts and executive jet and big mansions, this is true. There is always another house to be had somewhere else in the world, always a bigger and better yacht or jet. Contentment is a rare commodity and it rarely comes without God's help. And, of course, we need a bigger and bigger income to buy more and bigger and better.

As goods increase, so do those who consume them. One of the strange things about economics is that demand always keeps up with supply. Yes, sometimes we struggle to make supply keep up with demand, but however much we produce, we will find someone there to consume it. It is a rare thing to produce something that no one really wants. Why is that? It's like the apostle John said when he spoke about, “everything in the world …. the lust of his eyes…” (1 Jn 2:16 ), referring to the things that drive the godless world. Advertisers know this when they appeal to the senses, especially to how things look to us. We live in the age of images. Images entice us to buy. Someone makes a new product, makes it look interesting, and someone will buy it.

And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them. So here is this very rich man who has twenty cars. Why? He can only drive one at a time. Here is the rich celebrity with ten homes around the world. Why? He can only live in one of them at a time, and if he keeps moving from one to another to make sure he uses them, none of them is ever home. It's true whatever you have. The more you have the more you have that is not being used! All you are left doing is thinking about what you are not using or just looking at them.

The sleep of a labourer is sweet, whether he eats little or much. Here is the poor man who labours day in, day out. It is simple work but it is without stress. At the end of the day he is physically tired but not emotionally worn out by stress. He sleeps well. But then, the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep. Yes, he has had to work all hours of day and night to earn his riches and the stress and strain has been wearying. Indeed when he goes to bed his mind is still full of all of the affairs of business. When he wakes in the night his mind is still going round and round seeking to solve the stressful difficulties of the day. One has few goods and sleeps well. The other has an abundance of goods but cannot sleep. Who has the better life?

We rationalise it and say, but if only I could have the mid-way, sufficient money to not have to struggle but not enough to cause stress. But as we've noted already – and this does apply to the person who makes money their goal – we never have enough and so we can never settle for that elusive ‘mid-way'. No, contentment doesn't come with sufficient; it comes from being contented with what God has given us.

Look at how the apostle James summed it up: “Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." (Jas 4:13-15) While you make riches your goal you will always fall short of peace, contentment and true happiness, for that only comes when we submit our will to His, and accept what He gives. Some of us may become Solomon type of people with immense riches. Others of us may be called to empathise with those who have little. The key issue is, what has He called me to, what has He given me grace to accomplish? Grace to produce riches and use it wisely for the blessing of His world, or grace to simply love the poor and the weak? That is at the heart of this: what has He called you to? When you find it, you will find grace for it and you will know peace and contentment. That is the good life!







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Meditation No. 49

Meditation Title: Money Comes & Goes


Eccles 5:13,14 I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner, or wealth lost through some misfortune, so that when he has a son there is nothing left for him.


It is sometimes useful to recap or overview where we have just been. In these recent chapters Solomon has again and again picked up on the theme of riches, wealth and work. Back in chapter 4, verse 4 he spoke of wrong motivation that sometimes drives people in work: “And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man's envy of his neighbor.” Then in verse 5 the folly of idleness: “The fool folds his hands and ruins himself.” Then in verse 8 the folly of working but having no one to leave it to and yet not being content: “There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth,” then in chapter 5, verse 10 he returns to the subject but focuses on dissatisfaction: “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income,” and the worries caused by work and wealth: “the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep ,” (v.12). In the previous meditation we considered the folly of making money-making your focus.

Now Solomon moves on to consider another pitfall of money management – that of hoarding your money. He considers is a “grievous evil” this “ wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner.” Now what is unfortunate is that he does not unpack or explain this so we are left to speculate why that harm comes. There may be a number of reasons why hoarding wealth is wrong. I make these suggestions in no particular order.

First it may simply be an indication of a person's insecurity that they have to hoard wealth and let it build up and up without using it. The wise person will use their wealth to achieve good ends, but in such a way that if a crisis arises they can get hold of some it quickly. In today's age we would also say it is wiser to use or invest it because otherwise inflation means that the value of what you have lessens each year. Putting money into stocks and shares can mean that the money can be lost with a stock market fall. Perhaps another way of ‘hoarding'! Perhaps another wrong from hoarding is that you are ignoring the plight of the needy although, in today's age with knowledge of world affairs, the amount of need is so great that it is almost impossible to think that any giving we may give will have any discernable effect. Then comes the question of whether money donated ever gets to those who need it, or whether it is lost in administrative costs or in the pockets of corrupt officials along the way. The whole area of giving is a minefield. Yet hoarding is not an answer. Thus we are left, as always, with needing to come to the Lord to ask for His wisdom to know what to do with our wealth if we have excess.

We may not know what is the right answer, but the warning of doing nothing and remaining utterly self-centred in respect of our money, is clearly there in Jesus' parable of the man who built bigger and bigger barns: “Then he said, `This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." ' "But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'” (Lk 12:18-20) He hoarded his produce and anticipated a totally self-centred life of leisure, only to find that death robbed him of it all. That, Solomon would say, is folly.

This leads us on to the second part of our verses today: “wealth lost through some misfortune, so that when he has a son there is nothing left for him. ” In this case it isn't that the man has died and has been unable to enjoy it, but that something has occurred so that all his wealth has been drained away. Today we might envisage a stock market crash or a national credit crisis or devaluation that means that where there was once a large amount accessible, suddenly there is only very little. Misuse of money for criminal purposes may means that it is confiscated by the State. in such ways, any son or family find that whereas they were expecting to inherit or be able to draw on the father's wealth, suddenly that was no longer so.

Whatever the causes, the warning is strong there in Solomon's writing against hoarding money and not making use of it. Although some of us will not see ourselves in such situations, there may be many in this affluent time in the West for whom it should be a very real warning. As has become clear before the financial crises in the latter years of the first decade of this twenty first century, however many warnings may be given, people seem to live in a bubble of optimism that think it just won't happen. The man in Jesus' parable should deter us from such thinking!










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Meditation No. 50

Meditation Title: You can't take it with you


Eccles 5:15-17 Naked a man comes from his mother's womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand. This too is a grievous evil: As a man comes, so he departs, and what does he gain, since he toils for the wind? All his days he eats in darkness, with great frustration, affliction and anger.


I have often thought and, indeed, have commented more than once in these meditations, that there is a peculiar characteristic of humanity that thinks, “tomorrow will not come,” or “death is a long way off”. It is the belief that we are safe and secure in what we are today and death and dying is a long way away. In youth it is almost a sense of invincibility; in older years it is a sense that death is but a dream that may never come – and so we continue working on the long-term basis which means that in the short term we live for today and don't worry about the eternal future.

We've already recently referred to the rich man in one of Jesus' parables who kept on building bigger and better barns: “ “Then he said, `This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." ' "But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'” (Lk 12:18-20). He is a salutary warning about not living with this long-term view. We may not have a long time.

But this is where Solomon now comes in again: “ Naked a man comes from his mother's womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand.” It is something very obvious and so simple that it really shouldn't need thinking about, but while we live in the deception of that long-term view we really do need to think about it! The long-term view keeps on stacking up material possessions or wealth – because we don't know how many (and we believe they will be many!) years we have, so we are going to ‘need' all these possessions for many a year yet! But the fact is that one day death is going to come and when it does you cannot take all this wealth, all these possessions, with you. When you pass into the presence of God, those things will not come with you. At that point they will be utterly meaningless. But actually perhaps they won't, for they may be the cause or reason that you go into eternity bankrupt! Jesus finished that parable with, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” (Lk 12:21)

In a slightly different content, the apostle Paul warned about the quality of what we do in our lives: “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” (1 Cor 3:11 -15) Now that admittedly was not about eternal life, but simply about what we have done with our lives. It warns us that if we place reliance upon material things - gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw - then that will not survive in eternity.

 Solomon anguishes against this life that focuses on the material – “ As a man comes, so he departs, and what does he gain, since he toils for the wind?” He works all his life but passes into eternity empty handed. What a terrible description Solomon gives of this man's life: “ All his days he eats in darkness, with great frustration, affliction and anger. ” He eats in darkness? When he is not working, when he is relaxing and taking in nourishment, he is in the dark as far as the realities of life are concerned. He fails to understand the important or significant issues in life. He is blinded to the truth, and so he continues in this pointless accumulation of goods or wealth not realising that this life is but a drop in the ocean of eternity. Now seems so important but while he is focusing on material possessions and accumulating more and more wealth, he is just left with a sense of frustration (never finding fulfilment), he is just left with affliction (life out of control going wrong) and he is just left with anger (that comes from frustration and confusion that the other two bring)!

  We need to hold a balance here. Wealth is not wrong in itself. God had granted Solomon great wealth through his wisdom. No, it is making wealth the all-important focus in life. As Jesus said, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:33) Put God's will first and everything else will fall into place – and that may or may not include wealth, but if it does, that will bring fresh responsibilities with it as well! Wealth is for using as God shows us. We are but stewards of it for a short period of time; eternity is approaching, so let's seek Him for the wisdom we need, to know how to handle and use what we have wisely and above all else, let's put His will first!









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Series Theme:   Ecclesiastes Meditations

Meditation No. 51

Meditation Title: Satisfaction


Eccles 5:18-20 Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him--for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work--this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart


There is, it seems, a blend of truth and jaded cynicism in these verses. It is difficult to tell whether Solomon is expounding a great truth, or conceding begrudgingly a state of being. “Then I realised”. He has been pondering these things about people struggling with work and the various problems or difficulties that come with work and riches, but eventually he arrives at a conclusion about it all – it is a gift of God and there is a lot of good in it!

So let's look, piece by piece, at what he says. What does he realise? That “it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him” Note the components of human life: eat, drink and work. That is how God has made us. We may take this for granted, but that is how it is. We need regular food and drink to stay alive. We also need to work to take hold of the provision that God has made for us in Creation. It requires effort to grow food, harvest crops, make clothes and dwellings, provide necessities and then luxuries. That is work. Ultimately all of commerce and industry can be boiled down to this. And yes, because it is a Fallen World, it is “toilsome labour” or hard graft! It does need more effort than before the Fall.

But it isn't just hard graft; God has made us so that we get satisfaction or fulfilment from what we do. Unfortunately modern industry has so divided up work so that sometimes people are involved on purely repetitious specialized activities that seem to lack any creativity or interest and so sometimes it is very difficult to feel any real sense of achievement, but that is part of the curse of godless living. But God's intent is quite different; it is that we get satisfaction from what we do. Go back to basics and ask any gardener as Autumn approaches and they reap the rewards of growing vegetables, whether they have a sense of satisfaction and you can be sure what the answer will be. Perhaps that is what we should be working for – with God's help – in everything we do.

But look what he goes on to say: “Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work.” Sometimes there have been parts of the church that have decried riches and wealth but Solomon declares that God gives people such wealth and possessions and the ability to enjoy them. Again we sometimes (possibly defensively) speak negatively about the rich not being able to enjoy their wealth, but that isn't always so. They may not have ultimate fulfilment without God in their lives and they may have a godless destination in hell without Christ, but they may still have the ability to enjoy what they have. Yes, it may become jaded if they are just money-motivated, but there are many people who are well off who actually enjoy their possessions.

But can these people be happy with their lot and be happy ay work? Well, as Solomon has said many times, if they are godless and if they are money driven, then perhaps that is unlikely and almost certainly they will not recognise, as Solomon now does, that all of what they have is a gift from God, but they may still be able to enjoy what they have and find satisfaction from their work. God works in many different ways and so for some people, the Lord allows bad things to come their way, to catch their attention, but for others, God simply blesses them and allows them to know goodness in living, and through this means He gets them to start wondering about the goodness of life. Yet, for each of us, as Jesus said, even when we have many possessions, we only come to a place of peace with God when we realise our spiritual poverty (See Mt 5:3). Thus for the wealthy it is possible to enjoy the wonders of their wealth but then realise they have a spiritual poverty in the midst of it and so turn and seek God.

Yet even this is a gift of God, a working of the Holy Spirit, drawing a person's heart to the Lord for, “ He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart .” There is something strange in that: God appears to bless people in such a way that they don't give any thought to the things of eternity. Solomon doesn't say people can't reflect on the Lord, but that they seldom do. The apostle Paul said God's greatness should be visible to people (Rom 1:20 ) but their sinful hearts don't see it. God knows who He can draw to Himself but that, sometimes, doesn't stop Him blessing those who won't turn to Him, for when they face Him in eternity. they will never be able to say He hadn't been for them in life. Some serious things to thing more about!








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Series Theme:   Ecclesiastes Meditations

Meditation No. 52

Meditation Title: Failure to Enjoy


Eccles 6:1,2 I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on men: God gives a man wealth, possessions and honor, so that he lacks nothing his heart desires, but God does not enable him to enjoy them, and a stranger enjoys them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil.


The ability to enjoy something is a strange phenomenon. For example watch a small child at Christmas unwrap a big present and is seen for the next hour or so playing with the paper and string!!! Our ability to enjoy something, it seems, depends on our age and our personality and our personal preferences. Some people enjoy watching football; others don't. Some people enjoy going out for meal; others don't. Some people enjoy reading; others don't.

Solomon has obviously been watching some of his rich acquaintances. There is no doubt about it, they are rich and have many possessions. Even more they are people who are highly respected and honoured in society. They lack nothing they could want, and yet somehow they just don't seem to be able to enjoy what they have. Maybe it is that they are too busy working to earn more money or maybe there is some other reason, but he has watched and he has seen that not everyone who has a lot is able to enjoy it, and that, to him, seems really bad.

Now when he says, “a stranger enjoys them instead” is supposes that he dies and someone else takes and enjoys all his wealth, but in what follows it is clear that that is not what is in his mind. Look how he continues: “A man may have a hundred children and live many years.” (v.3a) There is the first hint that he is thinking about not being able to enjoy it while you are still alive. He continues, “yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial…” (v.3b) This suggests things going wrong while he is still alive. It suggests that he makes all that money but then for some reason he loses it and doesn't even have enough to have a decent funeral!

Then he makes a comparison: “I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.” (v.3c) Oh my goodness! A child who is born dead is better off than this man? Why? “It comes without meaning, it departs in darkness, and in darkness its name is shrouded. Though it never saw the sun or knew anything, it has more rest than does that man.” (v.4,5) i.e. this child experiences nothing of life and so avoids all the pain and anguish that this man has experienced!

Then he summarises the situation: “even if he lives a thousand years twice over but fails to enjoy his prosperity. Do not all go to the same place?” (v.6) There is the second clarification in that he is thinking of what happens while the man is alive. If he could live even two thousand years but fail to enjoy his prosperity it would be a waste of time. Indeed both he and the dead child end up in the same place!

It is a strong challenge to those of us who live in the West in the twenty first century. We may be part of the most affluent generation that this world has seen so far, but do we actually enjoy what we have? How many of us are discontented with what we have? How may store up money, failing to use it, only to have it devalued and lost in old age. It seems there is a difficult balance to be had here. On one hand we will be wise if we will save to the future, save to come with unforeseen future misfortunes, but on the other hand if we just keep on putting all we have aside, it means we never enjoy it and risk losing it with some financial collapse, or even dying before we have the chance to spend and enjoy it.

It seems that yet again, here we have one of those situations that needs the wisdom of God. Only as we live out a real relationship with the Lord, can we receive His guidance as to how to spend our money wisely. And of course we haven't even touched on the subject of giving some of it away to help and bless others. The Bible says a lot about caring for the poor and giving to the needy so that is yet another aspect of using our wealth wisely.

There is no point making money and accumulating it if we cannot enjoy it. That is clearly the thrust of Solomon's concern in these verses but as we have noted briefly in passing there is also the whole subject of saving for the future and giving to the poor and needy to be considered. It is a wide subject, but one that is very relevant to us in the age in which we live.











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Meditations Contents
Series Theme:   Ecclesiastes Meditations

Series Contents:




Meditation No. 53

Meditation Title: Royalty


Mal 1:







Front Page
Meditations Contents
Series Theme:   Ecclesiastes Meditations

Series Contents:




Meditation No. 54

Meditation Title: Royalty


Mal 1: