In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve did not have to wonder about their significance. They had been created by God in his image (Genesis 1:26, 27). Their identity was not an issue. But when sin stained the planet their identity and sense of significance was compromised and marred. Humankind continued to search for significance until it reached an apex in the account of the Tower of Babel. The people wanted to “make a name for themselves” (11:4). Bruce Parmenter said, “They had to reach so high because they felt so low” (What the Bible Says About Self-Esteem). Any search for significance without God in the picture will end in desperation. This lesson and the three that follow will deal with the theme of significance from the book of Ecclesiastes.
The books that comprise the wisdom literature of the Bible (primarily Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs) help balance one another. Proverbs says, “Live according to this wisdom and all will be well.” Job says, “Not so fast. It does not always work that way.” Ecclesiastes says, “Life is meaningless.” Song of Songs says, “Not if you find true love.” Some people think Ecclesiastes is just a pessimistic book written by a grouchy old king. Actually, it is a scientific experiment to make sense of life “under the sun” (without God in the equation). Today’s lesson says, “If you fear the Lord, you will find significance.”
Fear the Lord Because What God Does, Lasts
Solomon announced the book’s theme (meaninglessness) in chapter one. In chapter two, he surveyed attempts (wine, women, and wisdom) at finding significance. In chapter three he added “time” to the component of this search. There is a time for everything (3:1-8). God made everything beautiful in its time and put eternity in the hearts of people (vv. 8-13)—see Don Richardson’s book, Eternity in Their Hearts, about how God has placed redemptive analogies in every culture.
The purpose of this “time” argument is that people would fear the Lord. In contrast to what time-bound humans do, God’s activities endure forever. Solomon said that he “knew” (know intimately or well) that. The Bible uses the word forever just like we do. Sometimes it meant “unending.” Sometimes it meant “a long time.” Context makes clear that the former meaning is being intended here. No addition or subtraction is needed. God’s activities endure. In contrast, human life is a vapor (James 4:14).
Fear the Lord Because God Will Judge the Wicked
Solomon’s search for wisdom led him to compare the rich and the poor (chapter 4), consider worship (chapter 5), consider the value of food and work, and contrast the wise with the foolish (chapters 6, 7). In chapter 8 Solomon stressed the importance of obeying the king because he is God’s representative and stressed the importance of doing God’s will even though at times it might not seem worth it.
One temptation for the righteous person is to believe the lie that the wicked “get away with it.” This is mentioned in the Bible many times (see Psalm 73 in particular). It seems that their wickedness is not punished or is at least delayed indefinitely. They even live longer than the righteous at times. But Solomon reminded his readers that the wicked (the first word for evil in the Bible) get buried too. They might look like they hang around the temple and receive praise from others (see John 12:43), but, in the end, the praise they receive is meaningless (the key word in Ecclesiastes meaning “vapor or mist”). Solomon reminded his readers that it still goes better for those who fear God and are reverent. If the wicked lengthen their days, it will be like a shadow.
Fear the Lord Because That Is the Whole Duty of All People
Ecclesiastes 12:13, 14
Preaching and teaching from Ecclesiastes is challenging because of the temptation to get to the conclusion too soon. It does help to work through the book so as to arrive at this large crescendo. But the best argument for fearing the Lord is that, at the end of the day, it is the “whole” of life. [The word duty is supplied by the translators. The text actually just says, “This is the ‘whole’…of all mankind”.]
Everything has been heard (see Deuteronomy 6:4). The conclusion of this matter (word)—fearing God and keeping his commandments (what Jewish boys learned by age 12) is what matters in life. Since God is the judge for good or evil, and he will bring hiddenthings into the open (Matthew 10:26), serving him with everything is the only thing that makes sense in life.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.