What’s something in this life that you might like to save up for?
Read Ecclesiastes 5:1-6:6
The premise of the Teacher’s lessons is that life under the sun is empty – misty. We do not improve this earth by our existence, and we do not create more joy than what God has already gifted to us to begin with. Life as gain is disappointing (to say the least) but life as a gift is where joy can be found. We do not orchestrate time and the best we can do under the sun is to enjoy our labour, to live in community and to learn to fear God. Wisdom is better than folly but both will return to dust in the end. Humans are no better off than animals under this same measure. We thank God each lesson for the greater Teacher who reveals eternity for us.
Chapters 1-4 have laid down the foundation for the rest of the book. We’ll hear things we’ve already heard in this chapters but the Teacher will explore them more deeply and include more wisdom for us to listen to and learn.
- (5:1-7) Fear God.
- (5:8-17) Forget money.
- (5:18-6:6) God gives…
(5:1-7) Fear God.
“Guard your steps…” This has the sense of being watchful of how you proceed. Psalm 119:59, 101, 105. The wisdom to watch your feet will parallel the wisdom to watch our words in Verse 2.
“…when you go to the house of God.” The Temple is unique in all the world as the one place authorised to bring sacrifice to God. 1 Kings 7:12 use the phrase ‘house of God’ to mean Temple. Christians do not have a building that equals this because Jesus is the Temple and we are the Temple where God dwells. So, join the dots and work out when should a Christian guard their steps?
“Go near to listen rather than…” Proverbs 29:20; 18:13. A fool presumes to know what life is about and what everyone expects. A fool feels they need no education. A fool is not educated about what they do wrong. Many sinners will step foot in church and never believe that they need forgiveness.
“God is in heaven and you are on earth…” Here is the distinction between our vision versus God’s. We live life with only knowledge of what happens under the sun but God is in heaven and has wisdom to teach us, if we would listen. This is why the Bible is so very, very important. General revelation (what we can observe and conclude from our senses and logic alone) is limited and does not teach us anything about God in real detail. But God has spoken to this world and our place is to listen to Him. Those who do not are rightly defined as foolish.
“A dream comes when there are many cares…” The meaning of Verse 3 is unclear except that the ‘dream’ is not positive. One might interpret the definition of ‘dream’ as an inspired answer or revelation from God but that doesn’t fit the context. Verse 7 uses the word ‘dreaming’ negatively. Verse 1 describes approaching the house of God in order to listen. Verse 3 has a parallel sense to it which matches the second half: “…many words mark the speech of a fool.” The verse, then, is about the fool with all his/her concerns under the sun when what they really ought to do is stop and listen to God who is in heaven. What do we know? The dream could be disturbed sleep due to the cares of the world. It could be wishful thinking or planning your way out of the world’s cares. NB: a good rule with scripture is that when a sentence is difficult to nail down, then look at the context and lean on that for your answer. I don’t see this as promoting the reading of dreams because of the context.
“…a vow to God…” This simply means a promise that is made especially in prayer.
“Do not let your mouth lead you into sin.” Guard your mouth as much as you guard your step.
“Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore fear God.” See above on dreaming. This is the conclusion: attempts to get out of strife in this world is foolishness – be still and know that God is God – fear Him. The fear is demonstrated by listening.
(5:8-17) Forget money.
“…do not be surprised…” What is described in Verses 8-9 and further is the power of money and the pyramid of success. Those at the top are benefitting from what is below. Do you think the bottom of the pyramid is filled with winners? Do you think that those at the top are innocent and pure? The Kingdom of God is the only exclusion to this logic – it defies logic like this – the least will be first and the first last!
“…wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners…” We are left to imagine why this is harmful. The hoarding implies no sharing and no good use for the wealth – see Verse 11b – its only use is to be looked at. It is not others who are hurt by the hoarding but the owner.
“…or wealth lost through some misfortune…” The second misfortune is money that was intended to be used for the next generation but it is lost through financial misfortune.
“Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb, and as everyone comes, so they depart.” You can’t take it with you so why live like money is the answer. The Teacher has outlined a number of ways that faith in money will ruin us: It creates oppression in the world (8-9); We lose sleep trying to accumulate it (10-12); We hope in it only to have it taken from us through misfortune (13-14). The only content person is the one who works for a living in order to eat and sleep (12a). Better to stop worshiping money.
(5:18-6:6) God gives…
“This is what I have observed to be good…” The Teacher makes some conclusions in this whole section.
“…this is their lot.” The conclusion embraces the limitation of our existence. We do not plan when to be born or when to die. Our existence is fleeting and we take as much out of life as we brought into it. But to eat, drink and find some satisfaction in what we do, rather than in the wealth we gather, is good. We may even sleep soundly for it rather than be troubled by dreams.
…when God gives…this is a gift of God…God keeps them occupied…” Godliness with contentment is great gain, says Paul to Timothy in 1 Tim 6:6. It is the life of the wise person who has approached God to listen to him rather than to pursue wealth – God may well have blessed a person like that with wealth. The money is not evil but the love of money is. Notice the grace of God to provide and it is in hands really.
“…occupied with gladness of heart.” A good phrase for contentment.
“…another evil…meaningless…a grievous evil.” The opposite of ‘good’? Verses 6:1-6 describe this grievous evil. It is better to not have experienced life at all than to have everything your heart desires and yet no joy in them – they die before they can enjoy it. Working in order to enjoy retirement – if that is the point of life – that is a tragedy.
Suggested questions for running this study.
Q1. Discuss the content and meaning of verse 1 (5:1). How do Verses 2 to 7 expand on this?
Q2. How is life under the sun described in Verses 8-9?
Q3. What does the pursuit of wealth bring us? See 10-12; 13-14; 15-17.
Q4. What is the difference between the rich fool and the wealthy person blessed by God? (see 5:18-20 compared to 6:1-2). Read Luke 12:13-34 to remember the tragedy of the rich fool.
Listen to God and stop pursuing the wealth of the earth. We brought nothing into this world and will take nothing out of it. The toil of life ought to do no more than give us food, drink and rest. Life and prosperity are a gift from God – a need to listen to him carefully and be thankful is our lot.
Challenge#1 Listen to God – really.
Do you have an eagerness to listen to God through his word? He has spoken to us clearly and with a very rich resource for knowledge and life. How often it is that we ignore it, presume we have already learned enough from it, or think we know it when we really don’t know half of it! Let’s get rid of our apathy toward God’s word and act as though his word is life.
Challenge#2 To spend or not to spend
What is it that you are saving money for? It’s up to you what you do with your money but the Lord has given us more than enough warnings to consider what we do with it. This challenge is an opportunity to ponder where your heart is and to reflect on money wisely. Have you considered what happens once you’re gone?
Challenge#3 A world of oppression without wisdom.
Life as gain creates a pyramid of oppression where only the person on top is not oppressed and yet they are tortured by their own wealth through lack of sleep and the futility of losing it all – or the worry that they might! It is a disastrous view of life but this is the world we live in. Imagine if people were freed from this? The gospel gives people freedom from being slaves to money. God calls us to free people from this slavery. It begins with people listening to God – that’s the break in the cycle – to listen to God. Perhaps you are the mouthpiece of God to help somebody! (Luke 12:13-34)