Category Archives: Judgment

Ecclesiastes 3-4 – Eternity in our hearts

Discussion question:

What is something that you hope for?

Read Ecclesiastes 3-4

Context

The Teacher is the King of Israel who has set out to test the fruit of life. What is it all about? Who wins in the end? He has done this by observing the world around him (Chapter 1) and the pursuit of pleasure (Chapter 2). His conclusion so far has been that God is the giver of everything and nothing that we do can be called new or forever ours. We do not create. We do not keep. But what this world cannot give us, God gives freely: wisdom and contentment.

Observation

Structure

  • Regarding time: 3:1-8 A time for everything and everything in its time.
  • Regarding humanity 3:9-22
    • 3:9-15 Humility lesson#1: Eternity in our hearts.
    • 3:16-17 God is the only righteous judge
    • 3:18-22 Humility lesson#2: No different to animals.
  • Regarding community 4:1-16
    • 4:1-3 Better off dead!?
    • 4:4-12 The relationship between toil and people
    • 4:13-16 Nobody ever comes out on top

Regarding time (3:1-8)

This well known poem which was famously set to music back in the 60s, can be seen with two lenses. Lens one is the rose-coloured type: how beautiful is the symmetry of life and how wise is it to recognise the time for this and the time for that. Wisdom helps us to identify which is which and be content with that. But this is not the correct lens to where.

Lens two is the one that reads this poem in the context of Ecclesiastes. What is the Teacher trying to teach us? Meaningless! Everything is misty!

God is sovereign over every time and we are not in control of any of it. Especially the time to die! No amount of toil will put us in control of these things. We are subject to the authority of God. Time is determined by God.

Regarding humanity (3:9-22) 9,15,18

3:9-15 Humility lesson#1: Eternity in our hearts.

“He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” These two clauses summarise Verses 9 to 14. Somehow, God has implanted in our minds the idea of forever, but we have no way of accessing this timeline. It is God’s. He owns it. We are here for a short while to toil and enjoy what beauty is given in its time. We enjoy the gift of life that God gives to us – for our time – and we are given the concept and wonder of eternity but only a temporary role in it. And what’s the point? So that we would learn to fear God.

“Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before;” See Ecclesiastes 6:10 and 1:9. There is nothing new under the sun. We are very constrained as humans.

“…and God will call the past to account.” This has some translation difficulties as you’ll see if you compare different versions. The NIV leads us to hear God as the judge of all events. But the ESV and others, ‘God seeks what has been driven away’ which sits parallel to the first part of Verse 15. That is, God brings about what has already been.

In one sense it doesn’t matter. The judgement of God becomes clear in the following verses and what Verse 15 proclaims is that God sits above the events of time.

3:16-17 God is the only righteous judge

“And I saw something else under the sun…” This refers to the realm of life in this world. The ‘under the sun’ phrase occurs 29 times in the book. 5 times are in Chapters 3 and 4.

“…wickedness was there…” To the Teacher, judgment and justice does not occur with righteousness in this world (under the sun) but wickedness is there.

“God will bring into judgment…” The Teacher believes in a time for judgment from God for all people. We will see in the next section that the Teacher does not know or declare when that will take place. Barry Webb suggests this may be similar to ‘setting eternity in our hearts’ with respect to time. Righteous judgment and justice will occur – but the details are not forthcoming.

3:18-22 Humility lesson#2: No different to animals.

“As for humans, God tests them so that they may see…” We have seen the humility of our power over time and events. And we’ve seen our humility under God as the only righteous judge. Now we will learn that, under the sun, there is no difference between humans and animals. All things being equal, we are no better off than the axolotl. 

“Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” As we examine biology, who knows? This is the ‘under the sun’ point of view. Later, in 12:7, the Teacher will declare that our spirit returns to God who gave it. So, there is more to say than what the Teacher says in Verse 21 but external observation gives us no clue. Do animals have spirits? I remain agnostic. The word for spirit is interchangeable with breath. We need not put special significance on a rhetorical question.

“So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work…” Verse 22 caps off this chapter well. There is a time for humanity between ones birth and ones death. All of the toil under the sun is in the sovereign hands of God. Who knows but the Lord what comes after.

Regarding community 4:1-16

4:1-3 Better off dead!?

The Teacher describes the injustice that occurs under the sun and declares it as evil. Better than a dead person is one who never entered the world at all. The Teacher speaks wisdom and logic. Whether he feels depressed about it or not is unknown. Life on earth is full of unfairness. He simplifies people into one of two categories, you are either the oppressed or the oppressor. The notion of equity is absent in his view.

4:4-12 The relationship between toil and people

“…all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another.” This is quite stark isn’t it? What drives a person to success, according to the Teacher, is not self motivation or self improvement but the desire to be better than others. Envy is a hurtful motivation that wants another person to fail because they have what you want.

Verse 4 opens a series of observations about how humans relate with one another.

Verses 5-6: Firstly an idle person will fail, but a simple helping will suffice. The other extreme is to be too greedy – the effort is not worth it. Work because you must but don’t over do it!

Verses 7-8: The story of a single man who works and works but is never content. Who does he share the wealth with? Who does he share the toil with? Both of these problems are explored in the verses that follow.

Verses 9-10: Two people in business or partnership have one another’s backs. This is a good thing.

Verse 11: Regarding a marriage, this seems comfortable. (A hot water bottle is nice too).

Verse 12: In battle, teamwork is the better. Two is better than one and three is really good.

NB: Verses 11 and 12 are often joined together but I see no need to do this. The theme or the illustrations are different. When joined together, the inclination is to make the third cord God and so a marriage with God is strong. This is true but I don’t see this jumping out off the page.

4:13-16 Nobody ever comes out on top

These verses are tricky. We have the subject of a young person and a king. Verse 13 seems easy enough to grasp on its own. Then there seems to be a narrative about an upcoming ruler, the youth who rises from poverty and is followed by many. He seems like someone worth supporting, not this old foolish king who no longer heeds warning! But the reality is that this is a repeating narrative. Verse 16 says that there is a long history of youths who were elevated to king. And the story goes that this youth-become-king is eventually rejected as people are not pleased with them. This is the story of rise to power and the conclusion is: meaningless!

Suggested questions for running this study.

Q1. What is pleasing about the poem in Chapter 3 Verses 1-8? Is it a hopeful poem or a hopeless poem? Discuss.

Q2. Looking at Verses 9-15, what are all the things that God has done?

Q3. Verse 22 brings the chapter to a blunt conclusion. What is Chapter 3 teaching us about life under the sun? 

Q4. Look at the various wisdoms of Verses 4 to 12. What do they say about human relationships?

Q5.  There is mention of judgment in these chapters (see 3:17) but no certainty of when or how. There seems to be a time for everything under heaven but when is the time for righteous judgment? Revelation 20:11 onwards has an answer to that! But let’s turn to Mark 14:17-25. What injustice under the sun is referenced here? Compare Mark 14:21 with Ecclesiastes 4:3 – what is the irony of this comparison?

Meaning

Life under the sun is filled with toil and tears. A time for everything but all of it is outside the power of humanity. God ordains the years and everything that happens within them. God is greater than all of us and yet there is much injustice in this world. Thanks be to God that there is a time for judgment and the time has been allotted by God. Thanks also be to Christ who underwent the greatest injustice the world has ever seen or known and all so that we can be raised up with him at the end.

Application

Challenge#1 Responding to injustice

What does the gospel teach us about injustice? The most mistreated person in all of history must be God himself. Ecclesiastes reminds us that this life contains many accounts of oppression and injustice but the gospel reminds us that all justice will be served in the end and it will fall on the hands of the perfect and just God. There is a time for justice and the bible reminds us even to leave vengeance to God.

Challenge#2 What time is it?

There is a time for everything under the sun. Half of the things listed in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 are negative things. They are not given to us because of karma but simply because this is the time and the will of God. Not every day we live is a walk in the park. Often it rains. As God works in us, he reminds us that our hope is not for suffering to end quickly but that we will grow from it. Romans 5:3-5.

Challenge#3 What hope do you have?

When you encounter someone suffering depression or hopelessness, is there any wisdom from Ecclesiastes 3 and 4 that you can see useful? One might talk about the changing times and that these moments pass. One might talk about the benefit of friends, that if someone falls down, there are others to help them up. Or we might talk about the expectation of injustice in this world – but that there is an invitation by God to look to the kingdom of God for a new future. Revelation 20:11:21:5

Genesis 6:-7:22

Context:

Genesis 1 set the foundation for us to think about the character and nature of God.  Genesis 2 zoomed in on the relationship between God and humanity and sharpened our understand of what it is to be human.  In Genesis 3, the first humans sinned – breaking their relationship with God, the earth and each other.  God judges, but his judgement is also merciful (he clothes, he still speaks with people, death is not immediate) and there is the promise of the serpent crusher, who will defeat Satan to one of Eve’s offspring.

In Chapter 4 we meet Cain and Abel and we should be asking ‘will one of these be the Serpent crusher’… but instead we see evil increases – and the generation of Cain continues and evil increases all the more.  It is a dead line… ending with multi-murderer Lamech.  But the promise continues in Seth.

In Chapter 5 we are introduced to a different line… the line of the promise.  There is death, but there is the continuation of generations finishing open-endedly for the story of Noah.  In Chapter 6, we get a mini-insight into the perspective of God.  We sin is rampant in the lives of human (every person, all the time).  We see God’s sorrow at the evil which is unfolding inhis declaration that he will judge evil.  The question we should be asking is: what about the serpent crusher?  Will God preserve his plan and promise, or will he destroy all of humanity once and for all.

And we are left with just a glimmer of hope. Vs 8: “But Noah found favour in the eyes of the LORD.”

Observation:

Verses 9-10 function a bit like a title summarising what will follow.  It has a summary heading of the account; Adescription of Noah; and highlights the continuance of the promise by highlighting the continuation of the lineage after Noah.

The zoomed in description should stand out to us in verse 9, showing 3 attributes:  he is righteous and blameless (legally upright before God) and he walked faithfully with God – which is the same description which is used to describe Enoch (5:24).  What we don’t see here, like with Enoch, is a description of ‘sinlessness’ which has slipped into some explanations of why these extraordinary events happen to them.  Noah is human and so is caught up in the sinful nature which has infected every facet of being human.  But as a sinner, Noah is one, like Enoch, who called on the name of the LORD (4:25) and so desired to walk faithfully with God (5:24, 6:9).

Verse 11-13 remind us of what we had already heard in 6:1-8.  God speak to Noah, declaring that the earth is full of violence and evil and that God will judge.  Note: there is judgement against both humanity and the earth.  The sin of humanity is not just to uproot the way that people relate to other things, but it brings with it a radical reshaping of the way that creation works as a whole and so the whole of creation is subject to judgement.

Verse 14 – 21 introduce the covenant between God and Noah.  Verse 18 is worth focusing on and especially the introduction of the word covenant.  The word itself is the word of a treaty agreement.  On Noah’s side of the bargain, he has to build an ark with the specifications that God has given.  On God’s side, his promise is to keep Noah and his family safe from his judgement on the earth.  This language of covenant is incredibly significant, as it shapes the relationship between God and humanity for the future – beginning with Abraham in Genesis 12, 15.

The repetition in 6:22 and 7:5 that Noah did all that the Lord commanded him is significant.  Noah fulfilled his end of the covenant promises.  It contributes to how we read the descriptions of Noah in verse 9 – he was righteous and blameless and walked faithfully with God in his obedience to God’s covenantal promises.

Genesis 7:5 signals a shift in the story – moving away from the conversation between Noah and God and Noah’s responses and instead focussing on the action of God’s judgement. Verse 5-16 focusses on the gathering of Noah, his family and the animals into the ark.  Verse 16 significantly shows God ‘shutting them in’ affirming his promise to uphold his end of the covenant and to protect them.

Verse 17-24 move away from Noah’s protection to focus on the judgement of God.  The repetition in verse 21-23 should highlight the magnitude of the judgement of God and the ‘undoing’ of creation that is happening here. Every living creature and all “mankind” (same word as used in 5:1) are wiped out.  Everything that had “God breathing his spirit into their nostrils” (remember chapter 2:7).  Everything that moved along the ground and birds that flew in the air (allusions back to chapter 1 and 2).  We need to be slow and sober about the impact of this judgement – God is wiping out all of the good creation that he has made, because it has become corrupted by evil.

The chapter finishes with the reality that the floodwaters went for 150 days.  Nothing could withstand the judgement of God.  The only way to survive, is (in 7:23) to be like Noah and the ark – under the protection and promises of God.

Application:

I normally give options, but I would focus in on this one today:1. The judgement of God and the response of the righteous.  Read Matthew 24:36-44.
How does the account of Noah help us to understand what a faithful response to God is, in light of his judgement?  How does a Christian ‘be prepared’ for the judgement of God?

REVELATION 22:6 -21 -GROWTH GROUPS DISCUSSION NOTES

As we come to the end of the series on the Book of Revelation it is helpful to recall the historical perspective that lies behind this wonderful book. This is summed up by Paul Barnett in his commentary Revelation: Apocalypse Now and Then at page 153:

Revelation leaves us in no doubt: the great end-time battle of God does not lie in the future but in the past. By his death and resurrection Christ has conquered the twin evils of guilt and death. As a consequence, God’s kingdom is now, a present reality. These are perhaps the most important keys to the mysteries of this book.

As for the evils that the original Christians (and Christians ever since) were facing, Barnett reminds us:

The book repeatedly portrays God as not the source of evil. In his mercy he limits the extent of satanic destruction to provide rebellious humanity with the opportunity to repent of the worship of demons and idols, and their breaking of his commandments (9:2). In the face of this evil, Christians are continually called on to display patience and faithfulness to Jesus. And it is by endurance and faith that believers share in the completed conquest of the Lamb who was slain.

So what is there left for us before we become fully glorified in the presence of the Lord as depicted under the imagery of the new Jerusalem and the bride adorned for her husband?

The answer of course is the second coming of Jesus to bring this age to a close and to bring about the fulfillment of his ultimate plan for his people.

That is what chapter 22:6 is all about.

QUESTION ONE: Rev. 22:7 quotes Jesus as saying, ‘Behold, I am coming soon’. Given that 2,000 years have passed, how would you explain the meaning of the word ‘soon’?

QUESTION TWO: From your knowledge of the New Testament, what do you know about its teaching about the return of Jesus?

QUESTION THREE: How are we meant to prepare for his coming?

QUESTION FOUR: The book of the Revelation ends with a prayer, ‘… Amen, come Lord Jesus.’ It is rare for such a prayer to be heard in worship services today and it is probably rare for it to be uttered in the private prayers of most believers. Why is this so and how can we change our thinking to follow the example of this verse in beseeching Jesus to come quickly?