This is part 10 of a many-part blog series on the book of Ecclesiastes.
There is a faith that is rare but beautiful, where one continues to trust the LORD when their experiences seem to contradict His promises. When their prayers for healing remain unanswered for years, when they labor in hard soil amongst the least reached for 30 years without seeing fruit, when their work/environmental/political/economic conditions never improve.
Let’s give Solomon some credit. We stand on the other side of the Cross; so as long as we keep that perspective, it’s impossible for us to slip into the hebel-depression he must have often found himself mired in. In Ecclesiastes 8, he struggles with the evil within us and our lack of power to overcome the hebel around us. “For there is a time and a way for everything, although man’s evil lies heavy on him” (8:6).
“No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of his death” (8:8). We have no power over ultimate things. We cannot control whether a tornado will rip through and destroy all our possessions, or whether our young child will be diagnosed with a rare and incurable disease, or whether bad political or economic decisions will wipe our job or even our country off the map. Even though the ultimate power belongs to God, there is another player in life under the sun. In Job’s case, the evil one himself was involved, and assuredly is involved in many of our cases as well. Keep in mind he was on a leash—he had to ask God’s permission and play by His rules. Still, on this side of eternity, these lofty affairs can feel like they are played out on a cosmic chessboard above our pay grade.
Solomon feels that pinch: “In my hebel life, I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evil doing” (7:15). Now in chapter 8, he says, “Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they fear before Him. But it will not be well with the wicked…” (8:12-13).
The Righteous & the Wicked
It seems like—for just a minute—Solomon was able to bust a hole in the wall of progressive revelation. He couldn’t see why, and you can feel the frustration in his tone; but he just KNEW that God wouldn’t let the righteous lose while the wicked won. Surely, he would do something. This is one of the places in Ecclesiastes reflecting the strongest desire for God’s solution to hebel under the sun.
Alas, it would be 900 years until Messiah would come and smash down the wall Solomon was beating on. Until then, the best advice he could muster was this:
“And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in all his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun” (8:15).
In case this advice looks familiar, it’s the 3rd time of four he will share this with us. Ecclesiastes has 4 movements, marked by 4 conclusions:
- 1:2-2:26 conclusion – 2:24-26
- 3:1-5:20 conclusion – 5:18-20
- 6:1-8:15 conclusion – 8:15
- 8:16-12:14 conclusion – 12:9-14
It is typical Hebraic, circular thought. The author comes around to the point he wants to make several times. Until the Cross, all that could be done to fight hebel was to stop striving and enjoy what you can within it, thanking God for all that is good in your life.
Joy in Delayed Gratification
Even in the rat race that running a business in a developing (or not!) country can resemble, we must occasionally stop and rejoice. To rest and reflect on His goodness, even if we aren’t currently experiencing much of it in our physical circumstances, is to refuel for the journey ahead.
Precious is the faith of those who press on and endure through extremely adverse circumstances because their hope is not in a particular outcome in this life. Instead, they realize there is a reward there (eternity) for their work here. They would rather take a future reward of infinite value (where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal – Matthew 6:19-21) than a lesser reward now. You must count the cost before going (Luke 14:25-33). Do not engage in B4T if you are unwilling to delay gratification.
Greg is the President of OPEN USA. He used his education to work as a tentmaker in the Middle East for 8.5 years seeking to plant a church amongst a least-reached people group. Currently back in the USA with his wife and children, they aim to return to finish what the LORD used them to start.
To learn more about B4T, read Business for Transformation by Patrick Lai.