This is part 3 of a many-part blog series on the book of Ecclesiastes.
In the imperfect-but-good world Solomon inherited from his father, righteousness was still expected to rule the day. With wisdom in this context, Solomon discerned a 1-to-1 correlation between living right and being rewarded. He wrote Proverbs like these:
“The righteous is delivered from trouble, but the wicked walks into it instead” (Proverbs 11:8).
“Whoever is steadfast in righteousness will live, but he who pursues evil will die” (Proverbs 11:19).
“A truthful witness saves lives, but one who breathes out lies is deceitful” (Proverbs 14:25).
“If anyone returns evil for good, evil will not depart from his house” (Proverbs 17:13).
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
Upside Down World
Yet, there are many wicked who seem to be delivered from trouble in this life and the righteous receive it instead. This is why Solomon felt the world was upside down (Proverbs 11:8). The righteous should be delivered from trouble (Proverbs 11:19); but sometimes on this side of eternity, we should expect the opposite (John 16:33). There are courts all over the world where corruption wins the day (Proverbs 14:25).
Even in my short days on earth, I’ve seen much evil being returned for good without repercussion on the wicked (Proverbs 17:13). I’ve seen many parents train their children in what is right (Proverbs 22:6), but the strong influence of culture grabs ahold of their children as early as junior high and pushes them overboard. Some come back, and some don’t. This is one of the most painful tragedies in this life.
Let me be clear: I’m not saying the Proverbs aren’t inspired Scripture, only that Proverbs is full of general wisdom that is generally true; the more the world functions as upside down, the more we feel the hebel fighting against what Proverbs has declared.
When I was working on my MBA, I found statistics class to be particularly helpful in understanding hebel. University professors refer to “randomness” that is found all over the place—unexplainable deviances from the norm that occur in nature. Solomon says as much in Ecclesiastes 9:11: “Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.”
Creation was subject to this “randomness” that would very often cause a mismatch between the expected outcome and the end result. You can be the strongest and yet lose the battle by chance. You can be the smartest and have brain fog in your moment of need. You can be the fastest and lose your footing at the last turn. It still matters a great deal what we do, but we can sometimes feel as though it doesn’t.
When you use statistics to try understanding human behavior, something in the environment, or even fluctuations in automated machinery, there is a certain randomness that is painfully fighting against your analysis that keeps you away from that elusive high r^2 value (and other helpful statistical metrics).
That randomness was injected into the world by God’s curse in Genesis 3. That hebel has been frustrating the work of man ever since.
- If you ever feel like you had this great idea and just couldn’t seem to get it to work in practice: hebel.
- If you could see in your mind’s eye the finished product but it just didn’t turn out that way: hebel.
- If you worked for months or years on a project only to never see it come to fruition because of some evil of man or some environmental disaster or some sickness that occurred along the way: hebel.
- If you were a star college athlete and just before going pro you suffered a career-ending injury: hebel.
I could go on and on. Hebel is a great enemy to things working as they should. Solomon had all of these in mind and much more when he talked about life under the sun through Ecclesiastes. Let’s see as we move through the book how B4T can fight against this curse.
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.