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Lowell Brueckner

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Ecclesiastes 3:9-22


Eternity in the heart

9.   What gain has the worker from his toil?
10.  I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 
11.  He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 
12.  I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 
13.  also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man. 
14.  I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. 
15.  That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away. 

The purpose of this book is to provoke the reader to think and to rightly assess his life and actions. Too many go through the motions of life with no regard to the purpose, for which they live. They tend to be mechanical, functioning like a machine, habitual and routine. The practice of preaching is designed to disturb the sleeping conscience and warn the soul of the startling speed, at which he is hurtling towards his destiny. The question, with which this section begins… “What gain has the worker from his toil”… is directed towards the individual to cause him to sincerely consider, if there is any real purpose in his actions (v.9). The answer is not given, but it is assumed that there is no real profit in that for which the bulk of the world’s population is involved. 

Solomon observes the labor around him and sees it as the result of the curse upon mankind, because of his sin (v.10). God declared to fallen Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you… By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground” (Ge.3:17-19). The consequence of sin is a miserable existence. Yet, there is a beauty in store for the one, who responds to the timely opportunities that God gives (v.1-8): Times of healing, of building up, laughing, dancing, embracing, peace and love come to break the monotonous routine of life.

Man has the potential to respond from the heart to these heavenly blessings. The original Hebrew word translates eternity, which God has placed within the heart (v.11), denoting something beyond his intellect or consciousness, reaching outside of his limited ability to comprehend. In a given moment, heavenly reality crosses his path, more beautiful than anything that can be described or understood by human language. He enters uncharted territory, the earthly fades, and the past, present and future disappear, while eternity begins to unfold. The mighty work of God fills his heart and gives him a small taste of the work that God has been doing throughout history on a grand scale, far beyond the scope that his intellect can grasp.  

For the person that responds to eternity in his heart, the drudgery and tediousness are removed, even from his earthly tasks. The king gives us two characteristics for his life here: Joy and righteousness (doing good) (v.12). These are two of the three ingredients that Paul places in the Kingdom of God. He said that it is not “a matter of eating and drinking (by religious rules) but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Ro.14:17). Life is lived on a higher level, when the Kingdom of God reigns in the heart. The apostle John declared, “Whoever practices righteousness is righteous” (1 Jn.3:7). He does good, joyfully, by means of inward righteousness. Now, even eating and drinking has purpose and his work is a pleasure (1 Co.10:31).

This person has found purpose in life, because he has found the eternal plan of God. Only that, with which God is involved, is real and true and is a never-ending work (v.13,14). Let’s take a little time to study this principle. In John 6:32-35, Jesus contradicted the claim of the Jews that manna, given through the instrumentality of Moses, was bread from heaven. He answered them, first of all, pronouncing twice that word of absolute authority… “Amen, amen”. Only the direct intervention of the Father indicates that something is true: “My Father gives you the true bread from heaven.” He added that the true bread is He, “who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” It was the beauty of heaven, expressed on earth, and the life, which he spoke about, was eternal. Manna ceased when Israel entered the Promised Land, but this bread satisfies eternally (Jn.6:35).

In John 15:1, Jesus taught a parable about a vine. He said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” Because the Father is working with this vine, it is true and eternally valuable. Notice Hebrews 8:2: “The true tent that the Lord set up, not man.” The writer is speaking of the heavenly, eternal holy of holies, in which man did not have a part. That is the true holy place. In the previous chapter, he writes about the high priesthood, explaining that there were many, because they were mortal and had to be replaced. Because Jesus lives eternally, He alone is the true high priest, ordained by the Father, since he intercedes eternally for the believer. “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him” (Heb.7:23-25).  To the uttermost means entirely, perfectly and eternally. Your eternal salvation rests upon your Priest; if it is a human being, including yourself, or any other being, you do not have true salvation, and your faith is in vain. 

Nothing human can be added to improve on Christ’s work, so it must be received by faith alone. Solomon’s father, David, understood “the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works” and the apostle Paul teaches that the blessing comes by grace, “to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly” (Ro.4:5,6). Paul affirmed the same truth to his disciple, Titus: “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” (Tit.3:5). He summed it up in his letter to the Colossians: “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled (you are complete) in him” (Col.2:9,10).

Salvation is a pure work of God, in which nothing can be added or taken away. Anything less or outside of God will make the cross of Christ null and void. He has warned that no one must alter His word, by which He has communicated His salvation to us. “Every word of God proves true… Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar” (Pr.30:5,6). Moses twice warned against adding or subtracting from his inspired word (Dt.4:2; 12:32) and, when John closed the complete canon of the Scriptures, he gave the severe consequences of tampering with them: “If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city” (Rv.22:18,19).  God’s work and His word must be handled with godly fear.

In the context that we have just studied, regarding God’s eternal work, Solomon repeats the premise, which he announced from the beginning (ch.1:9,10). There is nothing present or in the future, which has not been in the past. God does not change and His word does not change. As the laws of nature continue unchanging, do not expect that any changes will be made in the future or that any new truth will be discovered, which will in anyway undo what God has declared. As to the eternal destiny of mankind, there is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun. “Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens” (Ps.119:89).

Confusion under the sun

16.  Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. 
17.  I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. 
18.  I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. 
19.  For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. 
20.  All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. 
21.  Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? 
22.  So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him? 

God requires now, what He has always required and will be required in the future. Anything that seems to be lost, will be regained. However, under the sun, the unchanging righteousness of God is not so evident. This is the key, in general, to the book and certainly is the key to the following section. As we begin it, it is imperative that we understand the scope of Solomon’s message, or we will be terribly confused.

Does it seem that injustice reigns in this world and that wicked men pervert justice? Are people maligned for doing what is right, godly and biblical, while the wicked are given their “human rights”? Has righteousness been misinterpreted and good been deemed evil and evil good? Mothers are given the right to murder their unborn babies and sexual perverts are given the right to marry (v.16), while those who protest may be fined or imprisoned.  

With eternity in his heart, Solomon is able to discern that in the end, God will hold court and a righteous judgment will take place. He will judge the righteous and the wicked (v.17). He is not conformed to the day, in which we live. He has not adjusted His law, in order to follow the whims of the majority and the rule of the mighty on earth. People, do not make the mistake of falling in step with the world’s system. Be patient, a day of reckoning lies ahead and those who arrogantly scoff at true Christianity and make laws to legitimize sin, will stand before an unchanging Judge (v.17).

God is giving men enough chain, so that their utter wickedness will be free to manifest itself (v.18). How devastating was Adam’s sin and how great was the fall of mankind? Society ignores it and even Christians have lost the horror of it. The fallen race of man has left the fear of God behind and sought his own independence from him, by refusing to recognize his Creator. “Evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Ti.3:13). The universal acceptance of the Theory of Evolution is the proof of his mutiny. His behavior is worse than that of animals. The human race wants to forget that there is coming a day, in which each one will give account to God for his existence.

A Great Tribulation is coming, in which the bowls of God’s wrath will be poured out. Instead of repenting and calling upon God for mercy in their extreme suffering, mankind will curse Him (Rv.16:9,11). After 1,000 years of paradise and peace upon earth through the reign of Christ, the devil will be released upon the earth again. Even those, who experienced the Millennium, will follow their fiendish champion all the way to the Lake of Fire! (Rv.20:7-10). It is no wonder that God created hell!

As we approach verses 19-22, we need to be particularly aware of the scope of Solomon’s message… “under the sun”. He deals with the physical and the temporal, continually referring to the way things appear on this planet. These are verses that sects try to manipulate, notably the Jehovah Witnesses and the Seventh-Day Adventists, to try to prove their assertion that everything ends with the death of the body. As far as the natural human eye and mind is concerned, that is as it seems to be. That is as far as Solomon goes in this book, because he is writing to people under the sun to show them that earthly life is vanity.

The Adventists believe in soul-sleep, claiming that when the body dies, the soul sleeps unconsciously until the resurrection. I am not going to get into any more detail, as to the history and beliefs of the two sects mentioned. We cannot expect that false cults, who have not been born again and do not have the Holy Spirit as a teacher, are ever able to properly interpret the Bible. If you are interested in studying more about them, write in the search space, Seventh-day Adventists. On the same page, on which that article will appear, the article on Jehovah Witnesses will come up, as well.

It is true that the Bible commonly refers to physical death as sleep. The Lord is the author of the term. I find that to be a very comforting way for Christians to see their death and the death of their loved ones. The proper term, when the separation of death parts Christians from a believing loved one, is good night, not goodbye, for they will meet again in a brighter morning. Biblically, the term sleep always refers to the body, the only part of the human being that we can see under the sun. The body is described in the Bible as a tent and is only a place, in which the soul of man lives under the sun. When he leaves the body behind, the true man goes directly into the presence of Christ in heaven (Ge.25:8; Ge.35:29; G.49:33; Nu.20:24; Lk.16:19-31; Lk.23:43; Ac.7:56, 59; 2 Co.5:8; Phil.1:21-25. A careful study of these verses will give a sincere person clear insight to life after death for a believer.).

There would be no need of an explanation for these verses, if it were not for the danger of confusion, caused by the doctrine of perverted minds and hearts, who have rejected the true gospel. It is the devil’s work to bring fear and doubt into the hearts of a child of God and take away the comfort and joy that comes from the thought of leaving this world behind and arriving immediately in heaven. The cultists are inspired by doctrines of demons. Don’t listen to them, don’t read their material, and don’t allow them to come into the sanctity of your home (2 Jn.1:10).

It is true of the natural eye under the sun that the death of an animal seems to be exactly as the death of a human being. However, the viewpoint of the human eye deceives us in many ways. To give one simple example: We see the sun arise in the east in the morning, but we know that it is not the movement of the sun that we are observing, but the movement of the earth. So it appears that a man is as mortal as an animal; he ceases to breath, he dies and is buried and under the sun, there seems to be no difference (v.19). All go to the earth; dust returns to dust (v.20). How can the eye, the natural mind, or any science on earth, tell us what happens to his life. Does that life go down with the body of the beast and cease to exist? Does the spirit of a man depart from the body and go upward consciously? There is no answer under the sun (v.21).

The Scripture gives us spiritual light that we cannot find elsewhere: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied… If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Co.15:17-19,32). If only in this life we have hope, we are a miserable people, and then Solomon’s message to those under the sun is true. “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!” If it is not better to depart from the body and to be with Christ, then there is nothing better for mankind, than to eat and drink, and rejoice in his work. That is the philosophy of the atheist… 70, 80, perhaps 90 years upon this earth… we might as well live it to the full. Drain every drop of enjoyment from it, because he cannot see what will be beyond the grave (v.22).

What we have just studied is not Solomon’s creed. It is the vain existence of the person, who is ignorant of spiritual life. It is the opinion of the one, who has never gone to the only source, by which he can learn of life beyond the sun. God has given us His word and the hope that comes through the death and resurrection of His son. Albert Barnes concludes: “It is evident from marginal references that Solomon did not doubt the future existence and destination of the soul.”


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