Scratching the Surface of Ecclesiastes
For as long as I can remember, I've always been told to read each text of the Bible within the context of the entire Bible.
That means to read each verse within the context of the chapter within the context of the book within the context of the testament within the context of the Bible so that we don't end up going down some rabbit trail of irrelevance, irreverence, and error.
There's a real danger in reading some texts out of context and building an entire theology, spirituality, life, and ministry around them.
For example, let's compare Isaiah 2:4 ("Hammer your swords into sickles") to Joel 3:10 ("Hammer your sickles into swords").
Taking each verse out of context can cause more bad than good as Isaiah comes off like a dove for God and Joel comes off like a hawk for Him. Actually, taken out of context, some would say Isaiah is a mindless pacifist for God while Joel is an insufferable warmonger for God.
That's what proof-texting or taking texts out of context to build an entire theology, spirituality, life, and ministry often do in producing irrelevance, irreverence, and error.
Contextual reading of each of those verses or reading them in context enables us to see how they make sense. Isaiah is talking about a day or daydream when people get it/Him and want to get along more than get over on each other while Joel is talking about those times when the good guys must go to war against the bad guys to honor God and use force to enable justice being denied by the unGodly.
The truth is each text speaks to a specific circumstance; as sometimes we promote peace to honor God and sometimes we must go to war to honor Him.
Ecclesiastes highlights the wisdom of contextual reading of the Bible like this:
For everything that happens in life - there is a
season, a right time for everything under heaven.
A time to be born, a time to die; a time to
plant, a time to collect the harvest;
A time to kill, a time to heal; a time to tear
down, a time to build up;
A time to cry, a time to laugh...
In other words, life can be very complex; which means we must spend more and more and more time in Him to scratch the surface and keep scratching and digging until we feel like we're ready to reflect His will in our thoughts, words, and actions: "Your Word is a lamp for my steps; it lights the path before me."
That's why it cannot be said enough that being Godly requires increasing intimacy with Him by immersion into His revealed will as enfleshed in Jesus and explained in Holy Scripture.
Ecclesiastes is an extraordinarily mature understanding of life's complexity and a simple approach to it: "My advice is to remember your Creator...Remember Him... Worship in reverence the one True God, and keep His commands."
As we've noted before, wisdom comes from God; which is why we like to say, "Wise men still seek Him!"
Solomon got it/Him; and that's why God breathed Ecclesiastes into him for us to read, digest, and allow to direct us through complexities with contextual reading and remembrance of His complete revelation in Holy Scripture as perfectly personified in Jesus.
While I'm just scratching the surface of my relationship with the Lord by reading Holy Scripture with fresh eyes and trust there's so much more to it than I can grasp right now, four of the many dimensions of Godly wisdom caught my attention.
First, even after being blessed by the Lord with Proverbs, which is quite a lot of wisdom for anyone to try to handle, God revealed even more of His mind to Solomon in Ecclesiastes. There's always more to learn; or as Jesus said, "Behold, I make all things new!" That's why Jesus said we must be like new wineskins; always ready to expand and stretch and make room for the more that He has in mind for us. Or as I've come to accept, when we think we've arrived, it means we haven't even started.
Second, everything is meaningless, temporary, and unsatisfying apart from God: "Life is fleeting, like a passing mist. It is like trying to catch hold of a breath...Pleasure, work, wealth, wine, laughter, accomplishments, achievements,...are fleeting." Nothing lasts except our relationship with God. Or as I've come to accept, we're going to spend more time with God than anybody else; so establishing life's priority - Him!!! - is a no brainer. Summarily, only God satisfies forever.
Third, as we've noted in the startling difference between building theology, spirituality, life, and ministry on proof-texting or contextual reading and digestion of Holy Scripture, there are different seasons or situations demanding different responses of fidelity. While exceptions to the rule are called exceptions to the rule because they occur so infrequently that they are exceptions to the rule, there are seasons or situations demanding exceptions to the rule to be faithful. Again, citing the aforementioned, no one would doubt that the overriding emphasis of Holy Scripture is peacemaking; yet there are times when, as the Psalmist acknowledges, "We are for peace but they are for war." Sadly but truly, that means faithful people sometimes not most times must go to war to be faithful to our God who prefers for us to live in peace with each other as a reflection of living in peace with Him.
Fourth, our Source, Starter, Sovereign, and Savior wants us to enjoy the good that He has entrusted to us: "God has made everything beautiful for its time...There is nothing better for us than to be joyful and to do good throughout our lives; to eat and drink and see the good in all of our hard work is a gift from God...We humans can only stand in awe of all God has done." While never forgetting our responsibilities to care for others in need as catalogued so well in Matthew 25, our Lord does not deny us of feasting on the goodness entrusted to us.
You've probably heard wisdom comes from experience and experience comes from the mistakes that we've made.
Wisdom is just knowing how to live out His best in our lives by reading books like Ecclesiastes, digesting them into our souls, and praying along with trying to enflesh it in our experiences and expressions for God's sake which always turns out for ours as well.
...to be continued...
Blessings and Love!
If only modern "I'll try everything but God in my search for fulfillment, meaning, satisfaction," folks would study Ecclesiastes. The Father graciously directed Solomon, who literally tried everything, to record his many "vain" pursuits, and then give us that oh so important bottom line,
"Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the WHOLE duty of man."
Most folks can't get past snapping their fingers and tapping their feet to the Byrds...
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