Ecclesiastes 12

This closing chapter of Ecclesiastes is a wake-up call, a reality check. As an old man who had “been there and done that”, Solomon puts life in the proper perspective. The phrase, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth” (v.1) is Solomon’s way of saying, “Don’t forget God; don’t waste your life!” Set your course for wise, godly living early in your life — and when you are old you will be able to look back and be proud of how you lived.

In a clever bit of poetry, Solomon talks about growing older (v.2-5). The sun, moon, and stars becoming dim is a reference to failing eyesight (and the need for those reading glasses you keep losing). “The keepers of the house” trembling could mean the shaky hands of old age; the “strong men” being bent could refer to once-strong legs becoming weak and giving way; and the “grinders” being few is certainly a reference to the teeth falling out (v.3). Verse 4 describes hearing loss. In verse 5 the white blossoms of the almond tree could refer to the hair turning white, and “failing desire” could mean a waning sex drive. These are the realities of old age. Solomon’s point is that when youthful health and energy is gone, unless you have built your life around the Lord, you won’t have anything left to live for.

Solomon uses a series of poetic images to break the news that one day you are going to die. Someday your “mourners will go about the streets” (v.5) — there will be a funeral procession to your gravesite. Someday “the silver cord” — that thin, fragile connector between body and spirit — will snap (v.6). The “golden bowl” that holds your health, the “pitcher” that contains your life force, the pulley that draws vitality from the well of life — they will all be shattered and broken beyond repair, and your life will be over. Life is short and death is certain, so don’t forget to really live while you’re alive!

The only way to live a meaningful and fulfilling life is to live it God’s way, and God’s way can only be learned from God’s Word. That is why Solomon sought out the best words and arranged them in the best order so that he could most effectively convey the truth of Scripture (v.9-10). The principles and precepts of God’s Word are like “goads”, sharpened sticks that were used to poke livestock to keep them in line (v.11). God’s Word keeps us going in the right direction. “Nails” are truths we can hang our values on — well-driven nails that will keep us well-fastened to God’s wisdom. Solomon said (v.11) that it was given by “one Shepherd.” I believe he is talking about God (his father had said, “The Lord is my shepherd”). God inspired Solomon to write Ecclesiastes, just as He inspired the other biblical writers to pen the truth of Scripture. We need to receive that truth every day.

Solomon concludes this book by stating what is required to please God: fearing Him (living with deep respect and grateful love for God) and keeping His commandments (living in obedience to God’s Word). Verse 14 is a closing caution: there is a sovereign God to whom we are accountable, and we can’t hide anything from Him. Someday you will stand before God and He will judge every word you have spoken, everything you have done, every attitude and every motive in your heart. He will judge what you did with every opportunity. Live in such a way that you will hear Him say, “Well done — you were a good and faithful servant.”

Advertisements

Ecclesiastes 3

The book of Ecclesiastes is Solomon’s spiritual autobiography. As an old man, Solomon looked back at all he had achieved, all he had acquired, and all he had accomplished, and he said, “Without God, life is vanity, meaningless!” (see Ecclesiastes 1:12-17). Solomon had tried to find meaning in wisdom, pleasure, entertainment, romance, work — and when he added up what he had gained from all that, the sum was zero. All his efforts to find meaning in life apart from God came to nothing. Finally, Solomon reached this conclusion: the only kind of life worth living is a life lived for God’s glory and by God’s guidelines.​

Chapter 3 begins with the most familiar passage in Ecclesiastes. Solomon had learned that God is in control of the season of our lives (v.1). Verses 2-8 list 14 pairs of opposites that drive home the point of God’s sovereignty in every season:

There is a time to be born, and a time to die (v.2). Things like abortion, euthanasia, and cloning make it look as though man is in control of these seasons, but the Bible says birth and death are divine appointments, for God is in control. There is a time for weeping and mourning, but there is also a time to laugh and dance (v.4). There is a time to tear, and a time to sew (v.7). In Bible times, a person might tear their clothing to express their grief. There is a time when grieving is appropriate and necessary. But God heals and gives us hope, and then He brings about a time to get out the needle and thread and start sewing up the rags of grief. There is a time to be quiet, and a time to speak up (v.7). God help us to learn the difference.

No one can find out what God has done from beginning to end (v.11). God does everything just right and on time, but sometimes we just don’t understand. Sometimes we can look back and in hindsight we understand God’s purpose and plan, but at the time we’re just perplexed. Life is not a series of random events that have no order or purpose. God has a plan, and in His plan He wastes nothing. All that happens — even the bitter things, the hard things, and the hurtful things — are part of God’s plan for your good and His glory.

Therefore, we should accept life as a gift from God (v.13). Verse 11 says, “God has put eternity into man’s heart”; verses 12-13 say, “Be joyful…everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure.” In other words, enjoy today, but plan for eternity. One day your life on earth will be over (v.20), and you will spend eternity somewhere (up in heaven or down in hell, v.21).

Once your spirit leaves your body, there will be a time of accounting. For some it will bring rejoicing; for others it will bring regretting. For some it will bring rewards; for others it will bring remorse. One of these days you’re going to answer to God for what you did with the time He gave you. The clock is ticking! Life is terminal and judgment is unavoidable. Let’s make today count!

Proverbs 31

“The Proverbs 31 woman.” Every Christian guy wants to find one; every Christian girl wants to be one. This chapter defines God’s standard for a woman’s character, and so it is known as a chapter for women — but it was originally written by a man and to men.

The Holy Spirit-inspired author is King Solomon (my personal opinion; explanation below), who quotes his mother, Bathsheba. Her advice is enduringly truthful and helpful to both men and women. It begins with a challenge for the “Proverbs 31 man” to be careful about the kind of woman he falls for (v.3). He should look for a woman who fits the description in verses 10-31, the opposite of the immoral woman described in Proverbs chapter 7.

The Proverbs 31 man guards against intoxication (v.4-7). He must be sober and clearheaded at all times so that he is always ready to make sound decisions that will bless others. He does not open his mouth to drink and escape the harsh realities of life (v.7), but he faces reality and opens his mouth to speak the truth, to speak up for the poor, and to speak out on issues regarding justice (v.8-9).

The Proverbs 31 man lives his life according to God’s wisdom, and he is serious about finding a wife who does the same. Solomon recites the poem his mother taught him about what to look for (v.10-31 is a beautiful acrostic poem — the verses begin with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet).

The Proverbs 31 woman is a rare find. She is not a weak or lazy woman. She is diligent in the way she expresses her love for her family. She is creative and energetic in the way she handles the household business (v.16-19), the way she prepares meals (v.14-15), and the way she dresses and decorates (v.22). She is a compassionate person, reaching out to the poor with open-handed generosity (v.20). She is strong and dignified, and with the heart of a teacher, she confidently shares the godly wisdom by which she lives (v.26). Her greatest quality is neither her outward beauty nor her charming personality, but her deep love and respect for the Lord. This kind of woman deserves the praise of her family (v.28).

Many women see Proverbs 31 as an unattainable goal and a frustrating reminder of how they don’t measure up. Take heart, sisters — concentrate on pleasing the Lord, loving your family like crazy, and developing the inner beauty of a Christ-like spirit, and you will be the Proverbs 31 woman your family needs.

[Note: It is my personal conviction that Lemuel was one of King Solomon’s nicknames. A search of Israelite history reveals that there was never a king named Lemuel. It appears only here in Scripture. We know that Solomon had a God-given nickname, Jedidiah, which means “loved by the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:25). I believe Lemuel, which means “devoted to the Lord”, was the nickname Bathsheba called her son Solomon. When he wrote down what she taught him as a boy, it was appropriate for him to use that special nickname given by his mother. At least that’s the way I see it. By the way, later in Solomon’s life he was no longer “Lemuel”, but he was still “Jedidiah”. Get it?]

Judges 16

Without a doubt, Samson had done a lot of good for his people. God had used him to harass those who harassed Israel. God had chosen Samson, but sadly, Samson also chose Samson. By the time we get to Judges chapter 16, Samson is living on the wild side. He is flirting with sin, falling for prostitutes, and sleeping with the enemy, a Philistine woman named Delilah (v.4; many believe she is the woman mentioned in v.1). Samson had convinced himself that he was so strong that he could play with sin and not get hurt.

Samson was unaware that Delilah did not love him the way he loved her — the truth was she did not care about him at all. She agreed to betray him for a large sum of money (v.5). Her plan was to discover the secret to Samson’s supernatural strength by sweet-talking it out of him (and later by nagging it out of him). Samson answered her falsely, saying that his “Kryptonite” was fresh bowstrings. But when Delilah tied him up with the bowstrings, he easily escaped and overcame his attackers. The same process was repeated with new ropes and weaving his hair. The whole time, Delilah was pleading and nagging (if she did not get the right answer, she would not get paid).

With each false answer Samson inched dangerously closer to the truth, until finally he told Delilah his secret (v.17). Samson had compromised his Nazirite vow, treating it like a plaything in a romantic game. He was willing to break his commitment to God for Delilah. I think it was his way of saying, “If I have Delilah, I don’t need God anymore.”

That night he went to sleep with his head in her lap, and she cut his hair, shaved his head, and swept his strength out the door. Then, for the fourth time, she said, “Samson! The Philistines are upon you!” He jumped up, ready to fight them again. In one of the saddest statements in the Bible, verse 20 says, “But he did not know that the Lord had left him.” Isn’t that sad? He did not know the Lord had departed from him.

Devoid of God’s power, Samson was easily overpowered and arrested. We should learn something from this tragic scene: if you are bound to sin, you are bound to suffer. Sin blinds you. Sin binds you. Sin breaks you. I am glad that is not the end of the story…

Some of God’s most special work is when He takes a broken life and makes it useful again. God’s grace is especially beautiful when He takes someone who has blown it big-time and forgives them, restores them, and gives them another chance to serve Him. He is a God of second chances! Samson’s second chance came when he was standing in the temple of Dagon and he prayed his way back to God, asking for one last opportunity to serve Him. God granted Samson one final measure of supernatural strength, enabling him to collapse the massive temple, eliminating thousands of Philistines in an instant. Samson died with them, but he died serving the Lord.

If like Samson you are drifting away from the Lord, compromising your commitment to Jesus, and playing with sin – stop! Turn around! If you have crashed and failed, call on Jesus! He can forgive you and use you again. Run to Jesus and let Him love you.

Judges 15

At some point in the process of marrying the Philistine woman from Timnah, Samson had stormed out of the wedding to take down 30 Philistine men. Taking their clothing with him back to the wedding feast, he turned them over to his groomsmen and left in a rage. With Samson gone, the father of the bride gave his daughter’s hand to Samson’s best man. (Why waste a perfectly good wedding, right?)

When Samson returned later to claim his bride, his almost-father-in-law informed him of the situation and offered another daughter in her place. Samson was furious. In a feat of supernatural strength and agility, he caught 300 foxes, paired them up, and tied a torch between the tails of each pair. Lighting the torches, he set the 150 pairs of foxes loose to set fire to the Philistines’ crops and vineyards. Based on the reaction of the Philistines (burning Samson’s almost-bride and her father!), the fire must have done major damage. Samson found the men responsible and “struck them hip and thigh” (v.8; this is a cryptic phrase in the original language, probably a wrestling term with the basic meaning of “putting a beat-down on someone”!).

This is where the back-and-forth gets interesting: the Philistines retaliated by raiding an Israelite city, Lehi (v.9). The men of that city made a deal with the Philistines, promising to deliver Samson to them. Three thousand Israelite men went to find him (they knew what he was capable of), and soon returned with him as their prisoner, bound with fresh ropes. When the Philistines rushed Samson, the Spirit of the Lord “rushed upon him” (v.14), empowering him to break the ropes and fight for his life. The only “weapon” handy was the jawbone of a freshly slaughtered donkey (probably with the teeth still in it). It was not much, but in the hands of Spirit-filled Samson it was a lethal weapon. He did not stop swinging that jawbone until he had killed 1,000 Philistines.

After such intense hand-to-hand fighting, Samson was thirsty. He cried out to the Lord for something to drink, and God answered by splitting a rock and making water flow from it to quench Samson’s thirst. It was appropriate for the man with supernatural strength to have a supernatural drink!

Whatever you face today, remember that the God Samson served is the same God you serve. He is no less powerful and no less committed to His people today than He was back then. The God who strengthened Samson for his battles can strengthen you for yours. The God who defeated Samson’s enemies can defeat yours. The God who took care of Samson when he was tired and thirsty can take care of you. And the God who loved Samson so much that He used him in spite of all his issues and failures — he can use you, too!

Judges 14

Samson, who is probably the most famous person in the book of Judges, is part of an exclusive group in Scripture: those whose births are announced by angels. God sent an angel to tell Samson’s parents that their yet-to-be-born son would have a special calling on his life — he would become a judge and deliver Israel from the Philistines who had oppressed them for forty years.

From the cradle, Samson was set apart for this special ministry as a Nazirite. The Nazirite vow involved total abstinence from three things: alcohol (including beer, wine, and anything that came from a vineyard), touching dead or ceremonially unclean things, and getting haircuts. So Samson was to live a life of constant sobriety, never being under the influence of any spirit but the Holy Spirit. He was to be always clean and holy, ready to do the Lord’s work at a moment’s notice. And the outward sign of Samson’s ministry was long hair. Judges 13:24-25 says that as Samson grew up with this special lifestyle, God blessed him and the Holy Spirit began to empower him.

Chapter 14 begins Samson’s lifelong struggle in the area of women. He fell in love with a Philistine girl. Remember, the Philistines were the enemy of Israel, but God was arranging for Samson to enter Philistine society so that he could be close enough to inflict damage (v.4). The special empowering of the Holy Spirit to kill a lion bare-handed (v.5-6) is a hint at how God would use Samson in the future.

On his way to marry the Philistine girl, Samson saw that a swarm of bees had built a hive in the carcass of the lion he had killed. He compromised his Nazirite vow to retrieve the hive’s honey (he had to touch the dead lion), then made a foolish deal with the Philistines based on a riddle about the honey. His new wife pressed him for the answer to the riddle, and when he finally told her, she betrayed him. God used Samson’s anger to kill thirty Philistine men. That was the beginning of his work as a judge.

God is sovereign, and it was His prerogative to turn Samson’s weakness for Philistine women, his reckless regard for the Nazirite vow, his foolish wager, and his short fuse into something good for Israel. In the end, it was “mission accomplished” when it came to defeating the Philistines. But did the end justify the means? The next two chapters will answer the question, but know for now that Samson had set a destructive trajectory for his life. His anger, his compromise, and his lust for revenge and women would eventually leave him broken. The better path is always to live a clean and holy life, to be content with God’s will, and to obey Him completely.

Judges 7

Gideon, the unlikely hero, had stepped out on faith to fight the large and powerful army of Midian. About 32,000 Israelite warriors had responded to his call to arms. Even though there were vastly outnumbered, the Lord told Gideon that his militia was too large. God was out to prove an important point in this battle: He can do great things with a committed few. In fact, God gets greater glory when He demonstrates His power through the weak and the few.

Reducing the number of warriors was easy. Gideon said, “Any man who is afraid, go home now.” Immediately 22,000 returned home, leaving 10,000. But God wanted to make deeper cuts, so He ordered an unusual test: “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink” (v.5). 10,000 went down to drink. 9,700 of them got down on their hands and knees, put their faces in the water and slurped the water up. Only 300 were vigilant enough to bend down with their sword in one hand, looking around for the enemy while drinking the water. The Lord said, “With the 300 who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand.” And just like that, Gideon was left with less than one percent of his original force. It was going to take a miracle to overcome the impossible odds.

That night Gideon snuck into the Midianite camp and overheard one warrior telling another about his dream of a “cake of barley” rolling into the camp and flattening his tent. Through his bunkmate’s interpretation, God prophesied Gideon’s victory (v.13-14). That was all Gideon needed to hear. Sneaking back to his men with fresh courage, he outlined a most unconventional battle plan.

In the middle of the night, the 300 Israelite commandos surrounded the Midianite army, who were all asleep. Each man had a clay jar, a lit torch, and a trumpet. All at once the men blew their trumpets, waking the entire camp. Since armies in that day normally had one trumpeter for 1,000 soldiers, the Midianites must have thought they were surrounded by an army of 300,000! Then Gideon’s men all broke the jars which were shielding the light of the torches — imagine that sound! As the startled Midianites looked around, they saw torches on every side. In a panic, they drew their swords, swinging them recklessly, and mistakenly killed each other. God caused the enemy to eliminate itself!

Someone has said that Gideon’s trumpets represent boldness. We ought to be bold for the Lord. The clay jars represent brokenness. God cannot use us until our hearts are broken over sin and our will is broken and replaced with surrender. The torches represent the brightness of Christ in us, “the light of the world.” Until we are broken the world around us cannot see Him. Let’s be bold and broken and bright for Jesus today!