Job 37

God Knows!

Rudyard Kipling is one of my favorite poets. He’s well known for this little ditty:

I KEEP six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When And How and Where and Who.

In Bible Study Methods at Dallas Theological Seminary (40 Years ago), Howard Hendricks taught us to apply these six serving men of Kipling to every Bible text we read. It’s how we search for understanding. It’s the basis for all learning and good teachers always challenge their students to study with these six questions in mind. Elihu is a great teacher. He employs all six of the “serving men” in the questions he asks Job. But he does so, not to help Job learn, but rather to help him realize the limits of his understanding. He asks,

Do you know when God dispatches His wondrous works? (37:15).
Do you know what causes the light in His clouds to shine? (v. 15).
Do you know how the clouds are balanced? (v. 16).
Do you know why your garments are hot? (v. 17).
Do you know when He quiets the earth with a south wind? (v. 17).
Do you know who spreads out the skies? (v. 18).

We might be able to advance some scientific answers for these questions today, but the truth remains that man’s knowledge is extremely limited about the world he lives in, but God’s understanding is not limited. Elihu’s point about God’s omniscience in light of our ignorance is made in order to comfort Job through his sufferings. We should find refuge when suffering strikes in the reality of God’s omniscience. Another favorite poet is Annie Flint. She wrote this one:

I know not, but God knows; Oh, blessed rest from fear!
All my unfolding days To Him are plain and clear.
Each anxious puzzled “Why?” From doubt or dread that grows,
Finds answer in this thought: I know not, but He knows.

Ecclesiastes 1:4-7, John 3:16, Romans 5:8

God so Loves the World…

The earth is the most insensitive thing of all. It doesn’t care a thing for those who live upon it. It carries on as if nothing has happened in the middle of life’s greatest pains and losses. This is what Solomon means in Ecclesiastes 1:4-7. He writes, “A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again.” The wind don’t care about you at all! Neither do the sun or the seas! They continue on their appointed courses with no thought of you and me at all.

When Skeeter Davis lost her first love, she lamented the insensitive nature of the world around her. Nothing in the great creation cared about her loss at all. She sings, “Why does the sun go on shining? Why does the sea rush to shore? Why do the birds go on singing? Why do the stars glow above? I wake up in the morning and I wonder Why everything’s the same as it was. I can’t understand, no, I can’t understand how life goes on the way it does.” She wants to know why nothing cares about her pain and suffering!

But the creator of the whole universe: the stars, the winds, the seas and everything else in the world does care about you and me. John 3:16 is the most famous verse in the Bible for a reason. It stands in stark contrast to the impersonal world in which we live. “God so loved the world (the world of people!) that he sent His only son so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Yes, a generation is born only to die in this world under the sun, but God’s great love for us delivers us from the futility and insensitivity of this earth. Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrated His love for us in this, while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” Christ was crucified at the hands of an insensitive world, so that we could have life, eternal life. The universe couldn’t care less about you! But God loves you with an everlasting love.

Ecclesiastes 1:2-3, Isaiah 64:6, Ephesians 2:8-9

It is by Grace you are saved…

The Hebrew word for “teacher” that shows up in Ecclesiastes is “Qoheleth.” The Greek translation of the Hebrew word is “ecclesiastes” which is where we take the English name for the book. The ecclesia is the gathering or “collecting” of people. It’s the assembly. So the teacher in Ecclesiastes is the guy who collects the people to teach them. The Hebrew Qoheleth is sometimes defined as “collector.” This is interesting because Solomon was a great collector. He collected great wealth of course. He collected a large number of horses. He collected wives and concubines (The pleasure of men). He collected servants and gardens and crops and he also collected wise sayings as we see in the book of Proverbs. Yes indeed. Solomon was a collector. He gathered, collected,  the people together because he had something very important to teach them about collecting!

In Ecclesiastes 1:2-3 he describes all his “collecting” as being exercises in futility. He says, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” The expected answer to that question is that there is no gain or profit from his collecting. As Ryken says, “Qoheleth takes the whole sum of human existence and declares that it is utterly meaningless. Then he takes the next twelve chapters to prove his point in painful detail, after which he returns to the very same statement: “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 12:8). So the book begins and ends with the same idea: everything that man does is futile, it’s all just smoke and mirrors!

The Pulpit Commentary of 1909 clarifies what the teacher means by “vanity of vanities.” It says, “If all things are vain and vanity, wherefore were they made? If they are God’s works, how are they vain? But it is not the works of God which he calls vain. God forbid! The heaven is not vain; the earth is not vain: God forbid! Nor the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars, nor our own body. No; all these are very good. But what is vain? Man’s works, pomp, and vain-glory. These came not from the hand of God, but are of our own creating.” This echoes the uselessness of man’s work as expressed by Isaiah. Isaiah 64:6 tells us that all of Man’s righteous works are as filthy rags to God. Man can never earn or deserve God’s favor, but he can receive it by God’s grace through faith alone. Ephesians 2:8-9 says it clearly, “it is by grace you are saved, it’s not of works, lest anymore should boast.”

Ecclesiastes 1:2, John 10

God makes the meaningless meaningful!

According to Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes everything in life is meaningless as the New International Version puts it, “meaningless, everything is meaningless.” Most English translation preserve the original rendition of the Hebrew and translate it as “vanity of vanities. Everything is vanity.” The Hebrew word for “vanity” is often translated as “mist” or “smoke.”  Ryken says, “Taken literally, the Hebrew word hevel refers to a breath or vapor, like a puff of smoke rising from a fire or the cloud of steam that comes from hot breath on a frosty morning.” Eugene Peterson actually uses the word “smoke” in his modern paraphrase of Ecclesiastes. He writes, “Smoke, nothing but smoke. There’s nothing to anything—it’s all smoke.”

But when Solomon says “vanity of vanities, everything is vanity,” I believe he means more than simple “emptiness” or “meaninglessness.” He means there is nothing in this life that brings lasting satisfaction and happiness. He means that riches, possessions, power, pleasure and even our accomplishments are all misleading and deceptive. They are all “smoke and mirrors.” They take our attention from what matters and puts it on something untrue or unreal in order to mislead or distract us. But Solomon offers another perspective.  It’s the solution to the apparent futility of life.

The key to understanding Solomon, and the entire book of Ecclesiastes seems to be found in one three-word phrase: “under the sun.” This phrase is unique to the book of Ecclesiastes, appearing nowhere else in the Bible. Don Glenn, in his commentary explains, “By the phrase under the sun he meant ‘down here on the earth.’ He used this phrase repeatedly (29 times) throughout the book, often in connection with man’s toil.” So you see, Solomon does not leave us with a suicidal complex, as some commentators suggest. Instead, he says there is a heavenly perspective which makes sense out of everything. Ryken puts it this way, “But when we look to God with reverence and awe, we are able to see the meaning of life, and the beauty of its pleasures, and the eternal significance of everything we do, including the little things of everyday life. Only then can we discover why everything matters.” Jesus once said that he came to give us life, not just regular life, but a truly “abundant life.”

Ecclesiastes 1:1-2, Matthew 16:26

Smoke and Mirrors!

Ecclesiastes 1:2 says, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” There has been numerous attempts to explain that idea of “vanity of vanities” in more modern language. Some use the word “meaningless.” Everything in life under the sun is meaningless. The New International Version translates this as “meaningless, meaningless! Utterly meaningless!” Some use the idea of “empty.” Everything we do in this life is really empty of true value and meaning. Kansas, the old rock group from the 70’s, expressed a similar idea when they sang that all we are is “dust in the wind.” The “teacher” in Ecclesiastes is going to talk about his great accomplishments, his great wealth, his indulgence in sexual pleasure, his power over others, and possessions of every imaginable kind. These things are vanities. They are “meaningless.” They are “empty.” Those terms are all helpful but they miss the idea of the deceitfulness of these things. I like the idea of “smoke and mirrors.”

One article on the internet describes the phrase as I understand it. It says, “Smoke and mirrors exploits errors in human perception and the psychology of misdirection to create compelling illusions for large audiences.” The teacher in the book of Ecclesiastes is going to go to great lengths to expose the draw of wealth upon our lives as nothing more than smoke and mirrors. Wealth, riches,  promise some kind of satisfaction or reward but do not deliver on what seems to be promised. Then the teacher tackles the other “smoke and mirror” issues of life; great accomplishments, many possessions, vast pleasures, much power over others as well as great wealth. All of these things are nothing but “smoke and mirrors.”

Money and riches is what life is all about, isn’t it?  In an article on the deceitfulness of riches, Reagan Rose explains how money is really nothing more than smoke and mirrors. He says, “The first lie money tells is that it is the goal of life. This one seems so obvious on the surface that we might assume it is easily avoidable. But the world screams this philosophy in our faces daily. Every commercial, every celebrity, every new car our neighbor purchases, dangles that carrot of ‘Success’ before our eyes. If we don’t watch carefully, before we know it we may find our days consumed with doing whatever it takes to get that next raise, with comparing ourselves to others, and with constantly asking ourselves ‘have I made it?’” Jesus, the greatest teacher of all, asks us another more important question. In Matthew 16:26, he asks, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matt 16:26). Money is not the goal of life!

Ecclesiastes 5:18-20

I can’t get no…..!

Only God gives true satisfaction in life. In Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 we read, “Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.” This is interesting because God is rarely mentioned when Solomon bemoans life under the sun. Under the sun depicts a life devoid of God. Life is different when we recognize God as the giver of all good gifts and acknowledge Him in our lives.

Everything we have is a gift from God whether we acknowledge it or not. Each of us have our own unique blessings in life but the true enjoyment of them is only realized when God is recognized as the source. I think this is what Solomon is getting at as he opens Chapter 6. He has already emphasized the truth that there is no real satisfaction under the sun. There are many things in life that are satisfying, but God withholds the pleasure of many of life’s good things until we acknowledge the source: God! Ecclesiastes 6:1-2, says, “There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them…This is vanity; it is a grievous evil.”

The good things of life do not automatically bring happiness, contentment, satisfaction, or a lasting benefit! Rather, they can bring unhappiness, ingratitude, restlessness, and grief. A perfect example of this is Howard Hughes (1905-1976). One commentator described his life like this: “At age 45, Hughes was one of the most glamorous men in America. He dated actresses, piloted exotic test aircraft, and worked on top-secret CIA contracts. He owned a string of hotels around the world, and even an airline—TWA—to carry him on global jaunts. Twenty years later, at age 65, Howard Hughes still had plenty of money—$2.3 billion to be exact. But the world’s richest man had become one of its most pathetic. He lived in small dark rooms atop his hotels, without sun and without joy. He was unkempt: a scraggly beard had grown waist-length, his hair fell down his back, and his fingernails were two inches long. His once powerful 6’4” frame had shrunk to about 100 pounds. This famous man spent most of his time watching movies over and over, with the same movie showing as many as 150 times. He lay naked in bed, deathly afraid of germs. Life held no meaning for him. Finally, wasting away and hooked on drugs, he died at age 67 for lack of a medical device his own company had helped to develop.” He had everything he needed but enjoyed none of it. This is what happens when God is left out of the equation. All that this world has to offer can be incredibly empty and unsatisfying. It can be, as Solomon concludes, “vanity of vanity!”

1 Peter 1:3-6

Putting on the Ritz!

My favorite Easter passage is 1 Peter 1:3-5. It reads, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” The next phrase is what I’d like to focus on this morning. It goes on to say, “…to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.”  An inheritance is something we get for being connected to a family. By virtue of our being adopted into God’s family by being born again our names are written into His will. There are three great words that describe what this inheritance is like. First, it is incorruptible. This means it’s not subject to decay and growing old. It’s undefiled. That means it’s perfect, without blemish in every way. It won’t fade away, that means it’s permanent. The next part of the verse goes on to say that it is “reserved” for you. You can depend on it being there waiting for you when you get there. You have a place. Jesus once said, “I go to prepare a place for you.” He promised to take us to be with him in that place.

A man named Joe McUtchen preaches the gospel each Wednesday night at a homeless shelter in Atlanta. A drug addict named Willy began attending and responding to the message. Seeing his progress, the Shelter had Willy placed in a Christian rehab program in Tampa. Willie opened his heart to God’s Love expressed on the cross of Calvary and he was born again through new found faith in Jesus Christ and began to recover. Some months later, Willy called Joe. “Joe, when I got here they asked me about my addictions, and they helped me through withdrawals. They talked to me about God. When they found out I used to be a master chef, they called around and got me a job at the Ritz-Carlton. In my rehab program I learned that I should do everything with all my heart, like I was doing it for God. Now I’m head chef at the Ritz-Carlton. I’d like to come back to homeless shelter some Wednesday and give my testimony.” “That’d be great, Willy,” said Joe. “And while you’re here, Judy and I would like for you to stay with us. No need to pay for a room.” There was a pause on the line, then Willy said, “That’s not necessary, Joe. When I come to Atlanta, there’s already a room waiting for me. I’ll be staying at the Ritz.”

You and I have a place reserved for us. It’s far grander, far glorious and far greater than the Ritz! I love the way the King James translators handled John 14:1-3. It reads, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” The Ritz might be the slums in comparison to what awaits us.

1 Peter 1:3-5

Vivit!

My favorite Easter verse in 1 Peter 1:3-5. It begins, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…”  Some people spend the days of their lives moping around. Things haven’t turned out the way they had “hoped” so they throw in the towel and give in to despair. Paul looked at the funerals of un-believers and noticed that they are “lost and without hope in the world.” He told the believers in Thessalonica that he wanted to be sure that they understood that those who have died are simply sleeping for a time and there will be a glorious reunion. That truth keeps the hopeful from the depths of despair. Without that hope despair reigns supreme.

But the world is full of iron-willed individuals who find various ways to cope with life’s pains and heartbreaks and setbacks. They trade what is eternal for what is temporal and fill their moments with pleasure, possessions, or positions of power or prestige. They live for the moment. They go for the gusto. “You only go around once in life,” the saying goes; you have to get it while you can. There are those who mope, those who cope, and then there are those who grope! They go through life seeking answers to life’s most profound questions; where did I come from? Where am I going? What am I here for? They experiment with every new fad that invades the culture; Transcendental meditation, Eastern Mysticism, Hinduism, Zen Buddhism, various forms of the occult, and some even grope through the horoscope section of the papers in search for purpose and meaning in life.

During one difficult period when things appeared especially bleak, the reformer Martin Luther was seen tracing two words on the table with his fingertip: “Vivit, vivit!” This is Latin for “He lives, He lives!” This truth brought Luther up from the dumps into a world filled with hope. Because Christ lives, we can live abundantly today. Jesus’ promised that he’d come to bring to us abundant life. But even more, we will live eternally tomorrow, a life in which the sins of our past have been forgiven and in the glory of God’s Mercy and Grace we will bask forever! So lift up your eyes, and lift up your hearts and lift up your spirits and focus your thoughts and hopes on the Lord of Life. Put a smile on your face and say, “Blessed be the God and Father of my Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten me again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!”

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