The Race Is Not To The Swift

I apologize for my delay in updating the blog. If you've been following along, you know that we are scheduled to talk about Ecclesiastes chapter 8 today. Because I'm already a week behind, I'm going to do a quick wrap-up on chapters 8 & 9 in hopes that I can finish on schedule. Chapter 8 has a few major themes. First, there is a discussion about how to interact with those to whom you answer. Paul reminds us in Romans that the "powers that be" are ordained of God. That doesn't mean that God approves of or sanctions the actions of governmental rulers, but it does mean that He is an advocate of order and justice. Solomon reminds us that there are some who rule over others to their own hurt (Ecc 8:9). The bottom line is this- we all answer to someone. We should respect those in authority over us and we should also be kind to those we are supposed to be leading. We all ultimately answer to the Highest authority. Paul says that one day "every knee will bow" and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

The remainder of chapter 8 describes conditions of inequality and unfairness that exist in this present age. We have all lamented the fact that bad things happen to good people. And good things happen to bad people. But Solomon's advice is not to dwell on these things. Many are not in relationship with God because they are angry over the injustice and inequality that exists in this world. The bible makes no denial against this claim. As a matter of fact, the scriptures are filled with examples of "bad things" happening to "good people" (the relative goodness of any of us is possibly suspect since Paul says "there is none not one" in the book of Romans). Solomon's advice is to enjoy the life that God has given you (Ecc 8:15). Of course, Solomon desired to understand the mysteries of life and so he applied himself to "know wisdom" (verse 16). But in the end, he was content with the answer that there are some things that only God understands. And we would do well to take his advice regarding matters that we absolutely cannot make sense of.

Chapter 9 begins with a strong statement of the sovereignty of God. The Preacher says that our lives are in "the hand of God". This is both a comfort, and at the same time, a source of struggle for us. Struggle, I say, because there are times that we wish God would immediately intervene and remove our suffering or eradicate injustice. But as Solomon will explain, there are things that happen in life because people are at the right place at the right time. First, he laments that one event happens to everyone- good, bad, religious, agnostic, devoted or lazy. And that event is death. If there is one recurring theme in Ecclesiastes, it is the brevity of human life. James compares it to a vapor. Solomon frequently refers to it as a shadow. The wicked of this world are attempting to experience all of their joy in this present world. This attitude stems from a belief that this life is all there is.

Now if I can paraphrase verses 7-10 in chapter 9 it would be "take time to stop and smell the roses". There is an unfortunate and erroneous perception that many have regarding the nature of God. Some view Him as merely some far-removed deity who seeks to make men miserable. We get some clue about the nature of God from Jesus however. His decree on earth was that He had come to give life, and give it more abundantly (John 10:10b). Obviously Solomon understood this before the New Testament had even been penned. And so his instructions are to be happy, enjoy your food, enjoy your family, wear your nice clothes and good-smelling fragrances. And above all, be thankful because this is the portion that God has assigned to you. These simple things that bring us pleasure, are actually God's design for us. He doesn't want us simply to endure life- but to enjoy it!

He then describes something that we have all observed time and time again. The race is not to the swift. Sometimes the smartest guys don't make the most money. Sometimes the best team doesn't win on a given day. Sometimes people are simply the beneficiaries of being at the right place at the right time. Perhaps many of us have had the unfortunate experience of being passed over for something we felt deserving of. And maybe someone else got the very thing we desired because they had a relationship with the person with power to promote. And to top it all off, trouble seldom comes with adequate warning or notice. Solomon says that man "does not know his time" (vs 12). Just as an unsuspecting fish gets hooked or a bird gets snared in a net, so it is with us. Trials often come when we least expect them.

Next, Solomon inserts a parable about wisdom. He recounts a story of a poor wise man who (through his wisdom) was able to defend his little city with few people against a powerful king with a great army. When all was said and done, no one commended the poor man for his wisdom. Instead, his good deed was soon forgotten, and his wisdom unappreciated. So it is with us today. Godly wisdom is often scorned, while the "counsel of the ungodly" (Psalm 1) is praised. But regardless of how men fail to appreciate and perceive the value of wisdom, God (and Solomon) still champions the virtue and superiority of wisdom over might. On a rather somber note, the chapter ends with this truism: "one sinner destroys much good." It has been said that we should never underestimate the power of an individual. It's true- one man can do tremendous good. Some of the greatest leaders of mankind have had to stand when no one else was willing to stand with them. But the same is true of evil. You have probably heard an expression like "one bad apple..." or perhaps the scriptural phrase "a little leaven leavens the whole lump".

We are coming to the conclusion of our study, but I thank you for taking the time to read and study along with us. I look forward to sharing again with you soon!