Up until this point, Solomon's journal has been quite skeptical and downright depressing. He has seen all, done all and found that the cycle of events in life is empty and without true meaning. His search for happiness without God has led him to despair.
In these last chapters, however, his tone will change becoming more optimistic as he grows closer to God and further away from his old lifestyle and thinking. By the time he finishes the book, he is very positive and encourages his readers to be that way as well.
Beginning in chapter eleven Solomon tells his readers that God's plan is not that people should suffer, be afraid or become depressed. On the contrary, God's plan is for us to be optimistic, to hope for the best, to think positively because He wants to bless us and see us rejoice to the point that we as sinful and weak people possibly can under the circumstances. To this end he exhorts everyone to adopt a new mindset by re-setting their attitude to include a more positive way of thinking about things. This new mindset has four key attitudes:
1. Instead of defense, think offense
1Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days.
People are usually playing it too safe, they want to hold back, take a second and third look before venturing forth. Solomon says that instead of looking for ways of always protecting yourself, try releasing yourself to your full potential. This is not a call to be reckless and foolish, but rather a reminder of what a person can accomplish if they step out in faith. When you become adventurous for God, there is always a return.
2. Instead of hoarding, try giving
2Divide your portion to seven, or even to eight, for you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth.
Remember, this advice is for those who have faith in God. Trying to save, hoard and protect yourself by yourself at the expense of charity or good works will not work. At best you end up having money, but you have no peace or joy, and may lose it all anyways.
Solomon reminds us of a spiritual rule of thumb - the more you give, the more you get. Jesus reminds us that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). This is because there is more satisfaction and potential for personal blessings for one who is a generous giver (of time, money, affection, service, talent etc.) than there is for the one who hoards these things.
3. Instead of watching, try doing
3If the clouds are full, they pour out rain upon the earth; and whether a tree falls toward the south or toward the north, wherever the tree falls, there it lies. 4He who watches the wind will not sow and he who looks at the clouds will not reap.
Solomon mentions some very normal phenomena: clouds give rain, trees grow and fall, sowing brings reaping. The implication is that there are natural cycles of things that happen, actions and reactions, and laws of creation that are observable. We can simply watch these things happen and become simple observers of life or we can be people that put these things to work for us in order to achieve our goals. Another way of expressing this idea is that it is no use worrying about the things you cannot change. It is better to concentrate on the things you can change or those things you can exploit for your good. In other words, "Jump into life, do something, don't just sit there!"
4. Instead of doubting, try trusting
5Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things. 6Sow your seed in the morning and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether morning or evening sowing will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good.
We cannot know all the variables and cannot guarantee the outcome, somewhere along the line we need to have faith and trust in God. Many people want to know the end before they begin. Solomon advises that we go with what we know, do our best and leave the rest to God. Also, we should continue trying and multiplying our efforts to succeed because we never know when and which one of these efforts God will bless.
Solomon begins his final exhortation by exhorting his readers to apply wisdom and effort to their endeavors, being careful not to lose faith when things slow down or the results seem uncertain.
Do not Procrastinate - 11:7-12:1
When we talk about procrastination we are usually talking about people who continually put off unpleasant tasks or responsibilities to future dates. I have explained in the past that this is a form of laziness or self-centeredness, for example:
- I want to do what I want now.
- I want to delay effort / work as long as I can.
Solomon talks about another form of procrastination here. He describes people who put off enjoying their lives until some future event or time, for example:
- I will be happy when I have more money.
- I will enjoy my life when I meet the right person.
- We will start enjoying ourselves when the kids are gone.
The reasons people feel this way are many but one possible root cause is that of greed. They believe that happiness is based on having more of something or something in particular (a mate, a job, an achieved goal).
Greed is the sin of never being satisfied with what you have now.
Greedy people are always looking to the future or desiring more of some particular thing in order to be satisfied, and do not understand that unless you learn to be satisfied with what you already have, you will never be satisfied with what you desire. Solomon points out that our joy and satisfaction today are linked to what we have with God, not what we possess. He explains this idea in a series of statements:
1. God permits us to enjoy life now
7The light is pleasant, and it is good for the eyes to see the sun. 8aIndeed, if a man should live many years, let him rejoice in them all, and let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many.
Light and sun were images used in Scripture to depict God's love and protection (Ps. 27:1) and so Solomon uses these to represent the warmth and security of God's love present every day. God's love and blessings are available each day and He has given us the permission to be happy and enjoy His love now. There is, therefore, no reason to wait for this to happen, it is already here.
2. Take advantage of your blessings now
9aRejoice, young man, during your childhood, and let your heart be pleasant during the days of young manhood.
In that time, young people began to establish themselves early in life because life was short and difficult. Solomon says that the young should enjoy the blessings that come with youth (e.g. strength, vitality, enthusiasm etc.) while they have them. This attitude is wise and contributes to a healthy outlook on life. He explains why this is so in the following verses.
3. There are no guarantees
8bEverything that is to come will be futility. 9bYet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things. 10So, remove grief and anger from your heart and put away pain from your body, because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting.
He warns that if you do not rejoice now and put your happiness off until a future time, that time may not come. He also adds that even though you should take full advantage of your gifts and situation now, you must do so within God's will because you will be judged eventually. Solomon is not teaching, "Do what you want, for tomorrow you die," he is saying," Be merry and rejoice in what is good now because tomorrow you will be judged on how you used what God gave you."
4. The essential ingredient for happiness today is to have a relationship with God today
1Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, "I have no delight in them";
Happiness is not based on how well you live or how much you have, it is based on how well you obey and how much of God's will is being achieved in your lives. You cannot always have the home, education, mate and situation you desire in your life today. However, you can have God in your life today and it is this ingredient that generates happiness in life. God's love and will are the only things you can legitimately desire more and more of without harming yourself.
Solomon mentions two things that keep us from enjoying the blessings of each day:
- We keep our eyes on tomorrow rather than today.
- We keep our hope focused on ourselves and things instead of completely relying on God for our well being and needs each day.
Growing Old with Grace - 12:2-8
Of course, no matter how well we live each day, the days do go by and all of us grow older. Since aging is inevitable Solomon provides Godly wisdom regarding the process that so many find difficult and depressing.
Accept the obvious
2before the sun and the light, the moon and the stars are darkened, and clouds return after the rain; 3in the day that the watchmen of the house tremble, and mighty men stoop, the grinding ones stand idle because they are few, and those who look through windows grow dim; 4and the doors on the street are shut as the sound of the grinding mill is low, and one will arise at the sound of the bird, and all the daughters of song will sing softly. 5Furthermore, men are afraid of a high place and of terrors on the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags himself along, and the caperberry is ineffective. For man goes to his eternal home while mourners go about in the street.
In these verses Solomon describes, in poetic fashion, the deterioration that comes with age, both mental and physical. These things are not pleasant but sometimes made harder to bear because people refuse to accept this or cling to images of their youth. With acceptance comes peace, and with peace comes the ability to enjoy life without the stress of trying to maintain an image of youth that is quickly passing.
Prepare for the obvious
6Remember Him before the silver cord is broken and the golden bowl is crushed, the pitcher by the well is shattered and the wheel at the cistern is crushed; 7then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.
The signs of aging are also the signs of death. Aging should focus our minds on being prepared for this inevitable fact. It is an act of mercy that God allows us to deteriorate slowly so we have the time to become aware of and prepared for our own passing. It does not always work this way but in normal circumstances we have time to prepare and should use it.
Acknowledge the obvious
8"Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher, "all is vanity!" 9In addition to being a wise man, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge; and he pondered, searched out and arranged many proverbs. 10The Preacher sought to find delightful words and to write words of truth correctly. 11The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd. 12But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body. 13The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. 14For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.
In verses 9-12 Solomon summarizes his personal journey and fruitless effort in the search for happiness through the use of knowledge and wisdom alone. Unlike others, however, who sought these things without regard to God, Solomon humbles himself and finally acknowledges that obedience and devotion to God are what give life its potential for joy and meaning.
This, God has made plain through His word if only man will listen, acknowledge and obey. In conclusion, Solomon declares that life is short and death is sure, but for the one that seeks God and obeys Him there are three promises.
- There is satisfaction in each day. - If only we look for and acknowledge it.
- There is peace regardless of age and position. - Through faith in God.
- There is hope when life is over. - Heaven for the faithful.
Let us take to heart this wise advice.