This Sunday I finished teaching through Ecclesiastes, which has been my favorite study to date. It is an oddly perfect time, the start of Holy Week, to conclude this study. This book is difficult to understand and has on more than one occasion left me scratching my head. Despite that, I have benefited greatly from wrestling with this book. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon struggles with the frustrations of living in a world which is broken. Since Genesis 3 mankind has lived under the curse of God. This brokenness is the righteous judgment of God upon mankind’s sinfulness, and we run head first into this frustration daily whether it is car trouble, problems at work, or drama at home. Life in this world is marked by sin and death. Ecclesiastes reminds us of the ever-present impact of sin and death on life.
In Ecclesiastes, Solomon stares down the reality of death and the short-comings of life in a way that makes many of us in modern evangelicalism uncomfortable. It makes us so uncomfortable some scholars try to explain away the unity of the book. Yet any serious study demonstrates the unflinching unity and honesty of this book as it deals with the difficulties and tragedies of life. Solomon took the world as it was, and then he offers us wisdom on how to live in light of the vanity. His advice: trust God in the darkness. Live as creatures before the Creator knowing our limitations and his perfections.
It is here that Ecclesiastes helps us to better understand the beauty of Christ’s work. The main enemy in Ecclesiastes and all of life is death. It is death which drives the vanity of this life. It is death which darkens all of our pursuits. In Ecclesiastes, as in life, we cannot escape this great foe. Solomon searches for a way out, a way to beat death, but he cannot. He writes, “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” There is no hope found within ourselves, or in the world at large. We are nothing in comparison to death. There is no gain at all in this life for death eventually overpowers all of us.
It is here the good news of Christ’s work resounds with unbridled hope. Christ has overpowered death. He has destroyed death by dying. That which defeats us, he has defeated. Paul writes of this in Philippians 1.21, “ For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” When Paul wrote these words he was facing the possibility of execution. He knew that if spared he would continue to live for Christ, but if he were to die he would gain. I do not believe that word is an accident. Paul knew his Old Testament backward and forward. I think he has Ecclesiastes in mind here. Where Solomon saw only defeat before Christ, Paul sees gain through Christ. By the work of Christ's death, that which has frustrated and defeated mankind since fall, has been overthrown.
In studying Ecclesiastes my joy has increased precisely because it shows me my limitations and my need for someone greater than me. It shows the world as it is, which highlights my need. It has taught me to be gracious for the gifts of God, to trust in his sovereignty, and to come to terms with the frustrations of life in a fallen world. But above all of that, it points me to my need for Jesus Christ. It shows me that gain in this life is only found in dying with Christ so that I may rise again as he has. There is gain, not by my work, but by his work. For this reason, and many more, we should all take the message of Ecclesiastes to heart.