Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.
Give a portion to seven, or even to eight,
for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.
If the clouds are full of rain,
they empty themselves on the earth,
and if a tree falls to the south or to the north,
in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie.
He who observes the wind will not sow,
and he who regards the clouds will not reap.
What comes first your mind when you think about our world today? For some of us, that might be the wonders of mountains and seas, of prairies and deserts and of the joy of travelling. For others of us may think of the suffering of so many millions across our planet, through sickness, war, and devastation caused by weather.
The writer of Ecclesiastes sees both perspectives. Ecclesiastes is sometimes attributed to King Solomon, King David’s son, who, when asked by God what he wanted God to give him, asked for wisdom and knowledge. If Solomon did indeed write Ecclesiastes, then we are hearing the wisdom of God as it was received by Solomon.
In a nutshell, what he is saying is that to enjoy the blessings we are given, to banish anxiety, we need to fear God and keep his commandments.
In the midst of all the troubles around us – which are so clearly described in Ecclesiastes through all these various troubles the writer implores us to keep our eyes on God. I did wonder how prophetic the writer might be when I read of ‘terrors are in the road’ – something which seems quite pertinent for today although probably intended to refer to highwaymen.
And this focus on hearing God and keeping his commandments appears to run through Ecclesiastes and Psalm 119:
Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.
I have sworn an oath and confirmed it,
to keep your righteous rules.
I am severely afflicted;
give me life, O Lord, according to your word!
Accept my freewill offerings of praise, O Lord,
and teach me your rules.
I hold my life in my hand continually,
but I do not forget your law.
The wicked have laid a snare for me,
but I do not stray from your precepts.
Your testimonies are my heritage forever,
for they are the joy of my heart.
I incline my heart to perform your statutes
forever, to the end.
The Psalm includes the well-known words “your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” – the psalmist tells us to love God’s law and meditate on it all day long. Again, a focus on God and keeping his commandments. What I like is that the psalmist gives us the hope that if we do keep focus on God and obey him, then we will get understanding. And that’s what makes it possible to live through the troubled times which were spelt out so clearly for us in Ecclesiastes: darkened skies, strong men bent, young women brought low, old women ceasing from grinding, the doors shut – and yes, the terrors on the road.
Tthe writer that of Ecclesiastes prefaces all this by saying ‘remember your creator in the days of your youth before the days of trouble come’: In other words, draw close to God while you may so that you can remain close to him in the difficult times.
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
2 Timothy 2:1-7
Paul, in his letter to Timothy, tells him to be strong. He too comes back to the word of God by reminding Timothy to recall all that he has heard from Paul and others about the truths of God
and tells him that through doing this ‘the Lord will give you understanding in all things’’.
Paul gives a few examples to Timothy such as the soldier who focuses on pleasing his officer by avoiding entanglement in everyday affairs; the athlete was not distracted – but lives by the rules of the game.
The same message recurs in Ecclesiastes, Psalm 119 and Paul’s letter to Timothy: in other words, right through our Bibles.
And it’s those words in the Psalm, “through your precepts I get understanding” which are so clearly repeated by Paul to Timothy, and bring me back to the question I asked earlier: what comes to mind you think about the world today?
If we think of the beautiful things or whether we think of the suffering, both are held in God’s hands – and it is only through God’s wisdom that we can get any understanding of the world around us. This makes it possible for us to survive when we see the pain and war and conflict in our families, our neighbourhood, our nation and our world. God our Creator made the wonders of the earth, and I believe it is a failure of man to keep God’s commandments that we have the suffering that exists today.
This goes right back to the beginning of creation As in the first few chapters of Genesis the very first book of the Bible, we already have the lying, deceit, anger and jealousy, murder, soon after we find adultery and drunkenness.
To be fair, God hadn’t at that point given the 10 Commandments to Moses – but God had created a perfect place for humankind to live and be in a relationship with God and each other.
But through not loving God and their neighbour as themselves – which is Jesus summary of the 10 Commandments, and to me seems perfectly applicable to the times of Moses: jealousy developed into lust, anger developed into a war, selfishness developed into greed, and the downward spiral of suffering began.
Yet again and again in the Bible, many more times than we have heard tonight, it’s clear that none of this would have happened all would happen now if everyone put God first and listened to what he was saying.
The 10 Commandments aren’t just rigid rules. We need to understand them in the light of circumstances, and that’s why we need to listen to God and focus on him.
All that I have written above may have seemed incredibly obvious, but I see it a quite a challenge. How many of us can say we banish all our anxieties – that we keep all God’s commandments that we meditate on God’s law, even daily, let alone all day along, and spend time finding insight and understanding in what God is saying to us. God might be speaking to us through creation – a place we love or a beautiful flower; he may speak to us through our Bibles of something we have read; for some people this might be through films; or as with Timothy, it may be what we see and hear through the examples of other people around us. We all gain our understanding of what God is saying to us through different mediums.
It doesn’t matter how we hear from God, but it is only through hearing from God and living in his ways that we will have an understanding of the world around us both the beauty of creation and something of the troubles of the world. And by understanding we can respond, we will find God’s word is indeed a lamp to our feet and a light to our path so we can care for the people and the environment around us and respond to the troubles of the world.
Fear God and keep his commandments.
Meditate on God’s law all day long.
Focus on God and he will give you understanding.