part 12 you may never know (Ecc 6:10-12)
In Ecclesiastes, the teacher aims to get at the heart of the good life. What is the good life? What does it look like? Thus far, we have seen that the answer to that is not the answer that the majority of humanity would expect. You would expect that pleasure, advancement, and wealth would mark the good life, but as we have seen, those pursuits are merely hebel, a vapor – like chasing after the wind.
The pursuit of pleasure, advancement, and wealth are dead end streets – they are races with an ever moving finish line. Based on this morning’s text we could say that life is also a dead end street for the one who requires all of the answers to life’s questions. The person whose pursuit is all of the answers will find that the finish line is continually moving. Such pursuits are chasing after the wind. We become the child that asks why? Then upon receiving the answer, respond with “why.” Okay, but why? Then once it’s impossible to go any deeper, onward to another topic. Why is this? Why is that?
There are some questions about life that nobody can answer and we will not know the answers on this side of the grave. The good life is marked by the peace that comes from recognizing this and embracing it as reality. Otherwise we will wear ourselves out.
But we also shouldn’t let our lack of understanding of certain things serve as a reason to stop asking questions altogether, or as an excuse for extreme skepticism or unbelief. Our ignorance of certain matters should drive us to faith in God and to stand on his word, trusting Him in the matters that are beyond our comprehension, because they are not beyond his.
As the Scripture says in Isaiah 55:8-9
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
While there are questions in life that we never know the answers to, God has all of the answers but he doesn’t always share them. Our text this morning gives insight into the appropriate response to this reality.
Let’s open our Bibles to Ecc 6. We will finish out chapter 6 this morning, with only a short portion of the text only three verses 10-12.
This morning’s message introduces a component of the good life that we will see the teacher expound upon even further in subsequent portions of the text and that is this: One of the marks of the good life is a balanced life.
Hopefully you have made your way to Ecclesiastes by now. Let’s read verses 10-12 together.
10 Whatever exists has already been named,
and what humanity is has been known;
no one can contend
with someone who is stronger.
11 The more the words,
the less the meaning,
and how does that profit anyone?
12 For who knows what is good for a person in life, during the few and meaningless days they pass through like a shadow? Who can tell them what will happen under the sun after they are gone?
Let’s take a look at this verse by verse.
10 Whatever exists has already been named, and what humanity is has been known; no one can contend with someone who is stronger.
Our passage begins with the acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty. Whatever has come to pass, whatever is in the present and whatever comes to be in the future has been determined by God in “eternity past.” It’s already been named.
The NET (New English Translation) renders verse 10a
10 Whatever has happened was foreordained, and what happens to a person was also foreknown.
God is in control of man’s fate. It is determined by His will.
Eph 1:11 In him we were also chosen,having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will
A popular notion in modern Christian circles is that since God is good, anything bad that happens wasn’t God’s doing; God wouldn’t allow me to fail my math test, God wouldn’t allow me to be late to work, God wouldn’t let me get sick, God wouldn’t allow somebody I love to die. That was the devil; the devil did all those bad things. God is all powerful but there is this devil out there running around doing just as much as, if not more than God is doing. It’s almost like the devil is omnipresent. But is this what the Bible teaches? No.
Not only does good come from God but evil comes from the hand of God as well.
After Job was inflicted with great loss and suffering, in Job 2:9-10 9 His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”
10 He replied, “You are talking like a foolishwoman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.
The literal translation is shall we accept good from God and not evil.
Isaiah 45:7 I form the light and create darkness,
I bring prosperity and create disaster;
I, the Lord, do all these things.
Once again, the literal reads 7 Forming light, and preparing darkness, Making peace, and preparing evil, I [am] Jehovah, doing all these things.’
Not a popular teaching, but a Biblical one. God is Sovereign. He is in control. He has foreordained the events under the sun; He is the author of my fate and yours whether good or bad.
Again, our verse 10 Whatever exists has already been named, and what humanity is has been known; no one can contend with someone who is stronger.
Every commentary I have read interprets the “someone who is stronger” to be God. The NET translates 10b-11:
It is useless for him to argue with God about his fate because God is more powerful than he is.
11 The more one argues with words, the less he accomplishes.
How does that benefit him?
We all experience things that make us – or at least make us want to – question God, to say, “Why God?” Why is this happening to me? Why have you allowed this to happen to me? Why have you caused this to happen to me?
I’m inclined to say that such a response is fairly natural. In large part because of our Western-mindedness, but also in part because of the fact that we are emotional and rational creatures and the desire to know why? is a fairly natural response when we are faced with adversity and with unfavorable circumstances. But, the good life, is the balanced life, so that questioning of God should be kept in balance, tempered, restricted, if you will.
Questioning God is okay to a degree, but you tip the balance, you’re no longer living the good life when you begin to argue with God, to contend with him.
In other words, we should not allow ourselves to lose sight of who we are and who God is to the degree that we begin to dispute with God, to contend with God.
Honest questions asked in humility are one thing, but arguing with God, disputing with him from a haughty and proud, self-centered, or self-righteous spirit is another. There must be a healthy balance in the way we question God – questions with the balance of healthy fear, reverence and awe, lest we forget that we are but dust, finite, miniscule compared to his infinite nature, excellence and majesty from everlasting to everlasting.
No one can contend with God, who is infinitely wiser, infinitely stronger, infinitely greater in all aspects.
It’s a battle you will not win.
Is C3P0 going to contend with Annakin? Annakin can just put him in sleep mode, hit the deactivate switch that he put there. God can just hit deactivate whenever he wants. We are in no position to contend with God.
When adversity comes, when calamity falls, when disaster strikes are we presumptuous enough to think that we should give counsel to God, to instruct him, to advise Him or to contend with his will and his ways? Considering that he works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will – everything including my misfortune and yours.
No story, in my opinion, illustrates the thrust of this text than the story of Job.
Go ahead and turn to the book of Job. We will start in chapter 23 and read some selected portions together.
In Job we have the worst of times. We have, as Jesse mentioned a few weeks ago, a man who had everything – a man who was blameless before God, a righteous man. From his perspective, he had done nothing to warrant the great misfortune that fell upon him as he lost all of his children and all of his wealth in one day and shortly thereafter, lost his health. His so-called-friends join him in a dialogue in which they discuss the matter. They accuse Job of some wrong-doing, for otherwise why would such calamity happen? This is understandable. They spout off several proverbs which indicate that the righteous prosper with blessing and the wicked suffer harm. This is generally true. Normally, in life, God rewards righteousness and punishes wickedness. But Job, is the exception to this rule and he knows he walks in righteousness. Thus, he pleads his case before the friends and eventually tips the balance. The tone of his remarks seem to indicate contention with God.
He says in
Job 23:1-5 Then Job replied:
2 “Even today my complaint is bitter;
his handis heavy in spite ofmy groaning.
3 If only I knew where to find him;
if only I could go to his dwelling!
4 I would state my case before him
and fill my mouth with arguments.
5 I would find out what he would answer me,
and consider what he would say to me.
6 Would he vigorously oppose me?
No, he would not press charges against me.
Turn to chapter 38; Let’s see how God answers him.
Job 38 Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:
2 “Who is this that obscures my plans
with words without knowledge?
3 Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
7 while the morning stars sang together
and all the angelsshouted for joy?
12 “Have you ever given orders to the morning,
or shown the dawn its place
24 What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed,
or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?
32 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons?
34 “Can you raise your voice to the clouds
and cover yourself with a flood of water?
35 Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?
Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?
39:19 “Do you give the horse its strength
or clothe its neck with a flowing mane?
26 “Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom
and spread its wings toward the south?
27 Does the eagle soar at your command
and build its nest on high?
This is where we see our passage in Ecclesiastes manifest
Job 40 The Lord said to Job:
2 “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?
Let him who accuses God answer him!”
Ecc 6:10 No one can contend with someone who is stronger.
No one can contend with God. Job, who from an earthly perspective had every right to, attempts to contend with someone who is stronger and sought to plead his case before the judge of the earth. And God puts Job in his place and puts things in a heavenly perspective for him.
Before God spoke, Job spoke many words in his self-justification, but as it says in
Ecc 6:11 The more the words,
the less the meaning,
and how does that profit anyone?
Based on what Job says next, it seems that he has come to that realization.
3 Then Job answered the Lord:
4 “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you?
I put my hand over my mouth.
5 I spoke once, but I have no answer—
twice, but I will say no more.”
It seems that Job, here, comes to an awareness of the glory and majesty and might of God as he was in his presence. He is silenced. He realizes that in the presence of God, silence is golden.
6 Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm:
7 “Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
8 “Would you discredit my justice?
Would you condemn me to justify yourself?
9 Do you have an arm like God’s,
and can your voice thunder like his?
10 Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor,
and clothe yourself in honor and majesty.
11 Unleash the fury of your wrath,
look at all who are proud and bring them low,
12 look at all who are proud and humble them,
crush the wicked where they stand.
13 Bury them all in the dust together;
shroud their faces in the grave.
14 Then I myself will admit to you
that your own right hand can save you.
Job 42 Then Job replied to the Lord:
2 “I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.
Some things in life are too wonderful for us to know. Some things are beyond our comprehension, beyond our grasp, beyond us. Some things we will never know the answers to and the Teacher in Ecclesiastes makes it clear that the good life is not characterized by having all the answers but finding rest for your soul by recognizing that life has some questions that will go unanswered. God has the answers, but he doesn’t always share them and he doesn’t have to.
And when those questions arise out of our adversity, out of our struggles out of unpleasant circumstances that come ultimately from the hand of God, our response should be balanced, for the good life is characterized by balance. Yes, it is okay to have questions and seek answers, but that must be balanced with reverence for God lest we tip the scale and err on the side of contention and No one can contend with someone who is stronger. We should guard our steps before God, and not be quick with our mouth, not be hasty in our hearts to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and we are on earth, so let our words be few. The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone?
Prov 10:19 when words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.
Our passage in Ecc 6 ends with verse 12.
12 For who knows what is good for a person in life, during the few and [fleeting/hebel] days they pass through like a shadow? Who can tell them what will happen under the sun after they are gone?
The answer is God; God knows what is good for us; he knows what is best for us
Who knows his creation better than the creator? Who knows the clay vessel better than the potter who crafted it? There are those who have seen the Mona Lisa, but who knows the Mona Lisa better than Leonardo DaVinci? Who knows humanity better than Yahweh, the Creator?
He knows us better than we know ourselves, for he knit us together in our mother’s womb. He whose eye is on the sparrow and sees us more valuable than they has numbered the very hairs of our head. He knows us inside out and He knows what is best for us.
This means that he can be trusted. When my 2-year old son really wants to run out into the street as his father, I know what is best for him. I don’t let him run out into the street. I snatch him right up. He can contend with me, but I’m stronger. It’s a battle he won’t win no matter how many unintelligible words and crying and screaming. For the more words the less the meaning and how does that benefit anyone? I’m not going to give in and let him run out into the street and get hit by the car. He can plead his case with me till he has no more tears to cry. It is in my son’s best interest to trust his father, no matter how terrible he views the present circumstances; no matter how evil he views my withholding of the perceived good that he desires.
It is in the best interest of a child to trust the father who knows him, loves him, and knows what is best for him. It is in the best interest of the child of God to trust His heavenly father, His Creator, who knows what is best for us.
- Who knows what is good for a man during this fleeting life, this vapor? God does.
- Who defines the good life? God does.
- Who can tell of what will happen under the sun after our departure. God can.
You have probably noticed how much we have referenced Job and Proverbs in this series.
Ecclesiastes has a lot of connections with the other wisdom literature. This morning’s teaching, however, isn’t found exclusively in the wisdom literature.
This is NT teaching as well. First, just as Ecc 6:12 conveys, we don’t know what will happen tomorrow. James 4:13-16 says 13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” Your life is but a mist, a vapor, hebel – not meaningless (hard to translate but still in my opinion it’s a bad translation in most cases) and doesn’t fit with context of book.
Additionally, since God is in control, since he is sovereign, since he foreordains all things under the sun, we are in no position to contend with him. This is also conveyed in the NT Rom 9:20But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?
Who are you, o man to talk back to God? The context has to do with the claims to sonship and who is the true Jew, who is real Israel? Ethnic descendants of Abraham or by faith but the precept remains: Yahweh is sovereign, he is God. Questioning him should be done with a balance of reverence, awe, respect, and honor. The good life is a balanced life.