The Expository Files

 


God Has Surely Tested Them
 ”Life “under the sun”

Ecclesiastes 3:18-21
 


18 I said to myself concerning the sons of men, "God has surely tested them in order for them to see that they are but beasts."
19 For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no
advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity.
20 All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust.
21 Who knows that the breath of man ascends upward and the breath of the beast descends downward to the earth?

(Ecclesiastes 3:18-21)

Ecclesiastes contains sections of wisdom and truth that are not always easily sorted out. Written by Solomon, it is not a great shock that it does require
some contemplation to profit from the insights and observations found therein. What else would we expect from a Solomon?

When death of man or beast is observed, there is not much that is apparently different between the two, at least that we can discern with our eyes. Is this
significant? Yes, it is. God intended for it to be that way. According to our text, He has a reason. It would be easy to superficially take these words as
cynical complaint about life's injustice and brevity. But that is not the point at all. In fact, even in the passage itself, the facts stated are said to be
a "test". In this case, the "test" is an arrangement by which God teaches something of value to men. God wants us to learn something we need to know.

Conflicted "Under the Sun"
In the Book of Ecclesiastes, sometimes it appears as if Solomon is saying everything is messed up. One example of things not being as they ought to be is
how death seems so blind. It seemingly cannot see the difference between man and beast (3:19). Doesn't death know that men are different (Genesis 1:26-27)?

But that isn't all. How about death treating the wise and the foolish alike? They both return to dust as well. Does the wise die differently from the foolish
(Ecclesiastes 2:13-16)? And the rich and the poor all go to one place (Ecclesiastes 6:6). And, even with the righteous and the wicked, from our perspective
as we watch “under the sun”, their deaths appear the same (Ecclesiastes 9:2).

And we know that the swiftest does not always win the race. Upsets happen all the time (Ecclesiastes 9:11). Thus it is with things as they appear in "life
under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:3; 14; 2:11; 18). The Book of Ecclesiastes is filled with these observances. If the totality of everything life is about is
limited to "this side of the sun", then there is vanity and conflict and perplexity.

Soaring "Above" the Sun
It is true that God does work in mysterious ways, but He is working (Ecclesiastes 3:11) and does so with justice and grace being the final outcome, though
presently we sometimes struggle to find answers as to how these things work (Ecclesiastes 8:15-17).

Consider the cross of Jesus. The savagery and cruelty of it!! Who among the witnesses were able to see any possible good in it? And yet redemption resulted
for sinners who come to God for grace (Romans 8:28; 31-32)! As we live "under the sun" by sight, we live by faith in the power and love of the One who
created the Sun and is far above it. The secret things are His (Deuteronomy 29:29) Eliphaz had advised Job that Job must be guilty of something horribly bad
to be suffering so. He was wrong in assuming Job's guilt, but he was right about handling life's perplexities:

8"But as for me, I would seek God,
And I would place my cause before God;
9 Who does great and unsearchable things,
Wonders without number.
(Job 5:8-9).

Solomon searches "above the sun" for the ultimate answers and conclusion. He finds that:
a. Because Judgment does not take place immediately, evil and rebellious men assume that there will be no judgment or recompense (Ecclesiastes 8:11)
b. But there will come a time of judgment and justice (Ecclesiastes 8:12, 13)
c. We are to fear God and keep His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

This is as Paul said (Romans 2:4-10). Peter also agreed (2 Peter 3:3-4; 9-11)

What Are We To Learn?
Consider God’s test:
18 I said to myself concerning the sons of men, "God has surely tested them in order for them to see that they are but beasts."
19 For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no
advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity.
20 All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust.
21 Who knows that the breath of man ascends upward and the breath of the beast descends downward to the earth?
(Ecclesiastes 3:18-21)

This passage speaks of something that is instructive. God uses this to teach us something: That we may see that, at least in some respect, we are like
animals. How so?

"Under the sun" we are as frail as are the animals. Our physical bodies return to dust as theirs do. There is nothing "under the sun" to indicate if there
is any different destiny for the spirit of each either!

So, what do we learn from God? We learn that we are not gods. We need to depend upon Him. We must not hastily explain life's hardships and heartbreaks from
our very shallow perspectives and proceed to charge God foolishly. We must be humble before Him. We must be content even if we do not fully understand or
comprehend a matter with which we struggle . We trust God and wait for justice (2 Timothy 1:12).

It is "above the sun" where the difference will be made. What appears to be so similar here (whether the death of man and beasts, or the righteous and the
wicked) is completely distinguishable there (Ecclesiastes 12:7). One example: there will be accountability of man for his life, but not of beasts
(Ecclesiastes 3:16-17).

It would be easy to become cynical if all there was is that which exists "under the sun". The hope Jesus brings us is so valuable because He, the perfect
Son, is greater than Solomon. It is in Jesus that our vision becomes well defined and we learn our true advantage "over the beast" … we learn it through
Jesus' own death, burial and resurrection. In His death, He did not return to dust, did He? One day, He will call the dead forth from the dust to judgment,
and the righteous to everlasting life.
 
 
 

By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 18.12; December 2011 

 

 

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