Exodus 35, Ecclesiastes 11, and Psalms 36-38

Read Exodus 35, Ecclesiastes 11, and Psalms 36-38. This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 11.

The longer I live, the harder it is to understand why God allows what he allows and does what he does. Solomon learned that, too, a long time before I did. In verse 5 he wrote, “…you cannot understand the work of God.” The next line, “the Maker of all things” is more than just a descriptive title for God. It explains why we can’t understand God’s ways. He is the Creator; anything we ever know we know only as created beings and only fragments over a short period of time.

Given that we can’t ever understand God’s works, how should we live? There are many answers to that question. The most important answer is simply, trust God’s word and do what it says because in it the author of all things has told us what to do even if it doesn’t make much sense to us.

Here in Ecclesiastes 11, however, there are some practical instructions for us based on the fact that we “cannot understand the work of God.” One of those practical instructions is, “Don’t wait for better conditions to do what you need to do. That’s what verse 4 is telling us when it says, “Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.” God’s ways are unpredictable but, generally speaking, sowing and reaping are reliable so don’t try to guess what God’s going to do. Just do what you know works. Verse 6 goes on to make the same point when it says, “Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.”

So, on that note: is there anything you’re procrastinating about? Waiting for the stock market to go down before you start preparing for retirement? Looking for a better time to start a business, ask someone out on a date (or to marry you), or strike up a conversation about Jesus? Don’t look for better conditions; seize the moment you have and work faithfully at it.

Going further, though, Solomon commends the choice to be happy despite the unknowability and unpredictability of God’s ways. Verse 8 says, “However many years anyone may live, let them enjoy them all.” Verses 9-10 especially commend this for the young with the understanding that, “God will bring you into judgment.” The point, then, is to be diligent and wise but choose happiness as long as what makes you happy is within the moral will of God.

There are many dark days (v. 8b) for us while we live on earth. We should remember them but not dwell on them. People are anxious about many things but Solomon says you should “banish anxiety from your heart.”  Most of the things that you fear will not happen. Bad things that you never thought to fear will happen, but all of them happen within God’s ways which are unknowable to us. If we believe his word and diligently work and live by his commands, there is more than enough to be happy about in this life. So trust God and stop worrying so much.

Exodus 32, Ecclesiastes 8, Luke 12

Read Exodus 32, Ecclesiastes 8, Luke 12. This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 8.

Solomon’ musings on government and its control are the subject of this section of Ecclesiastes. Generally speaking, Solomon’s advice is to submit to the government (vv. 2-6). He admits, however, that some governments can be oppressive (v. 9), grossly inefficient and ineffective (v. 11) and even unjust (vv. 12, 14). God’s justice, in these cases, will overcome these human government’s failures (v. 13) but even God’s ways don’t always make sense to us (vv. 16-17).

Nestled in all this advice about human government is a reminder that there are some things in life that are unpredictable and uncontrollable (vv. 7-8). Solomon gave us three examples:

  • The future: It is unknown to us and, therefore, uncontrollable, and unpredictable (v. 7).
  • Death: It is unavoidable and unpredictable (v. 8a-b).
  • Wickedness: It is uncontrollable (v. 8c-d).

These three control every human life even more powerfully than the government does. They are so powerful, in fact, that even the government can’t control them.

But let’s focus on that last one–wickedness. Verse 8c-d says, “As no one is discharged in time of war, so wickedness will not release those who practice it.” 

Unlike our modern, American experience of the military, most countries draft every able-bodied man when they go to war. Solomon says that once you’ve been conscripted into such an army, you’re not getting out. The only legal way out of military service is (a) be a casualty or (b) survive until the end of the war.

Solomon says that wickedness works the same way. Once you “practice it” (v. 8d), it owns you. He might mean the addictive power of wickedness or this phrase might refer to the consequences unleashed when we practice wickedness. Because the context of Ecclesiastes 8 speaks of government, which punishes wickedness, this verse is probably referring to the consequences of wickedness, not its addictive power. The verse then means, “You can do the crime but you won’t be able to control the time or the fine.”

The government may get you and punish you for your wickedness, but not all wickedness is against the laws of human government. This verse reminds us that if you break God’s laws, you won’t get away with it. Human government may punish you but, even if it doesn’t, God will make sure that you are punished.

This should be a sobering reminder to us when we are tempted to sin or think we might be able to sin and get away with it. Like the army, wickedness won’t let you out until you’ve completed your tour of duty. There’s no going AWOL, either.

If you are in Jesus, every sin you have committed or will commit has been punished through the death of Christ. His blood reconciles you with God as an act of mercy. However, God usually allows the human consequences of our sins to continue. The murder who trusts in Jesus will have eternal life; however, his faith and repentance does not bring his victim back to life, assuage the anguish or anger of the victim’s relatives, or commute his life or death sentence.

This is one of many reasons why we should not sin even though God forgives all our sins in Christ. We all like a feeling of control (or the illusion of control) over our lives but none of us can control the future, death, or the fallout from our sins.

By the grace of God, then, let’s choose not to sin but, instead, to choose what is righteous in God’s sight.

Exodus 30, Ecclesiastes 6, Luke 10

Today read Exodus 30, Ecclesiastes 6, and Luke 10. This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 6.

This lifetime on earth offers us some incredible experiences. If life goes well, a person will be born into a loving family, have everything he or she needs to live, get an education, find a mate who will open a new dimension of love, have children who will open yet another dimension of love, possibly find a fulfilling career or, at the very least, one that will provide for a stable family life.

In addition to these blessings, many people will find friends to share experiences with, will enjoy watching many beautiful sunrises and sunsets, will hear music that enthralls them, will know what it feels like to win a tough game against a really good opponent, will taste food that they will never forget, and travel to places which will always be special in their memories.

That’s if all goes well….

However, it doesn’t always work that way, does it? Some people are born blind and will never see that beautiful sunset. Some are born to broken homes or have parents who will abuse them. Some grow up in excruciating poverty. Some will never learn to read. Some will never know what it feels like to be in love. Some will die in a tragic accident or through some kind of physical illness and will never live to see their kids grow up. Some people will experience a heartbreaking combination of these events; they will wonder why life has been so cruel to them.

Then there are others who experience success in life but can never enjoy the rewards of that success. That seems to be who Solomon has in mind here in Ecclesiastes 6:1-2. They succeed at life (“they lack nothing their hearts desire”) but die young before they can enjoy their success or they miss out in some other way. In the words of verse 2c: “….God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead.”

In verses 3-6 Solomon says that someone who never made it out of the womb alive is better than the person who attained what they want in life but never could enjoy the results. This is just one of Solomon’s many laments in this book—a still frame in an unhappy video about the problems of life.

These problems are caused by the curse that comes from sin. Whether a person suffers from poverty, or lives life alone and unloved, or has a broken body, or dies young, or is wealthy but unhealthy, nobody gets everything out of life that life could potentially offer to us all. The problem is not that God creates a cruel world that promises us pleasure but sticks us with pain instead. The problem is that the beautiful world that God created has been broken by sin. Because humanity defied God’s instruction, we all find heartache and sorrow and pain and lack of fulfillment in this life to some degree or others. Some of us feel it so intensely that the only word that can describe life is “unfair.”

This reality is immune to pious platitudes, quick fixes, or positive thinking. Even when someone’s life goes spectacularly well, there are always regrets, disappointments, grief, and sorrow. Ecclesiastes is a long meditation on the frustrating enigmas of life. Instead of telling us that “it’ll be OK eventually,” he will later tell us just to fear God, obey his word, and enjoy what we can. It’s good advice and we’d all do well to obey it.

But we can’t even do that; the capacity to just “fear God and obey his word” was lost by humanity on the same day we lost paradise.

This is why Christ gives us such hope. Although he has not chosen, yet, to fix this broken and painful reality, he has shown us his love and promised us a better life—eternal life, if we trust him and follow him no matter what. If you’re discouraged today by circumstances around you, remember that your frustration is the symptom of a world that is suffering under sin and its consequences. Instead of bemoaning what is lost, look to Christ in faith. In him is the promise of life in his kingdom that will be perfection itself and will never end.

Exodus 28, Ecclesiastes 4, Psalms 33-35

Today read Exodus 28, Ecclesiastes 4, and Psalms 33-35. This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 4.

This chapter of scripture is not encouraging.

That is an understatement.

This chapter of scripture is bleak. It states in verse 1 that powerful people in this world used their power to oppress the weak and vulnerable. These victims “have no comforter.” Their lives are a miserable stretch of existence. From birth to grave, each day and night, they do what more powerful people want them to do and live in fear. What kind of fear?

  • fear of displeasing those powerful people
  • fear of more invasive abuse from the powerful
  • fear of starving, unable to provide a living for themselves because their abusers take so much from them

Although Solomon did not tell us how many were oppressed and how many were oppressors, the chapter may suggest that the vast majority were oppressed by a small minority. The way the chapter suggests this is in the words of verses 2-3. Those verses rank the happiest people from least happiest to most happy. The categories of people Solomon discussed were broad–the dead, the living, and the unborn. Those three broad groups include a whole lot of people. So who is the happiest?

  • The living are the least happy because they are oppressed (v. 1, 2c-d).
  • The dead are the next most happy because they are no longer oppressed (v. 2 a-b).
  • But the happiest people of all are people who never lived at all (v. 3). Why? Because they have “not seen the evil that is done under the sun.”

Bleak, right? You’re better off dead but best off if you never made it out of the womb alive in the first place because then no one could use and abuse you.

Of course, not everyone is enslaved by others. Some people go out and achieve, making all their dreams come true. They must be happy, right?

No, Solomon argued, because “all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another” (v. 4). Envy is a desire to have what someone else has. That can make you work hard but you won’t enjoy it because your envy will move on to someone higher on the achievement ladder. If you could just enjoy the living you make, modest though it is (v. 6a), you’d be better off than a wealthier person who is does nothing but work, driven by envy.

Even a person who had no wife, no siblings, and no children isn’t happy (v. 8). Solomon thought that a single, solitary man should be happy because he only has to provide for himself. He can work hard enough to get what he wants and then spend it all on himself with no guilt. A single man who makes $30,000 per year can buy more pleasure than a man who makes $90,000 but supports a wife, five kids, a dog, and a deadbeat brother.

Seems logical; but it doesn’t work out that way. The single guy with no dependents still works really hard. “There was no end to his toil” (v. 8c) says but “his eyes were not content with his wealth” (v. 8d). He, too, was sucked into envy, unable to enjoy his life because he needed to prove to someone that he matters.

I told you this was bleak.

But all is not lost. The solution to this partnership. Verses 9-12 commends a partnership of two (v. 9) or even three (v. 12c). Partners who work together instead of envying one another can:

  • produce more as a unit and they could on their own (v. 9b)
  • give each other some time off when they are injured or sick or just tired (v. 10)
  • keep each other company (v. 11)
  • protect each other (v. 12).

So the man who makes $90k and has to split it up with others is happier than the single guy who makes $30k and can do whatever he wants with it. In fact, if the single guy made $90k or even $900k, the man with partners is happier because of the benefits that partners bring.

When God created Adam, he made the most capable man who ever lived–apart from Jesus Christ, of course. Adam, while he was still an unfallen person, had a greater mind and better body than any of us because he wasn’t afflicted by the curse of sin.

Yet God said it wasn’t good for him to be alone. He gave him a partner–even knowing that his partner’s (aka, Eve’s) weakness would lead him into sin. Having a life partner in your spouse or a business partner in your vocation can help you escape the hopeless life that the oppressed live. Even if you are oppressed, at least you have someone to keep you warm at night (v. 11).

Solomon was a powerful man who oppressed others. He taxed the nation so thoroughly for his own projects, pleasures, and luxuries that the people begged his son to lay off and then they revolted against him when he wouldn’t.

But Solomon seems to have been a lonely man, despite his wealth and power over others. If you have 1000 women in your life, can any one of them truly be your partner?

People can be the source of your greatest problems in life. They can make promises that they fail to keep or even intentionally break. They can see you as a rival when they should see you as an ally. If you have enough people-problems, you may be tempted to decide that isolation is better.

This chapter advises us to partner up. Share life generously with your partner–your spouse, your children, your business partner(s), your teammates. The benefits of companionship will outweigh the “freedom” that being alone promises. God created us to be teammates and the life he gave us is best enjoyed when it is shared.

If you have a partnership–a marriage and family, a business partnership, a ministry partnership, etc.–are you a good partner? Are you thankful for the benefits that partnership brings you or do you selfishly wish you had all the control and all the benefits to yourself?

If your partnership is broken, the answer isn’t to go off on your own; it is to become and build a true partnership rather than a rivalry based on envy.

Exodus 25, Ecclesiastes 1, Luke 7

Read Exodus 25, Ecclesiastes 1, and Luke 7. This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 1.

Like the earth revolves around the sun, your life revolves around something. The center of your life is what you think about day and night. It is the thing that gives you something to live for, the thing that provides you with direction when you have a decision to make. The center of your life is the thing that defines you. It is the word you would put in the blank of this sentence: “I am a ________________.”

Lots of people, though, couldn’t put a word they like into that blank. It might be because they don’t really know what their center is or, possibly, because they don’t like the answer

Here’s my question: What is your “one thing”? What is your center? What is the thing that guides you, that provides meaning for you and helps you make decisions in life.

Answer this question: “What is my center?”

If you have trouble answering that question, here are some questions that might help you:

  • What do you spend money on without worrying about the cost?
  • What would you miss the most if it was suddenly gone from your life?
  • What would you avoid missing if you had a conflict in life? In other words, if you had to miss a meal or miss work (even if there were consequences) or miss sleep in order to do something, what would that thing be?

If you’re having a hard time answering the question, “What is my center?” then consider the choices you make in life. The center of your life is revealed by the choices you make in life.

Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes had everything a man could want in life:

Despite all these things, he felt that his life was meaningless (v. 2). Verses 3-11 describe how completely lacking in permanence everything in life is. No matter how great you are, coming generations will barely think about you at all (v. 11).

We may think our lives are centered on pleasure or achievement, or insight or something else, but what really stands at the center of most people’s lives is self.

In other words, most of the time we are self-centered.

Self-centeredness is not the same as selfishness. Selfishness is seeking things for myself by keeping them from others. Self-centeredness means measuring things by myself rather than by an objective standard. A self-centered person does what is pleasurable whether it is right or wrong. The morality of a thing is defined by what you want rather than by an objective standard of morality. A self-centered person seeks to achieve not to benefit humanity but to get credit for greatness from humanity. A self-centered person seeks insight in life for the ego boost that comes from having more insight than anyone else.

Many negative feelings rise from self-centeredness.

Someone who is angry feels offended because he or she did not get what they feel they deserve—respect, admiration, love, etc. The same is true, often, of those who have deep seated bitterness. They are bitter about not getting what they thought or expected out of life. Fear or anxiety can come from realizing that what someone has could be taken or lost and the person is fearful because s/he cannot bear the thought of losing it. Depression can come from wanting something that you cannot obtain or that doesn’t satisfy you when you do obtain it. 

The rest of this book of Ecclesiastes will chronicle Solomon’s attempt to find a meaningful, satisfying, purposeful center for his life. Here’s a spoiler, though: The only thing worth centering your life on is God.

Did this devotional help you realize how self-centered you are? Did it help you see why you are disappointed, mad, bitter, fearful, or depressed?

What would your life look like if it were truly centered on God–not as the “correct Christian answer” to a question about centeredness but truly in your thoughts and actions?

We’ll look at this more in future chapters of Ecclesiastes but, for today, the application is to repent and ask God to lift your self-centeredness and to teach you to focus your life on him.

Numbers 1, Ecclesiastes 11, and Psalm 114

Today’s readings are Numbers 1, Ecclesiastes 11, and Psalm 114.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 11.

The longer I live, the harder it is to understand why God allows what he allows and does what he does. Solomon learned that, too. In verse 5 he wrote, “…you cannot understand the work of God.” The next line, “the Maker of all things” is more than just a descriptive title for God. It explains why we can’t understand God’s ways. He is the Creator; anything we ever know we know only as created beings and only fragments over a short period of time.

Given that we can’t ever understand God’s works, how should we live? There are many answers to that question. The most important answer is simply, trust God’s word and do what it says because in it the author of all things has told us what to do even if it doesn’t make much sense to us.

Here in Ecclesiastes 11, however, there are some practical instructions for us based on the fact that we “cannot understand the work of God.” One of those practical instructions is, “Don’t wait for better conditions to do what you need to do. That’s what verse 4 is telling us when it says, “Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.” God’s ways are unpredictable but, generally speaking, sowing and reaping are reliable so don’t try to guess what God’s going to do. Just do what you know works. Verse 6 goes on to make the same point when it says, “Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.”

So, on that note: is there anything you’re procrastinating about? Waiting for the stock market to go down before you start preparing for retirement? Looking for a better time to start a business, ask someone out on a date (or to marry you), or strike up a conversation about Jesus? Don’t look for better conditions; seize the moment you have and work faithfully at it.

Going further, though, Solomon commends the choice to be happy despite the unknowability and unpredictability of God’s ways. Verse 8 says, “However many years anyone may live, let them enjoy them all.” Verses 9-10 especially commend this for the young with the understanding that, “God will bring you into judgment.” The point, then, is to be diligent and wise but choose happiness as long as what makes you happy is within the moral will of God.

There are many dark days (v. 8b) for us while we live on earth. We should remember them but not dwell on them. People are anxious about many things but Solomon says you should “banish anxiety from your heart.” Most of the things that you fear will not happen. Bad things that you never thought to fear will happen, but all of them happen within God’s ways which are unknowable to us. If we believe his word and diligently work and live by his commands, there is more than enough to be happy about in this life. So trust God and stop worrying so much.

Leviticus 27, Ecclesiastes 10, Psalm 113

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 10:8-10.

Many of these later chapters in Ecclesiastes contain proverbs. Some are similar to those we find in the book of Proverbs; others are unique. Here in Ecclesiastes 10:8-10, we find a few proverbs related to work. Verses 8-9 tell us that virtually every job has some kind of hazard to it. Whatever you do that brings income and blessing to you and your household can also harm you if you’re not careful. I believe that is the point of these proverbs. Solomon’s point was not just to observe that occupations have dangers to them. It was to warn every worker to be careful. If you spend a lot of time around pits that you’ve dug, or stones that you’ve quarried, or logs that you’ve split, you can become indifferent to the dangers they pose to your life and health. When you stop respecting the power of these things, you can get lazy with your safety habits and possibly injure yourself. A wise person never cuts corners on safety in his work; instead, he respects the inherent power of the things he works with and is careful to do his work safely.

Verse 10 pivoted to another aspect of work. That verse reminds us that you have to work much harder with inadequate tools than you do with proper tools. The person who says, “I don’t have time to sharpen this ax; there are too many trees to cut down!” is a person who doesn’t appreciate the power of well-prepared tools. Instead, according to the third line of verse 10, “more strength is needed.” That is, if you don’t understand the power of the right tool, YOU’LL be the one applying the power with your arms. The final line in verse 10 says, “but skill will bring success,” and this line suggests that this verse is about more than just sharpening your ax. A sharpened ax is literally more effective; it is also a metaphor for a more skillful way to work.

There is no virtue in using a handsaw when a circular saw is available. There is no virtue in churning your own butter (unless you like doing that for some weird reason, or think it tastes better) when you can buy a stick or a tub inexpensively. There’s also no virtue in learning by making mistakes when you could learn from others. A wise person is one who is trying to learn how to be more effective in less time at whatever he is attempting to do. God created you with the ability to learn and with the ability to think about your work creatively and innovatively so that you can be more effective and efficient at what you do.

The Bible is a book obout God, not about time management, business best practices, or personal success. But it contains helpful information about these subjects because God cares about you and wants you to be effective and productive in addition to being honest and ethical.

Are there any areas of your work, or life in general, where you’ve been careless with safety precautions or where you’ve been working with a dull ax? Maybe it is time to stop working harder and start working smarter, just as God created you to do.