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Lasting Lessons from Life Ecclesiastes 11:1-12:14

By Rev Anthony Hao

I like a quote from writer Ernestine Ulmer. She’s famous for her saying, Life is uncertain, eat dessert first. Many are not aware that the saying actually came from the story of a lady who loved dessert. But one day she put off eating her dessert until later that evening. The only problem was that she was aboard the Titanic.

Ernestine Ulmer’s advice is somewhat similar with the book of Ecclesiastes. This book was Solomon’s personal journal. After investigating and experiencing everything that there is in life, he comes to a sobering conclusion: All is meaningless. Solomon is telling us that life under the sun, that is, life without God, is meaningless existence and experience. It’s like living on a treadmill: you get all the exercise you want, but you don’t go anywhere. In Ecclesiastes 11-12, Solomon shares with us some priceless and lasting lessons from life that he had learned.

A. How to REASON through Life
Four times in the first 6 verses of Ecclesiastes 11, Solomon reminds us that there are things that we do not know and cannot know about life. We do not know what evil will befall us, we do not fully understand the way of the winds, and we do not know whether we will prosper or not. These are what we would call life’s constants. These are things that never change, that are beyond our control. And we deal with them by learning how to reason wisely. According to Solomon, we must do two things –

1. Live with a DIVERSE Hand. We read in Ecclesiastes 11:1 – Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again. Here, Solomon is sharing with us a bit of financial advice, a crash course in money management. In Solomon’s day, as it is to-day, one of the main commodities of trade was grain. Merchants would load their grain not on one ship but on several ships, and send them out from port. In that sense, they were casting their bread upon the waters. In a way the expression is saying: Don’t put all of your grain in one ship. Today, we would say Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Don’t trust anything as a sure thing, because the winds of change may blow it all away. That’s why he says in verse 2, Give portions to seven, yes to eight, for you know not what disaster may come upon the land. In one word: DIVERSIFY. This is a wise advice. Solomon is saying, Spread out your wealth among multiple ventures, rather than just one venture, because you cannot forecast the future. Live with a diverse hand.

2. Labor with a DILIGENT Heart. In vv. 3-5, Solomon emphasizes the unknown matters of life. Verse 3 states that we cannot forecast the rain with certainty, and in verse 4, that we cannot control the wind. Verse 5 further states that we do not know the works of God. Therefore, Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well. (11: 6)
Solomon is not an advocate of laziness. He is a fan of the hard-working man. He concludes that since we do not control life and cannot predict life, the only wise thing to do is to live with a diverse hand, and labor with a diligent heart. Having done all, leave the results with God.

On June 6, 1944, during World War II, Allied troops landed on the beach at Normandy, France. They found the shore well fortified by German machine guns. Many of the men crouched under the sand dunes or wherever they could hide behind. It was later shown that those who hunkered down in fear inevitably died. However, those who kept moving had a much greater chance of survival.

Solomon is advising us, amid the uncertain-ties of life, to just keep moving forward. As Paul writes in Ephesians 5:16, we should be making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. We cannot control what comes TO our life; but, we can control what comes OUT of our life. Thus, every day that God gives us should be a day where we continue to LIVE WISELY and LABOR DILIGENTLY.

B. When to REJOICE in Life
Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays, president of Morehouse College, wrote a classic poem entitled Life Is Just a Minute. It reads: Life is just a minute; only sixty seconds in it. Forced upon you, can’t refuse it; didn’t seek, didn’t choose it. But it’s up to you to use it. You must suffer if you lose it; give account if you abuse it. Just a tiny, little minute; but eternity is in it! To conclude chapter 11, Solomon, from his own storehouse of wisdom, teaches us not only how to reason through life, but when to rejoice in life. First, he shows us to:

1. Examine Life THOUGHTFULLY. Verses 7-8 read, Light is sweet, and it pleases the eyes to see the sun. However many years a man may live, let him enjoy them all. But let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many. Everything to come is meaningless. The famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud suffered from a horrible cancer in his mouth. In 1926, he also developed heart trouble and spent considerable time in the hospital. When he returned to his home in Vienna, Austria, the thing that he yearned the most was his morning walks. According to him, it was then for the first time he experienced the glories of springtime. He wrote, What a pity that one has to grow old before making this wonderful discovery. That seems to be the point Solomon is
making. He says, Don’t get old, and then look back on all of the things of life that you missed, or didn’t see. Don’t just exist, but  LIVE your life every single day. Robert Louis Stevenson said, The person who has stopped being thankful has fallen asleep. What a tragedy it would be to live a long life, but miss out on God’s richest treasures. We can avoid that if we examine life thoughtfully.

2. Enjoy Life THOROUGHLY. One of the golden keys in the book of Ecclesiastes is the key of enjoyment. We are reminded to set out to enjoy, to cherish, to treasure every single day of our lives. Here in chapter 11, Solomon gives a special word, especially to young people. We read in verse 9, Be happy, young man, while you are
young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, BUT know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment. In this passage, Solomon is saying that God gives the gift of life. Now it’s up to us to make the most of it, to find joy in it. Why? First, it will not last forever. And second, because God will call us into account. That’s what the word “judgment” means. There will be a day of reckoning when God will ask, How did you live the life I’ve given you? What have you done with the talents and opportunities you have? A further word of advice is given in verse 10, So then, banish anxiety from your heart, and cast off the troubles of your body, for youth and vigor are meaningless. In other words, for those who are prepared to give a positive account of how they lived, who choose to live according to the will of God, they can
remove anxiety and sorrow from their hearts. They can truly be happy and content with life!

In 1888, the Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, awoke one morning to read his own obituary in the local newspaper. It reads, “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.” Actually, it was Alfred’s older brother who had died. But this erroneous publication made him dedicate the rest of his life to leaving a better legacy. He initiated the Nobel Prize. The awards are given to scientists and writers who promote peace and goodwill among men. For the child of God, the life that is truly
enjoyable is one that is lived to honor, obey and please God. For it will pay off at the end.

C. What to REMEMBER about Life
Solomon says there are three lessons from life that we should remember and never forget.

1. Don’t Forget the SHORTNESS of Life. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon employs many metaphors to describe the shortness and brevity of life. He describes it as chasing the breeze, a puff of smoke, dust in the wind. Then, in 12:3-6 he offers one of the most superb descriptions of aging found anywhere in literature. Bible students
differ on all the details of interpretation, but most do see that Solomon is painting a picture of a person who is growing old, and falling apart. Notice the imagery Solomon uses. The keepers of the house tremble speaks of arms and hands trembling; strong men refers to age-weakened legs, knees and shoulders; grinders refer to one
losing their teeth; windows darkened speaks of eyes losing their vision; the daughters of music … brought low describes a voice that begins to weaken; the almond tree speaks of hair that is turning white; the grasshopper is a picture of one just dragging themselves along; the desire that is no longer stirred could be losing one’s appetite. Once these processes run its course, Solomon says in verse 7, the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. In other words, Solomon is simply reminding us that, from the moment of our birth, our body slowly, but surely, begins to wind down and deteriorate. Don’t forget life is
short.

2. Don’t Forget the SERIOUSNESS of Life. Because life is short, Solomon exhorts us to take life very seriously. We are charged, in verse 1, to Remember your Creator in the days of your youth. The word remember is a strong word which means, to pay very close attention, to be vigilant and attentive as a soldier to his superior. It signifies
commitment and obedience. In other words, Solomon is not just advising us to think about God, but to turn to God in every area of our lives. We must commit our lives to Him, love Him continuously, serve Him consistently, and obey Him completely. The shortness of life reminds us of the seriousness of life. This is the only life we have, and what we do with it will effect the rest of eternity. Thus, Solomon says: While you are young, and before the house begins to fall apart, commit your lives to God and obey Him.

3. Don’t Forget the SUCCESS of Life. In vv. 9-10, Solomon records a bit of his own journey toward success in life: Not only was the Teacher wise, but also he imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true. He closed his journal with these words in vv. 13-14 – Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole [duty] of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

Solomon not only applied himself to learning, but to teaching as well. He invested his years of wisdom in others that would follow him. Thus, he shares the secret of life’s success that he found. It is not in earthly resources, but in heavenly riches. It cannot be found in the ways of the world, but in the wisdom of the Word. That’s why he says in verse 12: Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body. Don’t misunderstand what Solomon is saying. He is not condemning studying, learning or reading. The explanation is found in verse 11: The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails–given by one Shepherd. In other words, Solomon is saying that success in life only comes through godly wisdom, and godly wisdom only comes from God. He is telling us that if we want to succeed in life, then we do not need to go beyond, or look any further than to what God has written in His Word. The wisdom that we find in the Word are like goads, which are the rod and staff used to guide sheep.

We have Scripture to reveal to us the person of God, His plan and His purpose for our lives. Learning from it is the greatest lesson from life that we could ever learn.