One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever. (Ecclesiastes 1.4)
Solomon's somber discourse on the emptiness and painfulness of life, apart from the grace of God, has an ominous yet subtle theme which addresses every aspect of his thoughts. Not only is mankind hedged about by time, confined to the parameters of creation and subservient to the mandates of the Almighty's will, he is predestinated to conclude this level of existence by the means of death.
This event may be of so-called natural means. It may be agonizing and difficult due to age or infirmity. It may be sudden and unexpected by accident or calamity. It may be veiled in a disguise of disease or congenital defect. It may greet its guests singularly or in mass quantity, but whatever the means and course of this undaunted predator, it is effectually controlled according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the council of His own will (Eph. 1.11).
God has set the time of enactment, "To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; (Ecclesiastes 3. 1,2f)"; the ignorance of the recipients, "For man knoweth not his time (9.12)"; and the reality of the event in the minds of all, "....For the living know that they shall die...(9.5)" His decree has also established the condition of man at the appointed hour, "as he came forth from his mother's womb, naked shall he return to go as he came, and shall take nothing of his labor, which he may carry away in his hand (5.15)"; also, the all-inclusive nature, "...and I myself perceived that one event happeneth to them all (2.14)"; the destination of the body, "...all go unto one place; all are of dust, and all turn to dust again (3.20)"; the mystery of the spirit, "who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth? (3.21)"; the futility of man, "There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit, neither hath he power in the day of death (8.8a)"; and the power and authority over this event, "Naked came I out of my mothers womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1.21)."
Every aspect of this final event in nature is ordained, empowered and governed by God's determinate counsel and foreknowledge. Even though it is ofttimes difficult for those who remain to go through "a time to weep" and "a time to lose," Solomon admonishes the wise man thus: "In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after himself. (Ecclesiastes 7.14)."
Solomon compares death to the natural cycles of life. He speaks of the rising and the setting of the sun in its redundant journey, the circuits and courses of the wind which appear random and ever changing, and the flow of the river to the sea which, being continual, never fills it. These examples of endless, undepleted, uninterrupted courses of nature which daily venture forth to complete their assigned tasks without any help from man, are the setting in which Solomon speaks of death. He profoundly concludes that since death is a part of life, and all of life is a labor to be performed, so death is outside of the realm or influence of man. "All things are full of labor; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing (1.8)."
Death has its beginning, course, and means in the creation over which God is absolutely sovereign. It functions by the decree of God and performs its duty by His power. Death has no power or agenda independent of itself. It sets all men on an equal footing before their maker. It has no regard for the status or wealth in this life (Ecclesiastes 9.2f), and surely has no power to grant or deny any preference at its conclusion. It has no redeeming qualities nor absolving virtues; "...it is appointed unto man once to die and after that the judgement (Hebrews 9.27)."
Death stands as the common denominator of all things created. Solomon, who was blessed to commune with his own heart, stated that even though "...I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom that all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience in wisdom and knowledge (1.16)," he concluded about death, "As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise?...And how dieth the wise man? As the fool (2.15f)." No achievement in this life can prevent all from going to the same place. Not the rich (5.15), the man of power (6.2-6), the wicked (8.10), or the man of morality and faith (9.2). Even King David proclaimed after the death of Bathsheba's first child, "I shall go to him, but he shall not return unto me (2 Samuel 12.23)." Thus shall the king lie down with the child in the labor called death.
This passive denominator is not only common to all mankind but to all of creation. "For that which befalleth the sons of man befalleth the beast; even one thing befalleth them: As one dieth, so dieth the other; yea they all have one breath; so that man has no preeminence above the beast (3.19)." The grass of the field, the trees of the woods, the bird in the sky and the beast of the earth, nothing can escape; "...then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it. (12.7)."
"For who maketh thee to differ and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hast not received it (1 Corinthians 4.7)?"
Where then is boasting? In man's works? All that is shall die, and there shall be no remembrance of the former by the latter. This is why Solomon states that all is vanity or empty and painful to his spirit. There is nothing for man to look forward to or to work for: "...this is a sore evil, that in all points as he came, so shall he go: and what profit hath he that labored for the wind (5.16)?" Man, as a vessel of God made for His purpose, has nothing in which he may say, "See, here are the works of my hand and the profit I have gained, be it in natural or in spiritual matters." "There is nothing better for a man, than he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labor. This I saw, that it was from the hand of God (2.14)." This is the portion or station for mortal man with no hope of any escape from this predator. Death is the factor of zero by which all accomplishments of this life are multiplied and the sum is vanity and vexation of the spirit.
"But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept (1 Corinthians 15.20)." The only act which could negate the power of death was a direct confrontation of it in the flesh, and the only one qualified to overcome it and be victorious in this confrontation was the one by whom and for whom were all things created (Colossians 1.16). "He became obedient to death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2.8)," and by the power of the eternal Godhead, slew death and led the captive out of captivity. He, as Joshua of old, led His people dryshod across the river. As with Haniniah, Mishael and Azariah, by this same power, "...the fire had no power, nor was a hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor had the smell of the fire passed on them (Daniel 3.27)," so death has no power over the children of the King. The course that the Elder Brother of the household of faith took for the glorification of His family and to the praise of the Father was through death for the destruction of sinful flesh. Then, by the regeneration and the resurrection of His body, the victory was secured. "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in the earth, and things under the earth; and every tongue should confess that JESUS CHRIST is LORD, to the glory of GOD the Father (Philippians 2.9f)."
The Apostle Paul understood the dire consequences of the death of God's anointed in the flesh without the resurrection. "But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen: and if Christ be not risen, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith is also in vain. Yea, and we are found to be false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ: whom He raised not, if it so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised; and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable (1 Corinthians 15.13ff)." This echoes the words of Solomon which he recorded three times: "Then I commended mirth, because man hath no better thing under the sun, that to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: For that shall abide with him of his labor all the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun (Ecclesiastes 8.15; 2.24, and 3.22)." How mournfully sad it is to have nothing better than this flesh in this world.
The resurrection was the quintessential path prescribed by the Father which gave His Son the victory over death and the right, the portion, and the memorial for His children to be glorified with Him. It was the final act by which the Father placed all things under His feet and gave Him all power and authority over all principalities and powers which are in heaven and in earth. By what He accomplished Christ glorified both the Father and the Holy Spirit in Himself. Now, because of the Captain of their salvation, His children stand being justified in Him. By His faithfulness they have peace with God. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8.35ff)."
Each member of the household of faith must now follow the footsteps of their Elder Brother through death so that this corruptible may put on incorruption, yet without fear. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. (Psalms 23.4)." This hope is not based on anything which they could ever do for themselves but solely on the work of the only one worthy to stand as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. His faithfulness carried His family over the threshold, for .... He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2.13)."
The conclusion, then, of the whole matter which Solomon gives for all to hear is this: "Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgement, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil (Ecclesiastes 12. 13f)." On behalf of the household of spiritual Israel, Jesus Christ has been faithful in all the work that was required of Him and it is accounted to Him and imputed to His family for righteousness. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit. (Romans 8.1)."
May truth be gleaned from the chaff.
C. A. Dirkes
Volume 13, No. 6 - November-December, 1999