What Did You Expect? (Ecclesiastes 9:11-10:20)
- we’re almost to the end of Solomon’s most interesting book
- his thesis has been that everything under the sun is meaningless – like a bubble that bursts
- he’s put forward a number of arguments to support his thesis
- in fact, next week I’ll give you a list of the twenty-seven things that disturbed Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes
- there is much scholarly debate over the meaning of many passages in Ecclesiastes
- it’s not always the easiest book to piece together
- a few messages have come through loud and clear
- one message is that life sometimes doesn’t make a lot of sense
- we’ve seen this theme over and over
- Solomon observes life and its absurdities and many times comes to the conclusion that some things in life just don’t make much sense
- but Solomon comes to another conclusion
- the conclusion is that life is a gift from God and is to be enjoyed under his sovereignty
- we only have a couple of weeks left
- this morning’s passage is definitely in the first category
- if you open your Bibles to Ecclesiastes 9 and 10, we’re going to read some interesting observations about life that, when you think about it, point to some absurdities
- now, I don’t know about you, but a lot of my life’s struggles involve my expectations
- we develop certain expectations of life, and when life doesn’t deliver, we become bitter and disillusioned
- in fact, the word “disillusioned” means “the fact of being disenchanted, or free from illusions and false beliefs”
- disillusionment comes from our false beliefs
- depending on how many false beliefs and expectations we have, we’re going to experience some degree of disillusionment in our lives
- Solomon wants to spare us the trouble
- in Ecclesiastes 9 and 10, he informs us of four facts that we’ll have to confront if we’re going to avoid being disillusioned in life
- so buckle up, we’re going to go fast
- FACT NUMBER ONE: SKILL IS NO PREDICTOR OF SUCCESS
- 11 I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.
- 12 Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.
- we all know of cases where the swiftest or the strongest don’t win
- we all know of some wise people who have gone hungry, and some intelligent people who have gone rewarded
- in fact, as we look at life, we see that life can be essentially unfair
- I know of a woman who kept the financial side of the business running smoothly
- her boss was the nicest person in the world, but basically inept at even recording check numbers when checks were issued
- when it came time to let someone go because of downsizing, guess who was let go – the one who kept things humming, or the one who hardly knew how to do even the simplest things?
- we can go on with other examples
- many times, when a contest is held, the best candidate does not even win
- many times, the smartest and most talented people in the world don’t get ahead
- Solomon cautions us that this is a reality: skill, intelligence, and wisdom are not necessarily accurate predictors of success
- just one application from this
- adjust your expectations
- I think all of us pictured ourselves tearing out of the gate like a horse that is destined to win the race far ahead of all the other horses
- okay, maybe you didn’t picture yourself as a horse, but you get the picture
- your expectations were probably high, and there’s a good chance you haven’t met with all the success that you expected
- Solomon tells us that this is normal – it’s not fair maybe, but it’s normal
- it’s part of life we have to accept
- FACT NUMBER TWO: OUR SOCIETY DOES NOT ALWAYS HONOR THE RIGHT THINGS
- (Ecclesiastes 9:13) I also saw under the sun this example of wisdom that greatly impressed me:
- (Ecclesiastes 9:14) There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siegeworks against it.
- (Ecclesiastes 9:15) Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man.
- (Ecclesiastes 9:16) So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.” But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded.
- (Ecclesiastes 9:17) The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools.
- (Ecclesiastes 9:18) Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.
- this is a fascinating story
- a poor, wise man delivered a small, poorly defended city from a siege by a powerful king
- yet when the city has been delivered, he remained despised, poor, and unrewarded with wealth or social esteem
- as verse 17 points out, sometimes wisdom is out-shouted by the loud volume of fools
- I think there’s a correlation there
- fools are usually quite loud and hard to ignore
- and fools often get heard by virtue of their loudness, while the wise are ignored and forgotten
- from this we learn a valuable lesson: society does not always acknowledge or appreciate the right things
- our society honors wealth, attractiveness, and success above wisdom
- yet wisdom is a greater asset
- we live in a world that gives more recognition to celebrities and superstars, no matter how foolish or inane they might be, than to those who might have the answers to the real questions people are asking
- the murder of fashion designer Gianni Versace this past week was certainly tragic
- yet our society gave more notice to his death than the deaths of four other men who were allegedly killed by Andrew Cunanan before him
- it’s as if their lives weren’t worth as much as Versace
- Solomon would say that things haven’t changed much
- society doesn’t always honor the right things
- it seems to value some people over others, and it’s not always fair
- FACT THREE: WISDOM CAN BE EASILY DEFEATED BY LESSER THINGS
- you know how wisely Solomon esteems wisdom
- yet he tells us that wisdom appears to be easily overcome by much lesser qualities
- it’s like that game of paper, scissors, rock
- the scissors beat the paper, the paper beats the rock, and the rock beats the scissors
- all of them have an equal chance of winning
- but in life, even though wisdom is more valuable, Solomon tells us that the deck is stacked against it
- read verse 1 of chapter 10
- (Ecclesiastes 10:1) As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.
- Solomon tells us that it only takes a little foolishness to overpower wisdom and honor
- much like dead flies can ruin perfume by giving it a bad smell, so a little foolishness can outweigh a lot of wisdom and honor
- there are people who have lived exemplary lives and made one foolish mistake, and that one mistake has outweighed much of the good they did
- think David and Bathsheba, or Moses striking the rock
- it only takes a little foolishness to undo a large amount of wisdom
- sometimes it only takes a ruler’s caprice to nullify wisdom
- the whim of a leader can nullify wisdom
- (Ecclesiastes 10:4) If a ruler’s anger rises against you, do not leave your post; calmness can lay great errors to rest.
- in other words, if your boss blows a cork, your boss’s temper tantrum – foolish though it may be – may nullify a lot of your efforts
- Solomon’s advice is to keep a calm head when your boss l ooses his, and it just may avoid a blow-up
- keep calm, quietly do your work, and your boss will probably get over his or her anger and calm down
- Solomon tells us of another error that arises from bosses and rulers:
- (Ecclesiastes 10:5) There is an evil I have seen under the sun, the sort of error that arises from a ruler:
- (Ecclesiastes 10:6) Fools are put in many high positions, while the rich occupy the low ones.
- (Ecclesiastes 10:7) I have seen slaves on horseback, while princes go on foot like slaves.
- this could almost be a Dilbert cartoon
- bosses don’t always promote the most capable or deserving person
- in all these things, Solomon is saying that you can be wise and it doesn’t matter
- your wisdom can be easily out-muscled by the whims of a boss, or a little foolishness
- it doesn’t seem fair and it doesn’t make sense, but it’s true
- now, we’re almost to the end
- just one more facts we have to confront to avoid being disillusioned in life
- FACT FOUR: PEOPLE DON’T ALWAYS USE THE WISDOM THEY HAVE
- (Ecclesiastes 10:8) Whoever digs a pit may fall into it; whoever breaks through a wall may be bitten by a snake.
- (Ecclesiastes 10:9) Whoever quarries stones may be injured by them; whoever splits logs may be endangered by them.
- (Ecclesiastes 10:10) If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed but skill will bring success.
- (Ecclesiastes 10:11) If a snake bites before it is charmed, there is no profit for the charmer.
- these verses are almost humorous
- there’s been a lot of debate on their meaning and application
- here you have five situations and their corresponding dangers
- when you’re digging pits, there’s a danger of falling into the pit
- when you’re breaking through a wall, there’s a danger of being bitten by a snake that’s hiding in the wall
- when you’re quarrying stones, there’s a danger of being hurt by falling stones
- when you split logs, you endanger yourself
- when you chop wood, you may overexert yourself because you haven’t made time to sharpen the axe
- I think what Solomon is saying is this:
- accidents happen
- despite all the best plans in the world, and despite all your diligence and industriousness, each of us risk loss and even injury every day
- no matter how carefully you work, disaster could strike at any time
- it doesn’t seem fair, but seemingly random events can bring disaster to people no matter how hard they have worked
- it’s not fair, but it’s reality
- the end of verse 14 is so true:
- (Ecclesiastes 10:14) No one knows what is coming– who can tell him what will happen after him?
- one of the things we need to teach our children – and ourselves – is that life is not predictable
- hard work and the application of right principles do not always lead to predictable results
- they often do, but not always
- somebody has said that the book of Proverbs emphasizes how life would be if everyone acted fairly; Ecclesiastes explains what usually happens in our sinful and imperfect world
- WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR US TODAY?
- in 1997 terms, it means we should adjust our expectations
- when you stay at Holiday Inn, don’t expect the Hilton
- when you drive a Firefly, don’t expect the performance of a Ferrari
- and when you’re living on earth, don’t expect the justice of heaven to prevail
- on earth, the race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.
- we have to somehow get used to this fact
- I think it also means that we have to have something bigger than what’s on this earth
- let me use an example
- if I’m driving that car I mentioned earlier, the Firefly, and when I go out after church this morning and it’s been demolished, the level of my emotional turmoil will depend on one thing: whether or not I have other cars
- if that Firefly is my one and only car, it might be junk to other people, but it’s all I’ve got
- and I’m going to be plenty upset that it’s gone
- if, however, I’ve got a whole fleet of Fireflies at home, maybe even a few Ferraris there too, I’m not going to be too upset about the Firefly that was demolished
- if all you have is success on earth, and it’s taken away, you’re going to be plenty upset
- but if you have riches stored away somewhere else, you’re not going to care very much
- (Matthew 6:19) “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.
- (Matthew 6:20) But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.
- (Luke 12:16) And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.
- (Luke 12:17) He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
- (Luke 12:18) “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.
- (Luke 12:19) And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”‘
- (Luke 12:20) “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
- (Luke 12:21) “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
- (Luke 12:22) Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.
- (Luke 12:23) Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.
- Charlene and I switched banks this week, literally
- in the remaining moments we have this morning, I’m going to ask you to switch from having an earthly bank to a heavenly one
- let’s pray