Notes on Ecclesiastes
Part Six

Elohim has Made All Our Days

by Dean H. Hough

Good and evil, we know them both. But as believers in the God of the Scriptures we accept something else also as true. All that is, including both good and evil, must be traced finally to God. "See the work of the One, Elohim ....In a day of good be resting in the good, and in a day of evil, be vigilant; Indeed the One, Elohim, has made this one along with that one ..." (Ecc.7:13,14).


The book of Ecclesiastes has sometimes been dismissed as a philosophical dissertation that gives a mostly human viewpoint of life, and might even, in certain passages, undermine the divine requirements of moral behavior and devoutness. As a whole, the book does just about the opposite. It relates all human experience, both upright and sinful, both happy and miserable, to the operations of God. It refuses to leave God out of the picture no matter how dark and confused and unpleasant the picture may be.

Now in the "fourth book" (Ecc.7:13-9:15) the Assembler brings up the truth that we all will have good times and bad times in our lives, and the best way to deal with this in the current situation is to rest in the good and keep vigilant in the bad. There are many things in our lives that are intrinsically good and need to be enjoyed as long as they can be (cf Ecc.9:7-10). Yet these are uncertain, and mischance and a season of evil are certain to come eventually (9:11,12). That indeed is, by itself, a very human sort of philosophy. But the writer does not treat this by itself. He has brought up such matters because they are included in "the work of the One, Elohim" (7:13).

The attention given to Elohim in all these considerations of the human experience of good and evil is extremely important. It takes these accounts of human activities, and of human experiences that are apparently allotted unevenly, and places them ultimately in the hands of God. It does not deny the human part in doing deeds of good and evil, but going beyond that it recognizes that God maintains His divine responsibility in it all; He is over all these experiences and is operating all.


One of the reasons why there is such confusion about the book of Ecclesiastes is that we have often failed to distinguish what the Assembler has perceived by way of his investigations and what he has come to know by faith. These often seem contradictory. In his investigations, Ecclesiastes has found, "There is the righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is the wicked man who is prolonged in his evil" (7:15). By his own experience he has observed, "There are righteous men for whom retribution is according to the work of the wicked, and there are wicked ones for whom retribution is according to the work of the righteous" (8:14). Nevertheless, Ecclesiastes knows "that good shall come to those who stand in fear before the One, Elohim. Yet good shall not come to the wicked one, nor shall he prolong his days which are like a shadow" (8:12,13). This conviction of eventual settling of accounts is based not on what Ecclesiastes has found by observation but what he has found by his recognition of God in his heart.

What Ecclesiastes has observed with his senses is honestly recorded. But what he knows in his heart is that there is a God Who is responsible and Who will do the right thing, no matter how much experience may contradict. Present facts observed do not contradict the fact of God and the fact of His righteousness.


This descendant of David, had the time and means to investigate many kinds of human experiences. We might well wonder why, if he were such a wise person, he did not avoid some of the very stupid experiences he sought out. But we must admit that no matter how foolish they were, these experiences were truly characteristic of human behavior.

Fleshly indulgences do produce many problems and corrupt our characters. But it is also true that the wicked sometimes seem to live more comfortably than the righteous.

Of course, no one is truly righteous in the full sense of the term. "There is no righteous man in the earth who does good [absolutely] and never sins" (7:20). It is all very relative. But things are not balanced out perfectly in this life. In our experiences at present, those who are more selfish and grasping may indeed have longer lives and less misery than those who are more God fearing and caring toward others. The only certain equality is death. "Just as to all, there is one destiny for the righteous one and for the wicked one, for the good one and for the bad one, for the clean one and for the unclean one, for the one who sacrifices and for him who makes no sacrifice, so it is for the good person as for the sinner ....One destiny is for all; moreover the heart of the sons of humanity is full of evil, and ravings are in their heart throughout their lives, yet after it, they are joined to the dead" (Ecc.9:2,3).

The facts are set before us. And most of us would agree that these are facts of life. But Ecclesiastes does not leave the facts alone in their harsh pessimism. He has insisted that Elohim has made our days what they are. And this is what makes this book so unique, and indeed important to the whole of Scripture as the Word of God.

God would not have us ignore the reality of evil or pretend that it is otherwise than it is. But faith in God and His righteousness puts this reality into the right perspective.

Much of our misunderstanding related to this book is that we think of the term "vanity," so frequently used throughout, as a sort of everlasting uselessness, a kind of annihilation of the experience. This is wrong. Our life and experience are vain in that they do not last; they are transitory. But this is not absolute. In fact, in the light of the truth that God has made both the good and evil experiences, they must have a purpose toward a goal. When the factor of deity is brought into the equation, the pessimism turns to a reliance on God to bring about a righteous culmination.


But this is, to the Assembler, a matter that he cannot find out by present experience. He knows from the fact of God and the fact of human sin and suffering that there must be a setting right. But as far as the work of Elohim is concerned, he learned "that a man is not able to find out the work that is done under the sun, forasmuch as a man may toil in seeking it out but shall not find it; and even if a wise man says he knows, he is not able to find it out" (8:17).

The wise Assembler says he knows that God will judge, and that He will judge justly. But he has not found it out in all his searchings. Experience says otherwise, but a recognition of God in the heart brings us to the conclusion that God is operating and will judge rightly and will deal triumphantly with present vanity. "For I laid all this on my heart, and my heart saw all this: That the righteous and the wise and their services are in the hand of the One, Elohim" (Ecc.9:1). All will die, and "the dead know nothing whatsoever ...and there is no further portion for them for the eon" (Ecc.9:3-6). But there is that which the Assembler has not observed by experience, and which rests on God, and goes beyond the eon.

The experiences of Ecclesiastes would all lead toward pessimism and despair. His honest account of what he perceived with his senses would strengthen a conclusion of meaninglessness. But he does not reach that conclusion. This is because of his faith, of the seeing of his heart. Because of this he knows that all human experience is finally in the hand of God. This is the solid foundation of the Assembler's knowledge of a righteous outcome to things, despite his accumulation of indisputable evidence in the present life against such an assurance.

Because of the evidence of God's presence within Israel, His personal dealings with them and their enemies and His personal word to them, the Assembler's faith in God was based more on sight and experience, more like that of Thomas (cf John 20:24-30), than it is for us today. But we may also say that we have a greater revelation of God's purpose for good than Ecclesiastes had because we have become acquainted with Christ. What is important for us from this book is its testimony that reliance on God as Deity over all things, both good and evil, is a great blessing.

We cannot prove from our experiences that there is a pattern of order and meaning and value in life. But we believe there is and have good reason for believing so. We believe that God will reward good acts and condemn wicked acts. And we will go much further now that we are believing that God sent His Son into the world to save sinners. The revelation of God in and through our Lord Jesus Christ trains us to praise God as our Saviour and as the Saviour of all mankind. This is the testimony of God's evangel to us, and this is what we believe.

Dean H. Hough

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