what about the point that we mentioned, and said nothing about, the charge that
this part of the Old Testament has no discernible influence on writers who
appear in the New Testament? Actually
this may not be the strict truth: Paul’s statement that we brought nothing into
this world and it is certain we’ll take nothing out (I Tim.6.7) could be an echo or an explicit use of a verse such as 'All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return'. (3.20) But Job 1.21 is another possibility, 'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return'. Maybe you can find others.
this question raises a prior question, which
is, How are we to decide on the presence of absence of the influence of one
book upon another? How do we detect such influence if it’s there? One line is
to look for literary correspondence, in words and phrases, and in idiom. It is
in this sense that Bible-students tell us that Eccelesiastes has no influence.
there is another way in which influence shows itself besides the verbatim quote, which I commend in this
case. The ideas in one writing may be
found in another, later writing even without direct quotations. They may be expressed
in different words. And the idiom in which these ideas may be expressed may be
consider these parts of the New Testament.
‘And if Christ has not been raised,
you faith is futile and you are still in your sins…If in Christ we have hope in
this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied’. (I Cor. 15.16)
do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead
are not raised ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’. Do not be deceived ‘Bad company ruins good
What is Paul teaching us here? He is reminding
us that there is another horizon, not the horizon merely of today, or of my
life, or of your life, but the horizon of the day of resurrection. Without such
a horizon professing the faith is a vanity. For if there is no resurrection, we are
still in our sins, and this life with its limited horizons, is all that there
is. If the dead are not raised then the
Epicurean attitude of sensuality and other forms of selfish pleasure is the
correct one. Let us live for today because today, or more todays until the last
one, is all that there is. Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die. (Paul was
quoting from the pagan writer Menander, the Greek dramatist.) What Paul is teaching
is that if we have no hope of endurance after death, then as professing
Christians, we are wasting our time. His preaching was vain, and the faith of
Christians is vain. ‘Vain’ is certainly a precise point of contact with the
Preacher. We might as well live in a way that the Preacher condemns as a vanity.
It’s often said that the Old Testament does
not teach that a human being will outlast the death of his body. Apparently, it doesn’t even hint at it. But this is to neglect the book of
Ecclesiastes, among other parts of the Old Testament. What does the Preacher
Amongst the many passages that set put the
vanity of all things when looked at from the vantage point of this earthly exists,
‘under the Sun’ as the writer puts it, are these:
has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has set eternity into man’s
knows whether the spirit of man goes upwards and the spirit of the beast goes
down to the earth?’ (3.21)
are suggestive passages, at the best, I grant.
But what they suggest is in the
same direction. Man’s heart is not like that of the beast. The Lord has set
eternity in the human heart, whatever precisely that means. And his spirit which outlasts
his body goes upward, returning to his
Maker, unlike the spirits of the beast which dissolve in the earth.
And then there is a series of verses having
to do with the fear of God
know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they fear before
O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days if your
youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that
for all these things God will bring you into judgment'. (12.7)
God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will
bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.’
We are enjoined to fear God as the chief
thing, to watch our words and actions because God will bring them into
judgment. But why does all this matter, if we perish like the beasts? We are to
fear God because we have another horizon than the end of our lives here on
earth. Because there is a judgment to come. No conception of an afterlife?
Or consider these teachings of Jesus; the
first from the Sermon on the Mount -
do not anxious be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for
itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
second, even more better known, but not perhaps properly understood for all its
familiarity. In the Lord’s Prayer we have these words -
us day by day our daily bread
Jesus is teaching that we necessarily live
one day at a time. We cannot now live tomorrow much less can we now live in next year. He grants us lives that are not like a lease on a house or
apartment, for so many months or years. We are given one day, and then the next,
and then the next, and so on. And so Jesus teaches his disciples that they should ask for food sufficient for a
day at a time.
learned in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content, I know how to be
abased and how to abound…..
our light affliction, which is but for a moment…
But maybe it is the book of James, the
half-brother of our Lord, that comes nearest to Ecclesiastes in its tone and
now, you who say ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and
spend a year there and trade and make a profit – yet you do not know what
tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a
little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, If the Lord wills, we
will live and do this and that’. As it
is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.’ (4. 13-16)
James is not condemning travel, or
enterprise, or the making of money. Obviously not. All are legitimate. But what he is saying
is that today does not guarantee tomorrow. The same teaching as in Jesus's teaching of the man who planned to build better and greater barns to store food
in order to fund his retirement. The same theme as we find in extenso in Ecclesiastes.
What are all these passages teaching us? What is
their connecting theme? We are to live one day at a time, present-ly. Besides this, we must
Leave God to order
all thy ways,
And hope in Him whate'er betide,
Thou'lt find Him in the evil days
Thy all-sufficient strength and guide;
Who trusts in God's unchanging love,
Builds on the rock that nought can move.
So as a part of living our lives as
Christians, Scripture in both the Old
and New Testaments bids us develop the discipline of oscillation, of not focusing on today at the expense of eternity,
and in particular of not focusing on a future which we ourselves project, when
we shall settle and relax in this ‘present evil
world’. Instead, in our thinking we should learn – as Paul had to learn
it, he tells us - to oscillate between the present (which may be a present of
being abased, or it may be one of abounding), and the eternal future to which
in Christ we are destined. Of course we must plan for the future here, as far as we
are able, but such planning is always conditional on what the Lord has in mind
for us. But we should focus on what is guaranteed, first, the immediate
present, and then eternity to come. Other
than having these two certainties, we do not know what tomorrow – any tomorrow
- will bring.
So how do we define success in life?
Finally, in all this, the matter of various
horizons, the uncertainty of the future, the view of the life of the godly as
beset with uncertainty and how we are to regard it and handle it, has
importance for the topic of guidance. How does the Lord guide his people? Assuring us a Christian life with a beginning, a middle
and an end, with the end being the tying
up of all loose ends? It is an interesting fact that the apostles, in giving
much doctrinal and practical guidance, never once (as far as I can see) gave guidance with
respect to Christians’ futures. They are never asked, and never offer such
guidance, as to what the will of God is for their lives and how they are to
discern this. This is disappointing for any one hoping, through prayer or Bible study
or some other discipline, to be handed a
torch which has the magical power of shining a golden light illuminating the
path leading from the present to an assured tomorrow, or to the next year, or
the next decade of our lives.
We are to live in the present, but not for
the present. This is earth is not our home, and we must never present the
Gospel as if it is the key to earthly success, or the icing upon a consumer life-style. We look for a city which has
foundations, whose maker and builder is God.