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In Case You Missed It -- Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:8, Psalm 140

In our youth we are more prone to be charmed by the vanities of life, often chasing after the wind. As we grow older, our appreciation of the simply gifts in life grows as well. Solomon appeals to the young to focus on God in their youth. This is because everything that we find pleasure in without proper regard and love for our creator is meaningless. To Solomon, our youth isn’t the time to “sow our wild oats” and then return to our God when life is more boring and drab. Rather, God is worth all of our love as soon as possible, because God is delightful.

Solomon has pursued all the riches, fame, and honor this life can afford and he calls it “meaningless”. Knowing God in all our days is the one thing Solomon considers a worthy pursuit.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Ecclesiastes 11:1-8, Psalm 139

“Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.” This famous wisdom is very much like that which Solomon offers us to begin today’s reading. If you are a farmer, don’t put all of your hope in a good corn crop, but diversify. If you invest money, don’t put all your hopes in one company or one type of company, but diversify. Solomon begins our reading with an admonition to invest in seven to eight ventures, and ends with a call to work hard in many areas, because we cannot know what will succeed.

Additionally, Solomon wants us to realize that we do well to focus on our work, and not spend all the hours of our day worrying about factors we cannot control in our work (Ecclesiastes 11:3-4). Really, Solomon’s advice about not watching the sky predates the famous serenity prayer which says, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

In summary, we do well to work hard at many things, keeping our focus on the works of our hands rather than what is out of our hands.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Ecclesiastes 9:13-10:20, Psalm 138

Ecclesiastes 10 sounds a lot like the Proverbs, much of which Solomon also wrote. Before Solomon makes his familiar contrasts between wisdom and folly, he tells an interesting story. In a veiled fashion, he recalls a wise man who somehow prevented his tiny city from being destroyed by a great king on a rampage. Though we would love more details about how this wise man did such a thing, the point of Solomon’s story isn’t merely to tell it but to use the story as an example of wisdom’s superiority to power, which prepares the theme of the next chapter.

Power, raw and brute, is no good if one doesn’t know how to use it well. Thus, wisdom with little strength is superior because weakness moving in the right direction is better than power in the wrong direction. By all means, brothers and sisters, pursue wisdom, for it is far superior to precious jewels and the powers of great armies.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Ecclesiastes 9:1-12, Psalm 137

Do you remember Job’s friends and their repetitious insistence that Job’s sufferings were the result of some sin, whether obvious or secret? Solomon begins today’s reading by eviscerating this notion in telling us that our fates, good or bad, have almost nothing to do with our moral integrity; we all die no matter how good we have been (Ecclesiastes 9:1-3).

Surprisingly, however, Solomon seems to change his tune about the superiority of death to life (see Ecclesiastes 4:2). In telling us that a living dog is better than a dead lion (Ecclesiastes 4:9), Solomon, without losing sight of the pains of life that are so common, Solomon also acknowledges the delight of hoping to enjoy future days. He thus offers the same kind of wisdom as before: to enjoy work, food, and our relationships since our lives will be over soon.

It is important to remember that Solomon is not calling us to hedonism or debauchery, for he has already written repeatedly this is vanity. Rather he is calling us to enjoy the simple pleasures which come from hard work and faithful love in this life. Even if this wisdom comes with a grim backdrop, it offers hope and meaning to our lives.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Ecclesiastes 8, Psalm 136

Today I begin with the ending of our reading, “No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it” (Ecclesiastes 8:17).

In college I read the book Pilgrim on Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. This book is essentially the author journaling while watching nature by a creek side. Dillard noted how one could see peace and serenity in nature, like dew on a leaf or the calm ripples of a river. At the same time, chaos abounds in nature. Consider the hawk devouring a mouse, or heavy rainfalls leading to mudslides. Dillard’s point is that by watching nature, you would note design and chaos. Thus, the interplay between design and chaos makes airtight interpretations through observation about the purpose or nature of creation impossible.

I think Solomon is saying something similar here. The idea is that apart from God’s revelation, even the most observant cannot gain certain enlightenment on the nature or purpose of things. We need more than just wisdom and insight to perceive the truth. We need God. May our wisdom be always grounded in the truth God alone gives.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Ecclesiastes 7, Psalm 135

How do we make sense of the wisdom found in Ecclesiastes 7? For those of you who have been at the hospital for a birth and at the funeral of a loved one, the comparison, “the day of death better than the day of birth” (Ecclesiastes 7:2) seems obviously untrue. Solomon persists, telling us, “Frustration is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:3). To me, this differs from James’ pointed wisdom years later when he calls us to, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3). We may understand when the Bible tells us that suffering can produce good virtue in us, but to assert that sadness is good for my health, physical or spiritual, is hard to stomach. How do we make sense of wise Solomon’s strange wisdom?

When parts of Ecclesiastes are hard to grasp, it is key to remember how this entire book has been shaping us. If someone asked me to summarize Ecclesiastes with one word, I would choose “perspective”. Solomon has been helping us develop a proper perspective on our world, our lives, and our future, thus inviting us to value what is important and reject the vain. Part and parcel of such perspective is to have circumspection about our hopes and honest appraisal of our common fates. Such perspective helps moderate our emotions in the ups and downs. With such perspective, we are off of life’s emotional roller coasters, which is good for our hearts and blood pressure.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Ecclesiastes 5:8-6:12, Psalm 134

Is there a more powerful renunciation in literature of our endless pursuit of wealth or possessions than in today’s reading? I will let the more well-read answer that question, but I find two sentences particularly insightful. Solomon states, “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). Later, he echoes the theme with a focus on appetites saying, “Everyone’s toil is for their mouth, yet their appetite is never satisfied” (Ecclesiastes 6:7).

Some readers that have never had much money might be incredulous at the idea of the wealthy being dissatisfied with their financial portfolio. Even so, all of us experience the regular rise and fall of our appetites and thirsts. So when Jesus tells a Samaritan woman hundreds of years later that he offers water to people that will cause them never to thirst again (John 4:13-14), He is expressing the intention to break this cycle of never having enough possessions, wealth, or even future bodily needs. Before Jesus’ arrival, Solomon, seeing how difficult it is to satisfy all our appetites—financial, physical, or sexual—again encourages the enjoyment of hard toil that enables a good night’s sleep.

I will say a hearty Amen to Solomon’s idea that a good night’s rest is a great gift (Ecclesiastes 5:12), so enjoy working hard today unto the Lord and the peaceful sleep that comes from serving our God and King with all of our strength (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, Psalm 133

Solomon’s focus on being sparse in speech when entering God’s temple seems like an abrupt change. The entire book has been a lengthy reflection on the nature of human existence, followed by brief admonitions to focus on what is truly important and reject vain pursuits. Now Solomon tells us that those who would enter God’s temple, which Solomon helped build, with a rash desire to speak will prove to be fools.

God’s greatness should cause worshippers to reflect on the meaning of their words when they go to the place God dwells on earth, the temple. This of course applies to us today, though our temples are our bodies, which are temples of the Holy Spirit of God, and Jesus Christ Himself. Additionally, it is certainly foolish to make false promises to God.

This passage also indicates that we are unwise when we seek to worship God in prayer and spend little time in silence or reflection. As Solomon’s father heard from the Lord, we need to be still and know that God is God (Psalm 40:10). May we take time to pause and sit in silence to remember God’s goodness and greatness today.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Ecclesiastes 4, Psalm 132

We all know that people worldwide face a great deal of sadness and injustice. The recent round of sexual harassment scandals is a severe reminder that women have historically faced the threat of violation at the hands of men. These events have reaffirmed Solomon’s words that “on the side of their oppressors was power” (Ecclesiastes 4:1). Men, especially the rich and powerful, often get away with their abuses. So once again, Ecclesiastes paints a picture of great sadness that, if nothing else, we must admit is brutally honest.

However, once again we find some hope in these verses, particularly for those who find friendship; friends will have help in times of trouble and strength against opposition (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). If we were to summarize how to enjoy this life under the sun according to Solomon, we should eat and drink with friends and enjoy our work because it is a gift of God.

Bleak as Ecclesiastes might be, it helps us to consider what truly matters so that we might turn away from vain pursuits. Such is wisdom, and such is why Ecclesiastes, harsh it can sound, is part of God’s wisdom literature.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Ecclesiastes 3, Psalm 131

The first two chapters of Ecclesiastes paint a mostly bleak picture of human existence, but Ecclesiastes 3 is mostly hopeful. Solomon tells us that even those seemingly pointless things like “war” and “hate” have their purpose. Additionally, the admonition to eat, drink, and enjoy one’s toil is repeated in this chapter (Ecclesiastes 3:13), and this enjoyment is hopefully characterized as a gift of God. That expression is not new. What is new is the hope that nothing God does will completely fade away (Ecclesiastes 3:14). Thus, God’s work in and for us will endure.

Now, that is interesting because Solomon seems to be agnostic on the future fate of people (Ecclesiastes 3:21). It is important to remember that at this time in redemption-history, Solomon’s father, David, seemed to some to have a hope in eternal life (2 Samuel 12:23), but God does not inform the hope of the resurrection until later in time (e.g. in Ezekiel 37 and Daniel 12).

Solomon still seems conflicted about the purpose of our lives. On the one hand, God gives us work and joy that should last somehow since God’s work lasts forever. On the other hand, Solomon appears to question whether humans, God’s chief work, will last. This tension will affect our ongoing reading of Ecclesiastes.

Solomon’s book shows us the difficulty of living without a hope in the living God and life eternal. May we rejoice and be glad in our hope that Solomon and others longed to see (see Hebrews 11:39-40).

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Ecclesiastes 1:12-2:25, Psalm 130

“Ignorance is bliss” finds counterpart wisdom in Ecclesiastes. Gaining wisdom, to wise Solomon, is like a “chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:17). Why is this? Because the one gaining wisdom and knowledge also receives “vexation” as well as “sorrow” (Ecclesiastes 1:18). To be sure, Solomon claims wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness (Ecclesiastes 2:13). This still brings Solomon little comfort, for the fate of the wise is the same as the fool. So what comfort is there in wisdom?

So far, the only comfort is that it is temporarily better than folly. Even if we agree with Solomon’s wisdom that we should enjoy the fruit of our toil as God’s good gift (Ecclesiastes 2:24), we still learn that even this is vanity (Ecclesiastes 2:26). This forces the reader to consider exactly what Solomon would have us do with the seeming purposelessness of life. While we are forced to wrestle with how much energy we invest in the temporary gains in life, we are left to ask, “To what end is the book driving us—despair, depression, or something else?” Thankfully, for answers to that question, this book and its reflections continue on.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Ecclesiastes 1:1-11, Psalm 129

A few years back, I went to a pastor’s event to study the book of Ecclesiastes with other pastors in case any of us desired to preach this book. One question that helped us put together the main themes found in the book was: “Is Ecclesiastes pessimistic or optimistic?”

If one were to stop reading the book at chapter 1, we would decidedly choose to call the book pessimistic. We are told that everything is “meaningless” (also translated as futile or vanity, or even breath). Solomon begins his dour reflection by noting how hardly anything changes on this planet in spite of all of our efforts. People come, and people go. Generations don’t remember their ancestors. All of our lives are built around working for that which will not last. This is why some people translate that famous Hebrew word hebel as a vapor. Everything seems to go away. This causes even our very senses to be wearied by their futile tasks (Ecclesiastes 1:8).

So, if all this true, then we are left to ask, what is the point of life, or anything, really? Ecclesiastes will vacillate between words that could be construed as pessimistic or optimistic, but it is good to consider moving forward what fundamental hope is offered with respect to such a bleak picture of human existence.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Job 42:7-14, Psalm 125

The book of Job has a happy ending. Job is rebuked but vindicated; God’s righteousness is maintained. Job’s three friends, with the notable absence of Elihu, are chastened by God and ordered to make sacrifices. Finally, Job has riches and family restored to him.

At the risk of constantly rehashing an important theme, let us remember as we finish this book that Job never receives a rationale from God for Job’s great suffering. If you are looking to Job for a philosophical treatise on how an all-loving and all-powerful God could still allow evil to befall us, then you will be disappointed. Honestly, the Bible as a whole is similar to the book of Job in many ways. Though the entirety of scriptures gives us greater clues into God’s providential purposes in our suffering, the Bible teaches us a lot more about the greatness, mystery, and love of God without trying to parse all the particulars about our many troubles. More importantly, scripture teaches that suffering is temporary for those who will trust God like Job.

Lastly, scripture shows us that God enters our fray and is exposed to the worst suffering imaginable, the wrath of human jealousy against goodness, and the wrath of God’s decided hatred against sin. Like Job, the story of scripture invites us not to comprehensive understanding of God’s ways, but to worship and love. Let us end the book of Job with appropriate affection for the God who taught the morning stars to sing and laid the foundations of the earth.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Job 40-42:6, Psalm 125

Many like to guess at the identities of the Behemoth with a tail that “sways like a cedar” or the species of Leviathan that has “flames stream from its mouth.” Though questions pertaining to these creatures are interesting, ultimately the most important question arising from this passage is when God asks Job, “Would you discredit my justice?” (Job 40:8) This question gets at the real conflict in the book of Job.

Was God just in allowing Satan to attack Job’s family and afflict Job’s body? Is God right to do such a thing to one righteous like Job? After God answers with more questions, we see Job’s answer: “Surely, I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me” (Job 42:3). Job doesn’t get an answer, and he doesn’t mind. Job has seen God, and he recognizes that, in light of God’s majesty, even the suggestion that God does injustice is a thought to be despised. It turns out Job didn’t need an answer per se, but needed to hear from God.

It is important to remember, that Job is not a book with all the answers, but is about an arrival, an appearance of God to speak to Job in his suffering. In our own predicaments, the best answer to our suffering isn’t a defense of God’s goodness in light of such massive suffering, but rather the arrival of a Savior for us and with us. God’s best answer to questions about our suffering is His suffering in our place. Jesus’s coming similarly isn’t an answer to our suffering per se, but Jesus is certainly God speaking to us. May we, like Job, close our mouths whenever we go through prolonged questioning of God’s justice, especially in light of the injustice of the cross.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Job 38-39, Psalm 124

Job finally gets his trial before God. Job is on the stand as God begins with a number of questions. It is important at the outset to note that God mentions absolutely nothing about the behind-the-scenes wager between God and the accuser. Of course, God doesn’t even begin to explain to Job how the Lord is both good and allows evil. Instead of accusations, God's questions cause Job to marvel at the One who creates and upholds the universe. Job will also have nothing to say in response.

God’s defense isn’t a defense; rather, His barrage of questions invites Job (and us) to surrender our pretension of deep wisdom and understanding. We certainly haven’t seen “the gates of death” (Job 38:17) or “the way to the abode of light” (Job 38:19). Nor do we give strength to the horse or “clothe its neck with mane” (Job 39:19). God is not insulting Job or the reader, but rather inviting us into deeper appreciation of how little we comprehend in order to fully value God’s infinite wisdom. Job is left grasping for words, but God still has more to say.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Job 36-37, Psalm 123

Elihu reverts to some basic health-and-wealth concepts about God’s justice in today’s discourse (Job 36:6-9). This should cause the reader to wonder, one last time, why Elihu isn’t rebuked by God in the end. I argue that Elihu demonstrates mistaken ideas about God in some particulars, but he is enchanted with God’s total splendor.

Elihu, as opposed to Job’s three other friends, talks not as a detached speculator about God’s majesty and power, but speaks as a worshipper. As Elihu calls Job to, “stop and consider God’s wonders” (Job 37:14), we see that Elihu loves the God responsible for, “spreading out the skies, hard as a mirror of cast bronze” (Job 37:18). Elihu has a few mistaken ideas about God, but he does not fail to revere and love God. As we will see, God will indirectly correct some of Elihu’s theology.

In the meantime, it is important to consider the relationship between love and knowledge with respect to God. They both are necessarily linked, but I would argue that the one who genuinely loves God will be consistently filled with greater knowledge about God. This is so because love must pursue greater knowledge about one’s beloved. However, it is very possible for someone to have knowledge about God without having love for Him. Considered in such light, may we avoid the danger of disinterested or dispassionate responses to God.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Job 34-35, Psalm 122

When God appears to Job later in our book, the Lord rebukes all of Job’s friends except Elihu. Biblical students have argued over God’s silence towards Elihu for many years. Simply, I believe Elihu does improve upon the counsel of the other friends, even if still imperfect in many ways.

Elihu makes a point of great strength, which was basically absent from the other’s thoughts, in Job 35:10-11: “But no one says, ‘Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night, who teaches us more than he teaches the beasts of the earth and makes us wiser than the birds in the sky?’ ” Basically, when we are disappointed in God, we are accustomed to asking, “Why does God allow bad things?” Yet very few of us will ever ask, “Why does God give us so many blessings?” or “Why is such suffering rare?” Elihu makes a valid point that Job ought to consider. Job is right to assert his desire to please God, but what right does Job have to expect all of God’s blessings?

One might say, well Job is a good man. A true response is that this still doesn’t mean we deserve anything from God. Life itself is a good gift that God has prerogative to give or take away. Job said something similar at the beginning of the book when he says that “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21). Elihu’s thoughts simply add that God has authority to give and take away without making him unjust. Amen.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Job 32-33, Psalm 121

The reason Job’s old friends no longer respond to his defense is “because he was righteous in his own eyes” (Job 32:1). Being called right in one’s own eyes is not complimentary in scripture (Proverbs 21:2, Proverbs 31:12). We are left to guess whether the author of Job intends this statement as negative. We can be certain, however, that Elihu doesn’t realize the irony of his statement, “For I am full of words” (Job 32:18). As readers, we already are discovering that Elihu is verbose. Elihu will continue his speech for four additional chapters beyond today’s reading, but we are left today to wonder if he will add any significant insight to the previous discussions.

A positive indication is Elihu’s expressed desire to have Job answer his questions, “for I want to vindicate you” (Job 33:32). This statement should cause us to re-evaluate what Elihu is doing in his speech, especially in contrast to the other friends. Elihu’s frustration is due the fact the other friends, “found no way to refute Job, and yet had condemned him” (Job 32:3). With these two passages guiding us, it seems that Elihu either wants to help Job uncover secret wickedness or acquit Job of wrongdoing. The difference is subtle, but it seems that Elihu doesn’t want to begin with the assumption of guilt without evidence. This is an important improvement, and the next two days will show us how Elihu, while still problematic as counselor and friend, does provide better guidance prior to Job “taking the stand” in trial.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Job 31, Psalm 120

Job’s final speech ends with a defense of his righteousness in a number of areas. There would be no “#metoo” campaign if more men related to women like Job, a man who refused to lust (Job 31:1). Job ensures his servants receive their rights (Job 31:13) while his poor neighbors receive mercy in the form of bread and clothing (Job 31:16-20). Job trusts in God and refuses to hope in possessions (Job 31:24), or to make special petitions for blessings from creation (Job 31:26-28). Long before Jesus says to love enemies (Matthew 5:43-48), Job loves his opponents (Job 31:28-29). Job didn’t need the author of the Book of Hebrews to encourage appropriate hospitality (Job 31:31-33) in hopes of accidentally showing kindness to angels (Hebrews 13:2).

Job gives his powerful last defense and then declares that he looks forward to an opportunity to stand before the Almighty in His courtroom and make the same defense. In short, Job believes he has done nothing wrong and wants to see God in order to plead his case (Job 31:35-37). Shortly enough Job will get his wish. Before he does, he will have to listen to a new accuser. Let’s see if any new accusations shed light on what Job has done to deserve all of this.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Job 29-30, Psalm 119

It is sad to read while Job recollects his better days; especially difficult are the details of his righteous deeds before his great suffering. Job remembers how he “rescued the poor who cried for help” and that he “made the widow’s heart sing” (Job 29:12,13). For Job and other Biblical writers, living by faith isn’t simply about avoiding bad things, but about pursuing justice and showing mercy to others.

Many believe that obeying God is all about what we should avoid, like illicit drugs, immoral sexual activity, or laziness. While it is important to avoid evil, a righteous person does better than simply avoiding evil by seeking good for their neighbor. Job paints a powerful picture of his righteousness, reflecting the Jewish ideal of caring for the weak, oppressed, and fatherless. The righteous shall live by faith for sure, and this faith leads the righteous to be good news people to all peoples. May our hearts be moved to action by the picture and description righteousness of Job. More importantly, may we be gladdened to recognize how much more our Savior, who rescued us while we were poor, causes us to sing.

Because of Job, we have a picture of what righteousness means; because of Jesus, we have been rescued from the penalty due for our lack of righteousness. May we see that we were widows and orphans and thus be moved to love the widow and orphan in our life like Job.

Jeremiah Vaught