Getting the Whole Story

Life doesn’t seem to make sense. Surely you have had this thought. More than that, you’ve probably said this, out loud. Admit it; you have said this, a lot – to whoever would listen.

Leave it to the Lord, via the Holy Spirit, to inspire a book that puts a series of such thoughts into the Scriptures. That’s just like God. He knows us in absolutely every way possible. And because of this He has given us words to read, ponder, consider, and utter for every mood imaginable.

In Ecclesiastes, the result is a stream of consciousness, a run of sentences, poems, declarations. Its verses can leave you scratching your head sometimes. The writer, who I believe to be King Solomon, lets loose, framing his frustrations over and over.

The book opens this way:  “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities. All is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). The Hebrew word for vanity is hevel. This is the word for smoke.

Smoke, smoke, smoke, all is smoke. I imagine the writer choking on these words as he ponders them. But it is an honest assessment of the world as he is seeing it at the time.

This is all that comes from the toil of those living under the sun.  Burn the midnight oil; work dozens of hours of overtime and what do you have to show for it all?

Smoke, that’s all. One way or another, it all goes up in smoke.

Welcome to life lived based on what we take from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Lord warned Adam and Eve not to eat of its fruit. Here, in Ecclesiastes, I think that we read of the outcome of their disastrous decision.

Knowing Too Much

Job wrestled mightily with the problem of his pain. His grief and affliction brought him low, but he refused to stop seeking God. We read of how Job held fast to his integrity and clung to the hope of his Redeemer and resurrection.

The writer of Ecclesiastes faced another type of wrestling – the mental turmoil that can come from knowing too much.

Yes, Solomon knew more than anyone alive. This how the Word described him:  “And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people…he was wiser than all other men” (1 Kings 4:29).

To go with this remarkable breadth of knowledge, Solomon also had health, wealth, and peace in his days. He faced very few challenges–that is, on the outside of himself. This would leave him open to trouble as find out at the end of his days, when foreign wives turned him toward idols (see 1 Kings 11:4). There’s a great truth expressed by the writer in Psalm 119:71:  “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.”

Internally, Solomon tossed and turned. He admitted his restlessness. He struggled with feelings of confusion. Things as he saw them did not add up. And it exhausted him.  “All things are full of weariness. …” (Ecclesiastes 1:8).

These doubts and questions kept coming. Solomon kept thinking and over-thinking, and these mind games he played led to projects and pursuits and entertainment and academic searching.  He had this written down. He had to have a detailed record of it all.

And because he made sure this happened, we have these pages in our Bibles. The Spirit kept him honest. He strings together words that, if taken by themselves, would make us think that life on earth is just a big zero.

Priceless Pearls

Don’t give up on Ecclesiastes. Put your hand to the plow. Push forward and read carefully. Exercise what Eugene Peterson described as “The Forbidding Discipline of Spiritual Reading.” By this effort, words read can become words lived as we let them sink deep into us.

Faith does come by the Word of God, as our eyes let the Light in and our minds allow us to hear the Voice as He is walking toward us, seeking us, calling us.

Press on and join yourself to the Preacher and his provocations. In the midst of the tangle of rough and haggard sentences, you will find that there’s something small and round and luminous. There are pearls to admire, a precious gem of thought that should give us pause.

Here’s one of them for us to think over:  “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

In the Psalms, the writers tossed in the imperative Selah at strategic points. The exact meaning of this term has been debated, but most scholars agree that Selah indicates a suggested pause or quiet moment or musical interlude is to be observed.

We can just get all caught up in racing along through the syllables, reading but not recognizing or relating to the text and its context. Click To Tweet

I am saying that we can read well and learn to insert Selah at times into our reading, especially into our reading of the Bible. Otherwise, we can just get all caught up in racing along through the syllables, reading but not recognizing or relating to the text and its context.

Reading is something I do a lot of. I am usually working through two to three books at a time in a addition to the daily Bible reading regiment I have. This means that I can get so revved up in the midst of it that the words on the pages do little to touch and nourish my heart.

Three Words

Selah. Sabbath. Shalom. These are three words that I want to better understand as I go through the fourth quarter of my life. I want to obey what Psalm 90 tells me:  “So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

Selah–we need to pause and consider.

Sabbath–we need to rest and talk and sit at tables enjoying food and company. God established this after the first days of Creation. I believe that the Lord wanted us to know that our existence is not about being busy, busy, busy. The devil’s the one who is constantly roaming and looking to devour.

Shalom–we interpret this word to mean peace. But actually, it speaks of being whole and complete. Jesus finished the work of our redemption at the Cross. There’s nothing more for us to do. We are made one with Him in our salvation when call upon Him.

After all of the ranting and raving and muttering that we read in Ecclesiastes, we do get to enjoy a finishing touch that is clear and right. “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:  Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

These are the words we must hold fast in our hearts. Think on them. Rest in them. And see yourself as whole in Christ.



Steve Andrulonis
Latest posts by Steve Andrulonis (see all)