By Russell Meek, Louisiana College
PINEVILLE (LBM) – Ecclesiastes, sometimes thought to be the “black sheep” book of the Bible because of its several seeming unorthodox statements and sometimes doleful tone, is in fact a frank discussion of the issues that we all face – death and injustice.
Indeed, the author invokes the image of Abel (whose name is the same word commonly translated as “vanity,” “meaningless,” and “futility” in most English translations) in his presentation of several situations that do not turn out, perhaps, as we might think they ought.
Such “inconsistencies” with our way of thinking include “the race is not to the swift, or the battle to the strong, or bread to the wise, or riches to the discerning, or favor to the skillful . . .” (Eccl. 9:11, CSB).
Likewise, blunt statements such as Ecclesiastes 3:19-20 tend to offend our senses: “[T]he fate of the children of Adam and the fate of animals is the same. As one dies, so dies the other; they all have the same breath . . . all come from the dust, and all return to the dust.”
Finally, the lack of fairness in some of the wisdom that is offered — “there are righteous people who get what the actions of the wicked deserve, and there are wicked people who get what the actions of the righteous deserve” (8:14) – might appear outright insulting.
In each of these examples, life does not work out as it seems it should, eliciting thoughts of Abel, who is the quintessential example of one whose life did not work out as expected: The righteous Abel was martyred, while the wicked Cain went out to live at least long enough to found a city.
So, what does Ecclesiastes tell us to do in light of all this injustice and difficulty in life?
It’s pretty incredible, really.
Ultimately, this book of wisdom implores readers to enjoy the gifts of life that God allows us to enjoy – things like a spouse, food, and even work (Gen. 2:15), which are the very gifts Adam and Eve enjoyed in the Garden of Eden before sin and death entered our world.
However, the text also cautions that we must enjoy God’s gifts within God’s boundaries: “When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: fear God and keep his commands, because this is for all humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil” (12:13–14).
This brings us to the importance of sexual purity in our lives.
The desire for sexual intimacy is a core part of what it means to be human: It is how we fulfill God’s command to “be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28); and, it produces a strong bond between a man and a woman – the two “become one flesh” (2:24).
Truly, sexual intimacy is one of God’s good gifts to humans.
But in a world riddled with sin and death, it’s also one of the primary ways the enemy leads us astray, as 1 John 2:16 warns. Indeed, Paul forcefully commands the Corinthians (and indeed us) to “Flee sexual immorality!” (1 Cor. 6:18).
This command, coupled with Ecclesiastes’ reminder that “God will bring every act to judgment,” should cause us to take every effort to run as far away and as quickly as possible from any distortion of God’s intended structure of sexual intimacy within the bounds of marriage.
Moreover, and wonderfully so, Ecclesiastes adjures us to “live life with the woman you love all the days of your fleeting life” (Eccles. 9:9). That is, enjoy God’s gift of sexual intimacy, but enjoy it only within the relationship of one man and one woman united in marriage for life.
Ecclesiastes reminds us that God has given us good gifts to enjoy as one important way to deal with the struggles and difficulties of life.
However, it also restates a key biblical principle — that all God’s gifts, even sexual intimacy, are meant to be enjoyed within God’s boundaries.
Such enjoyment in the appropriate context is one of the most effective ways to live a sexually pure life.
Russell L. Meek, Ph.D., is professor of Old Testament and Hebrew with Louisiana College. His column is part of a series of commentaries provided by Louisiana College relating to the Southern Baptist Convention’s calendar of Special Emphasis Sundays, which in August places special emphasis on sexual purity.