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Ecclesiastes, The Crook in the Lot, and Vexation (Dr. Philip Ryken Series)

January 7, 2019 Leave a comment

Following up on this previous post, here is a good study series on the book of Ecclesiastes:  Dr. Philip Ryken’s 26-part Ecclesiastes: Why Everything Matters (available from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals).  The study also exists in book form (and Kindle $9.99).

In this great study for Christian living, the great contrast is between life “under the sun” and the higher, Christian reality, how to live in this fallen world in light of the gospel message of the Bible.  Ryken often references other commentators, including the “cynical view” taken by some, while showing the realistic and positive perspective that the author (Solomon) likely intended, the biblical-focused view of verses that can at first glance be thought of in a more negative way.

Especially interesting ‘food for thought’:  Ecclesiastes 7:13, “Consider the work of God:  who can make straight what he has made crooked?” and the lecture “The Crook in the Lot.” Ryken here expands from his study of Puritan (early 18th century) Thomas Boston and his exposition of this verse in The Crook in the Lot; Boston’s work is available in e-book format as well as MP3 audio format from Monergism.  The Crook in the Lot is whatever trouble, whatever suffering and tribulation, that God has decreed for each of us individually to experience.  From Boston:

“Consider the work of God,” namely, in the crooked, rough, and disagreeable parts of your lot, the crosses you find in it. You see very well the cross itself. Yea, you turn it over and over in your mind and leisurely view it on all sides. You look to this and the other second cause of it, and so you are in a foam and a fret. But, would you be quieted and satisfied in the matter, lift up your eyes towards heaven, see the doing of God in it, the operation of His hand. Look at that, and consider it well; eye the first cause of the crook in your lot; behold how it is the work of God, His doing.

Another interesting part is Ecclesiastes 11:10, Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity.  The verse here is directly addressed to young people (referencing those in their youth) yet applicable at all stages of life.  It also relates to both physical as well as mental health.  How can we live wisely, in ways that increase our overall well-being?    Remove vexation – stress, anxiety, negative emotions, and look to God who provides for us.  Ryken mentions a few practical things for Christian living, such as healthy eating, rest, and prayer.  Here also I consider Brad Hambrick’s 50 Good Mental Health Habits, which includes these and many more points, good to print out and keep around to refer to on a regular basis.

Ryken’s teaching on Ecclesiastes is a great Christian living series, relating this wisdom book Ecclesiastes, to how we live in everyday life.  This study considers the verses in Ecclesiastes and their depth of meaning (beyond the superficial worldly life, to speak to the real difficulties in this life) as well as in relation to other scriptures of the Old and New Testament –in verses that teach the same truth as well as the contrast (living “under the sun” versus “set your mind on things above” (Colossians 3:2).  The content in Ecclesiastes is part of the whole Bible, relating to other parts which uphold the unity of scripture—not some outside “Old Testament” thing irrelevant to us in our age.

Time, Eternity, and Everything Under the Sun (Ecclesiastes 3)

September 20, 2013 Leave a comment

From Dr. Barrick’s Ecclesiastes study, some interesting observations from Ecclesiastes 3.

The familiar poem in Ecclesiastes 3 – a “poem on time” – has a chiastic structure, and Barrick explains this.  I’ve seen similar descriptions of the chiasm structure as, for instance, in Dan Phillips’ God’s Wisdom in Proverbs, also in reference to Solomon’s writings.  See the full description in this PDF.  Verse 1 forms a chiasm:

A   for everything
…..     B  an appointed time
…..    B’  a time
A’   for every event

The following verses continue the chiastic structure, noting the contrasts, starting with the positives (giving birth and planting) then the negative (dying and uprooting). Verse 7 reverses the order: negative first, then the positive.  A few different ideas have been suggested regarding the last phrase, of throwing stones versus gathering stones, but we’re not entirely certain what Solomon was referring to on this point, only that one is a positive action and the other a negative one.

Themes throughout Ecclesiastes include the idea of eternity – set in our hearts, yet natural man cannot understand what God has done.  “Under the sun” is another common theme – and we are to rise above the sun, above the natural understanding of this world.

Regarding Solomon’s comments about those who are oppressed and have no one to help them, some commentators ask ‘how could Solomon understand oppression’?  After all, he was a king and if there were any oppression he could certainly do something about it.  But we understand the larger perspective of Solomon’s experience: he could travel anywhere and observe oppression elsewhere outside of his own kingdom. Even human kings are not omnipresent, but they appoint judges, governors over the people rather than directly deal with all the responsibility themselves – reference Jethro’s advice to Moses, as well as the account of Jehoshaphat’s government in 2 Chronicles  19:4-8.

Everyone has their disadvantages.  Solomon’s disadvantage was his great wealth and power, that he really could have whatever he wanted.  Like Solomon, we learn to turn our disadvantages into advantages.  Other relevant scriptures here include 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 about our God of all comfort  “who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Dr. Barrick’s Ecclesiastes Series

September 12, 2013 2 comments

I’m now going through one of Dr. Barrick’s teaching series, a Sunday School class from about three years ago, on the little-taught book of Ecclesiastes.  Consisting of 19 audio lessons (unfortunately missing the audio files from Ecclesiastes 11 and 12), the study also includes “notes” PDF documents used in the classes – including the notes for the last two chapters.

My only previous study experience with Ecclesiastes was several years ago, a sermon series from a local (and basic, superficial teaching level) church in which the pastor’s overall conclusion was that the book of Ecclesiastes describes life from the viewpoint of unsaved man.  That pastor also considered Solomon’s salvation doubtful or questionable.  As I’ve since realized from regular reading and study in many other Bible books – and Dr. Barrick brings out this point very clearly in the Introduction – no books of the Bible are authored by lost men, and the three books authored by Solomon  (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon) clearly show that Solomon was a believer.  God may have used a donkey and a false prophet to verbally express His word at a point in time, but that is quite a different matter than the written word of God and all associated with that idea of the canon of scripture.  Solomon’s three books reflect three main periods of his life: Song of Solomon in his youth, Proverbs in his adult life, and then Ecclesiastes late in life, after Solomon had gone astray for a time (1 Kings 11) and then was brought back into relationship with the Lord – at which time he wrote Ecclesiastes, reflecting back on that time of his backsliding.

The introductory material is interesting, in which Dr. Barrick points out many interesting things about the book of Ecclesiastes.  One surprising point:  the Jews include the reading of Ecclesiastes in their celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, a festival of great joy.  Dr. Barrick also lists several theological topics found in Ecclesiastes – this in response to one of his seminary professors years ago, who had told the class that Ecclesiastes had no theological value:

  • God’s Sovereign Control Over Man
  • God’s Providential Grace
  • God’s Eternality
  • God’s Creatorship
  • God’s Perfection
  • God’s Justice and Holiness
  • God’s Abode
  • God’s Omnipresence and Omniscience
  • God’s Omnipotence
  • God’s Preservation of His Saints
  • Reverential Fear of God
  • Obedience Before Sacrifice
  • God’s Word

As a Sunday School class with some interaction, it’s not the easiest to listen to – since the comments from the class participants are off-microphone, and sometimes Dr. Barrick himself moved further away from the mic.   Aside from the silent pauses though, most of the content comes through clearly – and the six page documents for each session also provide excellent study material, in-depth summaries of the audio material.