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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.

Charles Spurgeon: Achan, The Doubtful Penitent

June 7, 2010 Leave a comment

This weekend’s readings through Spurgeon, volume 3 (1857), included an interesting one in which Spurgeon took a text of three words that occur in many places:  the words, “I have sinned.”  Spurgeon looked at seven such individuals from the Bible, as a sampling of the seven types of such a confession:

  • Pharaoh:  The Hardened Sinner
  • Baalam:  The Double-Minded Man
  • King Saul:  The Insincere Man
  • Achan:  Doubtful Penitent
  • Judas:  Repentance of Despair

and finally two positive types:

  • Job: Repentance of the Saint
  • The Prodigal Son:  The Blessed Confession

The one I found most interesting is the case of Achan, from Joshua 7.  As Spurgeon says, the confession really is one to which we truly hope that Achan at last was saved, but we cannot know for sure.  In my own readings of this story, I had wondered if Achan, in the end, truly repented and was saved — though punished justly for his wicked act.  Certainly Achan gives a full confession when he is confronted, giving full glory to God in that; and Joshua treats him kindly.  In Spurgeon’s sermon I found that at least some of the learned Bible scholars have also concluded the same, a confirmation that my reading and comprehension are at least as solid as some other believers.  John Gill and Spurgeon supported this understanding from Joshua’s words to Achan, that “the Lord brings trouble on you today” (meaning today, but not afterwards).  From Spurgeon:

But I find in the Mishna, an old Jewish exposition of the Bible, these words, “Joshua said to Achan, the Lord shall trouble thee this day.” And the note upon it is—He said this day, implying that he was only to be troubled in this life, by being stoned to death, but that God would have mercy on his soul, seeing that he had made a full confession of his sin.” And I, too, am inclined, from reading the chapter, to concur in the idea of my venerable and now glorified predecessor, Dr. Gill, in believing that Achan really was saved, although he was put to death for the crime, as an example. For you will observe how kindly Joshua spoke to him. He said, “My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me.” And you find Achan making a very full confession. .. It seems so full a confession, that if I might be allowed to judge, I should say, “I hope to meet Achan the sinner, before the throne of God.”

Yet as Spurgeon observed, Matthew Henry did not see it the same way.  Today I looked up a few other online commentaries, to learn that John Calvin sided with Matthew Henry, while John Darby’s synopsis points out the recovery of the soul as the result of Christian discipline:

But it is well to remember here that christian discipline has always the recovery of the soul for its object. Even if the offender should be delivered unto Satan, it is for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord — a most forcible reason for exercising this discipline, according to the measure of our spiritual power; for we cannot go beyond that. At the least we might always humble ourselves before God, in order that the evil may be removed.

Given the differing opinions, Spurgeon appropriately cites Achan as an example of the death-bed conversion, the case where we hope for the best but cannot know for sure, and tells of other doubtful cases, death-bed conversions he had witnessed.

To end with Spurgeon’s final words on the matter:

Oh! to die with a full assurance; oh! to die with an abundant entrance, leaving a testimony behind that we have departed this life in peace! That is a far happier way than to die in a doubtful manner, lying sick, hovering between two worlds, and neither ourselves nor yet our friends knowing to which of the two worlds we are going. May God grant us grace to give in our lives evidences of true conversion, that our case may not be doubtful!