The section we are looking at today, is by far what Ecclesiastes is best known for - the preacher’s personal search for meaning and value in this world. It is such a pivotal and provocative section that some interpreters of Ecclesiastes never get beyond it and interpret the entire book through the themes of this chapter. I don’t go that far, but I will say personally, that the argument and the experience set forth in this chapter are convincing to me, so convincing to me that it has carried me through my own seasons of doubt or times in which I have been tempted to give up my faith.
I want to start today by talking about dishes. You may think, what do dishes have to do with Ecclesiastes. You may know that Ecclesiastes is one of the most philosophical and complex books of the Bible, but I’m starting out the beginning of the series by telling you it's about dishes. See, here is the mystery of dishes. Think about the dishes in your home. You wash them everyday, every meal. You prepare the water, the soap, the sponge; set your dirty dishes in order, wash them, scrub them, rinse them; set them in the drying rack, wipe down the counter, the sink; set the soap and the sponge back in their designated places. And then you leave the room for a minute - and come back to find more dirty dishes in the sink! Where did they come from? How did they get there? And guess what: they will be there tomorrow and the next day and everyday of your meaningless life! And that’s an exaggeration - your life isn’t meaningless … but it will feel meaningless because you spend it all doing dishes! How much time do you spend doing dishes? Well, according to a study in “Changing Rhythms of American Family Life”, the average American woman spends 66 minutes a week doing dishes, the average American man 42 minutes. What is funny is that when they asked men and women how much they thought they did dishes, women said 5 1/2 hours and men 2 hours 40 minutes! So we don’t actually spend all that much time doing dishes - it just feels like we do! And if it is not dishes, its laundry, or commuting, or shopping, or changing kids diapers, or sitting at your desk doing the daily grind, or scrolling and scrolling and surfing and scrolling, whatever, so many tedious things that need to be done every day, just to live. How many times have you woken up with amazing plans of what to do today, and then past through the day and wonder what you did?
Whenever I’m trying to figure out our next sermon series I reflect back on conversations I’ve had with you and I brainstorm notes. Some of the topics I wrote down on that reflection were things like, dealing with the monotony of life, finding my purpose, struggling with anxiety or a feeling that I am missing out, what’s God’s point in putting me in a dead end job, how do I redeem the moments of my life and live for something greater, what do I do about these doubts and hard questions that creep in at night - these were all things I jotted down and as I reflected on them, as often happens, a book of the Bible came into focus and I realize that it addresses head-on many of the topics and issues that I had written down. And so that brings us to the Book of Ecclesiastes. For Ecclesiastes teaches us how to deal with the dish-iness of life. Today I want to just look at the first few verses, and really get to the question that the Preacher raises:
What’s your favorite Christmas song? Radio stations play them 24/7, its amazing.
We need these songs to be reminded of the season. The truth of the season. The meaning of the season. They get in our heads and remind us that Christmas in coming, that Jesus is come.
Have you ever considered the Psalms as Christmas song? A whole book of the Bible written as songs, and we noticed last week, Jesus said in Luke 24:44, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” So yes, the Psalms must be Christmas songs.
And so, having last week given an overview of Christmas in the Law of Moses, in which we saw that the Offspring of Eve, a Descendent of Abraham was going to come as Prophet, Priest and King, to restore paradise and bless the nations, today I’d like to do a quick overview of the book of Psalms, and see if we what we can learn about Christmas from them.
Welcome to OCBC. We’re in the midst of the Christmas season - it is getting closer. We just finished a long walk through the book of Genesis and the lives of the Patriarchs, and we ended last week with the last words of Joseph, the last verses of the book of Genesis, and one thing I remarked last week was how surprised I was that the Book of Genesis ends with a Christmas text. Here it is in Genesis 50:24-26:
24 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” 25 Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” 26 So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.
Now obviously this text sets us up for God’s deliverance of the Israelites in the Book of Exodus, the next book of the Bible, but I think it points to something more, particularly in the context of the book of Genesis, in the Pentateuch as a whole, and in the context of the whole Bible; specifically, that it is a text that points us to Christmas, for the reality of Christmas is that God has literally visited his people in the person of Jesus the Emmanuel - “God with us” - Jesus, so named because he will be the one to save his people from their sins. I was intrigued because I knew that Deuteronomy also, the last of the five books of Moses, also ended in its closing verses with a statement pointing to Christmas, and so that made me wonder - does every Book of Moses end with a statement pointing us to Christmas? And I found out, “No” . However, what I found was very interesting, and I thought it would be appropriate to share it with you this morning, especially as some of you have asked me what I’ll be preaching on after Genesis and whether I’ll just continue going through the Old Testament. Well that is not my plan, but during this Christmas season I do think that a it might be appropriate to follow the storyline a bit more, specifically as the Old Testament points us to Christmas, and the coming of our Lord to visit us.
Its definitely appropriate to read the Old Testament this way as Jesus himself taught his disciples to read the Old Testament with Christmas in mind. After he raised from the dead, Jesus taught his disciples:
Luke 24:44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.”
And so this morning we’re going to quickly walk through the Law of Moses, the first five books of the Bible, sometimes referred to as the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, and I think we’ll see how each Book of Moses contributes a key theme, like a piece of a puzzle that together provides for us an astounding picture of who Jesus is, why he came to dwell among us, and the nature of his ministry. Obviously we’re going to move quickly as a study like this can only be a general overview, but I hope this helps your Bible reading and that you can dig deeper into these texts and study on your own.
Today we’re finishing off the book of Genesis. How’s it going to end? What are going to be the final words? The final three chapters of Genesis are filled with final words. The final words of Jacob, the final words of Joseph, but these are also the final words of Moses as he closes this book of beginnings. It is not the final final words of Moses, obviously, he wrote four more books, the five together we call the Pentateuch; however, he write them not as one book, but as five books, and here we have the conclusion to his first book, and so the final words here both sum up some of the key theme in Genesis, and prepare us for the next book and indeed the rest of the storyline of the Bible, which would to be developed out in writing over then next 1500 years by 40 different authors guided by the Spirit of God, and would be carried out in history even to this day until Christ returns. And so, what is the Spirit of God in Moses going to leave us with at the end of this first book?
We find here the final of three sojourning principles: how are we to live in light of the fact that we are not residing in the land of promise, nor has God brought about the fulfillment of his promise, but we dwell in a nation, and among a people as citizens of another kingdom, seeking a promised land.
This text is related to a portion of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians in which he is teaching about gifts, supernatural experiences and spiritual manifestations among the believers. Some believers were elevating certain gifs and experiences over others, and so Paul is writing to preserve the unity of the church by laying down some basic principles regarding spiritual gifts and their use. The larger argument goes on for three chapters, and you would do well to study it, understand and apply it , but for today, I just want to focus on a couple of principles.
Have you ever been a guest in someone’s house when they are having an intense family conversation? You know, maybe they’ve invited you for dinner, and suddenly a matter comes up and suddenly they are discussing family issues among themselves, and you suddenly feel really out of place, like maybe you shouldn’t really be there? If you felt a little like that when we were reading through these chapters earlier, I wouldn’t blame you. In Genesis 48-49 we are dropped into a really intimate family moment, as Jacob the great patriarch calls his sons to his death bed and pronounces his final words to them. It’s an intimate scene. It’s a personal scene. It is a difficult scene - difficult to understand, especially for those of us coming thousands of years later, not really familiar with this family and these customs.
Yet amazingly, these chapters are specifically referenced in the New Testament as the one shining example of Jacob’s faith. In the book of Hebrews, chapter 11, we have the hall of faith, a list of highlights from the lives of Old Testament saints meant to encourage us and give us a picture of what faith is and what it does and what it looks like. And Jacob’s life, well, as we’ve seen in Jacob’s life, there haven’t been many highlights, as for much of his life he was more a man of spiritual failure, than a man of faith. Yet, this chapter is highlighted as an act of faith:
21 By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.
So the question before us this morning, that I would ask is, in what sense are Jacob’s last words an act and expression of faith? And secondly, to what do these last words point us to that might encourage and mature our own faith?
this is the time in which we must be directed to the second part of the sojourning principle - we must never confuse the present tense blessings we experience with the greater blessings God has promised And this is where the chapter ends, with Jacob reminding us that the future of God’s promise does not lay in Egypt, but in the promised land.
And so this sojourning principle brings with it a tension: as we sojourn among the nations, we seek to bless them and work for their benefit. However, we must always keep in mind the reality that this world is not our ultimate home or place of blessing, but that we are citizens of another kingdom, and that kingdom is our home and in that kingdom we find our blessing.
The immigration debate is everywhere in the news these days, especially during the past few weeks as there is a massive migration of people heading through central America toward the U.S. border just in time for November elections. And where most of the current debate in our day focuses on the issue of how hospitable or welcoming a particular nation should be toward migrants, in Genesis 46 and 47 we see the issue from a different perspective. For as we pick up in verse 5, we find the people of God, Abraham’s offspring, travelling en mass from the land of Canaan toward the border of Egypt. Now, as we noted two Sundays ago, this was no light decision on their part. Famine had initially forced them to seek aid in Egypt, and as God had miraculously preserved them through one of Jacob’s sons, Joseph, they had been invited by Pharaoh the settle in the land. However, even with that invitation, Israel paused to seek the Lord’s will in their migration, as it meant leaving the land of promise to sojourn in a land of idolatry. God meets Israel at the southern border of Canaan and assures him:
Gen. 46:1 So Israel took his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. 2 And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” 3 Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. 4 I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.”
And thus the caravan moved forward into the land of Egypt, where they would sojourn for hundreds of years. And therefore the question lingering over these chapters is, “How is Israel to live during the time of their sojourn?” Here we find two principles for sojourners. The first is:
Having been called to be a holy nation, God’s people must with intention preserve their distinctiveness during their sojourn in a land of idolatry.
Imagine being offered everything you’ve ever wished for. The family you’ve always wished for. The career you’ve prepared for and always desired. Possessions beyond your dreams. Prosperity. Peace. We’ve seen a lot in the Patriarchs, especially Joseph, of how they handled suffering, yet how one deals with prosperity can be just as great, or even more difficult a test. and this is a test that it is just as important for us Christians in the West to work through our worldview, because, although hardly any of us will suffer like Joseph (like, being sold into slavery by murderous brothers and falsely accused and imprisoned), most of us in the West live daily in the most safe, comfortable, wealthy, well-fed culture - the greatest property that the world has ever known. And that’s what is set in front of Israel in Egypt. Prosperity.