Ecclesiastes 9: Living in Hope Now by Looking at Death in the Face

Eccles-GKeddieTomorrow night our men’s Bible study group will begin a new summer season by resuming our study of Ecclesiastes, this year picking up at chapter 9. In preparation, I have been reading in Gordon Keddies’ fine commentary on this OT book, titled Looking for the Good Life: The Search for Fulfillment in the Light of Ecclesiastes (P&R, 1991).

Keddie titles his commentary on chap.9:1-10 “Live in Hope!”, and it is from this section that I quote tonight. I found his comments instructive for how we as believers live in hope in the here and now while surrounded by a world bent on vanity and hopelessness. It has to do with how we face that last enemy, death. Read and learn:

     The living, in contrast [to the dead who “know nothing”, v.5b], have a great advantage. They ‘know that they will die’ (9:5a)! The sheer austerity of the statement takes one’s breath away! We who are alive have hope because (Qoheleth argues) we know that we will die some day! It seems almost trite or even derisive to suggest an idea like this. How can the inevitability of death become an engine of living hope?

The answer is found in the nature of biblical paradox. What seems so contradictory is in fact inseparably related and, in the plan of God, is designed to do us good. On an earlier occasion, Qoheleth [taken from the Hebrew name for the book] told us that ‘the day of death [is] better than the day of birth’ (7:1b). The reason for this, as we saw, was in the paradox that, if we are willing to think seriously about these things, death reaches into our inner-most being in such a way as to profoundly change the pattern of our future lives, whereas birthdays represent backward-looking sentiment that has no power to mold whatever future years God may give us.

In other words, we can take the prospect of death, concentrate our minds on where we are now, and redeem the days ahead in devotion to the Lord. Then, as that sublime biblical expositor, Archbishop Robert Leighton, so beautifully expressed it, ‘Death which cuts the sinews of all other hopes, and turns men out of all other inheritances, alone fulfills this hope, and ends it in fruition; as a messenger sent to bring the children of God home to the possession of their inheritance.’

So death, the enemy, is defeated by grace. And the first step in that transformation from defeat into victory is to look death squarely in the face in God’s terms and realize that there is a life in live, in Jesus Christ, that death shall never conquer. That is true hope (120).

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