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).

The Death of His Saints

Psalm116-15With the sudden death of two, precious saints – one young (25), one middle aged (55) – in our PR Christian community in the past week, I find this “Grace Gems” devotional from yesterday very fitting – and very comforting to every child of God. May it speak peace to our hearts in the face of that fearful, yet defeated last enemy, death.

The death of His saints!

(Alexander Smellie, “The Secret Place” 1907)

“Precious in the sight of the Lord, is the death of His saints!” Psalm 116:15

To me death has its unlovely aspects. I may be ready by God’s grace to meet it–and yet I recoil instinctively from the act of dying.
It seems unnatural.
It is usually attended by pain and suffering.
It is a farewell to dear and beloved associations.
It is a going out into an untrodden land.
I cannot coax myself to love the dreadful experience. And therefore I am glad to think that there is another side to the matter, and that to my Lord, my death is precious. And why should it be so?

Let me consider the name by which He calls me, and I shall begin to understand. “His saints!” That is His title for His sons and daughters, among whom I have been enrolled.
The people of His own purchased possession.
The redeemed people whom He has set apart for Himself.
He owns them in virtue of the stupendous price which He paid for them.
He has been at infinite pains to redeem and save and cleanse them.
Nothing which concerns them appears indifferent to Him.
The death of the humblest of them, is of stupendous moment in His sight.

Let me reflect, too, that death is one of the means His grace and power employ to uplift and crown me. It looks as though I scarcely could know God thoroughly, or confide in Him completely–until I learn to lean upon Him . . .
when heart and flesh faint and fail,
when the long and close fellowship of body and soul is sundered,
and when I pass forth alone into the mystery of unseen eternity.
Then He becomes more indispensable than ever. Then my trust must be simple and absolute. Then, when lover and friend are put far away, I cling to Him and refuse to let Him go. Death teaches us this perfection of dependence.

And let me predict to myself the future to which death is the doorway. I can scarcely imagine it . . .
its spotless holiness,
its unfathomable bliss,
its endless pleasures,
its divine love.

But He sees it clearly, and comprehends it in its breadth and length and depth and height. He is familiar . . .
with the flowers and fruits of His upper garden,
with the refreshment of the fourfold river,
with the music of the better country,
with the city’s foundations of gems, and its gates of pearl, and its streets of gold.

Is it a marvel that He should pronounce desirable and precious, that loosening and wrench from earth which liberates me for a Heaven like this?

When I think my Lord’s thoughts, I shall cease to be so afraid of death!

The Real Hope of the Reformed Believer: Christ’s Personal Return & Reign – D.J.Engelsma

StandardBearerAnother excellent article I read yesterday came from the June 2013 issue of The Standard Bearer, a Reformed periodical published by the RFPA (publisher of good books too!). As part of a lengthy series on “The Reformed (Amillennial) Critique of Postmillennialism” (I see another book coming!), Engelsma is contrasting the true hope of the Reformed believer from the false hope of the postmillennialist – at the very heart: the return of the Lord Jesus. Pointing out that the “postmills” “shove His coming into the distant future – so far into the future as to make that remote coming an unreality”, Engelsma then shows what is and must be the Christian’s real hope:

Quite different from the postmillennialists is the Reformed believer. With the saints of all ages, he lives in the eager anticipation of the second coming of King Jesus. Rather than contentedly to shove the second coming into the far distant future – perhaps a ‘million years’ – he prays daily, ‘Even so, come, Lord Jesus’ (Rev.22:20). And this prayer is his response to Jesus’ assurance to the church, ‘Surely I come quickly. Amen’ (Rev.22:20).

Radically different from the will of the postmillennialists that desires the glory of the reigning saints during the fulfillment of the Messianic kingdom is the will of God. God wills the glory of the personally ruling Messiah. During the ‘days’ that Messiah has ‘dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth’, it will be He Himself who has this dominion. All will ‘fall down before him: all nations shall serve him.’ ‘To him shall be given of the gold of Sheba’ (Ps.72:8-15).

In the coming kingdom that Scripture proclaims, not the saints, much less the saints in the absence of Jesus, but Jesus Christ Himself will be the powerful, glorious king. And the saints would have it so. ‘When the Son of man shall come in his glory… then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory(Matt.25:31). ‘The Lord Jesus shall be revealed…[in] the glory of his power; when he shall come to be glorified in the saints, and to be admired in all them that believe’ (II Thess.1:7-10) [p.398].