David Jeremiah - The Cul-de-Sacs of Life
A few years ago columnist Jim Bishop reported that people who won the state lottery didn't always get what they thought they were going to get. Rosa Grayson of Washington won $400 a week for the rest of her life. Today she hides in her apartment. For the first time in her life she said she has fear and nerves to deal with. Everyone has tried to put the touch on her and she said, "People are so mean. I hope you win the lottery and see what happens to you".
When the McGugarts of New York won the Irish sweepstakes, they were happy. Pop was a steamfitter; Johnny, 26-year-old son, loaded crates on docks; Tim was going to night school. Pop took the million that he won and he split it up with his sons. They all said the money wasn't gonna change their lives or their plans. A year later, the boys weren't speaking to their father; they weren't even speaking to each other. Johnny was chasing expensive race horses; Tim was catching up with expensive girls. Mom accused Pop of hiding his poke from her. Within two years, all of them were in court for nonpayment of income taxes. And Mom said, "It's the Devil's own money".
Both boys were studying hard to become alcoholics. All these people had hoped and prayed for sudden wealth. They all had their prayers answered and all of them wrecked their life on a dollar sign. We finished up the 5th chapter by learning five important things about money and two important things about God. Let me remind you of those seven things. Five important things about money we learned in the 5th chapter. They're very simple: the more you have, the more you want; the more you have, the more you spend; the more you have, the more you worry; the more you have, the more you lose; and the more you have, the more you leave behind. Those are all right in the text in the 5th chapter of Ecclesiastes.
You can read them for yourself. But then we learned two things about God that balanced off what we learned about money and those two things are that our ability to earn money is a gift from God and our ability to enjoy money is a gift from God. We all are pretty well focused on number one concerning God but the second one is a little new to us. Not only does God give us the ability to earn money, he is the one who gives us the ability to enjoy what we have. So if we earn money and we don't have God, we will end up not enjoying to the fullest that which God has enabled us to have. Now in chapter 6, Solomon is going to continue his discussion kind of in a negative way. He's told us that God is the one who helps us to earn money and he's the one that helps us to enjoy money.
Now he's gonna show us what happens if we try to do this apart from God. The first cul-de-sac that he wants us to avoid is this one: he wants us to understand that our money won't bring meaning to our life. Without God, money cannot bring meaning to your life. And he brings two insights to his journal that will help us. Notice in the first two verses of the 6th chapter, Solomon starts out the 6th chapter with these words: "There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common among men: a man to whom God has given riches and wealth and honor, so that he lacks nothing for himself of all that he desires; yet God does not give him the power to eat of it, but a foreigner consumes it. This is vanity, and it is an evil affliction".
Now most scholars believe that when Solomon writes these first few words in the 6th chapter that he's talking about himself, that he's talking about his own life. You remember, now, Solomon wrote this book at the end of his existence on earth and he's looking back over his shoulder and he's making some observations about how he had lived. Solomon, as we all know, was one of the wealthiest and wisest men who ever walked on this earth. In fact, he was the wealthiest man who lived before his time and the Bible says he was the wealthiest man to ever live even after that time. It's hard for us to compute the wealth of the great king of Solomon but perhaps it would be good for us to remember how he came into such riches.
When Solomon was 20 years old one day the Lord appeared to Solomon while he was presenting a sacrifice to God. And God said to young Solomon, "Solomon, I want you to ask anything you desire of me and I will give it to you". I want you to stop and think about that for a moment. What would you ask for if God said to you, and think back to when you were 20 years of age, what would you ask God for if he said, "You can have anything you want. Just ask me for it and I'll give it to you". Well, if you know your Old Testament you know that when Solomon was presented with that opportunity he asked God for a very strange thing. He said, "Lord God, I want you to give me a hearing heart so that I might be able to judge this great people, Israel, fairly and justly". He said, "Lord, I want you to give me the ability to help people and to judge them fairly".
Now God was so impressed with Solomon's request that in 2 Chronicles chapter 1, verses 11 and 12, we read these verses. Here's how Solomon got to be so rich. "Then God said to Solomon: 'Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked riches or wealth or honor or the life of your enemies, nor even have you asked long life, but have asked wisdom and knowledge for yourself, that you may judge My people over whom I have made you king,'" now watch this, "wisdom and knowledge are granted to you, Solomon; and I will give you riches and wealth and honor, such as none of the kings have had who were before you, nor shall any after you have the like". Solomon asked God for the right thing. He got everything he asked for and he got all the riches that made him the wealthiest man in the world.
Now Solomon started out with those riches and he was honoring God at the beginning of his life and, if you read the history of Solomon, you will see that he lived for God, he built the great temple of Solomon that was a place of worship. But God had warned Solomon in the early days of his life that he was not to intermarry with foreign wives. He was not to go into other cultures and marry the women from these other cultures. Because God knew that if he did, he would become corrupted by their evil ways, by their idolatry. Solomon was a woman's man, you know? He loved women and he saw some of the beautiful women from the foreign cultures and, little by little, he began to marry them. And as he married these foreign wives, they began to corrupt his life so that God was put on the side. God was moved out of the center. And now as he looks back over his life, most people believe he's writing about his own experience about trying to find meaning in his money without God.
Now, if you will follow his logic you will see how strongly he presents this argument. He has told us already up to this point that the only way you can enjoy your wealth is to allow God to give you the ability to do it. If you have your Bibles, look back over into the 5th chapter, chapter 5 of Ecclesiastes and the 19th verse: "As for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and given him the power to eat of it, to receive his heritage and rejoice in his labor, this is the gift of God". What is the gift of God? The ability to enjoy what you have, to take what you have earned and make it meaningful in your life. How do you get to do that? God gives it to you as a gift. When God is at the center of your life, he takes everything that you have and he makes it meaningful.
When Solomon began to push God to the outer circumference of his life, when he began to sin by intermarrying with the foreign wives, God became a non-player in his walk and, because of that, he began to lose the sense of wellbeing that he had had at the beginning. Warren Wiersbe says it this way in one of his books. He says, "To enjoy the gifts without the giver is idolatry and this can never satisfy the human heart. Enjoyment without God is just entertainment and it doesn't satisfy. But enjoyment with God is enrichment and it brings joy and satisfaction".
Now I told you that Solomon feels very strongly about this point because he touches on it several times in this book. But I don't know of any passage that is stronger than this one in terms of how he illustrates the point he's trying to make. He uses two illustrations in verses 3 through 6 of the 6th chapter to bring home to us in a very forceful way the danger of looking to our money for meaning. Notice what he says: "If a man begets 100 children," my, what a thought that is. "If a man begets 100 children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with goodness, or indeed he has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better than he, for it comes in vanity and departs in darkness, and its name is covered with darkness. Though it has not seen the sun or known anything, this has more rest than that man, even if he lives 1000 years twice, but has not seen goodness. Do not all go to one place"?
In his first illustration, Solomon is obviously exaggerating. We call this in literature hyperbole. He takes it to the ultimate exaggerated extreme so that he can make the point. And he is saying, "Suppose a man could live twice 1000 years, suppose he could live 2000 years," why, obviously, no one has ever lived that long. Methuselah was the oldest man who ever lived on the face of the earth and he lived to be 969. Solomon is taking the man who lived the longest and saying, "Suppose a person could live twice that long on the earth". And then if he's not exaggerating in the length of the man's life, he surely is exaggerating in the number of his children. He said, "Suppose a man lives to be 2000 years old and in the process he fathers 100 children".
Did you know that Solomon's own son, Rehoboam, came very close to doing that? Just a little Old Testament biblical trivia. Look up on the screen at 2 Chronicles 11:21: "Now Rehoboam loved Maachah the granddaughter of Absalom more than all his wives and his concubines; for he took 18 wives and 60 concubines, and begot 28 sons and 60 daughters," whoa. In case you didn't add that up, that's 88 children. But I wanna remind you, it took 18 wives and 66 concubines to pull it off. What Solomon is saying here, and I want you to get this out of the context of the Old Testament, the two things that symbolized God's blessing upon a Jewish family were longevity and children. A Jewish family was considered blessed by God if the patriarchs in the family lived long and if they had lots and lots of children.
So Solomon is saying that having wealth and having a large family, both of these things will leave you empty if God is not in it. They will not bring meaning to your life if God is on the outside. In fact, when he talks about this fictitious man here in the book of Ecclesiastes, he talks about this man as having had no burial. He says in verse 3: "If a man begets 100 children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with goodness, or indeed he has no burial". That's a very interesting thing because for a Jewish person not to have a burial was the sign, oh, it was a terrible sign. It was a sign of total disrespect and dishonor. There is in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah and the 22nd chapter, the story of a king by the name of Jehoiakim who was not buried and was not honored and didn't have a funeral and it's an illustration of the most awful thing that could happen.
What Solomon is saying is this: this man has all the money he wants, he lives to be 2000 years old, he's got 100 children, but his children don't want anything to do with him. When he dies, they don't even come to his funeral. He doesn't have any relationships with them. His family is in disrepair and what he had hoped to get by getting all of this wealth has been so empty because it doesn't deliver what he had hoped it would deliver. Now King Solomon goes to the other end of the cycle and he uses a stillborn baby as his illustration. According to Solomon, such a child never sees the light of day, never experiences the disappointments that the rich man has known. The stillborn baby knows only the shadow of a moment of life. The man in Solomon's story lived two times 1000 years but both that man and the stillborn child ended up in the grave.
Remember, this is what we learned in chapter 3, in the 3rd chapter and the 20th verse we read: "All go to one place: all are from the dust, all return to the dust". Solomon's talking about the grave. He's saying a man lived 2000 years. He ended up in the same place as the stillborn baby who hardly lived a moment on planet Earth. Here's the point he's trying to make and don't miss it. I read this over and over again. I told Donna this week, this is maybe the hardest passage in Ecclesiastes, but when you really see it, oh, is it powerful. Listen to him. The point that Solomon is making in this first paragraph is, he is telling us that the futility of life without God and without meaning is worse than never having been born at all, wow. So whatever you do, don't think if you just have more, you're gonna find meaning in life. Solomon says such an existence can be worse than never having lived at all.
First cul-de-sac, don't get on that one. Don't misunderstand what he's saying. He's not saying it's wrong to be wealthy, he's not saying it's wrong to have riches. He's not saying it's wrong to be prosperous. He's saying it is meaningless to have all of it if God isn't in the picture. Because only God can give you the wisdom to know what to do with what you have. I wanna tell you something I've learned in talking to people who have a whole lot more money than I'll ever dream of having. Money for many people is a burden. It is a real burden. To know what to do with what has been trusted to their care.
Now, the second cul-de-sac Solomon wants us to see is number two: You won't find joy in your job. You say, "Pastor, boy, I'll give a second to that one. I don't have any joy in my job". Well, he's not saying here that you can't find meaning in your work but he's saying you can't find ultimate joy in your career. What a modern, contemporary instruction this is for all of us. Notice verse 7. He says your job can't satisfy your soul. "All the labor of man is for his mouth, and yet the soul is not satisfied". You know anybody like that? They're at it all the time. Their career's number one. They just go like crazy. Sometimes I ask the men of our church, "Why aren't you in church? Why aren't you in Bible study"? "Oh, man, I gotta get my career right. This is the most important time in my career. I've gotta do this or I'm not gonna make it".
But what Solomon is saying is, yes, you might have to put in some extra hours to get your career started. But if you let your career become the focus of your life, it will never satisfy you. It can't satisfy your soul. We're gonna find out in a few moments why. But it never will. Man works to satisfy his insatiable desire for pleasure and he wants a sense of wellbeing and yet he seems to always fall short. No matter whether he is wise or poor, he can't satisfy his desire on his own. And here's the thing we need to understand: God has so wired us that without him we don't work. God is the manufacturer. He's the Creator. He's wired us so that without him we don't work right. Oh, we can go through the motions, we can look like we're working right but we won't work right. And that's what Solomon is trying to say.
There's nothing wrong with wealth, there's nothing wrong with a good career, but don't do it without God because, if you do, you will end up at the end of your life with a sense of frustration and despair and it won't give you what you hoped it would give you. Everywhere we go, we run in people who are in churches that are bigger or smaller than ours and do you know what I've learned? A pastor who is in a church our size is always hoping he could get a church a little bit bigger. A guy who's working in a church this, and you know what? There's always a church that's bigger, no matter where you go. You think you've seen it all and then somebody rolls out a 30,000-member church. If all you're after is the next step, then all you're gonna be is disappointed. And that's what Solomon is saying. It won't satisfy. He goes on to say your job can't satisfy your soul. Your mind can't replace your heart.
Notice: "For what more has the wise man than the fool? What does the poor man have, who knows how to walk before the living"? You may have the greatest education in the world, Solomon says, but if you don't know God you're on the same level as a fool. A fool and a wise man are exactly the same when they stand before Almighty God. When you stand before God someday he's not gonna ask to see your diploma. He's not gonna wanna know what your degrees are. He isn't gonna care about your continuing education program. All he's gonna care about is, do you know him? And Solomon is saying whatever you do in your career climb, don't let your mind replace your heart. And thirdly, number C, he says don't let your dreams replace reality. Verse 9 says: "Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of desire".
Now that's an interesting little phrase and I grabbed hold of that and tried to understand what it means. You know what it really is? It's Solomon's rendition of a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. He's saying here there's nothing wrong with dreaming and dreaming big but he is warning us not to live in a fantasy world of unreality. Don't sit around waiting for things to get better before you start enjoying your life. Does anybody ever do that? Well, when we get this done, we'll get in that house. And when we get that done, we'll get a condo. And when we get that done, then we'll get a boat. And when we get that done, then we'll do this. And we're always saying when we get and when we retire we'll do this.
And how many of you have noticed that people keep planning for the future and planning for the future. They never live here. They always wanna live out there and by the time they get out there, they die. Is that true? And you know, and people just live their whole life hoping that someday they're gonna get it together so they can really enjoy life. They finally get there and they don't have anything left.
Solomon is saying something so carefully to us and he says it over and over again in this book. What are you supposed to do between now and when you get to heaven? Enjoy what God has given you. Don't be so caught up in earning money and building your career that you don't have time to enjoy your life as it is today. Take your children out and give them a hug. Take your grandchildren someplace that you didn't intend to take them. Go someplace and do something with your partner. Take that trip that you thought you might take someday; take it now. Don't wait until it's too late. Don't let your fantasies replace your reality. That's what he's saying. Now as we come to the end we've talked about the fact that you won't find meaning in money and you won't find joy in your job.
Here's the last thing and we'll be finished in just a moment. You won't find answers with your arguments. Solomon here anticipates that when a person is presented with this truth that, in order for life to work, God has to be at the center, that they're not gonna understand that and probably they're gonna wanna argue about it: why is it that way. So he gives us four truths. They're not necessarily parallel but they're kind of sequential and I wanna go through them with you as we close today. First of all, he wants us to understand that God has ordained life as he desires it to be. Notice in verse 10: "Whatever one has, he has been named already, for it is known that he is man".
Why can't I find meaning without God? Why is it impossible for me? If I work hard in my career, if I build a strong dynasty financially why can I not find meaning in that? Why do my accomplishments leave me empty when I work so hard to achieve them? The reason that riches fail to bring happiness rests in the ordinance of God. The ordinance of God dictates the incapacity of worldly things to bring meaning and enjoyment to our life. Let me just ask you this question hypothetically. Do you think that Almighty God could have designed a world in such a way that real meaning came with the accumulation of money? Could he have done that? Surely he could. Suppose he could have designed a world that would have worked on this basis: the farther you climb the corporate ladder, the more meaning you find in life. Could he have done that? Absolutely.
He chose specifically not to do that. He chose specifically to design us in such a way that, while those things are important they can't really fill the void in our life. It's by the ordination of God that life is the way it is. We didn't do that. It's not a church thing. It's a God thing. God says, "Here's how life works and I'm not gonna change it for you. This is the way it is. Now, Solomon then says, "That being true, arguing with God is an exercise in futility". Notice verse 10 again: "He cannot contend with him who is mightier than he. Since there are many things that increase vanity". Solomon is saying, "You might wanna argue about God, about why things are the way they are. Maybe you think you're having such a need time right now in your career and you'd really like it to be that. Why don't you argue with God"?
He says, "Don't do it. He's mightier than you". Over in the book of Romans, we read these words: "But indeed, O man, who are you who reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him that formed it, 'Why have you made me like this?' Does the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor"? In other words, you're the creature, he's the Creator. He's put life together this way. You can argue with him if you want to but it's futile. You're not gonna get anywhere with it so why don't you just accept the fact if you wanna know meaning in your life, here it is: Find God, get a relationship with him through Jesus Christ, and you will begin to discover that what he promised he will deliver. He said, "I am come that you might have life, that you might have it more abundantly".
Where does that abundant meaningful life come from? It comes from Almighty God. It's not available anywhere else. You can't get it anyplace else. You say, "Well, I don't think that's fair". That's not a problem. You can think whatever you want. God put it that way. And Solomon says, "Don't argue with God". And then the third thing he wants us to know is that God is willing to bring meaning to your life. He says, "For who knows what is good for man in life, all the days of his vain life which he passes like a shadow"? Well, that's a rhetorical question. Who knows? The only one who knows is the one who created us and that's God. If you wanna find meaning in life you've gotta get to God. You won't find it anywhere else. I don't know how to say that in any different way. Meaning in life is found in God.
And then the last question he asks is, "Who can tell a man what will happen to him under the sun"? God alone is in charge of your future. Now watch carefully how logistically, how logically, Solomon creates this. He says the reason life is the way it is is because God ordained it that way. Don't spend any time arguing with him 'cause you won't win. If you want meaning in your life, God is the answer. If you wanna know your future, God's the one who's in charge. So he just brings us all the way through this whole argument and he brings us back down to where we are right now.
Do you wanna know meaning in life? It's found only in God. Do you need a career? Yes. Be successful as you can be. There's not anything wrong with being wealthy. There's certainly not anything wrong with being successful. But there is something wrong with looking to wealth or success to find the ultimate meaning in your life because that meaning is found only in God. During the fires here in El Cajon, a number of our people have experienced loss. And one of the families have a home right up here, right above us. And they have been in this church as long as I have. They've been here longer than I have. They're sweet, wonderful people who have given so much of themselves over the years to this church.
Well, their house burned to the ground. It was in the fire that we thought was coming down the mountain that would have burned up this church. I talked to Lee shortly after the fire and he said, "Pastor Jeremiah," he said, "I didn't have time to do anything. I ran in there as fast as I could. I got three things out of that fire". He said, "I got a set of three engineering books," because he's a civil engineer. He said, "I got Henry Morris's study Bible," and he said, "I got your book, 'The Sanctuary,'" which is a devotional book. And then he said, "I wanna tell you something". He said, "That devotional book," he said, "have you read that thing"? I said, "Yeah". He said, "You know what, Pastor"? He said, "Every single day what I read in that devotional book was what I needed for what I was experiencing".
Now here's what I want you to remember. His wife was back with his daughter who's going through chemotherapy. He had to call his wife on the phone and tell her that her house had burned to the ground. And I'll tell you, when I heard that, I kind of sucked in my breath and do you know what he told me? And this is paraphrased as I remember it. He said, "Pastor, you know, my wife and I have talked about what's happened to us in these last days". And he said, "God has been so good to us". He said, "We've experienced very, very few difficult things in life and for some reason that we don't understand, God has trusted us with some trouble right now. And we know he's gonna be with us in the midst of it and help us through it and we're just honoring him during this time and trusting him for everything that we need". That's what happens when you have God.
Have you ever heard people say, "How in the world would somebody go through this if they didn't have God"? Well, you know what? Don't experiment. Don't try. Get God now. Find Jesus Christ as your personal Savior at this very moment. You don't know what the future holds. One thing you do know if you have God in your life, he's enough to get you through anything you'll ever face because if he's gonna give you eternity, don't you think he can handle this life too? Amen, he can. And he's the qualitative difference. He's the battery. He's the missing ingredient. You say, "How do I get to God"? Well, you get to God through Jesus Christ because this is what he said. Jesus Christ said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. And no one comes to the Father except through me". So to get to God and get God in your life, you have to accept Jesus Christ into your heart. You do that by prayer.