We drove a little slower to MacAlpine Presbyterian Church this April morning than we usually would, but the main roads were pretty well plowed and treated. In fact, they were better than many days this winter. Nevertheless, I decided to postpone the third message planned for this Easter season to next Sunday. The following Sunday we will plan to explore the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50.
When I asked for suggestions of a Bible passage to discuss instead, someone jokingly said, “For everything there is a season” — a reference to Ecclesiastes 3:1. Taking up this challenge to preach from the most difficult book of the Bible we looked at the passage in its context — including the frame of the book in the first and last chapters. To put it simply, the teacher being quoted in Ecclesiastes is frustrated because everyone dies. Indeed, the teacher says that we are no different than beasts — both die. The conclusion of the book says that the teacher speaks the truth but then charges the reader to fear God and keep His commandments. This conclusion points us back to keeping Torah. Yet the book doesn’t have the last say. Jesus has triumphed over death. I’ve said before that there are three parts of the Hebrew Scriptures — the Torah of Moses, the Prophets, and the Writings. The Prophets show us that keeping Torah will not save you and studying wisdom writings will not save you. Perhaps that is part of the reason that Ecclesiastes is the climax of the Writings — it shows us the limits of wisdom. The one who saves is the Word of God who died and then rose from the dead on the third day. As we read in the final chapter of Luke — “it was necessary” that the Christ should suffer and die and on the third day rise from the dead — everything written about Him in the Torah of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms (referring to the first book of the Writings as a way to reference all of the wisdom Writings) must be fulfilled — the movement from suffering to glory was necessary. Jesus knew what the teacher in Ecclesiastes meant — He experienced it. But death did not get the last word — the Lord is risen.
I suggest taking a look at this video I made. I still haven’t made one showing the right way to read Ecclesiastes. But I can tell you that the soundtrack for the right way to read the book is Chopin’s Funeral March while you see quote after quote about death. There are posts about Ecclesiastes on this website under Teaching, OT Writings, Five Scrolls, and then Qoheleth. For more about Ecclesiastes 3, there is a post about it here. To learn more about the book than you will even find on this website, I suggest the book recommended here.