On Being Joined to the Living
First of a two-part study of Ecclesiastes 9:4-5
“But for him who is joined to all the living there is hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion” (Ecclesiastes 9:4).
Solomon here gives a new perspective to the adage ‘Where there’s life, there’s hope.’ His statement may sound like a given, but he is in the midst of expressing a bit of philosophy about how life is “under the sun.”
In these Jewish times, dogs ranked among the lowest of animals and they were not considered a pet or companion, unlike today; but the lion, on the other hand, was considered among the noblest of beasts, full of grace, majesty, and power.
Even so, a dead lion, as princely as it once was, has lost all hope and possibility of performing what it once could. As lowly as it is, a living dog at least still has hope. In this proverb, the Preacher seems to be setting forth a positive attitude about hope for a better tomorrow.
“Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).
Implications flow from this gem by the writer James as he promotes faithfulness to the Lord. He confirms the fact that temptations are part of the life of every Christian and that we have a choice—we may choose to “endure” by not giving in to Satan’s enticements or we may choose to indulge and lose the reward.
Being tempted, however, does not automatically mean we are “approved.” Patiently remaining faithful to the “calling to which we have been called” during times of temptation—that is, staying on course with our commitment to Jesus—gives us the spiritual victory we desire.
James calls this victory the “crown of life,” promised to all who “love” the Lord. Because of the teaching James does in this book, we know he is using this word in a comprehensive sense—loving the Lord includes both a firm belief in God’s existence and actions that demonstrate our love.
Avoiding Wrong Impressions
“I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich ” (Genesis 14:22-23).
Abram speaks to the king of Sodom when he makes this declaration. He has just returned from a highly successful battle, including the reclaiming of many material goods that others have stolen. The king offers him the spoils of the battle, eliciting this response.
What Abraham is doing here is avoiding “the appearance of evil,” a scriptural concept that sometimes gets overlooked in our “I’ll do what I want to” world. He wants no one to be able to have the slightest idea that he has gone into this battle for his own selfish gain.
It does make a difference what other people think, and sometimes we must go out of our way to avoid giving someone the wrong impression about us or about our actions. Sometimes it is even necessary for us to make sacrifices so that others will not misunderstand who we are and what we stand for. Scriptures teach we are to “avoid the appearance of evil.”
“To do evil is like sport to a fool,
But a man of understanding has wisdom” (Proverbs 10:23).
Set in the context of religious behavior, Solomon presents an extreme contrast between the person who lives foolishly and the one who lives wisely. The Revised Version makes the second line clearer: “And so is wisdom to a man of understanding.”
A foolish person makes doing evil a habit: he does it so much that it becomes an ordinary course of action for him—it is his entertainment. The wise person, on the other hand, makes “wisdom” his “sport”—that is, he has made it a habit to use wisdom when making choices about his behavior.
Not only does the implied message come through loud and clear from a scriptural standpoint, but it shows common sense—doing evil brings unwelcome consequences here and also in the life to come. In contrast, acting wisely results in fewer problems in this life and puts us in a good position for the life to come
On the Keeping of Vows
“But I will sacrifice to You
With the voice of thanksgiving;
I will pay what I have vowed.
Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9).
Desperation can cause people to do many things, including making promises they have not thought through completely. That apparently is not the case with Jonah as he speaks to God here.
Jonah is desperate, but his later actions show he is also serious. He keeps his promise to God and goes straight to Nineveh after being regurgitated from the belly of the big fish.
The keeping of vows has been part of every relationship with God since the beginning of time. He has always demanded that those with whom he communicates do precisely what they promise to do or what He tells them to do.
God has shown through teaching in the New Testament that He has not changed: a vow is a vow, a promise is a promise, a commitment is a commitment. When we obey the gospel, our promise to God is that we will serve faithfully and completely—as well as unendingly.
And why would we not? Jonah states it so well: “Salvation is of the Lord.” Our eternal destiny rests totally in the hands of God, and He has been specific in laying out the terms of that destiny. As we begin another new year, may we remind ourselves that if we keep our vow to Him, He will provide the promised reward.
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