Why is Ecclesiastes in the Bible?

The book of Ecclesiastes is one of the most controversial and difficult books of the Old Testament. The author of the book, the time of its writing, the purpose of its writing and its message are all questioned by Bible scholars. While many books of the Old Testament are questioned by theologically liberal scholars even theological conservatives have raised serious questions about the book of Ecclesiastes.

Some Bible teaches have said Ecclesiastes give a cynical view of life that teaches everything is worthless. Some have said Ecclesiastes is a call to enjoy life to its fullest because everything comes from God. Some have said Ecclesiastes is an exploration of the failure of human wisdom. Some have said Ecclesiastes examines the folly of life without God. Some have said Ecclesiastes has no clear theme, and others have said Ecclesiastes is unified by a single clear theme that runs throughout the book. With all this difficulty in understanding Ecclesiastes many have wondered if it should even be in the Bible.

Ecclesiastes says it was written by the son of David, king in Jerusalem. The natural conclusion is that King Solomon wrote the book. Ecclesiastes was written at the end of Solomon’s life after a long season of great wickedness. Two major building projects define his life. During the first half of his reign Solomon led the construction of the temple of God in Jerusalem. Toward the end of his life he led the construction of many temples to false gods. At some time in his life Solomon began seek out the pleasures of work and leisure, wisdom and folly, wealth, possessions and women. After trying everything available, he declared, “vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”

In all his wisdom Solomon wrestled with the major questions of life: what good is work, what good is pleasure, what good are riches, what good is family, what good are all things? Again, he answered is “all is vanity.” Ecclesiastes examines all the ambitions of life: wealth, power, fame, wisdom, happiness, women, simplicity and concludes they are all meaningless. Ecclesiastes examines all the toils, successes and failures of life and declares that none of them last. Ecclesiastes examines life from every angle and finds life is without purpose.

The book of Ecclesiastes calls the reader to consider the futility and frustration of a life lived apart from God. Though much of Ecclesiastes expresses the hopelessness of living apart from God, the book does not leave the reader without a solution. When all is said and done, Solomon goes back to the principles he learned as a child and taught in Proverbs. When all other philosophies of life have been considered, the conclusion of the whole matter is, “Fear God, and keep His commandments.”

Ecclesiastes explains that life is unexplainable. No one will know all the reasons why. No one will see all their plans and dreams come to pass. Life will seem pointless and frustrating at times. Yet, God rules over all. Though man now suffers because of the curse of sin, life does not have to be pointless or hopeless. A life lived for God will be worthwhile. Ecclesiastes is a very profitable book of the Bible because it teaches all men the value of living according to God’s commands.

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Do adult children have to honor their “bad” parents?

Child abuse and neglect are widespread problems in our nation. Many adults today grew up in households where one or both parents did not parent as they ought. The Bible commands children to honor their parents. In situations of abuse or neglect this becomes a very difficult command to obey.

The fifth of the ten commandments says, “Honor thy father and mother.” This command is repeated for modern day Christians in Ephesians 6. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for teaching a tradition that justified not honoring parents. The Bible clearly expects children to honor their parents.

To honor someone is to highly value them and to treat them in a way that shows they are valued. This is not the same as obedience. Obedience does what it is told. Honor treats the parent with respect appropriate to their position. Honor will not mock, will not call names, will not yell and will not hate. Proverbs 23:22 says, “Hearken unto thy father that begat thee, and despise not thy mother when she is old.”

Young children or those still be supported by their parents are not the only ones required to honor their parents. Honor is owed the parent even when the child supports them. A child never reaches an age when he does not owe honor to his parents. In New Testament times some Jews would dedicate all their possessions to God. The tradition of the Pharisees allowed the person to continue to use those things for himself. If a parent had a need the child could refuse to meet that need because his possessions had been dedicated to the Lord. This pious sounding selfishness overthrew the fifth commandment. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for this teaching, “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.” (Matthew 15:6)

Jesus taught that adult children were under obligation to honor their parents. Even children with their own households and possessions are obligated to honor their parents. This implies, as well, that ensuring older parents are properly cared for is an essential part of honoring them. Giving to parents that have need is the obligation of any child. Refusing to care for parents is a refusal to honor them.

Is it appropriate to treat abusive, foolish or bad parents with respect, value and compassion? The Bible gives no exceptions to the command to honor father and mother. A similar instruction is given to Christians, commanding them to honor all governmental authorities. Most of the New Testament was written durign the reign of Nero who has gone down in history as one of Rome’s most infamous Caesars. Yet, the New Testament clearly teaches that Christian’s are to honor their rulers.

Despite the many corrupt rulers in the Roman Empire, no exceptions were given to this command. Honor is given to civil authorities because they are given their rule by God for the good of all men. In similar fashion, parents are entrusted by God with the care of their children. Honor is due them for their position and their responsibility. Parents will not always act respectably, but they must always be valued because they are your parents.

Will children be raptured?

The doctrine of the rapture is believed by many Christians, including many of the most popular preachers on television and radio. Despite false teachers who insist on predicting the date of something the Bible specifically says cannot be predicted (Matthew 25:13), the rapture is a Biblical idea. The rapture is a coming event where Jesus takes all believers off the earth. When the rapture happens, all the redeemed, living and dead, will be taken from the earth directly to heaven. One question raised about the rapture concerns the fate of infants and children. Will they be taken or left behind? This is a particularly important question for those who believe the rapture will take place before the Tribulation, a seven year period of great turmoil and suffering on the earth.

The Bible does not say anything about the age of those of who will be raptured. Scripture says those in Christ will be taken up to be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17) All children who believe and are saved will be raptured. What about those too young to believe the gospel? Because the Bible does not say anything about the fate of those too young to believe, great care must be taken in giving an answer. Dogmatic certainty must be avoided.

The argument for the rapture of young children is based upon the idea of childhood innocence. The teaching that babies who die go to heaven is based upon a concept of innocence. Innocence, in this context, does not mean young children do not sin. Innocence does not teach that young children were not born under the curse of Adam. Instead, because a child is unable to understand and respond to the gospel God views that child as innocent until she comes to a point of being able to reject the gospel. This is often called the age of accountability. This teaching is based upon passages like Deuteronomy 1:39 which says, “your children . . . had no knowledge between good and evil” and Jeremiah 19:4 which describes children as “innocent”. If these innocent ones go to heaven, why would they not be raptured when Jesus returns?

The rapture of the church and the death of a child are different in one significant area. Missing the rapture does not eliminate the opportunity to be saved. Those who live through the Tribulation will have opportunity to repent and believe Jesus. Those who die in infancy never have this chance. The only clear statement about the identity of those raptured is that those who are in Christ will be caught up to meet Him. Children, though protected by God, are not yet in Christ. This author’s opinion is that infants and unsaved children will not be taken in the rapture, but many of these children will have opportunity to believe Jesus before He establishes His kingdom.

Ultimately no definite answer can be given. Regardless of whether young children are raptured or left, we can be confident that God’s actions are always right. “All His ways are just.” (Deuteronomy 32:4)

Why did the Israelites offer sacrifices?

From the time the tabernacle was built until the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., the Israelites regularly offered animal sacrifices to God. The number of sacrifices made is staggering. Every day two lambs were offered, one in the morning and one in the evening. The Israelites were commanded to bring trespass offerings to the temple anytime someone sinned against God or his neighbor. If a Jew became unclean by touching an unclean thing, by having an unclean disease, by having an unclean sore or by doing one of the many things that made him unclean he was to bring a sacrifice to the Lord to be made clean. The Bible gives no record of how many sacrifices were offered each day, but if even a small fraction of a percentage of the millions of Israelites brought a sacrifice each day, then hundreds or thousands of sacrifices were made every day. On the day of passover, one lamb was sacrificed for every family in Israel. Tens of thousands of sacrifices were made on that one day alone.

To modern sensibilities this seems cruel, or worse. The temple was practically a slaughterhouse. The sacrifices were required by God for a specific and special purpose. The sacrificial system gave a constant reminder of the consequences of sin. Killing animals is disturbing. That is the point. Man was meant to be disturbed by his sin. God required the Jews to make sacrifice to Him because the killing of animals was a continual reminder of the wages of sin. “But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.” (Hebrews 10:3)

From the very beginning (Genesis 3:21) the shedding of blood was required to cover sin. “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission.” (Hebrews 9:27) When God gave Adam and Eve the command to not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, He warned them that if they disobeyed they would die. God provided animal sacrifices as a covering for sin.

Though the sacrifices covered sin, they could never take it away. “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:4) The sacrifices of the Old Testament were a foreshadowing, a picture ahead of time, of the sacrifice that would come which would be able to take away sin. Animals sacrifices pointed ahead to the only One who could be a full substitute for sin. The sacrifices were a picture of a promised deliverer who would wash away sin. The sacrifices showed the wages of sin and pointed to the One who would take away sin forever. “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God.” “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:12, 14)

What is the soul?

What makes a person a person? The Bible says a person is a being comprised of several distinct, yet related parts. The greatest command says, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” (Matthew 22:37) A person is to love God with all his soul.

Scripture speaks of the soul over 400 times. The first time is in Genesis 2:7. When God breathed the breath of life into ma, man became a living soul. He became a living being. The first mention of the soul reveals that it is the life principle of a person. The soul is that which makes the body alive. When the soul departs, the body dies.

The soul is more than life. Soul is used to describe the personality, desires, intelligence, feelings and natural talents of the person. The Bible does not draw neat distinctions between the various parts of a person. The organs of a man can be easily distinguished and divided from one another. The nature of man is not so easily divided. Man has a heart, a mind, a will, a soul, a spirit, and a body. All these, and others, are interwoven together in such a way that we cannot readily distinguish where the soul leaves off and another part begins. Essentially, the soul is the part of a person that makes him who he is. Charles Ryrie said, “Soul can mean the whole person alive or after death. It can designate the immaterial part of a person with its many feelings and emotions.”

The soul is not discoverable by medical tests. An MRI or CAT scan will not reveal the soul. Nonetheless, the soul is a real part of man. The working of the soul is seen in the self-realization of a person. The ability to identify one’s self as a living being, distinct from others and from God is a result of having a soul. The ability to identify one’s self as something other than the body is evidence that man possesses an immaterial part, a soul.

Though the soul is different from the body, it is not disconnected from the body. The body and soul are directly related to one another. What affects one affects the other. A tired person tends to get angry more easily. A depressed person tends to feel tired. Man is a creature both physical and spiritual. We must not disregard the interaction between the soul and the body.

At death the soul is separated from the body. The soul immediately enters heaven or hell. Consciousness remains(Luke 16:19-31), but the person is not a whole being. This is why the Christian looks forward to the resurrection when the soul and body are reunited.

Man is a living soul who will have an eternal existence somewhere. Those who do not believe Jesus will suffer eternal, conscious torment separated forever from God. Those who trust Christ for salvation will enjoy eternal delight with Him.

Why are there two different versions of the Ten Commandments?

Most Americans are familiar with the Ten Commandments. Even those who have little religious background know the Ten Commandments are a list of rules given by God. The ten commandments can be found in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. They are divided into two groups, the first group contains the commands relating towards God and the second group the commands regarding others. Yet, the lists of ten commandments found in the Catholic catechism are different from that taught in most Protestant churches.

Protestants typically divide the ten commandments into four commands about God and six about others. The first four are “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” and “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” The second table of the law begins with “Honor thy father and mother” and ends with the, “Thou shalt not covet.” Unlike Lutherans and Catholics, the Protestants view the commands against covetousness as one.

Lutherans and Catholics divide the ten commandments into three about God and seven about others. They believe the first three commands are “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” This first command includes the prohibition against graven images. The second command is, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” and the third is “Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.” The commands regarding others are the same as the Protestant version, except the last two commands are “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife” and “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors goods.”

Does this difference matter? Not a whole lot. Protestants, Catholics and Lutherans agree with one another on the content of the ten commandments, just not the division of them. Catholics consider the prohibition against graven images to be part of the first commandment and Protestants view all the commands against covetousness as one. These differences are trivial.

All Christians agree the Ten Commandments were given to Israel and are still important for all people today. They provide a basic standard which shows that all stand guilty before the Holy God. No matter how the commandments are divided, they show the sinfulness of sin and the impossibility of anyone being saved by his own obedience. (Romans 7:13; James 2:10; Romans 3:20)

What were the Urim and Thummim?

In Exodus 28 the Bible tells about a pair objects carried by the high priest of Israel. These mysterious things were called the Urim and the Thummim. The high priest of Israel wore a breastplate that held twelve stones, each one representing a tribe of Israel. Also in the breastplate were the Urim and Thummim. God gave direction to Israel through the Urim and Thummim, but the Bible gives no specifics about what they were or how they were used.

Some ancient Jewish records suggest they glowed (like the Sankara stones in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom). Others have suggested they were stones with Hebrew letters that spelled out words. No one knows for sure. Some think they were stones, others sticks and others jewels. No one knows what they were made of. The Bible mentions their use a couple times but only in general terms. The most likely possibility is that they were used like lots to determine yes or no answers or to decide between two choices.

Regardless of how they were used, the Urim and Thummim revealed to the leaders of Israel the the will of God. In 1 Samuel 28:6 we are told that God did not answer Saul’s prayer for direction about an army of Philistines. God did not answer, “by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets.” The only specific instruction about the use of these devices is found in Numbers 27:20. When Joshua succeeded Moses as leader of the Israelites he was to go before the high priest. The Lord would give direction to Joshua through the Urim and Thummim. “And he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment of Urim before the LORD: at his word shall they go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he, and all the children of Israel with him, even all the congregation.” (Numbers 27:21)

One other passage seems to show how the Urim and Thummim were used. In 1 Samuel 23 David is accompanied by a priest while he flees from Saul. David sought the Lord’s direction and, possibly through the Urim and Thummim, learned whether he should attack the Philistines, if Saul would come after him, and if the people of Keilah would betray him. God gave guidance to David through the ministry of the priest and the Urim and Thummim.

After 1 Samuel there is no other reference to the Urim being used. From the last years of Saul’s reign to the end of the Babylonian captivity the Bible makes no mention of the Urim and Thummim. Ezra and Nehemiah contain brief references to these things as part of the return of the high priest of Israel. After that the Bible is completely silent. The increased ministry of the prophets during the days of the kings appears to have ended Israel’s dependence on the Urim and Thummim to find the will of God. With the close of the Old Testament period God no longer reveals His will through the Urim and Thummim.

What are “idols of the heart?”

Idolatry is common around the world and has been for almost all of recorded history. Most civilizations have a long history of extensive idol worship. In America and most western cultures very few people bow to idols, make offerings to statues or worship carved images. However, the absence of outward trappings of idolatry does not mean Americans do not worship idols. Theologians have long warned of a hidden idolatry, the worship of “idols of the heart”. John Calvin said, “man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.”

An idol is something that a person devote himself to or trusts in for ultimate satisfaction, security or salvation. An idol is anything that is loved more than God. Tim Keller says, “It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. … An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.”

The phrase “idols of the heart” comes from Ezekiel 14. In the third verse God says that certain elders of Israel had “set up idols in their heart.” Though they were maintaining the outward practices of true worship, in their heart they were worshiping false gods. In the next verse God warns, “Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart . . . I the Lord will will answer him . . . according to the multitude of his idols.” God evaluates idolatry based upon the attitudes of the heart, not just the actions of the individual. God views heart idolatry to be as severe a sin as external idolatry.

A person can maintain all the external features of faithful worship of God while harboring in his heart a pantheon of false gods. Jesus said, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.” (Matthew 15:8) The greatest command is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. (Mark 12:30) Loving something more than God not only breaks the great commandment, it is idolatry. In Deuteronomy 11 God promised Israel He would bless them if they remembered His command to “to love your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and soul.” He then warned them of judgment if they “turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them.” Breaking the great commandment breaks the first commandment. To love something more than God is to worship idols.

First John ends with the command, “Little children keep yourself from idols.” The first commandment forbids idolatry. “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) Idolatry is so significant that Scripture repeatedly warns that those who practice idolatry without repentance show themselves not to be the children of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) Idolatry goes much deeper than bowing before carved statues of false gods. Idolatry is found in a heart that loves and desires something more than God.