So far serving as the substitute pastor for my church has turned out okay. This week I’m expecting to preach from Ecclesiastes 6. The chapter ends with two interesting questions:
“For who knows what is good for a person in life, during the few and meaningless days they pass through like a shadow? Who can tell them what will happen under the sun after they are gone?” (Ecc 6:12)
For the author of Ecclesiastes these are rhetorical questions, both with the same answer “no one.” But for someone who choses, unlike the author of Ecclesiastes, to study the rest of the Bible, he or she will find that both questions are given an answer and it is different than that assumed by the author of Ecclesiastes.
The prophet Micah gives us one of the clearest and best answers to the first question:
With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:6-8)
To act justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with God. It is, of course, the answer that all the prophets of the Hebrew Bible give, that which they most emphasize and most criticize their contemporaries for failing to do. So what is good for a person in life? To love his neighbor as himself, and to love God.
The Westminster shorter catechism is quoted as asking “what is the chief duty of a human being?” A small child once, so the story goes, butchered the proper response “to love God and enjoy him forever” by telling his instructor, “to love God and annoy him forever” which perhaps has some measure of truth in it as well.
To answer the author of Ecclesiastes’ second question at the very end of chapter 6, the prophet Daniel offered the obvious answer when the King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar made a similar inquiry:
The king asked Daniel (also called Belteshazzar), “Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?”
Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come. Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you were lying in bed are these…(Daniel 2:26-28)