In the first chapter of Genesis we read that God made man dominion over every creature He had made. Then in James 3:7 the inspired writer says, “For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind.” When we think about the implications of that and then apply it to the world of the Old Testament it becomes even more impressive. The first humans lived with all kinds of beasts, including the dinosaurs. Whatever image comes to mind when you think of those extinct reptiles, it’s probably not that of a tame animal. God gives us a curious glimpse into the past where humans and dinosaurs not only coexisted, but we managed to tame them. In Ecclesiastes, the preacher concludes his sermon in chapter 12 by saying we must prepare ourselves for the day we meet our Creator. The spirit that He made will one day return back to Him. Solomon then says, “fear God.”
The correlation between “spirit” and “fear” is also seen in the New Testament. Paul writes to a fearful and wavering Timothy, “God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power, love, and a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). The message in the Old and New Testament then is, “fear nothing but God.” When Adam and Eve were in the garden they feared nothing because that’s not the spirit that God gave them. He gave us one of power, because of the God we serve. He is our Father and He has all the power. He gave us a spirit of love. We aren’t animals. We aren’t lions who display great power but lack the ability to love. We were made in the image of God and that means we have both a spirit, which is our life force, and a soul— our eternal life force. On top of all this God gave us the spirit of a sound mind. The Greek word used there means a mind that is calm. Even in the face of calamity and craziness, we can be calm. Why? Because we are God’s children and God is in control. One day every faithful Christian will get back that perfect spirit given to His original creations. Spirits without fear.
Solomon makes an interesting observation in the book about his grand experiment seeking the meaning of life. In Ecclesiastes 8, he is writing about the “evil man” who is basically living life as he pleases, doing what he wants with no regard for judgment. There seem to be multiple reasons for him to continue living this way:
He’s doing evil and is not suffering immediate consequences for it (11).
He’s repeatedly doing evil and is even living a long life (12; cf. 7:15).
He doesn’t seem to suffer a fate any worse than the righteous, and sometimes seems to do better than the righteous (14).
Frankly, Solomon is making a timeless observation. Perhaps you have sung the song, “Tempted and tried, we’re off made to wonder why it should thus all the day long, while there are others living about us never molested though in the wrong.” Billionaires, movie stars, professional athletes, politicians, and the like provide public examples of this passage and that song. We can produce more local, if lesser known, examples of those who seem prosper, living so wicked year after year.
Solomon does not have the understanding we have this side of Calvary, but he ultimately grasps the principle that should guide our lives today. At the very end of Ecclesiastes, he says, “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (12:13-14). This is a vital principle for me to internalize and live by.
When I am tempted to live like this world is my home and the pleasures of earth are what life is about, I need to understand that I may not be struck dead while pursuing life on those terms, not even if I persist in it over a long period of time. I may not die a horrible death as the result of pursuing what God calls “evil.” However, Ecclesiastes 8:11-14 does not describe the end. Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 does.
If I drift away from fellowship with God and His people, if I live like the world when I am out of sight of the church, if I put someone or something above my faithfulness to God, I probably won’t suffer immediate consequences. God loves me enough to let me know that. He will let me make whatever choices I want, but He wants me to know the results of my decisions. Solomon rightly says, “Still I know it will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly” (Ecc. 8:12; cf. 3:14; 5:7; 7:18; 12:13). There is an appointment for every one to “be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). It is when we appear before the judgment seat of Christ, and Paul says we must all do so. Wisdom is living this life preparing for that moment, understanding that judgment is not now but then. Such knowledge should move us to “fear God and keep His commandments.”
There is a rite of passage dreaded by aging music fans; It is the day that your favorite music, your youth’s music, becomes relegated to a niche station on platforms like satellite radio. Fortunately, music providers have found more creative ways of marketing such specialty stations than slapping the “classic” or “oldies” label upon it. Instead, you are now a member of an exclusive club of people with exquisite musical taste. Yes, I am such a club member, and I listened to “my station” while running errands. The unofficial theme of my present love life began playing on the radio: “Everything You Want.” As one who finds illustrations in practically everything, I started drawing religious parallels. However, before you can understand those parallels, I first need to fill you in about the song.
“Everything You Want” was released by the alternative rock band Vertical Horizon in 1999 and became a hit in July of 2000. It became Billboard’s Most Played Single of 2000. Matt Scannell, the songwriter, explained that an ex-girlfriend inspired the song. She looked for love and acceptance everywhere but the person who loved her the most. Obviously, as a listener unaware of the backstory, I interpreted the song differently. I thought of those times when a member of the fairer sex made an offhanded comment about wanting to meet someone “just like” me. (I seem to live in a place called “the friend zone.”) I wished to reply, “Why do you want ‘just like’ when the original is available?” Unrequited love can be frustrating, as it has been for me, or sad, as with the songwriter.
Would it surprise you to know God experienced unrequited love too? God compared Himself to the husband of two faithless women, Oholah and Oholibah (Ezekiel 23.1ff). Elsewhere, Solomon admitted his spiritual infidelity in the book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon looked for happiness and contentment in EVERYTHING but what ultimately mattered. After his vain pursuit of such things, Solomon says, “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.” (Ecclesiastes 12.13 NASB1995) The famous baseball player-turned-preacher, Billy Sunday, once summed up such people as Oholah, Oholibah, and Solomon. They have only enough religion to make them miserable. Sunday added, “If there is not joy in religion, you have got a leak in your religion.” Indeed. The problem lies not with the Bridegroom but the bride. Yes, if there is no love for Him, or our love has faded, the fault lies in us.
How do we show our love for the Bridegroom? He says we show our love by keeping His commandments (John 14.15). Is it that simple? Yes, obedience springs from the mindset of putting God and His kingdom first (Matthew 6.33). We stray when we look for fulfillment elsewhere. And for the one yet to put on Christ in baptism (Galatians 3.27), the preference is for another whom he or she believes can bring similar joy: “The love of God enamors me, but the world gives me pleasure without requiring ‘burdensome’ commandment-keeping.” Jesus assures us that His yoke is not a burden (Matthew 11.28-30). As Saul discovered on the road to Damascus, we only hurt ourselves when we fight against that yoke. Jesus told Saul that he was kicking against the sharpened sticks (i.e., goads) used to pen cattle (Acts 26.14). Thus, I urge you, whether you have left your first love like Ephesus (Revelation 2.4) or have not confessed your love for the Savior, that you don’t ignore the Greatest Love you have ever known or can ever know (John 3.16).
It may seem odd to close devotional thoughts out with secular lyrics, but I will do so anyway. I pray that you do not find a relevant metaphor for your relationship with Jesus Christ in these lyrics. He loves you. Don’t make His an unrequited love:
“He’s everything you want He’s everything you need He’s everything inside of you That you wish you could be He says all the right things At exactly the right time But he means nothing to you And you don’t know why.”
I was 16 years old and I remember thinking, I’ll be happy when I get a new phone. I was 17 years old and I told myself, I’ll be happy when I get my own vehicle. I was 18 and I remember thinking, I’ll be happy when I get a newer phone. I was 19 and I thought, I’ll be happy when I get a newer truck.
At 16 I got a new phone and I was happy, until I dropped it in a hotel toilet a month later. I was 17 and I got my own truck and I was happy, until the transmission went out on the way to school. I was 18 and I got a newer phone, and I was happy until I left it on the roof of my dads car as we drove home from church. I was 19 and I got a truck that was nicer than anything I could ever want. I was happy, until it broke down on an Indian reservation in Arizona.
I thought I knew what would make me happy. I chased after the physical possessions that I thought would bring me joy. The problem that I failed to see was that phones break and trucks aren’t always reliable. My happiness would run out when my stuff would break.
People are constantly searching for happiness. Why? Because they don’t know what will make them truly happy. It’s a daily experiment that never gives them the result they are looking for. There are millions of books, movies, articles, and lessons geared toward helping us find true happiness.
“How to be happy” is one of the most searched phrases on Google, second only to “how to lose weight.” We ask this question because we can’t find the answer. Solomon asked this question in Ecclesiastes. “Vanity of vanities. All is vanity says the preacher.” The wisest man in the world wanted happiness and looked at every possible solution. He looked to money, drinking, and women. Every time Solomon placed his happiness in these things, he was left feeling empty. He finally found the secret to life: “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecc. 12:13).
Every earthly option was tried, and none of them seemed to work. The bottom line is to fear God and keep His commandments. Why? Because God knows His creation. Do you struggle with finding happiness? Do you want nothing more than to be content? The answer isn’t found in the world. You won’t find true, lasting happiness in anything on this earth.
Happiness is found in our purpose as God’s chosen (1 Peter 2:9), in loving God (Deut. 6:5, Matt. 22:37-39), and in showing gratitude (Psa. 118:1; 136:1; 147:7).
A family decided they didn’t want their little puppy anymore and for whatever reason they decided to dump this dog on the side of the road after tying it in a black plastic bag. At some point there was a woman who was driving down that road and she just happened to notice that something wasn’t right. When she discovered that there was a dog inside the bag she took it to a vet and then, eventually, to an adoption shelter. One day I decided to walk into the pet store to simply look around— and that’s when I saw him. Huddled in the back of his crate, a shaggy and skinny puppy with tan fur sat quietly, while it seemed every other dog in that store was madly barking. I opened the crate and he timidly came out— there was nothing I could do. This dog was mine. I named him “Bro” and to this day he continues to provide loyal companionship and plenty of laughs. The fact is, I’ve never been more attached to another animal and I’d never even think about giving him away.
Solomon was a man determined to find the purpose of life. In Ecclesiastes we can read about these lavish experiments that he conducts all in the name of research. In the first two chapters he writes in a very depressing manner all the while Divine inspiration drives him toward the answer to life’s greatest question. He acknowledges the fact that everybody in every generation is just a small blip on earth’s timeline. The rich, poor, wise, and foolish all must embrace the same fate. They will all die and will eventually be forgotten. Solomon is concerned that everything, his wealth and kingdom, will be left to a fool after he’s gone, and that’s exactly what happened. Rehoboam, his son, proves to be an awful king and heaps destruction on God’s people. So, what’s the point? None of it matters. Well, without God nothing matters! The word most associated with this book is the word “vanity,” which means “useless or futile.” Without God, your life is worthless and it will amount to nothing. Solomon’s discovery of this unchanging truth will remain true throughout every age because it’s a truth that comes from the Creator of life.
It’s unlikely that not a single person on earth values your life. Still, even if that were the case, because God’s hand guides you and touches all that you do, you have everything. My dog is not an expensive pure bred beauty, but to me there is no dog that could take his place. Apparently someone didn’t think too highly of him in the past, but that mangy thing lucked out and found the right owner. Who owns you? If money owns you, you’re getting left on the side of the road. If anything in the world owns you, you’re getting left behind. If God doesn’t own your life, you’ll never find purpose or lasting joy in this life— or the next. It could be that you feel like you’ve been placed in a trash bag and the world has mistreated you your entire life. Maybe that’s crushed your confidence and taken your sense of self worth, too. Though our lives are just a blip in the grand scheme of things, God can make your life a big blip by providing you with not only purpose, but with a love far too great to comprehend. The God of heaven has given us a mission and if we accept His invitation we’re going to make a lasting mark on this world— and enjoy lasting bliss in the world to come.
They are mentioned throughout the Old Testament, pagan shrines Israel and Judah put up typically to worship idols. Moses warns about them as early as Leviticus (26:30) and Numbers (22:41). This was the unrighteous practice of the Canaanites (Numbers 33:52), but it was adopted early and often by God’s people. Solomon appears to be the first king to lead the people into this, part of the evil influence of his pagan wives (1 Kings 11:7).It would become one of the reasons the northern kingdom is destroyed and the southern kingdom is taken into captivity (Psalm 78:58). It seems that this was one of the harder vices for God’s people to remove, even when times were at a relatively spiritual high. During the righteous reigns of Joash (2 Kings 12:3), Amaziah (2 Kings 14:4), Uzziah (2 Kings 15:4), Jotham (2 Kings 15:35), and others, this was an exception to their righteous rule.Occasionally, a king was thorough enough to remove these (2 Chronicles 14:3), but soon they were rebuilt and the people went right back to using them.Calvin explains that it was through these high places“that the service of God would be perverted and contaminated, unless they were regulated in every part of it by the Divine Word” (Commentary on the Book of Psalms, Vol. 3, Logos).
God had a place to be worshipped and a way to be worshipped. The high place was a concession or accommodation that became a stumbling block to the people’s spiritual health. The temptation arose through it to change the object of worship and to see the high place as a convenient substitute for the tabernacle and the temple. But, the worst of all religious practices ultimately occurred there (Jeremiah 19:5). Only in Josiah’s reign, just a few decades before Babylonian Captivity, were they finally destroyed (2 Kings 23:4-20).
Is it possible for me to construct my own high place, a shrine or altar to something that becomes a hindrance to serving God faithfully? It might be a vice, a habit, or a secret sin, something I retreat to as an indulgence or allow myself to participate in. It might be an attitude, disposition, or character trait that is the exception to my spiritual rule. It might be an unhealthy relationship or person I allow to unduly sway me. I might say, “It’s just this one thing or area of my life. What’s the big deal?”
Maybe that’s how the Israelites looked at the high places. But, nothing can be allowed to occupy mental and spiritual space that belongs only to God. I cannot rationale or compartmentalize something as my self-made exception to God’s rule. Sin grows and expands when it is not dealt with and rooted out. I must regularly examine myself (2 Corinthians 13:5) to make sure only Christ is seated upon the throne of my heart. Jesus challenges me, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37, emphasis mine). I must be vigilant to take that challenge most seriously!
Zadok the priest was neither an Anglican Church member or even British. Many associate his name with Handel’s 18th century coronation hymn, written first for King George II. But, he was a significant, if minor, Old Testament character. We learn at least four great lessons from his character, as revealed in Scripture.
He was a versatile servant of God. He is introduced as “a young man mighty of valor” (1 Chron. 12:28), but also as a priest of God (1 Chron. 15:11). Thus, he was handy in a fight while also helpful in reconciling men to God. What an example of a five or two talent man, able to serve God in more than one way. God has blessed most of us with the ability to do many things well. We should be motivated to use those skills for Him.
He was a respecter of God’s Word. His predecessor, Uzzah, disregarded God’s instructions for transporting the ark and paid for that with his life. Zadok was at the head of the list of priests tapped to do it the right way, according to God’s word (1 Chron. 15:11ff). Nothing we see after this does anything except strengthen the view that Zadok submitted to the divine will. What a legacy to leave, known as one who simply takes God at His word and strives to be obedient to it.
He was a loyal friend. When Absalom rebelled against King David, many in Israel aligned themselves with this usurping son. However, Zadok remained true to David (2 Sam. 15). David relied on him, with Abiathar, to keep tabs on the insurrection while ministering in Jerusalem. David knew he could count on Zadok. In the same way, Scripture praises such loyalty. David’s son penned that “A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity” (Prov. 17:17). We should be a friend others can count on at all times.
He was a good judge of character. Whether choosing to serve David over Absalom or Solomon over Adonijah, Zadok was an excellent discerner of the right choice. In both cases, these were the righteous and God-approved choices. Even Abiathar, who stood with David over Absalom, got it wrong when Adonijah tried to supplant God’s will concerning David’s rightful successor. For this reason, Zadok took his place alongside Samuel as the only priests to anoint a king during the United Kingdom period of Israel’s history (1 Kings 1:39). It was this event Handel coopted to write his coronation hymn. God had bright hopes for those who feared Him, that they would be able to “distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him” (Mal. 3:18). That was Zadok, and it should be us–regarding preachers, elders, teachers, as well as every child of God we have dealings with. We must grow in our ability to be capable fruit inspectors (cf. Mat. 7:15-20; John 7:24).
Thank God for Bible characters who show us, with their lives, the way to please Him with ours. The times may, in some ways, be drastically different from when Zadok walked the earth. But, with the time God gives us, we would do well to imitate these traits of this priest of God remembering that God desires us to be faithful priests for Him today (cf. 1 Pet. 2:1-9).
Perhaps you heard about the 30 “followers of motivational speaker Tony Robbins” who “were burned while walking on hot coals” in Dallas, Texas, over the weekend (nbcnews.com). Now, nearly 7,000 others were not injured, but when nearly three dozen were it became a national news story. The firewalk is “a symbolic experience that proves if you can make it through the fire, you can make it through anything” (ibid.). But, there is a catch. Don’t run, have wet feet, or try to go across a firebed that is too long (the Guiness Book of World Records says the longest firewalk was just shy of 600 feet in Calgary in 2007). No one seems to disagree that one cannot indefinitely walk on hot coals. God, who created fire and feet, moved Solomon to say, “Or can a man walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched?” (Prov. 6:28).
This statement comes as part of Solomon’s warning about “the evil woman” and the “adulteress” (cf. 6:24). He warns about her alluring beauty and ways (25), showing the consequences that one may miss when driven by lust rather than law: one is reduced (26), destroyed (32), wounded and disgraced (33), reproached (33), and repaid with revenge (34). One of Solomon’s two metaphors to depict adultery’s repercussions is feet being burned by walking on hot coals (the other is taking fire in his bosom and his clothes being burned).
Countless men and women have been deceived by the seemingly harmless effects of allowing attraction for someone other than their mate to grow in their hearts and minds. One may let admiration and attraction for this other person to take root in their hearts. Defenses are lowered and lines begin to be crossed. The thrill and excitement of the prospective relationship can come to eclipse rational thoughts, negative consequences, and the fallout in the lives of all the people affected. When David gazed at Bathsheba from his rooftop, he saw a beautiful, naked woman rather than murder, death, humiliation, dysfunction, loss of influence, and agonizing heartbreak. His unlawful desire for her prevented him from seeing past what he wanted in the moment.
God’s laws are immutable. One cannot flout them without the fruit that follows. So many who have crossed that line have desperately wished they could go back to the other side of that firebed and taken the righteous path. May each of us have the wisdom to see these kinds of things from God’s eyes, which are pure, right, and perfect. Realize that pursuing a person who is not your lawful mate is like playing with fire! Don’t get burned.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency was formed in 1958 for technological advancements and has been responsible for so many of the gadgets and conveniences we enjoy today. They use a variety of means to “both advance knowledge through basic research and create innovative technologies that address current practical problems through applied research” (darpa.mil). SRI International, one of the agencies DARPA partners with, “has taken inspiration from the giant mound of insects, to create their own swarms of tiny worker robots that can put together mechanical assemblies and electronic circuits” (Michael Trei, dvice.com). The military has given thought to using these robots to rebuild and repair, even in the midst of battle. Who can foresee where this technology may show up in our daily lives?
People can be incredibly brilliant and innovative. There is no limit to our imagination and invention. Yet, this (and many other examples) points up to God in at least two ways. First, our intelligence points to an intelligent designer. Moses informs us that we are made in the very image of our Creator (Gen. 1:26-27). Second, our brightest developments and designs are drawn from what God’s created world. Solomon once admonished, “Go to the ant, O sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise, Which, having no chief, Officer or ruler, Prepares her food in the summer And gathers her provision in the harvest” (Prov. 6:6-8). They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. How ironic that in a world growing more unbelieving, mankind keeps paying tribute to the wisdom and power of the One who made it all.