Yes, I read Ecclesiastes on my 70th Birthday. And believe me, I was wondering why – in the early going.
The King-Preacher who writes begins his writing looking at his own earthly life full of the riches and delights of this world (“under the sun”), only to conclude that all is emptiness (Ecc. 1:14).
He seems a step from despair.
Was he 70 years old when writing? I could see that if I stopped with the early chapters my review of my 70 years might be quite dismal.
But continuing on, the Preacher seems to broaden his gaze to include the people around him. His writing becomes less dark and there are actually some broadly recognized building blocks of good values that emerge from his observations (“Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.” Ecclesiastes 4:6 ESV).
But still the end of it all here under the sun was emptiness – according to the Preacher. I knew I had to press on in the reading for my own soul’s sake.
The third and final movement of the book is the lifting of the Preacher’s gaze heavenward. The vanity of indulging the desires of self gives way to the value of serving God alone. God comes into view and the most valuable lessons are drawn. At the end of his writing the Preacher is no longer near despair in navel-gazing, but instead seems to be rising up and coming closer and closer to the rapture of life lived heaven-ward (Ecc. 3:11-15; 4:6-9; 12:13-14).
So, the moral of the my 70th birthday reading? Take your eyes off self, Dave, and look to God above.
At no time does the wisest man on earth conclude that living to please God is wearying, fruitless emptiness. And I believe the Apostle Paul would agree, having written to the early Christians so wisely, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Only then do we find the peace of God regarding the course our lives might take and what little or much fruit they might bear (see Colossians 3:1-4; Philippians 4:4-9).
Over the course of 70 years I’ve learned like the Preacher did that rejoicing in my own attainments and pleasures is indeed a passing thing and worthless in the light of the eternity God has written into my heart. But rejoicing in God and His grace? That’s quite another matter – the end of the matter on this 70th birthday.
My commitment today when life seems so short and fleeting, to determine this with Charles Spurgeon: “I will go to the cross again. Come, my soul, you were once heavy-laden, and you lost your burden there. Go to Calvary again. Perhaps that very cross that gave you life may give you fruitfulness. What is my barrenness? It is the platform for His fruit-creating power. What is my desolation? It is the dark setting for the sapphire of His everlasting love. I will go to Him in my poverty, I will go in my helplessness, I will go in all my shame and backsliding; I will tell Him that I am still His child, and finding confidence in His faithful heart, even I, the barren one, will sing and cry aloud.” (“Hope in Barrenness,” Morning & Evening, August 28. See info. below)