The Search is Over: “Strands that Bind” – Ecclesiastes 6

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The Search is Over: “Strands that Bind” – Ecclesiastes 6

The word “Lilliputian” means something trivial or tiny. The term comes from the Irish author Jonathan Swift, who wrote in the early 18th century Gulliver’s Travels, where he told of an imaginary country of Lilliput, a place inhabited by people a mere 6 inches tall.

The full name of the work is Gulliver’s Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World in Four Parts and it weaves the travel tales of Lemuel Gulliver, a man who was first a surgeon, then a captain of several ships (1726, amended 1735). After a brief outline of his life and history before his voyages, part one recalls the fictional “Voyage to Lilliput” supposedly beginning on 4 May 1699. Gulliver washed ashore after a shipwreck and found himself a prisoner of a race of the tiny citizens of Lilliput Court. In order to keep this dangerous monster at bay, ropes that appeared as little more than strands were lapped across the sleeping giant as Lemuel lay on the beach. The Lilliputians needed assurances that Gulliver would not harm them. No single strand was large, but together, they were enough to hold Gulliver in place. In short, Lemuel Gulliver was in bondage.

I mention this classic of English literature because it illustrates something Solomon observed about men of his day. He would likely say it this way: If there is one word that describes the unbeliever… it is BONDAGE! He wrote in Ecclesiastes 6…

Key Principle: Though men may have many things, without a relationship with the God those things have no ultimate meaning!

Though they seem free – without a connection to their Creator Who gives life meaning, men are actually in bondage, held by six tough strands that keep them in fixed in place. As the chapter opened, Solomon shared that truth by stating it as an observation.

Ecclesiastes 6:1 There is an evil which I have seen under the sun and it is prevalent among men—

Note that Solomon observed the fact, and made clear it was a common occurrence for the men of his time. He first cautioned them to…

Wake up to see the cords (6:2-7)

You never address a problem you don’t admit to having. Solomon watched the people around him, and observed six problems, each that acted as a “cord”.

First, there was the cord of “unfulfilled busyness” (6:1-2).

Solomon noted the prevalent evil of…

Ecclesiastes 6:2 …a man to whom God has given riches and wealth and honor so that his soul lacks nothing of all that he desires; yet God has not empowered him to eat from them, for a foreigner enjoys them. This is vanity and a severe affliction.

Many a man or woman has worked tirelessly to gain wealth only to die before they had the time to really enjoy the fruits of their retirement. Here, the idea seems a bit different. Did you notice the word “foreigner” for the person who enjoyed the results of the other’s labor? For some people (apparently many in Solomon’s observation) they worked, perhaps at innovation or invention – but were consumed with the process and development of their vision, and didn’t take the time to enjoy their own success. Perhaps they developed great machines and vast systems to produce incredible products. Maybe they simply built the “better mouse trap.” In any case, they were sadly unable to stop creating and begin enjoying what they have produced.

This is a good word for the mom or dad who is “always on” in the instruction and modeling mode. There are times you need to sit back and smile at the little man or woman you are molding and shaping. Constant work doesn’t produce proper joy. We need to laugh with our children, enjoy their creative minds, and sometimes even join them in their silliness. It is possible to raise godly and responsible children, and have absolutely no fun in the process. It will be some “foreigner” that will benefit in the marriage – but you won’t see the benefit unless you take time to look for it.

How sad to work and work at a project that is successful, only to get caught up in the next level of the vision without any break to enjoy the labor. “Don’t do it!” Solomon warned. Many people do, but you don’t have to!

Second, there was the cord of the uncertainty of people (6:3).

In addition to forgetting to break the strand of the unfulfilled busyness, Solomon observed another tendency. He wrote,

Ecclesiastes 6:3 If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, however many they be, but his soul is not satisfied with good things and he does not even have a proper burial, then I say, “Better the miscarriage than he

Solomon knew that people will let you down, no matter how many are in your life. It doesn’t matter how close they have been to you emotionally (like your children) they will still fail you. Without satisfaction and contentment that isn’t dependent upon the relationships of your life, time will bring only more pain, uncertainty and trouble! Let’s face it: People are erratic and unreliable. In the proverb of Solomon the man had an extremely large family and an incredibly long life – but more people didn’t equal more satisfaction – only more responsibility.

The way Solomon made known the point of the proverbial saying was through the notion of a “proper burial” that he mentioned near the end of the verse. The man certainly had plenty of heirs to care for his burial, but in his case, they didn’t follow through on their duties. In the time of Solomon, the act of burying a loved one was of even greater import than it is today. The initial burial was temporary. The body was washed and smeared with an oily based cream along with a number of spices that aided in the degradation of the body. After a time, the tomb was opened and the bones of the loved one were gathered and placed into a repository beneath the bench upon which the body was originally prepared and allowed to degrade. As the bones went into the repository, the loved one was again mixed into the pile of bones of their family members from which they came. Since the process often took in excess of eighteen months, less attentive sons would not commit the bones to the repository, but got too busy to finish the proper burial.

Think about how this verse relates to the sentence before it. Could it be the sons learned continual work from their father, and now could not find the time to honor him with a finished permanent burial? Perhaps the fact that we are too busy when they are young won’t be clear until they become like us in later years.

Consider Harry Chapin’s words that pick up this theme:

My child arrived just the other day; He came to the world in the usual way…But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay; He learned to walk while I was away. And he was talking ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew; He’d say, “I’m gonna be like you, Dad – You know I’m gonna be like you.”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon, Little boy blue and the man in the moon, “When you coming home, Dad?” “I don’t know when – But we’ll get together then, You know we’ll have a good time then.”

My son turned ten just the other day; He said, “Thanks for the ball, Dad; come on, let’s play. Can you teach me to throw?” I said, “Not today, I got a lot to do.” He said, “That’s okay.” And he walked away, but his smile never dimmed – And said, “I’m gonna be like him, yeah, You know I’m gonna be like him.”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon, Little boy blue and the man in the moon, “When you coming home, Dad?” “I don’t know when – But we’ll get together then, You know we’ll have a good time then.”

Well, he came from college just the other day. So much like a man, I just had to say
“Son, I’m proud of you. Can you sit for a while?” He shook his head, and he said with a smile, “What I’d really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys – See you later; can I have them please?”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon, Little boy blue and the man in the moon, “When you coming home, dad?” “I don’t know when – But we’ll get together then, You know we’ll have a good time then.”

I’ve long since retired, and my son’s moved away. I called him up just the other day
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind.” He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I could find the time. You see, my new job’s a hassle, and the kid’s got the flu – But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad. It’s been sure nice talking to you.”

And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me – He’d grown up just like me. My boy was just like me…

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon, Little boy blue and the man in the moon, “When you coming home, Dad?” “I don’t know when – But we’ll get together then, You know we’ll have a good time then.” (Harry F .Chapin, Sandy Chapin • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.)

It is true, what they say, “We grow too soon old and too late smart!” We teach a pattern and then are surprised when they follow our footsteps.

The truth is you cannot make your life about other people in the sense that you are dependent upon them to act in a way that brings you continual happiness. You cannot even really place your trust in the most responsible of them to be utterly reliable. People may try to please you, but in time you will find they fail you. One hundred children later – the man still couldn’t get a decent burial put on by his kids. In the end, Solomon would warn you not to put all your trust in people.

Third, there is the cord of the faded fame (6:4).

One of the reasons we shouldn’t trust in people too much is that we are all afflicted with short memories. Solomon wrote:

Ecclesiastes 6:4 …for it comes in futility and goes into obscurity; and its name is covered in obscurity.

Some of us may be picked out for “stardom” in some limited way – but most of us won’t. We all want to be remembered, but despite our desire, the world won’t stop when we are gone. All the hard work to become famous will quickly fade away and a generation later, no one will recall what we worked so hard to achieve. Fame is fleeting and the public’s memory is fragile.

I was reading a note the other morning that offered the testimony of a pastor I heard of, but never met. He was telling of a time shortly after he moved to California and began preaching, when troubles overwhelmed him. On the surface, it looked like his life was going well. He had a wonderful wife, three children and a fast growing congregation. What most people didn’t know was that one of his children expressed no relationship with Jesus, and was defiant in the home. The rebel child eventually took to the streets and filled his life with drugs. Our pastor friend, at the height of the growth of the work where he served, was preparing to resign, as he felt disgraced and grieved beyond any reasonable measure. As that was going on, another pastor, an acquaintance from meetings knocked on his door. He told our friend to “Get in the car” and they went for a drive to a nearby correctional facility. Parked outside, the driver turned and explained that for several years his daughter was housed in that place, and it nearly destroyed his life and ministry. Our friend began to cry and unburdened his life. Who doesn’t need a friend like that?

Solomon would warn you – most people don’t respond that way. Some will gossip. Some will condemn. Some will explain what you did wrong after the fact, and you will end up with a greater sense of guilt. We were wired to need others, but apart from the relationship with God, our need of others will not satisfy. More often than not, it will become a way of keeping us from coming directly to our heavenly Father.

We see it in counseling all the time. People who really need to pray, want to talk to a counselor, but not to God. They have no peace, because they seek it in the wrong place.

Some of you may recall the low action comedy of yesteryear named “Cheers” If you don’t recall the show, you may remember the theme song that reminded us that “Sometimes we want to go where everybody knows our name.” It is nice to be recognized, but we dare not build our self-esteem from the recognition of others. It is wonderful to be loved, but sometimes loving means being tough – so we cannot judge our lives by popularity – even among those we raise in our homes.

Solomon’s argument was that a miscarriage passed into and out of life quickly, and never felt the sting of making so little a difference on the planet. We must reckon with the truth that we will never make that much a difference in the world apart from fulfilling our God-given role in this life.

Fourth, there is the cord of the shadows (6:5).

Solomon continued his observations of the fortunate miscarriage as compared to the living miserable who trust in things that cannot satisfy. He wrote,

Ecclesiastes 6:5 It never sees the sun and it never knows anything; it is better off than he.

The wise old king could not perceive a single benefit to a life without satisfaction. He called the never living “better” because they didn’t experience to pains and insecurities of life without the surety of a walk with God.

Perhaps you have watched George Bailey one Christmas in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The theme of the work was very much about this verse. Is it better to have “never lived” or to face the problems of life with loved ones and friends.

The 1946 American Christmas drama was produced by Frank Capra, based on the short story “The Greatest Gift,” which Philip Van Doren Stern wrote a decade before. Jimmy Stewart famously played George Bailey, a man who had consistently given up his dreams in order to help others. Under extreme pressure, he attempted suicide on Christmas Eve but was saved through the intervention of his “not so professional acting” guardian angel, Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers). Clarence shows George all the lives he has touched and how different life in his community of Bedford Falls would be had he never been born.

In Capra’s film, the meaning of life was found in friends. Solomon would have accepted none of that as a premise. He knew the truth. Life without a connection to its Author, the One Who made sense of it all, was nonsense. He pressed the idea even further with two more cords that fasten a lost man, one unconnected to the Creator, to the Earth.

Fifth, there is the cord of meaninglessness (6:6).

At the core of many of Solomon’s remarks is this one – life apart from God brings no lasting satisfaction regardless of how long it lasts. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 6:6 Even if the other man lives a thousand years twice and does not enjoy good things—do not all go to one place?”

Without an intimate connection to God there is no enduring sense of purpose. Without that sense of purpose grounding our life and our accomplishments, there is little to truly look forward to but the grave!

Tucked into the twentieth chapter of the second book of the Kings in Scripture is a reminder of the folly of more time without the change of one’s heart toward God. Hezekiah had been a great king and loyal follower of God, until he read his own press clippings, and found himself satisfied in where he was, apart from a growing relationship with God. An illness overtook him, and a prophecy came that he was facing his own end. As he lay dying, he pleaded with God for more time. God heard his prayer, and told him that his life would be extended. Instead of using the additional time to build his walk with God, he went back to the life of distance from Him, and lived an addition fifteen years. The problem with the extra years is that time wasn’t all he needed – a renewal of commitment to God was the true need. A few years into the extended period of his life brought a new baby to the household – the little prince that would become King Manasseh upon Hezekiah’s death. Manasseh grew up in a household with a father who had a reputation for righteousness based on a past walk – and Manasseh got none of the reality of a walk with God. Until near the end of his long reign, Manasseh afflicted Israel with his grievous overt sinful character. Hezekiah got more time, but without using it to build his walk with God, it became a curse to the nation, not a blessing.

Time on Earth isn’t what you need to satisfy you – a deep connection to your Creator will fill the true need. You need to know why you were placed here, and what your life purpose truly is. That is found in your God. Apart from Him, life can be long, but the cord of meaninglessness will bind you through each year.

Solomon offered one more cord…

Sixth, there is the cord of appetite (6:7).

This is a terrible cord to remind us of at the holiday season, but I suspect he is not simply referring to a buffet table my wife prepared. He wrote,

Ecclesiastes 6:7 All a man’s labor is for his mouth and yet the appetite is not satisfied.

Haven’t you felt the tug of that cord on your life? Have you ever wanted something and thought it would bring a lasting satisfaction or peace – and they you got it. Within a few hours (perhaps) you were already planning the next purchase of an attachment for the thing you just got, so you could THEN make it satisfy you. On and on it goes. We never have enough. Things never quite fill the hole!

Rev. Mark Opperman wrote,

God populated the earth with broccoli and cauliflower and spinach, green & yellow vegetables of all kinds, so that man and woman would live long and healthy lives. Then Satan created McDonald’s. And McDonald’s brought forth the 99-cent double-cheeseburger. Then Satan said to man, “Do you want fries with that?” And the man said, “Super-size them!” And man gained many pounds.

God created healthful yogurt so woman might keep her figure that man found so fair. Then Satan brought forth chocolate, and woman gained pounds. God said, “Try my crispy fresh salad.” Then Satan brought forth ice cream. And woman gained more pounds.

God said, “I have sent you heart healthy vegetables and olive oil with which to cook them.” Then Satan brought forth chicken-fried steak so big it needed its own platter, and man gained girth and much bad cholesterol.

So God brought forth running shoes and man resolved to lose his extra pounds. Then Satan brought forth cable TV with remote control so man would not have to toil to change channels. And man gained even more pounds.

God brought forth the potato – a vegetable naturally low in fat and brimming with nutrition. Satan peeled off the healthful skin and sliced the starchy center into chips and deep-fat fried them. Thus he created sour cream dip also… and man clutched his remote control and ate his potato chips marinated in cholesterol. Satan saw it and said, “It is good.” and Man went into cardiac arrest.

God sighed, & created quadruple bypass heart surgery. Then Satan created HMO’s.” (Mark adapted this from text at: www.mamarocks.com)

We all know what it means to be tempted with something that is not a need, but a want that is disguised as a need. C. S. Lewis made these insightful observations about such tempting waves:

No man knows how bad he is until he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. That is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is…. Christ, because He was the only Man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only Man who knows to the full what temptation means.” (Today in the Word, November, 1998, p. 24)

If you have struggled with a diet, I don’t have to explain the cord of appetite. You already know it!

The Summary: Life tied down to the earth is drudgery (6:8)

Solomon summarized the six cords that he observed in one single statement of life…

Ecclesiastes 6:8 For what advantage does the wise man have over the fool? What advantage does the poor man have, knowing how to walk before the living?

Men work to meet their needs, and yet cannot get all they need. Most don’t even grow in the process!

In short, men without God simply are not free men. They are tied to the Earth from which they have tried to draw their fulfillment and sustenance.

• Some work by don’t get the fruit of their labors.
• Some feel the tug of unreliable people around them.
• Some hurt because they recognize people won’t remember them for long.
• Some feel life is filled with missed opportunities and failed dreams.
• Most know it is hard to be optimistic about the grave without God.
• Few get satisfaction for their appetites.

That is lost man’s condition. He is tied down. He is frustrated.

Yet, Solomon knows it IS possible to break free! He knows that we must first change our mind before we can grasp new hope. He offered instruction.

How to Break Loose the Binding Cord (6:9-12)

Essentially, Solomon made the process of breaking the cords clear in four steps:

The first step requires that I stop trusting in a dream of the future and take a sober look at now (6:9). Solomon expressed it this way,

Ecclesiastes 6:9 What the eyes see is better than what the soul desires. This too is futility and a striving after wind.

It is better to live in the reality of now. Some people dream their way through life.

Tom Jacobs, a staff writer at Pacific Standard Magazine wrote an interesting article about the young people just graduating from High School a few years ago. He follows the publishing of a statistical study with analysis that showed,

Twenty-five percent of blossoming Boomers admitted that “not wanting to work hard” might prevent them from getting a desired job. Among the Millennials, that number increased to 39 percent. (These trends were consistent regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic status.)

In other words, nearly half of the students surveyed admitted they wanted the benefits of work they weren’t really committing to do. Tom continued,

What’s the matter with kids today? “Youth raised during times of societal instability (e.g., unemployment) and disconnection (e.g., more unmarried parents) were especially likely to endorse materialistic values,” the researchers write. “Furthermore, when a larger percentage of the nation’s economy was oriented toward advertising messages, youth were also likely to prioritize materialistic aims.”

There it is. The cost of the broken homes of America and the politics of economy have conspired to leave a generation who lean now toward things to make them happy – even though things seem more elusive to many. Some researchers hoped for this group to steer away from materialism toward the simple life. He wrote,

“Numerous social observers suggested that children (growing up in the current economic downturn) might reject materialistic values and return to frugality and thrift,” they note. “The current data argue against such predictions, given that the dislocation and insecurity wrought by high levels of unemployment and other economic woes are associated with higher levels of materialism later in life.” …Perhaps we should call them the “Frustration Generation.”

Studies don’t get it all right, so we must look at them with healthy skepticism. At the same time, it is clear that many today seem to think “something will happen” that will make them successful that will take them almost by surprise when it comes. “The big break” philosophy that is growing seems to see the height of the mountain of success, without the climb to get there. Solomon waves us off and says: “Get real! What you see is not a dream, it is reality. Deal with it.” People who think “It will somehow happen” live in a dream world that survives off someone else’s hard labor. We must get real. Let’s call this the death of unhealthy dreams

A second step Solomon offered is this: We must stop fighting the things that are not ours to change (6:10-11).

Ecclesiastes 6:10 Whatever exists has already been named, and it is known what man is; for he cannot dispute with him who is stronger than he is.

There are many things about my life that are already determined and defined – and I waste my energy fighting those. That doesn’t mean I cannot have some ideals worth fighting for – it means I have to choose fighting for ideals that are possible. I will not convince the world of the evils of breathing, and I cannot take a stand to call people to stop all taxes and yet have an organized society. Anarchists are often idealists run amuck.

There are things you can change and should seek to try, both personal and societal. Activism is encouraged and even called for in God’s Word. The problem is, some people take on causes against things God has already defined and set. You can’t beat some things because God didn’t give them to your charge. Let’s call this the death of unhealthy idealism.

A third step Solomon offered toward casting off bonds is this: We must recognize we can learn much, but even that won’t offer you all the answers (6:11).

Education is great, and learning is necessary, but it won’t solve every problem. He wrote:

Ecclesiastes 6:11 For there are many words which increase futility. What then is the advantage to a man?

There are problems too deeply rooted in the fallen world for us to pull out. There are connected issues we won’t see, even with our many studies and careful observations. We can’t fix everything – we can’t even really understand everything. Let’s call this the death of unhealthy expectations.

Finally, Solomon offered the positive that can unbind the cords of man (6:12). He offered two rhetorical questions:

Ecclesiastes 6:12 For who knows what is good for a man during his lifetime, during the few years of his futile life? He will spend them like a shadow. For who can tell a man what will be after him under the sun?

The two questions begin: “Who knows?” and “Who can tell him?” Both have the same answer: Man’s Creator. He alone knows what is best – you don’t know even when you think you do!

“Why do I need God?” the young man asked me. “I have health, strength, a good job and great friends. Things are going fine for me without Him.” He said, “You will not always have any of the things you mentioned.” I replied, “Your health will fail as will your strength. Your friends will be right beside you until they cannot. If you look around you, there is vast evidence of those truths. There is MUCH about life that cannot be seen in the present.”

If in watching all the stages of life we can learn anything, it is this: We often don’t get the answers until after we really seemed to need them. Experiences that are painful are often helpful – but only after the fact.

Solomon ended where life begins – with God.

He created you. He formed you in your mother’s womb. Your DNA was intentionally and carefully combined from many others in a complicated formula played out from the beginning of time. He is the only One Who knows you makeup at that level, and the only One Who sees your destiny and contribution to the tapestry of His story called human history.

He is the Designer. Why seek your answers from any other place? Solomon made the ending observation that without asking Him, your life will be like “a shadow.” It will look like something, but not have a lasting discernible impact. God knows why you are here, and God knows what story He is telling. Why not talk to Him about your life and its purpose?