The previous post covered the hopeless lack of justice in a social order for those in rebellion to God’s covenant. All the apparent societal failures of humanist societal endeavors start from the prevalence of immorality amongst the people. Again, we find the Preacher’s call for regeneration within, obedience to, and hope from God’s covenant.
How does a society, sick with sin from roots to fruit, operate in their cultural ambitions? In what way does covenantal rebellions self-deification look like when applied to politics? In what way is the cultural goal and participation different for covenant-man?
Again, I saw vanity under the sun: one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business.
- Ecclesiastes 4:7-8
The Preacher shows another failure of rebellious humanity that will ultimately keep their desire of a humanistic moral-social order from succeeding — greed and covetousness.
Of the many manifestations of the crooked heart (v.1:15), unrestrained lust for more treasure results in loneliness. When the summum bonum (highest good) of one’s life is the amassing of material wealth, everyone becomes a threat to his storehouse. They may have a spouse, children, extended family, and friends in practice, but that “unity” of “relationship” is surface-only and under suspicion always.
In the previous post, “crap” flies when the “love (idolatry) of money” is present (1 Timothy 6:10). The sacrifice of relationships for profits is one of those foul results. No matter the benefits of a particular relationship, if it either stunts, lowers, or does not contribute to the wealth of the rebellious person pictured here, then in his heart he is, “one person who has no other, either son or brother” (v.8).
This drive for wealth, cut off from God’s covenantal grace, blessings, and ethics, actually hinders the growth of wealth in society. Michael W. Kelley writes,
The Preacher knows that God created man for social commerce and interrelationships. God did not intend that man should live alone in the land. In God’s program for man, wealth was never meant to drive men apart; instead, it should be experienced as a mutual benefit made possible by reciprocity and cooperation. But sin produces in man a covetousness that undermines every endeavor to realize a social order apart from God.
- Michael W. Kelley, The Burden of God, pp 92.
Shortages and scarcity have been with us since Creation. Adam only had 24 hours in a day, seven days a week, with a garden to tend and three rivers to survey. He didn’t have any tools to aid him in his task. However, as he and Eve were “fruitful” with one another, there was the potential for greater ability to overcome scarcity and shortages due to cooperation. But, sin was the wrench that ripped the great promise of pre-fall cooperation asunder. Thanks be to God, a lifting of the curse is available in His covenant (covered more in the following verses).
My final observation on this verse is a development from the paragraph above. This specific outcome amongst covenant rebels, and those outside of God’s covenant, is part of the curse itself. The Hebrew for this lack of satisfaction is לֹא־תִשְׂבַּ֣ע (never satisfied). Another occurrence of these same Hebrew words show God’s curse on fallen man is the genesis of this unfulfilled lust:
Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and never satisfied are the eyes of man.
- Proverbs 27:20
Sheol, or the grave, is the domain of death. Its existence, we can say, belongs to God’s curse on fallen humanity. The “never satisfied” eyes of the lonely and the ongoing pursuit of more riches is not only a moral failure for humanistic man but also a burden placed by Yahweh. The Preacher understood, and taught Israel, that the source of morality, and the curse, that cause man-centered societies to fail are the same — covenantal judgment.
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
- Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
The Preacher, turning his attention from cursed man’s vain “business” (v.8), begins exhorting God’s people. “Two” gain better rewards for their increased output. They can support one another. “Two” can keep warm. A “threefold cord” is strong. However, “one” is less productive, without help, cold, and loses to a group of two fighters or more. The point? Unity under God, and in His covenant, provides strength, help, and productivity.
While humanity, outside of God’s covenant, will shoot for good, they will fail in their attempts. However, the covenant provides man with something unattainable outside of it — covenantal loyalty.
The Hebrew word hesed, or chesed, is often translated as ‘lovingkindness’ or ‘covenant faithfulness.’ Most often, it is referring to the enduring mercy and faithfulness God has towards his people, which is rooted in His very character (Exodus 34:6-7).
God’s hesed gives us the foundation of practicing it towards each other. Consider the following examples in Scripture.
First, Abraham, when walking through hostile lands, asked Sarah to show him kindness by calling herself his sister during their travels there. It was common practice amongst rulers to kill husbands and take their wives, but a brother would be respected for he could give his sister away. By showing this kindness to Abraham, he could both protect his wife and himself while waiting on God to deliver him. They would practice hesed in protecting one another, and subsequently, God’s covenant, knowing that God would answer in accord with His hesed.
Second, Ruth sought out Boaz to redeem her, to set his cloak over her, to marry her, and be a kinsman-redeemer. Boaz, being an older man, and not the closest kinsmen, referred to her request as hesed (kindness). We see that covenant faithfulness, or lovingkindness expresses itself in binding oneself in a voluntary covenant with someone else.
Third, God’s regenerating grace found in the covenant makes men godly (hasid, a derivative of hesed). They are required, and enabled, to love God and neighbor. God protects his “faithful” people and judges those who practice wickedness (1 Samuel 2:9). God rewards the merciful with mercy (1 Samuel 22:26). God will hear the petitions of the “godly” (Psalm 4:3). Hesed not only characterizes God but also must characterize the actions and character of His people. Taking from the context of the examples above, as well as others not cited, the “godly” or “faithful” are humble, obedient, merciful, righteous, and confident in God’s providence.
Fourth, covenant faithfulness is an absolute moral requirement for those in the covenant (Micah 6:8).
Blessing of the covenant: cooperation
The Preacher is exhorting Israel to practice unity, peace, and cooperation. Michael W. Kelley understands the verse as saying, “The advantage of friendship is a feature truly known only to the covenant.” (Burden of God, pp 93)
The reason for this “advantage” is that there is only one Lord of the covenant. Men outside of the covenant reject the Lord. Rebellion at any stage or degree is a declaration of sovereignty. It’s an ethical self-deification. Covenant man is self-governed under God, practices God’s Law, and is accountable to His judgments and sanctions (Deuteronomy 28; cursings and blessings). This advantage allows for our friendships, cooperation, and inheritance.
Outside of the covenant, men have many gods, and these ethics go to war with themselves. Many masters create a divided house, and the City of Men cannot stand when envy, laziness, and discontentment rot it from the inside out.
The blessing in action
The covenant empowers God’s people to practice loyalty and friendship and to join in cooperative efforts. Many forms of cooperation are available for God’s people to leverage: partnerships, joint ventures, consultations, coalitions, federations, communions, etc. Even within these, there are variations due to party members, purpose, timeline objectives, etc. The benefit of these cooperative structures is the division of labor, allowing increased capital.
Second, this advantage makes generational wealth through inheritance possible. We looked at the blessing of inheritance in Ecclesiastes 4. The point is that generational wealth is needed for a society to last. Spiritually, God’s people must perpetuate principles of ethics and worship into future generations. Otherwise, the social-order will take on a decisively different culture.
Monetarily, inheritance is a must for a social-order. The City of Man, rife with envy of lust, will transition from trade to protection, and production to consumption, effectively diminishing generational wealth. What takes its place is generational debt. Since humanity in rebellion against God sets up man as god, tyranny results. One expression of tyranny is the removal of inheritance as a duty and liberty of the family and handing over inheritance to centralized bureaucracies.
For us, God’s covenant with all its tools and promises belongs to our children (Acts 2:39). The New Covenant is still the Abrahamic covenant since those in Christ are the offspring of Abraham (Galatians 3:29), albeit under a new administration, and parents are guardians of their children, who are already heirs of the same promise (Galatians 4:1-2). A requirement of our guardianship over our children is that we must train them for life in the covenant (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Proverbs 22:6). The covenantal institution of the family provides the framework, incentive, and promise of inheritance, both monetarily and spiritually.
Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice. For he went from prison to the throne, though in his own kingdom he had been born poor. I saw all the living who move about under the sun, along with that youth who was to stand in the king’s place. There was no end of all the people, all of whom he led. Yet those who come later will not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and a striving after wind.
- Ecclesiastes 4:13-16
Returning from the exhortation to Israel, the Preacher puts one more knife in humanistic social-orders. Again, the failure of a nation is always moral. The key to this text is identifying whose moral failure is in focus.
At first glance, when reading verse 13, it looks like the king is the target of critique. The conclusion we might draw is that this section is about evil or incompetent kings. Coming to this viewpoint is understandable, but the immediate context (vv.13-16) will make it evident that the moral failure the Preacher is pointing to is on the part of the people. The broader context (vv.1-16) also lends to this view, since much of its content is that men seeking social-orders contrary to God’s covenant will fail due to the crookedness of their morality.
Man-centered hope, revolution, and violence
With the understanding whose moral failure is the target, we must ask, “What is the Preacher teaching us?”
First, we have revolutionary thinking.
The idea here is that we, “the youth,” know how to fix all of this. The desire isn’t for reformation, godliness, applying God’s Law, and teaching the Gospel. Their fix was man, as seen in their hope in the State to relieve their burdens. The people who are not in submission to Solomonic-wisdom fall into worship of the State. Both the problem and solution in the social-order are political. Salvation falls to man.
Second, these revolutionary people are volatile.
They say, “The king won’t buckle to us.” These covenant rebels aren’t petitioning the king to fulfill his duty or practicing disobedience through lesser magistrates, but breathing threats. The word for ‘advice’ can also be translated as ‘warning’ or ‘admonishment.’ Of the three occurrences of this word, it used to warn of impending judgment and destruction. As we continue through the text, we will see this was not righteous judgment, but the judgment of misplaced messianic-hope.
Third, the morality of both the king and the people is suspect.
The ‘king’ was elected from ‘prison’ (v.14a). Here we have a criminal who promises to give the “justice” that has been denied by the “old order.” He is a “martyr” on the “people’s side.” Ultimately, he is a criminal who will not challenge the immorality of the people, and he intends to enforce their crimes as law. Although not covered in these verses, this lawless “messiah” becomes a new tyrant for a new set of people.
This criminal-ruler was not only of ill-repute in the country of his ascendence to the seat of power but also was of no good repute in his own country (v.14b). Remembering that Solomonic-wisdom practices Tota Scriptura (all of Scripture), the Preacher references, and assumes the covenant-children would recognize, the law forbidding foreign kings/rulers (Deuteronomy 17:15). The king is lawless, but to emphasize the Preacher’s intended end, the people who support him are crooked themselves.
Fourth, the man-centered social-order will always change (vv.15-16).
They do not have the eternal Lord and His abiding ethics as the foundation of their social order. A social-order filled with the fruits of God’s curse — envy, laziness, and discontent — will be ever-changing with the arrival of a new generation. There will always be new preferences, morality, gods, demands upon the government to provide for them. The king will not be favored as he catered to the former idols, and the new revolutionary faith will have him ousted. This cycle will continue without God’s covenant.
Man is not immutable, and so his societal goals and ideals will never last. The Preacher says that this is “vanity” and is “striving after wind.”
Fickleness rooted in immaturity
The desire of a people for a political savior and revolutionary faith and action are denials of maturity. They do not want the responsibility. The reason their nation is crumbling around them couldn’t be their fault. “Social decay couldn’t be my fault,” says the multitude of them, “It must be him/them! The government officials are “backward” and can’t usher in the future. Our future. My future!”
The problem and solution, according to the revolutionary faith, reside in the actions or inactions of the State. This humanistic faith functionally removes the weight of responsibility for building into the future from the shoulders of the “individual.” Yes, wicked rulers can hurt a nation, but God says He gives people the rulers they deserve, many of them (Proverbs 28:2), and frequently they are requested (1 Samuel 8:10-22).
However, through God’s covenant, ultimately offered in Jesus Christ, covenant man grows in maturity. God commands us to be “perfect,” better translated “mature” (Matthew 5:48). God’s Word will teach us how to be mature (Colossians 1:28). We will become more mature in prayer (Colossians 4:12). Also, bearing the responsibility of obedience to God and His Law through difficult times will produce maturity (James 1:2-4). We will develop the ethical-judicial ability to determine the difference between what is righteous and sinful (1 Corinthians 14:20). As He has promised, God will sanctify and mature us (John 17:7; 1 Thessalonians 5:23).
The solution of maturity
Godly maturity allows us to take responsibility for dealing with injustice, envy, laziness, and discontentment that destroys social orders. Election cycles will no longer have messianic expectations weighing them down. God’s Law will diagnose our societal problems, and those problems will be dealt with accordingly by those who fall within the proper jurisdiction. The problem may need to be addressed by an individual, parent, family member, neighbor, governmental representative, or God who we must petition to act on our behalf.
The Preacher teaches that the goal of a just, and lasting, social-order is accomplished by regeneration and obedient maturity, both found in the covenant through the Messiah — Jesus Christ.