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The Christadelphian | May 2014

In the magazine this month:

  • Editorial The quality of forgiveness
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Sunday morning God’s lovingkindness | Geoff Henstock
  • 100 years ago
  • Studies in Matthew’s Gospel 05 – “The kingdom of God will be taken from you …” | John Benson
  • The withering sun in Ecclesiastes | Nigel Bernard
  • Archaeology in focus 05 – Shrines of Artemis | James Andrews
  • 100 years ago
  • The purpose of the Ecclesia 04 – The Ecclesia as the body of Christ part 1 | Peter Anderton & Paul Tovell
  • Restoring faith in our faith | Jon Downes
  • Bible Companion | John Hingley
  • Enhancing our worship Suggestions for May | John Botten
  • Faith Alive! Questions about baptism | Andrew Bramhill
  • Book Review Micah Study Guide | Tecwyn Morgan
  • Signs of the times Russia, Ukraine & ourselves | Roger Long
  • Israel and their Land Israel under threat | Roger Long
  • Epilogue “Doing the works of God” | David Caudery
  • The brotherhood near and far

A sample article from this edition:

The withering sun in Ecclesiastes

The teaching of Ecclesiastes is opened up for us by comparing it with other passages of scripture.

WHEREVER you go in the world of Ecclesiastes the sun is there. In Ecclesiastes 1:3 it is written: “What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?” The phrase, “under the sun” is a constant refrain throughout the book, occurring twenty-seven times in total.

The phrase is used to encompass all things, but its repeated use also relates to the theme of vanity which also runs through Ecclesiastes. The ubiquitous presence of the sun in this book represents the ever-present corruption and mortality in the world.

Pleasant

In Ecclesiastes 11 Solomon writes: “Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun” (verse 7). We know this to be true from experience. Moreover, not only is it pleasant, sunlight is also necessary for our health. For example, our bodies use sunlight to form vitamin D, necessary, amongst other things, for the absorption of calcium and bone development. Interestingly in this regard, verse 5 speaks of our ignorance of “how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child”.

Yet, despite the pleasant aspect of the sun, Solomon states the following:

“For wisdom is a defence, and money is a defence: but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it.” (Ecclesiastes 7:12)

The Hebrew word translated “defence” in this verse is more correctly translated “shadow”. If the sun is so pleasant, why should man devote wisdom and money to living in shadow? Because, although the sun is pleasant, it can also be oppressive and withering. We shall now consider some other passages in scripture which show this.

Withering

An example of where the Hebrew for “defence” (shadow) is found is when Jonah was sitting outside Nineveh and “the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head …” (Jonah 4:6). The gourd provided a shadow:

“But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered. And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live.” (verses 7,8)

Far from being pleasant, the sun beat down upon Jonah making him faint and wishing for death. Similarly, the sun is beating down on the world of Ecclesiastes, a world like ours of mortality and corruption. Man devotes much time and resources to alleviating and stemming the effects of mortality, but no shade is good enough to escape it fully.

In the New Testament, James uses the withering effect of the sun to typify the corruptibility and mortality of man:

“For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.” (1:11)

This is the sun which is shining down on the world of Ecclesiastes. However much the rich spend on preventing the effects of mortality, eventually they will wither like the grass.

Tribulation and persecution

The world of Ecclesiastes, with its withering mortality, is the one in which the believer walks towards the kingdom. But this corruptible world can be used to chastise and prove us. Through God’s word and angelic ministration, the world provides a means by which tribulation and persecution can be brought to bear for our good. This aspect of the withering sun is drawn on by Christ in the Parable of the Sower. Concerning the stony ground he said:

“Some [seed] fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: and when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.” (Matthew 13:5,6)

In his interpretation of the parable, Christ likens the sun to tribulation and persecution:

“But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.” (verses 20,21)

The way to overcome this tribulation is not primarily by seeking for shade, but rather, we should put down deep roots so that we can endure to the end in this life and be granted the ultimate shade of eternal life in the kingdom.

Jeremiah wrote:

“Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.” (17:7,8)

Heat and drought will inevitably come. We must be prepared by laying down deep roots in the meantime. The roots are formed by drawing deeply on the Spirit-word, and in so doing developing faith in, and love of, God. As Paul wrote:

“… that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love …” (Ephesians 3:16,17)

Kingdom shade

Ecclesiastes speaks of the “vanity of vanities” (1:2), but in contrast, the Song of Solomon replaces the “vanity of vanities” with “The song of songs” (1:1). The bride had experienced the withering sun of the world of Ecclesiastes: “… I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me” (verse 6). But this persecution and tribulation had brought spiritual benefit and so she was able to say: “I am black, but comely” (verse 5). Likewise, we live in the world of Ecclesiastes, although we are not of it. Ecclesiastes shows what life is like under the sun without hope. But we have the deep-rooted hope of Israel which helps us patiently to bear the tribulations of life.

When Christ returns he will shine as the sun. But this sun will not be withering and bring corruption. It will instead bring healing: “But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings …” (Malachi 4:2). As for the sun of Ecclesiastes, it will no longer be able to harm the redeemed:

“They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:16,17)

Nigel Bernard

 

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