What did King Nebuchadnezzar of ancient Babylon and Nikolai Ceausescu of present-day Romania have in common? Both were ruthless dictators who fell after boldly exalting themselves.
Nebuchadnezzar brazenly declared that he had built the great city of Babylon by his own power and for the honor of his majesty (Dan. 4:30). God humbled him by driving him into the wilderness with a mental illness.
Ceausescu, after years of cruelly persecuting Christians and killing all potential threats to his power, instructed the National Opera to produce a song in his honor that included these words: "Ceausescu is good, righteous, and holy." He wanted this song to be sung on his 72nd birthday on January 26, 1990, but on December 25, 1989, he and his wife were executed. Although his overthrow was part of the anticommunist revolution that swept through eastern Europe, many Christians see his sudden downfall as an act of God. One Romanian, Peter Dugulescu, said that it was "because he took for himself the glory of God."
Our Daily Bread, August 2, 1992
Today, we will consider with Solomon common vanities and the world's frequent response that contends with God. The first nine verses yet again lists for us challenging, but true, realities of life, for which we do not always have answers. The last three verses point out mankind's wrong response to these vanities and asks rhetorical questions to point out our futility in answering them on our own.
COMMON VANITIES, Vs. 1-9
GAINING BUT LOSING, Vs. 1-2
1 There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common among men:
2 A man to whom God hath given riches, wealth, and honour, so that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth, yet God giveth him not power to eat thereof, but a stranger eateth it: this is vanity, and it is an evil disease.
This person gains all the material things the heart could desire, but God does not give him the power to enjoy it. He is the reverse of 5:19.
19 Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God.
It appears he has a misplaced joy. Rather than enjoying his portion of life labor in relationship with God, he seeks joy in his profits.
It is either that, or it is another situation like Job that cannot be understood with our own wisdom. A vanity from our perspective under the sun.
Secondly, we see someone having a long, full life, but a starving soul and without respect at his death.
BEMOANING GOD'S PORTION, Vs. 3-6
3 If a man beget an hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years be many, and his soul be not filled with good, and also that he have no burial; I say, that an untimely birth is better than he.
4 For he cometh in with vanity, and departeth in darkness, and his name shall be covered with darkness.
5 Moreover he hath not seen the sun, nor known any thing: this hath more rest than the other.
6 Yea, though he live a thousand years twice told, yet hath he seen no good: do not all go to one place?
These verses compare a man who has many children and lives many years with a stillborn child.
Though he has many things, his soul is discontent and starving. For a reason not explained, he is not respected at his death. One can only assume it had to do with how we treated others in his discontented state. He dies in darkness and ends with the grave.
The child also goes to the same grave, but he or she never has to endure the darkness of soul that the other person endured. Therefore, the conclusion is that the child who never lived had more rest.
We learn so little about this theoretic, discontented man, but we clearly see the vanity of one living a full life with a starved soul. Once again, this is something far too common.
36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
We know Jesus invites us to do as Paul did—give up anything that keeps us from Christ and find life eternal in Christ.
Yet, many still choose to gain the whole world and starve and lose their own soul.
Thirdly, we see many laboring to fill an unsatisfiable appetite.
LABORING FOR APPETITE, Vs. 7
7 All the labour of man is for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled.
Another vanity! Another pursuit of the wind. I refer you back to last week's sermon in Ecclesiastes 5 to see how to enjoy our labor.
Fourthly, Solomon bemoans earthly wisdom.
BEMOANING WISDOM, Vs. 8
8 For what hath the wise more than the fool? what hath the poor, that knoweth to walk before the living?
Can earthly wisdom keep someone from the grave?
Can a prudent poor person who knows how to conduct himself save himself from the grave?
In the end under the sun, their earthly wisdom and prudence does not save them, yet many strive so hard at this very thing.
Lastly, Solomon points out how some pass on by the portion Gos has given them to chase what they don't have.
BYPASSING GOD'S PORTION, Vs. 9
9 Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire: this is also vanity and vexation of spirit.
This says it is better to pay attention to and enjoy God and what He has provided than to live as a wandering soul, always seeking for what is not.
Whether this be expressed through greed, new age enlightenment seekers, social theorists, war lords, or Disney movies, the wandering chase for that which is not still ends in vanity and idolatry.
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
Bypassing God's portion and revelation of Himself is an endless pursuit of vanity. It ends in idolatry.
This leads us to the inevitable contending with God. When we reject God's answers to life vanities and human brokenness, we contend with our own solutions.
CONTENTIOUS VANITIES, Vs. 10-12
10 That which hath been is named already, and it is known that it is man: neither may he contend with him that is mightier than he.
11 Seeing there be many things that increase vanity, what is man the better?
12 For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow? for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?
Vs. 10a—Mankind has been designed, defined, and determined by God.
Vs. 10b—Mankind has no ability to contend with God.
Vs. 11—Mankind's attempts at bettering himself is vain.
Vs. 12a—Mankind does not have the answers to these life vanities, nor does he know what is good for man in his short life.
Vs. 12b—Mankind can neither predict nor determine what will be on Earth after his life.
In summary, mankind cannot better and advantage himself beyond what God has designed, defined, and determined for him.
With all sorts of vanities common and abounding around us, our world is full of broken people trying to fix brokenness without God. This has been going on since Satan deceived Adam to follow him in prideful sin. One of the strongest biblical examples of this rebellion and humanism is found with Babel in Genesis 11.
1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.
3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.
4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.
6 And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.
8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.
The Genesis Babel is the iconic city of rebellion towards God in Scripture, about 4,500 years ago. God gave it a name that means "confusion."
The city and temple was being built as an attempt to keep the people in the Mesopotamia from spreading out and multiplying throughout the Earth, in opposition to what God had instructed them.
The building was likely a ziggurat temple. These buildings, as well as mountains, were considered to be dwelling places of the gods in the ancient Near East. They believed these were where heaven and earth met and where the gods met with humanity. They were considered the center of the cosmos.
They also believed these buildings were part of a mythological pole running through the earth where the gods controlled the underworld. It was likened to a "world tree," connecting these different worlds.
Ziggurats also served as economic hubs of the city for grain trading and such.
So this city and building was an attempt to centralize and control culture, religion, money, and thought. It was an attempt to "make a world for themselves' apart from God.
It was actually foolish, prideful rebellion against God, stemming from sin and Satanic influence.
Sinful, broken humans cannot build a better world; we need perfect God to fix our brokenness.
Our sinful problem is that we like to be right in our own eyes and goals—pride and foolishness.
Look with me at some pointed verses about this historic problem.
1 The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, There is none that doeth good.
6 In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
12 There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, And yet is not washed from their filthiness.
2 Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: But the Lord pondereth the hearts.
18 When thou shalt hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, to keep all his commandments which I command thee this day, to do that which is right in the eyes of the Lord thy God.
We need to concern ourselves with doing that which is right in God's eyes, not our own eyes.
The world does not accept this idea. The sin in us rebels it, but as followers of Christ we have the Holy Spirit encouraging obedience to God within us.
Those in Christ want to follow and obey God, but the world which rejects Christ contends with God.
So much of the messaging of our world is unknowingly or knowingly contending with God. Those lost in sin and without Christ are deceived by Satan's influence, believing humanity can make itself better and evolve beyond these common vanities around us. As we see in verses 10-12, this is only vanity.
Such vanity has been expressed systematically in various forms such as:
° Gnosticism (freedom from material existence through self-knowledge)
° New Age Movement (rejoin pantheistic deity, or universe, through personal enlightenment)
° Modernism (reason rules over revelation)
° Postmodernism (context rules over reason)
° Globalism (autonomy rules over context)
One common thread can be seen in all this—humanity seeks to free itself from their own brokenness.
It is important to note that current-day liberal theology is infused with humanistic thought. Now, don't confuse liberal politics with liberal theology, though there are often connections. These all of have different meanings that have even changed drastically through the years.
Liberal theology replaces revelation with reason, absolute truth with cultural relativism, and divine salvation with human optimism.
Like with Babylon in Genesis 11, Satan and sinful men and women rally to build and advance without God and in defiance of Him. Like with the people of Israel in the days of Judges, "right" is increasingly defined by what we see, "feel," and experience with our own eyes. Sinful men and women continually move toward a lifestyle "free" of any authority or objective truth.
It is incumbent upon us to see through the world's confusion and agendas and to observe that it is simply a continual repeat of Babel. Satan and sinners are on an endless pursuit of dominion and freedom.
This is not to say every worldly message and advancement is wrong—even a broken clock is right twice a day.
In the world's attempts of self-improvement, often with the influence of Christian conscience, the world has made great progress in matters such as advancing healthcare practices, abolishing slavery, addressing world hunger, providing clean water, producing educational systems, introducing representative democracy, protecting the rights of individuals, enabling more access to travel and trade. The list goes on.
While some good things do come as a result of the world building their Babel, we must remember it is still Babel being built.
So what's the answer? Don't contend with God, and don't get attached to Babylon.
Freedom is not found through fighting God and building our kingdoms. Freedom is found through submission to God and living for His kingdom, while enjoying our portion from Him as we saw in chapter 5.
Chapter 6 demonstrates the opposite of chapter 5.
God has already determined what mankind is, why we exist, and what is our future. Vs. 10a
God has no viable contender. Vs. 10b
People cannot evolve themselves, though the world continually tries. Vs. 11
Sinful men and women neither know what is good for them, nor can they predict their future. Vs. 12
Keep this in mind whenever anyone speaks of advancing civilization, the world, and mankind. Babylon is always the goal for those not following Christ—even if they do not realize it.
Let's seek God and His wisdom. Let's embrace His authority. Let's learn from His established Word.
Deny Babylon thinking. Stop contending with God.
Rest in God's goodness, order, and purposes amidst a fallen, broken world with obvious vanities.
How much of Babylon, or the world, have you embraced?
1 John 2:15–17
15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
The world is contending with God and trying to evolve themselves.
What is man the better?
Who knoweth what is good for man in this life?
Who can tell what will be after him under the sun?
God can and has. He made Himself available to broken man as Jesus. Come to Jesus. He alone saves from sin and fixes broken man eternally.
Stop contending with God. Trust and follow Him.