Taking Death to Heart

This past year there has been a worldwide focus on death and efforts to avoid it that is unprecedented in most of our lifetimes.  God’s Word indicates that there is great spiritual value in considering death and its implications on our life and eternal destiny.

Death puts life in perspective. Keeping death in mind helps us to get the most out of life. We would rather go to a party than to a funeral, but Solomon observes that going to the house of mourning is more beneficial. Funerals point out that what has happened to another will happen to us as well. The wise take death to heart and live accordingly. The foolish pay no attention and keep their minds in the house of pleasure (Eccl 7:2, 4).

Just as men have no authority to restrain the wind, so they have no authority over the day of death. As we know by observation, not everyone lives to old age. Many die young and die suddenly as if they were a bird caught in a trap or a fish in a net (Eccl 9:12).  Since life can be short and death can come unexpectedly, it is important for young and old alike to take death to heart so that we can make the most out of life.

Throughout Ecclesiastes Solomon put various pursuits of life to the test in view of death to see if they are worthwhile. Are they worthy of being the focus of man’s time and attention? Do they have any lasting value that makes them truly fulfilling?

Read on as we review the truth that Solomon discovered and that God has revealed to us in the book of Ecclesiastes. Let us look at life through the eyes of death so that we might take death to heart. By doing so we will live our lives with wisdom and true satisfaction and in a manner well- pleasing to our Creator.

What death does to worldly work and wisdom: Solomon focused his attention on hard work and obtaining fruit from his labor as he tried to find out what to do with his life that produced true satisfaction.  He found that he hated the result of labor.  Why?  He must leave it to someone else.  He realized that when he died that he would leave this world naked just as he came in.  There was nothing that he worked for that he could carry away in his hand.  So, in effect, all his hard work was just toiling for the wind (5:15-16).   

As Solomon thought further he realized that not only would he leave it all behind when he died, but he would leave it to someone who might squander everything that he had worked so hard for.  There was no way that he could know if the one who inherited his money and property would be wise or whether they would be a fool, yet they would be in control of it.  It could all vanish very quickly.  Besides this, his heir wouldn’t have lifted a finger for what he received but would have it laid in his lap (2:18-21). 

We should take it to heart that death makes vain a life devoted to hard work in pursuit of worldly gain.  If true satisfaction is to be found in life, then it must be found in something else. 

Solomon decided to seek fulfillment in worldly wisdom.  Wisdom may be defined as “the ability or the result of an ability to think and act utilizing knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense, and insight.”   Some of our “ability to think and act” is defined by the ability that we are born with, our “I.Q.”.  The rest of whether we are wise or a fool in this life is deter-mined by what we do with what we are born with. 

We can gain knowledge through books, though Solomon warned that this is tiring and that we can never achieve all the wisdom that could be gained because there is no end to making books (12:12).  We can also gain wisdom from observation (1:16), gaining insight from our own experience and the experiences of others.  Much of our learning from personal experience comes from “the school of hard knocks”. If we are wise, we also profit from viewing the success and the mistakes of others. 

Solomon said that it is much preferred to be wise than foolish, as much as light is preferred over darkness.  However, one fate befalls the wise and the foolish.  The wise man and the fool alike die (2:12-17).  The person with the high “I.Q.” dies just like the person with the low “I.Q.”  The person who has read all the classics of literature dies just like the person who never learned to read.  The person with a PhD. dies just like the person who never finished high school.  The inventor dies just like the one who can’t even figure out how to use the invention.  The problem solver dies just like the person who can’t even understand the problem. The thrifty person dies just like the wasteful person.  The person skilled in human relationships dies just like the person who alienated everyone they ever met. 

We should take it to heart that death makes vain a life devoted to chasing after worldly wisdom.  If true satisfaction is to be found in life, then it must be found in something else.

What death does to fame: When Solomon considered worldly wisdom as a focal point of life he saw no advantage because the wise and fool both die.  But, he also looked at the lasting impact of wisdom shown in life and found vanity.  “For there is no lasting remembrance of the wise man as with the fool, inasmuch in the coming days all will be forgotten” (2:16).  Solomon cited a specific example.  A small city with a few men was attacked by a great king.  A poor wise man delivered the city by his wisdom, yet no one remembered him (9:14-15).   

Solomon used this proverb to illustrate what death does to man’s fame, “A live dog is better than a dead lion” (9:4).  If both a dog and a lion were living, then there would be no dispute that the lion would have the most impact on the world.  But a dead lion no longer has any impact and so a live dog would have more influence because it still has a presence in this world. 

The wise king said that the dead do not know anything about the here and now and they no longer have a share in what is going on.  And, they don’t have a reward any longer because their memory is forgot-ten.  Their love, their hate, and their zeal have perished (9:5-6). 

Think about a visit to a cemetery to look at our great-grandparents grave.  There we see the birth date and the death date and a dash in between.  Most of us have little if any idea what happened during the dash between the dates.  Whatever love, hate, and zeal they demonstrated is perished from the memory of anyone living.  In an old cemetery, there may very well be no one living in the world today who knows anything about anyone who is buried there.

Do you know anything about these people- Francis Marion, Martin Boots, David Branson, or Samuel and Moses Grant?  The city of Marion, IN and 35 other cities in the U.S. and several counties including Marion County, IN (Indianapolis) are named after Francis Marion.  He was a Revolutionary War hero known as “Swamp Fox”, one of the fathers of guerilla warfare.  Martin Boots and David Branson each gave 30 acres of land to begin the city of Marion and have streets named after them.  Martin Boots has also had schools named after him.  Samuel and Moses Grant were brothers (nephews of Daniel Boone) who were captains in the U.S. army.  When they were in their early 20’s they died in a battle with the Shawnee Indians in southern Indiana in 1789.  Grant County, IN is named in their honor. 

Did you know any of these things about these people who are “famous” in our area?  Probably not.  I didn’t know them either until I did research on the internet. Even those who have been “remembered” have been forgotten.   

We should take it to heart that at death we no longer have a part in what is going on and so we lose our importance.  Soon after death we will be forgotten along with all that we have said, done, and accomplished.  If true satisfaction in life is to be found, it must be found in something other than fame.

What life is all about: Solomon wrapped up His observations about life by giving this advice, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’” (12:1).  He went on, in poetic fashion, to describe the deterioration of the human body that will inevitably come to a man who lives to old age, a deterioration that ultimately leads to death and man’s journey to his eternal home (12:2-7).

He ends the book by explaining how the Creator is to be “remembered” (12:13-14).  He is to be feared, that is, reverenced and respected.  This fear is shown by obedience to His commandments.  The one who fears his Creator also understands that he will one day stand before Him to give account for all of his actions, good and bad, secret and public.

To live as the Creator directs is best. Following His direction, we will lead a purposeful life rather than chase the wind.  Our life will have meaning beyond the grave. We will go to the eternal home of heaven rather than to the eternal home of hell.    

The N.T. explains that we are able to have a relationship with our Creator, both now and forever, through the blood that Jesus shed on the cross.  This forgiveness is offered to us if we believe and confess Jesus (Rom 10:9-10) and repent of our sins and are baptized (Acts 2:38).  We must then walk in His light, confessing our sins so that Jesus’ blood will cleanse us (1 Jn 1:5-2:2).  Are you forgiven?  Are you ready for the Creator’s judgment?