BSTUD :: ECCLESIASTES 3:9-11.

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What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 

Ecclesiastes 3:9-11

Bet you didn’t think I’d be doing one of these posts on a passage from Ecclesiastes.

I sat down with these verses the other day, asking God to help me understand how they fit together. As He answered that prayer, I began to see just how much they show God’s character and our identity relative to Him.

The first verse, verse 9, says: “What do workers gain from their toil?” A common theme in Ecclesiastes is wondering about meaning and meaninglessness. This question considers why the heck we work so hard all day long. It’s only gained more relevance as time has gone on and culture has progressed to turn us all into little worker bees.

Verse 10 continues: “I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.” Following verse 9, it seems like that burden is hard work with little to no reward. But verse 11 changes the game.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” God is the One who makes all things new and beautiful in His timing. He is before the beginning and after the end; He has put longing for eternity in our hearts, but not understanding for it in our minds.

How do a question about the worth of work, a statement about God’s burden for us, and a declaration of what God has done fit together?

As I sat with Him, God helped me make sense of it: The writer questions the meaning of work because He sees that so much of our work is futile, without God, striving for nothing that really matters. We work to achieve, when God has not placed an expectation for achievement on us. His burden for us is trusting who He is and what He is capable of. That’s why the writer switches pace to talk about how God has made everything beautiful in its time and no one can fathom His deeds. This passage shows that work outside God’s mission is worthless, because God has not placed a burden of work on us,  but of faith. His only requirement is that we trust Him, the One who makes everything beautiful in His timing, the One whose forever we long for but cannot comprehend. God’s gift of an eternal heart leads us to trust Him, because we have forever desires with worldly, transitory minds. We need to trust Him, because we can’t understand. We can trust Him, because He is who He is. Trusting Him is the “burden” He places on humanity, and that is why it makes absolutely no sense for us to slave away at work by ourselves, for ourselves.

God’s call is for strivings to cease. We may perceive it as a burden, because it’s hard to put aside our confidence in our own capabilities. But once we trust Him instead of ourselves, we discover a God who is infinitely more able, making more beauty than we can dream of, outside the realm of our tiny comprehension.

Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’

John 6:29

(BSTUD is a blog series studying the Christian holy scriptures. BSTUD = B(ible) STUD(y). You can read more BSTUD posts here.)

HONEY.

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Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve become a major slight health nut in the past year or so. I plan out my meals on a spreadsheet to make sure that I’m balancing macronutrients and food groups, I roam around the Internet looking for workout tips and tricks, and I’ve been known to launch into lectures when people use blanket statements like “such and such is bad for you.” (All foods fit, people. All. Foods. Fit.) I just want my body to be able to do all the things I want to do for as long as I want to do them, so I eat the kale and do the push-ups. In some of my recent Internet health research (which has admittedly become a time-consuming hobby), I came across a series of articles from Perry’s Plate titled “Staying Whole in a Processed World.” She talks about how to best fuel our bodies in the midst of American food culture. Something in her post on sweets caught my eye.

She explained that in the olden days (like, olden olden days, as in Bible times), honey was as sweet as it got. The only other source of sugar was fruit. Wild honey was a lucky, delicious find. This got me thinking about all the times that honey is mentioned in the Bible. Here are a few examples I found:

  • “For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey.” (Deuteronomy 8:7-8)
  • “He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Deuteronomy 26:9)
  • “But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” (Psalm 81:16)
  • “The decrees of the LORD are firm, and all of them are righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.” (Psalm 19:9b-10)
  • “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103)
  • “Eat honey, my son, for it is good; honey from the comb is sweet to your taste. Know also that wisdom is like honey for you: If you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.” (Proverbs 24:13-14)

A key feature of the Promised Land is abundant honey. God wants to satisfy His people with honey. God’s decrees and His word are called sweeter than honey, and wisdom is like honey. These verses have lost some meaning for us, because our bodies don’t get a sugar rush when we put a tablespoon of honey in our tea. But they would have signified plentiful, overwhelming sweetness for people in Bible times.

To (hopefully) give the same effect, think of your favorite dessert. Warm, homemade, chocolate chip cookies, fresh out of the oven. Your favorite flavor of ice cream. Lemonade cake. Pumpkin-flavored anything when fall rolls around. A cinnamon roll from the Bean, which you absolutely must try the next time you’re in Auburn. Maybe it’s just straight-up M&M’s. Whatever your favorite sweet treat is, God. is. sweeter. His desires for you are sweeter. His word of truth for you is sweeter. He wants to bring you into a sweet place. Who He is and what He has for you are sweeter than a cookie cake with buckets of frosting.

God is good. It’s a key feature of His identity. But oftentimes, we translate His goodness to holiness and perfection. And while that’s definitely true, it’s easy to forget how sweet His goodness is. We adopt a punitive, harsh view of God, but His discipline is only ever meant to benefit us. We fall into thinking He is good but mean, when really, His goodness is so sweet.

Imagine a father’s face lighting up when his toddler rushes to greet him after he gets home from work. A friend staying up late just to talk to you, because they know you’ve had a bad day. A husband buying his wife flowers just because. These extravagant, delighted, lavish forms of love pale in comparison to God. He is the Father who lights up when we run to Him, the Best Friend who is always there for us, the Heavenly Husband who loves us when we run. Is He not infinitely sweeter than the cheesiest movie line or your favorite candy?

The enemy often leads me away from viewing God as sweet. I fall into the trap of worrying that He’s mad at me, waiting for the shoe to drop, expecting punishment and anger. But His goodness for me isn’t just holiness; it’s also sweetness. He is sweet to me, and He is sweet to you. He desires to give you good things, even if it doesn’t always seem like it. He wants to fill you up and satisfy your every need and desire. He is sweeter than honey, and because of that, we can run to Him with everything, lay our messes at His feet, and trust Him to love us through it all.