Before we jump into this passage I think it would be helpful to talk about the structure of Ecclesiastes. I haven’t done that much because as you work through Ecclesiastes you can feel it and see it as you go through that it isn’t written in a linear manner like the Book of Romans where you can pretty much find the point and just follow it all the way through, and it builds one stage after another to the climax.
The Book of Ecclesiastes is not like that at all. Have you noticed that? It starts with vanity and it’s kind of on this spin cycle right from the very beginning. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity Solomon says. He does this vanity vomit, and it comes many other times too. All things are full of weariness. You know he’s just erupting in the emptiness of life.
But then at other times not always right after that but he’ll talk about wisdom. And you think, ah some sanity in the midst of the vanity. And he’ll state things in very proverbial-like ways. Like you see in Chapter 7, it’s better to go to the house of mourning than the house of feasting. You think, ah that makes sense. I can latch onto that. And he’s giving human wisdom.
But then he quickly realizes that even human wisdom reeks of vanity. And so then he shoots off into madness. This is contradiction. This is folly.
And by this point you know you just want to throw up your hands and you’re back to vanity. Do you see what I mean? This vanity spin cycle. And yet before we plunge into utter hopelessness you’ll notice throughout the book only one person is absolutely vanity free. Who’s that? God. And there is a centripetal force to the structure and flow of Ecclesiastes. Not centrifugal, centripetal. There is a pulling in to God.
And you’ll notice throughout the whole book and it culminates at the end but in the midst of the vanity there is a pull, an invitation to to run to God. He he is the only one who is completely free of vanity, of emptiness, and the book is inviting us in the midst of the vanity, in the midst of even human wisdom, the madness and folly, run to God. Run to God. So that kind of gives us a flow to the book that we’ve seen as we’ve gone through it. We’re going to see it more in the next few chapters. The passage we’re looking at today we left off from before outdoor service last week, two weeks ago is verse 25 to 29. I want to read it again. Verse 25 I turn my heart to know and search out to seek wisdom in the scheme of things and to know the wickedness of folly and the foolishness that is madness. I find something more bitter than death. The woman whose heart is snares and nets, whose hands are fetters. He who pleases God escapes her, but the sinner is taken by her. Behold this is what I found says the preacher while adding one thing to another to find the scheme of things which my soul has sought repeatedly. But I have not found. One man among a thousand I found but a woman among all these I have not found. See this alone I have found that God made man upright. But they have sought out many schemes. I’m thinking this is not the life verse of many of
you. The life passage of many of you. There are a couple of confusing statements in here maybe for us. The first one is some women are dangerous, which is true. Verse 26. He’s talking there about him immorality. Immoral women are like snares, nets, fetters. But then in other words immorality is addictive and enslaving. But then he makes another point near the end of the passage, verse 28 – all women are disappointing. I found one in a thousand men, zero in a thousand women. Happy Mother’s Day to you.
So when I was laying out Ecclesiastes, you know the flow of it, you know, it did honestly come today. And obviously we could have shifted it and preached on roses or something. But we’re kind of crazy. If you’re visiting here. We work through books of the Bible because we really believe God has a message for us to hear. And even when we come to uncomfortable passages like this and we’re going what in the world?
There’s a message in there. It will slow down and really listen to what it’s saying and not just impose our initial reaction or our cultural assumptions on it that can be life changing. Sometimes the biggest nuggets of gold are in the deepest and darkest of caves. And so we want to slow down and wrestle with this passage even on a day like Mother’s Day and see what’s really here.
So let’s talk about a couple of optional interpretations for this passage. Number one, Solomon is actually demeaning women.
That’s a possible interpretation. He’s a misogynist. What’s a misogynist? I’m not even touching that. It’s someone who doesn’t like women. It’s someone who is prejudiced against women, demeaning women. Solomon is a phallocrat, someone who believes in male domination. Perhaps Solomon had mother issues. Now if you know the life of Solomon you know that the guy did have issues with the way he viewed women.
So in some ways that is true. But here’s here’s the question as we’ll see in a few minutes. Here’s the question we’ve got to wrestle with. Does this passage, is the point of this passage recorded by God in His word in order to demean women? Is that the message? Is Solomon here commending the demeaning of women by saying things like zero in a thousand or is he condemning that view? And I would argue this is a confession of failure, not a commendation of misogyny. Does makes sense?
He is actually writing the way, very very transparently. Remember the theme of Ecclesiastes is, let’s stop pretending. Could we be honest? Can we talk about the good the bad and everything in between? And he’s he’s actually saying the way I viewed things specifically in relation to women was a failure, and he’s confessing that. You say, where do you get that? Well we’ll see where I get that in the text in a bit. But even if you look at the broader context and this is what’s so important, never read the Bible in isolation. Don’t just pick a verse and say this is the kind of thing that newspaper articles or stories are done with. This is what the Bible says. Yeah but but even if you keep reading, like chapter 9 verse 9, look at the very next chapter. He says enjoy life with the wife whom you love. That’s not the wife you dominate, not the wife you rule over, not to wife you put up with – the wife… enjoy life with the wife whom you love. And if you keep reading passages like proverbs which Solomon wrote many. Like 19:14 where he talks about a prudent wife. A wise wife is from the Lord. So if there are zero in a thousand Solomon, then how can you say that? It doesn’t exist. But that’s not that’s not the point. And you get to passages like Proverbs 31, you see that as well. So I think option 1 interpreting this passage as raw misogyny is erroneous. Option 2 perhaps Solomon is seeing all men and women as sinful. He’s
speaking in poetic terms. Kind of like we would say, that’s one in a million. He’s saying it’s one in two thousand as a way of poetically communicating because that would be similar to looking at our church and saying you know there’s an upright or righteous person, one in 2000 and a way of saying everybody is messed up. And he does make that point in verse 20. Surely there’s not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. So whatever whatever else he’s saying, he’s not isolating women as especially sinful, because he just said everybody – man, woman. Look at verse 29. He ends with that point. See this alone I have found that God made man upright but they, all of them, male/female have sought out many schemes. So that point is very clear in this passage but I’m not sure that point fully explains the one in a thousand, zero in a thousand. So I think more specifically, number 3, Solomon is illustrating the fact that human wisdom finds what it’s looking for. Human wisdom finds what it’s looking for, specifically in the area of relationships. That’s what he’s talking about. It tends to find what it presumes to look for. Let me give you kind of a crazy illustration. But years ago I was talking to this guy who had come to Christ shortly before, and he was talking about growing up in a particular Christian school. And he said in high school he does not remember knowing anyone in this Christian school, any student in this Christian school that wasn’t on drugs and/or sleeping around.
I thought wow that’s pretty amazing. Christian school, everybody he knew.
So a few weeks later I’m talking to someone who went to the same Christian School about the same time and I thought, hey what was your experience? And this person said I didn’t know anybody who was sleeping around or on drugs. Not one person. So what does that mean? They both could have been deluded, or it could be an example of you find, relationally speaking, you find what you’re looking for. Like the old birds of a feather kind of flock together syndrome.
But even more personally, if you are determined to look at people in a particular way and find a particular characteristic in them or to treat them in a way that elicits a particular response, chances are you’re going to find them. And there seems to be something going on here even in the language as we’ll see in a few minutes. The language Solomon describes the way he interacted with people sounds like a laboratory experiment.
And that doesn’t go well with relationships. Have you noticed that? Try that sometime. First date, wear a lab coat, clipboard, ask questions, have boxes to check about family mental history, health history, how many kids you want to have, just innocent questions like that and check the boxes and interrogate that individual because you’re you’re being wise, right? You should always know what you’re getting into from the outset. And everybody knows that you’re an idiot. That will not go well. You don’t treat people, you don’t do relationships that way. That’s really important to remember. But the way Solomon describes his experiment in verses 25 to 29, it sounds like he almost believed that the quantity of your relationships will increase the quality.
It’s like he’s practicing a quantitative failure here, assuming that okay if I if I got to know one woman and didn’t find what I was looking for my chances of finding what I’m looking for increase if I’ll pursue a thousand. Now that makes a lot of sense logically doesn’t it.
And relationally it’s insane. It doesn’t work as the old country (I don’t know how old this is song) Looking for love in all (You guys know that?) the wrong places looking for love, I didn’t remember what the next verse was but it’s perfect for Solomon. Looking for love in too many faces. It logically makes sense that I’m going to find what I’m looking for if I just increase the quantity. I’m going to get the quality I want and the exact opposite is true and some things.
But it’s the exact opposite is true in relationships when you treat people like a laboratory experiment, you should not be surprised when your experiment is unsuccessful. And I keep talking about this as if this were an experiment. But look at the look at the words he uses. Verse 25. I turned my heart to know, to search, to seek wisdom. The scheme of things, to know. He keeps saying I know, I know, I know. Verse 26 and I find. Notice how many times he said I find. Verse 27, behold this is what I found. Verse 28 three times. I have not found, I found, I have not found.
And then he concludes at the end, this alone I found. This is laboratory language and Solomon is recording it not to commend it but to condemn it. You see that at the end of this passage. So let’s step back and wrestle with why. Why doesn’t this work? Let’s go all the way back to the beginning. Adam and Eve were created to image God as they completed one another. Eve was the pinnacle, the punctuation point of God’s creative design.
And Adam and Eve even as they were so different as male and female related to one another beautifully without sin complete trust, no sinful misunderstanding.
And then sin entered, and they went from a perfectly trusting oneness to starting to play the shame and blame game. And you see this in Genesis 3 where all of a sudden two people who who trusted each other and were completely transparent with one another are hiding from one another, fabricating fig leaves, pointing fingers, deflecting, blaming.
Their alienation from God resulted in alienation from each other. And that’s where we are today, right? We perpetuate this alienation from God, alienation from each other.
But relationally we are constantly trying to overcome that alienation. Two of the common attempts we use are romance and reason. Solomon here is using reason. But I want to touch on real quickly the alternative, romance.Romance is an attempt to overcome this relational alienation. But in the end it doesn’t work when it’s primary because it actually separates by fantasy. What do I mean by that? It actually reinforces the alienation because the dream becomes the barrier to the person. It separates by fantasy, because I am in love with the fabrication or the illusion rather than the actual person. And so that dream of what I think this relationship should be. And what I think this person should be to me actually becomes a block, a wall to keep me from actually relating, loving the real person that I’m with. That’s what romance does. Reason does something very similar. It separates by scrutiny or analysis. In order to analyze something you have to break it into its parts, and you critique it, and you dissect it in order to scrutinize, in order to inspect.
And so there is a fragmenting in order to categorize it. And this obviously is personal. It depersonalizes and ends up perpetuating the alienation. I’ve become in love with pieces of the person rather than the person himself or herself. I’m in love with the…again it’s similar to romance in the sense I’m in love with the assumption that my mind creates. Now it would be dangerous for me to overgeneralize and say that women typically tend toward the romance and men typically toward the reason, but I’m not going to say that because that’s dangerous. Because obviously there are men who misuse romance and women misuse reason. The point is that we are trying to scheme our way through this alienation that sin creates in our relationships that flows from a broken relationship with God.
Jacques Ellul, a French writer, says this. “When excessive reasoning is applied to everything, it destroys human relationships which are the only relationships we can have” talking about on earth under the sun. “Thus it constitutes an alienation. Haven’t we all known people who were prisoners of their opinionated reasoning, unable either to establish a non rationalized relationship with others or to live in a different way from the one their reasoning caused them to take for the truth. That’s a mouthful. We’ll leave that up there for a second so you can think about that. I think that is a modern illustration of what Solomon is saying here.
He’s using the word schemes to communicate this, this excessive rationalizing of a relationship that ends up missing the point.
And I end up failing to love the person for who they are because I have this assumption of what they should be. By the way this is a form of perfectionism. Two weeks ago before our outdoor service earlier in the passage Solomon was talking about perfectionism which is ultimately about control and certitude.
This is another manifestation of that same tendency. How did that work out in Solomon’s life? Think about what he did. 1 Kings 11, he accumulated seven (He’s the king, he can do anything he wants. God says Don’t do this.) He accumulates 700 wives, 300 concubines. Now I’m not really good at math, but if you add those up they come pretty close to 1000. And so when he says 0 in 1000 it seems like he’s talking about an actual experiment he did, right? Under the assumption that I’m going to find the perfect one if I can just get enough of them.
And now he’s here saying that did not work. Young people that did not work. Now most of us aren’t kings or queens so we can’t do it at the level Solomon did. But many of us still are deluded into thinking that if we can just trade one wife for another, if we can just look at enough pictures of scantily clad individuals we’re going to find that person. If we can just keep searching we’re going to find what our mind imagines we need to overcome this alienation. Solomon’s struggle, though he lived out his experiment very differently is not a new one.
And it powerfully illustrates the fact that relationally speaking we tend to find what we presume to look for. Here’s another way to say it that I think summarizes it. If you treat people like objects, you should not be surprised when they become that to you. When a husband talks down to his wife and then he wonders why she she just seems so useless or meaningless to him.
Or when a wife assumes that I can’t love, I can’t respect my husband until he becomes or does what I want him to do. Do you see how this is just another form of a manipulative perfectionism, that I’m going to assume what I need and what you need to be. I’m going to control things until you become that. And as Solomon is stating and relationships reveal, that does not work. It does not work.
So how do we do this today? Let’s step back and talk about the big way we do this and then we’ll get more specific. Number one, when we trust our methods over God’s message, we are doing a Solomon. We’re doing what he he did. Solomon did an experiment that contradicted what God had already said. Don’t do this. In verse 29 Solomon comes to the conclusion, see this alone.
So this is the point. Whatever else I’ve learned, this alone I’ve found, that God made man upright (God knows what he’s doing. He created Adam and Eve perfectly.) But we rejected God’s definition of good and determined to find it on our own. That’s what he means by “they have sought out many schemes.” And our seeking out fails at least four ways here according to these words. It fails universally – they. Notice how he broadens this. It’s not just about me and my failure, it’s about they. All of us male and female intentionally sought out. Romans 1, suppressed the truth, pursued our own way.
Individually, may not be the best word there but the idea is we customize our idolatry. We do it in so many ways that I can’t look at you and say, you know, you scheme the same way I scheme. It sounds, I scheme, you scheme, we all scheme, but we all scheme in different ways. We customize our scheming. And then finally relationally it fails. And that may seem confusing, so I want to take some time to explain where we got that relationally. That word schemes is a very interesting word because that form of that Hebrew word only appears twice in the Old Testament. Many other times in other other forms but twice in that form. The only other time that form appears is in 2 Chronicles 26:15 where Uzziah the king of Judah made engines. That’s our word.
What? Made engines invented by skillful men to be on towers and corner shoot arrows and great stones.
I skipped the definition. Let me give you a definition of that word and that will make sense of why it was translated that way. To scheme, this form of the word means products of intricate thought, products of intricate thought. Or it could refer to the systems of thoughts themselves. It could even be used referring to artistic works or remarkable inventions, and so does that make sense? Let’s get back to 2 Chronicles. Products of intricate thought, he made engines, he made products of intricate thought invented by skillful men to accomplish certain military objectives. Now what Solomon is talking about in Ecclesiastes is not military inventions. He’s talking about relational inventions. Isn’t that an interesting word? We actually in our desire to overcome this alienation to find this love we longed for actually create these relational inventions to try to accomplish what we want to accomplish. So schemes is referring in verse 29 most specifically to relational inventions that human wisdom produces. Now think about it.
God made us he created things like marriage, friendship, fatherhood, motherhood, sonship, daughtership. He makes all these relationships. He knows exactly how those things work and how we flourish within those relationships. But what Solomon is lamenting. He did this. He created us upright, but we seek out many schemes. In other words rather than going back to God and saying, God you made me. Sin messes me up.
But you know how I can both experience your love and express your love in healthy, flourishing relationships. But instead we like Isaiah lamented are like sheep who have gone astray. We’ve turned every one to his own way. And this is one of the most remarkable statements in all the Bible. You would think this first would go on to say, and the Lord let us have what we want and we were damned forever. But it doesn’t.
It says the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all. Who is him? Jesus Christ. God came to us in our scheming, in our waywardness, and he took all that on himself.
Which just gives us this massive heart. Why does God record passages like this? Does he want to just simply make us feel worse? No. Let let me give you a glimpse of the heart of God by showing you a couple times where this same root word “scheme” – not the same form, same root word though – appears that reveals the heart of God when we’re scheming. For example Psalm 40:17. We will put it on the screen.
As for me, I am poor and needy. But the Lord, and there it is. In the Hebrew it’s the same word scheme. The Lord schemes for me. You are my help and my deliverer.
Now think about that. We’re scheming, we’re fabricating relational machines trying to make things work toward what we think they need to work toward and end up doing more damage than good so many times. And while we’re doing that God is scheming for us in a beautiful way. Not condemning, but how can I? God is seeking to turn what we have messed up into something beautiful. Seeking to transform our hearts through the very waywardness of our actions.
You are my help, my deliverer. Do not delay, oh my God. Let me show you another example. Jeremiah 29:11. Many of you have this memorized, put on coffee cups. For I know the plans I have for you and literally in the Hebrew it’s I know the plans I scheme for you declares the Lord. It’s the same word as is used earlier in Ecclesiastes 7. I know the plans I scheme for you declares the LORD, plans for, guess what word that word is – shalom. Plans for – what is Shalom? It’s the Hebrew word for the way things are supposed to be. It’s most often translated peace but it’s bigger than just peace man. It’s wholeness. It’s completeness.
It’s the way God intended things to be relationally, spiritually. I know the plans I scheme for you declares the LORD, plans for shalom and not for evil to give you a future and a hope. While we’re scheming and learning how to do relationships from the sitcoms, making things way worse, God is saying, listen I have something way, way better for you.
So we pull a Solomon, what he’s lamenting here when we trust our own schemes over God’s schemes, God’s methods, our own sinful schemes over God’s sinless perfect methods and message. Number 2, we repeat Solomon’s failures when we try to love primarily through reason or romance. Now again every good marriage has romance and every relationship has reason in it. It has to. But I’m talking about when those become primary and we try to make those the means to to eliminate the alienation, we’re using the wrong tool. What’s the right tool? Well we don’t have time to develop the whole thing so I just want to I just want to read this passage over you and you get a glimpse of where you find the right tool. 1
John 4:7, Beloved let us love one another. Well where do I get love? I grew up in a home that was so manipulative or abusive, I don’t even know what the real thing is. Well love is from God.
And whoever loves has been born of God and knows God, and anyone who does not love does not know God because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us that God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love,
not that we’ve produced something, not that we’ve schemed our way back to God but that God loved us, and he sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins – that is to wipe out all wrath and remove all alienation. Beloved if God so loved us.
We also ought to love one another. That’s the source. That’s where we get it. Every morning waking up to his love, going to God, his love to teach us how to fix a troubled marriage, a broken friendship. Thirdly we repeat Solomon’s failures.
Most specifically when we objectivize women. Objectivize women. To objectivize means to depersonalize, to treat them as objects.
Solomon treated women in this experiment of his as trophies and toys to be collected and enjoyed. And that was not only disappointing for him, his experiment failed, but obviously devastating for people. We should not be surprised when we treat people as objects, when we cannot find one we respect, that is not a shocker. So one way we do this today because many people would say, oh it’s horrible what Solomon did. Yeah we’re doing it on a level that makes Solomon look like an amateur. Pornography is a form of modern polygamy. To accumulate, humiliate and incarcerate women. And it enslaves not only the women but the men and women who participate in it, whether viewing or doing porn. By the way that includes homosexual porn, heterosexual porn. Anytime we objectivize. Jesus transformed the relationships between men and women. Notice when you read through the Gospels all of his interactions with women were pure and respectful, and that was unheard of in that day. Paul when he was advising young Timothy as a young pastor said in 1 Timothy 5:1-2, Do not rebuke an older man, don’t speak harshly to an older man.
Encourage him as you would a father. And don’t speak harshly to younger men, but but talk to them as brothers. And older women, don’t disrespect them don’t treat them harshly. Treat them as mothers. Younger women, don’t speak harshly, treat them as sisters and then he tacks on those last three words.
Hey just in case you’re tempted to be too chummy, in all purity. In all purity. What is he doing here? The antidote to objectify sin is not to demean or ignore, but to elevate to sister status, to treat respectfully as family members in all purity.
Now some of you may have noticed the letter Beth Moore wrote last week entitled “A letter to my brothers.” And in the letter she throughout the letter she commends the many men who treat her respectfully. She’s not trying to be just negative or say everyone does this. But then she gives some very uncomfortable examples of being ignored or demeaned in the evangelical world. Then she tells this story. About a year ago I had an opportunity to meet a theologian I’ve long respected. I read virtually every book he had written. I had looked so forward to getting to share a meal with him and talk theology. The instant I met him he looked me up and down, smiled approvingly and said you’re better looking than blank.
He didn’t leave it blank. He filled it in with the name of another woman Bible teacher. Now I don’t really care what you think of Beth Moore’s theology or practice, but we must all agree that what that theologian did was absolutely repulsive. Do we agree?
Just picture Beth Moore. You can just sense the excitement – I’ve read in this man’s theology books. They’re gathering in a big area with a lot of other people for a meal. There’s nothing inappropriate about this. And wanting to be able to sit down and talk about Jesus and his Word and explore different theological things.
And the first thing this guy does is scan her body and her looks and come to a conclusion about what she looks like compared to another womanBible teacher? That is absolutely disrespectful and repulsive and says way more about him than her. Because you find what you’re looking for.
If your mind is in the gutter you’re going to turn people into objects not image bearers. We’re image bearers, made in the image of God beautifully created, broken by sin.
And when we look for the wrong thing we’re going to find the wrong thing and we’re going to treat people the wrong way. Now Beth Moore goes on to say this. These examples may seem fairly benign in light of recent scandals of sexual abuse and assault coming to light. But the attitudes are growing from the same dangerously malignant root. Many women have experienced horrific abuses within the power structures of our Christian world. Being any part of shaping misogynistic attitudes whether or not they result in criminal behaviors is sinful and harmful and produces terrible fruit.
It also paints us continually as weak willed women and seductresses. I think I can speak for many of us when I say we are neither interested in reducing or seducing our brothers. Now as Solomon lamented in verse 26, are there weak willed women? Yes. Are there seductresses? Yes. Are there weak willed men? Yes. Are there predatorial men?
Yes. I’m not denying any of that. But as we look at our brothers and sisters we cannot objectivize our sisters and we can’t villainize our brothers or we are perpetuating the alienation that sin produces. Let’s pray to God. Father, there is so much more here.
We live in such a messed up culture. In one sense our culture is screaming me too and crying out to protect women, and at the very same time some of these same people are producing bondage films and Hollywood is pumping out filth. It’s just another example of when we as human beings scheme to try to solve one problem we typically create other problems. We try to break down a certain alienation, we create another one.
And that’s why we need you. Lord when we taste your love, it is the only love in this universe that’s absolutely pure and purifying. And so we ask that you would just from our time together, Lord that you would use this time just to wash away.
For some people it may be years of real pain. For some that they need to get help with, for others of us it may be assumptions that we have about how to do relationships that actually perpetuate the problem.
Lord may your Spirit lead us as we walk forward. And and even as we wrap up this rather awkward Mother’s Day message, Lord we want to thank you. We want to end with gratitude because as I look around our church I just see hundreds and hundreds of wives, of mothers, of teenagers, amazing young ladies who who love you and sacrificially love their families.
And Lord this is all from you your love is so powerful. And we are blessed because of it, and we thank you in Jesus’s name. Amen.