The Endless Cycle

Reading the Word

Ecclesiastes 1:3–11 (ESV)
3 What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?
4 A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns.
7 All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again.
8 All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
9 What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us.
11 There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.

As Solomon reflects on the meaning of life, he observes the world around him. He asks, “What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” What is to gain from all of our efforts? The world goes on and on in its constant cycle. The sun rises and goes down and then it does it all over again. All of nature does its thing over and over again. There is nothing new. In fact, Solomon says, “There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.”

If we stop to consider life and the world around us, we can easily come to the conclusion that it is all meaningless. Everything is just an endless cycle. Day after day and year after year, things come and go, including people. And the things that happen today will be forgotten tomorrow. What is the point?

Remember that Solomon is asking his questions about the meaning of life from a humanistic perspective. Life without God leaves us with a life that is ultimately meaningless. We are here today and gone tomorrow and all of us are soon forgotten. It is because God does exist that we know there is hope and purpose to it all. What a wonderful truth!


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All Is Vanity

Reading the Word

Ecclesiastes 1:1–2 (ESV)
1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
2 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

Understanding and Applying the Word

The Book of Ecclesiastes was written by one who calls himself “the Preacher”. He was the son of David, which leads us to ascribe these words to Solomon. In this book, Solomon looks at life through the eyes of a naturalist and tries to find meaning in it all. What does he conclude? “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher. “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”

What does Solomon mean when he says that everything is vanity? The word means “a breath” as in something with no real substance like a vapor. It is something that is meaningless. This does not sound encouraging. Why would Solomon say such a thing about the meaning of life? That is what we will be looking at in the days ahead. I hope you will join us in reading through this book.


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They Call Her Blessed

Shaped by the Word is a daily, Bible-reading devotional. I do not publish supplemental material on Sundays, but I do include a suggested Scripture reading. Please be sure to subscribe to this page to follow along every day. Thanks for reading!

Reading the Word

Proverbs 31:28–31 (ESV)
28 Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
31 Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.

Praise!

Today’s post is part of our Psalm Saturdays series from guest blogger Robert Chamberlain. You can read his archives at www.roberlain.wordpress.com .

Psalm 135:1–21 (ESV)
1 Praise the LORD! Praise the name of the LORD, give praise, O servants of the LORD,
2 who stand in the house of the LORD, in the courts of the house of our God!
3 Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good; sing to his name, for it is pleasant!
4 For the LORD has chosen Jacob for himself, Israel as his own possession.
5 For I know that the LORD is great, and that our Lord is above all gods.
6 Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.
7 He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightnings for the rain and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.
8 He it was who struck down the firstborn of Egypt, both of man and of beast;
9 who in your midst, O Egypt, sent signs and wonders against Pharaoh and all his servants;
10 who struck down many nations and killed mighty kings,
11 Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan, and all the kingdoms of Canaan,
12 and gave their land as a heritage, a heritage to his people Israel.
13 Your name, O LORD, endures forever, your renown, O LORD, throughout all ages.
14 For the LORD will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants.
15 The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands.
16 They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see;
17 they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths.
18 Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them.
19 O house of Israel, bless the LORD! O house of Aaron, bless the LORD!
20 O house of Levi, bless the LORD! You who fear the LORD, bless the LORD!
21 Blessed be the LORD from Zion, he who dwells in Jerusalem! Praise the LORD!


Praise the Lord, for He is worthy. God is good, and deserves all our hallelujahs. Even if we’re tone deaf, it’s good to make a joyful noise to the Lord.

To be chosen as God’s own, to be His precious possession, is a great blessing. He is infinitely greater than anything and everyone else. He does whatever He pleases.

He’s sovereign over the weather, over death, in every war that is waged. He brought His people out of slavery in Egypt into the promised land. He will bring His people out of slavery to sin into the promised land of the new creation.

God’s name and renown are eternal. He will vindicate us His people and have compassion upon us. The idols of the nations are dumb, blind, deaf and lifeless. They may attempt to be immortalised on pedestals as statues, but eventually we all come crashing down.

We become like what we worship. So if we idolise inanimate, dead objects, we become like them. But if we worship the living God, we enjoy the eternal life that He grants.

Let every professing believer in the Lord bless Him! Let those who work “full time” for Him bless Him (although we should all work for Him whatever we do). If we fear the Lord, let’s bless Him, because He graciously allays our fears. Hallelujah!

“Hallelujah, living God, we praise You for Your goodness to undeserving sinners like us. May we bless You always, both now and forever, amen.”


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The Wise Spouse

Reading the Word

Proverbs 31:20–27 (ESV)
20 She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes bed coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant.
25 Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.
26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
27 She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.

Understanding and Applying the Word

We continue looking at the final verses of the Book of Proverbs, which describes the excellent wife. This is the wife that is more precious than jewels (cf. Proverbs 31:10). In yesterday’s reading, we looked at how this woman was skilled in so many ways for life. In today’s passage, we see that she is cares for others, including her family and the poor. She is well regarded in the community and exercises wisdom in all she does.

The context of this passage describes the excellent wife, but the application of this text is broader than that. It applies to the type of person we should all aspire to be and the type of person we all would desire in a spouse. We should be kind and caring towards others and we should be wise in all we do. It is such a blessing to have a spouse that is the same. As we seek to live wisely in the world, to have a spouse who strives for the same is truly a precious thing.


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Skilled in Living

Reading the Word

Proverbs 31:13–19 (ESV)
13 She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.
14 She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar.
15 She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens.
16 She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
17 She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong.
18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night.
19 She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle.

Understanding and Applying the Word

This section continues a description of the “excellent wife” that we looked at yesterday. From today’s verses, we see a description of a woman who is not idle, but busy and who is highly skilled in the affairs of life. She does many things to provide for her family. Of course, the woman pictured here is not an actual person, but a picture of the ideal.

Many argue that the woman described in these verses is wisdom personified. Wisdom is skill at life and the woman described here is highly skilled in all she does. The excellent wife is one who, in all she does, shows wisdom. She shows practical skill in decision making and life. She is truly an ideal partner in life to her husband.

As we read of this ideal wife, let us think how we can apply this passage to our own lives. How can we be an excellent partner in life for our spouse? How can we be wiser in our daily living in the world? How can we become more skilled at life?


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An Excellent Wife

Reading the Word

An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.(Proverbs 31:10, ESV)

Understanding and Applying the Word

The last portion of the Book of Proverbs deals with the “excellent wife”. The word translated “excellent” can have different meanings based on context. It can mean a woman of good character or one of strength. It can also mean a woman of worth or wealth. The idea of worth is what is present in this passage. This is a rare woman. This is the type of woman who is hard to find. In fact, she is more precious than jewels.

A further description of this rare woman will follow and we will look at parts of the description in the days ahead. For now, understand that having a spouse of high character and godliness is a valuable thing. It is a rare thing and we must never take it for granted. Let us strive to be that type of person for our spouse and let us give thanks to God for the godly wife or husband he has given us.

For those who are not married, but will be in the future, pray for your future spouse even now. And if you are single and have no plans to marry, know that a godly character is still a precious and rare thing for all who know you. Pray that God will continue to develop that in you for his glory.


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Defend Their Rights

Reading the Word

Proverbs 31:8–9 (ESV)
8 Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute.
9 Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Understanding and Applying the Word

This passage comes at the end of a section that is ascribed to King Lemuel. These words are things his mother taught him (cf. Proverbs 31:1). After Lemuel’s mother told him not to allow himself to be distracted by women or strong drink, he was told to stand up for those who could not stand up for themselves. He was to be a king who concerned himself with justice and protecting the rights of all, especially the rights of those who are often deprived of such things.

We live in a world where justice and rights are often trampled on, not just in foreign lands, but right here in our own country. This has been true throughout human history and will continue into the future. It is a symptom of mankind’s core problem: sin. The rich and powerful seek to take advantage of the poor and vulnerable. As followers of Christ, we must heed the words of Lemuel’s mother and stand up for the rights of the oppressed. And as we do so, we can look to the future, when Christ will reign over all and will do so with perfect justice and righteousness. Consider the words from the Prophet Isaiah:

Isaiah 11:1–5 (ESV)
1 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
2 And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.


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Put Your Hand on Your Mouth

Reading the Word

Proverbs 30:32–33 (ESV)
32 If you have been foolish, exalting yourself, or if you have been devising evil, put your hand on your mouth.
33 For pressing milk produces curds, pressing the nose produces blood, and pressing anger produces strife.

Understanding and Applying the Word

We need to be wise in our actions and consider their consequences. It is foolish to exalt ourselves rather than act in humility towards others. It is also wrong for us to “devise evil” or scheme evil plans in our actions. We often do these without even thinking about them as we say and do things that we know will hurt others or get back at them for hurting us. We often justify our actions by assuring ourselves that we know better than others and that the outcome we are seeking is the correct one. Therefore, any means to obtain it is good.

The second line warns us that actions have consequences. We are given three examples of this truth each using the word “pressing.” The first speaks of pressing milk, which is a picture of churning. The second speaks of pressing the nose,which produces blood. This pictures a fight in which someone strikes another person on the nose and gives them a bloody nose. And the last speaks of pressing anger and producing strife. This last picture is of one who stirs up the anger of another until there is a response of conflict.

Learning to walk wisely involves learning to “put your hand on your mouth.” We need to learn when to keep quiet. To scheme evil through our words and actions, or use them to stir up conflict, is the way of the fool. Of course, the fool does not mind the conflict and may even enjoy it, but the wise understands that such is not to be desired. Even the New Testament warns the church against those who like to stir up division, calling such people “warped and sinful” (cf. Titus 3:10). Let’s learn to walk in wisdom and humility, not looking for conflict and strife.


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Small, but Wise

Shaped by the Word is a daily, Bible-reading devotional. I do not publish supplemental material on Sundays, but I do include a suggested Scripture reading. Please be sure to subscribe to this page to follow along every day. Thanks for reading!

Reading the Word

Proverbs 30:24–28 (ESV)
24 Four things on earth are small, but they are exceedingly wise:
25 the ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in the summer;
26 the rock badgers are a people not mighty, yet they make their homes in the cliffs;
27 the locusts have no king, yet all of them march in rank;
28 the lizard you can take in your hands, yet it is in kings’ palaces.