The Vanity of Toil

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 I do not publish supplemental material on Sundays, but I do include a suggested Scripture reading.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

Ecclesiastes 2:18–26 (ESV)
18 I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me,
19 and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity.
20 So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun,
21 because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil.
22 What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun?
23 For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.
24 There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God,
25 for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?
26 For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.

Love

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 136:1–26 (ESV)
1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.
2 Give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever.
3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever;
4 to him who alone does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures forever;
5 to him who by understanding made the heavens, for his steadfast love endures forever;
6 to him who spread out the earth above the waters, for his steadfast love endures forever;
7 to him who made the great lights, for his steadfast love endures forever;
8 the sun to rule over the day, for his steadfast love endures forever;
9 the moon and stars to rule over the night, for his steadfast love endures forever;
10 to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt, for his steadfast love endures forever;
11 and brought Israel out from among them, for his steadfast love endures forever;
12 with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, for his steadfast love endures forever;
13 to him who divided the Red Sea in two, for his steadfast love endures forever;
14 and made Israel pass through the midst of it, for his steadfast love endures forever;
15 but overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea, for his steadfast love endures forever;
16 to him who led his people through the wilderness, for his steadfast love endures forever;
17 to him who struck down great kings, for his steadfast love endures forever;
18 and killed mighty kings, for his steadfast love endures forever;
19 Sihon, king of the Amorites, for his steadfast love endures forever;
20 and Og, king of Bashan, for his steadfast love endures forever;
21 and gave their land as a heritage, for his steadfast love endures forever;
22 a heritage to Israel his servant, for his steadfast love endures forever.
23 It is he who remembered us in our low estate, for his steadfast love endures forever;
24 and rescued us from our foes, for his steadfast love endures forever;
25 he who gives food to all flesh, for his steadfast love endures forever.
26 Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever.


You can’t miss the main point of this Psalm! God is good all the time, all the time, God is good! And it’s all because of His love that we get to enjoy His goodness.

The preacher Paul Washer said God’s goodness is a scary thing, precisely because we aren’t good, and therefore deserve His condemnation. But thankfully in Christ, God’s goodness and love are reconciled. Through Him, bad people like us can be made good like God.

This Psalm gives us a sweeping view of the love of God for us. He created all things because He didn’t want to miserly keep His love all to Himself. He spoke, and it came into being, and He has made all things well.

Then the Psalm zooms in on Israel’s redemption story. Even in judging Israel’s enemies, God displayed His love. Similarly, in judging His Son in our place, God has supremely showcased His love.

God enabled His people not just to escape Egypt, but also to enter the promised land of Canaan. Similarly, God is delivering His new covenant people from slavery to sin to bring us safely to the new creation. God remembers how lowly and helpless we are without Him.

The Lord provides our every need. He gives us our daily bread. He is worthy of all our thanks and praise.

“King of kings and Lord of lords, You are good and Your love endures forever. Please keep us in Your love now and always, for Jesus’ sake, amen.”


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The Fate of the Wise and the Fool

Reading the Word

Ecclesiastes 2:12–17 (ESV)
12 So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly. For what can the man do who comes after the king? Only what has already been done.
13 Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness.
14 The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them.
15 Then I said in my heart, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” And I said in my heart that this also is vanity.
16 For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool!
17 So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.

Understanding and Applying the Word

There are advantages to living wisely in the world. The Book of Proverbs speaks to many of those advantages. However, even with those advantages, there is an undeniable fact: the fate of the wise is no different than the fate of the fool. The wise dies just like the fool and before long, both are forgotten.

There are many things we can pursue in life to find meaning and purpose. Solomon has already shown us that some of the very things we pursue today are simply vanity. They leave us empty. The things we have seen so far include wisdom, knowledge, and pleasure. The reality of death undoes anything we hope to find lasting purpose from in this world. If there is to be any true meaning, there must be something more. Thankfully, we know that there is more because God has revealed himself through his word and through his Son, Jesus Christ. God’s word and the life and works of Jesus tell us that death is not the end and there is hope for all who trust in Christ. There is an eternity waiting and it is filled with purpose.


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The Vanity of Pleasure

Reading the Word

Ecclesiastes 2:1–11 (ESV)
1 I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity.
2 I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?”
3 I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life.
4 I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself.
5 I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees.
6 I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees.
7 I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem.
8 I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man.
9 So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me.
10 And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil.
11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.

Understanding and Applying the Word

In today’s reading, Solomon explored whether pleasure-seeking could give his life the meaning he was looking for. Solomon would be the person to answer this question because, as king, he had great power, wealth, and many wives. What was his answer? He tells us that he set out to find fulfillment in pleasure, but concluded “all was vanity and a striving after the wind.”

The pursuit of pleasure may be the most common way people attempt to find fulfillment in life. Yet, as Solomon found, pleasure-seeking is fleeting and temporary and leaves us empty. Eventually, the pleasure goes away and we need more. Whatever gives us the initial joy ultimately fades or goes away and we need something else. It is truly a striving after the wind.

Augustine once said, “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Thee.” We are God’s creation and his image-bearers. We were created to have an intimate relationship with our Maker. We can try to find satisfaction and fulfillment in many ways and with many things, but nothing will satisfy except a deep relationship with God. Have you sought him?


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The Vanity of Wisdom and Knowledge

Reading the Word

Ecclesiastes 1:12–18 (ESV)
12 I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem.
13 And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.
14 I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.
15 What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted.
16 I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.”
17 And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind.
18 For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Solomon was king in Israel after taking the place of David, his father. Solomon was known for his great wisdom (1 Kings 3:1-28). In today’s reading, Solomon tells us that he set forth to make sense of life through the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge. He concluded that such pursuit only resulted in vexation and sorrow.

Why would the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge be a dead end road? Because wisdom and knowledge does not change reality. This is Solomon’s point in verse 15 when he says, “What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted.” When we gain wisdom and knowledge we only become more aware of the pain and sorrow of living in this world marred by sin and death. It leads only to greater sorrow.

Of course, there is wisdom and knowledge that does free us. It is the wisdom and knowledge of Jesus Christ and the salvation he gives all who believe in him. Do you know Christ? Make knowing him your highest pursuit.


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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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