Monthly Archives: March 2016

Vanity

Solomon the wise both begins and ends the book of Ecclesiastes with the statement, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12:8). In modern vernacular, vanity often refers to the excessive valuing of one’s appearance or abilities in comparison with others. For example, to quote a portion of the 1988 hit by Carly Simon, “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you.” But vanity did not always have this narcissistic connotation. In fact, Oxford’s Dictionary says that prior to the 14th century, vanity merely meant futility. It is in this vein that Solomon uses it. Later in the first chapter he states, “I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14). This verse aptly describes how Solomon intends us to think about vanity. According to Solomon, vanity is like trying to catch the wind. Futile.

Solomon’s statement seems somewhat surprising. Everything that is done under the sun is futile? However, Solomon does not leave us in doubt as to the research he has undertaken to determine the validity of his claim. In chapter 2, he lists everything that he has tried and considered in an effort to find something in this life that is not futile. In verses four through eleven, he lists some of the tasks he pursued. He made great works, planted vineyards, made gardens and parks, planted fruit trees, made pools to water the forest of trees he had planted, bought male and female slaves, had slaves born in his house, acquired great herds and flocks, gathered silver and gold, got male and female singers, and many concubines. At the end of this litany, Solomon tells us:

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. 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 (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11).

Solomon concludes after searching to find “what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life,” that there is no pursuit of this world that is of any worth.

“For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (James 4:14). We have but a few days on this earth. How should we spend the little time that we have? Solomon concludes that a life spent in the pursuit of the things of this world is a waste. And there is but one pursuit that is of any value. “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Just like Solomon, there are many people in this world that are searching for a life of purpose and meaning. But only a life lived for the Lord can be said to be of any worth.

In Luke 12:15, Jesus says, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” Jesus affirms Solomon’s contention, that all of his world endeavors were vain and “striving after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:11). This is a common and dangerous attitude in the world. We must not value ourselves or others according to the cars we drive, the houses we inhabit, and the clothing we wear. If we do so, we have lived our live in futility. Jesus follows up his statement from Luke 12:15 with a parable:

And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God (Luke 12:16-21).

Here Jesus describes a man that has been blessed with great worldly possessions. This man is consumed with the amassing of wealth, and contemplating what he will do with it, and how it will allow him to live a life of leisure and comfort. Jesus calls this man a fool. He spent his life in futility. There is only one way of life that has value, a life spent serving the Lord.

Jesus follows up this parable with an expansion on the same point to his disciples. There he explains that we should focus our lives on the Kingdom of God, “But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Luke: 12:31). Jesus is not teaching that we should ignore all the things of this world. But rather we should approach everything in this world from the perspective of serving the Lord first. I appreciate what Paul has to say on the topic, “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Colossians 3:17). Everything we do in this life should be an outgrowth of our service to the Lord. It is in this way that our life will have meaning.

~ Richard Garbi

History and the Bible

Did the Bible writers intend to record real history? Not according to some critics. One writer says, “Some stories in the Bible were meant to be history, others fiction…” And again, “…only some of the stories in the New Testament were meant as history.” This is a trending perspective on the Bible that is not at all unexpected in the world, but it is still imperative that these kinds of unfounded philosophies not find any foothold in the Church.

The writers of the Bible wrote real facts and real history, and it was important to these men that their readers understood this. The apostle Peter said in 2 Peter 1:16, “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” His fellow apostle, John, also drew attention to the reliability of his own record in 1 John 1:1-2:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life — the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us…

And Luke, of course, prefaces his writings as being especially dependable. Luke 1:1-4:

Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.

These writers’ first priority was to convey the fundamental elements of the Christian faith, but attention to accuracy and credibility was an essential element of this effort.

The New Testament writers intended for their words to be considered as dependable records of real and profoundly important events. Certainly this is equally true of the Old Testament writings where Bible events are often couched in the context of secular happenings with extensive references to specific dates, times, world leaders, and other corroborating evidences. Not surprising, then, are the ubiquitous extra-biblical references that substantiate the inspired chronicles. David, Ahab, Ahaz, Hezekiah, Hoshea, Jehu, Jotham, and Manasseh are just a few of the dozens of biblical figures described in records other than the Bible. Some of these secular references to biblical people and places are very, very old. A 3,200 year old Egyptian monument mentions the people of Israel in the land of Canaan – a description that agrees with the Bible record. One especially interesting extra-biblical reference to an Old Testament person is the bulla of Baruch the scribe of Jeremiah. Two bullae, a scribe’s equivalent of a signet ring, have been discovered with the inscription: “Baruch son of Neriah,” the very person who worked with Jeremiah and quite possibly wrote large portions of the Old Testament. Examples like this are abundant and more are being discovered each year, but still the world wants us to read the Bible as fanatical religious fiction.

Extra-biblical references to New Testament people and places are practically innumerable. Essentially all of the leaders, political figures, and locations are discussed by contemporary sources outside of the Bible. Because of the volumes of references to Jesus and his Apostles, no one can seriously debate whether or not they existed. At least six different non-biblical sources make reference to Jesus. None of these sources intend to validate the writings of the Bible, but that is definitely the effect. Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius all mention Christ and his following of Christians. Notably, the Bible records several supernatural events surrounding the crucifixion of Christ, some of which continued to be a discussion outside of the Bible well into the 2nd century. This quotation comes from a man named Julius Africanus (c. 160 – c. 240) who refers to the writings of two other men.

On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun…Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth – manifestly that one of which we speak.

Secular references to biblical people and places are not essential for a Christian’s faith, but these observations are still valuable as a plurality of witnesses is always desirable. Like Moses explained in Deuteronomy 19:15, “…by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.”

~ Tad Morris