Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
"THE GOOD CREATOR ALONE PROVIDES MEANING FOR THIS FALLEN WORLD"
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!
People are different than animals, for people think. Itís the concluding words of our text: people "have sought out many schemes", many explanations. Rationalism, positivism, existentialism, nihilism: thereís so many philosophies people have cooked up to explain this existence and how to live it.
Solomon Ėthat wisest of all men- did his share of thinking, of trying to understand the things that happen under the sun. Itís what he says in chap 1:13: "And I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven; this burdensome task God has given to the sons of man, by which they may be exercised." He studied life from this side and that, tried to discern the whys and wherefores of it all. Chaps 2-7 record his research, his thoughts, his studies.
In the passage before us this morning, Solomon records the conclusion heís reached. After all his investigations and analyses, the best he can say is this: "Truly, this only I have found; That God made man upright, But that they have sought out many schemes." Understand all that happens under heaven, make sense of it? No, says Solomon, I canít figure out all the whys and wherefores. But one thing I know, he says, and thatís the reality of Paradise. "God made man upright," and thatís why life still has meaning.
I summarize the sermon with this theme:
THE GOOD CREATOR ALONE PROVIDES MEANING FOR THIS FALLEN WORLD.
1. Solomonís search uncovers no answers.
"Truly, this only I have found," says Solomon in our text. As I said, back in Ecclesiastes 1:13 Solomon had told us that he determined "to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven." He wanted to understand, to figure out the whys and wherefores of life, to get to the bottom of what makes life tick, what makes one happy, whatís the purpose of all things. Heís spent the better part of chaps 2-7 searching for the answers, trying in his wisdom to understand the ins and outs of life, why this happens and why that, what itís all good for. At the end of chap 7 he comes to his tentative solution. "All this," he says in vs 23, "I have proved by wisdom. I said, ĎI will be wiseí; But it was far from me." To grasp it all, to understand how this world ticks, why this happens and that, how to be happy and fulfilled, "it was far from me"; it was all too profound, too complex. And if Solomon Ėthat wisest of men- could not understand it, who can? Vs 24: "As for that which is far off and exceedingly deep, who can find it out?" Solomon is convinced: there is no mind on earth that can fathom the whys and wherefores of life. He repeats it in vs 25: "I applied my heart to know, To search and seek out wisdom and the reason of things, To know the wickedness of folly, Even of foolishness and madness," but at the end of the day it beats me, he says, I canít figure it out.
To say it in todayís words, congregation: the philosophy of humanism does not answer the questions of life, and the philosophy of existentialism doesnít either. The worldview known as ĎModerní doesnít tie lifeís questions together, and the worldview known as ĎPost-Modernismí doesnít either. Itís all so exceedingly deep, so beyond the human mind. In fact, that explains why philosophies and worldviews have kept changing over the centuries; none had it right, none could make sense of all that happens, none could answer all the big questions of life. People eventually realize the inadequacies of this philosophy or that, and look for an alternative. But the alternative is no better, and needs to be replaced alsoÖ.. So impressionism follows rationalism, and existentialism follows impressionism, and the child of all of that is todayís post-modernism Ė which tomorrow will be tossed out in favor of something elseÖ. Itís as Solomon, that wisest of men, concluded under the guidance of the Holy Spirit: itís all "far from me," itís all "far off and exceedingly deep", "who can find it out?" Itís too hard, itís too muchÖ.
Thatís not to say that Solomon can find no pattern in the big questions of life. He does find a pattern, and it disturbs him deeply. Itís our second point this morning:
2. Solomonís search uncovers one disturbing pattern.
What that disturbing pattern is? Vs 26: "And I find more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, whose hands are fetters." She traps every sinner; only by Godís interference can one escape her.
Let me stress first of all that Solomon is no woman-hater. Solomon himself praised women in his Proverbs. He wrote: "An excellent wife is the crown of her husband" (12:4); "the wise woman builds her house" (14:1); "He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord" (18:22); "Houses and riches are an inheritance from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the Lord" (19:14). More, Solomon himself wrote the Song of Solomon, where he extolled the gift of love between man and woman. Even in the book of Ecclesiastes Solomon talked up the blessings of a woman; "Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which He has given you under the sun" (9:9). No, Solomon is no woman-hater.
Yet, as he looks around for answers to the big questions of life and admits that the answers are beyond him, he finds one pattern that keeps cropping up on the pages of history, and thatís the influence of the woman. The woman: time and again her heart is a snare or a net to the man; time and again her hands are fetters the man canít escape. We read this, and our thoughts go to the immoral woman, to the Mrs Potiphers of history who tried to beguile handsome JosephÖ. Yet Solomon isnít thinking only of people like that. Instead, he observes in history the fulfillment of Godís curse pronounced in Genesis 3, and sees how damaging that curse is.
I refer to the words of God to the woman in Genesis 3:16. Directly after the fall into sin, the Lord God addressed the woman with this curse: "I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception," He said to her in the presence of Adam. "In pain you shall bring forth children." Then God continued with these words: "Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you." She was created to be a helpmeet to the man, was created to enjoy a place under the man, two equals with one the leader and the other the helper. With her conduct around the fall, she did not maintain her allotted position but led the man astray, and so God pronounced his curse: "Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you."
No, congregation, the word Ďdesireí is not a reference to sexuality. Here the Lord has something completely different in mind. I can best explain what the Lord means by drawing your attention to Gen 4:7, for there you find the identical words, but with a change of pronouns. The Lord is addressing Cain in his jealousy over Abel, warning him that "sin lies at the door." Then God says: "And its [sinís] desire is for you, but you should rule over it." That is: sin wants to dominate you, wants to control you. But you, Cain, must not allow sin to do what it wants; you must rule over sin.
As I said, the Lord uses exactly the same words in Gen 3:16, be it with different pronouns. So, in Gen 3:16 the point is not that sin desires to rule, but itís the woman who desires to rule, to dominate, to control the man. What Eve did to Adam in the fall, giving him bad counsel and so leading him astray, would Ėsaid God- characterize the desire fallen woman would have with respect to the man. Instead of being a helpmeet to her leader, fallen woman would desire the man, seek to control the man Ė just as sin lies close to Cainís heart and desires him. Here is Godís curse: the woman would no longer be content to be a helpmeet to her husband; she would instead be inclined to dominate him, influence him, control him.
God spoke also of the man in Gen 3:16: "he, your husband, shall rule over you." Those words can be read in two ways. One can read those words as a prediction, an announcement from God at the beginning of history that men shall rule over women, men shall subjugate women. Then the passage portrays men as macho, as keeping women under his thumb. This canít be the correct interpretation, though, if only because history demonstrates the opposite; men have not succeeded in keeping women in subjection. In fact, thatís why Solomon can speak in our text of "the woman whose heart is snares and nets" and "whose hands are fetters."
Those closing words of Gen 3:16 can also be read as a task description God has given to man. And thatís how it should be read. I refer again to Gen 4. Sin lay at the door of Cainís heart and desired to dominate Cain. But, said God to Cain, "you should rule over it." Thatís the obligation Cain had: rule over sin. So it is also in Gen 3:16. Though the womanís desire would be for her husband, though sheíd seek to dominate him, the husbandís obligation was to rule over her. That was the ordinance of the beginning, where God created the man first and then the woman as his helper; he was the leader. To borrow a term from the New Testament: he was the head, and therefore he had to give direction, leadership, rule. In response to the fall into sin God decreed that she would try to dominate her husband Ėbe it through her eyes or through her words or through her body or whatever- but he was not to let her dominate; he was instead to rule over her Ė according to Godís creation ordinance.
He was to rule; that was his obligation according to Godís creation ordinance. But see here the effect of the fall into sin: though heís supposed to rule, supposed to function as head, fallen man no longer has the stuff to rule. Woman should submit, be a helpmeet for the benefit of the husband, but instead desires her husband, wants to impose herself over him; thatís the curse upon the fall. Equally, man should rule, should lead his wife, be head, but heís too weak; thatís the curse upon the fall. Instead of accepting in gratitude the respective roles God has given to man and to woman, history would be dominated by the battle of the sexes.
That curse from God in Genesis 3 is what Solomon is describing in vs 26. Understand all the why and wherefores, the ins and outs of life? No, Solomon canít Ė though he be so wise. But he does observe one very disturbing pattern, and thatís the effort of the woman to exert herself over the man, and the inability of the man to resist her. Solomon looked around in his day, and he saw the same as we see in our day: the pages of world history are loaded with examples of strong-willed women Ė and of men too weak to stand up to their women. Think it through: how many homes in our land experience tension and unhappiness because the man of the house and his wife do not accept the respective roles God has ordained for them? How many Cleopatras and how many Caesars are there in the history of the world, and what effect did these strong-willed women and these strong-minded men-who-melted-before-these-women have on the course of history? How many Monica Lewinskys and how many Bill Clintons are there in the history of the world?! Is not this a theme that keeps coming back in the productions of Hollywood? So much misery has come into the world through women who want to dominate, whose heart are snares and nets and whose hands are fetters Ė and the men of their lives are too weak to resist, unable to prevent that they fall into those snares and fetters, and once in they cannot escape. Solomon himself is a prime exampleÖ. The Battle of the Sexes: so much of history can be written under that title!
And that pattern, says Solomon, is "more bitter than death." The inversion of the roles given in Paradise, the refusal of women to be helpmeet and the inability of men to rule, has brought so very, very much misery into the worldÖ. Woe the sinner; heíll be trapped by a woman unless God have mercy. And heíll end up doing foolish thingsÖ. Itís a disturbing, deeply disturbing patternÖ.
Does Solomon conclude from this, congregation, that thereís no meaning to it all? You know, youíd expect after a paragraph like this that Solomon would repeat the theme of his book in bold print: "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!" But precisely here is the remarkable thing of this paragraph! Solomon is unable to find the sense of things, and the pattern he does see in history Ėthat battle of the sexes- is most disturbing. Yet he concludes with the words of our text: "Truly, this only I have found: That God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes." Itís our last point:
3. Solomonís search ends with Godís work.
"God made man upright." That, brothers and sisters, is a reference to Godís evaluation of His handiwork at the end of Genesis 1: "God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good." Point: the distortions characterizing life today did not exist in the beginning; this is not how God made it. And this God controls all, He will fix whatís broken, He will straighten out whatís crooked.
How God will do it? Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Solomon works further with the curse of Gen 3. He sees it around him: the woman whose heart is snares and nets and whose hands are fetters Ė as God had pronounced in Gen 3:16 in response to her role in the fall into sin. But Gen 3:16 appeared hard on the heals of Gen 3:15! And what did God promise there? This: God told the serpent that He would place enmity between the serpent and the woman, and declared that "her Seed" would bruise, crush the serpentís head. Notice it: not the woman would crush the serpent, but her Seed would do so. Solomon knows his Bible, knows Godís promise, and thatís why he says what he says in vs 28: "One man among a thousand I have found, but a woman among all these I have not found." The woman took the initiative in the fall into sin, and man caved in under her influence. That pattern would repeat itself infinitely in human history, and so no woman could supply redemption; that would be left to a man. One man I have found, Solomon says, and no womanÖ. Yet that man would not come without the woman; the woman would be saved by childbearing, she would bear a Seed, and that Seed would be a man who would crush the devil, crush sin. Manís salvation is by a Man, but that Man would come through the woman. A woman would bear a Son, and that Son would have what it took to escape the snares and nets of women, would have the ticker to battle sin and Satan Ė and triumph! Solomon knew: God announced it in Gen 3:15, and itís the gospel of the temple Solomon built for Israel: the High Priest was a man, be it born of woman, and this seed of the woman could make sacrifice for sin and then come yearly into Godís presence in the Holy of Holies - as a foreshadowing to Israel of Paradise Restored, of man living with God again. Here was foreshadowed the birth of the Great Seed of the woman, the Man Jesus Christ who would crush Satan and pay for sins on the cross of Calvary, and so reconcile sinners to God.
Solomon knew it: "God has made man upright." Then yes, God ordained the curse of Gen 3:16, ordained the Battle of the Sexes that has affected the happenings in the world so deeply ever since the fall into sin. But precisely because God ordained it only God is able to fix it. Thatís the gospel!
And God did fix it! By the mighty working of God in heaven, the Son of God was born on earth in due time, the Seed of the Woman. This Seed of the Woman was true man, and therefore tempted as every man is tempted Ė including the temptations that come from women. But this Man was not weak like other men, this Man did not give in to womanís desire to dominate Him. Never did the Lord Jesus Christ permit a woman to control Him, to manipulate Him. Many women played a role in His life, but He retained always the position of Head, recognized that whatever women God permitted on His path had a place in His life as helpers only, and not as heads. He obeyed the norm of God as God had given it in the beginning, and that is why He could pay for the sins of so many women who seek to dominate, and pay for the sins also of so many men not strong enough to be head. This Seed of the Woman knew the place God ordained for man and for woman, and so obtained redemption for both! Hereís the gospel!
And today? This Seed of the Woman, congregation, has poured out His Holy Spirit to renew the hearts of redeemed women and of redeemed men. And what, brothers and sisters, results from this renewing work? This: the godly woman is able and willing again to submit! And this: the godly man is able and willing again to take the leadership, to rule. No, itís not perfect yet; the godly woman struggles to be a good helpmeet to her husband, struggles to accept her place and fulfill her place in submission to her husband. Thatís why the apostle Paul instructs the sisters of Ephesus Ėand of all generations around the world, of every culture- to be subject to their husbands as the church is to Christ (Eph 5:22ff). Women redeemed through the blood of this Seed-of-the-woman need to work with the realities of Genesis 2, the place God has ordained for the woman, the place God has restored to the woman. Then, then she can flourish in Godís kingdom!
Similarly, the godly man is able and willing again to take the leadership, to rule. Here too, the godly man struggles to be a good leader, struggles to love his wife as Christ loved the church, even giving oneself for the wife. Itís so easy to dominate the woman of oneís life, to squeeze the life out of her, and it takes a lot of humility and a lot of Scriptural wisdom to lead a wife so that she flourishes as the woman of Proverbs 31 did! But under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the beginning is there Ė for both husband and wife. In Christian marriages the order of Paradise is in principle restored, and so the tensions and the troubles you find in the unbelieving world restricted. Amongst believers men and women know again the place God has ordained for each in the beginning, and so thereís a foretaste in their midst of Paradise Restored. There you see something today of the restoration God is working.
Solomon sought out answers to the big questions of life. People have found out many schemes, he says, so many philosophies, so many explanations. But get to the bottom of lifeís big questions no man is able. At best one can discern the battle of the sexes, and the misery that follows on the pages of history Ė be it national or domestic. Yet thereís hope, so much hope, because "God made man upright" in the beginning. Then yes, God decreed the battle of the sexes, but before He did that He spoke of the triumph He would work through the Seed of the Woman.
Life vain? Everything hopeless because men are too weak in the face of conniving women? Not at all! By Godís ordinance woman is saved through the Child she bore, and man is saved through Him also! It all has purpose after all! Amen.