Ephemera

Everything is ephemeral – except the one eternal God

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Read: Ecclesiastes 1:2

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless!” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)

Reflect:

This is the motto of the Teacher, the echo and refrain throughout Ecclesiastes. The Hebrew word translated “meaningless” is hebel, which literally means vapour or breath (not to be confused with ruach, which means breath, wind or spirit). Hebel conveys the idea of transience, emptiness, futility, vanity; whatever is insubstantial or worthless.

In Isaiah 57:13 and Jeremiah 14:14-15 and 16:19 (and elsewhere in the prophets and wisdom writings) hebel is applied to the ephemeral nature of idols, especially as compared with the eternal might of the LORD God.

At first, it seems as if the Teacher’s motto is a statement of utter despair, frustration and pessimism. I’m left wondering if this Teacher, this wise elder, is nothing more than a grumpy old man.

However, this idea of everything in the world being transient or fleeting is consistent with  multiple passages of Scripture which testify to a contrast between the ephemeral nature of the life and wealth of people and the enduring nature and value of the word of God. Isaiah compares the faithlessness of people to fading flowers and the temporary life of people to withering grass, in contrast to the steadfast, enduring word of the LORD (Isaiah 40:6-8). James warns the fall of the rich is like the destruction of a blossom’s beauty under the scorching sun (James 1:10-11).

Further on in his letter, James uses the exact same vapour/mist analogy as Ecclesiastes’ Teacher when he says (4:14), “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” I think the message of Ecclesiastes and the motto of its Teacher may fit surprisingly well with the wise teaching of James, who also warned (4:4) that, “friendship with the world means enmity against God.”

What is meaningless? An ephemeral life lived with no regard for the eternal God.

crux:

Everything is ephemeral – except the one eternal God.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are eternal, immortal, everlasting, enduring. You have existed forever and will exist forever more. You are the Alpha and Omega, the Living One. I offer praise to you.

In contrast, I am ephemeral. My life is fleeting, my desires futile, my efforts insubstantial, my achievements transient. I am a mist, a vapour. I humble myself before you.

Thank you for Peter’s assurance (1 Peter 1:18-19, 23) that you bought me with the imperishable blood of Christ, that I am born again of the imperishable seed of your Word. Thank you for Paul’s promise (1 Corinthians 15:42-44) that my body will be raised imperishable, in glory and power, a spiritual body. I treasure my hope of sharing eternity with you, my eternal God.

Amen.

Listen

I will listen to the LORD

Read: Deuteronomy 26

Say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the LORD your God that I have come to the land the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us.” (Deuteronomy 26:3)

You have declared this day that the LORD is your God and that you will walk in obedience to him, that you will keep his commands, decrees and laws – that you will listen to him, (Deuteronomy 26:17)

Reflect:

I’ve been trying to develop a new habit lately. Before I read my Bible, I pray as Samuel did (1 Samuel 3:10), “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.” 24 hours ago, I told my husband Jeff we’d just have to keep reading our Bibles according to our regular Bible-reading schedules and keep asking God to show us clearly from his word the decision we should make regarding a particular major opportunity.

So today, as as soon as I asked the LORD to speak, he did. Not in an audible voice, as Samuel heard. Not in some kind of mystical impression, some vague pastiche of popular self-help culture ‘baptised’ with Bible-isms, like the “Jesus Calling” book by Sarah Young. But clearly, concisely, obviously, overtly, undeniably, because it was black and white in the pages of his Word, the Bible.

“I declare … I have come into the land.” (26:3). I am already here, doing what God wants me to do in the place God wants me to be. Jeff is already obeying and serving God in “the land” God has desired Jeff to be in. We don’t need to take a new opportunity, to seek a new horizon. We’re already in the place God put us, walking in obedience to him.

In case I wasn’t sure God was speaking specifically to me, to our situation, God spoke my words back to me with the words of Deuteronomy 26:17, “You have declared this day that the LORD is your God … that you will listen to him.” Message received, loud and clear!

crux:

I will listen to the LORD.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you for your words, your message, your direction and counsel. Thank you for the vivid way you get my attention by speaking my words back to me through the ancient words of Moses.

You are all-seeing, all-knowing. You are Sovereign and you are wise. Thank you for your timing, which is perfect.

I don’t know why I’m surprised at your prompt response to Jeff’s and my prayer, to my pre-reading prayer. James tells me you are generous in granting your wisdom to those who ask for it (James 1:5). Thank you.

Please help me, help us, to walk in obedience to your word, to be contented with your command and to be satisfied with your speech.

Amen.

Prophet

God raised up Jesus Christ as his supreme Prophet

Read: Deuteronomy 18

The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the LORD your God has not permitted you to do so. The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. (Deuteronomy 18:14-15)

“I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name.” (Deuteronomy 18:19)

Reflect:

Moses had earlier spoken of God’s choice of Joshua, the son of Nun, to succeed him (Deuteronomy 1:38), leading the people into the land to inherit it. God had told Moses to commission Joshua, to encourage and strengthen him (Deuteronomy 3:28).

Now, Moses tells the people that God will provide them with a leader like himself, a prophet, who will relay to them the messages of God. Moses may well have been thinking of Joshua, or of the long line of prophets that would following after him. But God placed these words into Moses’ mouth and God meant them to be also a hint of his final, supreme Prophet, the Lord Jesus Christ, who would one day dwell with God’s people in the flesh.

Jesus himself said, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me” (John 7:16), indicating in his following words that the one who sent Jesus was the LORD God. Jesus Christ is God’s Prophet because he spoke all God’s words and he spoke only God’s words.

Here, in Deuteronomy, I am warned to listen to Jesus, because God will judge people for failing to listen to his prophet. The same words were proclaimed by the voice of God the Father from heaven at Jesus’ transfiguration, when he was revealed in the fullness of his kingdom glory: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5; my italics).

crux:

God raised up Jesus Christ as his supreme Prophet.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are Light and Word and Truth.
You spoke and your creation began.
You are the source and sustenance, the joy and delight, the plumb-line and straight-edge by which all else is measured.

LORD, you are Light and your Word is Truth.
You speak through prophets and you spoke through one supreme and ultimate Prophet, the LORD Jesus Christ.

He is your image, the full revelation of your divine essence, making visible the invisible.
He spoke only what you wanted him to say and spoke all you wanted him to say, including the words, “It is finished!” when he had completed the task you set before him at the cross.

Thank you for Moses, for Joshua and most especially for Jesus. Help me to listen to their words, to your words to me, spoken by them.

Amen.