The Limits of Labor

This is the final episode of a three-part series on the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, a truly unique book of the Bible. In this book the teachers shows how most of our daily time and energy is spent on things that are totally meaningless, which should motivate humility, integrity, and enjoyment of the simple things in life.

Episode 3
Aug 28, 2017
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Show Notes

In this message, I explore the concept of work and labor in the book of Ecclesiastes. The teacher wants to show us that it's impossible to create meaning in your life from one's vocation or career. But, this doesn’t mean that we should quit working. Rather, we must learn how to see our life's work in a larger context, helping us navigate through both success and failure. The teacher offers practical wisdom and guidance about having a job, and how to enjoy both the mundane and the beautiful parts of having a job.

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Speakers in the audio file:

Tim Mackie

Tim Mackie: Hey everybody. I'm Tim Mackie and this is my Podcast, Exploring my

Strange Bible.

I am a card-carrying Bible history and language nerd who thinks

that Jesus of Nazareth is utterly amazing and worth following with

everything that you have.

On this podcast, I'm putting together the last 10 years' worth of

lectures and sermons where I have been exploring the strange and

wonderful story of the Bible and how it invites us into the mission of

Jesus and the journey of faith and I hope this could be helpful for

you too.

I also help start this thing called The Bible Project, we make

animated videos and podcast about all kinds of topics in Bible and

theology. You can find those resources at the BibleProject.com. With

all that said, let's dive into the episode for this week.

In this week's episode we're going to be closing down the three

parts series, this is part three of three on the book of Ecclesiastes

and in this message, I explore the theme of work and labor in the

book of Ecclesiastes.

It's a repeated theme that comes up in all of the main sections of

the book. The teaching voice of Ecclesiastes was to show you how

it's actually impossible to create meaning in your life from your

vocation, your career, your day to day efforts but that doesn't mean

you shouldn't keep working. It just means you should put all your

life's work in some kind of greater context that can account and

help you work through both your successes and your failures

because you're likely to have a lot of both in life.

There's a lot of practical wisdom and guidance about having a job

and wrestling through both the mundane and the beautiful parts of

going through your career life.

It's very practical, there's a lot of great wisdom. This message is

called The Limits of Labor and let's dive in.

Ecclesiastes doesn't play a very positive role in the Bible, does it? It

plays the negative role, remember that. Ecclesiastes, it plays the role

of a wise gardener who knows that before you can grow healthy

fruits and vegetables, you need to plow up the ground, you need to

dig out the weeds and hack away the brambles, right? Which can be

a painful and difficult process.

You need to get rid of distorted views of work and vocation before

we can truly hear the good news about the Christian redemptive

view of work and vocation. So, tonight's the bad news, sorry. But

depending on how you feel about your job right now, you might

actually hear this as good news. I'm not sure.

Turn to Ecclesiastes Chapter 1 with me, we're just kind of dive in.

The first words of the book really get us into the core ideas and

we'll just kind of reacquaint ourselves and then dive into this theme

of work, which we'll actually see in the first words.

Ecclesiastes 1:1 "The words of the Teacher the Son of David, King in

Jerusalem." So, this is the Solomon-like figure whose voice we're

hearing in the book and pronouncement of this Teacher is

"Meaningless" says the Teacher, "Utterly meaningless! Everything is


Now, we've said this many weeks, but the point is repetition leads to

memory. And so, what's the Hebrew word that the author uses here,

the Teacher? Hevel. Does it mean the same thing as "meaningless"

does in English for us?

No. Okay remember it doesn't. So, remember, we'll throw this up

here again on the slides, the word hevel which means smoke or

vapor. I said that with an accent that I've never had. Smoke, why did

I say that? It just kind of came out, I'm sorry.

So, smoke. That's what I mean. And as a metaphor, the Teacher uses

in two different ways, right? To mean fleeting or temporary, like,

here one moment, gone the next. But also, something more

concrete than that as if smoke, when you look at it, it seems like it's

there and that you can touch it. It seems like a thing but then the

moment I try and grasp it or make sense of it, it eludes me.

And that's how life is under the sun here. It seems like it makes

sense but then when we try and make it make sense half the time or

most of the time, life falls apart on us or it doesn't go we thought it

would. We can't make it work the way we want it to. It's like hevel.

So, like, hevel. Okay.

So, everything is hevel. What did people gain from all of their labors

at which they toil under the sun? Hey, now we're talking about work.

Now, this is the first sentence of the book. We're talking about work.

The other key word in the book of Ecclesiastes: "under the sun"

refers to life in this world as we presently experience it, a world-


Of enigma and paradox, a world that has been compromised by

human sin and folly and selfishness. And because of that, because

of the follies of humanity, it's wreaked havoc in God's good world.

The way we experience life isn't fully as God intended us to

experience life.

But somehow, we all know that and we all experience how screwed

up the world is all the time, right? But somehow, and what the

Teacher is concerned is with, is that we continue to work and live

and operate as if ultimate, like, happiness and ultimate lasting

fulfillment really is possible here under the sun.

We say we don't think it is, but we live and work as if we think it is

and the way we know that is because when we don't find ultimate

happiness and significance and fulfillment under the sun here, we

get utter despair, we get ticked off at God and blame it on Him as if

it's God's fault. And the whole point of the story of the Bible is that

it's not God's fault. It's our fault for the reason why the world is the

way that it is.

And so, he's going to take us down, every possible dead end of

where humans look for meaning and significance and fulfillment

and so on and show us that it's a dead end. And that apart from

God, it's a dead. And so tonight, he's going to take us down the

dead of work.

Which, I think, is quite depressing because this is, like, what we do

with most of our waking hours, you know what I'm saying Sleeping

and working. That's, like, what we do with most of our lives, right?

But we have to go here, this is a major theme in the Teacher's word.

And so, here's his question Verse 3. I want you to look down at it


He's going to ask you. He's going to ask, "What do people gain

from all of their labors at which they toil here under the sun?"

What do we gain from all of this work that we spend most of our

waking hours doing or maybe you are not spending most of your

waking hours working and there might be many reasons behind


You might be trying to find work and you're frustrated because you

can't, or maybe you're intentionally trying not to find work and

that's the joke about young people in Portland or whatever. But it's

more of a stereotype than reality, maybe. Maybe I just don't know

the right people.

Anyhow, so we're aware of the fact that we are not working if we

aren't and He's asking, what do we gain? What do we get from all

of this work that we do, this pursuit of work? And some of us might

think, "Okay, already this is too, like, abstract and philosophical

because what do we work for? We work to get a paycheck, to

survive, you know what I mean?" Like, that's what we're doing.

That's what we gain. I get a paycheck, I survive, I provide for myself

and for those who depend on me, if I have people depending on

me. That's what we work for.

And the Teacher says, yes, of course. Right, that's a given. But that's

not what he's asking here. He's not asking, that's compensation.

You work to receive compensation. What he is asking is what over

and above mere survival do we get for all of the work? He's asking

what's the gain, not the compensation. What's the gain?

And he's working with this idea that we know in the modern world

through this famous little pyramid. There's educators, psychologists

and it was Abraham Maslow. Yeah, he made this famous, called

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. And its basic point is that human

beings aren't just like ants, but things that make ants happy do also

make us happy. But we need also much more to make us happy,


So, we need food, shelter, clothing to get our physiological needs

taken care of. But humans, above and beyond ants, we need also

safety and security, we need also community and loving

relationships and also, we just have this nagging sense to become

more of a fully healthy human. We need to find significance.

I need to do something that seems to have meaning and fits into

some larger story or some larger significance or something like

that. And so that's what he's getting at here.

We work, yes, to provide for your needs and to survive but what

he's asking is, but do we actually get to the upper parts of the

pyramid? The self-actualization or significance or fulfillment from all

of the labor that we do. And he's essentially going to come to the

conclusion that kind of, a little bit, not really. So, no.

That's where he's going to leads us, that where it's going to lead us.

And to do that, I want to, kind of, paint, get a mental image in our

heads, I think that will help us as we come sort through in Chapters

2 and forward to see where he talks about work more.

So yesterday, was yesterday a glorious day or what? You know what

I'm saying? I've forgotten that these days happen. This is my first

winter back in Portland after many, many years. Yesterday was

amazing. So, Jessica and I, we did only the sensible thing you do on

a sunny warm February day in Portland, we went to the beach. And I

decided, I could wear a t-shirt and it was sunny. I was actually

sweating in the sun in February on the beach. It was wonderful.

So anyhow-


So, we went on a hike, one of my favorite hikes this month, and we

ended the day with sunset at Canon Beach because it's a

convenient place and its wonderful nice beach and saw lots of


So, we were kind of walking and talking as the sun was setting, it's

beautiful and stunning. All of a sudden, I had all of these memories

of Canon Beach as a kid. So, one day a year, usually in the first week

or so of June, every year at Canon Beach, what awesome event

happens? Sand Castle Day. And hundreds and hundreds of sculptors

come from the region, from the world, to Sand Castle Day.

And Canon Beach is not big, and it fills up with about 10,000 extra

people for the weekend of Sand Castle Day and world-class


And so 8 AM, people register, and you go out. And the tide has

gone out and people go to the wet sand, and they all, like, have

come marked out where the different lots are that people register

for. And you got 7 hours because you start at 8 AM, you got till 3

PM to finish your project.

And it is epic what these people accomplish. And they lie in the

beach, hundreds of world class sculptors, it's epic. And I actually

can't remember how many times I went as a kid. Just because we're

having this conversation, did I go four different summers growing

up? Did I go two but it's so awesome it felt like four in my memory?

I'm not sure.

So, by 3 PM, everybody has to stop because then the judges come,

and they take pictures and they begin to evaluate and so on

because what happens about 5 o’clock? What's going to happen?

What makes the sand wet? Because the tide went out and it's all wet

the sand, what's going to happen at 5? And it's the most utterly

tragic. It's utterly tragic.

So, watch, because the tide begins to come in and it kind of slowly,

slowly erodes, right? And those first waves begin to take over the

sculptures. And then 8 AM, the next morning, you would never even

know that Sand Castle Day took place.

It's the ultimate tragedy. It was all this planning going up to Sand

Castle Day, the actual event itself, the judging, the awards and then

the next morning, it's gone.

This is the Teacher's view of human work and accomplishment.

Remember I said the first week, Ecclesiastes is like a wet blanket

thrown over your life, right? And not to needlessly depress us, but

to wake us up to the reality of life here in the fallen world under the


Go to the Chapter 2 with me and keep this mental image of building

sand castles.

Chapter 2:17 He says, "So I hated life," great start for a new

paragraph, right? So, "I hated life because all the work that's done

here under the sun is like, it was grievous to me. I mean, all of it is

hevel." It's here and it's gone, it's over. It's like chasing the wind, it's

a lot of activity but it never seems to actually amount to anything.

And so, I hated all of the things that I was toiling for here under the

sun because here's the reality, I'm going to have to leave them to

someone who comes after me. And who knows whether that person

is wise or going to be foolish? But yet, they're going to have control

over all of the fruit of my toil into which I poured all of this effort

and skill here under the sun. This is hevel.

So, my heart begins to despair over all of this toilsome labor here

under the sun because listen, you can labor with wisdom, and

knowledge and skill, you might, like, rock making your sand castle,

you know what I mean? Making the best sand castle ever. Or maybe

you'll make creepy sand castles, you know? Whatever, right?

But you're going to have to leave it. You're going to have to leave it

to somebody or something at some point. You will have to stop

whatever it is that you are doing at some point. It's guaranteed. The

uncertain certainty, you know? You're going to have to stop

whatever it is that you put hand to in life and leave it to another

who hasn't put in what you have put in, who hasn't worked for it.

This is hevel, he says. It's a great misfortune.

So, in other words, what he's getting at is he says, we, on this

hierarchy of needs, yes, we work to survive and get a paycheck but

there is something inside all of us that is hoping that we can do

more than merely survive. And many human beings, not all, but

many human beings actually get to climb a little higher on the

pyramid with their work and with their accomplishment

And one of the major motivators, he believes, is this desire to leave

a legacy, to make an impact, to leave behind something of

significance in the world. Is this a good desire? Yeah, we're going to

take four weeks to explore that desire and how good it is and how

God-given. Yeah, that's part of the image of God-


Inside of us is to do something and contribute something of value

and beauty and goodness to the world.

That's a good thing. But here under the sun, in a fallen world am I

guaranteed that what I've put my hand to will have that kind of

contribution, that lasting contribution to the world. Do I have any

guarantee? And his answer is, "I have no guarantee," because it

might not be the ruthless tide that comes away and take your sand

castle. It might actually be, like, your kids who squander, like, what

you give them after you retire or something, you know.

You build a business, or you build a corpus of work or something, of

art or creative work or something, whatever it is, and you hand that

off to the world to someone. You have no guarantee. You have no

guarantee. And for the Teacher, he says it's hevel.

You're saying that's what going to make all of these years of work

meaningful to you but, yet they will become hevel, they will at some

point. The tide will come and wash it away, no guarantee


That's a happy notion. That's a happy notion. And so, some of us

may have recognized that. We may have come to a healthy

recognition like, "Okay, yeah, I recognize there is a degree to which

I'm making castles in the sand and my goal is not to leave my mark

on the world and to gain significance by that means, but at least I

want to enjoy what I'm doing while I have to do it. Like, get some

satisfaction. If I can't get this long-lasting payoff of leaving a mark

on the world, maybe I can get some psychological payoff, if you

know what I'm saying, of this satisfaction or enjoyment of our work,"

which he also deconstructs.

Verse 22: What is it that people get for all of this toil and anxious

striving with which they labor under the sun? All of their days, their

work is grief and pain and even at night, their minds don't rest. This,

too, is hevel."

So, he's saying, not only do we not get what we are looking for out

of a life of work and accomplishment, because it doesn't make a

lasting impact, but what we do get is something that we don't want,

which is stress and anxiety and, like, physical pain and grief.

Some of you had this experience if you ever tried, like, starting your

own business or something like that. Or let's say, you say, "I'm going

to try move in the direction of my passions or my strengths and gift

in my skill set."

Okay, so then you start into a career or a job where it's not just, like,

mindless work or whatever, you just check the hours or something

like that. But really, I'm going to give myself to work that is

meaningful, that’s tied to my passions and giftings and so on.

Is that a recipe for a stress-free life, that kind of job?

That's actually a recipe for a much more stressful life because you

carry work everywhere you go because it's tied to who you are and

your passions, you know what I'm saying?

So, people, you know, who, like, start small businesses out of their

passions and dreams, are these, like, relaxed people who had long

weekends at the beach every weekend? You know what I'm saying.

But these are the hardest working people you've ever met, and

they're totally stressed because, "Are we going to make overhead

this week or are we going to make it this month or the things going

to meet, and we don't-"

It's stressful, it's hard. And while there's joy in it because it's

connected to my passions, the Teacher is going to force you to ask

and say, "Listen, you put it in scales of a balance. Yes, you're finally

getting to do something that you enjoy but you're also constantly

losing sleep." Not only is it stressful when you're awake, he says you

can't even sleep, right? You can't even sleep because at night you're

sitting there, staring at the ceiling wondering what's tomorrow

going to bring. Grief, anxiety, pain? I don't know what's it. So, he

says it's not worth it. Is it really worth it?

This is really depressing but it is brutally honest at the same time,

right? We get the sense as we go about our work, maybe you can't

find work and it's really frustrating to you. And it's true because

humans go coo-coo when we don't have anything to do.

We're meant to do stuff. It's the image of God stuff in us. But yet at

the same time, here under the sun when we pursue it with all of our

might and our passions and dreams, it ends up, like, ruling us and

making us stressed out all of the time.

Or it ends up totally just making us disillusioned because we realize,

I'm building castles in the sand for someone else who I don't even

know. I've just seen, like, their names in the magazine or something

like that. This is the odd thing in terms of, like, corporate culture and

the alienation that many of us feel from our work because we fit

one piece, or one part of a larger business or corporation and I

don't know the people I'm actually working for.

And maybe you don't even see the people that the thing that you

are working for benefits or serves, you know what I'm saying? This is

weird, it's weird, it's weird. It's castles in the sand, let's stress this


So, what's the point? Turn to Chapter 4 with me, he has one more

dead end to explore.


And you're like, "Two is enough," you know? Dead ends, that's

enough. But actually, this is the most insidious and I think the

deepest dead end of all because I could come to convince myself

that what I'm working for won't last and what I'm looking for won't

be able to provide for me a sense of significance or leaving a legacy

or an impact in the world. Okay, I've dealt with that. I dealt with it.

And I can get myself to a place of just dealing with the pain and the


There was a Pulitzer prize-winning book wrote in the early 1970’s by

a guy named Studs Terkel. And it won a Pulitzer. And what he did

was he, the journalist, he went around the country conducting

hundreds and hundreds of interviews with mostly blue-collar

America. And he called the book, the book with excerpts of the

interviews and quotes and so on, drawing to get the themes.

The book is called Working: People Talk About What They Do All

Day and How They Feel About What They Do. That was the name of

the book. And here's the first paragraph of the book, and he says:

"It's a book about work and therefore, by its very nature, is about

violence; violence to the spirit as well as to the body. It's about

ulcers as well as accidents. It's about nervous breakdowns as well as

kicking the dog around. It's, above all, about the daily humiliations

to survive the day is triumph enough for the willing, walking,

working, wounded among the great many of us."

That, apparently, is the expression of what work does to us 40 years

ago. Are we doing any better today? I'll leave that to your judgment.

And so, some of us might say, "Okay, I can't necessarily make a

world-lasting impact. I may not be able to find a life free of stress

but maybe somehow, maybe what work can help me do is find

myself. Maybe I can find a career or a job that will give me a sense

of who I am and an identity to figure out what I'm about in the

world." And the Teacher said that's the deepest delusion of all, that

work can give you an idea of who you are.

Look at Chapter 4:4 He says, "And I saw that all toil and all

achievement," let's stop there. He's using two words for work here

and there's significance. So, the first one is just the general word

"work" or "labor," right? All work. But the second word he uses is

something you might have new translations like skillful work or

skillful labor.

He's saying, let's say you, like, really rock at making sand castles.

You're, like, the best. You win, like, Sand Castle Day every single

year, right? So, you might just work or whatever or you might have

great achievement and success at what you do. You can say that it's

all of this springs from or comes from one person's envy of another

person. This is hevel, it's like chasing after the wind.

Envy. So, we think of envy and we think, "Okay, so all toil and all

achievement come from me wanting what you have? I'm envious,

like, you have the awesome vintage bike or something, you have a

cool car. And so, I want that so I'm going to work harder to get


And that's a part of what he's saying but that's not the deepest part

of what he's saying. It's not envy of your stuff, it's not envy of what

you’re working for. This is about the core motivation for why we


He's talking about this deep sense of jealousy rooted in insecurity as

a motivation for why: why we work. That's what he's getting at here.

This envy that's a result of comparing myself to you.

So, for example, we have great many baristas here at A Door of

Hope. Did you know that the Northwest Regional Barista

Championships took place today? Did you know this? February 3rd

up in Seattle? Maybe you didn't know this, but you may have friends

up there and i know for a fact that there's A Door of Hope people

up at the Northwest Regional Barista Championships there.

So, let's say, what, it's that feeling, you're a barista and you get up

to the championships. And you're good. I mean you can make the

cool heart shapes or whatever, on the top of your, you know, lattes

or whatever.

And like, you're good. You're good but you get up to the

championships and you realized all these other baristas and you

have to face the facts, like, these people are way better than me. I

may be a big fish in a small pond, but you get to the regional

championships, I'm outgunned, you know what I'm saying?

So, it's that feeling, right? When you get around people who do

what you do or do what you want to do.


They do the same thing and you just realized, "Holy cow, like,

they're better than me and I can't do a darn thing about it," you

know what I'm saying? Have you been in this position before?

You're a musician, you're a parent, you're a mom. And like that

other mom's kids, never, like, slobber and drool or whatever, and

Johnny was potty trained at two and half or something, you know?

And so, you just realized, "Oh my gosh they're better than me and I

can't do a thing about it."

And there's a whole bunch of us, there's a whole bunch of us for

whom that is such a great threat but we may not even realize it but

we internalized that so deep that the symptom of that insecurity

resorts itself in competition, in excelling, in working even harder,

maybe working to a degree that isn't healthy for us, or working in a

ways that we treat the people around us in ways that we would

normally never treat people. But because we got our eye on the

prize, eye of the tiger whatever, you know? Because I'm going to

succeed. You can't be better than me, you know? This is what he's

getting at here. Envy of another.

And so, what he's convinced of is that even though we might say

that I'm working to provide a service, what he really believes is that

we're working to provide ourselves with an identity in a sense of

worth and value.

So, we might say, "I'm working to get a paycheck. I'm working to

get compensation." And he's saying, "Actually what you're working

for is to get a life. You're trying to prove that you're someone and

justify your existence in the universe and justify that you're worth

taking up space in the universe."

I'm just trying to say what he's saying in different words. that's what

he's getting at. He believes this is one of the heart core motivations

for human work and he says its hevel. And why it is hevel?

He says because work cannot provide you with a sense of who you

are. A sense of your self-worth and your identity and value isn't

something that you can create. You can't make or manufacture that.

It has to be something given to you, it's something you receive.

And that truth is contained in a sort of riddle that he tells in Verses 5

and do you guys like riddles? So, what's great is that the punch line

of this whole thing comes in a riddle, it's a lot like Jesus' teaching,


Versus 5-6: He tells us a little riddle. The three dead ends: work can

make an impact, well actually it can't really. Work can bring me joy

and satisfaction, well, really put that into scales but actually not

really. It might be a little bit behind the scales. Work gives me an

identity and a sense of who I am. Actually, it's hevel because it's

rooted in insecurity.

And so, he tell us through a riddle in Versus 5 and 6. Brilliant, it's

brilliant. He says "Fools fold their hands and they ruin themselves.

Better is one handful with tranquility." or some of your translations

have rest.

"Better is one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil

and chasing after the wind." It's a riddle. Suppose you have a cup of

tea and think about it, you know? That's what you do with riddles,


You pause, you ponder, and you get it? You get what he's saying

with the riddle? You can get the basic idea, right? So, there might be

a whole bunch of us who are ready to go quit our jobs right now,

you know what I mean? Like, what's the point, you know? What's

the point?

And he will say that's foolish. It's foolish because he says fools fold

their hands, get that. And also look, in English, we have three words

for hands. Here, we have hands, handful, handfuls because in

English, we have basically one word to refer to this thing. It's hand.

And the riddle in Hebrew, he uses three different words. Hebrew has

three different words for hand, all with different nuances or

meaning. Do you want to learn all the three words for hands right


Okay, you need to understand the riddle, I think. So, he says fools

hold their yad. The yad is from your fingertips to your elbow. So, we

call this, like, your hand and so what do we call this? Right, your


So, in Hebrew, yad is the way to refer to the whole thing, so even

the way they divide up physiology. So, what does it mean to fold

your yad? That's an image, it's a metaphor. What's he getting at

with this image? Nap time, laziness.

So, in other words, whether it's intentionally or to intentionally give

up, to neglect the abilities or the skills or the opportunities that I

could have if I were to put myself to it, to neglect that, to reject it,

it's foolish. He says laziness is foolish.

And we might think, well, wait a minute. Like, you're totally, like,

motivating me to become lazy because what is the point of work?

And he's like, we're not there yet. We got to get to the bottom of

the riddle, right?

But laziness, the folding of my yad intentionally, to fold your yad is

foolish. You're squandering what God has put in you.


You're squandering the fact that you've been given life and breath

and a chance to do something in the world and discover what that

is, it's foolish and it's the way to ruin yourself. Humans go coo-coo

when we don't have anything to do. You realize this? Or we, like,

turn the PlayStation 3 or Xbox or something and that really makes

you coo-coo on a whole other way, though, because you think

you're fine but actually you're being programmed to live in some

other world, right?

So, you fold your yad, right? That’s foolish. You ruined yourself, you

ruined your humanity by not having anything to do. So, it’s that

some people's response to hevel under the sun. They fold their yad.

That’s one extreme.

The other extreme is the last one that he mentions, which is two

hands full of toil and chasing after the wind, chophen, chophen.

Would you say it with me?

Chophen. So he says "Fools fold their yad, as this is not wise but

equally and on the other extreme of not being wise is to live life

with two chophen which is this grabbing fistfuls, like this. This is an

equally unhealthy hevel-like way to live. And do you get what he

means just by the metaphor of this right here?

What is this? Right, this is an approach to life where I'm trying to

milk out of this job or this career or this life goal. I'm trying to get

out of it all kinds of things that the Teacher thinks you will never get

out of it, right?

You work tirelessly because it's this grabbing posture to life. You're

trying to get something out of these things that can never actually

give you what you're looking for, which is this deep sense of worth,

of value, joy or satisfaction that you're contributing to something


I mean, we have a word for this in English. It's one of the addictive

behaviors that we actually praise in modern America, called

"workaholism" right? And of course, because this person so

successful, look how hard they're, like, making sacrifices and they're

working and so on.

And in the New York Times, there's this survey done not long ago

about what if, it's one of these, kind of, fun questions to figure out

people's personalities, if there's an extra hour to the day, a 25 hour

a day, what would you do with that extra hour? I'm hearing two

people says sleep.

All right, this is the majority answer. Why is that? Because we're

exhausted. We're exhausted, we're the most overworked culture, at

least for upper class jobs in America. Most overworked people in

the world. What's going on here?

Somehow, this is like an admirable trait to live life grasping with two

chophen. In Portland, I'm not sure, right? Which I kind of appreciate

about the culture, at least, of this city. But for some people, you

know what I'm saying? And this as foolish, it's hevel because it won't

give you what you're looking for because it's rooted in insecurity

and envy, he says.

And sometimes some of us are honest about it that that's where this

is all rooted in. It's in my deep insecurity and that's why I'm

grabbing at life, right? Some of us are honest sometimes. People

like Madonna are sometimes honest and just listen to her words.

This is very powerful.

So, she says, "I have an iron will and all of my will has always been

to conquer some horrible feeling of inadequacy. I push past one

spell of it and then discover myself as a special human being. And

then I get to another stage and think that I'm mediocre and

uninteresting again and again. My drive in life, it's from this horrible

fear of being mediocre and that's always pushing me because even

though I've become somebody, I still have to prove that I am

somebody. My struggle has never ended, and it probably never


So that sounds like a great career. That sounds like success and

living with two chophen has really pushed you to a healthy place. At

least she's honest about it. And what's funny is that this is the kind

of honesty that you wonder if it's really honest because clearly, she

hasn't changed career trajectory, you know what I'm saying? She's

still at it. She's still at it and so are many of us.

And so, the Teacher with his little riddle, he says "Listen, it's foolish

to fold your yad and to just check out of the game because you're

going to ruin yourself. But at the same time, it's futile to live life with

this kind of grabbing posture."

We commenced this middle hand here, having the second hand, he

says, "Best is one hand full with rest or with tranquility." And the

word that he uses here is the word, kaf which simply refers to the

inside of your hand, open palm right here. This is what he has in

mind right here, an open palm. Because the moment you do this, it's

chophen. But this is kaf, it's kaf.

So, he says one hand. So, it's not folding here yet, it's one hand.

You're working, you're committed to something, to being

productive. It's important for humans, we'll explore this in the next

teaching series-


For four weeks. It's vitally important for identity and worth and for

community to contribute and to be working in some way but he

says this is the posture. One hand, the other hand's down because

you're resting. You're working and you're in the game and you're

engaged but somehow, it's with an open hand.

This is such a beautiful image. You're working from a place of rest.

This is a paradox. You're in the place of rest but that's what allows

you to work. This is beautiful.

So somehow, he thinks it's possible to have a posture in life where

I'm working, I'm committed to something and it's something more

than just survival but I'm actually looking to become the kind of

human being God wants me to be but I may begin from a place of

rest and that's what allows me to commit myself but with an open

handed approach, right?

Because the moment that you do this, then I'm trying to control the

outcomes. We did a whole message about that a couple of weeks

ago, right? And he says that's hevel. So, open handed approach.

This is the riddle that he tells. It's a little Hebrew riddle. This is what

he comments, and it leaves us just on the brink because we’re just

like, "Okay and how do you get here? This is it. Apparently, this is

the way to live, right?"

So, I'm resting from a place of deep rest, hand in the game but it's

an open hand. How do you get there, and you read the book of

Ecclesiastes, right? Because what's the role of this book in the Bible?

Positive or negative? It's negative.

He's exposing the brokenness of the human heart, he’s exposing the

reality of life here under the sun. He doesn't provide any ultimate

solutions, that's not the point of the book. Not the point of the

book. It's one book in the Bible that's hacking away at the brambles

and digging up the weeds to prepare us for something that can

bring us rest.

And this here, I think that some words of Jesus that may be familiar

to you but familiarity breeds contempt or at least boredom. And so,

hear these words in light of the incisive critique and the hacking of

the Teacher. Hear these words of Jesus again for the first time.

Matthew 11: "Jesus says come to me all you who are weary and

burdened and I will give you," what? "I'll give you rest. Take my yoke

upon you learn from me for I'm gentle and humble in heart and you

will find rest for your souls for my yoke is easy, my burden is light."

There's a paradox at the heart of what He's saying here, do you see

it? Somehow, following Jesus is a burden. It's hard, it’s difficult, isn't

it? Life is hard, and life is difficult. Can I get an amen? But somehow,

coming under the burden, the Teacher says if you, what? Shoulder

the heavy burden of work and toil on your own, you're welcome to

it. It's going to destroy you or at least give you ulcers or at least

make you really depressed. But go for it if you want, right?

Or I can take on myself the burden of what Jesus has to give me and

somehow, it's a burden that brings rest. It's work that brings rest. It's

a yoke, so he uses this image of, like, we're oxen or cows or donkeys

who would wear this heavy wooden U-shaped or O- shaped thing

that gets connected to, like, a cart that I pull along or something like


So, it's an image of something heavy over me but this heavy thing

that Jesus wants us to put on us is actually going to bring us rest

and freedom in life.

So, it's actually kind of another riddle, isn't it? So, what's he getting

at? And what Jesus is always getting at is the heart of the human

condition and it's the heart of what He came to address. Ecclesiastes

exposes the problem, Jesus comes to give the remedy and the


And the answer is ultimately this: You can shoulder this burden of

finding meaning and significance and making an impact and finding

joy. You can shoulder that on your own. The Teacher says it's not

going to go well but you allow Jesus's burden to fall on you.

It's the word of His teaching, it's the word of the Gospel. And the

good news about Jesus and what He did for us on the cross and the

resurrection is this paradox because it's the clause in the Gospel

says, "The worst possible thing about you and me that we could

possibly imagine and that's the heavy burden to bear." At the same

moment it says, "The best possible thing about it is that you could

ever hope for or imagine which is what gives freedom."


And so, the Teacher's convinced that if there's something broken

inside you and me so deep, right? The "walking wounded" as Studs

Terkel, I can't even say his name, right? Don't name your kids Studs,

whatever you do, right?

So, Studs Terkel, right? The working, walking wounded. He says it

comes from this place of deep self-centeredness of insecurity, of

wanting to make for myself a life for myself. Don't tell me what to

do. That's a form it takes for some of us.

For others of us, it dresses us. The Gospel and what the Teacher

points out is our deep insecurity and selfishness. And when that

issues itself in the life of work, it creates seven billion human beings

who make the world exactly what it is today.

That's the bad news of the Gospel. It's the burden that we need to

take upon ourselves, this word of Jesus that says you and I are so

deeply screwed up we don't even realize how screwed up we are.

And it results in these lives of work that make the world what it is

today under the sun.

Fallen and broken but at the same moment that the Teacher and

Jesus exposes this deep brokenness inside of us, it's also taking the

burden of the Gospel upon myself that gives me rest and freedom

because the Gospel says that here we are, a bunch of broken

people, like, just royally screwing up the world out of our deep

insecurity and envy.

And what is God's response to us? And we think, "Oh yeah, exactly."

You take that as He's going to destroy us all. And so, you can have

that view of God if you want but please don't associate that God

with Jesus. Please don't, please don't. That's not the Gospel.

The good news of the Gospel is that here we are, doing this to

God's world and to other people making God's image and doing all

of this to ourselves, and what is God's response? Is God's response

is to come be with us in Jesus to shoulder our burden upon Himself

and then His life on the cross?

This becomes the symbolic moment, it's like a magnifying glass

where the hevel of our world that we create because of our envy

and insecurity and our ego, it's like it all gets magnified onto Jesus

and He lives this kind of loving life of rest and self-giving that you

and I can only dream of living.

We can only dream. I cannot live like Jesus and to be honest with

you most of the time I don't want to. Let's just be real, you know

what I'm saying? That's the heavy burden, it's being honest with

myself about that.

But right at that moment that I recognize that, and I take that

burden of Jesus upon myself, He meets me right there and He says,

"I have lived this life for you."

Somehow, and it was Paul who said, the Son of God who loved me

and gave Himself for me so that somehow, I am actually dying with

all of this envy, all of this insecurity. It's being put to death with

Jesus on the cross. And the life that I now live and the life that I now

go into my work and career and accomplishment.

It's not me. It's Jesus living in me. It's what Paul says in Galatians

Chapter 2. It’s Jesus living in me. "Somehow through Jesus I can

become the kind of person that I could never become for myself

because it's Jesus' doing."

This is the remedy that the Teacher did not have on him. He

exposes the problem, he tills the ground and Jesus provides this

great saving remedy for the working wounded here in the world.

And the moment I internalize that truth, that God's love for me is so

deep that He would do what Jesus did for me in His life, His death,

His resurrection, gives me His life. If you internalize that truth it will

completely transform your view of what you do 8 to 10 hours a day.

Jimmy can be the best priest in the world, I don't care. I'll be 14th in

the regional championships, you know what I mean? Whatever.

Jesus died for me. I'm freed from that place of rest because my

identity is not something I’m getting. My identity as something that

I receive from Jesus and His love for me. I'm freed to enter my work

and to honor God and do the best of my God- given abilities that I

can with the opportunities that I have in front of me.

And when I shoulder the bad thing the Gospel says about me, I'll

find the freedom into God's love for me and I'm freed, I'm freed

from the tyranny of work.

That's the answer to the riddle that Jesus gives. You're doing

something with your life. Whether you’re folding your yad or

whether you're grabbing with your chophen. We're looking for

something and Jesus says it's only when you take My burden on you

that you will find rest, to work from a place of rest.

And so, some of us, we need to do that in a new way tonight

because Monday is like this dark cloud over your life. And what

we're doing with our 8 to 10 hours a day, it may be-


Extremely difficult, it may be very difficult but even the most difficult

thing can be transformed when you know that the most important

Person in the universe is just head over heels above you and gave

His life for you and He's present with you in that frustrating


It completely transforms your view of what you do with your day.

So, some of us we need to come to the cross tonight and we need

to hear this critique and this hacking of the Teacher and let Him

expose what's inside of us and then we need to take that and lay it

at the cross and receive with an open hand the love of Jesus for you

and for me.

This is what our gatherings are for. That's what where here to do

tonight. Amen!

Thanks for listening to the series on Ecclesiastes. I hope it was

helpful for you and like it did for me I trust that it expanded your

sense, both of your own humanity, your own mortality, your own

finiteness but also inspires all of us to live in a way that's much more

present in the moment, to live in a way that's honest with our

limited capabilities as human beings. But also, it can still embrace

the wonder and the beauty of existence in God's good world even

when we don't understand it.

Such a profound book. I look forward to coming back to it and

studying it all over again in the future but at least I hope it's kind of

opened up some new horizons for you to go. Re-read this book of

the Old Testament with fresh eyes and new understanding.

So, thanks again for listening to the Strange Bible podcast, you

guys. If you like this podcast, if you find it helpful for you leave a

review and tell other people about it and how it's helped you.

Thanks for listening and we'll talk again next time. See you!

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