One longstanding error plaguing human understanding is the idea of the immortal soul. Seventh-day Adventists studying the Bible learned that man is a whole. He does not have a soul, he is a soul.
But let me read another item for you. This is from Ellen White's Early Writings, p. 87:
I saw that the saints must get a thorough understanding of present truth, which they will be obliged to maintain from the Scriptures. They must understand the state of the dead; for the spirits of devils will yet appear to them, professing to be beloved friends and relatives, who will declare to them that the Sabbath has been changed, also other unscriptural doctrines. They will do all in their power to excite sympathy and will work miracles before them to confirm what they declare. The people of God must be prepared to withstand these spirits with the Bible truth that the dead know not anything, and that they who appear to them are the spirits of devils. Our minds must not be taken up with the things around us, but must be occupied with the present truth and a preparation to give a reason of our hope with meekness and fear.
You see, it's not that demons might appear to us and do work with supernatural power; it's that they will appear before us and they will work with supernatural power. They will declare teachings exactly contrary to the Bible. To us. Are you ready? Are you ready "to maintain from the Scriptures" what you believe?
So today we will study the book and the very passage Ellen White referred to above on this topic.
To understand what God has revealed, Adventists study not just a passage here and there, but take into account the whole testimony of Scripture. We want to compare all the inspired counsel with all the inspired counsel. God has revealed much in the Bible that pertains to life and death. Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 says:
For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor have they any longer a reward, for their memory is forgotten. Indeed, their love, their hate and their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun.
Verse 10 says,
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in sheol were you are going.
We want to work our way through these at the conclusion of this talk, but first, let's take a quick tour of the book it appears in--the Book of Ecclesiastes.
The Quick Tour of Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes is a hard book. We must beware of cherrypicking it. It is the kind of book where it is especially needful to read the whole to grasp the parts. A sermon is not long enough to outline the whole book but we can point out some interesting bits.
First, this is a book with two main contrasts: life and death, and, wisdom versus foolishness. There is a tension, polarity in the book. The preacher makes us look straight at the darkness.
More than sixty times in the book, Solomon will say, I have seen, I saw, I set my mind to know, I built, I planted, I bought, I possessed, I collected, I said, I considered, I hated, I completely despaired. The preacher has looked everything over carefully. He's built stuff, consumed stuff, he's been carefully, even scientifically sampling life all along the way, and he hasn't found the material aspects of life to be at all fulfilling. Everything comes up wanting.
When I say he worked scientifically, I really mean methodologically. The great difference here is that he has learned not to proceed without God as unfortunately modern science does, but he has learned that real wisdom is to fear God. God is the only authentic source for knowledge. So you look at the world God made and you look for His insight about the world He has made.
Another key principle to keep in mind is that, for Solomon, understanding wisdom is doing wisdom. If you don't do it, you don't understand it. Wisdom will include the cognitive, but wisdom is more about doing, about living God's way.
His book details his journey toward his conclusions. Chapter one, verse four: Solomon tells the reader that men come and go, while the earth remains. In chapter, verse 11, he tells us that there is no remembrance of things before or after us. In 3.11, very interestingly he says that God has put eternity in the hearts of men. Some have said that the author of Ecclesiastes doesn't believe in a resurrection, that he believes that you live and then you die and that is all there ever is. But that is a very curious situation for God to plce us into if He went out of His way to put eternity into our hearts.
Another interesting line is in 3:15: God seeks what has passed by. God knows the past and He knows the future. He has an interest in past and future. He leaves no threads unfinished, no projects incomplete. He finishes what He begins. If there is no resurrection, why speak of the future? "That which will be has already been."
In 3:19, 20 man and beast both die. All return to dust. Everyone dies. All people are subject to death whether rich or poor. All humans share a common fate.
In 4:15, 16 A king dies and a younger ruler replaces him. Cycles of life and death repeat. None may want to, but all come to the death part in due course; even kings.
At 5:16 he reminds us that upon death, no person can take anything with them. All die as empty handed as when they were born. There is a certainty of death.
At chapter seven we are told that the day of one's death is better than the day of one's birth. When a person dies, survivors sober up. They are reminded of their frailty and the shortness of life. This makes it better to mourn than to laugh. Mourners take life seriously. At 7:12 we learn that wisdom preserves the life of those who possess it. And, while the author says little about the resurrection, he does look to a day of judgment. There must be some benefit for doing good. If there is nothing at the end of life, then there is no judgment.
Near the end of chapter seven, we have verse 29: God made man upright but man has sought out many devices. This is an important thing, because it shows that God is not responsible for human evil. Men themselves sought out devices, men themselves chose to become evil. When God judges evil in them He is judging what they have chosen, not what He has chosen.
Chapter eight also gives insight. In verse one, a man's wisdom illuminates him. In verse eight, no person has authority over the day of his death; only God does. Evil will not deliver those who practice it.
In particular, verses 10-13 interest us. Listen closely:
So then, I have seen the wicked buried, those who used to go in and out from the holy place, and they are soon forgotten in the city where they did thus. This too is futility. Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil. Although a sinner does evil a hundred times and may lengthen his life, still I know that it will be well for those who fear God, who fear before Him openly. But it will not be well for the evil man and he will not lengthen his days like a shadow, because he does not fear God (NASB margin reading).
Those who have done evil yet apparently fulfilled religious obligation are soon forgotten. The lack of immediate judgment against them boldens them to do evil. It appears that the wicked will live a long life but the preacher says that it will be well for the man who fears before God, while the evil man will not lengthen his days. What we see or think we see is only part of the story. This life is only part of the story. As the New Testament says, "It is appointed unto men once to die, then the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27).
Flipping to chapter 11 and verse nine, the preacher, the author of Ecclesiastes throws this important council: "Live you life but know that God will judge you."
In chapter 12, verses 5-7, we get these three points. All die. Remember God in your life before you die. Then, you die. That is the note the book ends on. I, ecclesiastes, the preacher, have looked closely at life and this is the situation. Everyone dies. Live your life but rememebr God as you live your life Then, you will grow old and die. In that light comes the clear summary of the book in verses 13 and 14. Fear God and keep His commandments. That's your task.
The Dead Know Not Anything
We turn back now to the ninth chapter, and our main passage. The first verse tells us that the righteous, the wise, do good, and their deeds are in the hand of God. Verses two and three tell us that both good and bad suffer the same fate: both die. More, in verse four we are told that our hearts are full of evil and insanity throughout our lives, but that as long as we live there is hope. The reason there is hope is because we know that we will die. That is, we know there is a day of accountability and our awareness of that is a restraint on how live. It is a brake on evil.
Verse five contrasts the living and the dead. The living person has an awareness that he will die. The dead have no such perception. They are completely aperceptive. They do not know or perceive anything. They have no memory, no recall. They cannot think about the life they have lived. They cannot experience bliss or punishment, for they have no consciousness at all. They cannot hate or love, they have no emotion, no affect, no feeling. They have no zeal or energy, no cause that animates them. They have nothing at all.
Verse six tells us that they do not experience love, hatred or dislike, or any feelng. Those things are already gone, for they are already dead. They have no interaction with anything that happens on the surface of the earth. The dead are, we could say, not only dissassembled but temporarily decommissioned. They have no part at all in anything that we who are living are doing.
In one swoop, right here, spiritualism is exposed. Dead humans cannot contact us or be contacted. Therefore, any personage who contacts us or whom we might contact, whatever their claim, is an imposter. Not only this, but we know the only kind of being that could be impostering: fallen angels, also known as demons. The living know they will die, but the dead are unconscious.
Then comes the counsel: go, live your life. God plans for you to live your life. He wants you to enjoy your life. But don't forget, your life will go past very rapidly. Your life is an opportunity, a reward God gives you.
And in case anyone missed what he just said, he restates in different words this truth in verse 10:
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in sheol where you are going.
This is how we should live. Live your life with might. Do stuff. This is not a call to hedonism, justing doing stuff at random, but that we should be actively engaged in the world we live in and that we do that with the judgment of God in mind. God will bring every work into judgment and He will bring every word and action into judgment, and He makes a moral evaluation of every life. There is no shortcut or escape clause or halfway place or neutral position for life, and there is no activity in the grave. Sheol is the hebrew word for grave. The author of Ecclesiastes tells the reader again and again, don't think that when your life is over here that you are going to land in some other place. The only place anyone lands is the grave.
The grave is a temporary holding area. It is where the dead go but the dead are unconscious. And while Ecclesiastes doesn't elaborate on the resurrection beyond those hints we already noticed as we toured the book, it is very clear that in the end, things will be very tough for those who have lived a life repellant to God, and for those who have lived a life in harmony with what God has revealed about how humans are to live life.
What do the dead know? Not anything. Until the resurrection, it is as if all are asleep. Humans are quiescent, disassembled, awaiting reanimation. They see nothing, they feel nothing, they think nothing. The Bible portrays death effectively as a sleep.
But death is not the end. Death is a holding place, a waiting for ultimate judgment. Our special focus today has been the book of Ecclesiastes. Through this book, God warns the believer to live his life to the full but live it all in sight of the urgent fact that we are kept morally accountable by the righteous God. Jesus is returning soon, and He will make an examination of our lives just as thorough as He was when He commanded to take up baskets of the remnants of the bread He made.
We are to do His commandments. His commandments are not grievous but for our good. Doing right doesn't save us; it is the natural outcome of Jesus living in our hearts.
Death is a temporary situation. We want to be with Jesus for eternity. One of the gifts of Jesus is to know the right way to live our lives before Him. The preacher, Ecclesiastes, is telling how Jesus views it. Away then, with emptytraditions of men, and onward inthe teaching of Scripture. Then we will be ready when we see Him with these eyes!
Chewelah WA SDA Church Spanish Section 2017-02-25