March 23rd, 2014
Bible Memory Verse for the Week: And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? — Deuteronomy 10:12-13
- Loyal submission to the rule of God is the central and summary admonition of wisdom literature (Eccl 5:7; Job 28:28; Prv 1:7; 9:10) (The New Geneva Study Bible: NKJV, 1001)
- (vss. 12:8-9) Some commentators believe the change in address here at 12:9 signals a addendum to the text by some later person. It could be that Solomon is simply doing what many other wisdom writers did at his time and he is trying to take his audience back away from the text as a whole and see the wisdom that is forwarded as God inspired him to write it.
- (v. 12:9) 1 Kgs 4:32 informs us that Solomon “spoke three thousand proverbs.” God saw to it that several hundred of them have come down through the ages in the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 127)
- (v. 12:10) Ministers should study, not for big words, nor for fine words, but acceptable words, such as are likely to please men for their good, to edification, 1 Cor 10:33. Those that would win souls must contrive how to win upon them with words fitly spoken. (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. III, 1050)
- (v. 12:10) If words are to enter men’s hearts and bear fruit, they must be the right words shaped cunningly to pass men’s defenses and explode silently and effectually within their minds. –J. B. Phillips
- (v. 12:10) First, he realized that pleasing words (lit. ‘words of delight’ – NIV “just the right words”) have a penetrating effect that slapdash and ill-considered words lack. Second, his words are written uprightly. The two characteristics balance each other. His words are not so pleasing that they cease to be upright. Attention to form at the expense of content would lose the verdict of his God (v. 14; cf. 2 Cor 4:2f.). To be upright but unpleasant is to be a fool; to be pleasant but not upright is to be a charlatan. Third, his message consists of words of truth, on which, like other wise men, he sets a high premium (cf. Pr 8:7; 22:21, etc.). Fourth, his ministry involved writing as well as speaking. Like law-givers (Ex 24:4), judges (1 Sm 10:25), kings (2 Chr 35:4), prophets and psalmists, the wise man was concerned to perpetuate his teaching in writing. (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 154)
- (v. 12:10) Up until now Ecclesiastes has told us what the Preacher said. Now the book tells us how he said it: “Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth” (Eccl 12:9-10). (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 275-76)
- (v. 12:10) If there is one thing we can always count on the Preacher to do, it is to tell us the truth–not just the truth about God but also the truth about life in a fallen world. This is why Moby Dick describes Ecclesiastes as “a fine-hammered steel of woe.” (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 277)
- (v. 12:12) Solomon’s warning against adding to God’s Word goes hand in hand with the Bible’s caution against “false prophets” (Mt 7:15) and against distorting the Scriptures to one’s “own destruction” (2 Pt 3:16). (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 128-29)
- (v. 12:12) He is not advising us against reading books, but he is warning us that there is no guarantee that the number of books you read (or write) will bear any relationship to a true understanding of what life is all about. (Robert Davidson, The Daily Study Bible: Ecclesiastes, 90)
- (v. 12:12) The Hebrew lahag refers either to speech or to study, and the parallelism with making many books has encouraged many interpreters to opt for study. But the author of the epilogue, at once praising Qohelet and interposing a certain distance from him, wants to warn readers that all this writing, including Qohelet’s, may simply exhaust one and perhaps distract one from the simple duties of piety, so the sense of “chatter” has some plausibility. This is the regular meaning of lahag in later Hebrew. (Robert Alter, The Wisdom Books, 391)
- (v. 12:12) “No end,” means “no purpose” not “no completion,” while “study” is probably “meditation” or “pondering.” (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 252)
- (v. 12:12) Of buying many books, making ourselves masters of them, and masters of what is in them, by much study; still the desire of learning would be unsatisfied. It will give a man indeed the best entertainment and the best accomplishment this world can afford him; but if we be not by these admonished of the vanity of the world, and human learning, among other things, and its insufficiency to make us happy without true piety, alas! there is no end of it, nor real benefit by it; it will weary the body, but never give the soul any true satisfaction. (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. III, 1051)
- (v. 12:13)This is the only place in Ecclesiastes where the commands of God are mentioned. (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 156)
- (v. 12:13) The last phrase reads literally: ‘For this is the whole of man.’ Elsewhere in Ecclesiastes, however, the ‘whole of the man’ is a Hebrew idiom for ‘every man’ (cf. 3:13; 5:19). The sense, therefore, is ‘This applies to everyone.’ (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 156)
- (v. 12:13) To say, “this is the whole of man” is to say, “this is all there is to man.” In other words, “this is what life is all about.” The most important thing for any person to do is to worship God and obey his holy commandments. (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 280)
- Ecclesiastes seems to deal not with the issue of blessing but with the problem of curse. The world is closed to human investigation. Death, not life, is the trademark of the world. Wisdom is inaccessible, meaninglessness pervasive. Clearly, there is a world of curse represented by this stream of wisdom literature, and there are numerous linguistic echoes of early chapters of Genesis. The world can be an evil place. Many times the wicked seem blessed and the righteous cursed. Death renders everything pointless–hebel (vanity, meaningless = a word that echoes Abel’s name forcefully). But ultimately the way out of this riddled existence is not agnosticism, skepticism or trying to acquire a forbidden wisdom (cf. Gn 3); it is through the fear of the Lord. The way out of the death of exile, where wisdom seems lost, is given through the line of David: fear God and keep his commandments; this is the whole duty of humanity (Ecc 12:13). (Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty, 207)
The question to be answered is . . . What is Koheleth trying to communicate as he wraps up this challenging book of Ecclesiastes?
Answer: That pursuing anything other than a relationship with the God of the universe is empty, meaningless and vain. What should consume our thinking, passions, actions, as well as establishing our purpose and determining our values is how do we fear God and obey Him more?
The Word for the Day is . . . Fear
The fear of God is the realization of his unchanging power and justice (3:14). It delivers from wickedness and self-righteousness (7:18) and leads to a hatred of sin (5:6f.; 8:12f.). If it is the ‘beginning of wisdom’ (Ps 111:10; Prv 1:7; 9:10) it also is the end, the conclusion; no progress in the believer’s life leaves it behind. Nor is the testimony of the NT any different (cf. 2 Cor 7:1). (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 156)
Porter Definition: The fear of the Lord is being scared to death that you would adopt the theme, world-view and mind-set of the book of Ecclesiastes in life under the sun (life without God) as your own; and in response would do all that you can to insure that Ecclesiastes’ life under the sun never becomes a reality in your own heart and mind.
Godless learning leads to cynicism (1:7-8)
Godless greatness leads to sorrow (1:16-18)
Godless pleasure leads to disappointment (2:1-2)
Godless labor leads to hatred of life (2:17)
Godless philosophy leads to emptiness (3:1-9)
Godless eternity leads to unfulfillment (3:11)
Godless life leads to depression (4:2-3)
Godless religion leads to dread (5:4-7)
Godless wealth leads to trouble (5:12)
Godless existence leads to frustration (6:12)
Godless wisdom leads to despair (11:1-8)
Godly fear leads to fulfillment (12:13-14) (The New Geneva Study Bible: NKJV, 1001)
The majesty and holiness of God cannot but incite fear in man. “God is clothed with terrible majesty. The Almighty–we cannot find him; he is great in power and justice, and abundant righteousness he will not violate. Therefore men fear him” (Job 37:22-24). Anything of magnitude that dwarfs man by contrast incites fear in him. As man gazes into a deep canyon, or into limitless stellar space, or across a boundless ocean, he senses a feeling of awesome fear. How much more is this effect in the presence of God who is vastly greater than all these. (Merrill C. Tenney, Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 2, 519)
What is the bottom line conclusion that Koheleth wants us to grasp?:
1- As sinners we need the goads of a good Shepherd to keep us on the right path. (Eccl 12:11; see also: Ps 23:1-4; ch 80; 119:11; Prv 12:1; Isa 40:11; Jer 23:1-8; Ezek ch 34; 37:24; Mt 2:6; 2 Tm 3:16-17; Heb 13:20; 1 Pt 2:25)
Does Koheleth cause you offense? Then face the fact, says this man, that he does so because he is telling the honest truth, and the truth is often uncomfortable. It is not the function of the wise to leave you undisturbed in your prejudices. The words of the wise are like “goads” (v. 11), there to spur you on, to dig into you; like “nails driven home” (NEB). Hurtful, maybe, but necessary for your own good. (Robert Davidson, The Daily Study Bible: Ecclesiastes, 89)
A goad is a sharply pointed stick, often with an iron tip, used to prick an animal to drive it on. This statement is exactly that: it makes us sit up; it may even annoy us.
Does it irritate you, or even anger you, to be told that unless you fear God you have missed the secret of life? But if that is true, this ‘goad’ has had its intended effect; it has made you say ‘ouch!’. It is also like a firmly embedded nail. It is hard to rid the memory of this saying: ‘Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole of man.’ (Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Pundit’s Folly, 71-72)
Some commentators believe that the nails in question are part of the farmer’s cattle prod. But the Bible may simply mean that once a wise saying is driven into the mind, it stays there, like a nail pounded deep into a block of wood. Life may be a vapor, but wisdom can help us pin it down, giving us a place to hang our experience. (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 278)
It is all too easy, says the author, to use even wisdom completely foolishly in this way and to utterly, utterly miss the point. Wisdom must be allowed to do its painful work on our lives, as the goads bite; we must resist the temptation to reach for the painkiller, which is scholarly success, especially in publishing. The “ordering” of things is all well and good, so long as chaotic disruption to our lives is not thereby excluded–that is, so long as we do not arrange things in order to keep God’s Word at arm’s length, rather than with the intention of hearing it yet more clearly and obeying it. (Iain Provan, The NIV Application Commentary: Ecclesiastes, 231)
II- Fear God and keep His commandments. All that is significant, meaningful and eternal begins here. (Eccl 12:13; see also: Ex 9:30; Lv 19:14; 25:17, 36; Dt 6:2, 13, 24; 10:11-12, 20; 31:12-13; Josh 4:24; 1 Sm 12:14, 24; Job 1:8; 2:3; 28:28; Ps 19:9-12; 33:8, 18; 34:7, 9; 86:11; 112:1; 111:10; Prv 1:1-7; 8:13; 9:10; 14:27; 19:23; 22:4; Eccl 8:12; Acts 9:31; Col 3:22; 1 Pt 2:17)
The most practical of mundane duties derive their inspiration and impetus from the fear of God (cf. 2 Sm 23:3; Col 3:22). The highest reaches of sanctification are realized only in the fear of God (cf. 2 Cor 7:1). (John Murray, Principles of Conduct, 231)
“The fear of God” was required in the following ways: by keeping His commandments (Ex 20:20); by serving Him and keeping His statues (Dt 6:13, 24); by hearkening to His voice (1 Sm 12:14); and by worshiping in His Temple (Ps 5:7). Moses’ strict injunction to Israel was, “You shall fear your God” (Lv 19:14b). Furthermore he said, “The LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive” (Dt 6:24). From early times rewards were promised for Jehovah worship. (Merrill C. Tenney, Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 2, 519)
Another benevolent work of the fear of God is its restraining force. Constantly the Israelites were warned of the consequences of wrong doing. Moses taught, “And now, Israel, what does the LORD require of you, but to fear the LORD you God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD…” (Dt 10:12). One Heb. Philosopher said, “By the fear of the LORD a man avoids evil” (Prv 16:6). Clearly, all these references to the fear of God mean the Jehovah religion, worship and service of God. Consequences of failure to do so are clearly stated, as in the major categories of infidelity, injustice, and insincerity. (Merrill C. Tenney, Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 2, 519)
To fear God means to be struck with awe in His all-consuming, holy presence; to stand always and forever in breathless exaltation of who He is and what He has done and how vastly and infinitely His greatness overshadows our brief, vaporous existence. (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 311)
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
and grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Here is a fear which can deliver us from all other fears. It is a powerful divine immunization which builds up resistance in our hearts enabling us to reject and overcome the anxieties which plague our lives and destroy our peace. (Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Pundit’s Folly, 73)
Fear of the Lord is crucial for obedience. (Richard Roberts; Sanctify the Congregation, ix-x)
The secret of wholeness is to “Fear God and keep His commandments.” It is to discover the secret of being a whole person. (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 185)
The fear of God is the soul of godliness. (John Murray, Principles of Conduct, 229)
“The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the perverse mouth do I hate” (Prv 8:13; cf. 16:6). And surely the psalmist and apostle put this beyond question when they find the explanation of the catalogue of the transgressions of the wicked in the fact that “there is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom 3:18; cf. Ps 36:1). (John Murray, Principles of Conduct, 230-31)
There is the dread or terror of the Lord and there is the fear of reverential awe. There is the fear that consists in being afraid; it elicits anguish and terror. There is the fear of reverence; it elicits confidence and love. Scripture introduces us to the former when we read of Adam after his fall: “And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, and I hid myself” (Gn 3:10). Our moral and spiritual sensitivities are seared if we do not sense the religious catastrophe which this reply of Adam demonstrates. Made for communion with God, he now flees from his presence because he is afraid. And this dread of the presence of God is the reaction of his consciousness to the rupture which his sin had effected. Adam was afraid of God. (John Murray, Principles of Conduct, 233)
Is it proper to be afraid of God? The only proper answer is that it is the essence of impiety not to be afraid of God when there is reason to be afraid. (John Murray, Principles of Conduct, 233)
Abraham’s obedience demonstrated his fear of God. It was because Abraham feared the Lord that he obeyed God’s voice. (John Murray, Principles of Conduct, 239)
The commandments of God are the concrete expressions to us of God’s glory and will. If we are committed to him in devotion and love, we shall love his commandments, too. The fear of God and the love of God are but different aspects of our response to him in the glory of his majesty and holiness (cf. Dt 6:2, 4, 14). “The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward” (Ps 19:9-11). (John Murray, Principles of Conduct, 242)
In the wisdom lit. it is stated: “The fear of the LORD prolongs life” (Prv 10:27); “The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life” (14:27); “…and leads to life” (22:4; cf. Ps 61:5; 119:37f.). One of the most familiar Proverbs is “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Prv 1:7), and “The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom” (15:33). David summarized religious benefits in two statements: “He fulfills the desire of all who fear him” (Ps 145:19), and “O how abundant is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for those who fear thee” (Ps 31:19; cf. 34:9). (Merrill C. Tenney, Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 2, 519)
It is the concern of every man and ought to be his chief and continual care; it is the common concern of all men, of their whole time. It is nothing to a man whether he be rich or poor, high or low, but it is the main matter, it is all in all to a man, to fear God and do as he bids him. (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. III, 1052)
Children note that all the really basic rules for right living seem to come not from but through parents. …The fear of the Lord is not so much taught as caught. (Cornelius Plantinga Jr.; Assurances of the Heart, 14)
Therefore we ought to be so disposed in mind and speech that we neither think nor say anything concerning God and his mysteries, without reverence and much soberness. (John Calvin; Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.8.22)
The awareness of transcendence restores reverence, wonder, awe, and adoration to the “Abba, I belong to you” prayer. It is the Christian complement to the lapidary statement found in the Hasidic tradition: “Fear without love is an imperfection; love without fear is nothing at all.” (Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust, 107)
If there is no wonder, no experience of mystery, our efforts to worship will be futile. There will be no worship without the Spirit.
If God can be understood and comprehended by any of our human means, then I cannot worship Him. One thing is sure. I will never bend my knees and say “Holy, holy, holy” to that which I have been able to decipher and figure out in my own mind! That which I can explain will never bring me to the place of awe. It can never fill me with astonishment or wonder or admiration. (A. W. Tozer, Whatever Happened to Worship?, 85)
Let parents bequeath to their children not riches, but the spirit of reverence.” —Plato
What does it mean to fear God?:
A- We understand that we were created by God and for God and that we are not our own. (Gn chs. 1-2; Dt 32:6; Rom 14:7-8; 1 Cor 6:19)
This is why God made you. He made you to know Him as the foundation for everything else in your life. On the basis of your intimate relationship with Him, get a job, get married, have kids, and build a life. But every aspect of your life should be bound together by the common theme of your faith and dependence on God. (Tommy Nelson, A Life Well Lived, 202)
Solomon presents two strong reasons we should live in reverential awe of God and obedience to Him. The first is expressed in the words “this is the whole duty of man.” Notice that the word duty is italicized in the KJV, which means that it has been added by the translators. It makes good sense as rendered here, and this may be exactly what the Preacher had in mind.
Some Hebrew scholars, however, have translated this phrase, “This is for all men.” It thus becomes an affirmation that reverence and obedience is the duty of everyone. This version is also in harmony with Scripture, and therefore might be accepted as a reasonable alternative.
Many textual authorities prefer the translation, “This is the whole man.” They believe these words are saying that man reaches the full ideal for which God created him when he lives in the fear of God and keeps His commandments. The Lord made man that he might glorify Him and enjoy Him forevermore. Man fulfills that purpose when he is right with God! (Richard W. De Haan, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 153-54)
God’s glory is the beauty of his manifold perfections. It can refer to the bright and awesome radiance that sometimes breaks forth in visible manifestations. (John Piper; Desiring God , 43)
You can’t study marriage to learn about marriage. Study God. Then you can know marriage as He gave it. You can’t study who you are by looking at you. Look at God, and then you can learn what He made you to be. You can’t learn about kids by studying kids. Study God and learn what He says about them. You can’t enjoy the universe unless you know the God who made it. Then you can study the universe and worship Him properly. You can’t even enjoy a sandwich properly without knowing God, blessing His name, then eating it. (Tommy Nelson, A Life Well Lived, 203)
B- That we understand that we are accountable to God and will eventually be judged for every deed, every word, every thought, every thing we do. In other words, we have significance. What we do matters. (Eccl 3:17; 12:14; 11:9; Mt 12:36)
To fear God means to put God at the center of life and thus to see all our own desires, hopes and ambitions in a larger context. It is to realize that all our life, everything we do or say, good or evil, is to God an open book, and he will pass his verdict. This is not a thought intended to strike terror into us. Quite the opposite. It assures us that we are dealing with a God who cares what we do; therefore life has meaning. (Robert Davidson, The Daily Study Bible: Ecclesiastes, 91)
If there is no God, then there is no Judge. If there is no Judge, then there will be no Final Judgment. If there is no Final Judgment, there is no ultimate meaning to life. Nothing matters. (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 273)
The final message of Ecclesiastes is not that nothing matters but that everything does. What we did, how we did it, and why we did it will all have eternal significance. The reason everything matters is because everything in the universe is subject to the final verdict of a righteous God who knows every secret. (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 281)
If you do not believe in a God of wrath, but only in a god of love; then what did it cost for your god of love to really love you? When you understand the wrath of God, you better understand the love of God because you understand what God was willing to do for you because of your sin. — Tim Keller
Here you may say, “I don’t like the idea of the wrath of God. I want a God of love.”
The problem is that if you want a loving God, you have to have an angry God. Please think about it. Loving people can get angry, not in spite of their love but because of it. In fact, the more closely and deeply you love people in your life, the angrier you can get. Have you noticed that? When you see people who are harmed or abused, you get mad. If you see people abusing themselves, you get mad at them, out of love. Your senses of love and justice are activated together, not in opposition to each other. If you see people destroying themselves or destroying other people and you don’t get mad, it’s because you don’t care. You’re too absorbed in yourself, too cynical, too hard. The more loving you are, the more ferociously angry you will be at whatever harms your beloved. (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, 176-77)
Dostoyevsky reminded us in The Brothers Karamazov that “if God does not exist, everything is permissible.”
No one ever came to fear God without first feeling unmasked. Penitent faith involves seeing the truth staring me in the face: my sins are not out-of-character actions. They are not aberrations; they are revelations of the truth about my twisted, God-less heart. Sinner is what I am, by nature, thought, choice and deed. (Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Pundit’s Folly, 84)
What Solomon says–translated literally–is “Fear God and keep His commandments; for this is the whole of a man.” It’s not a little bit of God and some of the world. It’s not as much of God as makes me feel Ok, and then whatever else I choose. The whole of what it means to be a human being can be summed up in fearing God and keeping His commandments–loving God and loving our neighbor. And count on it, son: God sees and knows everything about you, and He weighs it all on His eternal scale of justice. You will one day be judged by the God you have scorned. Does it not make more sense to seek the Lord, serve Him with gratitude and joy, and look forward to the day of judgment with confidence and peace? (T. M. Moore, The Christian Worldview Journal, July 31, 2011)
The God of Scripture is holy and because he is holy his wrath rests upon sin. The strongest terms are enlisted to express the intensity of his indignation (cf. Ex 15:7; Nm 25:4; Isa 42:25; 51:17, 20, 22; 63:6; Jer 4:8; 6:11; 42:18; Jon 3:9; Nah 1:6; Rom 2:9; 2 Thes 1:8, 9; Rv 20:10, 14, 15). That those who are subject to this wrath should not dread it would be totally unnatural. It would be a violation of the infirmity inherent in our finitude not to be filled with horror and anguish at the thought of being subject to the fury of God’s displeasure. (John Murray, Principles of Conduct, 234)
To fear God is to honor and revere him, to worship him as God. At various points the Preacher has told us to fear God because his work is eternal (3:14) and because he demands holy worship (5:7). He has told us to fear God in times of adversity as well as prosperity (7:14-18). He has told us that if we do fear God, it will go well with us (8:12). Now we are told to fear God and to obey him because one day we will stand before him for judgment. (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 280)
Why does Ecclesiastes tell us about the final judgment here? Because it means that everything matters. The Preacher began and ended his spiritual quest by saying that everything is vanity and that without God there is no meaning or purpose in life. “Is that all there is?” he kept asking. “Isn’t there more to life than what I see under the sun?” If there is no God, and therefore no final judgment, then it is hard to see how anything we do really matters. But if there is a God who will judge the world, then everything matters. (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 281)
“Surely one of the reasons in these day for low moral standards is the lack of awareness of the majesty and holiness of God and of our accountability toward him. To a certain degree the same deficiencies can be seen among professing Christians. One of the marks of spiritual decline is that “there is no fear of God before his eyes” (Ps 36:1). Instead we fill ourselves with confidence in our own sufficiently. This is the complete antithesis of holiness.” (Kenneth Prior; The Way of Holiness, 21)
C- That we comprehend God’s great forgiveness, mercy, patience, grace and love for us as a Good Shepherd and we fear disrupting our relationship with the One who loves us so dearly. (Ps 23:1-6; ch 103; Isa ch 40; Jn 3:16; 10:11-18)
The fear of God in some ways defies our attempts at definition, because it is really another way of saying ‘knowing God.’ It is a heart-felt love for him because of who he is and what he has done; a sense of being in his majestic presence. It is a thrilling awareness that we have this greatest of all privileges, mingled with a realization that now the only thing that really matters is his opinion. To have the assurance of his smile is everything; to feel that he frowns on what we do is desolation. To fear God is to be sensitive to both his greatness and his graciousness. It is to know him and to love him wholeheartedly and unreservedly.
To fear God, to trust God, to love God, and to know God–these are really one and the same thing. In fact, the fear of God about which the Pundit speaks arises from the discovery of God’s love for us in our sin and weakness. It is the sense of awe that results from the discovery that he knows me through and through, means to destroy all that is sinful in me, and yet does so because he loves me with an intensely faithful love. That stretches my mind and emotions to their limit. (Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Pundit’s Folly, 74)
Oh, Thou art greatly to be feared,
Thou art so prompt to bless!
The dread to miss such love as Thine
Makes fear but love’s excess. -F. W. Faber
I know of no other way to triumph over sin long-term, than to gain a distaste for it, because of a superior satisfaction in God. (John Piper; Desiring God, 11)
D- That we trust God implicitly so as to passionately, desperately and aggressively seek His Word and tenaciously submit to His way in our lives whatever the cost. (Dt 4:29; 8:4; 10:12-13; 32:45-47; Ps ch. 19; 86:12; ch. 119; Josh 1:8; Prv 3:5-6; 4:4; 30:5; Jer 23:9; Mt 4:4; 8:34-36; 10:37-39; 13:23; 16:24-25; 22:37; Lk 9:23-25; 14:26-27; Jn 14:15; Rom 10:17; 12:1-2; Col 3:23 2 Tm 3:16-17; Heb 4:12)
Wherever the fear of God is uppermost in the heart, there will be a respect to all his commandments and care to keep them. In vain do we pretend to fear God if we do not make conscience of our duty to him. (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. III, 1052)
The sheer weightlessness of much contemporary preaching is a severe indictment of our superficial Christianity. When the pulpit ministry lacks substance, the church is severed from the word of God, and its health and faithfulness are immediately diminished. (Philip Graham Ryken, Give Praise to God A Vision for Reforming Worship, 110)
The fear of the Lord involves glad submission to his gracious majesty. (Stuart Briscoe; Choices for a Lifetime, 44)
Ah! You know more about your ledgers than your Bible; you know more about your daybooks than what God has written; many of you will read a novel from beginning to end, and what have you got? A mouthful of froth when you have done. But you cannot read the Bible; that solid, lasting, substantial, and satisfying food goes uneaten, locked up in the cupboard of neglect. — Charles Spurgeon (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 306)
As D. L. Moody said, “Those who read the Bible most find it ever new.” The Bible that is falling apart, it has been said, usually belongs to someone who isn’t! (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 306)
Solomon says that there is no end to the number of different ideas men will invent. You can read and study for hours on end and never exhaust the full store of human knowledge.
But you can be sure that none of these ideas will contain anything that is infinite, absolute, and perfect. All they are ultimately doing is adding to the errors of earlier generations. Man in himself can never come up with anything that will take the place of the Bible.
Even though it can be enjoyable to investigate all the ideas of men, it is wearying to the soul. This is why education cannot bring about rebirth. It has no power to create spiritual life. (Tommy Nelson, A Life Well Lived, 198-99)
Like goads, the inspired Scriptures drive people to action. God’s Word pricks our conscience, pierces us to the heart, drives us to repentance and directs us to faith. While goads depict action, embedded nails symbolize stability. They hold things together and strengthen them. God’s Word holds our lives together; it is our strength and stability. Indeed, it is the only solid foundation in this world of instability and change. (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 128)
The Bible is a goad. It will keep you from doing ignorant things. It also can be unpleasant. It can hurt sometimes. Yet David said in Ps 23:4, “Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.” Knowing you’re on the right path is a great comfort, and God’s Word will definitely keep you on the right path. (Tommy Nelson, A Life Well Lived, 196)
Fearing God and keeping his commandments, then, may be understood in the light of what the Preacher has been saying throughout the book. God’s will, he has told us, is that we not build our lives on wisdom, wealth, prestige, or lust. Rather, we should accept life as it is with its problems and mysteries and savor its modest pleasures as we can. To do this is to fear God and obey him. Grasping after more, or chafing because we have less, is futile. God reserves to himself the right to determine our lot; our response is to make the best of it. That is why Koheleth’s theme from beginning to end is “take life’s simple pleasures now.” (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 253)
. . . seriously to consider, That there is great danger, yea, many times most danger, in the smallest sins. “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (I Cor. 5:6). If the serpent wind in his head, he will draw in his whole body after. Greater sins do sooner startle the soul, and awaken and rouse up the soul to repentance, than lesser sins do. Little sins often slide into the soul, and breed, and work secretly and undiscernibly in the soul, till they come to be so strong, as to trample upon the soul, and to cut the throat of the soul. There is oftentimes greatest danger to our bodies in the least diseases that hang upon us, because we are apt to make light of them, and to neglect the timely use of means for removing of them, till they are grown so strong that they prove mortal to us. So there is most danger often in the least of sins. (Thomas Brooks; Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, 42)
The sin of presumption is the antithesis of the fear of the Lord. It is the harbinger of future defeat. (Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds, 142)
E- That we understand God and His magnificence, wisdom, power, righteousness and holiness so well that there is not one ounce of pride but only humility. That we have not one fear . . . only fear of the Lord. (Ps 10:4; 31:23; 101:5; 131:1-3; 138:6; 147:6; 149:4; Prv 8:13; 11:2; 15:25, 33; 16:5, 18-19; 18:12; 22:4; 29:23; Isa 5:15; 66:2; Ezek 28:1-10; Dan 4:37; 5:18-23; Zeph 2:3-13; Mt 5:3-10; 18:4; 23:12; Lk 18:14; Phil 2:1-11; Jas 3:13; 4:6-10; 1 Pt 5:5-6)
Humility is the fear of God, not man. “By the fear of the Lord one keeps away from evil” (Prv 29:25). For this reason Paul declared, “If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ” (Gal 1:10). If we truly fear the Lord, we will not fear anyone else. To honor and respect the Lord is to be delivered from all fear of man. (Rick Joyner, There Were Two Trees in the Garden, 123)
The man who does not fear God becomes so proud that he cannot detect his own sinfulness. (Patrick Morley; The Man In The Mirror, 242)
The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God you fear everything else. — Oswald Chambers
John Witherspoon wisely said, “It is only the fear of God that can deliver us from the fear of man.” (Patrick Morley; The Man In The Mirror, 260)
The great weakness in the North American church at large, and certainly in my life, is our refusal to accept our brokenness. We hide it, evade it, gloss over it. We grab for the cosmetic kit and put on our virtuous face to make ourselves admirable to the public. Thus, we present to others a self that is spiritually together, superficially happy, and lacquered with a sense of self-deprecating humor that passes for humility. (Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust, 122)
This is what God desires of us? In His works and Word He has manifested Himself that we as His creatures might stand in awe, beholding the symmetry of His attributes, the harmony of His deeds, the glory of His goodness, the overwhelming and unfathomable grandeur of His greatness: in a word, His beauty. So often we turn to God only when in need. He is all too frequently for us no more than an instrument or tool subservient to our desires and put to use to achieve some selfish design. Of course, God is our source, our salvation, our sustenance. But He is first and fundamentally to be seen as altogether beautiful in Himself, worthy of all praise, glory, and honor were we never ourselves to profit from His goodness. (C. Samuel Storms, The Grandeur of God, 150)
CONCLUSION/APPLICATION: How does a relationship with Christ bring significance and clarity to Koheleth’s conclusion?:
1- Looking to Jesus we see what a proper “fear of the Lord” looks like. (Isa 11:2-5; Mt 3:16-17; Jn 8:16, 28; 14:31; Heb 1:1-4)
2- Looking to Jesus we see the consequences of being judged for having an improper fear of the Lord. (Mt 10:28; Lk 12:4-5; Rom 2:16; 3:23-26; 5:8-21; 6:23; 2 Cor 5:10; Heb 9:27-10:12; 1 Jn 2:1-2; 4:10)
Do you want a vision of divine wrath? Of intense holiness? Of righteous judgment? Look at the Cross! Do you want to know divine love? Mercy? Grace? Look at the Cross. But don’t look at either dimension of the divine character in isolation. Don’t try to grasp grace without seeing judgment. Don’t expect to appreciate God’s mercy without being stunned by his holiness. (Stuart Briscoe; Choices for a Lifetime, 44)
Nothing is more pertinent than our Lord’s word, “Be not afraid of them who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather be afraid of him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt 10:28; cf. Lk 12:4, 5). Jesus is pleading the necessity of that kind of fear which arises from the consideration of the judgment which God executes in the place of woe. It is futile to attempt to eliminate from the fear enjoined the terror which the thought of the final judgment of God is calculated to arouse. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews urges the fear of coming short as the incentive to diligence and perseverance. “Let us fear therefore, lest by any means, a promise being left of entering into his rest, any one of you should seem to come short of it” (Heb 4:1). And the same writer is not loath to bring the fearful expectation of judgment and the fierceness of the fire to God’s vengeance, as the issues of apostasy, to bear upon the necessity of undeviating faith (Heb 10:27). He brings the warning to a conclusion by reminding us that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (v. 31). (John Murray, Principles of Conduct, 234)
God is the answer to our despair, and obedience to Him is the cure for our dissatisfaction. We can choose to believe or deny what He says. But all of us will one day have to face Him and give an account of our lives. No one will escape His judgment, and no one will receive everlasting bliss apart from personal faith in Christ (Jn 11:25-26; 14:6; Acts 4:10-12). (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 127)
“Willful sins reveal a very bad state or frame of heart. It indicates that men have lost, in a great measure, the sense of God’s authority and the awe of His judgment, and therefore, such sins are the more heinous and offensive to God. As Christ explained, “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin” (John 15:22). The coming in of so much light made their sin inexcusable and took away all pleas and pretenses that they had to excuse or cover it before.” (Richard Roberts; Sanctify the Congregation, 125)
3- Looking to Jesus we see the extent of God’s great love for us that compels us to never want to disrupt that love. The meaningful, significant, abundant life begins and ends in Christ. (Jn 3:16; 10:10; Rom 10:13; Ti 2:11-14; Heb 12:1-3; 1 Jn 4:7-21)
Our hearts are restless until we find our rest in thee, O Lord. — St. Augustine
There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any other created thing, but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus. — Blaise Pascal
Wouldn’t it be great if God always gave you what you would have asked for if you knew everything He knows? We do have a God like that. — Tim Keller
Life without God is dull, empty, vain. Life with Him is full and satisfying. Even the tears and pain have meaning and value when we see they are chosen by Him. The purpose behind it all is the increase of joy. (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 188)
So while learning can be wearying, this is no excuse for not taking up the challenge of lifelong learning. And in that regard, we can be grateful that “of making many books there is no end,” for this means there will always be new things to learn as we press on in our journey toward the wisdom of God in Jesus Christ. Solomon mainly wanted to warn his son against learning anything that would lead him beyond the “firmly fixed” words given by the divine Shepherd. God’s Word is the standard of truth, the final bar of appeal in all matters of learning and life, the final filter for a life of good reading. (T. M. Moore, The Christian Worldview Journal, August 6, 2011)
Jesus’ active ministry lasted approximately three years. The NT verses record events that happened during only 52 days out of the life of Christ. During those 52 days, He was accused six times of eating and drinking with outcasts or of having too much fun. Jesus had a pure enjoyment of people and life.
Jesus didn’t care very much for man-made rules and regulations. He knew that life is a blessing and that He should enjoy every moment. That’s why He focused on the things He thought were important–building relationships and loving people and bringing them back to God. When He was asked why His disciples were having so much fun–why they didn’t fast like John’s disciples–He basically answered that since He was there, it wasn’t time for fasting but rather for partying. (Tommy Nelson, A Life Well Lived, 210)
We cannot preach Christ by faith unless we have a deep faith in Christ. We cannot cultivate this faith apart from knowing God’s awesome holiness. His hatred of sin, and the extent and severity of human sin, including our own. Only as we are gripped by the greatness of our need before God can we understand faith in Christ and experience the spiritual power that faith gives to life. We are not likely to get this kind of faith unless we slow down and take time to lay hold of the power of the Cross. (Jack Miller; Outgrowing the Ingrown Church, 126)
4- Looking to Jesus we see the comprehensive priority He made to the proper interpretation and application of the Word of God. The Word (the Bible) points to THEE WORD (Jesus). (Lk 24:27, 44; Jn 1:1-14; 5:39-40; Heb 1:1-4)
Knowledge of how to read the Bible is not something that human begins innately possess. Acts 8:26-40 tells us of an Ethiopian official on a journey from Jerusalem to Gaza, who is reading from the book of Isaiah. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asks him. “How can I,” he replies, “unless someone explains it to me?” He is reading the words, but he does not know what it all means, in relation to the other Scriptures and to his own existence. Earlier, Jesus had met with his disciples, whose Bible knowledge was presumably fairly good (Lk 24:13-49). Yet it was necessary for him to explain the Scriptures to them so that they could understand what the texts meant (24:25-27; 44-45). (Iain Provan, The NIV Application Commentary: Ecclesiastes, 229-30)
Scripture must interpret Scripture, each part playing a role in forming our view of the whole. . . . Misreading the Scriptures is not, however, as serious an error as misappropriating them for purposes other than their intended purposes. The devil himself can misappropriate God’s words for his own ends, as we see all too clearly in the narrative of Jesus’ temptation in Mt 4:1-11. There Satan quotes from Deuteronomy and Psalms in his attempt to lead Jesus astray, before openly revealing his real agenda (“All this I will give you…if you will bow down and worship me,” v. 9). Scripture is sometimes used in the cause of the idolatry of the self.
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees are often criticized by Jesus, likewise, for using the Scriptures in pursuit of their own agendas while completely missing the point of what they are saying (Mt 21:33-44; Jn 5:36-47). (Iain Provan, The NIV Application Commentary: Ecclesiastes, 230)
Worship point: If we do not properly fear God, we cannot even begin to worship God.
The extraordinary complexity of nature remains in principle intelligible, even if we inaccurately grasp it. The natural order is unfailingly reliable: The sun never forgets to rise. The seasons continue in their regularity. Plants and animals manage to continue over eons to adapt and to propagate themselves, even when endangered by catastrophes or extinction. This immense system of natural proceeding from age to age without interruption, elicits in the beholding human mind the awesome and compelling conclusion that everything exists under the continuing governance of an almighty mind (Gregory of Nyssa, Great Catech. X ff., NPNF 2 V, PP 485 ff.). (Thomas C. Oden; The Living God, 276)
Spiritual Challenge: Come to understand yourself and God more and more so that the fear of the Lord does not have to be contrived, manufactured or forced; but the fear of the Lord comes as a natural by-product of seeing your sinfulness in light of God’s mercy, grace, patience, forgiveness, compassion and love. Do this by preparing the soil of your heart to receive the Word of God as it confronts your life constantly so God and His WORD (Jesus and the Bible) can change you.
Life is sick; we are sick. This is the Pundit’s message. You need an emetic. Painful and embarrassing though it may be, you need to vomit out of your soul everything that is destroying your life and will eventually lead you to an endless emptiness. (Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Pundit’s Folly, 72)
We want such truth as is commonly found in affliction–or in the exercise of deep mental conflict–such as maintains an enduring impression to the very end of life. This is truth fixed–not as a sound of words, but as an instrument of life. Christian! Do not you realize the immense moment and value of this fixing work? Every atom of truth is worth a mountain of gold. If from want of care it slips away, how eagerly does the ever-watchful enemy fill up the vacuum with his seven-fold deadly poison! (Mt 12:44, 45). Truth slightingly valued is easily lost, and unspeakably fearful is the loss! When we cease to value truth, we are already in the atmosphere of error. O my God! bind upon my heart these words of the wise. Let me bow to their authority with the reverence of undisputing faith, and with the grateful acknowledgment of ready and unreserved obedience. (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 307)
I’m afraid too many of us are content to set ourselves apart by bumper stickers and schedules. I’ve yet to hear a story of a Christian motorist being flagged down by another driver who was pierced to the heart by the sight of a fish on the back of a car. And our Sunday morning routines certainly haven’t left the world standing in awe of our God. (Andy Stanley; Visioneering; 226)
“We inoculate the world with a mild form of Christianity so that it will be immune to the real thing. (William Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas; Resident Aliens, 90)
Why is it that when a national disaster happens like 911 or the beginning of a war, that people flock to churches? What is this all about? Why is it that suddenly they begin to take God seriously? But, then, just as mysterious, within about 2 weeks, they no longer come to church. What is that all about?
“In America we make carnal recruits and ignore repentance.” —Chuck Colson
The greatest hindrances to deep, permanent, and spreading revival are carnality and worldliness in minsters and church members. (John D. Drysdale; The Price of Revival, 30)
We believe that all truth can be stated in a few minutes. The answer to that is that it cannot, and the reason why so many today are living superficial Christian lives is because they will not take time to examine themselves. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure, 12)
It is a fact, unhappy but undeniable, that repentance nowadays rarely gets mentioned in evangelism, nurture, and pastoral care, even among evangelicals and Christian traditionalists. The preoccupations of stirring congregational excitement, sustaining believers through crises, finding and honing gifts and skills, providing interest-based programs, and counseling people with relational problems, have displaced it. As a result, the churches, themselves, orthodox and heterodox together, lack spiritual reality, and their members are all too often superficial people with no hunger for the deep things of God (J. I. Packer; Rediscovering Holiness, 144)
If you don’t see the absolute holiness of God, the magnitude of your debt, the categorical necessity of God’s just punishment of your sin, and therefore the utter hopelessness of your condition, then the knowledge of your pardon and deliverance will not be amazing and electrifying! — Tim Keller
The principle is this: true repentance is a change of mind, of heart, of disposition: it is the making of a new heart and of a right spirit. It originates in regeneration; in our being born again; in our obtaining a new nature and becoming new creatures in Christ by the Spirit. And it flows forth, in unmistakable manifestations, in a new course of conduct; in a reformed life; a life aiming at new ends, conducted under a new rule, and aspiring to attain to a new standard. Repentance, sprung from a true fear of God and a true sight of sin, manifests itself in a dutiful obedience to God’s law and a jealous abstinence from sin. True and saving repentance is not a mere shaking off the evil fruit from the tree, and trying on fruit of a better appearance. It is the changing of the tree’s very nature; and good fruit is then naturally brought forth, and not artificially appended. The penitent exclaims, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Thus much for the healing of the tree. He obeys the command, “Cease to do evil, learn to do well.” Thus much for the new, good fruit. “Make the tree good, and the fruit good” (Mt 12:33). (Hugh Martin; Jonah, 271-72)
When a man is humbled by the law, and brought to the knowledge of himself, then follows true repentance (for true repentance begins at the fear and judgment of God), and he sees himself to be so great a sinner that he can find no means how he may be delivered from his sin by his own strength, endeavor and works. (Martin Luther; Galatians, 94)
Early Americans, despite their faults, knew that God hated sin and punished it in the unrepentance, including unrepentant believers and churches. Because they feared God and His ability to punish, they sought to lead their people in quick and thorough repentance.
They were alert to signs of God’s manifest displeasure among them. Natural calamities, which some of us treat with a shrug of a shoulder, were dutifully examined, prayed over and improved by godly men of old. Even the unexpected death of a pastor, a youth, a government official, a farmer or a housewife had power to provoke them to inquire if God had a grievance against His people.
Their attitude of brokenness and contrition before God made them sensitive to what He was saying to them, just as the arrogancy and self-sufficiency of today’s church make it virtually immune to the voice of God and the promptings of His Spirit. If they passed into dry seasons spiritually, they took this as a message from God and sought His face in renewed repentance an dedication.” (Richard Roberts; Sanctify the Congregation, xii)
University of Wisconsin historian Thomas Reeves indicts popular religious belief and service. “Christianity in modern America is, in large part, innocuous,” he writes. “It tends to be easy, upbeat, convenient, and compatible. It does not require self-sacrifice, discipline, humility, an otherworldly outlook, a zeal for souls, a fear as well as love of God. There is little guilt and no punishment, and the payoff in heaven is virtually certain.” Former Secretary of Education William Bennett concludes that “We have become the kind of society that civilized countries used to send missionaries to.”
These are harsh judgments. Perhaps we have been so busy pursuing the American Dream of the good life that we have neglected to nurture the faith on which the Dream is founded. If so, our only fault is inattention. If at the millennium our common faith has faltered, or has shriveled for lack of nourishment, or has been supplanted by sentimentality, at least we have not succumbed to cynicism. Faith has not been lost, only misplaced. As a people, we can retrieve it together. (David Yountd, Beggaring Belief, 2000 Scripps Howard News Service. September 04, 2000)
As we move from modernity to postmodernity, the church must focus on saints, not celebrities. Poets and prophets must replace the pulpiteers. The spiritual superficiality that has characterized so much church leadership in recent decades has resulted in spiritually shallow churches. Congregational members seldom rise above the level of their leaders. (Eddie Gibbs; Church Next, 122)
Quotes to Note:
A study of the concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury, and wrath of God, more than there are to His love and tenderness. (A. W. Pink , the Attributes of God, 75)
This makes Eccl 12:11 an important verse for the Biblical doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture (see also 2 Pt 1:21). Ecclesiastes is the very Word of God. The Preacher’s words are not merely the musings of some skeptical philosopher; they are part of the inspired, infallible, and inerrant revelation of Almighty God. Therefore, it is not enough merely to admire their artistry and respect their integrity–we must also submit to their authority. (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 278)
If Adam had been shown anything of the creation apart from God, he could not have understood it correctly. The chief end of man is to know God. When he starts by knowing God, everything else in life makes sense.
Of course this is a part of what we lost in the Fall. Now God is no longer the default reference point for our ideas. That’s why life can be so confusing. (Tommy Nelson, A Life Well Lived, 200)
So before Paul could tell the people about the revelation of God that was in Jesus, he had to tell them something about God. You cannot preach about a God who became incarnate if you have no real God to become incarnate. Modern preachers find themselves in a similar situation. Because of the materialism of the atmosphere in which we live, most people have little if any sense of God to begin with. The first thing the preacher must do therefore is to begin to arouse in the minds and hearts of the congregation the awe and reverence which the thought of God evokes. He must turn to such fundamental questions as: What do we mean by God? Where is God and how shall I find him? What do we mean by a personal God? Does God hear and answer prayer? So long as people are carried along on the tide of a pseudoscientific philosophy of life, according to which life is only an impersonal process with neither point nor purpose, they are not likely to understand or see the significance of the Christian gospel that God made himself manifest in man. (The Interpreter’s Bible, Acts, Romans, 188-89)
Delighted in the Fear of the Lord