I build sheds for people I don’t know so they can store things they probably don’t need. Swinging a pound or more of hammer at pieces of wood is a purposeless activity on its own, but it becomes purposeful when the action contributes to a meaningful end. But when the end is just to store more junk (or more lawnmowers to trim Iowa’s ridiculously over-sized and costly yards), then the activity of hammering is doubly futile.
I was mulling this over at work last week. While doing so, I was also recalling other vain activities in my recent history—things involving feeding cats that we really don’t want anyway, killing a crippled chicken that refused to either lay eggs or die responsibly on its own, and nursing my gastrointestinal disorders. (I’ll spare you the details on that last one but, really, few things make you appreciate the vanity of life so deeply. If you’re honest, you’ll agree.)
Looking for comfort, I selected some Scripture to listen to while I persevered with those sheds. I chose Ecclesiastes. (My job is an exceptionally good place for listening, thinking, and mentally composing blog posts. It is also an exceptionally poor place for writing down said blog posts before they are hammered out of my head. This, too, is vanity.)
I found the empty-glass Preacher consoling—for two reasons, I concluded. First, it is perversely heartening to be assured that you are not the first human being to be crushed by the futility of life. Second, there is that last verse of the book—spoken, apparently, not by the Preacher himself but by the writer of the book; but we won’t get into the positively confusing questions of which voice is speaking which verses in Ecclesiastes, and of how reliable those voices are as mouthpieces for God’s perspective on life; that investigation would be meaningless to this post.
Questions aside, here are the last two verse of Ecclesiastes:
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Eccl. 12:13-14)
At the end of the book, and at the end of the day, one thing gives meaning to life for the author of Ecclesiastes: the coming judgment. The wicked and the righteous and the beasts all die alike; they all return to dust. But life is not meaningless, for “God will bring every deed into judgment.” It is this fact that clarifies and establishes “the whole duty of man.” It is the coming judgment that stirs us to “fear God and keep his commandments.” It is the coming judgment that keeps my hammer swinging when all else feels futile.
No, I am not merely talking about “the fear of Hell,” although this is certainly an important part of the picture. Notice that “God will bring every deed into judgment,” not only the “evil” but also the “good.” More on that later.
Yesterday I listened to another preacher. He told us about another mysterious OT figure, a man named Enoch. I was reminded again of how future judgment gives meaning to present life.
We read about Enoch only three places in the Bible. Let’s read all three passages.
Here is all we hear about Enoch in the OT (besides his birth notice):
When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him. (Gen. 5:21-24)
This brief and intriguing bio spawned a rich tradition of Jewish reflection and speculation. What does it mean that Enoch “walked with God”? What does it mean that “he was not, for God took him”? We’ll focus here on the first question and ignore the latter.
The NT mentions Enoch twice. The first mention sticks pretty close to the facts of the Genesis account:
By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Heb. 11:5-6)
I said that this passage sticks pretty closely to Genesis, so I better clarify something. Do you notice the second sentence? “Before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God.” Where in Genesis does it say that Enoch pleased God?
A footnote in the ESV helped me answer this question. Back in Genesis 5:22, the Hebrew text says that Enoch “walked with God.” However, the Septuagint (the Greek translation commonly used in Jesus’ day) translated this to say that Enoch “pleased God.” The author of Hebrews evidently was familiar with the Septuagint, thus he could rightly claim that Enoch “was commended as having pleased God.”
The Septuagint is using a thought-for-thought translation philosophy here, thus providing good precedent for translations such as the NIV or NLT. “Pleased God” does a good job capturing the sense of “walked with God.” The notes to the NET Bible say this:
The rare expression “walked with” (the Hitpael form of the verb הָלָךְ, halakh, “to walk” collocated with the preposition אֶת, ’et, “with”) is used in 1 Sam 25:15 to describe how David’s men maintained a cordial and cooperative relationship with Nabal’s men as they worked and lived side by side in the fields. In Gen 5:22 the phrase suggests that Enoch and God “got along.” This may imply that Enoch lived in close fellowship with God, leading a life of devotion and piety.
This reminds me of Abraham, who “was called a friend of God” because he believed God and therefore obeyed him (James 2:23). Abraham was God’s friend because he believed God. Similarly, the author of Hebrews focuses on Enoch’s faith. He implies that Enoch believed two things—God exists, and God rewards those who seek him.
Did you catch that? There we have it again—the importance of coming judgment: God “rewards those who seek him.” What gave meaning and purpose to Enoch’s life? What motivated him to “get along with” God, to “walk with” and “please” him? It was his faith in the coming judgment, in a day to come when he would be rewarded for seeking God.
We see Enoch’s belief in coming judgment even more clearly in the final NT passage mentioning him. In this passage Jude draws heavily on intertestamental Jewish reflection about Enoch, quoting directly from the Book of Enoch (chapter 1, verse 9), which may have been written starting about 300 B.C.:
It was also about these [ungodly blasphemers infiltrating God’s people] that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” (Jude 1:14-15)
If we examine the original context where Jude found this quote, we see that Enoch is recorded as describing a future time during “a remote [generation] which is for to come” (1:2-3) when “the eternal God will tread upon the earth” (1:4) “and there shall be a judgment upon all” (1:7). But Enoch is not just anticipating judgment upon the wicked. He is also—as Hebrews 11 records—anticipating reward for the righteous. And so we also read these words right before those quoted by Jude:
But with the righteous He will make peace.
And will protect the elect,
And mercy shall be upon them.
And they shall all belong to God,
And they shall be prospered,
And they shall all be blessed.
And He will help them all,
And light shall appear unto them,
And He will make peace with them. (1:8)
So there we have it: Hebrews 11 cites Enoch’s faith in a coming reward for those who seek God. Jude records Enoch’s warning of a coming punishment upon the wicked. And the Book of Enoch records both.
It was this faith of Enoch in a coming judgment at the hands a just God that motivated his walk with God. It was coming judgment that gave meaning to his present life.
The author of Hebrews tells us that “the resurrection of the dead” and “eternal judgment” are “elementary” things, part of the “basic principles of the oracles of God” (Heb. 6:1-2; 5:12). But these matters also provide an essential and sure “foundation” for pressing on to “maturity” (Heb. 6:1).
And some days Enoch and the Preacher and Dwight need to feel the foundation under our feet. Some days, days when our faith is small, we need reminders of the basics:
- There is a judgment to come.
- The wicked will be punished.
- Those who seek God will be rewarded.
So be sure to get along with God today. Keep walking with him. Please him. Be his friend.
And keep swinging your hammer, if that is what he asks of you right now. You’ll get your day in court, and the pay-off will be greater than you can imagine.
In a day when people prefer talk of “love” and tolerance over talk of judgment, we don’t talk about the coming judgment as much as many previous generations did. But belief in a final judgment is foundational not only for persisting through the seeming vanity of life, but also for things such as non-resistant love of our enemies (see Rom. 12:19; Rev. 11:16-18; 16:5-6; 19:1-3).
Do you believe in a coming judgment? Do you think about it often? What difference does it make in your daily walk with God? Share your comments below, and thanks for reading!