In Ecclesiastes, the teacher argued that because sin had so devastated life “under the sun,” or “under heaven,” satisfaction in the daily grind is reserved for those who fear God. The teacher saw all the acts of oppression being done “under the sun” (Eccl 4:1), and concluded that sin had so spoiled any hope of satisfaction apart from God that if one did not fear God, it would be better if they had never been born (Eccl 4:2-3).
The teacher recognized that those who do not fear God will not be satisfied by wealth (Eccl 4:4-16). Conversely, he wrote, “It is appropriate to eat, drink, and experience good in all the labor one does under the sun during the few days of his life God has given him, because that is his reward” (Eccl 5:18). Only those who fear God can interpret the extremes of life and enjoy a sense of balance in it (Eccl 7:15-22), he argued. The teacher proposed that fearing God served to protect one from the excesses that entrap those who live in a sinful world. The teacher concluded that in light of the immanence of death, one should fear God and enjoy life (Eccl 9:1-18).
The teacher’s statement that one should exercise self-control when approaching God’s throne, because “God is in heaven and you are on earth” (Eccl 5:2), gets to the heart of his argument. He understood that life “under the sun” is lived in a dominion of futility and spiritual imperfection. The argument of Ecclesiastes is a product of its age—the long period of preparation for the days of the Messiah, fulfillment, spiritual perfection. The thrust of the storyline of Scripture is that something new has arrived in Jesus, a new situation, the formation of a new people with new resources and new access to God. Jesus’ death and resurrection marked a fundamental turning in salvation history, when the effects of the fall of Adam and Eve would no longer dominate life “under the sun” for all who believe in Him. The author of Hebrews sought to fortify his audience as they endured the opposition of those whose hearts were set fully on life “under the sun,” those who did not fear God. The audience of Hebrews endured persecution that included everything from confiscation of property to imprisonment (Heb 10:32-34; 12:1-2; 13:3). Life “under the sun” was difficult for them not just because of the on-going effects of sin in the natural world but also more acutely because of their profession of Christ. But the audience of Hebrews had resources for endurance and satisfaction that the teacher in Ecclesiastes knew nothing of. The author of Hebrews reminded his audience of their:
(1) Access to God through Christ. In Hebrews, Jesus is presented as the great high priest who has fully identified with humanity in His suffering and death and has subsequently passed through the heavens into God’s presence as a sympathetic mediator. “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness,” the author exhorted his readers, “so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time” (Heb 4:16). Jesus, the author wrote, has passed through the heavens to be exalted as the Son perfected forever (Heb 7:26-28). Jesus’ self-offering has opened the way for all who believe in Him to come boldly to God. “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith,” the author wrote, “our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb 10:22).
(2) Fellowship with one another in Christ. The author of Hebrews described Christian fellowship as a potent force for Christian endurance “under the sun.” The author encouraged the congregation to encourage each other daily so that none would fall prey to discouragement and hardness of heart (Heb 3:12-13; 12:14-17). “Let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb 10:24-25), he said.