Goads and Nails

This afternoon, right before I took my daily nap, I opened the “news” app on my phone and I noticed an article from the New York Times about New Hampshire. I’m from New Hampshire. It’s not a very notable place. It doesn’t make it in the news very often. So I was really interested what the biggest paper in the country had to say about New Hampshire.

The article was basically an interview with the chief medical examiner in New Hampshire. The chief Medical Examiner is the guy the state pays to do autopsies. The article was about how there is unbelievable drug epidemic in New Hampshire and people are overdosing and dying at crazy numbers. In the early 2000s, they might see 50 overdose deaths a year, this year before it was even half over, there were 500. This is in a state with less residents than the city of Chicago.

When the interview took place, the medical examiner was doing an autopsy on a girl who was under 30. It happens all the time. The article talked about how the examiner is retiring early and is going to go to seminary and become a minister and try to help people before they end up in a body bag rather than diagnose them after.

But it was what happened at the end of the article that I found really interesting. The article ended with a statement from the Medical Examiner. He said “I’m very, very hopeful about the afterlife” then he pointed at all of the dead young bodies behind him and he said “Because this right here is pretty awful.”

Isn’t that depressing? But it’s also true. Imagining that bodies aren’t piling up in New Hampshire and Ohio and other places because of the worse drug epidemic in modern history doesn’t make it go away.

We had two shootings in the last two weeks: one in our own school cafeteria and one by some loon bag picking off people from a hotel in Las Vegas. It’s awful. Absolutely awful and the saddest thing is that most of us are just numb to it. We just push it from our mind. But it doesn’t make it any less true.

There are really, really difficult and depressing things that we have to deal with in life. Most people don’t ever REALLY think about them.

What does this have to do with Ecclesiastes?

Ecclesiastes is a dark book. Let’s just read the first 9 verses.

”The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. 2 Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all [is] vanity. 3 What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun? 4 [One] generation passeth away, and [another] generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. 5 The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose. 6 The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits. 7 All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea [is] not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again. 8 All things [are] full of labour; man cannot utter [it]: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. 9 The thing that hath been, it [is that] which shall be; and that which is done [is] that which shall be done: and [there is] no new [thing] under the sun. 10 Is there [any] thing whereof it may be said, See, this [is] new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us. 11 [There is] no remembrance of former [things]; neither shall there be [any] remembrance of [things] that are to come with [those] that shall come after”

Let me sum up what we just read for you:

  • “Vanity of vanities” - that means everything is empty. It’s all empty and pointless.
  • “What profit hath the man in all his labor” - What’s the point? What’s the point of working hard? What’s the point?
  • “One generation cometh and one generation passeth away”. We are all going to die and no one is going to remember us.
  • “All things are full of labour” - Everything is hard and the work never stops.
  • “The eye is not satisfied with seeing” - we can’t get satisfaction no matter how hard we try.
  • “There is no new thing under the sun.” - Everything we do has been done before.

Now. We are in the first paragraph of this book! We aren’t even through the. First chapter yet and we are just faced with this very dark, dreary barrage of very dark hard truths.

You could sum it up this way: Life stinks.

It’s depressing. But do you know what - it’s also an accurate picture of life. If you don’t believe in heaven, if you don’t believe in God, if you believe what we have here is all we have - this world is a dark, dreary and depressing place.

Here is what some lost people have said about life:

We all live in a house on fire, no fire department to call; no way out, just the upstairs window to look out of while the fire burns the house down with us trapped, locked in it. - Tennessee Williams

Here is what George Orwell said:

Most people get a fair amount of fun out of life, but on balance life is suffering and only the very young or very foolish imagine otherwise.

Or you could go with an old number sticker:

Life stinks and then you die.

Do you know what those guys are saying? They are saying “Vanity of Vanities, all is vanities.” It’s all empty, it’s all suffering, it all stinks. Life stinks.

The first verse tells us who wrote the book. It says it was written by “the preacher” a guy who was son of David and king of Jerusalem.

If you read the book, there is only one person who could have written it and that is Solomon. This is a book written by king Solomon. Remember, Solomon wrote Song of Solomon as a young man. He probably compiled most of proverbs as a middle aged man. He wrote this as an old man, looking back at a long life.

Let’s remember a couple of things about Solomon.

  • The man was rich. He was so rich that kings from halfway around the world would take trips to see if the stories they told about his riches were true. When you are so rich that kings and queens are like “That can’t be true, I have to see that for myself.” And then they visit you and say “Not the half has been told.” You are stinking rich. Solomon would have easily been the richest man alive.
  • The man was smart. Solomon was blessed by God with wisdom. In fact the Bible tells us no one was wiser. Solomon was off the charts brilliant. I mean he was crazy smart. He wrote about science and literature and art and knew more than anyone.
  • The man was accomplished. Solomon didn’t just know stuff. He did stuff. He designed architecture that was the marvel of the world. He travelled all over the place. He built the temple. He was an adventurer.
  • The man was powerful. Israel was basically the world superpower during Solomon’s reign. Solomon was probably the most powerful guy in the world.
  • The man was famous. I mean he was like Coca-cola. Everyone knew about Solomon.

Now Solomon is at the end of his life, He’s looking back on all of that fame and learning and accomplishment and power and he’s dealing out some pretty tough truth about life.

Let’s read the rest of the chapter. (12-18)

”12 I the Preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all [things] that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith. 14 I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all [is] vanity and vexation of spirit. 15 [That which is] crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered. 16 I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all [they] that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge. 17 And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit. 18 For in much wisdom [is] much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.”

Look at those last couple verses. They are important. Solomon knew stuff. He saw stuff as it really was. And do you know what he said when it was done? He said “It’s madness and folly, in much wisdom is much grief. he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.”

This is from the same guy who said in Proverbs: “Get wisdom and with all thy getting get understanding?”.

So what is going on here? Why is this book so dark and depressing? Why does it seem to contradict so much other things that the Bible says.

Before I quit tonight I want to show you the key to this book. It’s found in a single verse near the end of Ecclesiastes. You have to get this to get this book. Ok. If you don’t have this key, nothing in this book is going to make sense and it isn’t going to help you much.

So let’s go to Ecclesiastes 12. I want us to read verse 11:

”The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.”

“Huh? I thought you said this was the key to the book?”

Hold on with me. It is. You’ll see.

Solomon is wrapping up this book in chapter 12 and he tells us that his words are like goads and nails.

Goads and nails.

Do you know what a goad is? Everyone in Israel would have known what a goad is. A goad is a long pointy stick that farmers would use. As they walked beside their oxen or their donkeys, they would stab the animals with the goad and the animals would get moving or stop.

So think about this - Goad - a sharp point. A stab. Goads hurt.

Nails. These aren’t nails like we use, they would have been much bigger. They would have been like long tent spikes. Imagine a two foot nail that you have to drive into the earth with a sledgehammer. If something is fasted with one of those bad boys, it isn’t going anywhere.

So how are words goads and nails?

They are actually two different things. You see Goads are man’s thoughts and wisdom. They are what we see when you really take an honest look at the world around us.

Someone has called goads the “Painful and disturbing reflections of men.” They stab you. They hurt. They bring a sharp sting.


But nails, if you read that verse carefully, nails and goads are actually contrasted. They are two different things coming from two different places. The goads come from wise men. The nails come from the shepherd who is the master of assemblies.

So what are the nails?

Nails stand for scriptural principles and wisdom. Nails stand for the revelation of God. Goads get us going. Nails give us stability.

Goads and nails.

Now, really quickly, let me try to help you understand how Goads and Nails are the key to Ecclesiastes.

Ecclesiastes is a book of Goads. It’s a book of the wise sayings of man without God.

There are 11 chapters of the best mankind has to offer without God. It’s hard wisdom. It’s true, but it’s dark. And there aren’t a lot of answers in it. Just a lot of questions.

Mankind without God can do a pretty good job of diagnosis. He can look at the world and see the problems and see the foolishness of it all. He can see the Goads.

So that’s what Ecclesiastes is - it’s Goads. It’s the wisdom of man without God. A key phrase is “under the sun.” It’s life and wisdom without God.

And it’s all goads. It’s a lot of pain.

But do you know what Solomon does here…He gives us the goads. He gives us the pain. But he let’s the goads lead us to the nails. He lets the hard sayings of man and the emptiness of life without God lead us to God.

We are going to see a lot of darkness in this book. And it’s true darkness. It’s life as it IS for most people. But there is good news that Solomon is leading us to. It isn’t life as it HAS TO BE.

Life stinks and then you die. That’s one way to live.

But you can trade the goads for nails and you can live a totally different way. You can have joy. You can have peace. You can have fulfillment.