Withholding the Spirit in Life and Death

“There is not a man endowed with power of spirit who can withhold the spirit nor is he mighty in the day of death. Further, there is no release from war and wickedness will not deliver those whom it has mastered. All of this I have seen as I gave me heart to all the work which is done under the sun in which man has power over man to do evil to him.”

(Ecclesiastes 8:8-9)

When comes the day of death, no man has the power to retain his spirit — man cannot hold onto his days beyond that which God has numbered. It is neither our place nor our power. Further, as our dead bodies lay where they may — in hospitals, in beds at home, on battlefields, or in tragic circumstances — not one of our corpses is mighty or powerful. No matter the power we had in life; it is sacrificed in death. All this, Solomon says, he has learned as he has observed the works of men (note that some commentators consider verse 9 as an introduction to a new section, but I would hold that the “all of this” mentioned has to do with what has been already said, not with what is about to be stated).

And so we are left with an application of the text that is pretty straight-forward. Yet, we might suggest, in the hindsight of the New Testament, an additional reading of this text. For, when God has ordained that a man or woman be given a new spirit — regenerating the person — once again, a person is unable to stop God’s divine hand (we would call this “Irresistible Grace”). In other words, we might fight against the Spirit for a season, but who can withhold or restrain Him? Apart from regeneration, we are spiritually dead and the dead are not mighty, they just lay there unable to do anything on their own. Clearly, this is not the thrust of what Solomon is thinking about, but Jesus does remind us that the Spirit goes where he wills and no man knows where he comes or where he goes (John 3:8). Who can resist Him?

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