How does one get a Thanksgiving study out of Ecclesiastes? I’m not sure I really know, but I feel compelled to try. This could be fun.
We’ll be looking at Ecclesiastes Chapters 10-12. Chapters 10 and 11 are chock full of more Proverbs. Remember that we looked at 12:9 earlier where it says, “He [Qoheleth] pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs.” This “set in order” might mean he arranged them in a particular order so as to convey a particular meaning. Or it may mean that he set them right or corrected them. Or both. In any event it is clear that Qoheleth edited the Proverbs to reflect his message.
I’m looking for a twist here, a hook, something I can hang a lesson on and I just cant find it. He starts off chapter 8 with a question “Who is like the wise?” by implication no one. He ends chapter 8 with “Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.”
In between he makes several comments:
- Obey the king if you took an oath.
- There is always a proper procedure
- Nobody can foretell the future
- You can’t get away from wickedness once you start
- People often lord it over others to their own hurt.
- Delayed punishment encourages crime.
- Bad stuff happens to good people and vice versa
- There is nothing better than to eat, drink and be glad.
This sounds like a repeat of things he has said before, and they are. We can talk about the individual proverbs, but what is the point of all the repetition? That’s what I’m really interested in. What is he telling us beyond the parables? Is the repetition an indication that Qoheleth is beyond intellectual skepticism and into full blown nihilism? Is he using repetition as a literary tool to artistically illustrate the meaninglessness and repetitive nature of life “under the sun”? I don’t know, but I feel certain there is more here than I am seeing.
To whom have you made promises and what are some of the more important promises of your life? Perhaps your marriage vows, or promises to your children, yourself or to God. How did you enter those promises? Were they done in the heat of the moment or after careful reflection? How do you enter business relationships? Do you read and study the contract? Do you get to complain, after having signed the contract, about its terms?
Qoheleth has taken great care in the preceding chapters to establish his credentials as one keenly knowledgeable of the human condition. Now he gives us some advice on how to deal with the most important relationship we will ever have, our relationship with God.
There is no snappy title for this week’s discussion. In fact Qoheleth has gotten downright boring. It’s the same old stuff every time. The sameness, in justice and downright boredom of life. Every where you turn, life is the same. Nothing has any lasting value, nothing is profitable under the sun.
Qoheleth has some major themes in this chapter, the first is oppression. Note how he links the oppressor and the oppressed, neither has a comforter and those who are happiest are those who are dead or, better yet in his estimation, those who have never been born.
Yeah, you know what we’re talking about. Pete Seeger put the words of the first few verses Ecclesiastes 3 to music in 1959 and released the song in 1962 on his album The Bitter and the Sweet. but the song did not become a real international hit until the Byrds covered it in 1965. Here’s a link in the unlikely event you don’t remember how it goes:
Now here’s the bonus question: What other Byrds hit (written by Bob Dylan) was covered in a manner so bad it will leave you rolling on the floor laughing by William Shatner on his 1968 album “The Transformed Man”? It appears along with “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” which is also tragically funny.
This has been an interesting week with a lot of stuff going on in the world (when is it not) with some of it even relevant to our study. Among the things that might be relevant was the passing this week of a tech icon Steve Jobs.
As most of you know he was a founder, along with Steve Wozniak, of Apple and regarded as one of the leading innovators and leaders of the tech world and even a trendsetter in popular culture beyond that. Among his other accomplishments he built Apple into the most valuable company in the world with a market cap exceeding $350 Billion.
In our study of Ecclesiastes, some questions have arisen over the use of the word “vanity” in the KJV versus “meaningless” in some newer translations. This is a linguistic problem of the first order involving not one but three languages and the passage of thousands of years along with the birth and death of at least three vastly different civilizations.
The word rendered vanity in the KJV is the Hebrew word hebel. If you want to look it up in Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon its number is H1892. Strong’s defines the word as vapor or breath with a figurative meaning of vanity or vainly as an adverb. This word is not related to the word in Exodus 20:7 which is shav (H7723) defined as emptiness, vanity, falsehood, emptiness of speech, lying, worthlessness of conduct.
The book of Ecclesiastes is an attractive conundrum. It contains many of the most recognizable quotes in our culture (to every thing there is a season, the sun also rises, the race is not to the swift, what ever your hand finds to do, etc.). So ingrained in our culture are the sayings of Ecclesiastes that Baruch Spinoza, the Dutch Philosopher was quoted as saying “Popular religion may be summed up as a respect for Ecclesiastes.”
And yet with all of its cultural sound bites Christians seem to seldom study the book seriously. Many have doubted its usefulness and avoid it entirely while others draw conclusions from it that are at odds with the complete witness of scripture. What then are we to make of this somewhat enigmatic and seemingly gloomy book that seems out of place in a world of upbeat Christian positivism?