Like Proverbs, but without the cheerful parts.

Ecclesiastes


Ecclesiastes 1, Introduction: Everything is useless.
Ecclesiastes 2, The Preacher’s reason for writing
Ecclesiastes 3, The oldest modern lyrics
Ecclesiastes 4, The uselessness of all endeavor
Ecclesiastes 5, A few thoughts on wealth
Ecclesiastes 6, Life isn’t fair.
Ecclesiastes 7, Eat right, exercise, die anyway.
Ecclesiastes 8, Nobody knows anything; just enjoy life.
Ecclesiastes 9, Life is short and then you die.
Ecclesiastes 10, Wisdom and folly in the work place
Ecclesiastes 11, Make hay while the sun shines.
Ecclesiastes 12, Remember your creator before you lose your sight and hearing.

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Ecclesiastes 1, Introduction: Everything is useless. (8/12/13)

We’re going to read a couple of Old Testament books we’ve never paid much attention to before, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon. Both books have been attributed to Solomon since ancient times, although neither one says it was written by Solomon. The traditional idea is that they are part of the “Wisdom Literature,” and Solomon was wise, so he wrote them. It may be that Solomon sponsored them, just as the translation sponsored by King James is call the “King James Bible.” It may be that the writers used Solomon’s name without his knowing about it, like “I, Claudius.” No one is really certain, so it’s okay to think what you want to.

Whoever wrote Ecclesiastes was certainly a gloomy fellow. You probably remember the phrase, “Vanity, vanity. All is vanity.” The word for vanity is also translated empty, pointless, no use, and to no purpose. You get the impression that the writer needed to be on Prozac. The writer is variously called Qoheleth (which is the untranslated Hebrew word), the Preacher, the Teacher, or the Philosopher, the Speaker, or the Spokesman, depending on the translation. Qoheleth is only used here in Ecclesiastes, and it appears to mean some thing like “the person who calls the assembly” or “the person who lectures.” “The Preacher” is sort of traditional, so we’ll use that. In the introduction, the Preacher sets out his main theme: life is pointless.


Ecclesiastes 2, The Preacher’s reason for writing (8/13/13)

The Preacher explains that he has tried several paths to enlightenment – enjoyment, laughter, having a good time, hard work, accomplishment, wealth, entertainments, and wisdom. None of them turned out to be worth anything. In fact, hard work and wisdom gets you exactly the same result as laziness and foolishness: death. It’s all useless.

He does say, “And yet, I realized that even this comes from God. How else could you have anything to eat or enjoy yourself at all?” Does he feel any gratitude toward God? Not that I can see. Maybe if he thought about God for five seconds instead of focusing on himself all the time, he’d discover that not everything is useless.


Ecclesiastes 3, The oldest modern lyrics (8/14/13)

Back in the 1960s, several rock and folk groups released recordings of “Turn, Turn, Turn,” by Pete Seeger. Here is the most famous version, performed by The Byrds. Aside from the title refrain and the phrase “a time for peace, I swear it’s not too late,” Seeger took the lyrics from the King James Version of Ecclesiastes 3. This song is the real “Golden Oldie.”


Ecclesiastes 4, The uselessness of all endeavor (8/15/13)

A few fellow-readers have commented that the book of Ecclesiastes is gloomy. True. Once in a while the Preacher says something positive or useful, however, and that’s what we tend to remember. Verses 9-12 are among the better known bits of Ecclesiastes. “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” In times of trouble, our Christian friends lift us up.

The Preacher gloomily returns to his main theme: success is useless.


Ecclesiastes 5, A few thoughts on wealth (8/16/13)

How much money is enough? Sociological studies have shown that it’s usually a little more than you have. Unfortunately, when you get more than you have now, you decide that it would take a little more to really be enough. This is just about what the Preacher has to say about wealth.


Ecclesiastes 6, Life isn’t fair. (8/19/13)

Life isn’t fair. The Preacher whines about it, just like ever young child I’ve ever known. Strangely enough, God never promises us that life will be fair, only that God’s justice will ultimately prevail. Notice in vs. 6 that at the time the Preacher wrote, the Jews’ concept of an afterlife was not well developed, but they did think that everyone goes to the same place, Sheol. Sheol, as I understand it, is a shadowy place where you are neither punished nor rewarded.


Ecclesiastes 7, Eat right, exercise, die anyway. (8/20/13)

My youngest son had a tee-shirt with the message, “Eat Right, Exercise, Die Anyway.” I urge you to eat right and exercise; however, I am confident that you will die anyway. The Preacher gives us the same message: being wise is better than being foolish, but no matter what you do, you’re going to die.


Ecclesiastes 8, Nobody knows anything; just enjoy life. (8/21/13)

The Preacher makes a good point: it’s hard to understand the mind of God. Our situation is even worse than an ant who tries to understand your mind or mine. Our minds are just too big and complex for the ant to grasp, and the gap between our minds and God’s mind is even greater. Fortunately, we can come to understand the love of God, and that’s enough. Love God, love your neighbor, and enjoy life.


Ecclesiastes 9, Life is short and then you die. (8/22/13)

A prominent Old Testament idea is that if you live a righteous life before God, you will live a long time, have many children, and be wealthy. As much as we would like this to be true, it ain’t necessarily so. The Preacher noticed that good people and bad people die at about the same rate, and he spent a fair amount of time complaining about it.


Ecclesiastes 10, Wisdom and folly in the work place (8/23/13)

The Preacher has a few things to say about wisdom and folly in the work place, primarily that you should follow proper safety procedures and not be a workaholic. The Preacher and Abraham Lincoln think the same think about foolish speech: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

I once said to my boss that I was in charge of unfounded optimism, and he was in charge of unfounded pessimism. What I have noticed about Ecclesiastes is that it is full of proverbs; however, the book of Proverbs has an overall positive view of the world, while the book of Ecclesiastes has an overall negative view of the world.


Ecclesiastes 11, Make hay while the sun shines. (8/26/13)

The Preacher rather gloomily tells us to get as much done today as possible, because things are bound to go wrong tomorrow.


Ecclesiastes 12, Remember your creator before you lose your sight and hearing. (8/27/13)

This is the last day of our study of Ecclesiastes, and it happens to be my favorite chapter. I only understand it because Harley Swiggum explained it to us back in the previous century when I went to the Bethel workshop in Madison, Wisconsin. He used it as an example of the way the Hebrew writers used concrete language to present an abstract message.

The Good News version is fairly clear – but only because the translators have added or changed important words! I strongly encourage you to compare this translation verse by verse with the one you ordinarily read. You’ll probably see that your version (unless it is the Good News) is a little puzzling.

What has all this stuff in vss. 2 - 6 got to do with remembering your creator while you are young? You change as you get older, that’s what. For example, you can’t see as well. The Preacher doesn’t say, “You won’t be able to see as well.” He says, “Lights will grow dim.” The Good News translators make that clear by adding the words for you. They change phrases like “the grinders cease because they are few” to “your teeth will be too few to chew your food.” Since Harley explained the metaphors to us, I like the original version much better. Never be afraid of footnotes or commentaries.


Copyright 2013 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved. This page has been prepared for the web site by RPB.

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