THE CURIOUS BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES
Bible Background: “Ecclesiastes was written to warn us against placing our hope in anyone or anything other than God. It does so by pointing out the meaninglessness of life lived ‘under the sun’, a phrase that could be replaced with ‘apart from God’. At its conclusion, the book directs readers to ‘fear God,’ ‘keep his commandments’, and expect his judgement.” (From introduction in The Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible.)
Digging Deeper: 1. “Ecclesiastes” appears to be the title of the author. It means “Teacher” or “Preacher”. The writer speaks as one who has witnessed the often frustrating nature of human wisdom and of life on this earth, and he’s not too happy with what he sees. He wouldn’t call himself a pessimist. He’d insist that he’s a realist. Think of some of the frustrations you have with the way the world works or the way life works. Offer those to God in prayer. (Caution: This could take a while!)
2. This writer is uncomfortable with conventional wisdom. He’s not a fan of the work-ethic. He sees that hard work doesn’t always get you ahead. He uses the Hebrew word hebel (translated: vanity) 69 x’s to point out how useless so much human striving can be. He settles on “toil” (drudgery?) as the lot of humans. Despite this dark view, he advises readers “it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil” (3:13).
3. This little book is not so much about God as it is about ideas. The Teacher never claims to know much about God or God’s ways. He only uses the more generic Hebrew name for God Elohim rather than the personal name for the God of Israel, Yahweh. But he insists on God’s sovereignty, and believes human beings need to humbly accept that.
4. The poem in chapter 3 is the familiar passage in this book. “For everything there is a season….” There is a certain order to things. Not everything is pre-determined. There are opportunities for human freedom; opportunities to make wise and ethical choices. Think of people in the past or present, who are ‘stuck’ in circumstances: those stuck in modern day civil wars, those stuck in refugee camps, those stuck in poverty today…how can a person live with dignity and faith and hope under such conditions? People do! Not all of them, but some! How do they manage that?