Friday, February 14, 2014

CCXXXIV - Concluding Ecclesiastes

The writer (I still believe him to be Solomon) sums up the whole book in these last two chapters, although the final 6 verses were written by another person.  It appears this other person had read the entire piece and made brief comment on the writer and his material.  At first reading, these last two chapters seem somewhat out of step with the prevailing mood of the entire book, but not really.  The conclusion is that life is meaningless, therefore eat, drink, and be merry, getting as much pleasure out of life that you can.

Chapter 11

Verses 1-6 – Business and Earning Money

He starts this chapter with advice on business.  He suggests expanding ones business beyond the immediate community or town.  In verse 2 he is advising one to get into several businesses, as there is safety in numbers, suggesting in verse 6 that if one is bound to succeed.  He also warns against being too cautious as in these verses, saying that if you wait for perfect conditions, you will never sow nor reap.  {Reminds me of a saying I’ve heard many times:  If you wait for the perfect time to have children, you will never have any, as the “perfect” time will never come.}  In fact, in verse 5 he is referring to having children as he says that just because we cannot figure out how a child grows in the womb does not mean we should not have children.
In chapter 11:7 through chapter 12:8 the writer is talking directly to the young.  His advice is based his thoughts and conclusions drawn in the previous ten chapters.

Verses 7 and 8 are profound.  “Light is sweet” means that all the days of your life should be looked upon as good.  Each day when the sun comes up, be thankful you are alive and know that each day represents a new set of opportunities.  As verse 7 seems bright and cheery, verse 8 of course turns dark as it reminds us that old age and death are around the corner.  But let’s give the writer the benefit of doubt and assume he is just trying to press his point of enjoying life while you can.  In verse 9 he specifically addresses “You who are young”.  This refers to the age between adolescence and old age.  Enjoy pleasures that only the youthful are capable of enjoying.  But he responsibly adds a caution:  God is still in control and He expects us to be careful not to disrespect Him or other people in our lives.  In fact the very first verse in chapter 12 tells the young to remember God.  But then he continues to encourage them to enjoy life.  He says in 1b that there will come a time when you get old that you will no longer find pleasure in many activities.  {This is true.  Example: The young enjoy splashing in the swimming pool while the old just sit and watch them.}  In the following verses he describes old age.  The strong man is now bent over and weak.  His grinders become few (loses his teeth).  Windows grow dim (his eyes become weak).  4b refers to the inability to sleep and one’s hearing going bad.  Verse 5 says that when people age they become afraid of heights {this is true} and other things outside their homes that were not frightening when they were young.  Then he gets depressing again at the end of verse 5 through verse 7 saying that your life will inevitably end with death and the sound in the streets will become those of mourners at your funeral.  You will be buried and your body will return to dust from which you came.  As mentioned above, the writer’s final words is verse 8.  He ended as he began “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity”.  Life is meaningless.  But at least he did give wonderful advice in the final chapters.

Chapter 12:9-14

As mentioned before, these final verses were written by someone else after having read the entire book.  This person wrote respectful thoughts about the author and was careful to give praise to the power and authority of God.  He praised this extensive work done by the writer in verses 9-11 acknowledging the in-depth study and pondering and soul searching necessary to write all of these thoughts.  The effort alone should be praiseworthy.  In verse 11 he uses three terms, saying that these words are to be considered “goads” for prodding people in the right direction, “nails” fastening these words in one’s mind his entire life, and “one shepherd” which refers to God as the One who oversees our actions and motives.  Verse 12 is the first of the Bible’s warnings about what one reads and allows to influence thinking.  We’ll look at this much more closely in books to come.  Note in the final two verses that the editor’s conclusion does not include the “eat, drink, and be merry” part.

My concluding thoughts on the Book of Ecclesiastes are brief.  As I stated in the introduction, one must understand the writer and his station in life before attempting to understand his words.  When he wrote this book he was in a state of depression and despair.  He had accomplished more than any other human being before him and gained more riches than anyone before or since.  But he was not happy and could not understand why.  And his inability to understand this and life’s other unfairnesses tortured him.  Therefore he found at least a little comfort in expressing his thoughts on paper.  And God chose this writing to be included in His Holy Bible.

In the next post we will shift gears of thought and begin studying Song of Solomon.

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