Ecclesiastes

Oh man.  I really have not been doing well with these ever since Psalms, have I?  At least I had an excuse with that one; it was 150 chapters.  And then Proverbs was another 31.  Ecclesiastes, however, was all of twelve chapters, and it took me a month and a half to get through it.  Yikes.  That pace is a liiiiiiiiiiittttle on the pathetic side.  I’ve been blogging weekly on another blog on an entirely unrelated topic, which, I’ll be honest, has completely distracted me from this Bible Reviews project.  I’m still on it though, as you can see.  I’m just slow.  Luckily the next few books are short.

O.k., so, Ecclesiastes.  Eh?  Whaddya think?  Does this book make any sense whatsoever to anyone else??  Or am I the only one who’s confused?  Let me give you the gist of the book, in the form of a pic I found via Google image search:

everything_is_meaninglessYep.  And there you have it.  That is Ecclesiastes in a nutshell.  Everything is meaningless, and then you die.  And you know what’s so crazy about this?  For the most part, I agree with it.  I read this book and kept saying to myself, “RIGHT!!  NOW the Bible finally GETS it!!  Now it suddenly seems to understand my entire view of life!!”  But wait … this contradicts everything we’ve been led to believe so far!!  Life is meaningless and then you die??  Wha??  This book seems incredibly … out of place … given everything we’ve read so far.  I’ve read 20 books prior to this that have told me over and over again that the meaning of life is to fear and obey God and that God will in turn provide us with what we need.  And now suddenly, in book 21, I’m being told something entirely different.  I’m being told that there’s no point to anything in the world, and that everything I do is meaningless, including half the stuff I was taught to do (and not do) in the previous books!  Let me give you a few passages:

1:16 I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” 1:17 Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.  1:18 For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.

Remember how much it was pounded into our heads in Proverbs that gaining knowledge and wisdom is one of the most important things in life??  Yeah, well, that’s actually pointless, a “chasing after the wind.”

3:18 I also said to myself, “As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. 3:19 Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless.

Right!!  But … what??  What book am I reading??

8:14 There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless.  8:15 So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.

YEAH NOW you’re talking!!  But wait … didn’t Proverbs tell us over and over again that you shouldn’t drink too much??  I mean, everything in moderation I guess.  ?

9:2 All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not. As it is with the good, so with the sinful; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them.  9:3 This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all.  The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead.

Ummm … wow.  Well then, Bible, what is really the point of working so hard to be a righteous person in the eyes of the Lord, like you have spent twenty books threatening me with my life to do up until now??

O.k.  Hold up.  Let’s take a few steps back and let Wikipedia give us some background info on this book.  Here’s what we’ve got: “The title ‘Ecclesiastes’ is a Latin transliteration of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Koheleth, meaning ‘Gatherer’, but traditionally translated as ‘Teacher’ or ‘Preacher’.”  Chapter 1 verse 1 states that this book is “The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.”  It’s written in the first person, and the author’s description of himself implies that he may be Solomon, but the book was actually written like 600 years after Solomon died.  In any event, this guy, whoever he is, is using Ecclesiastes to “teach” us about the meaning of life, and the best way to live our lives.

He spends 12 chapters telling us about how essentially everything we do in life is meaningless.  Including gaining wisdom, although for whatever reason, he still says several times that this is nevertheless an important thing to do.  I guess maybe he just thinks that is preferable to acting a fool all the time.  And like you saw in the passage from chapter 8 above, he recommends that in light of all this lack of purpose in life, we might as well just have fun and enjoy it while it lasts.  Because we can’t take any of it with us when we die.  But then in the last chapter of the book, his ultimate conclusion is that we should still “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.  12:14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”  Because I guess we … might as well?  Since we have nothing better to do with our lives?  I dunno.  He really doesn’t explain it all that well.  All I know is, this certainly is not the most uplifting book I’ve ever read.

Good Stuff

You know, if I could ignore all the contradictions in this book to everything we’ve read Ecclesiastespreviously, a good amount of it would be worthy of this section.  Some of these verses are almost … poetic … pretty … depressing yes … but striking.  Take this passage for example:

9:11 I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.  9:12 Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so people are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.

TRUTH.  I dunno how much it gels with what many Christians believe, or Jews, but it’s true.  Job was basically an attempt at tackling this similar theme as well, and it basically said, “God does whatever the eff he wants to you and his ways are too great for you to understand, so just deal with it.”  My response to that (in my Job review) was, I’d actually much prefer to think that no one’s running this whole show at all rather than to think that there’s some sovereign being up there effing with some of us just because he’s bored.  At least if no one’s running the show then we’re all on equal footing.  And interestingly, this passage uses the term “chance,” implying exactly that – rather than the big dude in the sky pulling all the strings.

There’s a few other good verses in here as well, such as:

  • 5:10 “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.”
  • 5:15 “Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb, and as everyone comes, so they depart.  They take nothing from their toil that they can carry in their hands.”  That reminds me of this song.
  • 7:5 “It is better to heed the rebuke of a wise person than to listen to the song of fools.”
  • 7:9 “Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.”
  • 7:10 “Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions.”  THIS, x1,000.  Hear that, all you Republicans with selective memories about bygone eras like the 50’s and the Reagan years??
  • 7:21 “Do not pay attention to every word people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you – 22. for you know in your heart that many times you yourself have cursed others.”
  • 9:17 “The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools.  18. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.”
  • 10:1 “As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.”

OH!!  And I almost forgot!  Chapter 3 unexpectedly gave me the origin of this song … the lyrics are taken directly from this chapter:

Just read chapter 3 and you’ll see what I mean.

Bad Stuff

Like I’ve mentioned earlier, the biggest issue I have with this book is how much it contradicts so many things we’ve read up until now.  Granted, in the last chapter, it ultimately comes back to the exact same conclusion that all the other books do – fear and obey God – but the way this one gets there is weird.  It just makes very little sense to me.  And regardless of the conclusion at the end, the contradictions within the book remain.  A few examples:

  • We already talked about the “Wisdom, good or bad?” example.  We get a mixed message on it in this book, but of course the entire point of Proverbs was that it’s unequivocally good.
  • Dancing and drinking are frowned upon in many of the previous books, but in Ecclesiastes, they are mostly regarded as a good thing.  This contradiction has come up several times so far though, none of the books seem to agree.
  • The previous books have pounded into our heads that God will give good things to those who obey him and he’ll punish the wicked.  This book mentions several times that the same ultimate fate of death overtakes everyone, so it’s all meaningless (and yet it still says to obey God at the same time, especially at the end).
  • Proverbs pounded into our heads how important it is to be hard workers and never be lazy.  Ecclesiastes gives mixed messages on this though.  “2:22 What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun?  23. All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.”

A couple other random passages for this section:

  • 7:26 “I find more bitter than death the woman who is a snare, whose heart is a trap and whose hands are chains.  The man who pleases God will escape her, but the sinner she will ensnare.  27. ‘Look,’ says the Teacher, ‘this is what I have discovered: Adding one thing to another to discover the scheme of things – 28. while I was still searching but not finding – I found one upright man among a thousand, but not one upright woman among them all.'”  Right.  Because it wouldn’t be a true Bible book without some good old fashioned misogyny.
  • 10:16 “Woe to the land whose king was a servant and whose princes feast in the morning.  17. Blessed is the land whose king is of noble birth and whose princes eat at a proper time— for strength and not for drunkenness.”  What??  Dumb.

Other Notes

Have I talked at all in my reviews yet about how often the Old Testament refers to death as a completely and eternally final thing?  I mean I know it’s not till the New Testament that Jesus shows up and dies for our sins and all that, but back when I was Christian, I never really put much thought into what the Old Testament said on this topic.  The topic has been addressed several times thus far in my reading of the O.T., but I don’t think I’ve mentioned it yet.  So I’m mentioning it here, because Ecclesiastes has several good examples:

  • 9:4 “Anyone who is among the living has hope – even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!  5. For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten.”
  • 9:10 “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.”
  • And then we’ve also got that chapter 3 passage about the ultimate fate of humans vs. animals: “3:19 Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals.” … “20. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.  21. Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?”

Interesting.  Can’t wait till the New Testament when Jesus fixes everything.  We’ll see.

Aaaanyway, let’s get to my rating of Ecclesiastes.  I’m having trouble with this one, honestly.  This book is a tease, in a way, because it throws out a lot of stuff that resonates with me, but that doesn’t necessarily gel very well with the rest of the Bible.  And then in the end, the final conclusion is exactly the same as every other book thus far, while simultaneously leaving me confused as to how the hell we got there.  Given all this, I’m going to take a similar tactic as I did with my Nehemiah rating, and consider this one a wash:

5/10

There’s some good stuff, and it kinda makes sense, but … it also makes NO sense in equal measure.  So.  Yeah.  Next up, we have Song of Solomon.  Only 8 chapters.  That should be fast and easy to get through … right?  In theory.

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