posted on Oct, 16 2020 @ 05:00 PM
The book of Ecclesiastes tends to be neglected.
I must admit that I’ve been neglecting it myself.
So I come to this book with no preconceptions, except that a book found in the Old Testament must be intended to have a spiritual meaning. The people
who compiled the canon were not in the business of collecting an anthology of “Hebrew literature.
The main theme of the early chapters has been that natural life and human life in the natural world do not go beyond a series of cycles of alternating
events. Any apparent changes are discovered to be stages within these cycles, while the overall system itself does not change.
It is “vanity” for humans to look for anything beyond these things in the natural world, trying to transcend the system on their own. It is
better, and the gift of God, for them to find their enjoyment in the world as it is, maintaining themselves in the way which God has provided.
Nevertheless, God has “put eternity into man’s mind”, in such a way that eternity cannot be known completely. Thus man is made aware of
something greater than himself. “God has made it so, in order that men should fear before him.”
There is more to be said about the possibilities of eternity.
V16 “Moreover I saw under the sun that in the place of justice [the courts?], even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness [the
temple?], even there was wickedness.”
This resembles one of Job’s themes, though Job is not complaining that humans are unjust. He is complaining that God allows them to be
V17 “I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for he has appointed a time for every matter, and for every work.”
This is one of the corollaries of the message from the beginning of the chapter, that there is a time for “every matter under heaven”. If there is
an appointed time for every matter, then there must be an appointed time for the matter of judging righteousness and wickedness. That is the answer to
the complaint raised in the previous verse.
Some of the prophets are expecting judgement in the form of a “Day of the Lord”, in which God resumes full control of his world and sets
everything right, overcoming all his enemies. However, that seems to bring judgement only to the generation that experiences the event. This writer
suggests a more general judgement. Proverbs tells us more than once that the righteous will live, a promise which has no meaning unless there is a
life possible after the death which even the righteous experience. The same can be said of this promise of a general judgement. It is one of the
aspects of “eternity in man’s mind”.
Vv18-20 God puts men to the test to demonstrate to them how much they are like beasts. They share the same kind of breath, they die and turn to dust
in the same way. In short, they experience the same fate.
Christians tend to look askance at these brutal statements. However, we may add these points;
What the writer says here is the truth, as far as it goes.
It is at least part of the truth.
If we leave God out of our consideration, and ignore the “eternity”
which he has put into our minds, then it becomes the whole truth.
It shows us that we are less than God, and we cannot transcend these brutal facts of life on our own.
V21 “Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down to the earth?”
We have just heard what happens to the bodies, but what happens to the spirits?
The writer does not claim to know, for certain, but how is that question “Who knows?” tilting the balance?
Generally speaking the effect of “Who knows?” is to cast doubt, by showing the uncertainty of a suggestion which has just been made. “Will that
machine work? Who knows?”
For two thousand years, Christians have been taught that the spirit of man DOES go upwards. So it is natural for us to read this verse as casting
doubt on that possibility- “Who knows if that familiar teaching is true?”
But that teaching was not available at the time when this book was written. The immediate context in this chapter is the observation that our bodies
go down to the dust, like the beasts, and the natural implication is that our spirits go the same way, like the beasts. So the question “Who
knows?” is actually casting doubt on THAT conclusion;
“We take it for granted that the spirits go down like the bodies. But are we sure that’s right? Should we not consider the possibility that only
the spirits of beasts go that way, and the spirit of man actually goes upward?”
This is another aspect of “eternity in man’s mind”.
V22 Either way, since nobody actually knows what comes next, the established conclusion still holds good.
As long as we are living in this natural world, “there is nothing better than that a man should enjoy his work, for that is his lot”, the gift
which God has given him.