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.”
It seems that this nearly completes the central message of the book. Much of what follows looks like an assortment of “footnotes” under the
general heading “other flaws noticeable in human life when God is disregarded”.
At the end of the book, the original argument is supplemented and completed by three reminders, drawn from the deeper investigations
in the intervening chapters. The writer re-iterates that men should enjoy their lives, under God, while they are young. But at the same time, they
Remember that death is coming.
Remember that judgement is coming.
Remember their Creator.
This consciousness, in all three aspects, should be governing their lives and moderating their conduct.
They should be doing this before they get old and die.
What is left of the book is a series of different ways of saying “men get old and die”.
Men get old
V1 “Before the evil days come, and the years draw nigh when you will say ‘I have no pleasure in them’”.
I think we may take “them” to mean the years themselves. This describes the general sense of old age, that there is no pleasure in life any
At one point, I was obliged to lodge in a room shared with an old pensioner, who seemed to lie awake in his bed for ages, murmuring “I’m fed up..
I am… I’ m fed up… I am… I’m fed up… I am…” I got the picture.
V2 “Before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain.”
A metaphorical “darkening” of the world which matches the psychological darkening of life.
V3 The keepers of the house [the legs] tremble, the strong men [the arms] are bent, the grinders [the teeth] cease because they are few, and those who
look through the windows [the eyes] are dimmed.
V4 “The doors on the street are shut, the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the voice of a bird, and all the daughters of song are
In other words, everything has gone quiet. Deafness.
V5 [“Old men] are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way”.
The almond tree blossoms [hair grows white].
“The grasshopper drags along and desire fails.”
That is, they completely run out of energy.
Shakespeare summed up the whole of this condition as “second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”
V5 “Because man goes to his eternal home.”
For the Christian, this means “with God”.
The writer is thinking primarily “in Sheol”, because that was the only knowledge available at the time. Hence the solemnity of the warning to
remember death. Yet the uncertain possibility of “with God” may be at the back of his mind.
The mourners go about the streets; not just at the funeral, perhaps, but even beginning to mourn when the approach of death is becoming obvious. There
was a king of Israel weeping at the death-bed of Elisha- “My father, my father! The chariot of Israel and its horsemen!” (2 Kings ch13 v14)
V6 “Before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the ;pitcher is broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the
In other words, everything breaks down. Human life ends.
Bunyan wrote a sequel to Pilgrim’s Progress, in which Christian’s wife and some of their fellow-townsfolk follow in his footsteps, along a path
which is much tamer because most of the dangers were overcome in the original story. When the party reaches the heavenly city, they wait on the banks
of the river, and are called across one by one by messengers who quote from this chapter as a token of their authority. For example, Mr Standfast is
summoned by one who gives as his token “The wheel is broken at the cistern”.
V7 “The dust returns to the earth as it was.”
This is what happens to the body, anyway. Genesis (ch2 v7) says that God made Adam from the dust of the earth and breathed life into him, so we see
that process reversed at the end.
“The spirit returns to God who gave it.”
This can be taken in two different ways.
On the one hand, following through the reversal of the quickening of Adam, the meaning would be that God takes back to himself the life he originally
gave, leaving behind the body on the ground and leaving the person in Sheol. That is implied in this book when we are told that no man has the power
the spirit (ch8 v7).
On the other hand, the writer also said earlier “Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward?” (ch3 v21). In other words, the human spirit is
there identified with the human person, which creates the uncertainty.
Now if those two thoughts were combined- that is, the confidence in this verse that the spirit returns to God and the ch3 association of the spirit
and the person- the writer could almost attain a Christian understanding of the event.
V8 “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, all is vanity.”
This verse repeats the opening of the book (to be exact, it repeats the second verse).
The rest of the book has been explaining what he means; the word “vanity” applies to everything we think or do that disregards the central place
of God, how he knows and controls everything that happens.
So the central message of this book is “Remember your Creator, because otherwise your life is vanity.”
Evidently this book is following the common literary pattern, that the end of a work returns to the starting-point and winds it all up. Thus the tree
of life returns in Revelation, and the epistle of James begins and ends by talking about the importance of faith. This verse must be the intended end
of the book.
Why, then, are there six more verses? That point will have to be considered another time.
edit on 19-3-2021 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)