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Ecclesiastes: Back To Meaningless?

According to the teacher, no one can comprehend what happens under the sun. “Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.” (Ecclesiastes 8:17)

Something that makes life so meaningless to the teacher is that everyone–the good and the bad–will die. The resurrection is unknown to the teacher. He says, referring to death, that “no one knows when the hour will come.” As Christians, we are familiar with that phrase–not as applied to death but as applied to Jesus’s second coming.

The teacher also gives investment advice. “Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight; you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.” Multiple investments will give some security in the event that calamity ruins one or two of them.

In addition to the teacher’s theme of meaninglessness, he repeatedly says that there is nothing new under the sun. How many times have we heard that theme quoted from the pulpit and in the classroom. In Ecclesiastes 11:5, the teacher says that humans can’t know the path of the wind or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb or the work of God. Today, however, we can know the path of the wind and how the body is formed in the womb. I dare say that we still can’t understand the way God works. The point is that as time has passed, we have become aware of new things under the sun.

Enjoy your youth, says the teacher, because sooner than you think, you’ll be old, unable to enjoy the things of the past. While the road to death seems bleak, “people go to their eternal home.” Though the teacher continues to proclaim that everything is meaningless, an “eternal home” comes out of nowhere. Maybe he does know about the resurrection.

Perhaps that’s why the teacher concludes Ecclesiastes this way: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I really don’t understand Ecclesiastes. I like to read it and think about what the teacher says. I like the way he goes back and forth and up and down.

When the teacher speaks of life being meaningless, maybe he’s saying don’t take life so seriously. Don’t work so intensely that you are filled with anxiety and sleepless nights. You’re not in control. Enjoy life. Revere God.

2 comments… add one
  • Brian March 31, 2017, 11:29 AM

    I appreciate anyone who is humble enough to state for the whole world “I don’t understand.” Refreshing honesty and humility! Thank you John.

    • John B. Phillips April 3, 2017, 12:12 PM

      Thanks, Brian. The older I get, the less I seem to know. And I am more willing to admit than I was in the days of my youth. Hope you’re doing well.

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