Good morning! Today we finish with the rest of the book of Ecclesiastes (chapters 6-12). We’re not actually reading this (or any of the Wisdom literature) the way it is most helpfully read. Each book, chapter and verse might be better if savored in small doses as one would a strong cup of coffee. However, in reading the Bible through the way we are, we aren’t taking as much time as we could with these wisdom texts. I hope and trust that you will come back to them and reflect further as the occasion calls for in the years to come. For today, we consider the main point of “the Teacher” in Ecclesiastes: life has no guarantees but righteousness is better than foolishness. Furthermore, enjoy life while you can because hardships and death await everyone.
There are parts of Ecclesiastes here (especially in chapter 7) which recall the Buddhist teaching that “life is suffering”. No season of life rises above the inevitable “vanity” or suffering of human existence. Even the hardest, most diligent workers seem to leave the fruits of their labor for the enjoyment of another. Therefore, the Teacher counsels, recall that all lives end in death, and will likely hold a great deal of hardship along the way to the grave. While this is a sobering awareness, being clear about one’s fate allows one to live more wisely (with restraint, moderation and humility) in the moment.
The takeaway message of Ecclesiastes could be to not care about anything other than eat, drink and have fun (8:15), but the book is less cynical than such sheer hedonism. Wisdom does take opportunities for rest, refreshment and gratitude when they come, because the harder things in life are inevitable and we don’t know how long we have. One great sorrow lies in the jaws of death that open for all human beings, while the real evil is that the same fate awaits both wicked and righteous alike (9:3). This is the same problem confronted by Job, but rather than clamoring to God at the injustice of it all, Ecclesiastes makes peace (resignedly) to the fact of life’s capriciousness. There is no guarantee that righteous living will lead to longevity or that wickedness will guarantee a swift death as punishment. However, there are still worthy distinctions between foolishness and wisdom. Righteousness tends to be better for oneself, one’s family and one’s community, even if there are no certainties against chance and time. But insofar as time and chance have a person on this side of the grave, wisdom counsels that person to uphold one’s duty with proper diligence. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Song of Songs 1-8. Thanks for reading!