Wisdom has been defined as the knowledge of things that never change. There are many applications of this understanding, with relationship the key element in them all. The Preacher wrote his book to communicate the value of practical wisdom, with God as its source (12:9-11). Relationship to God, he cautioned, was more important than study “about” life and God (12:13-14). A solid beginning, but his teaching on life in relationship with God would need to await the life and ministry of Jesus, who gave life its fullest and best expression.
“Ecclesiastes” comes from the Greek Old Testament and refers to “one who leads an assembly.” The Hebrew title is “Qoheleth,” usually translated Preacher or Teacher. The Preacher relates numerous life experiences replete with tension, doubt, and conflict over the meaning of life. Wisdom in the Bible focuses on nature and human interaction with nature. He filters personal experiences through later reflection to discover as much wisdom as possible (1:13).
His conclusions begin and end the book. He sees life apart from God as vanity, or “overvalued.” If vanity is the “inability to grasp the meaning of God’s way” (Hubbard), then the Preacher’s second conclusion becomes necessary: “Fear God and keep His commandments” (12:13-14). In his estimation, any real advantage (“profit”) that a person can gain in life comes from one’s trust and enjoyment of God each day (5:19-20).
One should live as an integral part of the order God has created, for the systems God created in the universe require a cooperative and grateful spirit (1:4-7). One should not strive against this order but accept and enjoy it, although it has many mysteries (1:8). God’s systematic order in the world lends itself to trust on the part of His people. The natural order allows for a certain measure of understanding, but since mystery lies behind God’s ordering of things, human understanding must not be “overvalued.” Life at its best is lived within God’s order, as an integral part of the created order He made. “Vanity” thus describes a false idea of one’s place in the created order (1:9-11).
The Preacher’s conclusion to fear God and keep His commandments applies to every passage (12:1-14). Only trust in and obedience to God hold lasting value. The Preacher exhorts people to “remember” the Lord before youthful inquisitiveness and vigor give way to weariness, what Justice Clarence Thomas calls the “twilight of our mortality.”
Dr. David Moore is a university online Bible and theology instructor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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