Sunday, January 14, 2018

Ecclesiastes 1&2


 We met this past Thursday January 11th at Joanne and Terry's home as we began our study of the book of Ecclesiastes.

Terry began the study with an overview of the type of literature this book falls under as a way of introduction.

   Ecclesiastes is a form of ancient Hebrew poetry that falls under the  genre called 'near eastern wisdom literature'. This form of wisdom writing was designed to "instruct in righteousness', especially the youth or future leaders of antiquity. We defined righteousness as "the quality of being  justified , or being morally correct. The ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians and Persians used this form of writing as well as the Hebrews.

 Western secular writers love this book. Abraham Lincoln, William Shakespeare, Leo Tolstoy and Ernest Hemingway used it in some of their writings. 20th century American writer Thomas Wolfe called it the "greatest single piece of writing ever known."

  But the addition of this book in the Biblical canon has been controversial because, on it's face, Ecclesiastes appears to be nothing more than a poem about life's utter futility. It does not contain the typical and orthodox Biblical themes of God's redemptive grace revealed in the lives of His chosen people. It cynical fatalism seems to oppose these great themes.

            ( This should be an interesting study, don't you think ?)

 Tradition says King Solomon wrote this book in his old age and it is autobiographical. But many modern critics believe it was written later and is a composite of many kings, not just Solomon himself. But for our purposes, we will follow tradition.

  In the Hebrew canon Ecclesiastes is called Kohelet, which in English is usually translated as "teacher or preacher." So the teacher, in this form of writing, is a "critic" or an "iconoclast" used to attack cultural icons, such as material or worldly success. In Ecclesiastes the teacher sees these worldly activities as Hevel; a Hebrew word meaning smoke or vapor. In English Hevel is normally translated as 'meaningless' or 'vanity.' But it's means something closer to an enigma or a paradox. Such as 'chasing after the wind.' It seems to be there, but you can't actually chase it. Or smoke. It appears to have substance, but try to grab it, and it slips through your fingers. That is what Hevel means. Something real that is elusive or transitory.

 The first chapter is an introduction of the teacher by Solomon and then a poem about time's relentless march that humanity can't stop or control no matter how hard we try. Chapter 2 focuses on life's pleasures as being meaningless because it's temporary nature leads us nowhere. In chapter 2 Kohelet does many things to test life's activities; he buys, sells, proves, undertakes, makes and tests. He doesn't deny or refuse himself anything. He places no limits on himself (being the richest man ever)and finds in all things nothing but Hevel.

 Our discussion was wide ranging and lively as we wrestled with these age old questions that were mysteries to humankind from the beginning, or from our post Eden beginnings. We asked ourselves; Why is important to be morally correct or Why is it important for us to be remembered ? Why do we want control things beyond ourselves ? Why do we ask why ?

( I made that one ) This book takes us to places we rarely choose to go because to confront our mortality is not a comforting prospect. And this book is NOT designed to bring us comfort. It is designed to challenge our thinking about who we are and who God is on a most fundamental level.

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