Bibliotheca Sacra 148 (January-March 1991) 46-56.

         Copyright © 1991 by Dallas Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.

 

 

                 God and Man in Ecclesiastes*

 

                                              Roy B. Zuck

       Vice-president for Academic Affairs, Professor of Bible Exposition

                          Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas

 

 

 

               Is Ecclesiastes a Misfit?

 

Through the centuries many people have questioned whether

the Book of Ecclesiastes belongs in the biblical canon, and especially

in the wisdom corpus. Since it seems to underscore the futility and

uselessness of work, the triumph of evil, the limitations of wisdom,

and the impermanence of life, Ecclesiastes appears to be a misfit.

Because it apparently contradicts other portions of Scripture and

presents a pessimistic outlook on life, in a mood of existential de-

spair, many have viewed it as running counter to the rest of Scripture

or have concluded that it presents only man's reasoning apart from

divine revelation. Smith wrote, "There is no spiritual uplift embod-

ied within these pages. ...Ecclesiastes. ..accomplishes only one

thing, confusion. Reason is elevated throughout the whole work as

the tool with which man may seek and find truth."l Scott affirms

that the author of Ecclesiastes "is a rationalist, a skeptic, a pes-

simist, and a fatalist. ...In most respects his view runs counter to his

religious fellow Jews."2 Crenshaw speaks of the "oppressiveness" of

Ecclesiastes, which conveys the view "that life is profitless; totally

 

*    This article is adapted from Roy B. Zuck, "A Biblical Theology of the Wisdom             

Books and The Song of Songs," in Biblical Theology (Chicago: Moody Press, forth-

coming), and is used by permission.

1 L. Lowell Smith, "A Critical Evaluation of the Book of Ecclesiastes," Journal of

Bible and Religion 21 (April 1953): 105.

2 R. B. Y. Scott, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, The Anchor Bible (Garden City, NY: Double-

day & Co., 1965), p. 192.

 

46



God and Man in Ecclesiastes                                   47

 

absurd."3 Since "virtue does not bring reward" and since God "stands

distant, abandoning humanity to chance and death," this book, Cren-

shaw asserts, contrasts "radically with earlier teachings expressed

in the book of Proverbs."4 "Qoheleth discerns no moral order at all,"5

for “life amounts to nothing."6

Elements in the book that supposedly suggest this outlook of sec-

ularist despair include (a) the repeated refrains, "everything is

meaningless"7 (1:2; 2:11, 17; 3:19; 12:8); "this too is meaningless"

(2:15, 19, 21, 23, 26; 4:4, 8, 16; 5:10; 6:9; 7:6; 8:10);8 "chasing after

wind" (1:14, 17; 2:11, 17, 26; 4:4, 6, 16; 6:9); and "under the sun,"

which occurs 29 times; (b) death's finality which removes any ad-

vantage or gain man may have acquired in life (2:14, 16, 18; 3:2, 19-

20; 4:2; 5:15; 6:6, 12; 7:1; 8:8; 9:2-5, 10; 11:7; 12:7); (c) the fleeting,

transitory nature of life (6:12; 7:15; 9:9; 11:10); (d) life's inequities,

including the frustrating nature of work (2:11, 18, 20, 22-23; 4:4), the

uselessness of pleasure (1:17; 2:1-2), the inadequacies of wisdom

(1:17-18; 2:14-17; 8:16-17; 9:13-16); and uncorrected injustices (4:1, 6, 8,

15-16; 6:2; 7:15; 8:19; 9:2, 11; 10:6-9); and (e) the puzzle of life with

its many enigmas of unknowable elements (3:11, 22; 6:12; 7:14-24; 8:7,

17; 9:1, 12; 10:14; 11:2, 5-6).

Is this the total picture of the message of Ecclesiastes? Is it true

that the book presents "no discernible principle of order"9 in life?

How does this skeptical approach square with statements (a) that

life is a gift from God (2:24; 3:13; 5:19; 8:15; 9:7, 9); (b) that life is to

be enjoyed (2:24-25; 3:12-13, 22; 5:18-20; 8:15; 9:7-9; 11:8-9); (c) that

injustices will be corrected (3:17; 8:12-13; 11:9; 12:14); (d) that God is

in control (3:14; 5:2; 7:14; 9:1); and (e) that man is challenged to

please God (2:26), remember Him 12:1, 7), and fear Him (3:14; 5:7;

 

3 James L. Crenshaw, Ecclesiastes: A Commentary {Philadelphia: Westminster

Press, 1987), p. 23.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid., p. 34.

7 "Meaningless" is the NIV's translation of lb,h,, literally "a vapor or breath." This

suggests brevity or transience and emptiness of content. See Theological Dictionary of

the Old Testament, ed. G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren (Grand Rapids:

Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978), s.v. " lb,h," by K. Seybold, 3:313-20. Other

Bible versions translate the word "vanity" or "futility." Ogden suggests that lb,h can

best be translated "enigma" or "mystery" {Graham S. Ogden, "'Vanity' It Certainly Is

Not," The Bible Translator 38 (July 1987]: 301-7). All Scripture quotations in this arti-

cle are from the NIV unless noted otherwise.

8 "Meaningless" is also used in 2:1; 4:7; 5:7; 6:2, 4,11-12; 7:15; 8:14; 9:9; 11:8, 10. More

than half the Old Testament usage of this word lb,h are in Ecclesiastes–38  of its 73

occurrences!

9 Crenshaw, Ecclesiastes: A Commentary, p. 28.



48                                Bibliotheca Sacra / January-March 1991

 

7:18; 8:12-13; 12:13)? Can one ignore these counterbalancing ideas?

When Qohelet10 five times enjoined his readers to fear God, does the

Bible student do justice to the book's message to say that only man's

reasoning is presented, that the book provides no answer to life's

anomalies and enigmas? Is it adequate simply to view Ecclesiastes

as presenting thoughts and counterthoughts that stand in unresolved

tension,11 or as stating contradictions without solving them so that

life is viewed as absurd and irrational?12 To conclude that Qohelet

recommended enjoyment of life only to make existence endurable on

one's "journey into nothingness"13 fails to account for the positive side

of the book.

Why then does Ecclesiastes paint a dark picture of life? Why

does the writer present the gloom and doom of life? How can the

seeming contradictory elements in the book be reconciled? Four an-

wers may be given to these questions.

First, Qohelet was demonstrating that life without God has no

meaning. He was demolishing confidence in man-based achieve-

ments and wisdom to show that earthly goals ''as ends in themselves

lead to dissatisfaction and emptiness."14 Solomon recorded the futil-

lty and emptiness of his own experiences to make his readers desper-

ate for God, to show that their quest for happiness cannot be ful-

filled by man himself. Qohelet "shocks us into seeing life and death

strictly from ground level, and into reaching the only conclusions

from that standpoint that honesty will allow."15

 

10 "Qohelet" transliterates the Hebrew word rendered "teacher" or "preacher" in I

1:1-2,12. Stemming from the verb lhaqA, "to call an assembly," the noun tl,h,Oq suggests

one who calls an assembly to address them. Some scholars argue that the anonymous

author called himself "son of David, king in Jerusalem" (1:1; cf. vv. 12, 16; 2:9) to give

his book a ring of authority as having been written in the tradition of Solomonic wis-

dom. Others, however, including this writer, argue that the author is indeed

Solomon. For a discussion of the arguments on each side of this issue see Donald R.

Glenn, "Ecclesiastes," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Old Testament

(Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1988), pp. 975-76; Louis Goldberg, Ecclesiastes, Bible

Study Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1983), pp.19-20; and

Gleason L. Archer, "The Linguistic Evidence for the Date of 'Ecclesiastes,'" Journal of

the Evangelical Theological Society 12 (1969): 167-81.

11 J. A. Loader, Polar Structures in the Book of Qohelet (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter,

1979); and idem, Ecclesiastes: A Practical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerd-

mans Publishing Co., 1986).

12 Michael V. Fox, Qohelet and His Contradictions (Sheffield: Almond Press, 1989).

13 James L. Crenshaw, Old Testament Wisdom: An Introduction (Atlanta: John Knox

Press, 1981), p.144.

14 Roy B. Laurin, "Ecclesiastes," in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, ed. Charles F.

Pfeiffer and Everett F. Harrison (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962), p. 585 (italics added).

15 Derek Kidner, The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes (Downers Grove, IL:

InterVarsity Press, 1985), p. 94.



God and Man in Ecclesiastes                                   49

 

Second, Solomon was affirming that since much in life cannot be

fully understood, we must live by faith, not by sight. Unexplained

enigmas, unresolved anomalies, uncorrected injustices-life is full of

much that man cannot comprehend nor control. Like the Book of Job,

Ecclesiastes affirms both the finiteness of man and the fact that man

must live with mystery. Life "under the sun," that is, down here on

earth, "does not provide the key to life itself," for the world in itself

"is bankrupt.”16 Man therefore must have more than a horizontal

outlook; he must look upward to God, fearing and trusting Him.

Enigmas and injustices must be left in His hands to resolve.

Third, Ecclesiastes and its realistic view of life counterbalances

the unqualified optimism of traditional wisdom. According to Prov-

erbs 13:4, "The desires of the diligent are fully satisfied," but Eccle-

siastes 2:22-23 challenges whether this is always true. Proverbs 8:11

extols wisdom, whereas Ecclesiastes 2:15 questions its value. Prov-

erbs 10:6 affirms that justice is meted to the righteous and the

wicked, but Ecclesiastes 8:14 observes that this is not always the case.

Are these contradictions? No, because for one thing Proverbs

usually looks at the opposites in life without noting exceptions. Ec-

clesiastes, however, points out that while a righteous order does ex-

ist, as affirmed in Proverbs, it is not always evident to man as he

views life "under the sun" from his finite perspective. "God is in

heaven and you are on earth" (Eccles. 5:2). Job and Ecclesiastes, both

wisdom books, demonstrate exceptions to what Proverbs often states

in black-and-white fashion. The books then are complementary, not

contradictory. While the affirmations in Proverbs are normally

true, exceptions, as observed in Job and Ecclesiastes, do exist. As

Williams has well observed,

Proverbs affirms by faith (not by sight as is commonly assumed) that a

righteous order exists in the world, but Qohelet contends that righteous

order cannot be discerned by sight. This latter premise, that even the

wise cannot explain the apparent lack of order in the world, is simply.

Qohelet's way of expounding on the limitations of wisdom. But these

limitations were even admitted by the sages: "Do you see a man wise

in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him" (Prov.

26:12). ...Ecclesiastes was intended to balance the optimism of faith

with the realism of observation.17

 

Job and Ecclesiastes both present the frustrations and futilities

of wise wealthy men. Both books demonstrate that wealth does not

 

16 J. Strafford Wright, "The Interpretation of Ecclesiastes," in Classical Evangelical

Essays in Old Testament Interpretation, ed. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. (Grand Rapids:

Baker Book House, 1972), p.142.

17 Neal D. Williams, "A Biblical Theology of Ecclesiastes" (ThD diss., Dallas The-

ological Seminary, 1984), pp. 85-86 (italics his).



50                    Bibliotheca Sacra / January-March 1991

 

provide lasting satisfaction, that many people experience injustice,

that death is inevitable, that man must live with the mystery of

suffering.

Fourth, Ecclesiastes affirms that the only answer to the meaning

of life is to fear God and enjoy one's lot in life. Qohelet showed that

man, left to his own machinations, finds life empty, frustrating, and

mysterious. The book, however, does not mean that life has no an-

swer, that life is totally useless or meaningless. Meaning is found, he

explained, in fearing God-a point that clearly justifies a place for

Ecclesiastes in the Bible's wisdom literature-and in enjoying life.

Accepting what God has given and rejoicing in those gifts brings sub-

stance to a life that otherwise would be viewed as one of hopeless-

ness and despair. Frustrations can thus be replaced with content-

ment. While recognizing the vanity of empty human pursuits,

Solomon went beyond them and affirmed that "there is a bigger

truth to live by," that we should "set our hearts not on earthly vani-

ties themselves but on our Creator."18 True, life has its puzzles, but

with God life is worth living. Life is fleeting and death is coming,

but with God life can be accepted and enjoyed.

 

The Doctrine of God in Ecclesiastes

 

Forty times Ecclesiastes uses the word Elohim, and no other

name, in speaking of God. As the transcendent God ("God is in heav-

en," 5:2), He is the Creator (12:1), "the Maker of all things" (11:5).

His created works include man, giving him life (8:15; 9:9) and a

spirit (3:21; 12:7), making him upright (7:29), and setting eternity in

his heart (3:11).19 In His sovereignty God has planned the timing of

all things (3:1-8), which timing is beautiful (v. 13), though incom-

prehensible (v. 11; 8:17; 11:5) and unalterable by man (3:14; 7:13).

The events and activities God has under His control include positive

elements of life such as birth, planting, healing, upbuilding, joy,

searching, keeping, mending, speaking, loving, and enjoying peace-

 

18 Kidner, The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes, p. 94.

19 That is, God has given man an awareness that he is an eternal creature. He has a

God-given "longing to know the eternity of things. ..but, try as we will, we cannot see

it. ...That eternal WHY hangs over our lives" (Wright, "The Interpretation of Eccle-

siastes," p. 141). This is "a deep-seated, compulsive desire to know the character,

composition, beauty, meaning, purpose, and destiny of all created things" (Walter C.

Kaiser, Jr., "Integrating Wisdom Theology into Old Testament Theology: Ecclesiastes

3:10-15," in A Tribute to Gleason Archer, ed. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. and Ronald F.

Youngblood [Chicago: Moody Press, 1986], p. 205). Others say the word MlAOf rendered

"eternity" means (a) the world, or (b) ignorance (emending the word to be read Ml,x,), or

(c) darkness (from a related Ugaritic root). "Eternity," however, is preferable, in

light of the reference to forever (MlAOf) in 3:14 and its contrast to time (3:1-17).



God and Man in Ecclesiastes                                   51

 

and all their negative opposites (3:1-8). All of life is under divine

appointment and timing. Qohelet was not approving man's killing,

tearing, hating, or engaging in war; he was simply affirming that

these things occur in human experience (because of man's sin, 7:29)

and that man cannot alter what God has planned.

God in His sovereignty and providence controls the rising and

setting of the sun, the cyclic movements of the wind, the flowing of

rivers, and the evaporation of water 1:5-7). He is called the Shep-

herd, a term used only a few times of God in the Old Testament (Gen.

48:15; 49:24; Pss. 23:1; 28:9; 80:1; Eccles. 12:11).

Ten times God is said to give and 10 times to do. Man's burden,

because of God's finite wisdom, is given by God (1:13; 3:10). God gives

man opportunity to enjoy food and work (2:24; 3:13; 5:19-20; 9:7), He

gives man wisdom, knowledge, and happiness (2:26), and wealth,

possessions, and honor (5:19; 6:2). God's work, which man cannot

fully understand (11:6), includes both good and bad times (7:14).

What He does has endurance (3:14) and cannot be altered (7:13).

Other divine attributes evident in Ecclesiastes include God's

personality (He hears, 5:2; He despises, 5:2; He can be pleased, 2:26;

7:26; or angered, 5:26), goodness (2:24-26; 3:13; 5:18-19; 6:2), holiness

(5:1-2), and inscrutability (3:11; 8:17; 9:1; 11:5). In addition His jus-

tice will be exercised against wickedness. Even His judging the righ-

teous and the wicked is included in God's control of the timing of

events (3:17). Though the punishment of the wicked may seem de-

layed, it will occur (8:13). Young people, challenged to enjoy the en-

ergy of their youthful days, should also be sobered by the fact that

they are accountable for their actions under the scrutiny of God's

judgment 11:9). In fact every act, whether overt or hidden, good or

evil, will be judged by God (12:14) and either rewarded or punished.

Though God cannot be fully understood, some motives for His ac-

tions are mentioned. These motives include seeking to get people to

fear Him (3:14) and testing man to show him his finiteness (v. 18).

All these truths about God are consistent with the rest of Scripture,

thus affirming the validity of the place of Ecclesiastes in the Bible.

 

                        The Doctrine of Man in Ecclesiastes

 

MAN'S NATURE

Man's finiteness is seen in the fact that he is created (1:5; 12:1),

earthbound (5:2), and subject to death (3:19-20; 6:6; 7:2; 9:5). He is a

rational creature, for he can be guided by his mind (2:3), he can eval-

uate (v: l:), understand (1:1.7), investigate (v. 13), observe. (v: 14;

2:12,24; 3.10; 5:13; 6:1; 7:15; 8:9-10: 9:11,13: 10:5, 7), reflect (1:16; 2:1,

12,15; 8:9; 12:9), and draw conclusions (2:14, 17; 5:18).



52                                Bibliotheca Sacra / January-March 1991

 

Human emotions, according to Ecclesiastes, include joy (2:10; 9:7,

9; 11:9), love (9:1, 6, 9), hatred (2:17-18; 9:1, 6), contentment (4:8), de-

spair (2:20), grief (v. 23), envy (4:4), anger (7:9), and sadness (v. 4).

Qohelet referred to the material part of man by the word rWABA,

normally translated "flesh" or "body." The body can experience

"troubles" (11:10) and weariness (12:12). It can also be cheered, figu-

ratively speaking (2:3), or ruined (4:5), that is, dissipated. The NIV

translators thought of rWABA in 2:3 and 4:5 as a metonymy (a part for the

whole), for they translated it "myself" and "himself" in these verses respectively.

The immaterial part of man includes his soul (wp,n,), spirit (HaUr),

and heart (ble). The soul is the center of desires for fulfillment (6:2-

3, 7, 9; see NASB), the seat of inner satisfaction (NIV's "find satisfac-

tion in his work" in 2:24 is literally "causes his soul to see good in his

labor") or joy ("depriving myself of enjoyment" in 4:8 is literally

"depriving my soul of enjoyment"), or the seat of inner contemplation

("while I [lit. 'my soul'] was still searching," 7:28).

The spirit is used of mood or temperament ("patience" in 7:8 is

literally "length of spirit," and "provoked in your spirit," 7:9,

speaks of anger). "Spirit" also speaks of man's animating principle

of life, which returns to God at death (3:19,21; 12:7).20

Man's "heart" is referred to in Ecclesiastes more often than his

soul or spirit. Consistent with its usage elsewhere in the Old Testa-

ment, "heart" represents the inner part of man, either his intellect,

his emotions, or his will. The intellect is suggested in 1:13, 16-17, in

which the NIV translates the Hebrew "I said in my heart" by the

words "I applied myself" or "I devoted myself." The idea in these

verses is inner determination to complete an intellectual pursuit. The

NIV renders "heart" by "mind" in 7:25; 8:9, 16-verses that suggest an

intellectual exercise. "Take this to heart" (7:2), "you know in your

heart" (v. 22), and "the wise heart will know" (8:5) all suggest the

 

20 Ecclesiastes 3:19-20 affirms that all animate creation, including men and animals,

face death. The bodies of each expire and disintegrate into the earth. The spirit (HaUr)

is the life principle in both men and animals (Gen. 7:22). However, Ecclesiastes 3:21

indicates, by means of a question, that no one can observe what happens to the spirit of

man, "which ascends upward" (NASB) and the spirit of animals "which descends

downward" (NASB). The NIV rendering "who knows if the spirit of man. . ." casts

doubt on whether man's spirit goes upward. It seems preferable to render the verse,

"Who knows that the spirit of man goes upward," as suggested by Goldberg

(Ecclesiastes, p. 69; cf. Michael A. Eaton, Ecclesiastes: An Introduction and Commen-

tary [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983], p. 87). Understood in this way, the

verse is pointing up the difference in the destiny of men and beasts. Because they are

different, man's spirit goes upward to God and the animal's spirit does not. Only in

man's nostrils did God directly breathe the breath of life (Gen. 2:7), and only man was

made in God's image 0:26-27). Therefore the breath or animating principle of men

and animals has different destinies, but, as Ecclesiastes 3:21 indicates, no one can see

or observe where their spirits go.



God and Man in Ecclesiastes                                   53

 

intellect.. "I reflected on all this" (9:1), another instance of the exer-

cise of the mind, is literally "I have taken all this to heart."

"Heart" also speaks of the emotional side of the immaterial

part of man, as seen in 5:2 ("do not be hasty in your heart"), 7:3 ("a

sad face is good for the heart"), 7:4 ("The heart of the wise is in the

house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure"),

9:7 ("a cheerful heart"), 11:9 ("Follow the ways of your heart"), and

11:10 ("banish anxiety from your heart").

The willful aspect of the heart is seen in these verses: 7:7 ("a

bribe corrupts the heart"), 7:26 ("the woman. ..whose heart is a

trap"), 8:11 ("their hearts. . . are filled with schemes to do wrong"),

9:3 ("the hearts of men. . . are full of evil"), and 10:2 ("the heart of

the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool inclines to the

left").

 

MAN'S SIN

Sin is universal (7:20) and inward (9:3, "full of evil"). Man's in-

ner pull toward sin accelerates if he feels he, like others, can get

away with sin without immediate punishment (8:11). The sinful na-

ture shows itself in specific acts of sin. In Ecclesiastes these acts in-

clude oppression of the poor (4:1, 3; 5:8), envy (4:4), greed (v. 8; 5:10),

insensitivity in worship (vv. 1-2), unfulfilled vows (vv. 4-5), uncon-

trolled talk (v. 6), a stranger benefiting from someone else's work

(6:2), pride (7:8), anger (v. 9; 10:4), discontentment (7:10), sexual se-

duction and adultery (v. 26), and foolish talk (10:13). Man's injustice

to others is decried several times (3:16; 4:1; 5:8; 7:7; 8:9, 14).

Ecclesiastes repeatedly underscores human finiteness by pointing

to man's ignorance. He does not know God's ways (3:11; 8:17; 11:5) nor

does he know the future (6:12; 7:14; 8:7; 9:1,12; 10:14; 11:2,6).

Sin has its consequences. It holds sinners in its grasp (8:8), it

brings them trouble (v. 13), it can undo much good (2:26; 9:18; 10:1),

and it can even lead to an untimely death (7:17; 8:13). After man

dies, God will punish his sin (3:13; 11:9; 12:14).

 

MAN'S WORK

The word lmAfA ("labor, trouble, turmoil, work") occurs frequently

in Ecclesiastes.21  No lasting profit (NOrt;yi, "gain or advantage" 1:3;

2:11,13; 3:9; 5:8,15; 7:12; 10:10-11) comes from one's labor or toil (1:3;

3:9). The fact that work brings pain (2:17, 23) is said to be lb,h,, that

is, meaningless or enigmatic,22 as is the fact that the results of one's

labors must be left to someone else (2:19, 21, 26; 4:7-8). Many people

find no end to the toils of life (2:22; 4:8; 8:16), sometimes because they

 

21 The noun occurs 21 times, the verbal form 8 times, and the adjective 5 times.

22 See notes 7 and 8.



54                                Bibliotheca Sacra / January-March 1991

 

are driven by envy of what others have (4:4). Though work may

bring despair (2:20), it can be enjoyed (vv. 10, 24; 3:22; 5:18-19; 8:15;

9:9) when seen as a gift from God.

 

MAN'S DEATH

Life is fleeting ("few days," 2:2; 6:12), and death is certain. All

will die (2:14-16; 3:18-20; 6:6) including sinners (8:10, 12-13; 9:2-3).

Since God has appointed the time of each person's death (3:2), man

cannot influence when it will occur (8:8) or even know when it will oc-

cur (9:12). Nothing can be taken from this life when a person dies;

his exit is like his entrance (5:15-16). The dead go to Sheol (9:10),

that is, the grave,23 where they have no more opportunity to partic-

ipate in this life's activities (9:5-6). Death is final. To be dead is

said to be preferable to a life of oppression (4:1-2) or to nonenjoyment

of one's prosperity (6:3-5), and yet the living do have an advantage

over the dead (9:4). The dead will eventually be forgotten (1:11;

2:16; 9:5). Old age brings physical problems (12:1-5)24 and eventuates

in death (vv. 6-7), in which a person's spirit goes to God (3:21; 12:7)

and he enters eternal consciousness ("his eternal home," v. 7).

A number of truths about man in Ecclesiastes are consistent with

truths elsewhere in Scripture, particularly the early chapters of Gen-

esis. Man was originally created good (Gen. 1:31; Eccles. 7:29), but

fell into sin (Gen. 3:1-19; Eccles. 3:16; 4:1; 7:29), with the consequence

of toil (Gen. 3:14-19; Eccles. 1:3, 8, 18; 2:11, 17, 22) and death (Gen.

3:19,24; 4:5,8; Eccles. 2:14-16; 3:20; 4:2; 9:5; 12:6-7). Made from dust

and breath (Gen. 2:7; 3:19; Eccles. 3:20; 12:7), man has limited knowl-

edge (Gen. 2:17; Eccles. 8:7; 10:14; 11:5). He was created to live in

companionship with others (Gen. 1:27; 2:21-25; Eccles. 4:9-12; 9:9).25

 

MAN'S RESPONSIBILITIES

What responsibilities does man have in light of the futilities

and mysteries of life? What actions did Qohelet say will aid man in

his pursuit of life? At least six suggestions are given in the book.

 

23 See R. Laird Harris, "The Meaning of the Word Sheol as Shown by Parallels in

Poetic Texts," Bulletin of the Evangelical Theological Society 4 (December 1961): 129-

34.

24 Views on this passage include these four: (a) the decreasing health of organs of

the body, (b) old age depicted by a Palestinian winter or approaching storm (Franz

Delitzsch, Commentary on the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes [reprint, Grand Rapids:

Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1970], pp. 403-5, and Christian D. Ginsburg, The Song

of Songs and Coheleth [1857; reprint, New York: KTAV Publishing House, 1970], p.

458), (c) old age depicted as the ruin of an estate (Robert Gordis, Qoheleth-The Man

and His World [New York: Shocken Books, 1968], p. 329), or (d) a combination of these

views.

25 C. C. Forman, "Koheleth's Use of Genesis," Journal of Semitic Studies 5 (1960): 256-

63.



God and Man in Ecclesiastes                                   55

 

1. Be wise. While wisdom has its drawbacks (1:18), can be nul-

lified by a little folly (10:1), is transitory (4:13-16; 9:13-16), and does

not prevent death (2:12), it does have advantages. It is better to be

wise than foolish (v. 13) or famous (4:13-16), for wisdom can help

preserve life (7:11-12), gives strength (v. 19), causes one to reflect on

the seriousness of life and death (v. 5), and can brighten a person's

countenance (8:1). Mere human wisdom, wisdom acquired by intellec-

tual pursuits, is inadequate, but divine wisdom enables man to rest in

the sovereign ways of God and in His providential timing (8:5).

2. Worship and please God. Proper worship entails a sense of

caution and apprehension in God's presence (5:1-2). Making a com-

mitment to the Lord should be done thoughtfully and without haste,

but once having made it the worshiper should follow through on his

promise (vv. 4-6). Pleasing God should be man's deepest desire (2:26;

7:26).

3. Remember God. More than a mental exercise, this means to

acknowledge His authority and respond with loyalty (12:1, 6) and

obedience (v. 13, "keep His commandments").

4. Fear God. Fearing God stands at the heart of wisdom litera-

ture (Job 28:28; Ps. 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10).26 Hence it is no surprise

that in Ecclesiastes man is commanded five times to fear God (3:14;

5:7; 7:18; 8:12-13; 12:13), to recognize who He is and to respond ac-

cordingly in worship, awe, love, trust, and obedience.

5. Be diligent. Life with its many uncertainties (9:11-12) means

man knows comparatively little. "You do not know" is stated three

times in six verses (11:2, 5-6) along with the words "you do not under-

stand" (v. 5) to point up man's ignorance of which disasters may come

and when, where the wind will blow, how the human embryo devel-

ops in the womb, or which enterprise or investment will be successful.

This ignorance need not paralyze man or stifle him into laziness. In-

stead one should forget trying to change things that cannot be

changed (v. 3) or trying to predict what cannot be known (vv. 4, 6),

and should be hard at work all day (v. 6), working wholeheartedly

(9:10) and leaving the results to the Lord. Laziness results in in-

creased problems (e.g., sagging rafters and leaking roofs, 10:18).

6. Enjoy life. The fact that Solomon admonished his readers

not to look for the answer to life in the pleasures of life itself did not

rule out his encouraging them to accept their lot (QL,he) in life and to

 

26 In Job the verbal form for fearing God occurs in 1:1, 8-9; 2:3; 23:15; 37:24, and related

nominal phrases occur in 6:14 and 31:23. Proverbs refers to the fear of the Lord in 1:7,

29; 2:5; 8:13; 9:10; 10:27; 14:27; 15:16, 33; 16:6; 19:23; 22:4; and 23:17. The command to

fear the Lord occurs in Proverbs 3:7 and 24:21, and four times the verbal form "fears the

Lord" occurs (14:2, 16, 26; 31:30). Fearing the Lord is associated with wisdom six times

(Job 28:28; Prov.1:7, 29; 2:5; 8:13; 15:33).



56                                Bibliotheca Sacra / January-March 1991

 

be glad for the simple pleasures of life including food, warmth, mar-

riage, and doing good. This theme occurs seven times in the book:

2:24-26; 3:12-13, 22; 5:18-20; 8:15; 9:7-9; 11:8-9. "These modest plea-

sures are not goals to live for, but bonuses or consolations to be grate-

fully accepted."27 The fact that these pleasures are for man's joy and

contentment rules out asceticism, and the fact that they are given by

God rules out sinful hedonism.

Castellino well summarizes the message of Ecclesiastes:

"Therefore: (a) set aside all anxious striving and labor (‘amal); (b)

avoid all speculations on God's ruling of the world and (c) be thank-

ful to God for whatever satisfaction He gives you, valuing and mea-

suring everything as a gift from Him and enjoying it, never forgetting

that you shall have to render strict account to God Himself."28

 

 

27 Kidner, The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes, p. 100.

28 George A. Castellino, "Qohelet and His Wisdom," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 30

(1968): 28.

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:

Dallas Theological Seminary

            3909 Swiss Ave.

            Dallas, TX   75204          

www.dts.edu

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu