Showing posts with label Ecclesiastes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ecclesiastes. Show all posts

Monday, June 10, 2024

Anonymous Asks (306)

“Is it really possible to be overly righteous or too wise?”

New Christians may be inclined to exclaim, “Of course not!” How could one have too much of a good thing? But those who have read the complete works of King Solomon may find the wording of this question familiar. He speaks of both.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

The Impossible Problem

When Jarred Cinman wrote an opinion piece for his blog in 2015 entitled “The five best reasons not to believe in God”, I doubt he imagined he was breaking new ground in the ongoing debate over whether the world would be better off without religion. He couldn’t have. After all, he quoted Stephen Fry, whose own swipes at God have prompted the occasional comment in this space.

Unbelief is hardly a novel concept.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: More Than Me

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

This topic is considerably less incendiary than the current Palestinian situation or the question of whether or not churches should be led by one man, but when posted its list of “ultimate questions” and asked which ones its audience considered most important, this one finished second:

“Why do people insist on looking outside themselves for a reason for their life?”

Tom: Immanuel Can, what do you think about that: is there more than me, and why should I care if there is?

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Time and Chance: The Post-Game Show

The heavens declare the glory of God and God’s invisible attributes have been clearly perceived in the things that have been made; our Old and New Testaments are in absolute agreement on this. Even if the Creator had never uttered a word to his creatures, men would be without excuse.

We would also be hopelessly confused, frustrated, and conflicted, grasping for an explanation of meaning and purpose that forever eludes us, feeling the pull of eternity in bodies destined only for the grave.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Time and Chance (54)

We have arrived in our study of Ecclesiastes at what the Preacher calls “the end of the matter”. The matter under consideration, if you have a long memory, was this: “What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” What is the point of man’s existence? Why are we here? This was the question he set out to answer.

Through twelve chapters, the Preacher has undertaken the task of examining the experience of being human from every possible angle in hope of gaining insight into its meaning and purpose, always using only what he could observe and infer from the input of his senses. What he discovered was that when you approach the big questions of life in that way, the experience is frustrating and the answers elusive.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Time and Chance (53)

With the advent of the internet, we have become all too used to people sharing their opinions with us.

Editorializing is far from a new activity — human beings have engaged in it for millennia. What’s new is the sheer scale of useless bloviating made possible through social media. More information is fine, but information bereft of both authority and coherence is not worth the effort it takes to process.

Back in Ecclesiastes, the Preacher is about to tell his readers something similar.

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Time and Chance (52)

Just this week, a friend of mine took his three-and-half-year-old grandson hiking through a local terraced cemetery. As they climbed, they stopped to read a gravestone together at every level. Recognizing the shape of the recurring word forms, the little boy soon began to repeat phrases like “In loving memory” and “beloved wife”.

When the two returned home to tell Grandma what they had been up to, her agitated response was, “I hope you didn’t tell him what the numbers mean.”

Yeah, those numbers …

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Time and Chance (51)

Ah, vanity. That expression again.

As I have mentioned on more than one occasion during our study of Ecclesiastes, the list of things its writer characterizes as “vanity” in his thesis is lengthy. Over thirty different features of human existence are so described, a partial list of which you can find here, from hedonism to workaholism to discontentment and entropy.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Time and Chance (50)

Almost a year ago we started this weekly study in Ecclesiastes, and here we are in the penultimate chapter. I have been poking along a verse or two at a time, because it seems to me that this 3,000 year old treatise on the meaning of life deserves our concentrated attention and rarely gets it.

Hey, Christians and unbelievers alike quote from Ecclesiastes all the time. There’s some great stuff in there for funerals. But when was the last time you heard even a single sermon on the book, let alone a series? I can remember maybe two in my entire life.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Time and Chance (49)

Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon
It is said that every virtue carried to extremes becomes a vice, which is probably true. Every good thing indulged in to excess does much the same.

The previous few verses of Ecclesiastes 10 contrast a kingdom run by self-indulgent drunks and gluttons with a kingdom administered by wise, self-controlled princes and officials who know the proper place for leisure and pleasure in their own lives. Obviously the citizens of the second kingdom will have a better time of it than those of the first. The Preacher then comments that attending to only your own desires rather than the objective needs around you will end in disaster.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Time and Chance (48)

Many years ago I had an older Scottish boss. Unstereotypically for a Scot with an accent so thick you could make peaks in it with a spatula, he had no problem with his staff reading a book, chatting, or idling away our shifts — but only under one condition: all the work in the shop must be finished and out the door first. If our salespeople failed to keep us busy, that was their problem. If we failed to deliver their work on time, it was ours.

So play by all means, but play after you work.

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Time and Chance (47)

Not all fools are avowed atheists.

All serious foolishness begins with the assumption “There is no God.” But there are different ways of denying the existence of God in one’s heart. One way is to do it like Richard Dawkins, who says it with a lot of pseudo-scientific bother and fuss. He can’t stop thinking about it and trying to prove it. Then there is the functional atheist. He never tries to talk anyone out of their belief in God, and he certainly doesn’t write books about God’s non-existence. He may even concede that God might possibly exist, but he lives every moment of his life as if God does not.

Either way is foolish, but at least a Dawkins recognizes the existence of God as a problem for his worldview and is working away at coming to grips with it. The other fellow is perhaps in a worse state, as he never thinks about God at all.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Time and Chance (46)

All productivity comes with a certain element of risk.

This is true for code monkeys, spot monkeys and everyone in between the two extremes (the code monkey being a computer programmer at his keyboard; the spot monkey, a professional wrestler whose specialty is flying through the air and landing on people without killing them). Too much time pounding the keys can ruin your wrists, which everyone who has carpal tunnel syndrome will tell you is very painful and not easy to get rid of. Then again, a 360 off the top rope that ends on the ring apron instead of its designated target will probably break your neck, so maybe there are worse things than sore wrists.

For me the big job hazard is paper cuts. Lots of paper cuts. First world problems, I know.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Time and Chance (45)

Governing is tough.

Even in traditional monarchies, governance has always required a team, the rough equivalent of a cabinet or executive; the right people in the right combination. A king needed experienced, mature, educated men to serve as his administrators and advisors; men able to make policy and to accurately estimate the short- and long-term consequences of implementing it.

Finding the right people to put in secondary positions of authority is a critical matter. It has tremendous consequences for a nation. Kingdoms have been lost because a ruler listened to the advice of the wrong man or men, or refused to listen to the advice of the right man.

Generally speaking, slaves don’t make strong candidates for such positions, as the writer of Ecclesiastes is about to tell us.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Time and Chance (44)

Unless we have studied ancient languages, identifying formal Hebrew proverbs in the text of Ecclesiastes is a bit beyond most of us. To make it easier, my edition of the ESV has displayed roughly a quarter of the 221 English verses in the book with hanging indents instead of regular paragraphing, so that the reader can distinguish poetry, proverbs or quotations from the Preacher’s ongoing narrative.

The highly subjective nature of this style treatment becomes evident when we examine the same verses in other translations.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Time and Chance (43)

The so-called “golden rule of Bible interpretation” is this: When the plain sense of scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense. I have heard this line attributed to a few different people, so let’s give credit both to whoever came up with it and to those who have helpfully passed it on.

We often find this principle provoking heartfelt agreement among Bible teachers. It is slightly more unusual to find expositors following it with consistency.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Time and Chance (42)

Forty-two Saturdays into our study of Ecclesiastes, we come at last to the phrase which we have taken as our theme: “Time and chance happen to them all.”

Why do things happen to us the way they do? Ancient mythology makes reference to three goddesses who were thought to assign individual destinies to mortals at birth. The Greeks called them the Fates. The unsaved talk about “Lady Luck”, usually on their way to the casino, personifying an imagined force to which nobody can really appeal, but which every gambler hopes to have on their side. Even atheists find themselves inexplicably using the phrase “It was meant to be”, as if a random roll of the dice could actually signify intelligent purpose.

But in a world without revelation and with no sure way to know if there is a God or how he operates, we can only blame time and chance for the good and bad things that come our way.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Time and Chance (41)

Bible readers whose systematic theology requires them to downplay or overlook the distinctions scripture makes between the Old and New Covenants are faced with more than the occasional conundrum in interpreting Ecclesiastes. And yet any number of older commentators read and exposit the book as if its primary value is as directly-applicable advice to modern Christians.

It most surely is not.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Time and Chance (40)

The writer to the Hebrews notes that one of the Lord’s objectives in his incarnation was to “deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery”.

That slave metaphor is not particularly flattering. And yet we can see a slave’s mentality at work in Ecclesiastes. Solomon, the Preacher, has lived his life making decisions for everyone else around him. He has been the greatest king of his generation; autonomous, powerful, captain of his own destiny. As he considers his own looming demise, he cannot stop obsessing about the various ways in which his own agency is being gradually stripped from him as he ages. This, he says, is “vanity” and “a great evil”. Death is the great leveler of humanity, and the Preacher does not look forward to being leveled.

That preoccupation is a form of slavery, one from which only Christ can free us.

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Time and Chance (39)

Boy, there is a lot about death in Ecclesiastes.

If you’re counting, the words “dead” and “die” occur six times apiece, “dust” and “death” three times, “one place” (guess where?) twice, and “Sheol”, “burial” and “stillborn” once each.

To top it all off, the infamous chapter 12 contains such an impressive stack of poetic aging-and-death metaphors that the first thing most Christians do upon finishing the book is scramble to the New Testament post-haste in search of something to wash the taste out of their mouths. I find the last nine verses of Romans 8 usually do nicely.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Time and Chance (38)

Revelation is a glorious thing.

The phrase “through a glass darkly” is often used to describe our current condition: we do not know everything we wish we knew about God’s purposes for us. We would like to know more; of course we would.

But when we apply that biblical phrase to ourselves, I believe we are erroneously putting ourselves back twenty centuries in time and assuming ourselves to be in the same condition as the Christians to whom Paul wrote in the mid-first century AD with respect to the knowledge of God and his purposes.

And yet we are not in their situation. Not at all. We are much, much better off than they were.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Time and Chance (37)

Last week we encountered the term “vanity” for the umpteenth time in the book of Ecclesiastes, and considered another entry in the Preacher’s list of realities he found frustrating, and which he could not hope to understand without direct revelation from God. In this case, he had observed that there is a species of wicked people who move freely in polite society and who, far from being punished for their crimes, are more often politely indulged ... and sometimes even celebrated.

He continues this thought in the next couple of verses, in the process adding yet another “vain thing” to his list of conundra.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Time and Chance (36)

As mentioned in earlier studies in Ecclesiastes, the Preacher uses the term “vanity” repeatedly. This is usually read as an expression of disgust, as if Solomon is saying, “Pointless, pointless ... it’s all futile and pointless,” as if the order God has set in place since the fall of man — and it is very much evident he believes God is behind it all — is not worth further investigation.

And yet, on he goes investigating anyway. Can’t be all that pointless, can it?

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Time and Chance (35)

Let’s back up and remind ourselves where we were last week in Ecclesiastes 8, because the subject under discussion in the first five verses continues just a little longer.

The Preacher was considering the temptations and opportunities that face people under authority in the performance of their duties; in this case, servants of the king. There are really only two possibilities: either the servant is doing the will of the king, or else he is using the king’s authority as cover to promote his personal agenda, or to advance some ideological position.

Saturday, May 02, 2020

Time and Chance (34)

When we try to get some practical help for daily living from scriptural reflections 3,000 years old, it is obvious we are going to have to do a little bit of thinking: first, about whether these things can be applied to our own situation at all; and secondly, assuming they can be, what reasonable conclusions we might draw from them about our own situation.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Time and Chance (33)

Once upon a time, one of the richest, most powerful and wisest men in all of human history set himself the task of discovering the meaning of life. He found himself frustrated. He also recorded his search step by step for us in the book of Ecclesiastes. He added one observation to another seeking to uncover what he calls “the scheme of things”.

In doing so, oddly enough, he found himself repeatedly looking not just at the created world, or at society, but at individual men and women. In their own existential thrashing about, the more alert unbelievers today do exactly the same thing: they look around at others in hope of finding lives well-lived and lifestyles worth emulating — people of integrity and consistency — and, informing those qualities, perhaps some coherent explanation of our place in the universe that will satisfy their thirst for meaning and purpose.

After all, you are not terribly likely to discover a coherent worldview in a brothel or under a barroom table, are you?

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Time and Chance (32)

“A man’s got to know his limitations.”

I have a feeling that’s an old Clint Eastwood line from somewhere. At any rate, the next six verses of Ecclesiastes are all about human limitations in a fallen world. Verses 19 and 20 have to do with mankind’s moral limitations, verses 21-22 with our interpersonal limitations, and verses 23-34 with our philosophical limitations.

Basically, we are sinners who don’t get along. Moreover, outside of God’s word, we are incapable of coming up with any reasonable explanation why that might be. We don’t act right, we don’t socialize right, and we don’t think right. That’s a fairly hefty indictment.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Time and Chance (31)

Anecdotal evidence is not conclusive in any court, but it’s still evidence. What you have observed in this life has a profound effect on what you believe. What you think you’ve observed may have an even greater influence on you.

So what is it that really matters? What sort of life would your neighbors call “good”? There are very few people out there who haven’t yet decided. Some of them are making very silly choices, but they are still making them. Having “seen everything” (in their estimation), they are now deciding what course of action makes the most sense for them. If you ask them nicely, they will often tell you why.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Time and Chance (30)

Much of what we read in our Bibles is not what we might call “inspired”: the choice of English words made by translators; the marginal commentary; beginnings and ends of verses; chapter and passage headings ... all these things were simply not subjected to the same level of divine control which the writers of scripture claim for the Greek and Hebrew text itself.

This being the case, once in a blue moon something done by a translator or publishing house works against our ability to discern the meaning of a text. One of my brothers is fond of pointing out how many times a chapter division in our English Bibles has obscured his understanding of a passage which should rightly flow right on without pause, and did so in its original form. Sometimes the answer to a question posed at the end of chapter 3 (where you probably stopped your daily reading) is to be found three verses into chapter 4 (where you have probably forgotten what it is answering by the time you read it tomorrow).

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Time and Chance (29)

Much of Ecclesiastes is observational rather than directly instructive. The Preacher tells us the things he did, the things he has seen, and what he thinks about it all ... then leaves the reader to decide how he ought to behave in light of the information shared with him. The first six chapters of Ecclesiastes contain only three “do” or “do not”-type commands.

These next few verses of chapter 7 are a little more pointed.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Time and Chance (28)

Many years ago I went for counseling. A man with a big white beard (I am so not making this up) asked me a number of questions, listened quietly to my responses, then assured me I was a good person and that I should not be down on myself.

Needless to say, I never went back. I can’t tell you whether he was right or wrong, but I can tell you he had taken all of twenty minutes to reach his conclusion. He was pronouncing on my life in utter ignorance. He could have made a more meaningful diagnosis of my situation by hurling darts at a dartboard.

Advice is only useful when it comes from people with actual knowledge. That is true whether we are talking about praise or criticism.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Time and Chance (27)

If we took the first thirteen verses of Ecclesiastes 7 on their own, we might initially think they belong in the book of Proverbs. They are fairly standard Hebrew proverbial couplets (with the occasional interjection).

This is not the first time the form is used in Ecclesiastes. There are a few couplets sprinkled through chapters 1, 4 and 5, and we will encounter more in chapters 8, 10 and 11.

What is different about the proverbs we find in Ecclesiastes in that they do not skip around from subject to subject with anything like their usual apparent randomness, but instead serve the book’s larger treatise. They are thematically linked to one another, to what comes before them, and to what follows them.

Saturday, March 07, 2020

Time and Chance (26)

The much-maligned Donald Rumsfeld, former U.S. Secretary of Defense under President George W. Bush, once said this: “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”

That may sound like bafflegab, but it’s actually a fairly lucid breakdown of the possibilities.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Time and Chance (25)

As I write this, I haven’t had breakfast yet. I will shortly. There’s food in the fridge, and money in the bank if I opt to step out for a bite.

That covers this morning, and this afternoon, and maybe even the rest of this week. However, if I were to stop going to work, I would have a problem before long. The refrigerator would be empty, and the bank balance would dwindle until it hit rock bottom.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Time and Chance (24)

King Saul had a burial.

When he fell in battle with the Philistines, his enemies decapitated him and fastened his body to the wall of the city of Beth-Shan, publicly degrading him in death. And yet, as willful, proud and chaotic as Saul’s reign over Israel had been, the courageous men of Jabesh-Gilead came, probably at no small risk to themselves, took his body, burned it, buried the bones and fasted seven days in memory of him.

As in most other nations, an ancient Israelite burial was not merely a matter of being dumped into a hole in the ground and covered by dirt. There were people who cared enough about Saul to make it evident to the entire nation — not to mention its enemies — that their king’s life, position and person were worthy of their loyalty and appreciation. So Saul received a proper interment with the customary ritual observances.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Time and Chance (23)

Work is not in itself a product of the Fall. God made man to “have dominion”. Even ruling is not a passive undertaking; it requires doing something from time to time. God put Adam in the Garden of Eden not to be a man of leisure but “to work it and keep it”. Apparently it would not keep itself, even in an unfallen world. There is no suggestion this was in any way unpleasant, but it was man’s lot up until the Fall.

However, when Adam sinned, God declared, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.” Work got a whole lot harder. The word “pain” appears for the first time in the respective curses. This was the new “lot” of mankind, and coming to grips with it required serious reflection.

Back in Ecclesiastes 5, the Preacher has given it some.

Saturday, February 08, 2020

Time and Chance (22)

A significant number of baby boomers are blowing their way through their kids’ inheritances, and they’re doing it guilt-free. Some do it with the blessing of well-off children who don’t need anything, but the justification is usually something along the lines of “Hey, you only live once” or “We worked hard for it! Why should someone else enjoy it?”

You can argue the morality of such a move both ways. On the one hand, giving certain children a pile of unearned money is like throwing it into a black hole. Neither you nor they are really benefiting long term.

On the other hand, there is a venerable tradition of putting something aside for the coming generations. That time-honored custom did not develop for no reason.

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Time and Chance (21)

It is estimated Solomon wrote 3,000 proverbs, so it’s not surprising a few would show up even in the middle of the book of Ecclesiastes, which is what we might fairly call an observational treatise. He certainly had proverbs to spare.

Two of these next three are the usual two-clause parallelisms, the last antithetical, but even then they do not quite fit the standard proverbial template. The “this also is vanity” clause in the first proverb throws off the expected rhythm. The second is a fairly rare proverbial form in which the final clause extrapolates rather than reinforcing or contrasting.

It’s no surprise to see the Preacher making use of his favorite literary device, but forcing it to operate only in the interest of servicing the overall message of his book shows unusual restraint.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Time and Chance (20)

One thing I have neglected to point out over the last two weeks of posts in this series is that the first seven verses of chapter 5 of Ecclesiastes are different from everything that has come before them. They are the very first commands we have encountered in the Preacher’s writing.

Everything up to this point has been description; the Preacher looking around at his world and telling us what he observes in the absence of divine revelation, most of which he finds disappointing and confusing. But chapter 5 commences with a short series of what we might call prescriptions. The Preacher has actually begun to issue the occasional instruction. “Guard your steps,” he says. “Be not rash with your mouth. Let your words be few. Do not delay in fulfilling your vows.”

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Time and Chance (19)

Over the Christmas season, you often get to observe people giving thanks for a meal who wouldn’t do it ordinarily. You can tell it’s a special event because they refer to it as “saying grace”, as if it’s some kind of annual sacrament rather than just another in a thrice-daily series of simple, grateful responses to God’s generosity. Often the head of the family feels compelled to do the honors.

Now, from time to time it happens that the person drafted to perform this duty has given little or no thought to the question of God’s existence one way or the other. He is now put on the spot. It can be fun, and a bit awkward, to watch someone pretend to address a Supreme Being they don’t truly believe in. Their whole “grace” thing usually gets mumbled out strung together like it’s one word: Forwhatweareabouttorecieve ...

Hey, it helps to have a familiar liturgical formula to recite. Anybody can pull that off, believer or no.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Time and Chance (18)

The “house of God”. What does that mean exactly? When you see the expression in your Bible, it does not always mean precisely the same thing, though all its uses have a common element.

When Jacob first coins the expression in Genesis, he is referring to what he saw in a vision while camped about 12 miles north of Jerusalem. He dreamed of a ladder reaching from earth to heaven, on which the angels of God traveled up and down, and the Lord standing above it, speaking to him. He concluded he had slept on the doorstep of God’s heavenly dwelling, and he called the place Bethel, which means “house of God”.

Saturday, January 04, 2020

Time and Chance (17)

I do not own or read many Bible commentaries.

Why? Well, I find commentaries tend to sway me toward specific interpretations of the text. That makes them bad places to start the search for truth — for me at least — because they rarely lay out all possible options for me to consider. Further, these selective impressions about meaning may or may not be well informed, linguistically accurate, carefully thought out, or consistent with the rest of scripture. Some are and some are not. The sheer number and variety of impressions gathered by different writers from any given passage demonstrate that not all can be correct, though some are definitely better than others.

So I prefer to read a passage multiple times, pray through it and mull it over, then do word studies and comparative analyses to develop an opinion about its meaning on my own. Reaching for a commentary is a very last resort. Confirmation, maybe.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Time and Chance (16)

We all know people who we think work too hard. But what is “too hard” really? If we are honest, it’s a bit of a subjective call.

John the Baptist got by on locusts and wild honey, and was happy with one coat of camel’s hair and a leather belt. It’s pretty clear he didn’t have a day job. The Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head, and while he certainly labored non-stop, it was not with a view to acquiring earthly possessions. Still, nowhere in scripture do we find the expectation that all should live life the way Jesus or John lived. In fact, one of the reasons both John and the Lord Jesus were morally free to devote their lives to their respective missions was that they had incurred no earthly financial obligations to others.

For most of us, life is a bit more complicated. Not better, necessarily, but certainly more complicated.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Time and Chance (15)

The expression “keeping up with the Joneses” may have originated with the 1913 comic strip of the same name, but more likely was coined in reference to a family of mid-19th century New York bankers known for their conspicuous consumption.

Either way, it means envy. If my neighbors have one, then I must have one too ... and preferably a bigger, better and glossier model. And to keep consuming, I need more money.

Solomon had this figured out long before there were any Joneses to keep up with.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Time and Chance (14)

There is a certain apparent randomness to hurricanes, cancer and car accidents. There is nothing at all random about oppression. Oppression is something one human being deliberately inflicts on another, and for which the oppressor will one day give an account.

A hurricane does not have to explain itself, or pay some future price for the havoc and misery it has produced. An oppressor certainly will.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Time and Chance (13)

What distinguishes man from other mammals?

Charles Darwin famously argued that the difference in mind between mankind and the higher animals is one of degree and not of kind. In other words, we have all the same basic intellectual material to work with. Humans just have more of it.

Indeed, this can seem like a tricky question if you’re asked it in the middle of watching a YouTube video of an elephant enthusiastically playing piano, or a setter and a pigeon who appear to be best pals. Not all this stuff is staged.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Time and Chance (12)

Where does the concept of a final judgment come from?

If you do a Google search or consult an online concordance, you can hardly fail to notice that the vast majority of Bible verses dealing with the subject are to be found in the New Testament. Men seem to have always taken for granted that some kind of ultimate reckoning was inevitable, but there is a surprising dearth of clear teaching on the subject in the earliest books of the word of God.

In fact, we do not find incontestable references to a final, general judgment appearing in scripture much prior to the 10th century B.C.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Time and Chance (11)

In interpreting any given statement in Ecclesiastes, we are wise to look carefully at the Preacher’s current train of thought. Unlike the book of Proverbs, for the most part Ecclesiastes is not a collection of unrelated bits of wisdom. It is primarily an orderly series of arguments and observations.

Even where the direction of the writer’s thought flow does not immediately jump out at us and we are tempted to think he may have drifted off topic, he inevitably loops back to his theme. It is more than likely, then, that the meaning of any obscure thing the Preacher says may be at very least tangentially connected to his larger subject, as opposed to coming at us right out of the blue.

Knowing this is fairly helpful when we consider our next two verses.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Time and Chance (10)

What does it mean that God has “put eternity into man’s heart”? The statement is baffling and comprehensible in near-equal parts.

It is impossible to imagine mere human beings are capable of any substantive grasp of the transcendent or even the nature of our own being. That’s the baffling part. We are not fully equipped to understand ourselves, let alone anything more significant. We are more animals than angels: tiny, exceedingly finite beings concerned primarily with matters of comparative trivia.

The comprehensible part is that on some undefined level we all understand that the Preacher’s statement is true. We know it because we feel it.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Time and Chance (9)

The first eight verses of Ecclesiastes 3 are among the most famous in all of scripture. Go ahead, name another #1 U.S. single with 3,000 year old lyrics. Even today, I find myself singing them in my head rather than merely reciting them. They so obviously reflect reality that one wonders they even need to be stated, but such is the nature of poetry. If we did not use these words, we would need others instead.

Still, there are probably one or two dusty old hippies around who might be shocked to learn Pete Seeger was not their author.