Introduction: Last week I spoke about priorities; ‘Seeking first the kingdom of God.’
The Book of Ecclesiastes is one of the most unusual writings in the OT. This book, often attributed/written by Solomon is actually a writing from another individual who calls himself ‘The Preacher. Our English word title, Ecclesiastes is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Qohelet (Co-helet) which means ‘the preacher.’
Explanation of verse 1: The superscription, or headline, of Ecclesiastes appears to give us its social and historical settings. The lateness of the Hebrew language of the book puts its composition well after the time of Solomon or, for that matter, any later royal ‘son of David.’
The author created a main character, Qohelet, who impersonates the wise and pleasure-loving King of Solomon.
Because of the sustained exploration of ideas, he offers to the readers of the book, he is best known as ‘Teacher.’
What I want to do over the next several weeks is look at some of the wisdom ‘the teacher’ as inspired by the Holy Spirit to write, teaches us.
Transition: Today I want to look at the major theme of the entire book then move into a few weeks of some of the specific movements within the major theme.
3 Question: What is the major theme? What does that mean? How do I live out my Christian existence given this theme?
The Theme is ‘Vanity of Vanities,’ or ‘Meaningless! Meaningless!
The Hebrew word is hebel. (Like rebel but with h)
Of the many proposals advanced by scholars about the precise meaning in Ecclesiastes of this key word hebel, ‘absurdity’ best conveys the Teacher’s meaning across the millennia into contemporary English.
In this context, absurdity is not something silly or foolish. It is a thing that cannot be made intelligible through any of the rubrics that people usually invoke to explain the meaning of their experience.
Example: When anyone says, ‘That’s absurd,’ (whatever that may be…action, thought, activity, etc.) is can’t become an intelligible understanding by its general description.
So, the major theme (answer to question #1) is the theme is that all is vanity, meaningless, absurd)!
The answer to question #2 is that absurdity is what ‘the teacher’ is claiming Solomon’s life and writings teach.
Ready: Here’s the tough part you and I have to get through…just remember this, there is an answer to these ‘absurdities’ within the reality of ‘absurdities.’
It is about the entirety of life or the meaning of life that the ‘teachers’ conclusions are that everything is vanity, meaningless and absurd. ALL OF IT!
- Nothing (if life) can be counted on to work out the way it ought to (or we think it should);
- Nothing makes any ultimate sense;
- Certain things can be done;
- Certain achievements can be made;
- Happiness is possible
- The traditional system by which life could be understood does not always make sense;
- Randomness, pain, loss, failure, and death may break out unexpectedly and inexplicably!
Question: What were some of those ‘’absurdities?’
- Justice and Death
- Competition, Cooperation and Vows
- Love of Money
- Time and Chance
- Cause and Effect
Transition: Yet, under all these circumstances, Living Happily for Pleases God!
NLT Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 ‘So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God. 25 For who can eat or enjoy anything apart from him?1 26 God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy to those who please him. But if a sinner becomes wealthy, God takes the wealth away and gives it to those who please him. This, too, is meaningless — like chasing the wind. (NLT)
Question: Did you hear that? God wants us to enjoy life (even with all of its absurdities)!
Transition: So, finally I get to answer question #3, How do I live out my Christian existence and wife given this theme?
The book of Ecclesiastes closes with two epilogues (concluding parts) that are widely agreed to be the work of hands other than those of the ‘teacher.’
The writers of these last two short panels (vv. 9-11 and 12-14) use a form of Hebrew similar to that of Qohelet, thus they must have been reasonably close to the Teacher in time and place.
1st Epilogue – vv. 9-11
- Significance and Power of the book (godly wisdom)
- Warning against deviation
- Opportunities for options
2nd Epilogue – vv.12-14
The book concludes with a standard formula for escaping the kinds of theological and moral dilemmas in which Qohelet has wallowed:
- Fear God
We need to make some important distinctions about the biblical meaning of “fearing” God. These distinctions can be helpful, but they can also be a little dangerous. When Luther struggled with that, he made this distinction, which has since become somewhat famous: He distinguished between what he called a servile fear and a filial fear.
Servile fear – The servile fear is a kind of fear that a prisoner in a torture chamber has for his tormentor, the jailer, or the executioner. It’s that kind of dreadful anxiety in which someone is frightened by the clear and present danger that is represented by another person. Or it’s the kind of fear that a slave would have at the hands of a malicious master who would come with the whip and torment the slave. Servile refers to a posture of servitude toward a malevolent owner.
Filial fear – Luther distinguished between that and what he called filial fear, drawing from the Latin concept from which we get the idea of family. It refers to the fear that a child has for his father. In this regard, Luther is thinking of a child who has tremendous respect and love for his father or mother and who dearly wants to please them. He has a fear or an anxiety of offending the one he loves, not because he’s afraid of torture or even of punishment, but rather because he’s afraid of displeasing the one who is, in that child’s world, the source of security and love.
2. Keep His Commandments
There are at least 72 Bible verses about Keeping the Commandments.
The term “commandment” in the Bible (mainly Heb. miswa; Gk. entole refers to orders or adjurations given by authorities. The plural predominantly refers to Mosaic laws.
- Jesus taught that all the commands could be reduced to two based on the single principle of love ( Matt 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-31 ).
- Jesus kept the Sabbath command ( Luke 23:56), affirmed the keeping of others ( Matt 5:19 ; 19:17 ; Mark 10:19 ; Luke 18:20 ), and corrected misapplication of them based on rabbinic traditions ( Matthew 15:3 Matthew 15:6 ; Mark 7:8-9 ; 10:5 ).
- All that Jesus did, including his death and resurrection, were at the Father’s commandment and served to further eternal life ( John 10:18; 12:49-50 ).
Old Testament commandments are not directly binding for Christians. Nonetheless, keeping the commandments remains imperative.
- Christian teaching viewed ethically can sometimes be described as “the sacred commandments” or “the command given by our Lord” ( 2 Peter 2:21; 3:2 ) and Christians are “those who obey God’s commandments” ( Rev 12:17 ; 14:12 ), especially the command of faith in Christ and love of brother ( John 13:34 ; 1 John 2:7-8 ; 3:23 ; 4:21 ; 2 John 4-6 ).
- Conversely, whoever does not keep God’s commandments has not come to know God ( 1 Jo 2:3-4). Love of God is expressed by keeping his commandments ( 1 Jo 5:2-3 ). Those who keep them abide in God and he in them ( 1 Jo 3:24 ), and receive answers to prayer ( 1 Jo 3:22 ).