Koheleth: The Message, Not The Person Essay, Research Paper
Many who seek to understand the book of Ecclesiastes often fail to understand the purpose of the writings of Koheleth [Hebrew for teacher or preacher, also designating the author of this book]. Some view him as a skeptic, disillusioned by that which lives ?under the sun?. Others describe him as a realist, seeing quite clearly the evils which befall men, both good and evil. Still others confuse his particular philosophy on life as a form of ni-hilism. Volumes of material have been written vigorously defending views on who he is. Others do not look at the person, but see the situation that befalls Koheleth. However, many, how profound they might be at psychologically analyzing every facet of him, fail to see his message. Obscured by his discourse on achieving his point, the message within the verses is quite profound and well supported. For when anything is done with God and for God, it has purpose, but without Him life is nothing.
One cannot escape the futility that Koheleth expresses numerous times. The word ?meaningless? alone appears once in the Bible outside of Ecclesiastes, but within it oc-curs about 35 times (NIV Study Note, 1:2). Both in beginning (1:2) and conclusion (12:8) he declares how worthless everything is. From this, many first stray from Koheleth?s main point. They (Gottcent, 84) cite his Job-like discourses on bad things happening to good people and his distaste for three things traditionally highly valued in his time: wis-dom (1:12-18, 2:12-16), pleasure (2:1-11), and toil (2:17-26). The style of Koheleth is such that it misleads some, for even the great Rabbis of early Christian times only ac-cepted its canonization after great debate (Gottcent, xiii). Koheleth?s method, however, is necessary and proper. To say that to live life with God is how to live life, one first must give infallible argument that life without God is meaningless. To do this, he counters every possible happiness with a sadness (3:1-8), and particularly harps on the unfairness of oppression in life, sympathetic to the sizable lower class of his time. The rich are not safe either, for they are never rich enough (5:10-17). None can argue with his points. When compared to eternity, everything man does is meaningless. But what of that which man does with eternity? If man is instead united with God, the changeless, omniscient, eternal being that is with us all, rather than separated, does that change anything? There are specifically six different cases in which Koheleth comes to this alternative conclusion (Hubbard, 93), and once where another has added to the book in summarizing it all (12:13-14). Five of those times, the words eat and drink are included in how to have a life of which there is ?nothing better?. Here we begin to see how man should live life, par-ticularly, and perhaps even more so, regarding menial activities. Now that Koheleth has brought out the hebel (Hebrew for ?meaningless? (NIV Study Note, 1:2) or ?vanity? (Hubbard, 44)) in life, he proceeds to precisely and accurately declare that we can live a fulfilling life regardless of the natural, unchanging powers of the ephemeral world. His basis is God. That?s quite a basis, by anyone?s standard. For all of his negatives that he spends chapters discoursing on, he spends a few profound, succinct verses countering. Take 8:12-13: ?Although a wicked man commits a hundred crimes and still lives a long time, I know that it will go better with God-fearing men, who are reverent before God. Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them, and their days will not lengthen like a shadow.? (Ecc 8:12-13, NIV) Many overlook these verses when inter-preting Ecclesiastes. Words of that magnitude cannot be tossed aside. When the book plainly states that, after all of the words within are heard, this is what it all means, one should not ignore it. And Chapter twelve, verses thirteen and fourteen are precisely that. These lines have nothing about the futility of man, or nihilism to any extent, or negativity of any sorts. Rather, it says that ?the whole duty of man? is to follow God. When com-bined with the constant disillusionment, the alternative conclusions, and the ever-present theistic approach to all of it, Koheleth has presented not only a philosophy, but a way of life to follow. Man is to take what God has given him, be happy with it, and not expect more (5:19). That is the problem of one whose treasure is worldly (Hubbard, 138). When it?s not focused on God, it?s not enough. When man recognizes that, he will be not only happier, but he will be wiser, he will take more pleasure out of what he does, and he will have all the riches he needs, in stark contrast to everything Koheleth says from 1:2-2:26! The difference once again is the focus of it all, not on the earth, but of the heavens.
That which is not focused on the Lord is ?meaningless, a chasing after the wind.? With God, life has meaning. It matters not who Koheleth was or what he was like, it matters what he said. He certainly was centered on God when he composed Ecclesiastes, and no one can declare his work to be ?vanities.? Take heed of his message and pass it along. With that, ?[g]o, eat your food with gladness, drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do.? (Ecc 9:7, NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version, Copyright ? 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.
Modern Critical Views: The Bible, edited by Harold Bloom, ? 1987 by Chelsea House Publishers
The Communicator?s Commentary: Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, by David A. Hubbard, Vol. 15B, ? 1991 by Word, Inc.
The Bible: A Literary Study, by John H. Gottcent, ? 1986 by G. K. Hall & Co.