Posted: 22 Apr 2011 12:00 AM PDT
THE LAST THREE CHAPTERS OF Ecclesiastes bring together a reflective parenthesis (chap. 10) and a positive conclusion (chaps. 11–12). First, however, Ecclesiastes 9 strips us of any final illusions if our vantage point is "under the sun" (Eccl. 9:3).
The Teacher has come to the conclusion that "the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God's hands" (Eccl. 9:1). But what kind of a God is he, when you look at things only "from below," from "under the sun"? Considering all the morally ambiguous things that happen in this world, does God love us or does he hate us (Eccl. 9:1)? Does he accept us or does he reject us? The world overflows with both beauty and ugliness, with warm intimacy and cruel terror. How can those who think only from below sort this out?
The Teacher lays out three vicissitudes that make certainty impossible for such people—yet he sets out the case as far as they can take it:
(1) We all face death (Eccl. 9:2–10). The case is put most baldly in Ecclesiastes 9:2–3: the just and the unjust, good people and sinners, face the same end. Qoheleth himself protests that this is not right; this is an evil that happens under the sun (Eccl. 9:3). He is not yet ready to provide any answer. But even from this perspective, there is a robust common sense conclusion to be pursued: even though life here may be hard and ambiguous, most of us concur that it is better than death (Eccl. 9:4–6). From this "under the sun" vantage point, verses 7–10 tell us how we should attack life, knowing that life is better than death. One hears the tension in a verse like Ecclesiastes 9:9: "Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun." The problems of coherence, self-fulfillment, and meaning have not been resolved; but pragmatic conclusions, even by the worldly person who lives exclusively "under the sun," quickly pile up and drive us toward robust and even grateful living—if the only alternative is a meaningless death.
(2) We all face time and chance (Eccl. 9:11–12). Apart from a God who tells us more, there is such a randomness to life that thoughtful human beings must not count on too much.
(3) We all face the fickle folly of other human beings (Eccl. 9:13–18). Even when genuine wisdom is offered, the masses are more likely to be impressed by wealth than by wisdom.
Qoheleth is frank and honest. But we cry for God's perspective.
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