Ecclesiastes

General Christian Theology
haithabu
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Re: Ecclesiastes

Postby haithabu » Fri Jan 13, 2017 4:17 pm

Robert wrote:
haithabu wrote:In terms of the Parable of the Talents, Solomon is the man who buried his talent and at the end hastily dug it up and put it in the bank - just in time! While Job is the man who invested his talent and earned ten-fold - certainly materially as the epilogue makes clear but more importantly his gain was spiritual.


I loved the contrast in your post. I did struggle at the end with the comparison. I get concerned that it is easy for us to compare people when situations are really different. I don't really disagree with the contrast but comparing how different people go though life may not really be a good way to evaluate things. We are all individuals and each has to find their own way. Job's way would not have worked for Solomon, or versa visa.

Solomon was talking about God in Ecclesiastes. It was not a dialogue between him and God. It was his personal reflection. He points out that the 10 fold Job got, indirectly, really is meaningless too. Relationships, Solomon points towards God, are what really has value. We often look to Job's 10 fold reward and think of that as prosperity. Solomon is saying something different. He is saying the relationship, like Job had, is key.




I don't want to lean on Job's material gain too hard in terms of promoting prosperity gospel implications. However it is clear to me that in this context it is intended as a tangible sign of God's approval. An earthly counterpart to Jesus' promise that the faithful servant would be set over ten cities. Which is somewhat materialistic also if you think about it.

I find it impossible to separate Solomon's words from what we know about him as a person, and in that light I look at his message of futility as part of the cautionary example which is his life.

Job's way would not have worked for Solomon, or versa visa


I'm not sure what you are trying to say here. Job was faithful to God both in prosperity and in hardship. What's not to like about his way? Solomon on the other hand married foreign wives and built shrines for their idols and as a result incurred God's judgment. Job's way would have worked for both Solomon and Israel very well because it would have saved him from spiritual emptiness and it would have kept the kingdom whole for his heirs.

I see the central message of Job as relational in that he moves from a a quasi-contractual view of his standing with God to an appreciation for God as He is in Himself. Job 40 through 42:6 are the high point of the book. Job finds wholeness not in the resolution of his earthly problems but in seeing God. The restoration of his earthly fortunes is secondary.

In Ecclesiastes on the other hand, Solomon's "Remember your Creator" "Let your words be few" and "Fear God and keep His commandments" seem to point the reader towards compliance and reverence rather than relationship with God. This is almost the same advice he gives for dealing with a king.

About futility - Solomon's words and Job's complaints have a superficial similarity but the difference is that although Job can't make sense of things he never doubts that God is in control of what he is experiencing and in that sense it does have a meaning - though what, he can't make out. And of course in the frame of the narration we know that his sufferings do have a purpose.

On the other hand when Solomon speaks of futility he almost seems to be saying that everything is pretty much random.
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Robert
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Re: Ecclesiastes

Postby Robert » Fri Jan 13, 2017 5:01 pm

haithabu wrote:I'm not sure what you are trying to say here.


Job had a family to take care of. Solomon had a nation to deal with.

Job had no great wisdom, just determination.

Solomon, in his great knowledge and intelligence, could not stay focused on God.

Two different people with differing issues and differing personalities.

It is easy to project on others what we think should be without fully living their life. I am not saying you are. I am saying it is easy for all of us to do this. I know I do it often and work hard to overcome that tendency.
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lesterb
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Re: Ecclesiastes

Postby lesterb » Fri Jan 13, 2017 6:14 pm

Chew on this for a bit, if you care too. It will need revising, I'm sure. I'm trying to summarize some of my thoughts and feelings about the book.


Vanity Threads in Ecclesiastes…

Solomon opens the book with the declaration that everything is vanity. He ends the book admitting that the answer to life is fearing God and obeying Him. So how did he get from the one position to the other one? Here are some thoughts.

The following threads are the basic vanities that Solomon decries throughout the book. As you follow them, you will notice a gradual softening in his stance, as he starts to admit the failure of his wisdom, and the need to factor God into the picture.

The last few threads grow out of the others, as he starts to see the whole picture…

1. The uselessness of work, toil, and accumulation  As you follow this thread, you soon notice that he does see some value in work, and some fulfillment.

2. Nothing is new under the sun  and if there was no one would remember it, or the man who accomplished it. He also starts to comment on the permanence and unchangeableness of God’s work, and the advantages of this.

3. The failure of wisdom  He wanted to know what the “scheme” behind life really was. He viewed life as a big puzzle that he, as the wisest person on earth, should be able to figure out. He finally admits that no man, no matter how wise, could do this.

4. The frailty of life, and the finality of death  This ties into the uselessness of work. IE. The rewards of life are lost to use because of the frailty of life. In chapter 9 he admits that death is final. It is the end of life for you on earth. He doesn’t comment on what happens after death.

5. The failure of pleasure to satisfy  This is partly because he doesn’t recognize at first what the true pleasures of life are. He lists a number of things that world usually consider to be pleasures and rightfully concludes that they just didn’t hold water.

6. Injustice  Life isn’t fair! This idea permeates much of this book, and is intertwined with various parts of the other threads. But in most of the threads, its God who isn’t fair. In the sections on injustice, he recognizes that men aren’t fair with each other either. Even the king (gasp!) might be tainted with this.

7. Wealth and honor  Here Solomon comes closer to himself than he does in a lot of the other points. I suspect that the honor he received for his wisdom meant a lot to him, and it was quite a comedown to admit that even his wealth and reputation were vanity.

8. Fear God  Chapter 8 seems to mark a turning point in the book. He mentions fearing God earlier, but this is where he starts to focus on it. From here on he is leading up to his conclusion. He was a king himself, and he realized the parallels between a king and God. God’s ways, like the king’s, might be beyond the understanding of men. But in the end God, like the king, is the final authority and you ignore that at your own peril.

9. There are genuine pleasures in life  Love, true wisdom, and joy are simple pleasures worth more than 300 concubines ever could be. See 9:7 – 11:10.

10. God is a righteous judge  There is a scheme to life anyway. It is called Truth. In spite of all the vanities of life under the sun, God will measure all of life by Truth and will take care of the incongruences of life in the final judgment. That really is what brings meaning to life. Only thing, though, you’d better be ready for the judgment.

Solomon still misses part of the story, but he was a thousand years too early to know about it. Even the positive ending of Ecclesiastes isn’t quite satisfactory. It still leaves us with a God we can’t see or feel. He might be either malevolent or benevolent, but we can’t be sure which. When we read the gospels, and meet Jesus, who is the embodiment of God in the flesh, we discover that God wants us to find Him, and wants us to find meaning in life through Him.
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Re: Ecclesiastes

Postby Bootstrap » Fri Jan 13, 2017 6:28 pm

This is great. I will read it through a few more times tomorrow, but on first read, it looks really great.

And every one of these bullet points is deeply at odds with what our culture teaches us. Many of them are even deeply at odds with what our Christian subcultures teach us. That's why it's called a book of wisdom ...
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lesterb
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Re: Ecclesiastes

Postby lesterb » Sat Jan 14, 2017 6:36 pm

I've been thinking some more about Solomon and Job. I can understand what haithabu is saying and why he feels that way. But if you back away from the books and look at the heart cries of both of these men, I think they were both struggling with the same thing -- LIFE ISN'T FAIR! And how can a good God condone injustice?

The ending of the two accounts differs a bit, probably because of the differences in personality between them. But both of them got to the place where they recognized that God over rules in the affairs of men, and has every right to do so.

It was more personal for Job than for Solomon, perhaps.
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When a man's ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. (Pro 16:7 ESV)

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lesterb
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Re: Ecclesiastes

Postby lesterb » Tue Jan 17, 2017 5:12 pm

A NOTE ON UNDERSTANDING ECCLESIASTES...
To understand the Bible properly, we need to read it in light of the writer’s perspective. This is especially true of books like Revelation, Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes. All three of these books are filled with word pictures, and you will not get very far with them if you insist on a literal interpretation of their words. Solomon knew that some of the things he said in Ecclesiastes weren’t literally true. The eastern mindset wasn’t concerned about that. Solomon freely exaggerates and uses strong terms in his writing. His “pictures” are painted with a very broad brush and in vivid colors, with the intend of speaking in impressions. He doesn’t tell lies – he paints word pictures. To the eastern mentality, the two ideas weren’t even related. Jesus used similar methods in his parables and other teachings.

It is hard, at times, for people raised under the modern western compulsion for detailed accuracy and structure in writing, to understand the eastern way of thinking. It is difficult to fit most Biblical books into a structured outline, because the writers didn’t think in logically organized ways. In my studies of Ecclesiastes, I identified about 8 threads that are carried through the book. Solomon freely repeats himself, digresses and regresses, and bunny trails himself. But if you can bend your mind to follow the crooked track he lays for his train of thought, you will be blessed by the time you get to the end.

When I write a book about a Bible book, I always struggle with the temptation to restructure it into an outline that “clarifies” it. For instance, in the present case, I would start with a chapter on Solomon’s view of vanity. Then I would follow with chapters on the individual vanities he writes about, such as the uselessness of work, the failure of wisdom, the frailty of life, the finality of death, and the failure of pleasure and self-gratification in bringing satisfaction. But I finally decided to do what I always have ended up doing — let the author of the book speak from his own viewpoint. We’ll look at all the points I listed, and more. But we’ll let Solomon lay the track and control the speed of the train, just as the Holy spirit guided him to give it.
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When a man's ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. (Pro 16:7 ESV)

haithabu
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Re: Ecclesiastes

Postby haithabu » Tue Jan 17, 2017 6:35 pm

Solomon knew that some of the things he said in Ecclesiastes weren’t literally true. The eastern mindset wasn’t concerned about that.




I agree with that. I see that also in Jacob's complaint to Laban:
....you changed my wages ten times....(Genesis 31:41)

-which is not literally true according to the text.

Now the question is to what extent do we apply this to interpreting Jesus' teaching? For example, in his teachings on marriage and divorce does he really mean to say that remarriage is always fully equivalent to adultery or is he making an eastern-style overstatement to emphasize a salient point?

Not wanting to restart that particular discussion, at least not in this thread, but I raise it to question whether we ever consider this in understanding how to apply Jesus' teachings. That is certainly not the traditional Anabaptist approach, which leans toward the literal.
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Re: Ecclesiastes

Postby Josh » Wed Jan 18, 2017 12:36 pm

One point of confusion is that the "literal" Anabaptist interpretation used to rely on Luther's translation, and now frequently relies on KJV.

Some still rely on Luther's. These people interpret literally a verse reading like "Your feet should be shod with boots for the gospel of peace", and thus their ministers wear boots when preaching.

(I think a better, and Anabaptist, approach is a "simple" reading, not a "literal" one.)
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lesterb
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Re: Ecclesiastes

Postby lesterb » Wed Jan 18, 2017 12:43 pm

I set up another thread for the discussion of when to take the NT literally and when not.

It is found here and called Hebrew Hyperbole.
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lesterb
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Re: Ecclesiastes

Postby lesterb » Sat Jan 21, 2017 7:21 pm

The word I is used 87 times in Ecclesiastes (KJV). Twenty of these times are in Ecc 2:1-11. If you add the words me, my, and mine, the total count in Ecclesiastes jumps to 135. Close to a third of these usages are in this passage.

:shock:
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When a man's ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. (Pro 16:7 ESV)


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