Saturday, October 10, 2009

Reading Ecclesiastes With the Gospel in Mind

Here is an excerpt from a commentary on Ecclesiastes by Temper Longman which I find to be crucial for one's mindset when going in to study this weighty book. Keep in mind that the author of Ecclesiastes is being referred to as Qohelet because his title is a translation of the Hebrew word qohelet which literally means "one who assembles" or "assembler."

"The book of Ecclesiastes must in the final analysis be understood by the modern reader in the light of the full context of the canon. For the Christian that context includes the NT."
"Ecclesiastes is never quoted in the NT, but there is an allusion to the message of the book in Romans 8:18-21:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

The world translated “frustration” (mataiotes) is the word used in the Septuagint to translate the motto word of Ecclesiastes, “meaningless” (hebel). While Qohelet sounds nonorthodox in the light of the rest of the canon, he presents a true assessment of the world apart from the light of God’s redeeming love. His perspective on the world and life is restricted; he describes it as life “under the sun” that is, apart from heavenly realities, apart from God. In other words, his hopelessness is the result of the curse of the fall without recourse to God’s redemption.
Qohelet sounds modern because he so vividly captures the despair of a world without God. The difference, though, is that the modern world believes that God does not exist; Qohelet believed that God existed but questioned his love and concern (4:16-5:7). As a result, nothing had meaning for Qohelet, not wealth, wisdom, charity. After all, death brought everything to an end. Qohelet is preoccupied with death throughout the book (2:12-16; 3:18-22; 12:1-7) because he sees nothing beyond that point.
On one level, therefore, Qohelet is exactly right. The world (“under the sun”) without God is meaningless. Death ends it all, so he alternated between “hating life” (2:17) and taking what meager enjoyment God hands out (2:24-26).
As we have seen above, the message of the book is found in the simple instruction in the last few verses, not in Qohelet’s speech. Nonetheless, we may still admit that Qohelet has rightly described the horror of a world under curse and apart from God. What he did not have was hope.
As we turn to the NT, we see that Jesus Christ is the one who redeems us from vanity, the meaninglessness under which Qohelet suffered. Jesus redeemed us from Qohelet’s meaningless world by subjecting himself to it. Jesus is the son of God, but nonetheless, he experienced the vanity of the world so he could free us from it. As he hung on the cross, his own father deserted him (Matt 27: 45-46). At this point, he experienced the frustration of the world under curse in a way that Qohelet could not even imagine. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal 3:13).
As a result, Christians can experience deep significance precisely in those areas where Qohelet felt most oppressed. Jesus has restored meaning to wisdom, labor, love, and life. After all, facing death, Jesus conquered the biggest fear facing Qohelet. He showed that for believers death is not the end of all meaning, but the entrance into the very presence of God."

- The Book of Ecclesiastes by Tremper Longman

Don't EVER let go of the Gospel when reading a book like Ecclesiastes. Without the Gospel, this book shouldn't even be studied or analyzed. It is very possible to formulate errors in your study and understanding of this book, your worldview, etc unless you are firmly committed to a canonical-Christocentric approach. May He renew our minds whenever we read this book, giving us a passion and a vision for His glory in such a serious and heavy book.


Andrea said...

You have such a beautiful and interesting blog. I want to return when I can give more time to its reading.

Bless you, dear friend in Christ.