From:  Ecclesiastes and the Perpetual Paradoxes of Life               Return to Home

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2012

 

 

 

[Page 130]

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Nine:

The Paradox of Business Commitments:

Work Hard but Remember

Your Religious Duties as Well

(11:1-12:14)

 

 

 

            The thrust of this final section is that while our efforts will often be rewarded, there are always hidden obstacles that may undermine full success.  Does this not belong under the labels of “ironic” and “absurd” as well?  Think the laments that occur afterwards:

“I’ve worked hard!”

“I’ve done everything—and more than that—than anyone would expect!”

“I even had a wonderful product and a product people wanted!” 

And yet somewhere, somehow, things went awry and the effort failed.    

            Rather than despair because of this absurdity and not even try, one should still work at accomplishing our success with our full ability and effort.  And not use that or our enjoyments as an excuse to ignore our religious-moral obligations either.  Hard work, optimism, enjoyment, duty—all, oddly enough, locked into a linking package of obligation, privilege, and responsibility.

 

 

 

[Page 131]

Flow of the Argument

 

A.   Be daring and generous, expecting an ample blessing

    for the effort (11:1-2)

B.   Yet recognize that there are things beyond control

    and daydreaming it isn’t so won’t change that reality

   (11:3-4)

C.   Since one can never be sure what will actually accomplish the desired result, work at everything with commitment (11:5-6)

D.  Enjoy life as you work hard—while you are still able to (11:7-10)

E.   Remember your spiritual obligations while you seek happiness (12:1-8)

F.   Although he himself had written much of value

    service to God should be the foundation of our

   existence (12:9-14)

 

 

 

 

 

A.  Be Daring and Generous,

Expecting an Ample Blessing

for the Effort (11:1-2)

 

 

            Two aspects of generosity are mentioned, not as contradictory but as complimentary.   The first might be called business optimism, “Cast your bread[1] upon the waters, for you will find it after many days” (11:1-2).  Probably built upon the allusion of profits from the sea trade,[2] it likely developed into a proverb for the willingness to take calculated--but responsible--risks in order to obtain profits that would only show up in the distant future. 

When Solomon entered into joint venture agreements with Hiram of Lebanon and the two sent out combined fleets to foreign ports (1 Kings 10:21-22), he was engaged in just such a show of economic optimism.  The profits were probable but, as with any fleet at sea, the certainty was far from guaranteed. 

In the case of Solomon, 1 Kings 10:23--and it coming immediately after the shipping references--seems to imply that the trading ventures were the root cause of his being extraordinarily wealthy.  At the minimum, the best single example of how it was made possible.

            The second strategy advocated could be considered as interlocked with the above principle:  share your risk with others--and he gives the number of “seven” and “eight” as illustrative.[3]  Alternatively, he might mean one should divide his freight and goods into seven or eight separate shipments in order to accomplish the [Page 132]   same diminishing of risk.[4]  Literalism is likely not intended.  Rather it is probably simply “an idiom meaning, ‘several,’ ‘many.’ ”[5] 

Since one does not know what “evil” will occur--in the sense of unpleasant and destructive events rather than, necessarily, morally evil ones--that means one does not take the risk of carrying the entire burden on our own shoulders.  The modern parallel adage would be, “ ‘don’t put all your eggs on one basket;’ that is, diversify, for no one knows where or in what form evil will come.”[6]

The Biblical text certainly indicates that Solomon recognized the need for such prudence.  By splitting the economic costs with Hiram in his foreign shipping ventures, the Israelite king reduced his own exposure to loss.  It is also quite possible that both of these men had wealthy aristocrats in their own nations as coinvestors, though with the monarchs carrying the bulk of the costs, risks, and potential gains.  Indeed, the inherent wisdom of “shared risk,” due to its inbred merits, would surely have been appealing to a man of the astuteness of Solomon.

            In modern life, there is a tendency (especially in America) for us to want the return on our endeavor to be tomorrow—not some more distant point, as would be the case in the shipping and trading business of antiquity.  Truth be told, we would be happiest if it had already occurred “yesterday,” chronic impatience being perhaps one of the most obvious characteristics of the American personality.  The aspect of shared risk has more appeal for that is what the very popular stock market involves:  although we may lose a lot, we will never loose what we would if we were the sole owner of the corporation. 

Yet this prudence wars with the sense of selfishness and greediness:  after all, if all the risk is ours, so will be all the inevitable profits.  “Inevitable” being inserted mentally.  Risk battles against prudence.

            Both verses, however, could have generosity and charitableness in mind—or the author could have economic investments in mind in verse 1 and then shifts to charitableness in verse 2 to emphasize that the two should go hand-in-hand.[7]  The reasoning would be that now you are riding “high on the hog” but if things don’t go well you may need someone else’s help yourself.  Hence be generous whenever the occasion presents itself.  “Seven was the number of totality or completeness.  Eight must, therefore, be considered a way of saying, ‘Go to the limit, and then go a little bit further’ ” in providing that assistance.[8]

            The charity interpretation of verse 1 goes back at least as far as the Targum on Ecclesiastes (and must have been around considerably longer before becoming embodied in that translation/paraphrase/interpretation of the text), “Give your nourishing bread to the poor who go in ships upon the surface of the water, for after a period of many days you will find its reward in the world-to-come.”[9] 

In this approach there is a fascinating blend of charity and commerce:  you are to be charitable, but to seamen in particular.  Yet there would be a kind of logic to specifying seamen:  these would be people (unlike those of your own town) whom you might never see again.  Furthermore, being mere seamen, they would be far more likely to be in need than their captains or the owners of the vessels.  Furthermore, when temporarily in your community, they would be the ones least likely to have any relatives or friends to assist them in their time of need.

[Page 133]         From this seaman based charity gloss, it has commonly been expanded into an axiom encouraging charity in general.  To us, the idiom of casting bread upon water seems an odd one by which to express the trait.  On the other hand the Egyptian Instruction of Onchsheshonqy (which comes from the wisdom literature of that nation) uses the same image for doing good for others, “Do a good deed and throw it in the water; when it dries you will find it.”[10] 

Part (though only part) of the difficulty in translating the image from ancient culture into our own is that the word “bread” conveyed a significantly different meaning.  “Ancient bread was not made in large loaves, which would sink immediately.  What is envisioned is a pita, a thin, flat and probably hard disc that will float at least briefly on the current, until it is carried out of sight.”[11]

Even so, the literal act seems inherently wasteful (unless you are feeding ducks!).  If we consider the two verses as an unit—with the same idea of charity being present in both verses--the idea would, perhaps, be to be generous even though it does not make sound economic sense.  You are wasting what could be consumed; you are throwing away what could be invested. 

But you do so on the recognition of the principle that a “wasted” investment in people may well come to benefit you personally if your worldly situation should plummet.[12]  The deed will be washed away from your memory—just as the waves wash away the sand or move away a boat—and long after it has “sailed” out of consciousness it will come back to assist you.[13]

             Certainly if the author of the book be Solomon, this advice did not come from personal experience of suffering for there is no indication that he ever endured want.  On the other hand, it was certainly something he could deduce from the lives of those among whom he governed.  And on that basis the same would be true today. 

Certainly the Mosaical Code had commanded generosity to those in need and promised that God would bless one for such liberality (Deuteronomy 15:7-11).  If one wishes a more “self-centered” reason, then it would lie in the fact that the best way to show that you deserve help in your time of crisis, is by helping others in their time of hurt and lack (cf. Proverbs 19:17; 2 Corinthians 8:12-15).  

            Neither the economic or charitable line of interpretation is without difficulty.  Tomas Frydrych rightly observes, “It is questionable that the imagery of casting bread on water, an activity with little obvious purpose, and little predictable outcome, can serve as a metaphor for a purpose-conscious business strategy.”[14]  (Of course, popular images and phrases can come to denote ideas far different than their literal meaning.)  On the other hand, against the charitableness interpretation is the fact that though the words of verse 2 could carry such a connotation, there is nothing in them to make them clear cut.   

 

 

 

[Page 134]

 

B.  Yet Recognize that There Are Things Beyond Control

and Daydreaming It Isn’t So

Won’t Change that Reality (11:3-4)

 

 

            Developing the theme of “evil” (i.e., in the form of bad events) that one has no control over (11:2), the author points to earthly phenomena that either occur or don’t occur and over which no one has power:   If the clouds are full of rain there is no stopping the rain from coming; whatever direction a tree falls in, no one can make it reverse directions; wherever the tree falls, that is where it stays and wishing it had fallen somewhere else changes nothing (11:3).  These are events beyond any one’s ability to alter.

            Similarly, daydreaming about “what might have been” won’t change the reality either:  becoming wrapped up in determining the direction the wind is blowing and what it portends means there is no time for planting; becoming wrapped up in determining what cloud patterns foretell leaves no time for reaping (11:4).  Thinking, meditating, conjecturing—none of that changes a single thing.

            All these illustrations single in on a very human limitation:  becoming so absorbed in speculating on would could happen that we do not do anything about what has happened (11:3) and becoming so wrapped up in what might be, that we do not get done what we can do (11:4). 

We might call this the great fault of intellectuals:  they want to “understand” to such an extent that they easily forget that unless one does something with that insight, all the perceptivity in the world is not going to do one bit of good.  Indeed, in the examples in these two verses, attempts to “understand” become a substitute for action:  in all the cases, the person observes and not one word is given suggesting anything more is undertaken.

            Qohelet as a ruler had to walk a tight rope between such abstract theorizing about events and causes and the actual administration of his kingdom to assure its prosperity and survival.  There were times when he had to act without having all the facts—assuming that it is ever possible to have “all” the facts.  There were other times when domestic crises arose in the land under his control when countless hours and days could have been eaten up discussing and debating “why” it had occurred.  But for the country to recuperate from a potential calamity, something ultimately had to be done and done before the people became disillusioned and sunk into lethargy.

            Similarly in our lives as individuals, it is far easier to discuss forever the “why” of an event:  doubtless you can recall some particular business or church meeting that went on for hours in a futile discussion of what went wrong and the discussion never moved on to the even more important issue of how to deal with it--right it if possible, and alleviate it if not.  And above all:  how to keep it from happening again!  Hot air is easy; definitive decisions are not.  Perhaps that is why it is so alluring.

 

 

[Page 135]

 

C.  Since One Can Never Be Sure What Will

Actually Accomplish the Desired Result,

Work at Everything with Commitment (11:5-6)

 

 

            We do not understand how the “wind” (in some translations, “spirit”) works nor do we understand the growth of the bones of the child in the womb (11:5).  That was then, not today.  Yet we should not be overly puffed up, for even though we can understand the broader outlines of both subjects far better than they could in that ancient age, when we get down to the fine points our knowledge still falters and, quite possibly, always will.  Knowing “more” is not the same as knowing “all.”

            God, Qohelet insists, is at work in these and “everything” (11:5).  Implicit here is the idea that there are some things that only God can understand and that will forever be beyond us.  In the current context, it also carries the twin ideas that in everything that happens around us God is, somehow, at work and that we can never be able to fully grasp how he is doing that work—a theme we saw earlier in Ecclesiastes as well.  The tie-in with the affairs of this world, is to accept the fact that God’s hand is active even when things are not going well and to leave it to God to make things work out best in the long-term.  After, all, we can’t.

            Nor should we allow these disappointments—nor our trust in God, either, for that matter—to freeze us into immobility.  In World War II there was an actual incident at Pearl Harbor in which a chaplain was asked during the battle whether it was time to pray, to which he responded (in the words that became the title of a hit song), “Praise God and Pass the Ammunition.”  In other words, pray and praise but get the work done that needs to be done at the same time. 

That is the point the monarch is making when he argues that one should take advantage of all opportunities.  Using the example appropriate to any agricultural society such as his own, he argues that one should sow seed both in the morning and evening since one has no idea which sowing will produce the most and since you don’t know, feel free to do both (11:6).  (Others interpret the morning to be youth and the evening to one’s older years.[15]  The point would be much the same:  stay actively involved at all stages of your life.)    

            In addition to the possibility of supernaturally aided insight, how did the author come to this conclusion?  Whether it was on the basis of some administrative mistake of his own or someone else, he had reached the perceptive deduction that the key to success is not just whether you do the “right” or “best” thing but that you try something.  And then keep at it and adjust it as necessary.  Unless that occurs, any decision is going to be futile for lack of wise implementation.

 

 

[Page 136]

 

D.  Enjoy Life As You Work Hard—

While You Are Still Able To (11:7-10)

 

 

            Throughout this section, Qohelet emphasizes that no matter how vigorous you feel and how thrilling life is while young, if you live, you will grow old and tired (11:7-8; cf. 12:1-5, at great length).  Today people live to a much greater age than was often common in his era, but the tiredness, the fatigue of spirit and flesh still comes.  It may come in a dramatic form:  I must confess after sixty-eight years of life and three heart attacks, life simply isn’t what it once was.  It isn’t just that the surrounding world has changed, but something in me has changed as well.

            We have no idea what the monarch’s own physical afflictions may have been, though rare it is when there aren’t some.  But he had been on the throne for many years and had observed the aging of others as well as their reaction to it.  So what he describes, he had seen in those around him—and surely in himself as well.

            How then are we to live before those sadder years eventually reach us?  The essence of his conclusion (11:9-10) is that we should enjoy life.  Put away “sorrow” and “evil” while we live those precious years, he insists (11:10).  “Evil” could have a moral connotation, i.e., live happy and morally (cf. 12:1) and he certainly would not have had any objection to such a lifestyle—indeed, would have praised it.  But the point here more likely lies in a parallelism between “sorrow” and “evil,” i.e., evil in the more abstract sense of that which causes discouragement, unhappiness, and pain.

            Though the lifestyle he embraces is one of pleasure seeking, that goal is yet balanced with full and total accountability, “Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth; walk in the ways of your heart, and in the sight of your eyes” (11:9a), i.e., do anything and everything that makes you happy. 

One major manuscript of the Septuagint inserts “blameless” after “walk” and “not” in front of “in the sight of your eyes”[16]--probably out of fear that the advice, as it stood, could encourage individuals to live irresponsibly.  That this was a needless addition--because it was far from the author’s intent to countenance such a lifestyle--can be seen in the fact that he promptly adds the essential balance that is required to his statement, “But know that for all these God will bring you into judgment” (11:9b).[17]

Implicit in this is a warning that unforgiven sin will be punished and a plea that one set it aside while there is time.  Indeed, since they claimed to be part of God’s people, that created a moral obligation for such a course (cf. Paul’s reasoning along this line in 2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1).  But Qohelet doesn’t drive the point home; he leaves it tantalizingly undeveloped so that the reader’s own judgment will have to make the deduction.   

            We live in an age that seeks pleasure without responsibility, enjoyment without answerability.  Yet the acknowledgment of the latter tempers and removes the irresponsibility that can so easily mark a life that centers on enjoying the here and now.  

[Page 137]         This concept of accountability was one that the author could deduce from the relationship of himself as king to his subjects.  Those that were the beneficiaries of position and authority had to answer to him.  What different situation would we expect of our relationship to God the King?

 

 

 

E.   Remember Your Spiritual Obligations

While You Seek Happiness (12:1-8)

 

 

            Qohelet was not a priest.  He was a monarch.  Hence his intellectual center of gravity was naturally on prudence in the current life.  Yet he was not without a recognition of the importance of spirituality, either.  He had prepared the way for this section by emphasizing that with the right and desirability to live how we please, comes responsibility for those life choices (11:9).

            He ties this in with his theme of aging, “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come, and the years draw near when you say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’ ” (12:1), a period whose sorrow and pain he describes at length (12:2-5).[18]  (The pains of old age were a recognized part of the wisdom literature of other nations as well.)[19]  There are two reasons given by Solomon for serving God while young.

            First, whether you like it or not you will die (12:6).  Death is not a theory; it is a reality.  All we can change is our attitude toward it and our preparation for it.  You are going to your “eternal home” (12:5) whether you interpret that materialistically as the grave or spiritually as a place of reward beyond this material universe.[20]  You will go.  (Although there are texts in this book that indicate Qohelet’s belief in surviving death [see 12:7, for example], “eternal home” might still be used of the grave in the sense that that is where the physical remains permanently abide.)

            Second, part of our being will survive death (12:7), “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.”  Hence, in death, we will not escape God.  If anything, we return to where He is.  If the beauties of creation and the pleasures of life have caused us to blot out this fact, death will put our relationship with the divine back at the center of our mind.  For at that point we will come face to face with Him.

            Something in the text clearly returns to God that is distinct from the flesh that goes to the dust.  If we take the “spirit” to mean the human “breath,” of what possible use would that be to God?  What could He possibly do with it?  Only if the “spirit” takes on the overtones of the essence of our nature that survives death (the “soul,” if you will) would the return of it to God make adequate sense.  Not that Qohelet likely understood the full implications of that “spirit,” only that “something” of our essential nature survived physical passing.[21] 

            A very different point also deserves emphasis.  Solomon had built the temple, the center of Jewish ceremonial ritual.  He had sought for wisdom to govern his [Page 138]    people wisely.  But there is no evidence that he was particularly “religious,” that it was at the center of his daily being.  As a monarch, perhaps that center of gravity even had to be elsewhere.

Furthermore, he had compromised his religious integrity by permitting polytheism to be practiced openly among his various spouses.  Written in his old age, could this be as close as he ever could come to admitting that he had made a fundamental error on such matters?  He couldn’t very well repudiate those spouses without plunging the interlocking alliances of the nation into chaos.  But he could recognize that he had made fundamental errors in priorities that were now beyond alteration.  He could only face God and hope for the best.

            Some people never come face to face with their weaknesses and failures and their ultimate accountability to God.  I spent some time decades ago with a couple in their mid-80s.  Many people went to their senior citizens center for its various activities.  One thing that thoroughly intrigued the couple was that though for all of them death was on the near horizon, yet few manifested any real interest in religion.

God never placed a chronological limit on when one can begin serving Him, however.  Only pride and laziness does.  If ignoring the Divine might be called an intellectual absurdity at thirty it is total folly at eighty when we are but one step away from answering for our lives.    

            Other approaches have been taken to our text than the one we have presented.  Rather than being intended as a description of old age per se, some have thought it also depicts the funeral related activities that bring it to a close.[22]  Others consider it an extended metaphor either of old age or approaching death.[23] 

In either analysis, we still have an essentially death centered passage.  The only approach that moves substantially beyond this, is that which makes it an eschatological description of “the end of the age.”  Even here, some have argued that such rhetoric has been, in effect, transferred to death, making it the end of our age even if not the age.[24] 

It should be noted that even the introductory verse introduces a perplexing element, “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth” (12:1).  At first that seems a truism.  On the other hand, the Hebrew here for “Creator” is plural,[25] causing some to seek an emendation of the text to “grave,” thereby turning an initial upbeat note into a pessimistic statement from the very beginning.  The plural, however, could be a reference to our parents and the thrust would be to remember them (and we remember them as “old” and never as young) before we ourselves become such and also die. 

More likely is an allusion to the belief in the plurality of divinity within the Godhead.  Although uncommon in the Old Testament (unlike the New where it is both crystal clear and emphasized), it is not without support.  One of the most obvious such possible intimations is found in regard to the creation of human beings, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). 

Others prefer the view that the plural is intended to stress the Divine “majesty since the Hebrew plural in one respect accentuates quality or quantity in the superlative sense.”[26]  Although Yahweh/Jehovah certainly exceeds all the rival deities of antiquity in every way--as well as, inherently, being the perfection of

[Page 139]    moral excellence and sole God--this would not seem to be the most obvious manner to convey that point in the current context.             

 

 

 

D.  Although He Himself Had Written

Much of Value, Service to God Should Be the

Foundation of Existence (12:9-14)

 

 

            In what seems a clearly intended allusion to the book of Proverbs, Qohelet refers to how “he pondered and sought out and set in order many proverbs” (12:9).  The wording is intriguing, “sought out.”  He not merely composed, he compiled proverbs—not all that surprising in an age that revered such adages. 

            We should remember that proverbs (Hebrew masal) was a very flexible term and could encompass a number of somewhat similar teaching modes.  As Michael A. Eaton observes,[27]

 

It could include such things as Jotham’s fable (Judges 9:7-15), the riddle of Samson (Judges 14:12ff.), the witticisms concerning Saul and David (1 Samuel 10:12; 18:7), the “proverb of the ancients” (1 Samuel 24:13), and Nathan’s parable (2 Samuel 12:1ff.).  Its techniques abounded in crisp sayings (1 Kings 20:11; Jeremiah 23:28; 31:29), parallelisms (Proverbs 18:10), comparisons (Proverbs 17:1), numerical sequences (Proverbs 30:15ff.), acrostic patterns (Psalms 37; Proverbs 31:10-31), allegories (Isaiah 5; Ecclesiastes 12:2ff.), aphoristic questions (Amos 6:12) and similar devices, all geared to piercing the crust of indifference.

 

            The purpose of Qohelet writing and compiling was to seek out the best (= “acceptable”) words that would provide “upright” advice and “words of truth” whereby one could govern conduct (12:10).[28]  The words of his own and others alike were intended to be like a “goad” driving a person toward perceptivity.  They were “like well-driven nails” that drove into the head ideas that people needed to grasp (12:11).  “The imagery is taken from pastoral life:  goads (wooden rods with iron points, used to prod the oxen into action or increased speed) [and] nails used by shepherds to fasten their tents). . . .”[29]

            Hence these insights could provide the reader valuable guidance in how to conduct oneself in this life, especially in the youth which he had just emphasized should be enjoyed to the fullest (11:9).  Others would attempt to present their own form of useful advice and caution and he certainly did not intend to discourage them.  Nor would he discourage his readers from utilizing such works. 

[Page 140]           On the other hand, “of making many books there is no end,” i.e., the final word will never be written (12:12).  For that matter “much study is wearisome to the flesh” (12:12) and one ultimately tires of the drudgery of searching out the definitive solution when someone will always arise to suggest yet another alternative.

            Qohelet implies that these works would be of widely varying usefulness.  In contrast, there was one source they could put absolute confidence in, “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all” (12:13), the essence and core of every individual’s duty to God.  In everything else of life there is an inherent long-term absurdity; only in this is there an eternal assurance.  An oasis of calm and certainty in a world of uncertainty, injustice, and even oppression. 

The intimate and unbreakable linkage between reverential fear/respect for deity and obedience to His will is referred to in the case of Abraham (Genesis 22:12), Israel (Deuteronomy 6:2; 10:12), and the life of the Psalmist (Psalms 111:10; Psalms 112:1; Psalms 128:1).  “Fear God” need not carry the connotation of “terror,”[30] except, perhaps, for the person who has no respect for Yahweh’s will in the first place.  For that kind of person terror is the only rational response.  For the one seeking to obey and value it, however, terror is replaced by the gentler relationship of honor and mutual respect.

            The reason Torah obedience is mentioned at all, has occupied much of modern scholarly interpretation.  Much of what is said manifests clear uneasiness with the possibility that a wisdom-orientated writer could have a major place in his thought for the centrality of the core Old Testament scriptures. 

Hence theories have abounded, for example, that the reference was a later addition by Torah conscious followers to assure its acceptance within that community or even to promote its acceptance as a canonical work.  On the other hand, one can also take the opposite view--that it is an effort to downgrade the status of the work by the orthodox, by making its contents of less importance than the Torah.[31]

            Yet others argue that the admonition grows out of the mind frame and teachings found throughout the current work.  Wisdom requires that one obey the Torah.  Fear of God requires that one obey the Torah.[32]  However great the value and insights of wisdom, it is through scripture that God speaks directly and only indirectly through wisdom and philosophical reasoning. 

The two walk hand-in-hand.  In other words, cultivating wisdom is no excuse for ignoring the media through which God has directly communicated.  It is not a case of wisdom or Torah (scripture), but wisdom and Torah, with the latter occupying the seat of definitive and final authority.

Nor was this an abstract theoretical duty—one decreed by pure reason alone.  It had naked power behind it.  As the monarch explains in the next verse, “For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (12:14).  The standard would be the commandments Jehovah had given through revelation of scripture; if the judgment is by God, what other standard could God utilize than His own? 

This judgment would include an evaluation of things not known to anyone else (“every secret thing”), not merely those which condemn us (the “evil” action or [Page 141]    thought) but also those that would commend us (the “good” deed or intent).  Similarly, in the New Testament, Paul also warned that no aspect of our behavior or attitude can be hidden from Divine judgment (Romans 2:14-16; 2 Corinthians 5:9-10).

            Occasionally in this work, Qohelet has made mention of God and how we are amenable to His law.  In his closing words, he makes it most emphatic of all.  And the all encompassing rhetoric is so broadly expressed, that it clearly applies even to the king himself. 

            Quite likely this admission was more than a little painful to the king.  Kingship breeds love of power.  To admit that even he—lord of so much, respected for his own wisdom and insight, and wealthy beyond human dreams—that even he was subject to another’s judgment must have given him pause.  To the extent that tyranny can ever have a checkmate, that recognition of ultimate judgment by someone greater than any mortal has to be it.

 

 

 

 

Footnote

 



[1] Zimmermann, 159, uses this as one of many examples that indicate, he believes, that the Hebrew represents a translation from an Aramaic original:  he is convinced that the word rendered “bread” in Hebrew represents a translation of an Aramaic word that, in context, carried the meaning of “sail” or “ship.”

 

[2] Rylaarsdam, 129.

  

[3] Goldberg, 129, and Hubbard, 227.

   

[4] Whybray, Ecclesiastes (Century), 158-159.

  

[5] Fleming, 700.

  

[6] Rylaarsdam, 129.

 

[7] Leiman applies verse 1 to charity (198-199) and verse 2 to diversifying one’s investments (200).  If the subject shifts at all, the reverse order seems more probable.  On wording in the two verses that could point in both directions, see Kidner, n. 2, p. 97.

  

[8] Johnson, 124.  In a similar vein Kaiser, 114, citing the parallel usage of first one number and then a larger one in the book of Amos (“for three transgressions, yea four”).

   

[9]As quoted by Longman, 255.

  

[Page 142]  [10] 19.10, as quoted by Fox, Qohelet, 274.  On controversy over the translation see n. 22, p. 274.

   

[11] Davis, 219.

  

[12] For the text of the Egyptian Instruction of Ptahhotep (lines 339-349), which roots charitableness toward others as a form of potential self-protection, see Fox, Qohelet, 275.

  

[13] On this being the kind of imagery implied, see Odeberg, 73.

 

[14] Frydrych, n. 70, p. 194.

 

[15] Leiman, 203.

 

[16] Buck, 520.

  

[17] Leupold, 271, notes that the wording is, literally, “the judgment” and argues from this that it is a clear affirmation that “the one great judgment” is under consideration rather than those “various judgments” that we may undergo while in life.

   

[18] For a detailed explanation of how the individual phrases can apply to the decline of the body’s various specific functions, see Leiman, 213-217.  The exact connotation of the various phrases, however, will be interpreted significantly differently from commentator to commentator.  Cf. the comments of Goldberg, 135-136, and Whybray, Ecclesiastes (Century), 163-164.  On the possibility that the account is moving on a “literal, figurative, and symbolic” level simultaneously, see the discussion in Longman, 263-264.

       

[19] For a description from the Egyptian Instruction of Ptahhotep, see Goldberg, 30, and Kaiser, 39.  Note, however, that this is very literalistic compared to the more figurative and imaginative language of Qohelet.

 

[20] On ancient usage in different cultures of the grave as a synonym for “eternal home” see Longman, n. 27, p. 266.

 

[21] Ibid., 273, insists that Qohelet is a strict materialist and all he means is that part of us “return to a prelife situation.”  But unless something of us existed prior to physical life is it not incomprehensible to speak of a “return” to it?

 

[22] For a detailed presentation of the view that we have here both a description of aging as well as the mourning and emotional atmosphere accompanying a funeral, see Fox, Qohelet, 286-289, 299.

  

[Page 143]   [23] See the options summarized in Kamano, n. 103, p. 228.

 

[24] Ibid., 228-229; for eschatological texts/concepts allegedly being transferred, see 229-234.

 

[25] Fuerst, 151, and Goldberg, 132.  For proposed emendations of the Hebrew text to remove this perceived problem, see Murphy, 113.  On different methods of interpretation of the plural, see Longman, n. 10, p. 264, and 269-271.

         

[26] Goldberg, 132.  Eaton, 147-148, takes the same approach.

  

[27] Eaton, 153.

 

[28] For the argument that 12:9-11 expresses the claim that the teaching is derived from the “one Shepherd” (i.e., God), and hence inspiration is directly claimed, see Kaiser, 15, and Kidwell, 287-288.  For possible non-God explanations of who the shepherd is, see Longman, 279-280.  The words also make sense if interpreted as meaning that true scholars use logical arguments (“nails”) that are in conformity with each other since they all serve the purposes of the same “one Shepherd.”  They aren’t all going off in different directions and advocating different things.

      

[29] Kaiser, 123-124.

 

[30] On the similarity of the positive concept of “fearing God” in this and other Old Testament texts, see Whybray, “Quoheleth,” 264-265.

 

[31] For a brief discussion of the theories, see Kamano, 251.

  

[32] Ibid., 251-253, heavily emphasizes that the “fear God” element in Qohelet’s teaching is fulfilled through the loyalty to the base scriptures of Judaism.  Hence such observance is essential to truly fearing God.