I drove down to Ouachita Baptist University for their one-day Pastor’s Conference. This year’s conference focus was on Ecclesiastes. As I did with my SBC notes, I thought I’d offer my jottings here. They’re raw and largely unproofed, but here you go.
“Ecclesiastes – The Pursuit: Chasing Answers to Life’s Questions “
2011 OBU Pastor’s Conference
Ouachita Baptist University
September 29, 2011
SESSIONS 1 and 2 – Dr. Doug Nykolaishen
Wisdom literature: Proverbs, SOS, Ecclesiastes, Job (disputed)
Why do we not preach wisdom literature often?
1. Don’t know how to interpret these easily
2. Not a lot of theologians and commentators have written on wisdom writings and those that have often conflict
3. Wisdom writings don’t seem to fit the rest of the Bible naturally
4. Not a lot of “Thus saith the Lord.” human thoughts, reflections
5. Not very feel-good.
Why should we?
We get to enter into the struggles of the people and it helps us understand people’s pain better. Easier to understand Job than Paul (who had struggles followed by triumphs)
1. Who is Qohelet?
Not exactly sure what it means.
“the convener, speaker or leader in an assembly”
Probably not a name
Perhaps like the way people use the word “pastor”
2. Is Qohelet the author of the book?
Was it Solomon?
Early Jews claimed it was
“Son of David, King of Jerusalem” (would seem to be Solomon)
Many clues in ch.2 point to Solomon
On the other hand…
Tremper Longman’s PhD, “Fictional Acadian Autobiographies”
Ecclesiastes has parallels with Acadian autobiographies that were clearly fictional and understood to be so by contemporaries. It was a literary form.
Eccles. 1:12 – an odd thing for Solomon to say
Eccles. 1:16 – how many kings before Solomon? 1
1:1-2, 3rd person
1:3-11 writer or Qohelet?
12:8-13 writer speaking of Qohelet in 3rd person
All the space in between – 1st person Qohelet speaking
Perhaps all the evidence suggests the writer used a familiar literary genre from the time and adopted the persona of Solomon.
Not pretending to be Solomon, just reminding the people of Solomon.
two reasons to write like this:
1. Causes the reader to think of the ideas of Qohelet as the ideas of a wise, experienced man
2. At the same time able to distance himself from some of Qohelet’s ideas
How you view authorship will affect how you interpret the book.
Does this challenge inerrancy? No, because the author is using a persona through a literary device, not actually claiming to be Solomon. “Genre is the critical issue.” “Genre is no challenge to inerrancy.”
Everything that the author is trying to communicate is true.
How much is the author trying to distance himself from Qohelet?
Longman: argues the writer rejects Qohelet’s grim view of life.
Peter Enns: The narrator acknowledges Q’s view is valid in many ways (ch.12) but the narrator argues for a wider perspective. Narrator agrees with what Q says about life “under the sun” but thinks Q’s thoughts should be put in a wider context. We have to bring God into the equation. Distances himself slightly: Q doesn’t have the final answer
“meaningless” – Hebrew “hevel”
Is he saying that everything is “hevel”?
Literal meaning- “breath” or “vapor”
Commonly used figuratively in OT:
1. transitory, fleeting
2. worthless, unsubstantial, futile
3. hard to understand, enigmatic
word occurs 38 times in 12 chapters (more than 3x per chapter)
words not always used in the same way in the Bible
this word uses all 3 of these meanings in the book
Everything he considers is “hevel” in one way or another (so you need not translate it the same way every time)
“hevel” in 1:2
Longman and NIV – meaningless
KJV – vanity
other – futility
When he says something is hevel, what does he compare that too?
Hebrew parallelism (parallel meaning)
Hevel most often paired with “a chasing after the wind.”. Next paired with “nothing was gained” (no profit).
***This would suggest most naturally the idea of “futility.”
Is everything futile? Literally everything?
Refers to “everything he’s going to discuss”
Does not refer to what God does.
v.3 helps us get the point
The author lets Qohelet talk for most of 12 chapters then comments on it briefly
“Is there anything good under the sun?” is a good question.
How can this help us?
1. Gives us a good dose of realism and perspective. So much of what we do has temporary significance.
2. Helps us in pre-evangelism. Shows the futility of life outside of something greater than us and this life.
Humans are busy, but it’s like the earth itself: a lot is happening but nothing is really changing.
What people do is largely futile
Tried to understand what’s happening
But this only leads to more frustration “under the sun”
Talking about the best thinking that man can do on his own.
Decides to try to find meaning in partying
Decides to play the acquisition game
Decides to build great things
He was successful at building these things
Not the thoughts of a loser
Probably more successful than anybody in Israel’s history
v.10 – he enjoyed it / not saying there is no reward at all
But, in v.11, the results were still temporary and the empty feelings after were worse than before
Begins to nuance his views
Wisdom is better than folly, but death is the great leveler that brings the wise and the foolish to the same place
He reacts strongly: “So I hated life…”
Tries to console himself with the thought that his creations would last after him
After death, though, it will pass to others and he will have no control
2:24-26, “a surprising section”
Some see this as a statement of resignation. “Since I have nothing better to do, I’m going to go ahead and do it.” (Longman’s view.)
But better to take this as a meaningful statement. “There’s nothing better.” = “It’s something good.”
Following verses show he views it as a gift from God.
He is lifting the veil for a second. God is there.
v.26 – contrasts two different kinds of people. Those who please God and those who do evil and end up working for the first group. Concludes that “this too is hevel” (referring to 2nd group).
A little different take on things.
***By the end of ch.2, acquainted with Qohelet’s big program:
“No matter who you are or what you’ve got, the enjoyment of life is God’s gracious gift.”
Well known but often misunderstood
The point isn’t that we figure the time for things out, but that God has His own time and control.
v.9+ shows that we can’t grasp God’s time
v.11 – “eternity”
The letters making up that word can also spell the word for “ignorance”
This fits the context better than “eternity”
What God does lasts
Paradox 1: justice and wickedness and righteousness
Since God is in control, things will happen on God’s timeline, not ours
Paradox 2: people dying like animals
all have the same breath
provocative thought – consider breath in Genesis
Enjoy the reward God gives and don’t strive for what’s beyond our grasp
SESSION 3 – Dr. Danny Hayes
The narrator is trying to say, “This is how Qohelet approaches life.”
But there are many problems with trying to live life through human wisdom.
Ecclesiastes resonates with modern America.
People are living like Qohelet.
Qohelet has no concept of the afterlife. He writes like this is all there is.
ch.12 – the fear of old age
In the middle section of the book, when Q is speaking, we need to be careful not to pull individual statements out as universal maxims, because the narrator shows some inconsistencies in Q’s thoughts.
With Q’s approach, you end up with nothing.
This is not the book of Romans.
Qohelet is not Paul and Ecclesiastes is not an epistle
Long section on work
Major themes: can you find meaning through work? The problems with work. Death.
Hevel – fog or cloud
It looks like something’s there but it’s not
v.4-6, work is good but people just try to get ahead
v5-6, using proverbs – work hard but don’t overdo it / dialect
v.8, work hard all your life but nobody to leave it to at the end / work taken to an extreme is not good
v.9-12, the advantages of companionship
v.13-16, political power is also futile
Don’t be foolish
Better to listen than to go through empty rituals
v.2-3, condemns empty, rambling prayers and empty, rash vows
Ecclesiastes and Job are qualifying the idea in Proverbs that hard work=prosperity (normative, but not a universal promise)
v.10, It’s never enough
v.11, as you get more your overhead goes up
v.12, wealthier people don’t sleep as well
v.13, wealth can be harmful to you
You can lose it easily
v.18, Q’s conclusion: enjoy what you have and view it as a gift from God (this is wise)
The joys of this life are a gift, but the blessings of this life are not enough.
v.1-6, many wealth people don’t enjoy it and are not happy
v.1, “heavily” may mean “frequently”
v.3, in the ancient world the two blessings were (1) long life and (2) many children
This man should be happy.
But wealth doesn’t always equate with meaning.
v.10, a new section / shifts to the future
this is the exact middle of the book
v.1-14, problems and contrasts
This is from Q’s perspective
v.1, he sees death as an escape / sarcasm?
v.2, death is the destiny of everyone / narrator will respond to this in ch.12
v.17, don’t be stupid
v.16, Don’t get fanatical about wisdom and righteousness
v.23, these virtues are unattainable
v25-8:1, shocking section
Doesn’t have a high view of people, especially women
searching/finding formula through this section / in ch.12 the narrator will appeal to this formula
v.26, may be referring to ungodly women
v.29, theological assessment
v.1, either wraps us previous unit or introduces a new one
Longman – sarcasm
Possibly adopting and repeating a common proverb, not arguing it himself
v.2, how to act with the King
v.10-15, questioning justice
v,14-15, the basic problem of Job
Contrast this with Paul who did not despair
v.16, he sees God behind this but he sees no consistency so he doesn’t understand
v.1-2, everybody dies
We see no concept of or reflection on the afterlife.
Better to be alive than dead.
If you have no concept of an afterlife, despair is inevitable.
v.5-6, death may be better
v.7-10, if that’s our fate, might as well enjoy our futile lives as best we can / pessimism
v.10, do these things because when you die it’s over