What the Preacher Saw (The Enigma Sermons 4)

Ecclesiastes brings us the observations of Qoholet (the preacher) who is king in Jerusalem (1:12). He sees himself as in position to do this because of his great wisdom (1:16) and so he makes the pursuit of understanding his life project (1:13, 17). Remember that we have seen already how his perception is that life is an enigma, vapour like, hard to pin down, like chasing the wind (1:2, 14. Here are some of the things he observes about this enigma as he tries to pin things down).

Life is tragic (1:13). We cannot put right what has gone wrong, failure is permanent (1:15).

Pleasure is fleeting (2:1). He experiments with hedonism as he enjoys the good things in life. He enjoys fine wine, he engages in architectural and agricultural projects. He shows off his wealth and his skill He acquires flocks, riches and women but it is still “vapour (2:11).”

Wisdom is better than foolishness (2:12). However both share the same fate leading to a sense of futility and frustration. Qoholet at this point (and repeatedly) even questions the value of life.

Work is futile (2:18) again, he even comes to the it and is attracted to hedonism again. However he realises that life and provision come from God. We are dependent on His providence

This means that in fact life is timed, ordered, planned (3:1-8). There is a time for everything. This suggests purpose. God has put eternity in us, we have meaning beyond life, although as finite beings we cannot grasp and comprehend this (3:11).

Life is full of injustice (3:16). Courtrooms are corrupt, judges take advantage. Humans are little better, and little better off, than animals. People suffer oppression, the powerful target the vulnerable (4:1). We are all really selfish and self-interested, pursuing success (4:4). Yet, individualism does not work, we are not islands, we are not better off alone, there is beauty, safety and strength in partnership and companionship (4: 7-12). Nor do the powerful get their way in the end (4:13-16).

God matters (5:1-7) and we are to approach him with reverence, fear and care.  This reminds us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  We should not make rash promises before God. We should keep our vows.

Wealth is never enough (5:10). The rich just end up wanting more.  This is futile, we never leave the world with more than we came in with! (5:16). This does not make Qoholet anti-wealth. It is a good gift from God to be enjoyed if we have it (5:19).

There is no guarantee you will enjoy the wealth you have been given (6:1). Life is uncertain, even though it is planned by God, it is unknown to us and it is full of ironies, puzzles and enigmas (7:1-14).

Human wisdom is limited (7:15- 29).  This is not through wisdom’s fault but our own. God made us for good but we choose our own path. Wise people are ignored if their wisdom is not accompanied by strength, wealth and numbers (cf 9:13-11-6)

Keep your vows, obey the law, respect rulers (8:1-17)

Death Is the one great certainty (9:1-12). This helps us to understand how wisdom works. As we see with the book of Proverbs, the truths in this type of literature are not promises, predictions or commands. There are general truths, living a moral, wise life is good and generally beneficial but things don’t always work out that way. Given the one certainty is death, then it is tempting to think, it does not matter how I live.

However, this would be to miss the vital point. Qoholet is not godless and so whilst the appearance is there that things don’t matter, this is not his conclusion. Rather, Life is to be enjoyed for both young (11:9) and old (11:8). There is a right way to live and enjoy life because whilst death may be the only immediate certainty, death also means that we are accountable to God for everything 11:9).

If life is like vapour, hard to pin down, here and gone, not retrievable, uncertain then the greatest folly would be to live life in a thoughtless hedonism. We cannot assume that we will have a long life and plenty of time for reflection, repentance, resolution and in old age. Therefore, Qolholet observes that the time to remember your creator is whilst you are young (12:1). Today is the day of salvation.