A PREACHER I ADMIRE
Commentary for September 1, 2006 — Wise Words, Simple Words, Enduring Words
I do not have much use for preachers. All too often they get in the way of the truth of Scripture, although sometimes they stumble on to it. There is one preacher from the Old Testament, however, that I always appreciate and admire. It is Qoheleth. That is a title given to the expositor of the Book of Ecclesiastes. Qoheleth is the Hebrew title. The Greek title is “Ecclesiastes,” which is derived from the Greek Old Testament word ekklesia or assembly. Both Qoheleth and Ecclesiastes literally mean “assembler,” but it is usually translated (and properly so) “preacher.” The word Ecclesiastes also has the sense of “assembler” of the accumulated wisdom of the wise men of the past, and this is exactly what the Book of Ecclesiastes sets out to do:
“I the Preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail has God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith.”I like this “preacher” because he does not use fancy or complex words, extensive poetics, alliteration, or clever statements to get his points across to his audience. It is an audience that has crossed multiple cultures and languages through almost 3,000 years since they were first written in ancient Hebrew. The topics the Preacher discusses are clearly understood because they are common to every human being: the experience between birth and death, in other words, daily life and its meaning.
• Ecclesiastes 1:12–13
Some of the Preacher’s thoughts have become classic even in our modern culture, such as Ecclesiastes 3:1–8 that I only need to identify with the opening phrase “To every thing there is a season …” They gained an enduring place in American popular culture with the ballad Turn, Turn, Turn by Pete Seeger and especially by the hit record by the rock group The Byrds in 1965 (See the Wikipedia article “Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season).” The words when properly set out are classic because the thoughts expressed are timeless and true.
The conclusions and answers from the Preacher are somewhat discomforting. He has no explanation why the “sore travail” (v. 13) of life occurs. He concludes that through human analysis and reason (without God’s revelation), it is impossible to know and understand the purpose and meaning of life.
“Travail” in English means work, arduous or painful effort, toil. It also means tribulation or agony; anguish. This certainly describes life. “Sore travail” is actually a Hebrew expression for “evil experience.” It occurs in Ecclesiastes not only in verse 1:13, but also in verses 4:8 and 5:14. This phrase “evil experience” also accurately describes life. Life is an experience of evil throughout its duration. Why? So that we may experience good later. But the specifics of that later good were not discernable to the Preacher through reason and analysis.
In spite of his discomforting conclusions, I like the Book of Ecclesiastes. It gives common sense and presents honest conclusions. In my thinking, an accurate view of reality, no matter how harsh, is better than looking at life through rose-colored glasses. I think my personal affection for the Book of Ecclesiastes came (I believe it was in the 1970s) when I listened to a phonograph record of Ecclesiastes read by the British actor James Mason, with perfect cadence and pronunciation of the King James Version words. He expressed just the right sense of jaded experience in his reading that is quite true to the sense of Ecclesiastes and its author. The King James translation of Ecclesiastes is quite good by the way.
In case you have not guessed by now, this month’s Article by Dr. Ernest Martin is “The Book of Ecclesiastes” which was presented by him in 1977. Of course I want you to read first the “September 2006 Newsletter” which gives additional information about Ecclesiastes and its message that will be useful for you.
Ecclesiastes is the 7th book of the Psalms division and it is the 4th of the five Festival books of the Megilloth. See the “Diagram: The Symmetry of the Bible” at the top of the page. It shows the placement of Ecclesiastes within the divine canon. It is always helpful to have a “map” of where a biblical book is located within the canonical structure. It gives you a larger view of context.
As the 4th Festival book, Ecclesiastes was read completely through during the Feast of Tabernacles at the Temple. The reality presented in Ecclesiastes counterposed the celebrations during that Feast which relate to the Millennium to come at Christ’s return. The Feast of Tabernacles presents the nation of Israel as finally fulfilling its true purpose for which they were separated from the nations by God. Ecclesiastes was read to counterpose the reality of life with the predicted millennial peace and happiness.
Enjoy Dr. Martin’s excellent analysis and introduction to Ecclesiastes. It is hoped that this article may also give you peace in your present “sore travail” whatever that might be. Then read Ecclesiastes for yourself with a more full understanding of its message. If you do so you will fulfill the purpose of the article, and increase your appreciation of God, His creation, and the limitations of human reason that tries to understand the purpose of His creation apart from God’s revelation.
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