The Words of Qohelet

Life is Best Lived Pursuing Jehovah

“One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever” (Ecclesiastes 1:4).

— Len Griehs

Written late in life after the author had indulged in a prolonged period of sensuous pleasures, the book of Ecclesiastes concludes that life is best lived pursuing Jehovah and His righteousness. The author shares his observation at the very beginning: “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher; vanity of vanity, all is vanity” (verse 2). “Vanity” in the AV, translated by seventeenth-century men familiar with Latin, means “lack of value” rather than self-admiration. Modern translations have tried to find a better word to capture the thoughts of the text. Some prefer the word, “futility.”

The Hebrew word translated vanity in the King James version is hevel, Strong’s 1892. Hebrew scholar and translator Robert Alter (The Wisdom Books, The Five Books of Moses, The Book of Psalms, The David Story) translates it as “mere breath.” In his own commentary on the verse, he suggests the picture of vapor that appears and quickly dissipates when someone exhales in cold weather, We commonly call this “seeing your breath.” Most Bible Students are familiar with the word ruwach (Strong’s 7307), which describes the “breath of life” as translated in Genesis 6:17. That breath brings life to a being, while Solomon here describes something that is only temporary, vanishing when pleasure is over. In the end, the Preacher’s pursuit of pleasure was clearly a disappointment, and produced no lasting joy. In this issue of The Herald of Christ’s Kingdom, we examine the divine wisdom which can be easily missed by students reading Ecclesiastes (2 Timothy 3:16).

The opening verse identifies the writer as the Preacher — in Hebrew Qohelet. He also identifies himself as the “son of David.” While never mentioning himself by name, both Jewish and Christian tradition identify the writer as King Solomon for two reasons: first, the theme puts a repeated emphasis on the search for wisdom, consistent with Solomon’s plea to Jehovah for wisdom and knowledge recorded in 2 Chronicles 1:10; second, because of comments in chapter 2:4 regarding his accumulation of wealth and great personal accomplishments. Both of these are explored within later articles of this issue.

The Perceived Futility of Life

Leo Tolstoy, Russian author of War and Peace, wrote, “The only absolute knowledge attainable by man is that life is meaningless.” After years of saying and writing about how life is without meaning and that the only edge one has over death is the choice of when, where, and how it will occur, Ernest Hemingway (The Old Man and the Sea, The Sun Also Rises) arose in the early morning hours of July 2, 1962, and committed suicide. In 1978, the rock band Kansas recorded Dust in the Wind, the primary lyric being:

Same old song, just a drop of water
In an endless sea,
All we do crumbles to the ground
Though we refuse to see,
Dust in the wind,
All we are is dust in the wind.

Tolstoy and Hemingway, men who achieved greatness in life, believed only in what they might achieve. As a result, they found merely a hollow feeling of dissatisfaction, the kind of life noted as “dust in the wind” and summarized by Solomon in verse 3 as futile.

Verse 4: “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh, but the earth abideth forever (olam, Strong’s 5769).” This verse appears extensively in Bible Student literature as proof that the earth will not be catastrophically destroyed or burned up. Isaiah verifies this interpretation: “For thus saith Jehovah that created the heavens, the God that formed the earth and made it, that established it and created it not in vain (tohuw, Strong’s 8414), that formed it to be inhabited: I am Jehovah; and there is none else” (Isaiah 45:18 RVIC).

The website contains long-term scenarios which predict an end of life on earth. From possible asteroid strikes, supernovae blasts, or other calamities, the site foresees a dismal destruction of life on earth.

“Eventually, Earth reaches a point where atmospheric carbon dioxide breaks down. At that point, oxygen-producing plants and organisms that rely on photosynthesis will die out. Our planet won’t have enough life forms to sustain the oxygen-rich atmosphere humans and other animals require. The precise timing of when that starts and how long it takes — the deoxygenation process could take as few as 10,000 years — depends on a broad range of factors.”

A Positive Future

This dismal view of the future has caused many to choose death over life. The Bible, however, predicts a bright future for all. Jehovah’s intention is to complete the creation He began in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (RVIC). This will be accomplished with a reorganization of society that has been tainted by its experience with sin: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth are passed away” (Revelation 21:1 RVIC). When fully restored to Paradise conditions, the earth will be able to support human life eternally. Joy and peace will be welcomed by all who enter into eternity.

Verses 8-11: “All things are full of labor; man cannot utter it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing. The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done, is that which shall be done; and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? It hath been already of old time, which was before us. There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with that that shall come after.”

The phrase “all things are full of labor” is translated elsewhere as “all things are wearisome.” Solomon concludes his introduction on a negative note with his perception that man today has little joy. He asks the question: what profit hath a man?

Unfortunately, Solomon could not grasp the promises given to his ancestor Abraham, the promise that through Abraham’s seed would all the families of the earth be blessed (Genesis 22:18). The period in which sin has been permitted has been a dark night to most of humanity. While this time will never be forgotten, it is not the future of the earth!

There is a glorious day ahead, of righteousness and divine favor, to be ushered in by the reign of Christ, which will bring healing and blessing to counter the dreadful night of weeping, sighing, pain, sickness, and death in which many of the groaning creation have thought of Solomon’s dreadful outlook. “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psalms 30:5).

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