Bible Passages

Archived - The Viewpoint of Ecclesiastes: Cynicism or Realism?

From Faith Pulpit, Winter 2012. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Qoheleth, the author of Ecclesiastes,1 looked at the various areas of life and concluded that everything was vanity.2 He started (1:2) and ended (12:8) his writing by stating, “vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” Is vanity, however, the theological message of Ecclesiastes? Or should it be understood in a more positive light? Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, co-authors of How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, take differing views: “[one of us] understands Ecclesiastes to be an expression of cynical wisdom, which serves as a kind of ‘foil’ regarding an outlook on life that should be avoided; [the other one of us] understands the book more positively, as an expression of how one should enjoy life under God in a world in which all die in the end.”3 So is Ecclesiastes a warning to us of the vanity of life outside of a relationship with God or a message of how one can enjoy life despite its vanity?

Qoheleth, the Foil

Those who understand Ecclesiastes to be a foil (i.e., a contrast to the rest of the Bible’s teachings) interpret the majority of the book as “a brilliant, artful argument for the way one would look at life—if God did not play a direct, intervening role in life and if there were no life after death.”4 Ecclesiastes 12:13 and 14 is then understood as “a corrective, orthodox warning.”5 “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether it is good or whether it is evil.”

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I'm Belshazzar

The following is a sermon delivered by Pastor Joel Earl at the GARBC Annual Conference, Wednesday morning, June 23, 2010.

Darius is coming! And Belshazzar’s soul is soon to be required of him.

In the book of Daniel, God is on a quest to bring Himself the glory which He and His sovereignty alone deserve. In chapters 1, 2, 3, 4 and now 5 God is seeking glorious vindication for His sovereign might. Verse 23 of Daniel 5 sums it all up: “the Most High God rules the kingdom of men.”

Belshazzar is a man of pride who neglected to give the glory to God Most High in seemingly every way. Thus, Darius is coming! Judgment is knocking at the door—or, I should say, judgment is being written upon the wall! For Belshazzar’s soul is soon to be required of him!

I would like you to note the man Belshazzar with me as we walk through Daniel 5.

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Weakness or Sickness? A Look at James 5:14

“Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (NKJV: James 5:14).

If James 5:14 tells us to call on our church’s elders when we are sick, then admit it—a lot of us need to ‘fess up! Have you even once called your church’s elders, seeking prayer? If you are like me, the answer is “no.” Then again, we’re not alone. James 5:14 also commands elders to lay their hands on the sick. If this means our elders are to do this every time a member is sick, then our elders are also guilty for not following Scripture. Have we all broken faith with our Lord Jesus?

The meaning of “sick”

We could try to explain the verse by supposing that James only intends elder attentions towards serious sickness, but the text doesn’t say that. Or, we could imagine such prayers and the laying of hands are to be done when a believer’s sickness is brought on by sin. But again, the text doesn’t say that, and some of the more hypochondria-prone among us might also be the most sensitive to personal sin, real or imagined. How could we know if our sickness were caused by sin, or the common cold?

Instead of translating the verb in James 5:14 as “sickness,” perhaps we should translate it as “weakness.” After all, this is how this verb is translated twelve of the fifteen times it appears in the NT letters to the churches.1 That’s reason enough to make it a solid choice in translation. But the idea of sickness in James 5:14 has a long and venerable history, even if it is pretty much universally ignored!2

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Does Ecclesiastes Teach Epicureanism?

This article originally appeared at SI July 7, ‘06.

Does Ecclesiastes teach Epicureanism? In a word, no. Despite certain passages in Ecclesiastes that “sound” Epicurean, if we take the message of Solomon as a whole and the message of Epicurus as a whole, we discover that the two views of life under the sun are quite at odds with one another. The philosopher known for “vanity of vanities,” in the final analysis, is life-affirming, and the philosopher known for “eat, drink, and be merry” actually sucks the joy out of life.

I would like first to correct what is probably a popular misconception of Epicureanism. Then I would like to lay out four contrasting points between the two views: their views of God (or the gods), of death, of humanity and human desire, and of the summum bonum–that is, the greatest good.

First, a word of clarification. Epicureanism has somehow earned a false reputation for reckless and dissipated hedonism. Actually, it is ascetic hedonism. The original Epicurus pursued maximum pleasure and minimum pain, but his strategy was anything but the “party till you drop” lifestyle that the word Epicurean brings to mind nowadays. Some parties bring pain, Epicurus observed. His strategy was actually one of detaching oneself from the cares and concerns of this world, to keep one’s mind free from turmoil (a state he called, in Greek, ataraxia). Instead of trying to fulfill all one’s fantastic desires, one should instead concentrate on keeping one’s desires simple, thus achieving a higher satisfaction rate. Why desire much and fail, since this is a lot of work and discomfort only to be disappointed?

What kind of worldview supported such a policy? This leads to the points of contrast.

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