Introduction

The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes is essentially a speech. More specifically, it is a persuasive speech. We are told that the words of the speaker are like goads (12:11). They provoke us in order to persuade us. The speaker is helping us to make sense of life by prodding us to come to terms with the certainty of death and the uncertainties of life. What follows is a section-by-section translation of the original Hebrew text accompanied by an exposition. The exposition attempts to recapture the meaning of the ancient speech as well as recreate its persuasive force.


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Identification of Speaker (1:1)

Announcement of Theme: “All is Vanity” or “What Profit is There?” (1:2-3)
Part 1------------Part 2

Poem to Vivify Idea of Vanity (1:4-11)

Illustrations from Personal Experience to Evoke Sense of Vanity (1:12-2:23)

--------Vanity of Wisdom (1:12-18)

--------Vanity of Pleasure (2:1-11)

--------
Vanity of Success (2:12-23)

Admonition to Carefreeness in Light of Vanity (2:24-26)

Poem to Amplify Sense of Vanity (3:1-8)

Repetition of Theme: “What Profit is There?” (3:9)

Explanation for Sense of Vanity and Its Aggravation by Sense of Eternity (3:10-15)
Part 1------------Part 2

Observation and Reflection to Reinforce Sense of Vanity (3:16-21)

Admonition to Carefreeness in Light of Vanity (3:22)

Observations in Human Experiences to Sustain Sense of Vanity (4:1-5:14)

--------Oppression in General (4:1-3)

--------Competition for Advancement (4:4-6)

--------Addiction to Advancement (4:7-8)

--------Admonition to Cooperation (4:9-12)

--------Delusion of Power and Popularity (4:13-16)

--------Admonition to Fear God (5:1-7)

--------Oppression in High Places (5:8-9)

--------Addiction to Money (5:10-14)

Repetition of Theme: “What Profit is There?” (5:15-17)

Elaboration on Carefreeness (5:18-6:9)

--------Enjoyment of Prosperity (5:18-20)

--------Non-Enjoyment of Prosperity (6:1-9)

Recapitulation of Theme and Sub-themes (6:10-12)

Deliberations in Light of Uncertainties of Life (7:1-11:6)

--------Proverbial Wisdom in Light of Uncertainties of Life (7:1-14)

--------Admonitions in Light of Human Wickedness (7:15-8:15)

----------------Fear God and Be Moderate (7:15-29)

----------------Fear God and Be Carefree (8:1-15)

--------Elaboration on Uncertainties of Life (8:16-9:6)

--------Admonition to Carefreeness (9:7-9)

--------Admonition to Carefulness (9:10-11:6)
--------Part 1------------Part 2

Admonition to Carefreeness (11:7-12:7)

Encapsulation of Theme: “All is Vanity!” (12:8)

Elaboration on Speaker and His Teaching (12:9-12)

Conclusion and Call to Decision (12:13-14)

Postscript

References

5 Comments:

Blogger Sivin Kit said...

"They provoke us in order to persuade us. The speaker is helping us to make sense of life by prodding us to come to terms with the certainty of death and the uncertainties of life."

The Book of Ecclesiastes is a must read for Christians today. And we need to be provoked with some "shock therapy" to deal with much of the "pop psychology with Jesus thrown in" kind of diet when it comes to our daily Christian walk.

The tragedy is we often are quick to jump into conclusions that allowing ourselves to be persuaded to let go of our "religious crutches" or "conceptual idols" we are departing from the orthodox faith. And yet, even with the OT faith we see space for someone like Qoheleth to articulate through this book a path where one can strip away even the most treasured handles to get a hold of God. I think he uses the phrase "Fear of God" at the end. But not with going allowing his faith to go through fire!

12:08 AM  
Blogger tfleong said...

Yes, Ecclesiastes is a must read for contemporary Christians. Though it was written by an Israelite and is part of the Old Testament, it speaks directly to all human beings. Yahweh (or "Jehovah"), the personal name of the God of the Israelites is not used, and the covenants between Yahweh and Israel are not assumed. Contrary to general opinion (and as this exposition will show), there is nothing in Ecclesiastes that questions orthodox Israelite faith in any way. Qoheleth assumed the orthodox faith he inherited and was persuading his audience to live out this faith in what we would called the "secular" aspects of their life (but of course in biblical thinking there is nothing that is really, or purely, "secular"). This is another reason the message is so directly relevant to non-Israelites, even atheists today.

That means the "shock therapy" is intended to shake up "religious crutches" and "conceptual idols" that are extra-and-contra-biblical, and "pop psychology with Jesus thrown in" is certainly included. It is true that when issues involving long-held articles of faith are challenged, "we often are quick to jump into conclusions" that "we are departing from the orthodox faith." This happens when there is indeed a departure from the orthodox faith as well as when there is really none. But whichever the case is, it needs to be determined, even debated, on biblical grounds without yielding to the spirit of the age.

10:07 PM  
Anonymous Daud said...

Amen! it's entirely possible for fallible folks like us to escape from the idols of modernism, only to replace them w the idols of postmodernism...

With Luther, we need to return to sola Scriptura to explore and plumb the depths of orthodox faith and challenge conceptual idols from left and right.

8:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi TF, I don't have a comment but a question indeed. Why did the Qoheleth have to provoke his readers with such a 'shock therapy'? Has it something to do with the prevailing culure of his time or what? Or was it that he knew this is a tough topic to be discussed in the conventional manner? Just curious! Simon Chu

7:36 AM  
Blogger tfleong said...

Hi Simon, Qoheleth's words are like goads that prod or “provoke” us to move in a certain direction. If we are already moving in the exact direction he wants us to go, the prodding will hardly be "shocking". It simply encourages us to keep going in the same direction. But if we are moving in the exact opposite direction the prodding will be most "shocking." If we are merely straying to the right or left, we will experience a degree of "shock" proportionate to how far right or left we are straying.

So Qoheleth's approach is useful no matter what the prevailing culture may be. If the prodding is "shock therapy" for us today, it is a reflection of how far the prevailing culture today has strayed from the direction Qoheleth thinks we should be heading.

His words are like goads because he wants to persuade, not just inform, us. In fact there is much in the speech that is not really new to us. Hardly any sane person would argue with the statement, "Money cannot buy happiness." But how many actually allow this truth to shape the direction of their life? What they need is not more information but strong persuasion. And this persuasion may come as a "shock therapy".

9:25 PM  

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