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12th June

Ecclesiastes 9-12; Psalm 8

Bible in a Year
6 minutes
In this article
12th June

Ecclesiastes 9-12; Psalm 8

Bible in a Year
6 minutes


So far in Ecclesiastes, we have read through the introduction of the teacher and then the beginning of his teachings. The teacher serves as an antidote to the book of Proverbs. While Proverbs gives us principles to guide our lives, Ecclesiastes explores the reality when those principles don't add up.

We explored how the Hebrew word hevel, often translated meaningless or vanity, refers to smoke or vapour. Smoke last a short time before dissipating in the air. You can't grab hold of it. When the teacher says that life and its meaning are hevel, they are saying it's fleeting and you can't understand it. Every time you try to grasp it and understand it, it slips through your fingers.

The teacher then looked at hard work, wisdom, and pleasure. All are hevel. You can work hard but 1,000 years later your work will be nowhere to be seen and no one will know your name. You can spend your life chasing after wisdom, but never fully grasp it. A life focused on pleasure quickly loses its shine. He then tried wisdom and hard work again. The problem is you have no control over who gets the benefit of your hard work after you die, and both wise people and foolish people end up the same after they are dead.

The only solution available to the teacher is to eat, drink, and take pleasure in your work. In short, live in the moment. This leads the teacher to reflect on different seasons that come and go. It's useless trying to fight it or hold on to previous seasons.

Next up was righteousness and wickedness. Both the righteous and the wicked eventually die and are forgotten, so why be righteous? The teacher then reflected on some things that did seem good. It is better to have people by your side than to be alone. It's better to be wise than pursue position. 

The teacher reflected on religion and pointed out if you're too overzealous, you may make promises to God you can't keep. Instead, you should approach God humbly and listen rather than speak. Next up was wealth, where the teacher pointed out if you chase after money as it will never be enough and you could lose it all, so be content with what you have.

The teacher pointed out not to get angry at people who mess up or hurt us because we all mess up. He also encouraged us to honour and be patient with those in power. By being obedient and doing what they say, we maintain influence. We should then trust God in situations of unfairness.

Ecclesiastes 9-12

The teacher's mind focuses again on death. Everyone dies. Whether you're righteous or wicked, good or evil, ritually pure or impure, worship God or not, we all end up dead. We saw the teacher wrestle with this before, and he concluded that it was better for those who were dead, or never born, because they don't have to wrestle with this problem. They don't have to wrestle with anything (Ecclesiastes 4:2-3).

But now the teacher has changed his mind. Now he has decided that it is better to live. Yes, we live with the knowledge that we will die and have to wrestle with that. But having wrestled with that, we can then decide to enjoy the life we have, as fleeting as it might be. And so he encourages us to enjoy our lives; food and drink, the company of those we love, and the work we've been given to do.

Next, the teacher looks at the randomness of it all. We can try our best at life, but sometimes it's not the fastest that wins the race, or strongest that wins their battles, or the smartest that prosper and get wealthy. We can try our best and not succeed. Yet despite all this, wisdom is worth pursuing. Yes, one day we will die and no one will remember our wisdom. But we may be able to do some good in this world while we're alive, and that's what matters.

This is much different to where the teacher stood at the start of this book, when he said that chasing after wisdom was like chasing after the wind (Ecclesiastes 1:17-18). We've watched the teacher grow in his understanding as he's wrestled with these difficulties of life.

Still focused on wisdom, the teacher notes that just like something gross, like a dead fly, can ruin a bottle of wine or perfume, a little foolishness can ruin wisdom. In every moment, we should pause and choose to act wisely, not being led by our foolish desires. Those that do wicked like dig pits for others to fall into are likely to be caught in their own traps. But even those who are hardworking, someone who mines stone or splits logs, for example, are also at risk of being hurt by their work. But wisdom can help you avoid this.

Wisdom helps you work smart and see problems before they arise, like a snake charmer that can spot when a snake will bite and avoid it (or not if they don't have wisdom). Wisdom will probably win you favour, but the foolish embarrass themselves and end up doing more damage to themselves than good. Having decided in the beginning that wisdom is pointless because we all die anyway, the teacher has clearly changed his mind. He recognises still that wisdom doesn't give you any guarantees. But he now understands that wisdom gives you the best chance of getting it right.

The teacher continues, giving much more nuanced thoughts and topics he's spoken about before. Previously, he's mentioned that chasing after wealth is a waste of time. Now, he encourages us to invest our money wisely. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Instead, spread your money out so if one area fails because of some disaster, then the money in other areas still might do well. He encourages people to work hard for their wealth, but not holding on to it or chasing after it too hard. It still may all go, so live in a way that at any moment you could lose everything, so that you may learn to be content if it does.

He then turns to both the old and the young and encourages them to enjoy their lives. To the elderly, remember and enjoy the life you have lived, for it will soon come to an end. To the young, enjoy your youth but live well, because God will hold you to account for how you have lived, and you don't want to reach old age with regrets. He then focuses on the young and encourages them to learn to focus and trust in God when they are young. As they get older, things will start to fall apart and life will get harder, so learn to trust him when you are young and then that trust is already there when the hard times come.

And so the teacher ends his thoughts, and the narrator comes back in. He recognises the role the teacher has played in this book. The teacher has taken the time to wrestle with these difficult problems he sees in the world, and having wrestled with them and better understood them, has been able to pass on that wisdom to us.

The narrator then likens these words of wisdom to goads (cattle prods). They do not exist, so you can spend your entire life in deep philosophical thought. Instead they are like a shepherd with a cattle prod to keep you moving in the right direction. The narrator warns of the danger of spending your life reading book after book, learning lots of great knowledge and wisdom but not doing anything with it.

They then summarise the main lesson from this book; "Fear God and keep his commandments" (Ecclesiastes 12:13). The moral of Proverbs was to fear God and put your trust in him, so that you might learn wisdom and everything will go well for you. The moral of Ecclesiastes is that even when you do everything right, sometimes life doesn't go well for you, but fear God and put your trust in him, because then you can learn to be satisfied even when the difficult times come.

Psalm 8

This psalm is attributed to king David and falls into the category of praise psalm. The structure of the psalm is another chiasm, where the psalm mirrors itself.

A) Psalm 8:1 - Opening praise

B) Psalm 8:2-3 - God’s rule

C) Psalm 8:4 - Man’s unworthiness

C) Psalm 8:5 - Man’s greatness

B) Psalm 8:6-8 - Man’s rule

A) Psalm 8:9 - Closing praise

The psalm opens with God’s name, Yahweh (often translated as LORD). The psalmist praises God for his name and his greatness. They take a moment to admire God’s rule. He takes the things that are small and weak (babies) to overcome the strong. 

It was God that created the heavens and arranged the moons and stars in place. In light of such great splendour then, we suddenly seem very small. How is it that the God of the universe could care for us? 

And then the psalm flips on itself, because, as we have already established, God uses the small things to do great things. While humanity might be a small part of God’s creation, he has lifted them up and given them positions of authority. 

While God is the one that created all things, he has placed them all under humanity’s authority. With his help, humanity is to lead and take care of his creation. Overcome by the weight of this truth, the psalmist can merely end where he began, with praise to God.

This psalm reminds us of our role in creation. We have the authority to lead and order, but we also have the responsibility to do it well. But more important than that, none of this is because of how great we are. Literally the opposite. It is because we are so insignificant that God chose us and empowered us. All praise, ultimately, belongs to him.

Anything you think I've missed? Maybe you've got a question that still needs answering. Send me a message over on my Instagram (@brynjoslin). I'd love to talk it through with you some more.

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