Wondering and Wisdom

Study of the Sacred Scriptures is a lifetime project. In a certain sense you can devote all your energies to the Gospels – or even just to one of them. There is so much richness and depth that it can leave you wanting more and more from the one book.  And you might just not get around to the other books of the Bible. Sure, you might venture into the epistles of Paul, but never quite make it the other epistles, like the Epistle of Jude.

And then there are the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). I find there is a familiarity with Genesis and Exodus, but the remainder of the Pentateuch gets a little more vague. Some people who like History, develop an appreciation for the historical books: Judges, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles and others. Lots of folks gain an deep understanding of the Prophets, some of them anyway, because there are so many references to them in the Gospels. Some people like the Psalms and others: Ruth, Daniel, and more. But the Wisdom Books are often in the category of “I’ve been meaning to look into those books.”

Catholic and Protestant/Reformed churches differ on the books that comprise the collection of Wisdom writings in the Bible, but all agree on Ecclesiastes as the inspired Word of God. The book is an almost unrelenting skepticism about life. The issues with which the author deals and the questions he raises are aimed at those who would claim any absolute values in this life, including possessions, fame, success, or pleasure. Wisdom itself is challenged. It has a memorable beginning in Ecc 1:1 – “Vanity of vanities…all things are vanity.”

The refrain which begins and ends the book, “Vanity of vanities” (1:1; 12:8), recurs at key points throughout. The Hebrew word, hebel (“vanity”), has the sense of “emptiness, futility, absurdity”: “I have seen all things that are done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a chase after wind” (1:14; 2:11, 17, 26; etc.). Everything in human life is subject to change, to qualification, to loss: “What profit have we from all the toil which we toil at under the sun?” (1:3). The answer is in the negative: No absolute profit or gain is possible. Even if some temporary profit or gain is achieved, it will ultimately be cancelled out by death, the great leveller (2:1415; 3:1920). Wisdom has some advantage over foolishness, but even wisdom’s advantage is only a temporary and qualified one.

It is not the most uplifting of books, but it has its place in the Bible. A tough read for sure, but that where our friends at the Bible Project come in. Here is a great introduction. Enjoy.


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