Just when you thought it was fine and dandy, along comes the Book of Ecclesiastes.
Just as I wrote last in my last post, one of my favorite activities is observing and learning more about people. In this, I really enjoy listening to different people’s opinions on certain subjects and why they may feel the way they do. I find that when I speak to non-religious people or even some religious individuals on their perception of the Bible, I hear an extremely diverse array of opinions. At times, the diversity of opinion about the single text makes me wonder if they’re talking about the same book. The Bible has long been thought to be a book that tells you that if you’re good, you’ll go straight to heaven when you die and your good memory will be forever remembered. It’s been the text that many believe teaches us that both wine and money are evil and that you should deny yourself pleasure. Then, like that gruff uncle that nobody likes to talk about, comes the Book of Ecclesiastes to efficiently squash many commonly-held views about what the Bible teaches. It is for this reason why it is one of my favorite books of the Bible.
The term “ecclesiastes” is a Greek term for the Hebrew word “koheleth” – which means “teacher”, just like the word for an advanced school of Jewish study is called a “kohel.” This word is commonly mistranslated to say “preacher.” The author of this text is believed to Shlomo ha’Melech, King Solomon – who is thought to be the wisest man who ever lived. With that in mind, this book definately holds some serious weight for those who want to know the million dollar question – “what did the Bible say about that?”In this post, we’ll take a look at how the Book of Ecclesiastes turns a box fan on the house of cards many have built up in their minds about what the Bible teaches. This is not all-encompassing, but rather an overview of some obvious misconceptions Ecclesiastes smashes.
Common misconception #1
The Bible says that upon death, the good will rise up to heaven and the bad will go to hell.
It’s frequently thought that those who are good or those who believe will go to heaven and those who are wicked will go elsewhere. However, in multiple passages in the Book of Ecclesiastes, that doesn’t appear to be the case:
“For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?” – 3:19-22
While many religious people are quick to state that their righteousness will save them from death or that the wicked will be damned, before any of that occurs, death is a very real truth that all should face. No one, no matter how righteous, is immune from death. A common theme throughout out the Book of Ecclesiastes is vanity – both of the wise and of the wicked.
“But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him. It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath….Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun.” – 9:1-2,6
Common misconception #2
Wine is evil and enjoyment of one’s own possessions is vanity. Money is the root of all evil.
|Pinot Evil – ironically a cheap favorite at some of my Erev Shabbat dinners.|
Wine and strong drink are so taboo to some Bible-believing individuals that they will even serve unfermented grape juice in place of wine where wine was once used in sacramental service. While everything should be enjoyed in moderation, food and wine are actually celebrated in this particular book of the Bible. Not only are these things encouraged, but that it is taught to enjoy these things because they will not be present in Sheol – the grave or pit – where one is going when they die.
“Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.” – 9:7-10
“Bread is made for laughter, and wine gladdens life, and money answers everything.” – 10:19
You may be saying to yourself, “I thought the New Testament says that money is the root of all evil?” That is another misconception:
“For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils. It is through is craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” – 1 Timothy 6:10
Common misconception #3
Shout the good news of the Bible everywhere.
The is a certain movement of people who believe that they must tell everyone about what God has done for them anytime they are given the opportunity. While this is a good thing to do according to the Bible, one must also take into account what will make people want to listen and how they will hear – will it be through you speaking or will they experience the grace of God through what you do and how you act? Today, the common picture of religion is a preacher shouting a firey message amongst a room of individuals with little to no knowledge of the Bible that has not been puréed for them by a leader. Ecclesiastes teaches about the significance of being wise but also being quiet enough to not scare away any who may actually listen.
“The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools.” – 9:17
The same teacher in the Book of Proverbs has more to say about the benefits of remaining quiet:
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” – Proverbs 15:1
“Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” – Proverbs 17:28
There are far more common misconceptions about the wisdom of the Bible to be discovered, but one of the most common misconceptions is that someone else must present these to people on a platter – or a blog. It is for that reason that I encourage those who have mostly thought about the Bible as a lame book that forbade drinking wine, enjoying what they had worked for, and thinking they are immune from death, to investigate the Bible for themselves. They’re sure to be extremely surprised to find wisdom from the ancient text and just how relevant that wisdom still is.