In the poetic books of the Bible, structure and repetition are significant. In this passage, the double commands at the beginning and end (verses 1-2 and 6) and the repetition of the phrase "do not know" calls our attention to the key teaching of the Preacher here.
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These are sermons preached during our Sunday worship services. (Recordings were not always successful, so there are gaps in the postings.)
Wisdom has been an important theme in Ecclesiastes thus far, and now foolishness–wisdom's antithesis–comes to the forefront. The Preacher continues to consider human life "under the sun," that is, from the perspective of this earthly life, even as he leads us to seek for eternal truth.
The careful reader will notice the repetition of the word wisdom in this passage, as the Preacher considers typical human attitudes and reactions to wisdom. As is often the case in the book of Ecclesiastes, the intent is to show us the reality of life under the sun–that reality is sometimes to be accepted and sometimes to be resisted.
In chapter nine, the Preacher brings his thoughts to a climax with a series of commands. Although he is not ready to bring the book to a conclusion, he is progressively unfolding for us the book's overall theme.
One of the aspects of Ecclesiastes that makes it timeless is that it provides a realistic view of human nature and the human condition. This, in turn, makes the wisdom presented in the book as valuable to us today as it was when it was first composed.
I found this passage to be the most difficult to interpret thus far in the book of Ecclesiastes. When we find a text that is hard, we need to exercise care not to avoid the difficulties it presents, for there may lay the heart of its message. At the same time, we want to be careful to interpret the passage within the context of the Scriptures as a whole, and to look for its connection to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Ecclesiastes 7 uses proverbs to provide unusual contrasts that emphasize the distinctive world view that Scripture affirms.
Scripture never presents an unrealistic view of human life, and that is clearly evident in this chapter. Here we find the human condition starkly described in unequivocal language.
Despite what could be characterized as a dark realism in Ecclesiastes, a major theme of the book is joy. The Preacher exposes many dead ends in the human search for joy, but he also clearly sets forth the true path to lasting joy.
This passage is a pivotal text for the book of Ecclesiastes, and it shifts our attention to matters that are at the heart of what it means to be God's people. Here the Preacher begins to specifically apply his teaching to our lives.
Ecclesiastes appears to begin a new section with this passage, although the overall theme remains the same: the brevity and seeming futility of human life, contrasting with the sovereignty of God and his purposes.
This passage opens the second main section of the book of Ecclesiastes. It introduces important key concepts related to the theme of the sovereignty of God and its application to biblical living.
Many students of Scripture see the book of Ecclesiastes falling naturally into four sections: 1:1-2:26; 3:1-5:20; 6:1-8:15; and 8:16-12:14. This first section has been a relentless destroying of all claims that lasting joy can be found in the pursuit of what this earthly life can offer us. In these final verses of this section, Ecclesiastes will challenge the value of human wisdom itself and confront us with the terrible reality that undoes every earthly hope. Remarkably, however, the Preacher will end this section with an unexpected message of grace.
I went out there in search of experience / To taste and to touch and to feel as much / As a man can before he repents / I went out searching, looking for one good man / A spirit who would not bend or break / Who could sit at his father's right hand - Johnny Cash, with U2
Pastor Gordon Hugenberger says of Ecclesiastes: “It’s not that the conclusions don’t harmonize with what is taught everywhere else in the Bible. It’s rather that we’re just not used to this much honesty. We much prefer religious platitudes, the kind of feel-good aphorisms that you can stick on your refrigerator and get inspired for the day. But Ecclesiastes won’t have it–his is high octane Christianity, soul searching insights, and convicting observations.” (His excellent sermons on Ecclesiastes can be found on the Park Street Church web site, parkstreet.org.)
The identity of the main speaker in the opening of Ecclesiastes is not explicitly stated, but there are clear clues given to us that invite us to identify him with a specific historical figure. An overview of his life will be a helpful background to our study of the book.
Ecclesiastes reads as if it were written for our own time, which may account for the widespread appeal of its imagery and language. Its message is timeless, of course, but it seems especially relevant to our experiences today.
It will be helpful to begin a study of Ecclesiastes with a passage that introduces us to the author, his method, and his message. Even more important will be for us to think about how we are to receive this book of wisdom as both hearers and doers of the Word.
Concluding a series of sermons on the Bible's teaching concerning itself, this message looks at the literal interpretation of Scripture: how the Bible transforms us, reveals to us truth, and unites us as the people of God. The book of Ecclesiastes provides a text that is as beautiful as it is true, or, we might say, it beautifully communicates truth. As we appreciate that beauty and acknowledge that truth, God's Word is a source of life for us.