Tag Archives: Ecclesiastes


A shelf in my home captures technological advancements in sound over the past forty years. Vinyl long play records fill nearly half the shelf, although I have not had a working record player in twenty years. A box I had built-in eight grade still holds a few cassette tapes and many more sit on top of it. I continued to use cassette tapes at least as long a my car had a player. But they too have been displaced by compact discs. But how much longer CDs will continue to be playable as cloud technology puts an endless array of music and audio books within my reach?

English: A photograph taken by me of a Garrard...
Garrard Turntable/Record Player, Model 1212. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I suppose I hang on to my record collection as a tangible reminder of songs from my youth. The cassettes continue to get shelf space as I still have a tape player in an old radio allowing me to delude myself into thinking that I might listen to them once more before pitching them as well.

I suppose I could display the record covers changing them from time to time or season to season. But sooner or later I will recognize that their era has past and these relics can be disposed to make room in my life for new adventures.

For everything there is a season,
and a time for every matter under heaven: …
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
— Eccelesiastes 3:1 & 6 (NRSV)

What have you hung onto beyond its usefulness which might impede future adventures?

Owner or Owned

Do you own things or do they own you?

English: Picture of a burglar alarm detection ...
Motion detector. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A friend from seminary worked as an estate manager. In addition to over seeing the cook, the maids, and the gardeners, she also monitored the security system. The security system a gated driveway where she would accept various deliveries, video monitoring, and motion detectors. All designed to protect the estate and the owner’s privacy. As I mentally added up the costs of the various layers of security, which included my friend’s apartment, it left me appreciating the value or living simply.

English: Walk-behind lawn mower
Walk-behind lawn mower (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This year’s Advent calendar from Presbyterians Today suggests “Decluttering for Christmas.” Among the suggestions for this week is “the rule of 100”; a reflection about a woman’s decision to downsize to owning no more than 100 items in her home. Instead I would recommend striving toward shared ownership rather than minimal ownership. What tools in your garage do you and your neighbors each own and rarely use all at the same time. For example, could you have a shared lawn mower, shovel, rakes, or fertilizer spreader perhaps kept in a shed with a shared key? In addition to lowering each person’s expenses, these shared resources might encourage a sense of community.

How else might things we own become opportunities to create relationships with the people around us?

The lover of money will not be satisfied with money;
nor the lover of wealth, with gain.
This also is vanity.
— Ecclesiastes 5:10 (NRSV)

January 21st is …

Normally I pay no attention to pseudo holidays, those days designated by one organization or another to commemorate this thing or that event, except chocolate ice cream soda day. But that is a different matter all together. But today’s holiday really grabbed me.

Today’s holiday celebrates neither a thing, nor a person, nor an event, but a process. This process has impressive benefits and few if any costs. Scientists studying this process have detected quantifiable improvements in participants’ physical and psychological health. It measurably reduces levels the stress hormone cortisol and raises the hormone oxytocin which facilitates feelings of trust and attachment. It takes only a few seconds, but doing this longer and more frequently is normal. It is inexpensive, safe, and effective.

Complete strangers can benefit from this process. Thus some people have been known to stand at shopping malls and offer this process for free to any and all takers.

And romantic partners benefit significantly more. One respected sex therapist recommends couples engage in this process standing on their own two feet, neither supporting their partner nor being supported, focusing deeply on themselves, until they thoroughly relax. He writes about doing this process with his wife for ten to twenty minutes, sometimes even longer.

In our media oriented society where sending texts and email or updating one’s status on Facebook qualifies as a friendly connection, I can understand why this process warrants its own special day.

Two children huggingWith whom might you engage in this process
to physically express God’s love?

For everything there is a season,
and a time for every matter under heaven: …
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
– Ecclesiastes 3:1, 5b (NRSV)


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January 2: “Time and Time Again”

I. The Text: Ecclesiastes 3:1-15

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

1-8 Israel would have depended nearly exclusively on farming, and hence on discerning the season for all things under heaven. Planting too soon would have risked losing seed to soggy soil. Planting too late, risked losing crops to frost. Similarly childbirth and construction had optimal seasons. Even today, foundations are laid in the fall, before cold temperatures makes pouring concrete impractical.

9 The Teacher’s question echoes in people outside the church: What difference does it make?

13 This is the answer: “Eat, drink, and enjoy one’s labor, for that is a gift from God!”

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

Continuing through the end of the chapter picks up the nihilistic attitude in much of Ecclesiastes.
Stopping after v. 15 leaves open the possibility of a redeeming God.

F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?

  • Hebrew manuscripts show unusually few variants/emendations in this passage. This implies that this poem was well known and widely accepted.
  • New Jerusalem Bible translates each of the items in vv 2 – 8 as gerunds. Thus v. 2 becomes “a time for giving birth and a time for dying,”emphasizing the actions of those who labor.
  • NJB sets vv 14 – 16 as poetry connecting verses 12 – 22.
  • The Message translates v. 1 as “There is an opportune time to do things, a right time to …”

II. Literary Study.

A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

Verses 1:1 and 12:9-10 ascribe this book to Qoheleth, the Teacher/Preacher, a sage. Language forms and vocabulary indicate it was written within a few decades of 250 BC. Attribution to Solomon follows from desires of honoring Solomon by extrapolating from the term son of David (1:1), an appellation given to others (c.f. Matt. 1:20).

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

  • Qoheleth developed a unique vocabulary and style to adapt Hebrew to expressing philosophy.
  • “Toil” used by Qoheleth interchangeably with “life”, emphasizes hard labor, thus differing from other uses of this verb in the Hebrew Bible.

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

  • The book acts like a stream of consciousness, making parsing into short readings impractical. Some have deemed the whole book to be poetry and others the whole book as prose, with little agreement among those who find it a mixture of prose and poetry.
  • The repetition in verses 3:1-8 and pairing of opposites conveys the range of life, without placing values on either side of the pairs, thus showing that in due time, all things are part of the business of God, and not merely the things we like.

III. Question the text.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

Center of Gravity: Qoheleth seems to be searching for meaning in life and finds only a vapor (vanity). Although he acknowledges God behind all things, he notes that laborers cannot fathom what God has done, nor change one iota of what God has done or will do.

Emotional Center: Uncertainty of the value of our contributions in life.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

W Sibley Towner (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Book of Ecclesiastes,” Abingdon, 1997) cites a medieval midrash as interpreting verse 5 as two pairs that once behaved as metaphors for sexual relations. He reflects on keeping as paired with throwing away as invoking the virtues of prudence (keeping) and providence (generously throwing away) and brings in Matthew 5:45-46 & 5:48 as exhorting God’s perfection. He writes, “If everything occurs on the God’-given schedule, then this list cannot be weeded.” And a paragraph later states: “One can the hear in this poem a challenge to be wise, to be ethical, to discern when one’s actions are in keeping with God’s time and then act decisively.” He considers the value of a time to die as giving a useful motivator for poetry. He contrasts Qoheleth’s challenge of discernment with the deterministic philosophy of Islam.

John J. Collins (Knox Preaching Guides: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, John Knox Press, 1980) writes “wisdom is not simply the knowledge of what is right or wrong, but rather lies in the timing, since the same thing may be good or bad on different occasions.”