procrastination, heresy, and navel-gazing.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Ecclesiastes 12.8-14

At long last we reach the end of the book, although there are some sections I haven't been able to get to. But I'm sure over the next three years of studies I'll have plenty of time to fill in the gaps.

Structure of 12.8-12
The big picture structure of the book is:
1.1 introduction
      1.2 'all is vanity'
            1.3-12.7 finding meaning amongst vanity
      12.8 'all is vanity'
12.9-14 epilogue
One of the most interesting things I've read on this was from almost twenty years ago: Andrew G. Shead, “Reading Ecclesiastes ‘Epilogically’.” Tyndale Bulletin 48 (1997): 90. Apart from showing the consistency of the message and vocabulary of the epilogue with the rest of the book, he also points to the interaction between 12.8 ('all is vanity') with the message of 12.13-14: fear God the judge of all.

What I've seen as I've looked more closely at this passage is how 12.8 fits really tightly with 12.9-12 as follows:
It was really the 'in addition' that made this stand out to me; the word with the root יתר (ytr) is translated variously throughout the book, but mostly it is translated as gain or advantage (see Eccl 1.3; 2.11, 13,15; 3.9,19; 5.8,15; 6.8,11; 7.11,12,16; 10.10-11), so if you think about money left over after you've paid your bills, you have something that is both 'in addition', 'beyond' (HCSB translation of 12.9,12 respectively), but is also 'gain' and 'advantage' (see ‏Brown, Driver, Briggs, 451).

So we then have, in between the vanity of the rest of the book and the ironic vanity of writing it all down and studying it as both he and we have done, an explanation of the purpose of the book. These were 'delightful' sayings, but they were also 'goads' and 'nails'. They were good in a way that hurts, or they hurt in a way that is good (I guess it depends on whether you're an optimist or a pessimist!).

Ending with 12.13-14
The final two verses have three pointers that tell us this is the end of the book:
  1. it literally is the end!
  2. 12.13 begins with the word 'end' (סוף)
  3. the word 'all' (כל) appears four times
They are also tightly structured and terse, with the word count pattern of:
4 4 2
4 2 2
In English we might reflect this with a minimum of fudging (don't count my equals sign!) as:
Matter's end, all's heard
Fear God, commands keep
this = man
God judges all works
all secrets
Taken as a whole these last two verses of the epilogue give us one last word to restrain the extremes of nihilism or licentiousness that may have been the result of reflecting on life under the sun with Qohelet as our guide. Entrusting ourselves, our efforts and our results to a fair God is ultimately all we can do. Seeking to live faithfully under God (which we do in reverent fear and obedience) is what it is to be a creature rightly responding to our creator.

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