What I’m Reading: Ecclesiastes

There are a few things I try to read on an annual basis. During baseball season, I always try to read a baseball book. Every year, I try to read at least one history book, one work of classic literature, and something by or about the ancient Greeks. And during Lent, I try to read something biblical, whether an actual book from the Bible, or a book on a biblical topic. I’ve kind of fallen down in this area the past couple years (okay, full disclosure: I just checked, and the last time I wrote something up was 2015. I guess I’ve been bad.).

This year, I decided to read Ecclesiastes, one of the Wisdom books. The text of the book strongly suggests that Solomon wrote it. The author calls himself only “Teacher,” but he claims to be a son of David and a king in Jerusalem. Sounds like Solomon to me! The Teacher has devoted himself “to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven.” In the Ecclesiastes, he presents us with his findings.

And what has the Teacher found? Well, I get a real “Dust in the Wind” vibe from this book. All is meaningless, pleasure is fleeting, and anything you build up on the earth can be taken away from you at any time. Sometimes bad things happen to the good, and good things to the wicked. However, whether rich or poor, high or low, we all end up in the grave, and no one will remember us for long after we’re gone.

The best you can can do, indeed, the only sensible thing you can do, is to perform your daily work well, whether you’re a king or a peasant, and enjoy your food, drink, friends, and the pleasures of the marriage bed in the evening. Don’t toil beyond what is necessary, hoping to build up riches for yourself on earth, because you could die early having never enjoyed it any of it, and your heirs will fritter it all away. Don’t worry about your station in life, just be satisfied and enjoy what you have, and know that even if you’re poor, the rich don’t really have anything that can make them happier than you.

A number of famous sayings come from this book. I knew the phrase “there is nothing new under the sun” and the “There Is A Season” poem, whose lyrics are used in a hymn and also, of course, a song by the Byrds. However, I didn’t realize that Ecclesiastes also provides the saying, “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill, but time and chance happen to them all.” Throughout the book, numerous other phrases struck me as familiar as well. Even if they haven’t come down to us with precisely the same wording, at least their sentiment has.

It turns out Ecclesiastes is really short. There are only twelve chapters. I set myself to read three chapters a night, and found I could finish them in fifteen minutes or so. Somehow, I thought it would be longer. I mean, we’re not even a week into Lent, and I’m done with my Lenten reading. So, I suppose I need to find another Bible book to read. I’ll write it up here when I’m finished. In the meantime, I’m tagging Ecclesiastes as one of my No Excuses books. These are important books that are so short and easy to read that there’s no excuse for never tackling them. Do you have a Lenten discipline this year? If not, reading Ecclesiastes would be a simple way to start.

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