I studied Ecclesiastes 1 for my weekly quiet time today. Qoheleth is bored with pleasures and distressed by wisdom, and he feels that nature is one big monotonous cycle, in which nature keeps going on, even as generations come and go.
1. What is a Qoheleth? There’s actually a lot of unclarity about that within biblical scholarship. I side with those who consider it a function rather than a nickname for the author, for the word “Qoheleth” appears with the definite article in Ecclesiastes 12:8 (the Qoheleth). I also think that the title “Qoheleth” has to do with speaking before a group of people, for the Hebrew word qahal means “assembly”, plus Ecclesiastes 12:9 states that Qoheleth taught people wisdom.
2. Ecclesiastes 1:12 is intriguing, for it says that Qoheleth was king in Jerusalem. “Was”? Not “is”? A Jewish targum has a legend that explains this: Solomon was getting too big for his britches, and so God sends the demon Ashmodai to remove Solomon from his throne. Solomon then wanders around the world and rebukes it. In one version of the story, Solomon eventually gets his throne back.
I like this story. It adds a cozy, bed-time story element to my study of Scripture, stuff that’s “Church of James Pate’s Brain” material when I try to fall asleep. It explains why Solomon said he “was” king. And it also accounts for another puzzling feature in Ecclesiastes: the author complains about oppression (Ecclesiastes 4:1-3; 5:8-9). Would this come from a king, who had the power to punish oppressors? The author appears to write from the standpoint of a powerless onlooker, not a king. But suppose Solomon wasn’t king for a while, and actually got to look at the oppression in his kingdom as a regular guy.
I’m not saying I believe this, but it’s interesting.
3. The Jewish interpretations I read tried to add some hope: Sure, life is boring, but the study of the Torah is interesting, because it gives us light and continually teaches us new insights! Yes, life is hopeless “under the sun”, but we will be happy “above the sun”, in heaven.
For me, Bible study and blogging give me goals. Do they completely satisfy me? No. But they entertain me, make me think, and give structure to my time. Up to now, they’ve been interesting. I hope they remain that way!