Then there are the five scrolls that includes the poetic love story the Song of Solomon, or the Song of Songs from the 6th century BCE. The Book of Ruth was about the story of Ruth, a Moabite foreigner who came to Israel, from the 9th to the 6th century BCE. Lamentations has usually been ascribed to Jeremiah the prophet from the 6th century BCE. Ecclesiastes is like a book of wisdom proverbs from the 4th century BCE. The story of Esther is about a Jewish lady who becomes a Persian queen also from the 4th century BCE.
Let us enjoy the good things that exist!
Make use of creation to the full
As in youth.
Let us take our fill of costly wine!
Let us take our fill of perfumes!
Let no flower of spring pass us by.
Let us crown ourselves
With rosebuds before they wither.
Let none of us fail to share in our revelry.
Everywhere let us leave signs of enjoyment.
Because this is our portion,
This is our lot.”
Once again, following the advice of Qoheleth in Ecclesiastes, we should enjoy life and not worry because all is vanity. These impious people want to enjoy all the existing good things, the use of all creation as they had done in their youth. They wanted to enjoy costly wine, perfumes, and the flowers of spring. They should be crowned with rosebuds as well as share in their revelry. They should enjoy themselves because this was their portion and lot in life.
“The ungodly reasoned unsoundly.
They say to themselves.
‘Our life is short.
Our life is sorrowful.
There is no remedy
When a life comes to an end.
No one has been known
To return from Hades.
We were born by mere chance.
Hereafter we shall be
As though we had never been.
The breath in our nostrils is smoke.
Reason is a spark kindled
By the beating of our hearts.
When it is extinguished,
The body will turn to ashes.
The spirit will dissolve
Like empty air.
Our name will be forgotten in time.
No one will remember our works.
Our life will pass away.
Like the traces of a cloud,
Our life will be scattered like mist
That is chased by the rays of the sun.
Our life will be overcome by its heat.
Our allotted time is
The passing of a shadow.
There is no return from our death.
Because it is sealed up.
No one turns back.’”
The ungodly or the impious sound a little like Qoheleth in Ecclesiastes with this emphasis on the vanity of life. This author calls their thinking unsound. We lead a short and sorrowful life (ὁ βίος ἡμῶν). There is no remedy when death comes. No one has ever returned from the grave. We were born by chance. When we are gone, it will be as if we never existed. Our breath is like smoke. Our reasoning stops when our heart stops, as our body (τὸ σῶμα) returns to ashes. Our spirit (τὸ πνεῦμα) also dissolves like empty air. Our names (τὸ ὄνομα ἡμῶν) will be forgotten as no one will remember our works (ἔργων ἡμῶν). We will pass away like a cloud or scattered mist that evaporates with heat. Our time on earth is like a passing shadow since there is no return from death. We are sealed up with death since no one returns.
You rulers of the earth!
Think of the Lord in goodness!
Seek him with sincerity of heart!
Because he is found
By those who do not put him to the test.
He manifests himself
To those who do not distrust him.
Perverse thoughts separate people from God.
When his power is tested,
It exposes the foolish.
Wisdom will not enter a deceitful soul.
Wisdom will not dwell in a body enslaved to sin.
A Holy Spirit will flee from deceit.
A disciplined spirit will flee from deceit.
The Spirit will leave foolish thoughts behind.
The Spirit will be ashamed
At the approach of unrighteousness.”
This book is set in poetic verses just like Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and The Song of Solomon. This author wants the rulers of the earth to seek God with a sincere heart. Only those who are not testing him will find him. God will manifest himself to those who do not distrust him. Perverse thoughts will separate them from God. If they test his power, he will expose their foolishness. Wisdom will not enter a deceitful soul nor dwell in a body enslaved in sin. The Holy Spirit, who is disciplined, will flee from deceit. He will leave foolish thoughts behind because he is ashamed of the approach of the unrighteousness ones. Here we have a more developed theology of God. He is no longer Yahweh since this is a Greek Septuagint work. He is the Greek Lord (τοῦ Κυρίου). Wisdom (σοφία) is almost equivalent to God (Θεοῦ). Notice also the use of the Holy Spirit (ἅγιον γὰρ πνεῦμα), even if not too specific. The Spirit of God will not stay with the deceitful and unrighteous. The concept of soul (ψυχὴν) also fits in nicely. I will be using the Greek Septuagint to highlight certain words and concepts in this Greek work.
“The sayings of the wise are like goads.
They are like nails firmly fixed.
These collected sayings were given
By one shepherd.
Beware of anything beyond these.
Many books have no end.
Much study is a weariness of the flesh.”
These wise sayings of Qoheleth were like goads that were sticks used to prod cattle and other animals to make them move. These goads were a stimulus to our mind. Thus we have the saying to goad them on. These collected sayings are like sharp nails. Here we have the allusion to the sayings of a shepherd, something that followers of Jesus will emphasis in the New Testament. Then this writer warns the readers about adding more proverbs. He warned that many books never have an end. He also remarked that a lot of study can make people weary. So watch out for too much time spent studying.
“Besides being wise,
Qoheleth also taught the people knowledge.
He weighed many proverbs.
He studied many proverbs.
He arranged many proverbs.
Qoheleth sought to find pleasing words.
He wrote words of truth plainly.”
Now we have a description, eulogy, or explanation of Qoheleth by another author in this epilogue. Qoheleth was wise. He taught the people knowledge. He studied and arranged many of the proverbs in this book. He weighted their value. But as we have seen most were useless vanity. He wanted to find pleasing words as he had a good literary Hebrew style. He spoke plain truth. There was nothing fancy about his work.
“Vanity of vanities,
All is vanity.”
This book ends where it began. All is vanity. Qoheleth repeats the opening lines of this book. We have come full cycle. The life and death of humans is useless, vanity. Everything is useless. This is a kind of cynicism and depression. However, there still was the hope of the human spirit or breath returning to God. Other than that, all the rest was must plain vapor, vanity of vanities.
“In the day
When the guards of the house tremble,
The strong men are bent.
The women who grind cease working
Because they are few.
Those who look through the windows see dimly.
The doors on the street are shut.
The sound of the grinding is low.
One rises up at the sound of a bird.
All the daughters of song are brought low.
When one is afraid of heights,
The terrors are in the road.
The almond tree blossoms.
The grasshopper drags itself along.
Because all must go to their eternal home.
The mourners will go about the streets.
The silver cord is snapped.
The golden bowl is broken.
The pitcher is broken at the fountain.
The wheel is broken at the cistern.
The dust returns to the earth as it was.
The spirit returns to God who gave it.”
This is an ode to old age. The dying old man, with his many servants and guards, comes to an end. The guards tremble. The strong men bend over. The women grinders stop their dancing. They can only see dimly out the window. Everyone has shut their doors. The grinders have ceased. Morning comes early with the first sound of a bird. There are no more singing young girls. The old man is afraid of heights. He dreads going out on the road because of the fear of attack. The old people tend to walk awkwardly like a grasshopper. Their desires fail maybe due to incompetence. The trees still blossom, but the mourners are out on the streets. The signs of death, the snapped silver cord, the broken gold bowl, and the broken pitcher at the fountain all take place. The wheel was broken at the cistern. They return to dust, but their spirit or breath returns to God. This is a depressing description of old age, just before death, along with the symbolic actions that go with death.
“Remember also your creator
In the days of your youth,
Before the days of trouble came.
The years draw near
When you will say.
‘I have no pleasure in them.’
Before the sun is darkened,
Before the light is darkened,
Before the moon is darkened,
Before the stars are darkened,
The clouds will return
With the rain.”
After the happy youth, the days of trouble begin. You should remember your creator when your years draw near to an end. No longer will you have the same pleasure. The sun, the moon, and the stars will darken on you. The clouds will come back after the rain. This seems to imply that aging will bring the loss of sight or a growing blindness, what we might call cataracts.