The Five Scrolls

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.

Enjoy life (Wis 2:6-2:9)

“Come!

Therefore!

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 reasoning of the impious (Wis 2:1-2:5)

“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.

Seek God (Wis 1:1-1:5)

“Love righteousness!

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.

Fear God (Eccl 12:13-12:14)

“This is the end of the matter.

All has been heard.

Fear God!

Keep his commandments!

That is the whole duty of everyone.

God will bring every deed into judgment,

Including every secret thing,

Whether good or evil.”

The final message is a call to fear God. The deed is done. This is the end. Everything has been heard. Fear God! Obey his commandments! That is the whole purpose of life, the duty of everyone. God will judge everything, even secret things. He will decide whether it was good or evil. So ends the message of Qoheleth and this epilogue writer.

Wise sayings (Eccl 12:11-12:12)

“The sayings of the wise are like goads.

They are like nails firmly fixed.

These collected sayings were given

By one shepherd.

My child!

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.

Qoheleth (Eccl 12:9-12:10)

“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.