Thursday, 27 December 2012

Essential Jesus

I've begun my series of blog posts on the Essential Jesus Bible reading plan @
Following The Star:

Feel free to join me as I get to know Jesus better!

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Sunday Morning Play

Anna and Abigail have recently decided to play at being vampires. Not sure what brought this on... other than the whole Twilight craze in general! Of course, being little girls, they play at being vampire mummies with little vampire (American Girl) dolls who need to be taught not to be afraid so they don't accidentally turn into bats. And need to be taught all sorts of schoolish things as well.
I thought I'd help them out a bit with their vampire poses, so I gave them some "Vampire Juice" to try:
This was the result:
For those who are wondering, Vampire Juice is made from the "blood" of:
3 oranges,
1 (organic) lemon and
1 (fresh from the backyard) beetroot.

 Meanwhile, the boys were busy playing Ninjajo Snakelords versus Power Miners:
For once, it was one-on-one battles, so both boys were ensured of a "fair" outcome. This is the happiest Lego play I have seen the boys engaged in together in a long time.
After observing them playing so well together, I almost didn't like to tell them to get ready for church.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Intentional Reading for 2013

Last year, I planned to read "12 books in 2012". This was my deliberate, intentional reading for the year. Of course, being an avid reader I read a lot more than 12 books, but these were the books that I really thought I should read. My plans changed, as plans do, and I found myself reading great books that weren't on the list, and not reading some that were. Several of the books I added into my intentional reading list last year helped me understand the Old Testament better, as I studied the OT through the Australian College of Theology, which was very valuable. Some were parenting books - and some of these were more helpful than others.

This is my final list of 12 books read intentionally in 2012:

1-2-3 Magic1-2-3 MagicThomas W. Phelan

Five Festal Garments: Christian Reflections on the Song of Songs, Ruth,...Five Festal Garments: Christian Reflections on the Song of Songs, Ruth,...Barry G. Webb
ThinkThinkJohn Piper
Feminine Appeal: 7 Virtues of a Godly Wife and MotherFeminine Appeal: 7 Virtues of a Godly Wife and MotherCarolyn Mahaney
Gunning for God: A Critique of the New AtheismGunning for God: A Critique of the New AtheismJohn Lennox
God and Stephen HawkingGod and Stephen HawkingJohn C. Lennox
Histories and Fallacies: Problems Faced in the Writing of HistoryHistories and Fallacies: Problems Faced in the Writing of HistoryCarl R. Trueman
On Becoming Childwise: Parenting Your Child from 3-7 Years (On Becoming. . .)On Becoming Childwise: Parenting Your Child from 3-7 Years (On Becoming. . .)Gary Ezzo, Robert Bucknam
Essays on the Patriarchal NarrativesEssays on the Patriarchal Narratives
The Early Church to the Dawn of the ReformationThe Early Church to the Dawn of the ReformationJusto L. Gonzalez
Battle Hymn of the Tiger MotherBattle Hymn of the Tiger MotherAmy Chua
The Trellis and the VineThe Trellis and the VineColin Marshall, Tony Payne

Having revisited my original list, some books I now plan to put off reading, and others I have decided to sell on ebay without ever reading the whole way through!

Next year, I'm sure my "regular" reading will go on as usual: haphazardly, with whatever takes my fancy, whether it be Agatha Christie, Lois Duncan, Francine Rivers or Orson Scott Card. And my reading aloud for the kids will continue as well, with a few more fairy tales and a bit less of John Flanagan, now we've almost finished the entire Ranger's Apprentice series.

But in 2013, I'm focusing my intentional reading on Jesus.

Why? Because I've come to realise that the purpose of living as a Christian in the time before Jesus' return is not to become perfect, but to fall further in love with God.

How does a Christian fall more in love with God?
They get to know Jesus better!

So that's what I'm going to do with my intentional reading in 2013.

I'm starting the ball rolling a little early, planning to begin the Essential Jesus Bible reading plan from Scripture Union with YouVersion the day after Christmas.

Feel free to join me as I blog about my Bible reading at my other blog Following the Star.

I'll also be reading Jesus and the Gospels by Craig L. Blomberg, one of Jeff's texts from his early days at Trinity Theological College, intermittently throughout the year.

I hope to read God is the Gospel by John Piper. The blurb says, "This book is a plea that God himself, as revealed most clearly and fully in Jesus' death and resurrection, be seen and enjoyed as the final and greatest gift of the gospel. ... All God's gifts are loving to the degree that they lead us to God himself. This is the love of God: doing everything necessary, most painfully the death of his Son, to enthrall us with what is most deeply and durably satisfying - namely, himself." The premise of this book is the reason I am focussing my intentional reading on Jesus in 2013.

I might also (re)read A Call to Spiritual Reformation by Don A. Carson. I might not. The front cover quotes, "the greatest need for churches today is ... a deeper knowledge of God." That fits with my desire to love God more, and the discipline of prayer (as examined in the book) will help me achieve my aim.

And that's it.
Short and sweet and focussed on Jesus.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Twilight's Breaking Dawn: The Final Meadow Scene

Breaking Dawn Part 2 stays fairly close to the last third of Breaking Dawn, with most changes being for the purpose of streamlining the story for the viewing audience. Some of the changes are large, but several tweaks appear minor at first – a different character says a particular line than says that line in the book, for example – yet when we examine them more closely, we see that they have a larger impact on the storyline than would first appear.

One such alteration was the setting of the final scene, where Bella is finally able to remove her mind shield and share her memories with Edward, revealing the depth of her love for him fully for the first time. In Breaking Dawn, this scene happens in Bella and Edward’s cottage; in the movie, it occurs in Edward’s meadow.

Let me explain why this scene is important.

Perhaps obviously, this scene is important mostly because it is the end of the book. It’s the scene that the rest of the book and indeed the entire quadrilogy have been leading up to. Meyer explained in her interview with Shannon Hale, “I had to write all four books to get to those last two pages. Just to have Bella and Edward really be able to understand each other – that made it worth writing four books.” (Official Illustrated Guide 40) This moment of mutual understanding and unity is the moment Bella and Edward’s entire romance has been moving towards.

The rest of my first post at Hogwarts Professor can be read over at HogPro, thanks to John Granger for considering my thoughts worthy of his we-blog!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

From chickens to chicks

Early in November we realised that one of our chickens, Snowy, was broody. She stopped laying but constantly wanted to sit in her box. Fortunately, Snowy was gentle with her broodiness, not pecking any of the children as they took the opportunity to pat her beautiful soft feathers while she sat, pointlessly, in an empty box.

There are two things you can do with a broody chicken. The first is to unbroodify (my word!) the hen, by sectioning her off in a cage where she gets cool air underneath her and has no straw to make a nest. The second is to provide her with fertilised eggs from hens who live with a rooster, and allow her to sit on them for three weeks until they hatch. With Joshua's enthusiasm for raising more chickens, encouraged by his reading of Keeping Chickens, we chose this second option.

First, we obtained fertilised eggs from the same generous friend who gave us Snowy and Lily to start with. Then, after convincing Snowy to move out of her laying box temporarily, we carefully filled it with fresh straw, placing it closer to the ground so that baby chicks could climb out. We also provided a second box for Lily to lay in. Then, we even more carefully placed our six eggs into the centre of Snowy's box.

Our friend had told us that eggs take 21 days to incubate, so the last few days have been nervous ones as we have waited to see if any of the eggs hatched. This afternoon after church we went to see if there was any sign of yellow chicks. Joshua was the first to catch a peek:
Admittedly it is a bit of a 'Where's Wally?' effort to see the chick, so I will provide a hint that you can see it just to the left of Snowy's tail, behind her wing. Joshua and I excitedly rang our friend to say "thank you" once again for the eggs and to let her know we had at least one chick.

Then we went back out to spy on Snowy again and realised we have at least two! Here you can see the face of one chick and the backside of another:

Joshua has naming rights for the first chick and has decided that since it's foster mother is named Snowy, it should be called Blizzard - with Anna's help we have noted that she (he?) can be Lizzy for short.

The second chick is yet to be named. Any suggestions, friends and family?

Sunday, 4 November 2012


Jeff has something in common with the great author:

"I had and have a wholly unsatisfied desire to shoot well with a bow."
~ JRR Tolkien, On Fairy-Stories

Jeff's birthday present in for repair at the moment.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

The Thing

Samuel has introduced a word game to our family recently. It is called "The Thing". A good game to practice if you have difficulty pronouncing "th" correctly, as does Samuel, the main rule of this game is that you cannot use the word "it". This is a game of descriptions, and is great as a table talk starter.

The first person thinks of a thing and then describes the thing.
The other people guess what the thing might be.
For example: The thing is red. Sometimes the thing is green. You eat the thing.
(An apple.)

A few nights ago, Anna began her description with these words:
"The thing is nice."

Immediately Samuel thrust his hand in the air and waved it vigourously.
"I know. I know. Mummy!"

This will go down in history as one of my best Mother Moments ever.

Friday, 12 October 2012

As long as You are glorified

Shall I take from Your hand Your blessings
Yet not welcome any pain
Shall I thank You for days of sunshine
Yet grumble in days of rain
Shall I love You in times of plenty
Then leave You in days of drought
Shall I trust when I reap a harvest
But when winter winds blow, then doubt

Oh let Your will be done in me
In Your love I will abide
Oh I long for nothing else as long
As You are glorified

Are You good only when I prosper
And true only when I’m filled
Are You King only when I’m carefree
And God only when I’m well
You are good when I’m poor and needy
You are true when I’m parched and dry
You still reign in the deepest valley
You’re still God in the darkest night

Oh let Your will be done in me
In Your love I will abide
Oh I long for nothing else as long
As You are glorified

So quiet my restless heart,
Quiet my restless heart
Quiet my restless heart in You

Oh let Your will be done in me
In Your love I will abide
Oh I long for nothing else as long
As You are glorified
As long as You are glorified

Words and Music by Mark Altrogge.
© 2008 Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI).
Sovereign Grace Music, a division of Sovereign Grace Ministries.
From "Come Weary Saints".

Photos from Hike for Hope 2004, Jatbula Trail, Nitmiluk National Park, NT.

Ecclesiastes Essay links and bibliography

This essay was written for my Old Testament Prophets and Writings class, to answer the question,
"Is the central message of Ecclesiastes one of pessimism or joy? Comment on what you have found helpful from Ecclesiastes for your understanding of the Christian life."

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

F. Delitzsch “The Book of Ecclesiastes,” in Commentary on the Old Testament Vol.10 C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch eds., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1966 (originally published Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1866-1891) p. 629-816
Raymond B. Dillard and Tremper Longman III “Ecclesiastes,” in An Introduction to the Old Testament, Leicester: Apollos/InterVarsity Press, 1995, p. 247-255
Michael A. Eaton Ecclesiastes: An Introduction and Commentary Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Leicester: Tyndale/Inter-Varsity Press, 1983)
Peter Enns “Ecclesiastes 1: Book of,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry and Writings, Tremper Longman III and Peter Enns eds., Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008, p. 121-132
Michael V. Fox “Introduction to the Commentary: Ecclesiastes,” in JPS Bible Commentary: Ecclesiastes (Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Publication Society, 2004) p. ix-xxxiii Accessed 3 Oct 2012.
Daniel C Fredericks and Daniel J Estes “Author and Date,” in Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs Apollos Old Testament Commentary Vol 16, David W. Baker and Gordon J. Wenham eds. (Nottingham Apollos/InterVaristy Press) p. 31-36
Graeme Goldsworthy “Ecclesiastes and the Confusion of Order,” in The Goldsworthy Trilogy: Gospel and Wisdom Milton Keynes: Paternoster Press, 2011, p. 448-457
Greg Goswell “The Order of the Books in the Hebrew Bible,” in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 51(2008) pp. 673-688
Matthew Henry “Ecclesiastes,” in A Commentary on the Whole Bible Vol 3 Iowa Falls, IO: World Bible Publishers, unknown date, p. 980-1052
William Sanford Lasor, David Allan Hubbard & Frederic William Bush “Ecclesiastes,” Old Testament Survey 2nd ed. William Sanford Lasor, David Allan Hubbard & Frederic William Bush p. 497-509
Tremper Longman III “Ecclesiastes 3: History of Interpretation,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry and Writings, Tremper Longman III and Peter Enns eds., Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008 p. 140-149
John Piper Think Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010 p. 41-56
R. L. Schultz “Ecclesiastes,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner eds. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press p. 211-215
Howard F. Vos “The Significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls” in The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary Merrill F. Unger ed. (Chicago, IL: Moody Bible Institute/Lion Hudson, revised and updated 1988) Accessed 3 Oct 2012.
Barry G. Webb “Ecclesiastes: Garment of Vexation,” in Five Festal Garments New Studies in Biblical Theology No. 10 Don A. Carson (series ed.) Leicester: Apollos / Inter-Varsity Press, 2000 p. 83-109
S. Weeks “Ecclesiastes,” in An Introduction to the Study of Wisdom Literature London: T. & T. Clark, 2010 p. 71-84
D. M. Welton “The Old Testament Wisdom (Chokma),” in The Biblical World Vol.10#3 Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, Sept 1897 p. 183-189 Accessed 27 Sept 2012.
J. Stafford Wright “Ecclesiastes,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Vol. 5 Frank E. Gaebelein (ed.) Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1991 p. 1137-1197

Ecclesiastes Essay part 6

Help from Ecclesiastes in understanding the Christian life
In my own life, I am encouraged to partake of God’s joy in the simple things (5:18), rather than to be constantly unsatisfied, yearning for something more (6:9). This can be difficult, living in a materialistic capitalist society perfectly described by 5:11:
As goods increase,
  so do those who consume them.
And what benefit are they to the owners
  except to feast their eyes on them?
My joy is also often endangered by my tendency to plan without the wise discretion and prudence which Qohelet commends in D’ (eg 11:1-2, 5-6). As I do not know which of my efforts to encourage and edify my church family will ‘succeed’, I should be busy morning and evening, in multiple ‘ventures’. Whatever my hand finds to do, I should do it with all my might (9:10). Then I may find satisfaction in the labour and lot God has given me.

Finally, my study of Ecclesiastes has taught me the value and danger of ‘many books’ and ‘much study’ (12:12). In closely scrutinizing the biblical text, reading commentaries and critical texts, and preparing this essay, I have been forced to think much more deeply about the text of Ecclesiastes than I have thought about any Bible text recently. Initially, this knowledge confused me rather than clarifying, just as Qohelet was driven to despair (2:17) by his initial observations. I had to struggle with the text in order to understand it satisfactorily. In his book Think, John Piper recommends deep thinking about the way words are used to build arguments in biblical passages; often I have been content to presume the obvious meaning is the only one, and stop thinking once I have found it. Wrestling with Ecclesiastes has humbled me, and inspired me to come to God’s house and listen (5:1).

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Ecclesiastes Essay part 5

Answering pessimism with optimism
Qohelet refutes his pessimism with optimism. Joy and satisfaction in the simple circumstances, acts and relationships of life are observed to be ‘good’ (5:18) and commendable (8:15), despite the burden of labour and the brevity of life. Qohelet neutralizes the fleeting nature of life with his observation of the one thing that endures (3:12-14):
‘That each of them may … find satisfaction … this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever … God does it so that people will fear him.’
Joy is not fleeting, but everlasting, because it is given by an enduring act of God. The number of references to joy in Ecclesiastes is fewer than the instances of hebel. However, for every pessimistic observation, Qohelet indentifies an optimistic rebuttal. Life may be fleeting, but joy endures. Labour may appear futile, but God’s approval grants the experience of joy and his judgment ensures eternal reward, encouraging us to fear God.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Ecclesiastes Essay part 4

Structure and message
Commentators seem unable to interpret the relationship between structure and message in Ecclesiastes far beyond identifying separate voices and significant words.[1] Critics agree that the frame narrator provides an introductory summary to the book (1:1-11[2]), a concluding epilogue (12:8-14[3]), and a lone verse in the centre of the book (7:27a[4]). De Jong further identifies an alternating pattern of observation and instruction[5] in the core. This reader finds a loose extended chiastic (ring) structure in Ecclesiastes, of which the frame is merely one element. Hence it must be understood that Ecclesiastes’ message is not found exclusively within the frame[6], or entirely within the speech. De Jong’s structure[7] is adapted and expanded below:

A 1:1 introductory prologue
B 1:2 motto
C 1:3-11 Song of cycles of nature and society
D 1:12-4:16 observations: wisdom, pleasure, oppression, toil, loneliness, succession: hebel
E 5:1-9 instructions: fear God – listen to God; fulfill vows
F 5:10 - 6:12 observations: wealth; common problem to lack contentment: hebel
G 7:1-22 instructions: keep the end in mind; God’s sovereignty; fear God, not man
H 7:23-8:1 central observations including frame narrator’s voice at 7:27
G’ 8:2-8 instructions: be cautious in relations with king and regarding the future
F’ 8:9-9:6 observations: injustice; common destiny to join the dead: hebel
E’ 9:7-10 instructions: be joyful for God has approved what you do; do what you find to do
D’ 9:11-11:8 observations and instructions: be prudent applying wisdom to overcome hebel
C’ 11:9-12:7 Song of youth and death
B’ 12:8 motto
A’ 12:9-14 epilogue and conclusion

One example must suffice as evidence for these claims of structural parallels, although more could be given if space permitted. In section F, Qohelet observes (6:3),
‘A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.’
Then in section F’, he observes (8:12),
‘Although a wicked person who commits a hundred crimes may live a long time, I know that it will go better with those who fear God, who are reverent before him.’
These are the only uses of the word ‘hundred’ in Ecclesiastes, distinguishing the parallel sections: the first exposes the futility of long life without joy, the second examines the futility of long life without justice; both consider the effect of death; both provide a ‘better’ option. Significantly, they also provide structural grounds for excluding an overall pessimistic interpretation. In his early observations[8], Qohelet complains of the meaninglessness of a life cut short by death, but here he shows that death is not the real problem: it is a lack of joy or a lack of justice. In his surrounding instructions, Qohelet solves this problem, instructing the reader to find joy in God’s gifts (E’)[9], to be satisfied that there will be a proper time for all judgment (G’), and to fear God and respect his sovereignty (E and G).
This structure helps us interpret the flow of Qohelet’s argument. The beginning, end and central passages of this chiasm serve to define the structure and to emphasize the message. This is vital for understanding the message of Ecclesiastes, because it provides the author’s counsel regarding Qohelet’s words.
The prologue gives the reader a foretaste of Qohelet’s speech[10], beginning with his motto (1:2),
‘ “Meaningless! Meaningless!”
  says the Teacher.’
and the first question Qohelet attempts to answer (1:3),
‘What do people gain from all their labors
  at which they toil under the sun?’
These verses delineate the direction and scope of Qohelet’s speech. He will look for gain obtainable through toil. The following verses typify Qohelet’s observations: the cycles of nature (1:4-7) and society (1:8b-11) are ‘wearisome’ (1:8a). The prologue elucidates his pessimism, but the prologue is not the epilogue: while these verses introduce the content of Qohelet’s speech, they do not show the conclusion.
Sections D through G balance observations of life as futile and fleeting with instructions to take God seriously. We do not go to God’s house to barter with sacrifices, but to listen to his word (5:1). Whatever vows we make to God, we must keep quickly (5:4). We look not for the gain we might get (5:10-12; 6:7, 9) but occupy ourselves with the good we have already been given (5:18-20). Qohelet’s preoccupation with death leads us to fear the sovereign God (7:14). In fearing God we will ‘avoid all extremes’ of Qohelet’s pessimistic observations, ‘grasp’ the point of his condemnation of earthly idols and ‘not let go’ of his recognition of joy’s source (7:18).
A tighter chiastic structure is observed in the central passage (H) immediately surrounding the frame narrator’s comment at 7:27a, elucidating the significance of the seemingly random frame narrator interjection.

A 7:23-24 Wisdom’s explanations are beyond Qohelet’s reach
B 7:25 Qohelet determines ‘to search out … the scheme of things’
C 7:26 Qohelet finds bitterness contemplating the woman who is a snare
D 7:27a Frame narrator quotes Qohelet identifying his discoveries
C’ 7:27b-28 Qohelet searched but did not find, contemplating the lack of upright women
B’ 7:29 Though created upright, men have gone ‘in search of many schemes’
A’ 8:1 Wisdom’s explanations brighten the face of the wise

Qohelet’s discoveries are important, but flawed. The reader is reminded of the ostensible Solomonic authorship with the ensnaring woman, reminiscent of Woman Folly from Proverbs 9:13-18[11]; and with the absence of righteous women, a possible reference to Solomon’s pagan wives (1 Ki. 11:1-6)[12]. The passage warns of corruption, matching Qohelet’s search for the scheme of things with mankind’s search for many schemes. Wisdom has brought frustration to Qohelet but provides a cheery countenance to the wise. Hence, in this climactic passage the frame narrator’s voice draws our attention to Qohelet’s dilemma: embedded in the centerpiece of the book we find criticism of Qohelet and his more negative observations, accompanied by a simple promise of the joyous benefits of true wisdom.
In sections G’ to D’ we find Qohelet’s pessimistic observations decreasing in intensity and frequency (hebel only occurs six times, compared to 21 times in the earlier parallel sections). These negative observations are mitigated by instructions to be prudent in relations with the king (8:2-5) and in making choices regarding the future (2:5-8). They are also allayed in the final carpe diem passage, an instruction: ‘Go… with a joyful heart,’ because ‘God has already approved what you do,’ so ‘always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil’ (9:7-8). Our joy is based in God’s attitude towards us, an expression of our righteousness before God and our holiness through his grace. This beautiful instruction is given, paradoxically, in proximity the refrain, ‘all the days of this meaningless life … under the sun … all your meaningless days’ (9:9). Again we see Qohelet’s negativity with regard to earthly idols. Some critics interpret these enjoyment texts as signs of resignation.[13] However, 9:7-10 is an assurance that joy is possible despite Qohelet’s discoveries, even as one admits their validity (11:8):
‘However many years anyone may live,
  let them enjoy them all.
But let them remember the days of darkness.’
This is confirmed in the song of youth and death (section C’) by the repeated instruction to ‘be happy’ and receive ‘joy’ while young.[14]
Unfortunately, the meaning of the concluding epilogue, particularly 12:9-12, is disputed. Qohelet is described as wise (12:9), his written words are ‘just… right’, ‘upright’ and ‘true’ (12:10). While apparently a positive description, some see this as damning with faint praise, given Qohelet’s earlier self-criticism (7:23)[15]. The above analysis of the central passage provides weight to this negative critique. The ‘words of the wise are like goads’ (12:11);[16] but the simile may be interpreted positively as a motivating incentive[17] or negatively as that which tears the flesh[18]. Qohelet’s speech likewise contains uncomfortable words, but if understood correctly it will motivate us in a godly direction.
The conclusion of 12:13-14 is clear:
‘Now all has been heard…
Fear God and keep his commandments,
  for this is the duty of all mankind.’
These verses cannot be dismissed as the postscript of a pious editor since they conform to the instructions in the first half. According to Delitzsch, the command to fear God is ‘the kernel and the star of the whole book … which mitigates its pessimism.’[19] We must conclude – with the frame narrator’s benediction upon us – that the essential message to take from Ecclesiastes is to live in reverent fear and humble obedience – to enjoy life under God, rather than under the sun. Ecclesiastes teaches us ‘how to enjoy well.’[20] This is ‘positive teaching’[21], an ultimately optimistic, joyous message.
Ecclesiastes 12:14 completes the message with a reminder that God’s judgment, though inscrutable and beyond human wisdom, is sure and final:
‘God will bring every deed into judgment
  … whether it is good or evil.’
This is the same message that Jesus took up in his Parable of the Rich Fool[22], when he warned, “Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15; cf Ecc. 2:25-26; 4:4-6; 5:10-16) and placed Qohelet’s musings into God’s mouth, ‘ “This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” ’ (Luke 12:20; cf Ecc. 1:18-19; 2:26; 5:15-16; 6:12). With the promise of personal[23], divine judgment, proffering both reward and penalty, the frame narrator answers Qohelet’s complaint of the futility of life. Death may seem the end, as Qohelet mused in his final song (C’), but the final judgment of God will show that his sovereignty prevails eternally.

[1] Webb is one of the few to utilize structural analysis consistently in drawing conclusions, and this reader will follow his lead.
[2] Enns p. 124-125. Some critics treat only 1:1 as the Frame narrator’s voice.
[3] Delitzsch vehemently opposes the inclusion of 12:8 in the frame (p. 808), and other critics limit the significant verses pertaining to the book’s message to 12:13-14.
[4] Dillard & Longman p. 250, Enns p. 124
[5] Webb p. 86
[6] as with Dillard and Longman’s analysis, where Qohelet’s speech is seen as merely a ‘foil’. (Dillard & Longman p. 254)
[7] Webb p. 87
[8] section A, see Appendix A
[9] Webb states that the ‘enjoyment texts’ are only within De Jong’s observation complexes (Webb p. 88), but this reader identifies slightly different passage boundaries with an instruction discourse regarding joy at 9:7-10.
[10] Enns p. 124
[11] these are the culminating verses of a wisdom passage expressly attributed to Solomon.
[12] Write relates this comparison to 7:26. Wright p. 1177
[13] Enns p. 126, Webb p. 88
[14] Since the picture of old age presented metaphorically in this song (121b-5) is one of extreme frailty, this reader considers most of the average present-day life span to be ‘youth’ in Qohelet’s terms.
[15] Dillard & Longman p. 254
[16] There is some disagreement as to whether this applies to the words of Qohelet contained in Ecclesiastes or those attributed to Solomon elsewhere. Delitzsch p. 809
[17] Eaton p. 154
[18] Dillard & Longman p. 254
[19] Delitzsch p. 814
[20] Welton p. 185
[21] Dillard & Longman p. 253, 254
[22] Luke 12:13-21
[23] Delitzsch p. 816

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Ecclesiastes Essay part 3

The key term hebel
Since the frame narrator claims Qohelet chose his words with great care (12:9-10), the particular words used in Ecclesiastes are significant for interpreting the author’s message. The Hebrew term hebel occurs nearly 40 times[1] and, from its primary meaning ‘breath’[2] is translated ‘vanity’ (KJV), ‘meaningless’[3] (NIV), or ‘futility’ (HCSB). The prevalence of this word, together with multiple mentions of death[4], often sees Ecclesiastes labeled pessimistic.
Qohelet observes hebel in earthly situations: pleasure (2:1); achievements and inheritance (2:11, 19, 21, 26; 4:4); wisdom (2:15) and foolishness (7:5-6); work and striving (2:17, 23; 4:4); the fate of death (3:19; 11:8) and the days of life (9:9); loneliness, wealth and discontent (4:7-8; 5:10; 6:2, 9); succession politics (4:16); rash vows (5:7); the unknowable future (6:12; 11:8); injustice (7:15; 8:10, 14); and youth (11:10). Whether hebel means futile[5] or fleeting[6], it is Qohelet’s account of ‘everything’ (1:2; 2:11; 3:19; 12:8). But it is vital to recognize that Qohelet never applies the term to God’s gift of joy nor to fearing God. Rather, his intent appears to be ‘first, to show where happiness could not be found.’[7] Qohelet’s observations here are similar to Isaiah’s comments regarding the futility of idolatry, and may be taken as a commentary on Isaiah 57:13 (also featuring the word hebel[8]):
  ‘Let your collection of idols save you!
The wind will carry all of them off,
  a mere breath will blow them away.’
Certainly this is cynicism in a high degree, but it must also be admitted that Qohelet’s pessimism is limited in scope to specific earthly idols through which people seek meaning. It does not apply to joy found in the simple life lived in fear of God.

[1] Schultz p. 212
[2] Weeks p. 79-80
[3] Fox argues for a definition of ‘absurd … counter-rational.’ (Fox p. xix)
[4] Enns p. 127
[5] useless, profitless, without purpose, ‘under the impact of death’ (Webb p. 93), unproductive (Fox p. xix). Goswell relates the ‘futility’ of Ecclesiastes to its reading at the Feast of Tabernacles (Goswell p. 686).
[6] transient, temporary (Fredericks & Estes p. 32; cf Schultz p. 212); transitory, passing, of no lasting significance (Webb p. 93, 95), ephemeral (Fox, p. xix)
[7] Welton p. 186
[8] e.g. Isaiah 57:13, Weeks p. 80-81