What Kohelet Was Really Talking About

Most descriptions of the writing of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) say it is a rather droll and depressing book. After all, how many times does he tell us that whatever he did was as useless as “chasing the wind”? The very beginning starts with “Useless, useless- all is useless!”

But I find this book to be uplifting and empowering because when we get past his kvetching we can see the reason for his feelings of despair and uselessness, and that what he learned is actually very good for us.

He tells us what he is trying to do in Kohelet 1:12-18:

I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted. I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind. For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.  (bold print added by author) 

He repeats this desire to understand what is wisdom and what is folly in Kohelet 2:12, and he defines exactly what he discovers about seeking wisdom in Kohelet 8:16-17:

When I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done on earth, how neither day nor night do one’s eyes see sleep, then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out.

Can you see why Kohelet is so frustrated?  He is trying to figure out why God does what He does! He is a human being trying to understand the mind of the Almighty- no wonder he sees all his attempts to understand the activities of mankind as useless and chasing the wind. He cannot understand why good things happen to bad people, and vice-versa. He cannot fathom why people who have no family build up fortunes, only to die and have those fortunes wasted by strangers.

What Kohelet really sees as useless is not so much the activities of men, but his attempt to understand why they happen.

And there are parts throughout the book where he begins to realize what is really important: he tells us this in Kohelet 2:24:

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God.

and in Kohelet 3:12:

I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live;

and, once more, he advises us what is really important in Kohelet 9:7:

Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.

Most of the teachings I have heard regarding Kohelet bypass all the wisdom, warnings, and complaints that are in this book and go straight to the end, which is where Kohelet concludes that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. This is, of course, an absolute truth, and good advice, but by ignoring the diatribe in this book they have missed the whole point of what Kohelet found out in all his efforts to understand God.

Kohelet is telling us what he learned is that we are to accept with full appreciation all that God has given us, and we should just enjoy whatever we have from Him because nothing ever really stays the same. Our wealth, our family, our activities, our work, everything we do will be changed, lost or gained, only to be given to our descendants or others we don’t even know, The lesson is:  whatever we have is from God and we should appreciate it, and be joyful in it.

Can you see now why I find this book to be so uplifting, even when it is written with such disdain for all human activity? It reminds me that it doesn’t matter what I have or don’t have, nothing will remain the same (so there is hope) and whatever I enjoy now, I will probably lose at sometime, so I might as well really enjoy it now while I have it. And even if I lose it, I may gain it all back again. There is always hope.  Kohelet is telling me that I will never understand why things happen, so stop frying my brain trying to figure it out- just enjoy it!  WOW! That is like lifting a giant weight off my shoulders!

God is in charge and you aren’t, so stop trying to run the show or figure it out. You can’t.

I once read a very wise statement: Any god that can be understood by the mind of Man is not worthy of the worship of Man.  Our God is far beyond our understanding, and trying to understand the “why” of life is a lost cause before you even start, so stop chasing the wind and enjoy all that God does for you.

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