The narrator of the Book of Ecclesiastes is Solomon, who calls himself a teacher. He identifies himself as that times’ king of Israel and the son of King David. The teacher opens with the statement that everything is vanity. He cautions the readers that all things in life are endless and meaningless, specifically human toil as well as the cycles of nature; there is nothing truly new on earth. Being the wisest person in Israel, he feels cursed with the discontented duty of discerning wisdom, as he has observed all the deeds in the world. In a combination of prose and verse, he presents his studies, hypotheses as well as proverbs regarding wisdom.
The narrator has tried earthly pleasures. He drank, became wealthy, acquired power, bought property, experienced sexual gratification as well as viewed artistic entertainment. However, all these experiences did not satisfy him. Although the narrator initially assumes that wisdom is better than folly, he realizes later that the pursuit of wisdom is frustrating and elusive. Both the wise and the fools die. The narrator argues that the best a human being can do is to fear God, as well as eat, drink and enjoy life.
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The narrator further explores the trends of human activity. This leads him to realize the duality of things in life. For instance, if there is time for positive things, like birth or love, then there is also time for the negative ones, like death or hate. He also notes that it is hard for human beings to understand the distinction between wickedness and justice. However, God can distinguish between the two things. Besides, Solomon argues that competition, envy and oppression comprise human labor. He praises the virtues of cooperation and notes the advantages of synergy, those are the perfect rewards available to a team rather than to one person.
In addition, the narrator describes several foolish actions, for example, gluttony, the penchant for money, and excessive talking. He goes ahead to provide various instructions for shunning such folly. Each of his sayings commends sad experiences over happy ones. For instance, he argues that mourning is better than feasting. He also says that the way things end is better than the way they begin. The narrator further advises people to be moderate, which is not to be too righteous and not too wicked.
The reality that both evil and decent human beings meet the same fate further bothers the teacher. As a result, he becomes tired of discussing the differences between positive and negative actions, clean and unclean, as well as obedience and disobedience. At the end, he hypothesizes that the factors to determine the results between the opposing forces of life are time and chance.
Solomon presents positive exhortations. He encourages human beings to enjoy their futile lives, as well as activities. He advises people to embrace the unanticipated chances of life as caution only obstructs God’s providence. He asks young people to be happy and pursue their inclinations, and to remember God at all times. He emphasizes that the things on earth are just temporary, and life is a sequence that finally goes back to God. The narrator warns the reader against following many wise sayings, because the search for wisdom never ends. He concludes that the most important thing is for human beings to fear God and to follow His commandments (The New Jerusalem Bible, Eccl. 12.13).
The two outstanding themes in the book of Ecclesiastes are the fear of God and obeying God’s commandments (Bullock 210). The theme of fearing God is present throughout the book, though with a suggestion of doubt. The book makes it quite emphatic that human beings should pursue the strong relationship with their God. This means that human beings should be subservient to the deity. Fearing God entails showing respect as well as honor, and worshipping Him. This theme implies that the human beings’ lives should reflect the divine nature of God. Fearing God implies that human beings should ignore all the worldly things that lead to seeking self-gratification, and only do that which pleases God.
The moral implication of fearing God is the realization that human beings cannot accomplish whatever they want without the authority of God. They should realize that they live in the world for just a short time and at the discretion of God. The ultimate goal of human life should be to accomplish the God’s directions, and not whatever humans want. If humans take heed in this advice, they can free themselves from vain pursuits like war and self-aggrandizement. For instance, the world would be free from the present fear of nuclear war and acts of terrorism, as humans would do away with such pursuits. One of the principal causes of war is the ambition of becoming or remaining a superpower or a leader. Such an ambition fails to appreciate the supremacy of God and the subservience of humanity.
Besides, the realization that human beings will meet the same fate, which is death, would lead to the absence of the various discriminations in the world. Racial discrimination, nepotism and negative nationalism have haunted the world for a long time. Apartheid in South Africa ended only in the last decade of the past century. In the United States of America, it took bloodshed, and the selfless efforts of people like Martin Luther King Jr. to abolish racial discrimination. Germany under Nazism pursued a disastrous path of nationalism that discriminated against Jews and killed a large number of them. This, in a way, led to the Second World War in which a significant number of people died. In the present day, tribal discrimination still exists in job recruitments as well as in the provision of other essential services (Fee and Stuart 250). These things would not have happened if the world heeded to the advice of the Book of Ecclesiastes and feared God. Human beings would realize the vanity of all such worldly endeavors and strive to uphold the fear of God. For instance, white people would not discriminate against black people because they would know that the two races are equal before death, and most of all, before God.
The book of Ecclesiastes also talks about the vanity of political power. The king who enjoys immense political power will one day die and lose all that he cherished. In modern times, the world has witnessed many atrocities because of political pursuits. For instance, the United States of America has elevated itself to the position of a model of democracy. This has implied that it exports its democratic ideals to other nations that it deems not to be democratic. These actions resulted in wars and violence in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as retaliatory attacks in the United States. According to the ethical perspective implied in the book of Ecclesiastes, such turmoil in the name of exporting democratic ideals is vanity. Indeed, the wars and retaliatory violence are proofs of the shortsightedness of humanity’s judgment. For instance, if the United States had heeded by the ethical advice of the book of Ecclesiastes, then it would not have started its aggressive policies on exporting democracy. Only God knows why things happen and what the future will be like. The world would appreciate God’s superiority and fear it, which would lead to peace. This means that abiding by the advice of fearing God would make the world peaceful.
On the other hand, the theme of abiding by God’s command is also crucial in guiding human beings moral and cultural ethics. This implies that one should be subservient to God by following His commandments. The book of Ecclesiastes says that obeying God’s commandments is the duty of humanity. This adds to the theme of fearing God by implying that human beings should further keep His commandments. The book gives judgment as the need to obey God’s commandments. As a result, there is a direct link between judgment and law. This point contradicts the previous suggestions that the righteous suffer while the wicked prosper, as it implies that the faithful will face kind judgment.
The moral implication of following God’s commandments is abandoning wicked acts. A further reason to pursue positive acts is that all human beings will later face judgment. For instance, one should not only kill because it hurts the other person, but also because he will face judgment in the hereafter. If human beings follow this decree, the guidance of all their acts would be in pursuing a kind judgment. This would result into a peaceful world as all the commandments of God lead to both spiritual and physical pacification (Kidner 170).
Keeping God’s commandments is a part of fearing God. If human beings followed the advice of the book of Ecclesiastes, then their moral and ethical inclinations would appreciate of the supremacy of God, and not worldly motives. This would translate to a more cohesive world than the current one.
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