I was surprised by Eccl 8:17. I’ve always considered the book of Ecclesiastes to be possibly the most depressing book in the whole of the bible. But I’ve just discovered from my regular bible reading that I’ve never really understood it.
The most difficult thing for me to read is the statement the recurs over and over “it is useless”.
English literature was one of the challenging and interests in itself when I was in High School. I loved this subject. Chaucer was a favorite though I took a long time to understand it. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich had me from the first few words. But The Member of the Wedding was just embarrassing and Tess of the D’Urbervilles had me mystified as to why it was considered good literature and that was the case with most of books chosen for the subject. I concluded that those that chose the syllabus for this subject are all manic depressives!
This is what I felt when I first read Ecclesiastes. This guy is a manic depressive. The writer spends verse after verse describing how everything is “useless” or “meaningless”. At least that is what the modern translation say. The King James version uses the word “vanity”.
But Eccl 8:17 has changed all that for me:
17 “then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.”
Now I’m no Hebrew scholar and I’m sure that the translation of the word that comes out as “useless” or “meaningless” is not that clear but the verse above is very clear when the writer says something is meaningless he is not saying that something is without purpose. Rather he is saying that “No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun”.
This puts a whole new light on what is being said.
When the writer says
1 A good name is better than fine perfume,
and the day of death better than the day of birth.
2 It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
the living should take this to heart.
3 Frustration is better than laughter,
because a sad face is good for the heart.
4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.
5 It is better to heed the rebuke of a wise person
than to listen to the song of fools.
6 Like the crackling of thorns under the pot,
so is the laughter of fools.
This too is meaningless. (Eccl. 7:)
He is actually asking the question “why are people like this, I can’t work it out”.
Now I know that there are going to be those that say “This is a book of wisdom is it not, how can he not understand”. But that is the point isn’t it? The beginning of all wisdom is to know that you cannot comprehend God and his ways.
Hence for me The book of Ecclesiastes is a compatriot of Job. If you change the the word “meaningless” to “hard to comprehend” then you read the book of Job and the book of Ecclesiastes side by side and just be amazed as to how much the two agree.
And you know what? I agree with the writer of Ecclesiastes, people who believe “a sad face is good for the heart” are beyond comprehension.