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Today’s Reading

Devotional: Ecclesiastes 1

The author of Ecclesiastes is (in transliterated Hebrew) Qoheleth, pronounced Ko-hellet or Ko-helleth. The word is connected with the idea of assembling, and “Qoheleth” probably means something like “leader of the assembly” or even “one who addresses the assembly.” Probably the assembly was religious (we would say “ecclesiastical”), yet Qoheleth is also an academic, collecting and formulating sayings (Eccl. 12:9–12). As a result, some Bibles render the expression “the Preacher”; the NIV supports “the Teacher.” One commentator suggests “the Professor.”

Qoheleth refers to himself as “king over Israel in Jerusalem” (Eccl. 1:12). But which king? He claims, “I have grown and increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me” (Eccl. 1:16), which seems to rule out everyone but Solomon. On the other hand, it would be very strange for Solomon to write such words, since there was only one Davidic king over Jerusalem before him. So while some commentators think Qoheleth is Solomon, others point out that Solomon is not named and suggest this may be a religious leader who, as part of the dramatic argument he sets forth, stylizes himself as a super-Solomon: the wisest conceivable man, on a search for self-fulfillment, would still return destitute, crying out that everything is meaningless (Eccl. 1:2).

Just as many parts of Job cannot be insightfully or wisely read without grasping the flow of the book as a whole, so also with Ecclesiastes. Qoheleth sets himself to explore the significance of everything “from below,” looked at from the vantage point of fallen humanity. In short, his stance is “under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9) or “under heaven” (Eccl. 1:13). He is a defender neither of naturalism nor of atheism, but he ruthlessly explores what can be said of various ostensibly “good” things when looked at one by one, “under the sun.” His theme is set out in the introduction (Eccl. 1:1–11). “ ‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!’ ” (Eccl. 1:2). This gets at the heart of the expression traditionally rendered “Vanity of vanities … all is vanity” (KJV). The word suggests a wisp of air, the merest vapor, utterly without significance. In this book the Teacher probes domain after domain of life, domains that so many people value and cherish and even worship, and concludes, from his stance “under the sun,” that everything is meaningless. By the end of the book, after scraping away the detritus of life, he hits bedrock—God himself. And here and there along the way he allows us glimpses of a divine perspective that transcends meaninglessness. But he takes his time getting there, for we must feel the depressing weight of all questing visions that do not begin with God.

Devotional: Leviticus 18

The beginning of the so-called “holiness code” (Lev. 18) is full of interest. We should take note of at least four things:

(1) Just because this is the first time that some prohibitions have been articulated in the Bible does not necessarily mean that this is the first time anyone thought of them, or condemned the practices in question. Before murder is actually prohibited as such, Cain commits it, is condemned for it, and is punished. The same is true for many actions treated in the Law of Moses. Much of the Law of God is written on the human conscience, so that societies without Scripture erect moral structures which, however different from the values of Scripture, overlap with Scripture in important and revealing ways. Similarly, many of the prohibitions of sexual alignments listed here were doubtless already frowned upon; now their prohibition is codified.

(2) As usual, the commandments in this chapter are tied to the person and character of God (18:2–4, 21, 30), the Exodus (18:3), and the sanctions of the covenant (18:29).

(3) Many prohibitions in this chapter establish barriers in sexual relations: a man is not to have sexual relations with his mother or stepmother, sister or half-sister, granddaughter, aunt, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, and so forth. Homosexuality is “detestable” (18:22); bestiality is “a perversion” (18:23). Tied to this list is the prohibition against sacrificing any of your children to the horrible god Molech, who demanded that some be burned in sacrifice (18:21); perhaps the common point is family integrity. Another striking element in this chapter is the fact that the perversions are prohibited in Israel so that this fledgling nation does not become as debauched as those they are about to displace — lest they head in that same direction and are vomited out of the land (18:24-30). The shadow of the exile hangs over the horizon before the people even enter the land.

(4) Intriguingly, Leviticus 18:5 is cited in Romans 10:5 and Galatians 3:10. The general point in both passages is the same. The “Law,” i.e., the law-covenant, is grounded in demand: keep God’s decrees and laws, and live. This is not to say that faith isn’t required, still less that the Old Testament covenant is not characterized by grace (not least in the sacrificial system, such that those who breached the covenant had a recourse to find a way back.” But its heartbeat is demand. By contrast, the heartbeat of the new covenant, like the covenant with Abraham, is above all characterized by faith (whatever its demands). Whatever the overlap, the distinctive heartbeat of the two covenants must not be confused.

Related Resources

What Are the Requirements to Be an Elder?

Combining a chart from the ESV Study Bible with definitions from John Piper.

Everything Is Not Meaningless

"Everything is meaningless" no more sums up the message of Ecclesiastes than the speeches of Job’s three friends sum up the meaning of Job.

What’s the Difference between Elders and Deacons?

Isaac Adams discusses the roles of elders and deacons in the church according to the Bible.

Leviticus 18

Unlawful Sexual Relations

18:1 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the LORD your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules1 and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.

“None of you shall approach any one of his close relatives to uncover nakedness. I am the LORD. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father, which is the nakedness of your mother; she is your mother, you shall not uncover her nakedness. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father's wife; it is your father's nakedness. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your sister, your father's daughter or your mother's daughter, whether brought up in the family or in another home. 10 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your son's daughter or of your daughter's daughter, for their nakedness is your own nakedness. 11 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father's wife's daughter, brought up in your father's family, since she is your sister. 12 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father's sister; she is your father's relative. 13 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother's sister, for she is your mother's relative. 14 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father's brother, that is, you shall not approach his wife; she is your aunt. 15 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your daughter-in-law; she is your son's wife, you shall not uncover her nakedness. 16 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother's wife; it is your brother's nakedness. 17 You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and of her daughter, and you shall not take her son's daughter or her daughter's daughter to uncover her nakedness; they are relatives; it is depravity. 18 And you shall not take a woman as a rival wife to her sister, uncovering her nakedness while her sister is still alive.

19 “You shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness while she is in her menstrual uncleanness. 20 And you shall not lie sexually with your neighbor's wife and so make yourself unclean with her. 21 You shall not give any of your children to offer them2 to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD. 22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. 23 And you shall not lie with any animal and so make yourself unclean with it, neither shall any woman give herself to an animal to lie with it: it is perversion.

24 “Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, 25 and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. 26 But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you 27 (for the people of the land, who were before you, did all of these abominations, so that the land became unclean), 28 lest the land vomit you out when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you. 29 For everyone who does any of these abominations, the persons who do them shall be cut off from among their people. 30 So keep my charge never to practice any of these abominable customs that were practiced before you, and never to make yourselves unclean by them: I am the LORD your God.”

Footnotes

[1] 18:4 Or my just decrees; also verse 5
[2] 18:21 Hebrew to make them pass through [the fire]

(ESV)

Resources

What Are the Requirements to Be an Elder?

Combining a chart from the ESV Study Bible with definitions from John Piper.

Everything Is Not Meaningless

"Everything is meaningless" no more sums up the message of Ecclesiastes than the speeches of Job’s three friends sum up the meaning of Job.

What’s the Difference between Elders and Deacons?

Isaac Adams discusses the roles of elders and deacons in the church according to the Bible.

Psalm 22

Why Have You Forsaken Me?

To the choirmaster: according to The Doe of the Dawn. A Psalm of David.

22:1   My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
  O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
    and by night, but I find no rest.
  Yet you are holy,
    enthroned on the praises1 of Israel.
  In you our fathers trusted;
    they trusted, and you delivered them.
  To you they cried and were rescued;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
  But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
  All who see me mock me;
    they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
  “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him;
    let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”
  Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
    you made me trust you at my mother's breasts.
10   On you was I cast from my birth,
    and from my mother's womb you have been my God.
11   Be not far from me,
    for trouble is near,
    and there is none to help.
12   Many bulls encompass me;
    strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13   they open wide their mouths at me,
    like a ravening and roaring lion.
14   I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint;
  my heart is like wax;
    it is melted within my breast;
15   my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
    you lay me in the dust of death.
16   For dogs encompass me;
    a company of evildoers encircles me;
  they have pierced my hands and feet2
17   I can count all my bones—
  they stare and gloat over me;
18   they divide my garments among them,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.
19   But you, O LORD, do not be far off!
    O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
20   Deliver my soul from the sword,
    my precious life from the power of the dog!
21     Save me from the mouth of the lion!
  You have rescued3 me from the horns of the wild oxen!
22   I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23   You who fear the LORD, praise him!
    All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
    and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24   For he has not despised or abhorred
    the affliction of the afflicted,
  and he has not hidden his face from him,
    but has heard, when he cried to him.
25   From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
    my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
26   The afflicted4 shall eat and be satisfied;
    those who seek him shall praise the LORD!
    May your hearts live forever!
27   All the ends of the earth shall remember
    and turn to the LORD,
  and all the families of the nations
    shall worship before you.
28   For kingship belongs to the LORD,
    and he rules over the nations.
29   All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
    before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
    even the one who could not keep himself alive.
30   Posterity shall serve him;
    it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
31   they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
    that he has done it.

Footnotes

[1] 22:3 Or dwelling in the praises
[2] 22:16 Some Hebrew manuscripts, Septuagint, Vulgate, Syriac; most Hebrew manuscripts like a lion [they are at] my hands and feet
[3] 22:21 Hebrew answered
[4] 22:26 Or The meek

(ESV)

Ecclesiastes 1

All Is Vanity

1:1 The words of the Preacher,1 the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

  Vanity2 of vanities, says the Preacher,
    vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
  What does man gain by all the toil
    at which he toils under the sun?
  A generation goes, and a generation comes,
    but the earth remains forever.
  The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
    and hastens3 to the place where it rises.
  The wind blows to the south
    and goes around to the north;
  around and around goes the wind,
    and on its circuits the wind returns.
  All streams run to the sea,
    but the sea is not full;
  to the place where the streams flow,
    there they flow again.
  All things are full of weariness;
    a man cannot utter it;
  the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
    nor the ear filled with hearing.
  What has been is what will be,
    and what has been done is what will be done,
    and there is nothing new under the sun.
10   Is there a thing of which it is said,
    “See, this is new”?
  It has been already
    in the ages before us.
11   There is no remembrance of former things,4
    nor will there be any remembrance
  of later things5 yet to be
    among those who come after.

The Vanity of Wisdom

12 I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 And I applied my heart6 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. 14 I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity7 and a striving after wind.8

15   What is crooked cannot be made straight,
    and what is lacking cannot be counted.

16 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.” 17 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.

18   For in much wisdom is much vexation,
    and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.

Footnotes

[1] 1:1 Or Convener, or Collector; Hebrew Qoheleth (so throughout Ecclesiastes)
[2] 1:2 The Hebrew term hebel, translated vanity or vain, refers concretely to a “mist,” “vapor,” or “mere breath,” and metaphorically to something that is fleeting or elusive (with different nuances depending on the context). It appears five times in this verse and in 29 other verses in Ecclesiastes
[3] 1:5 Or and returns panting
[4] 1:11 Or former people
[5] 1:11 Or later people
[6] 1:13 The Hebrew term denotes the center of one's inner life, including mind, will, and emotions
[7] 1:14 The Hebrew term hebel can refer to a “vapor” or “mere breath” (see note on 1:2)
[8] 1:14 Or a feeding on wind; compare Hosea 12:1 (also in Ecclesiastes 1:17; 2:11, 17, 26; 4:4, 6, 16; 6:9)

(ESV)

1 Timothy 3

Qualifications for Overseers

3:1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer1 must be above reproach, the husband of one wife,2 sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Qualifications for Deacons

Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued,3 not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise4 must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

The Mystery of Godliness

14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. 16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

  He5 was manifested in the flesh,
    vindicated6 by the Spirit,7
      seen by angels,
  proclaimed among the nations,
    believed on in the world,
      taken up in glory.

Footnotes

[1] 3:2 Or bishop; Greek episkopos; a similar term occurs in verse 1
[2] 3:2 Or a man of one woman; also verse 12
[3] 3:8 Or devious in speech
[4] 3:11 Or Wives likewise, or Women likewise
[5] 3:16 Greek Who; some manuscripts God; others Which
[6] 3:16 Or justified
[7] 3:16 Or vindicated in spirit

(ESV)