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In Ecclesiastes 5:13–6:12, the Teacher enlarges upon two or three grievous evils “under the sun.” Here we focus on those described in Ecclesiastes 6.
One of life’s immense frustrations involves people who receive from God “wealth, possessions and honor” (Eccl. 6:2) such that they lack nothing their heart desires—yet they lack the ability to enjoy these things. The power to enjoy things (first introduced in Eccl. 5:19) is itself a great gift from God. To have so many other gifts and not this one is immensely troubling. The Teacher does not spell out what exactly has foreclosed on the ability to enjoy all the other gifts. It might be a business failure (Eccl. 5:13–15). But it might be chronic illness, or war, or the evil manipulation of someone more powerful, or even some form of insanity. One might die prematurely, and a “stranger” will enjoy all the things one has accumulated (Eccl. 6:2). Or perhaps a person will die not only unfulfilled and barely noticed, but unlamented (“not receiv[ing] proper burial,” Eccl. 6:3). Qoheleth insists that “a stillborn child is better off than he” (Eccl. 6:3). Such a child “comes without meaning, it departs in darkness, and in darkness its name is shrouded” (6:4). But even if someone should live ten thousand years and yet never enjoy all the prosperity God has graciously given him (Eccl. 6:6), his life is meaningless. And in the end he goes to the same place as the stillborn child (Eccl. 6:6).
The chapter ends with a series of blistering rhetorical questions, all designed to substantiate the thesis that, under the sun, everything is “utterly meaningless” (Eccl. 1:2). We work to eat, and eating gives us the strength to go on working: what is the point? (Eccl. 6:7). But if someone replies that a person may not only work and eat, but become a “wise man” (Eccl. 6:8), is it all that clear that the wise are better off than fools? After all, much wisdom may simply bring much frustration and grief, as Qoheleth has already pointed out (Eccl. 1:18). Moreover, isn’t it better to be satisfied with the material world—with what one can touch and hear and see and feel, with “what the eye sees”—than to pursue “the roving of the appetite,” i.e., all the things hidden from view that we hanker after? For this, too, “is meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Eccl. 6:9).
Is this too wretchedly pessimistic to be realistic? But for those who are “under the sun” (Eccl. 6:12) and nothing more, what else is there? We talk too much and know too little (Eccl. 6:11–12). God help us! We need a deliverer from outside our myopic horizons.
Leviticus 23 provides a description of the principal “appointed feasts” (23:2). These include the Sabbath, which of course could not be observed by taking a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The remaining feasts mentioned, however, are bound up with the temple in Jerusalem. There are three such feasts, along with the related celebrations tied to the principal three. (In later times Jews added a fourth feast.)
Apart from the Sabbath itself, the first “appointed feast” (or pair of appointed feasts) was the Passover coupled with the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The “Lord’s Passover” began at dusk on the fourteenth day of the first Jewish month (Nisan), when the Passover meal was actually eaten, and the people gathered to remember the Lord’s spectacular rescue of them from Egypt. The next day began the weeklong Feast of Unleavened Bread, a reminder not only of the rapid flight from Egypt, but of the Lord’s injunction to put aside all yeast for that period of time — a symbol of putting aside all evil. The first and seventh days were to be free from work and solemnized by sacred assemblies.
The First-fruits festival (23:9–14), followed by the Feast of Weeks (23:15–22) — the seven weeks immediately after First-fruits, culminating on the fiftieth day by a sacred assembly — was a powerful way, especially in a highly agrarian society, to remember that God alone provides us with all we need to live. It was a way of publicly bearing witness to our dependence on God, of expressing our individual and corporate thanksgiving to our Maker and Sustainer. There are slight analogues in countries like England and Canada in “Harvest Sunday” festivals and Canadian Thanksgiving. (The American Thanksgiving is partly a harvest festival, but is freighted with substantial symbolism to do with finding freedom in a new land.) But no festival of thanksgiving can be more valuable than the quality and extent of the thankfulness of the people who participate.
On the first day of the seventh Jewish month, another sacred assembly, the Feast of Trumpets, commemorated with trumpet blasts (23:23–25), anticipated Yom Kippur — the Day of Atonement (23:26–33) — which fell on the tenth day of the seventh month. This was the day the high priest entered the Most Holy Place, with the prescribed blood, to cover both his own sins and the sins of the people (cf. comments on April 12). The fifteenth day of that month began the eight-day Feast of Booths (23:33–36), when the people were to live in “booths” or “tabernacles,” huts and tents, to remind themselves of the pilgrimage years before they entered into the Promised Land.
How should the people of the new covenant remember and commemorate the provisions of our great covenantal God?
23:1 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, These are the appointed feasts of the LORD that you shall proclaim as holy convocations; they are my appointed feasts.
3 “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the LORD in all your dwelling places.
4 “These are the appointed feasts of the LORD, the holy convocations, which you shall proclaim at the time appointed for them. 5 In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight,1 is the LORD's Passover. 6 And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. 7 On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work. 8 But you shall present a food offering to the LORD for seven days. On the seventh day is a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work.”
9 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 10 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest, 11 and he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, so that you may be accepted. On the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it. 12 And on the day when you wave the sheaf, you shall offer a male lamb a year old without blemish as a burnt offering to the LORD. 13 And the grain offering with it shall be two tenths of an ephah2 of fine flour mixed with oil, a food offering to the LORD with a pleasing aroma, and the drink offering with it shall be of wine, a fourth of a hin.3 14 And you shall eat neither bread nor grain parched or fresh until this same day, until you have brought the offering of your God: it is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.
15 “You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. 16 You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the LORD. 17 You shall bring from your dwelling places two loaves of bread to be waved, made of two tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour, and they shall be baked with leaven, as firstfruits to the LORD. 18 And you shall present with the bread seven lambs a year old without blemish, and one bull from the herd and two rams. They shall be a burnt offering to the LORD, with their grain offering and their drink offerings, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD. 19 And you shall offer one male goat for a sin offering, and two male lambs a year old as a sacrifice of peace offerings. 20 And the priest shall wave them with the bread of the firstfruits as a wave offering before the LORD, with the two lambs. They shall be holy to the LORD for the priest. 21 And you shall make a proclamation on the same day. You shall hold a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work. It is a statute forever in all your dwelling places throughout your generations.
22 “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.”
23 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 24 “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of solemn rest, a memorial proclaimed with blast of trumpets, a holy convocation. 25 You shall not do any ordinary work, and you shall present a food offering to the LORD.”
26 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 27 “Now on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be for you a time of holy convocation, and you shall afflict yourselves4 and present a food offering to the LORD. 28 And you shall not do any work on that very day, for it is a Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the LORD your God. 29 For whoever is not afflicted5 on that very day shall be cut off from his people. 30 And whoever does any work on that very day, that person I will destroy from among his people. 31 You shall not do any work. It is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. 32 It shall be to you a Sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict yourselves. On the ninth day of the month beginning at evening, from evening to evening shall you keep your Sabbath.”
33 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 34 “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, On the fifteenth day of this seventh month and for seven days is the Feast of Booths6 to the LORD. 35 On the first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work. 36 For seven days you shall present food offerings to the LORD. On the eighth day you shall hold a holy convocation and present a food offering to the LORD. It is a solemn assembly; you shall not do any ordinary work.
37 “These are the appointed feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim as times of holy convocation, for presenting to the LORD food offerings, burnt offerings and grain offerings, sacrifices and drink offerings, each on its proper day, 38 besides the LORD's Sabbaths and besides your gifts and besides all your vow offerings and besides all your freewill offerings, which you give to the LORD.
39 “On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the LORD seven days. On the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest. 40 And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days. 41 You shall celebrate it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It is a statute forever throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. 42 You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths, 43 that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”
44 Thus Moses declared to the people of Israel the appointed feasts of the LORD.
30:1 I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up
and have not let my foes rejoice over me.
2 O LORD my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
3 O LORD, you have brought up my soul from Sheol;
you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.1
4 Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints,
and give thanks to his holy name.2
5 For his anger is but for a moment,
and his favor is for a lifetime.3
Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
6 As for me, I said in my prosperity,
“I shall never be moved.”
7 By your favor, O LORD,
you made my mountain stand strong;
you hid your face;
I was dismayed.
8 To you, O LORD, I cry,
and to the Lord I plead for mercy:
9 “What profit is there in my death,4
if I go down to the pit?5
Will the dust praise you?
Will it tell of your faithfulness?
10 Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me!
O LORD, be my helper!”
11 You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,
12 that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!
6:1 There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: 2 a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity;1 it is a grievous evil. 3 If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life's good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. 4 For it comes in vanity and goes in darkness, and in darkness its name is covered. 5 Moreover, it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet it finds rest rather than he. 6 Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy2 no good—do not all go to the one place?
7 All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied.3 8 For what advantage has the wise man over the fool? And what does the poor man have who knows how to conduct himself before the living? 9 Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind.
10 Whatever has come to be has already been named, and it is known what man is, and that he is not able to dispute with one stronger than he. 11 The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man? 12 For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain4 life, which he passes like a shadow? For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun?
2:1 You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men,1 who will be able to teach others also. 3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. 5 An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. 6 It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. 7 Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
8 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 11 The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
14 Remind them of these things, and charge them before God2 not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved,3 a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. 19 But God's firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”
20 Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. 21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable,4 he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.
22 So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord's servant5 must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.