Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ecclesiastes Lesson 2: All Is Vanity (1:1-11)

The opening verses of the book set the stage for the themes that will recur throughout Ecclesiastes.

The Introduction (1:1-3)
Ecclesiastes is framed by a narrator who speaks of the author (Qohelet, “the Preacher”) in the third person (see the conclusion in 12:8-14).

How does the narrator identify Qohelet in 1:1?

How does the narrator summarize Qohelet’s message in 1:2?

How many times is the word “vanity” or “vanities” used in 1:2?

Note on “Vanity”
The Hebrew word hebel appears 76 times in the OT. Here are the ways it is translated:·       “vanity” or “vain” (43 times)
·       “breath” (9 times)
·       “worthless” or “worthlessness” (10 times)
·       “idols” (7 times)
·       “false” (2 times)
·       “empty” (2 times)
·       “nothing” (2 times)

The Hebrew word for “vanity” (hebel) is related to the Hebrew name for Abel. In what way does the story of Abel illustrate the vanity of life?

What question does the writer ask in 1:3?

The phrase “under the sun” is equivalent to the phrase “under heaven” (1:13; 2:3; 3:1). It is also found in fifth century Phoenician literature, and basically refers to the realm of the living. Some commentators have tried to argue that it is a negative phrase that refers to a view of life that is purely earth-centered and ignored God. But this is not the case (see 5:18). Instead, it refers to the universal experience of life on our planet.

Verse 3 contains two important terms: “man” (Hebrew adam) and ”toil.” How do these two terms relate to the opening chapters of Genesis?

The Circle of Life (1:4-11)
Verses 4-11 contain a poem about the “circle of life.” In Qohelet’s view, however, the cyclical nature of life is not positive, but negative.

According to 1:4, does humanity make a lasting impact on the earth?

What cycles of nature does Qohelet mention in 1:5-7?

What point was Qohelet making based on his observations of nature in 1:5-7?

According to 1:8, “all things are full of ________________.”

In 1:8, what three human abilities does Qohelet say are inadequate? (Note: I like the paraphrase of this verse in a new translation called God’s Word: “They are more than anyone can express, comprehend, or understand.”)

In verses 9-11, Qohelet says there is nothing new under the sun, and no remembrance of former things. In what sense would you disagree with him?

In what sense would you agree with him?

In this initial passage we learn two basic themes of the message of Qohelet. First, based on what we can observe through experience, life on earth seems vain. And second, life seems cyclical. 

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