Tag Archive: Qohelet

I washed dishes two or three times the other day – I lost count. Which, with a family of five – three of whom are teenagers – is not unusual. I have a love-hate relationship with the task of washing dishes. I do not enjoy the task, per se, but it gives me a chance to think. Not surprisingly, no one seems to bother me when I am at the sink. I wash them by hand and use the dishwasher as a draining board.

Be that as it may, a thought occurred to me while I was washing dishes for what I hoped was the last time. I realized I was washing the same dishes for the third time. The same plates, the same glasses, and the same silverware. Over and over. Time after time. Day after day. So on and so on.

Looking back on my life, there have been quite a few things I thought I might be  remembered for doing. I have also thought about what my purpose in life might be. Yet I never actually considered washing the same dishes day after day for years on end to be my toil in life. True, it is not anywhere close to the only thing I do or have ever done in my life. But do I really want to put it on my resume?

Qohelet would say it does not matter. It is all vanity and a chasing after wind anyway. “This is what I have seen to be good: it is fitting to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of the life God gives us; for this is our lot.” (Eccl. 5:18 NRSV)

So should I try to find enjoyment in washing the dishes? Derive some pleasure from washing wasted condiments from plates and dried milk from bowls? Receive brief satisfaction from having clean dishes – albeit temporarily?

While it made for interesting thoughts during my dishwashing toil, my consternation at continually washing dishes was causing me to miss the point. The New International Version (NIV) says “satisfaction” in place of enjoyment. The New Living Translation (NLT) says “accept their lot in life.” Which I think might be closer to the point Qohelet was making. ;

In verses 13-15, Qohelet laments the fate of those who hoard wealth and find that they still – through circumstances during life and the finality, and pennilessness, of death, end up with nothing. “All their hard work produces nothing – nothing they can take with them.” In verse 19, he states that “whenever God gives people wealth and riches and enables them to enjoy it, to accept their place in the world and to find pleasure in their hard work – all this is God’s gift.” Concluding the chapter in verse 20, “people shouldn’t brood too much over the days of their lives because God gives an answer in their hearts’ joy.” (CEB)

The answer lies, not in my receiving some weird satisfaction from such mundane tasks such as washing dishes, but in enjoying the life that God gave me. Whether pleasure or toil, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to experience either one. Which is a theme Qohelet returned to more than once.

Earlier in Ecclesiastes, in 3 10-11, Qohelet says that “God has made everything fitting in its time, but has also placed eternity in their hearts, without enabling them to discover what God has done from beginning to end.” He ends the book of Ecclesiastes with “So this is the end of the matter; all has been heard. Worship God and keep God’s commandments because this is what  everyone must do. God will definitely bring every deed to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or bad.”

The fact that I am tired of having to wash the dishes – or any other task which I am required to undertake – is inconsequential. Having faith in God, attempting to live Christ-like to the best of  my ability, and enjoying the life I have been blessed with, both good and bad, is what is important. God will take care of the rest.

Peace be with you.

Before the spectacle we refer to as the Super Bowl (with its own display of vanity) – before the freezing temperatures, the ice, and the snow – Cowboys Stadium (speaking of vanity and excess) was the site of another vanity focused event. The Great Plate auction at Cowboys Stadium a couple of weeks ago was more than a little over the top. They are called vanity plates after all, but the term originally applied to simply having your name – or some form thereof – on your license plates, announcing to the world that the car belongs to you. In many cases, the car was a rather expensive one, adding to the sense of sheer vanity.

Thirty-three speciality (read “vanity”) license plates were up for grabs at the auction. A woman bought T BIG TEX for her husband and DIAMOND for herself for a total of $4,500. She reportedly said that it was “for a good cause.” Not quite true – the majority of proceeds from the auction goes toward the general revenue fund. The rest of the proceeds is to go to charities, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and MyPlates – the company designing and marketing the plates.

Not surprisingly, sports teams brought a few of the largest bids. DRAGONS (Southlake Dragons) went for $7,750. Which is quite a sum to show off around town for a high school team. Rangers sold for $10,000, GO HORNS for $10,500, and COWBOYS for $11,500. The largest bid was for FERRARI, which brought in $15,000.

Granted, the “winners” are allowed to keep the plates for 25 years and can sell them for a profit at any time. But who can imagine spending enough for them to make a profit? Unfortunately, I think there are some people who could. People to whom vanity is priceless.

Qohelet would have been appalled. In all of his searching, with times of serious excess, I believe this example would take the proverbial cake. What Qohelet did he did with the goal of knowledge and wisdom in mind. True, it was excess, but it was practical excess – to coin a term. Qohelet considered efforts to improve oneself and serve a purpose in this lifetime, vanity (or meaningless, or vapor). He did give into pleasure, but only to find out if it led to knowledge or wisdom on some level. To actually give into vanity for its own sake would have given Qohelet a heart attack. It would have made Jesus, himself, pass out.

People are free to spend their money on whatever they choose. But – and you saw that coming, did you not? – would not giving $15,000 to a charity be more beneficial to the recipients than what is left over after everyone gets their piece of the auction price. Of course, they would not have the supposed popularity (or notoriety, as it were) of driving around with a $15,000 license plate (which is hard to even say or write). And how much will their insurance payments increase to include damage or loss of the plate?

If I was them, I would install the plates in such a way as to seriously discourage theft. On the other hand, if they were me, they would never have bid on the plates in the first place. I have enough problem curbing my own impulses towards vanity without announcing to the world that I am insecure enough to pay $15,000 for license plates so that I will be noticed.

Peace be with you.

[The picture and information were taken from a WFAA.com article by Chris Hawes]

Time of Calamity

A couple of days ago, about 10 a.m., the bottom dropped out, weather-wise. The “sky was crying,” as Stevie Ray Vaughan would sing. It also sounded as if Mother Nature might have some serious issues. Being in the middle of a storm is a little scary, no matter who you are. You may not admit it, but even the strongest among us have their moments.

When it is storming so tremendously outside that the thunder, lightning, and rain on the house is all you hear – even over the tv, radio, or heater. The sun seems to be on sick leave and the sky just gets increasingly darker. If you are having any major life problems at all – and who is not – a serious funk can be one thunder crash away. The all-consuming gloominess that appears to surround you suddenly feels tangible – shrinking around the house like plastic wrap – closing off all exits. That’s how I imagine Qohelet felt when I read certain parts of Ecclesiastes.

“Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all. For no one can anticipate the time of disaster. Like fish taken in a cruel net, and like birds caught in a snare, so mortals are snared at a time of calamity, when it suddenly falls upon them.” Eccl. 9:11, 12.

Everyone has experienced times similar to those mentioned here. But, as I discuss in the book, Qohelet did not have grace and forgiveness of sins as we have. Not to say that God did not give grace to the Israelites or grace their endeavors – the Israelites simply did not see it as grace, per se. The Israelites and people of the Old Testament viewed life in more concrete terms. If life took a bad turn – family, crops, or livestock dying, for example – they must have done something to cause it.

Unfortunately for them, Jesus Christ had not been born yet. Fortunately for us, he has. Through Christ’s life and sacrifice, we not only have God’s grace, but the Holy Spirit and forgiveness of sins. Looking at Ecclesiastes in that light, we can take Qohelet’s view – which is valid even today – mix in grace, the Holy Spirit, and redemption, and ascertain our actions as Christians when we have a tendency to “hate all the toil in which we have toiled under the sun.”

Join me on the journey.

Peace be with you.

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