Bible Society of South Africa

What makes life meaningful? – 29 June 2021

By Ben Fourie

Bible text(s)

2It is useless, useless, said the Philosopher. Life is useless, all useless.

Ecclesiastes 1:2GNBOpen in Bible reader

Can it be? Do we really read the above words in the Bible? This past month, we have looked at so many people being called and used by God, but here we suddenly encounter an obviously very wise man, but he seems to have come to the conclusion that life is useless.

We do not know who this Philosopher or Preacher was. In the first verse of the book, we read that he was a son of David and, therefore, people tend to ascribe the book to King Solomon, but the book obviously dates from much later than the time of Solomon, which was about 1000 BC. The Hebrew used in the book shows Aramaic influences and also words from other languages that date it as one of the newest books in the Old Testament at around 350 BC. The author was most probably a philosopher from that era.

What is the message of the Preacher? Is it really so negative as it looks at first glance? Yes and no. He does not experience life as only negative as he talks about the enjoyment of good food and drink and what else is good in life. But he does point out the many wrongs in society like the oppression of defenseless people, the excessive love for money and possessions, and the so-called sacrifices that do not come from the heart. These things made him cynical about the usefulness of life.

The book, in its oldest form, only went up to chapter 12 verse 8 and if we stopped there, it was, indeed, a bleak outlook, but it does not stop there. We find two short postscripts that were probably written by students of the Philosopher to bring some perspective about their teacher and how he thought about life. And so the book ends with a very important conclusion: “have reverence for God, and obey his commands, because this is all that human beings were created for.” This really makes sense and gives sense to life.

Prayer: Dear Lord, please help me when life, and all its bustle, sometimes also looks useless to me. Please help me to remember that to have reverence for You and love You above all, makes life worthwhile.

Bible Society of South Africav.4.14.1
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