Nov 6, 2013

Hebrew Reading, Outline, and Commentary on Ecc. 1:1-11

Solomon’s Argument that all is Vanity 
By R. Brian Rickett
I.               Superscription (v.1)
II.             The Argument that all is Vanity (2-11)
A.    The Problem Stated (2, 3)
1.     The Problem Exclaimed—all is vanity (v. 2)
2.     The Problem Explained—man’s accomplishments are temporal (v. 3)
B.    The Problem Illustrated by Nature (4-7)
1.     The cycles of generations—transitory yet immutable (v. 4)
2.     The cycles of the sun—transitory yet immutable (v.5)
3.     The cycles the wind—transitory yet immutable (v. 6)
4.     The cycles of the rivers—transitory yet immutable (v. 7)
C.    The Problem Illustrated by Experience (8-11)
1.     The frustration of human inquiry (v. 8)
2.     The insignificance of accomplishment (v. 9)
3.     The finitude of knowledge (v. 10)
4.     The impermanence of legacy (v. 11)

            In verses 2-11, Solomon introduces the book of Ecclesiastes with a 10 verse poem arguing that life from an “under the sun perspective” (v. 3) is absolute futility.  The poem may be divided into three sections.  The introductory section  is comprised of vv. 2, 3, and then two equal stanzas of four verses each comprise the body of the poem for a total of 10 verses.
            In the first introductory verse (v. 2), Solomon exclaims the problem that all is vanity.  In verse 3, he then identifies the reason for his exclamation—due to the virtual immutability of creation, including the unceasing passing of generations, all of life’s accomplishments are utterly futile, from an “under the sun perspective.”  In verses 4-7 (Stanza 1), he illustrates the problem of vanity from nature and in verses 8-11 (Stanza 2) he illustrates the problem of vanity from human experience. 
            In the first stanza, Qoheleth demonstrates by analogy that the transitory yet virtually immutable nature of the solar cycles, cyclical climatic patterns, and movement of streams represents the passing of time, which erases all individual significance.[1]  In Stanza 2, Qoheleth builds on in his argument that because of passing of generations and inherent transient, finite nature of man, the physical individual along with his temporal, i.e. under the sun accomplishments are annihilated by the passing of time.  Citing common experience, Qoheleth shows that the individual has an utter lack of significance, from an under the sun perspective.  He shows the frustration of human inquiry (v. 8), the immutability of existence (v. 9), the finitude of knowledge (v. 10), and the impermanence of legacy (v. 11).  

[The above is an excerpt from my in progress commentary.  For the answer to the above problem, see Ecclesiates 12:13]

Note: Ecc. 1:1-11 contains an unusual amount of assonance that corresponds to the message of the poem.  Listen to the reading here and compare the sound with the message of the poem as identified in the above outline. 

              [1] It’s helpful to recall that weather patterns producing the constant flow of rivers are also cyclical.  Streams flow into the seas, water evaporates from the oceans producing clouds which produce rain which feed rivers and streams.

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