Archive for the ‘Ecclesiastes 1’ Category

Ecclesiastes and John, Part I: Futility and Perceptions Thereof   1 comment


Above:  Crucify Him! Crucify Him! (Puck Magazine, March 19, 1913)

Image Source = Library of Congress



Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


The Assigned Readings:

Ecclesiastes 1:1-18

Psalm 51 (Morning)

Psalms 142 and 65 (Evening)

John 6:60-71


Some Related Posts:

John 6:


Some parts–such as much of the Book of Proverbs–of the Bible seem overly optimistic to me.  The same rule applies to elements of the Torah.  Obey God, they say, and you (plural or singular) will flourish.  Life will consist of prosperity, safety, and cute, cuddly kittens which scamper about while looking adorable.  (Okay, I invented the part about kittens.)  Yet what about the Book of Job?  And what about the death of Jesus, the martyrdoms of ten of the original Apostles, and the martyrdom of St. Paul of Tarsus?  For that matter, what about the sufferings of faithful Christians since St. Stephen?

Koheleth, in Ecclesiastes 1, asked

What real value is there for a man

In all the gains he makes beneath the sun?

–Verse 3, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

Jesus lost followers in John 6:66.  I think also of St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (the Wonder-Worker), Bishop of Neocaesarea, Pontus, Asia Minor, who died in 268.  He had seventeen members of his flock when he became bishop.  For three decades he shepherded the Christians under his care through hardships, including a plague, a siege, and a Roman imperial persecution.  And, when he died, he still had only seventeen parishioners.  Had his work been in vain?

I think not.  If St. Gregory’s work has been in vain, so had our Lord’s.  But sometimes human concepts of work as leading to certain rewards fail to explain reality accurately.  Honest people scrape by sometimes while high-rolling criminals become wealthier.  Those whose greed tipped economies into globally-related recessions do not suffer financially, but innocents in the working class do.  I wonder what Koheleth would write about skullduggery in the world’s financial capitals and in the corridors of power in contemporary times.

Yet, sadly, Koheleth was partially correct in Chapter 1:  Much work is futile.  And this need not be the case.  Society is what people have made it, so is current reality can change.  May they do so for the benefit of more people, especially those without financial cushions and golden parachutes.  The Hebrew Prophets would approve.






Adapted from this post:



That Which Has Significance   3 comments

Above:  Herod Antipas, by James Tissot

Image Source = Brooklyn Museum



Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

The words of Koheleth son of David, king in Jerusalem.

Utter futility!–said Koheleth–

Utter futility!  All is futile!

What real value is there for a man

In all the gains he makes beneath the sun?

One generation goes, another comes,

But the earth remains the same forever.

The sun rises, the sun sets–

And glides back to where it riese.

Southward blowing,

Turning northward,

Ever turning blows the wind;

On its rounds the wind returns.

All streams flow into the sea,

Yet the sea is never full;

To the place [from] which they flow

The streams flow back again.

All such things are wearisome:

No man can ever state them;

The eye never has enough of seeing,

Nor the ear enough of hearing.

Only that shall happen

Which has happened,

Only that occur

Which has occurred;

There is nothing new

Beneath the sun!

Sometimes there is a a phenomenon of which they say,

Look, this one is new!

–it occurred long since, in ages that went by before us.  The earlier ones are not remembered; so too those that will occur later will no more be remembered than those that will occur at the very end.

Psalm 90:1-6 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

 Lord, you have been our refuge

from one generation to another.

 Before the mountains were brought forth,

or the land and the earth were born,

from age to age you are God.

3  You turn us back to the dust and say,

“Go back, O child of earth.”

 For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past

and like a watch in the night.

 You sweep us away like a dream;

we fade away suddenly like the grass.

 In the morning it is green and flourishes;

in the evening it is dried up and withered.

Luke 9:7-9 (The Jerusalem Bible):

Meanwhile Herod the tetrarch had heard all that was going on; and he was puzzled, because some people were saying that John had risen from the dead, others that Elijah had reappeared, still others that one of the ancient prophets had come back to life.  But Herod said,

John?  I beheaded him.  So who is this that I hear such reports about?

And he was anxious to see him.


The Collect:

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Great ambition without contribution is insignificant.

–William Hundert in The Emperor’s Club (2003)

The Hebrew word often translated “vanity” or “futility” means “air” or “breath,” therefore something transient.  This linguistic background is essential to grasping correctly the passage from Ecclesiastes.  But what is futile?  Does nothing have real meaning and purpose?  A note from page 1606 of The Jewish Study Bible has helped my understanding.  It reads:

Within Jewish commentary, one emphasis applies futility to actions of humans for themselves alone, since actions can last and be worthwhile only if they are involved with Torah and labor for God.

Herod Antipas, of whom we read in Luke 8:19-21, was a bad character.  He, a son of the notorious Herod the Great, had entered into an incestuous marriage, ordered the arrest of John the Baptist for decrying said marriage, and ordered John’s execution to save face at a party.  This man acted for his own self-interest, so his ambitions lacked significance.  John the Baptist, however, acted for God, so his deeds were significant.

The deeds of John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth were for God; they were significant.  May we–you, O reader, and I–lead lives of significance, matters lasting and worthwhile.






Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on October 24, 2011 

Adapted from this post: