Wherein representatives are summoned from the books of Wisdom to discuss the Meaning of Life.
¨ Friend (Job)
¨ Solomon (Proverbs)
¨ Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes)
Solomon: My child, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life and abundant welfare they will give you.
Job (not buying it): Do not human beings have a hard service on earth, and are not their days like the days of a laborer?
Qoheleth: I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is qahal and a chasing after wind. What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is qahal.
Job: For misery does not come from the earth, nor does trouble sprout from the ground; but human beings are born to trouble just as sparks fly upward.
Solomon: All our steps are ordered by Yahweh; how then can we understand our own ways?
Qoheleth (explaining): All things are wearisome; more than one can express; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, or the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun. All human toil is for the mouth, yet the appetite is not satisfied.
Solomon (in agreement): Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and human eyes are never satisfied.
Qoheleth: I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was qahal and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. What gain have the workers from their toil? I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God's gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.
Solomon (not sure about this): Do not be among winebibbers, or among gluttonous eaters of meat; for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe them with rags.
Qoheleth (insisting): There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil.
Solomon: Whoever loves pleasure will suffer want; whoever loves wine and oil will not be rich.
Qoheleth (reflective): There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy upon humankind: those to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that they lack nothing of all that they desire, yet God does not enable them to enjoy these things, but a stranger enjoys them. Likewise all to whom God gives wealth and possessions and whom he enables to enjoy them, and to accept their lot and find enjoyment in their toil--this is the gift of God. For they will scarcely brood over the days of their lives, because God keeps them occupied with the joy of their hearts. 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.
(therefore…) I turned my mind to know and to search out and to seek wisdom and the sum of things, and to know that wickedness is folly and that foolishness is madness.
Job: Truly, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.
Solomon (agrees): The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Job (ruminating): Where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Mortals do not know the way to it, and it is not found in the land of the living. The deep says, 'It is not in me,' and the sea says, 'It is not with me.' It cannot be gotten for gold, and silver cannot be weighed out as its price.
Solomon: Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold; for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her. There is gold, and abundance of costly stones; but the lips informed by knowledge are a precious jewel.
Job: Where then does wisdom come from? And where is the place of understanding? It is hidden from the eyes of all living, and concealed from the birds of the air. Abaddon and Death say, 'We have heard a rumor of it with our ears.' God understands the way to it, and he knows its place…he saw it and declared it; he established it, and searched it out. With God are wisdom and strength; he has counsel and understanding.
Qoheleth: Wisdom is better than might; yet the poor man's wisdom is despised, and his words are not heeded.
Friend: Should the wise answer with windy knowledge?
Qoheleth: Words spoken by the wise bring them favor, but the lips of fools consume them. The words of their mouths begin in foolishness, and their talk ends in wicked madness; yet fools talk on and on. No one knows what is to happen, and who can tell anyone what the future holds?
Solomon (aside): Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.
Qoheleth: I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge. And I applied my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a chasing after wind. For in much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow.
Solomon (sarcastically, imitating Qoheleth): Waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.
Qoheleth (retorting): The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
Job (mediating): Those who withhold kindness from a friend forsake the fear of the Almighty.
Qoheleth (easing; thinking aloud): All this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God; whether it is love or hate one does not know. Everything that confronts them is qahal, since the same fate comes to all, to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to those who sacrifice and those who do not sacrifice. As are the good, so are the sinners; those who swear are like those who shun an oath. This is an evil in all that happens under the sun, that the same fate comes to everyone. Moreover, the hearts of all are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, wickedness was there, and in the place of righteousness, wickedness was there as well. I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for he has appointed a time for every matter, and for every work.
Solomon (picking up on this last thought): Whoever is steadfast in righteousness will live, but whoever pursues evil will die. Be assured, the wicked will not go unpunished, but those who are righteous will escape. One who walks in integrity will be safe, but whoever follows crooked ways will fall into the Pit.
Friend (adding): Surely the light of the wicked is put out, and the flame of their fire does not shine. Their strong steps are shortened, and their own schemes throw them down. For they are thrust into a net by their own feet, and they walk into a pitfall. A trap seizes them by the heel; a snare lays hold of them. Terrors frighten them on every side, and chase them at their heels. Their strength is consumed by hunger, and calamity is ready for their stumbling. By disease their skin is consumed, the firstborn of Death consumes their limbs. They are torn from the tent in which they trusted, and are brought to the king of terrors. They swallow down riches and vomit them up again; God casts them out of their bellies. The heavens will reveal their iniquity, and the earth will rise up against them. The possessions of their house will be carried away, dragged off in the day of God's wrath. This is the portion of the wicked from God, the heritage decreed for them by God.
Solomon (now on a roll): When the wicked are in authority, transgression increases, but the righteous will look upon their downfall.
Qoheleth (yes, but…): The wise have eyes in their head, but fools walk in darkness. Yet I perceived that the same fate befalls all of them.
Job (likes this): One dies in full prosperity, being wholly at ease and secure, his loins full of milk and the marrow of his bones moist. Another dies in bitterness of soul, never having tasted of good. They lie down alike in the dust, and the worms cover them. The womb forgets them; the worm finds them sweet; they are no longer remembered.
Friend: Think now, who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off? Surely God is mighty and does not despise any; he is mighty in strength of understanding. He does not keep the wicked alive, but gives the afflicted their right. He does not withdraw his eyes from the righteous.
Solomon: For Yahweh gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk blamelessly, guarding the paths of justice and preserving the way of his faithful ones. No one finds security by wickedness, but the root of the righteous will never be moved.
Qoheleth (thoughtfully): For to the one who pleases him God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy; but to the sinner he gives the work of gathering and heaping, only to give to one who pleases God.
Solomon: For the upright will abide in the land, and the innocent will remain in it; but the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the treacherous will be rooted out of it. The Righteous One observes the house of the wicked; he casts the wicked down to ruin. Whoever wanders from the way of understanding will rest in the assembly of the dead.
Friend (resigned): Can a mortal be of use to God? Can even the wisest be of service to him? Is it any pleasure to the Almighty if you are righteous, or is it gain to him if you make your ways blameless?
Qoheleth (in agreement): For who knows what is good for mortals while they live the few days of their vain life, which they pass like a shadow? For who can tell them what will be after them under the sun?
Solomon (reassuring all): Do not be afraid of sudden panic, or of the storm that strikes the wicked; for Yahweh will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught.
Qoheleth: 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.
Job (bursting out): Know then that God has put me in the wrong, and closed his net around me. Even when I cry out, 'Violence!' I am not answered; I call aloud, but there is no justice. He has kindled his wrath against me, and counts me as his adversary. For the arrows of the Almighty are in me; my spirit drinks their poison; the terrors of God are arrayed against me. I was at ease, and he broke me in two; he seized me by the neck and dashed me to pieces; he set me up as his target; his archers surround me. He slashes open my kidneys, and shows no mercy; he pours out my gall on the ground.
Solomon (taken aback, seeking a reason for this): The righteousness of the blameless keeps their ways straight, but the wicked fall by their own wickedness. The righteousness of the upright saves them, but the treacherous are taken captive by their schemes.
Job: If I have walked with falsehood, and my foot has hurried to deceit--let me be weighed in a just balance, and let God know my integrity!
Friend: Can mortals be righteous before God? Can human beings be pure before their Maker?
Qoheleth (kindly): Surely there is no one on earth so righteous as to do good without ever sinning.
Job (relaxing a little, more sad than angry): Indeed I know that this is so; but how can a mortal be just before God? If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand. Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.
(to God) I cry to you and you do not answer me; I stand, and you merely look at me. You have turned cruel to me; with the might of your hand you persecute me. You lift me up on the wind, you make me ride on it, and you toss me about in the roar of the storm. But when I looked for good, evil came; and when I waited for light, darkness came.
Qoheleth: Do not say, "Why were the former days better than these?" For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.
Job (persistent): Why is light given to one in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it does not come, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures; who rejoice exceedingly, and are glad when they find the grave? Why is light given to one who cannot see the way, whom God has fenced in?
Solomon: My child, do not despise Yahweh’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for Yahweh reproves the one he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.
Friend: How happy is the one whom God reproves; therefore do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he binds up; he strikes, but his hands heal.
Job (exasperated): Have pity on me, have pity on me, O you my friends, for the hand of God has touched me! Like a slave who longs for the shadow, and like laborers who look for their wages, so I am allotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me. When I lie down I say, 'When shall I rise?' But the night is long, and I am full of tossing until dawn. My flesh is clothed with worms and dirt; my skin hardens, then breaks out again. My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle, and come to their end without hope. Remember that my life is a breath; I loathe my life; I would not live forever. (defeated) Let me alone, for my days are a breath.
Qoheleth (commiserating): I thought the dead, who have already died, more fortunate than the living, who are still alive; but better than both is the one who has not yet been, and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.
Job: Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire? Why were there knees to receive me, or breasts for me to suck? Now I would be lying down and quiet; I would be asleep; then I would be at rest. Or why was I not buried like a stillborn child, like an infant that never sees the light? There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest. As the cloud fades and vanishes, so those who go down to Sheol do not come up; they return no more to their houses, nor do their places know them any more.
Solomon (in wonder): Sheol and Abaddon lie open before Yahweh, how much more human hearts!
Friend: For his eyes are upon the ways of mortals, and he sees all their steps. There is no gloom or deep darkness where evildoers may hide themselves.
Solomon (trying to comfort): For human ways are under the eyes of Yahweh, and he examines all their paths.
Job (not comforted, cries out to God): What are human beings, that you make so much of them, that you set your mind on them, visit them every morning, test them every moment? Will you not look away from me for a while, let me alone until I swallow my spittle? If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of humanity? Why have you made me your target? Why have I become a burden to you? Your hands fashioned and made me; and now you turn and destroy me. Remember that you fashioned me like clay; and will you turn me to dust again? Did you not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese? You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews. You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit. (calm now, speaks to the others) I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
Friend (suggestive): If you will seek God and make supplication to the Almighty, if you are pure and upright, surely then he will rouse himself for you and restore to you your rightful place. Though your beginning was small, your latter days will be very great.
Job: If I summoned him and he answered me, I do not believe that he would listen to my voice. If it is a contest of strength, he is the strong one! If it is a matter of justice, who can summon him?
Friend: If you direct your heart rightly, you will stretch out your hands toward him. If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away, and do not let wickedness reside in your tents. Surely then you will lift up your face without blemish; you will be secure, and will not fear. You will forget your misery; you will remember it as waters that have passed away. And your life will be brighter than the noonday.
Solomon: Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.
Friend: Agree with God, and be at peace; in this way good will come to you. Receive instruction from his mouth, and lay up his words in your heart. If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored.
Solomon: Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. The blessing of Yahweh makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.
Job: (not convinced) But ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of Yahweh has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being. If it is not so, who will prove me a liar, and show that there is nothing in what I say?
Qoheleth: Though sinners do evil a hundred times and prolong their lives, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they stand in fear before him, but it will not be well with the wicked, neither will they prolong their days like a shadow, because they do not stand in fear before God.
Solomon: In the path of righteousness there is life, in walking its path there is no death.
Job (still fighting, but letting go): He destroys both the blameless and the wicked. When disaster brings sudden death, he mocks at the calamity of the innocent. If it is not he, who then is it?
Solomon: No harm happens to the righteous, but the wicked are filled with trouble. Yahweh’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the abode of the righteous. The wise will inherit honor, but stubborn fools, disgrace.
Qoheleth (seeking middle ground): There is a qahal that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people who are treated according to the conduct of the wicked, and there are wicked people who are treated according to the conduct of the righteous. I said that this also is qahal. What happens to the fool will happen to me also; why then have I been so very wise?
Job (relenting): God prolongs the life of the mighty by his power; they rise up when they despair of life. He gives them security, and they are supported; his eyes are upon their ways. They are exalted a little while, and then are gone.
Qoheleth: In my vain life I have seen everything; there are righteous people who perish in their righteousness, and there are wicked people who prolong their life in their evil-doing.
Job (accepting; philosophical): Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?
(to God) See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
Qoheleth (satisfied): So – I commend enjoyment, for there is nothing better for people under the sun than to eat, and drink, and enjoy themselves, for this will go with them in their toil through the days of life that God gives them under the sun. Just as you do not know how the breath comes to the bones in the mother's womb, so you do not know the work of God, who makes everything. I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him.
Solomon (wryly): It is the glory of God to conceal things.
Qoheleth: God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.
Solomon: All those who are arrogant are an abomination to Yahweh; be assured, they will not go unpunished. Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always continue in the fear of Yahweh.
Qoheleth: The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone.
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Stacie, How good to see you back, and in such great form! I truly appreciate the look at work a gifted "Feminarian" is doing now, some decades after my own seminary experience. Please don't be shy about sharing it; it's a gift to me and,I'm sure, to others.
Thanks be to God!
JohnieB in CT
PS I am teaching church school this year--9-11 year olds. I hope I stil have that file we discussed last Spring.
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