05 Dec The Book of Ecclesiastes
As part of a series of readings from the Bible, Paul Edmondson invites you to listen to the wisdom found in the Book of Ecclesiastes.
The Book of Ecclesiastes engenders humility. Its constant message is that all of our efforts to obtain lasting achievements or a memorable place for posterity are futile, always futile. To listen to the words of this ‘preacher’, or ‘man of assembly’ (‘Quoleth’ in this New Jerusalem Bible translation) is to encounter a great levelling of human life and experience, as though someone is saying to us: ‘Hands up! You are not that important. We’re all sinners; we are only human; and we will all be forgotten – eventually.’
It is a book of wisdom aimed at helping us to appreciate the mystery of our existence. I find its undeniable truths encouraging, and occasionally touched with humour (‘“Since the fool’s fate”, I thought to myself, “will be my fate too, what is the point of my having been wise?”’ 2:15; ‘a fool finds hard work very tiring; he cannot even find his own way into town’ 10:15).
This sobering and searching book reaches to us across the generations, and makes us more keenly aware of the present moment of our existence, burning like a laser-beam into our own time and culture: ‘Do not ask why the past was better than the present, for this is not a question prompted by wisdom’ (7:10).
The wisdom you are about to hear seeks to strengthen not depress the heart: ‘so, eat your bread in joy, drink your wine with a glad heart, since god has already approved your actions.’ (9:7). The Book of Ecclesiastes heightens the awareness of our shared humility, and in so doing deepens the understanding of our own, personal fortitude.
The Rev’d Dr Paul Edmondson is head of learning and research at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and a non-stipendiary minister at St Andrew’s, Shottery.
The reading is divided into three parts, which can be accessed by clicking on the buttons below.