I began a careful reread of Ecclesiastes this morning. This really is one of my favorite books in the Bible. I think that most people don’t take it as seriously as it requires. Usually people treat it as an example of bad theology or as a cautionary tale. There’s a lot more there than that. I’ve heard people say that the ending is the only part that really matters. I disagree. I know people whose only encounter with Ecclesiastes is through a pop/folk song from the sixties. They are missing out.
The early Fathers seemed to lean toward an interpretation of Ecclesiastes as a warning that the things of this world are to be avoided because we have our citizenship somewhere else. The Reformers (especially Luther) were more like, “Normal everyday life is a blessing from God. Enjoy it.” I suspect that the writer meant both/and or somewhere between the two extremes.
Vanity. Vapor. The wind. What does הֲבֵ֤ל (hăḇēl) mean?
The biblical data points in two directions: 1. Sometimes it means ephemeral existence and 2. Sometimes it means insubstantial existence. In other words, sometimes it means “quickly gone” and sometimes it means “meaningless”.
It’s not uncommon for words to carry multiple meanings. Don’t be thrown by that.
We must be careful to not confuse the two meanings. Sometimes things that don’t last long are anything but meaningless. Remember Abel (הֶ֙בֶל֙, heḇel)? He didn’t last long; his life was anything but meaningless. In fact, he was killed because God had regard for him and not his brother. Being regarded by God is fairly well meaningful.
Also notice the similarity between his name and our word of the day. Coincidence? I think not.
I hope to share what I learn as I learn it and what I think as I think it. My opinions are my own and not generally vetted by the guild of biblical scholars. But I am mostly orthodox. You could look it up.