DO YOU THINK MIGHT MAKE RIGHT? — PART 4

English: Judgement of Solomon
English: Judgement of Solomon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the fourth post in a series.

  • Part 1 explained why I talk about the application of Christian theology to politics.
  • Part 2 provided a personal witness, what brought me to Christ Jesus.
  • Part 3 explains why some believe might makes right.

In this post we will consider what leads some people to believe right makes might.

If You Believe Right Makes Might, You Must Believe In God

There are sixty-six books in the Bible, and I suppose that everyone who studies the Bible discovers one book that he or she finds especially fascinating. For me that book is Ecclesiastes.

Even before I began to understand what he wanted us to know, I discovered Solomon words have a certain beauty. Thus, when I read Ecclesiastes, I enjoyed it. Then I read good commentaries. Much to my chagrin and surprise, I discovered I had misinterpreted much of the Book. I doubt most people appreciate being fooled that way, particularly by the Bible. I cannot say I did, but this reference I found in a Wikipedia article, Ecclesiastes, suggests such confusion is not uncommon.

In short, we do not know for certain why or how this book found its way into such esteemed company. All we can say is that the problematic nature of the work was widely recognized even in the earliest records of its interpretation and that there is no evidence that it was accepted as canonical because the readers of the work were so open-minded as not to be troubled by the contradictions between Ooheleth’s words and the remainder of the Hebrew Bible. (from here)

What does that word “Ooheleth” come from. Ooheleth is apparently the Hebrew word for Ecclesiastes which is Greek for “Preacher” or “Teacher.”

So what makes Ecclesiastes such a puzzle? Among those who believe King Solomon wrote the book, theory has it that Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes late in his life just before his death in 931 BC.

What’s the big idea? Ecclesiastes, like much of life, represents a journey from one point to another. Solomon articulated his starting point early in the book: “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2), indicating the utter futility and meaninglessness of life as he saw it. Nothing made sense to him because he had already tried any number of remedies—pleasure, work, and intellect—to alleviate his sense of feeling lost in the world. However, even in the writer’s desperate search for meaning and significance in life, God remained present. For instance, we read that God provides food, drink, and work (2:24); both the sinner and the righteous person live in God’s sight (2:26); God’s deeds are eternal (3:14); and God empowers people to enjoy His provision (5:19). Ultimately, the great truth of Ecclesiastes lies in the acknowledgment of God’s ever-present hand on our lives. Even when injustice and uncertainty threaten to overwhelm us, we can trust Him and follow after Him (12:13–14). (from here)

So what is Ecclesiastes about? I think Ecclesiastes explains Solomon‘s inadvertent quest to learn the difference between good and evil. Solomon sought happiness “under the sun” (“Under the sun” is a phrase that occurs repeatedly in the book. “Under the sun” refers to our earthly existence.), but that was the wrong place to look.

Imagine being King Solomon, an absolute monarch. Imagine having immense power, fantastic wealth, and the most brilliant intellect God ever produced in a man. Imagine being in control of all you survey, at least in as much control as any man might be. Then imagine being old and realizing how much of your life you have wasted in vain pursuits. That’s why Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes. He wanted those who would learn from his mistakes not to repeat his mistakes.

When Solomon sought perfection in this life, what did he try? Here are the “idols” Solomon put before the love of God.

  • He sought knowledge, but he found no satisfaction in knowledge for its own sake.
  • He sought pleasure in wine, women, song, and wealth, and he grew bored. But bored was not the worst of it. The foreign women Solomon chose for pleasure ensnared him in actual idol worship (1 Kings 11).
  • He sought to live by his own wisdom, but then he realized the same fate overcomes both the wise and the foolish.
  • He sought possessions, the reward of hard labor, but then he realized he would leave all his works to someone who had not toiled for it. Who knows whether that person would be wise or a fool?

As wise as he was — and perhaps because his pride in his wisdom — Solomon succumbed to the temptation to rely upon his own wisdom instead of the wisdom that comes from God. Yet when he lived his life focused on this world, Solomon inevitably saw whatever he tried as futile and meaningless. Thus, as we journey through Ecclesiastes, the story of Solomon‘s life, we perceive a great deal of cynicism, but that perspective belongs to those who live for life “under the sun,” and that is what Solomon tried to do.

Even though Solomon was the government, and he had all the wealth and power he needed, he discovered life “under the sun” pointless. He could discover nothing new under the sun, just endless repetition and tedium. Furthermore, he observed great wickedness and injustice. And so Solomon debated with himself.

Oddly, Solomon complex debate still confuses us today. Depending upon our point of view, we take the side we see as wise. We accept the fatalism of living “under the sun,” or we see the wisdom in Solomon final choice. Thus, Ecclesiastes mirrors back to us our own beliefs about “life under the sun.”

In the middle of his debate with himself, Solomon finally discovered the humility to admit the source of his troubles.

Ecclesiastes 7:27-29 New Century Version (NCV)

27 The Teacher says, “This is what I learned:
I added all these things together
to find some meaning for everything.
28 While I was searching,
I did not find one man among the thousands I found.
Nor did I find a woman among all these.
29 One thing I have learned:
God made people good,
but they have found all kinds of ways to be bad.”

Gradually, Solomon pointed his thoughts more and more towards God. Here is how he ended his book.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 English Standard Version (ESV)

13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Even though Solomon was king — even with all his power and wealth — he could not not even make himself happy. He could not make his life meaningful. To make life worthwhile — to give might to life — we must do what is right. God says — our Creator says — we must love Him and be obedient to His will.

11 thoughts on “DO YOU THINK MIGHT MAKE RIGHT? — PART 4

    1. Thank you. I very much appreciate the fact you enjoyed it.

      I actually have a couple more installments in mind. As I was writing this post, I heard something on Christian radio, and one thought lead to another…

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  1. Tom, Many bible messages are subject to personal interpretation. Another interpretation which I believe when I wrote my novel is as follows;:

    I think the best answer is summed up by Peter Leithart (who admits to borrowing liberally from James Jordan on this):

    To get the point of Ecclesiastes, we have to ignore the usual translations of several key words or phrases. The Hebrew hebel has been translated as “vanity” (NASB, KJV, ESV, ASV) or “meaningless” (NIV, New Living Translation). The Message gets much closer by translating the word as “smoke.” The word means “vapor” (Proverbs 21:6) or “breath” (Job 7:16; Psalm 39:5, 11; 62:9, 94:11; 144:4; Isaiah 57:13). In describing human life as vapor or breath, Solomon emphasizes that life is brief and beyond our control. Life is vapor because the world goes on unchanged in spite of all our frantic activities (1:3-11); because things slip through our fingers when we try to grasp them and through our minds when we try to understand them; because nothing lasts, yet everything stays the same; because it ends in death (2:16), and we have no control over the future (2:18-19).

    Likewise, the phrase “striving after wind” (1:14, 17; 2:11, 17, 26) is better translated as “shepherding wind.” The image does not express vain pursuit, but the effort to control or corral an elusive world. After Solomon has constructed his pleasure garden (2:4-10), he realizes that however solid his works appear they are as evanescent as wind. Man cannot shepherd the wind, but Yahweh, who rides on the wings of the wind (Psalm 18:10; 104:3), is the one Shepherd of the windy world (Ecclesiastes 12:11).
    While I believe “vanity” is a fine translation as other answerers have pointed out, “meaningless” is completely wrong, because the Bible has a consistent message that we have meaning in Christ. Therefore the NIV actually changes doctrine by using it.

    The message is that we don’t have control over our life, God is in control, and it is vain for us to think otherwise.

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    1. scatterwisdom – Thank you for a very thoughtful comment.

      There is certainly a distinct difference be the meaning of the word “vanity” and “meaningless.” I must admit I not given the difference enough thought.

      One idea that has only recently begun to sink in is that translations of the Bible are not inspired by God. What the authors of the Bible wrote — what the translations are made from — are inspired, but we can only guess at which translations might be inspired. So unless we want to learn ancient languages, to get at the original meaning we have to study multiple translations and read commentaries. It looks to me like you have been doing that. Congratulations, and thank you for sharing what you have learned.

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  2. “shepherding wind” is an excellent translation, I would think.

    Translations are hugely tricky and human error or imprecision (or the inherent imprecision of language) can creep in. I keep a few translations around – I like some for some purposes, others for others. It’s very liberating to realize that the Bible’s heroes (and villains) did not speak English like Cambridge scholars of the 17th century.

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    1. Liberating? Can be.

      Because the scholars who wrote it were devoted to accuracy, we should not slight the King James Bible. On the other hand, because an accurate translation in modern English is easier for us to read, such translations also have value.

      What sets us free is the Truth, but we struggle to know it.

      John 18:33-40 Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV)

      33 Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews? 34 Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me? 35 Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done? 36 Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. 37 Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. 38 Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?

      And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all. 39 But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews? 40 Then cried they all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber.

      Imagine knowing through all eternity that you had asked Jesus “what is truth?” and then just walked away and ordered Him hung upon a Roman cross. Who would set you free then?

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  3. The KJV scholars worked with a relatively limited set of prior translations from which they derived their product. I’m sure they strove for accuracy, as most translators do. However, they did not have at their ready disposal the resources in terms of early manuscripts that modern scholars have had access to. KJV is lovely language, it is what I memorized as a child (I’m an old guy), but it doesn’t have any particular merit on the accuracy scale. It’s a good work. I keep it handy. But there are other good works too.

    I like to think I would not order Jesus to be hung on a cross. I really don’t have any idea what that portion of your comment is about.

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    1. Perhaps I am naive, but I suspect the translators of the KJV were remarkably serious about their task. When the KJV was written, not even the Catholic Church had any serious complaints about its accuracy. It seems these translators had no other agenda except to produce an accurate translation in the King’s English. That’s why it was so popular and remains popular.

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  4. They were very serious about their work and were an impressive collection of English scholars of their day. Not sure why that would make you naive.

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    1. How might I be naive? We can be guilty of glorifying people, giving them credit for being more than human. There are times, for example, when we quote the founding fathers as if to say they had the last word. They do not, of course.

      How significant — how remarkable was the publication of the King James Bible? How does one measure such a thing? I do not know, but I suspect when we look back into this life from the next, we will find we vastly underrated its importance.

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