Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Vanity of Vanities

Part 1 of a series on the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes


The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem (v. 1).
  • Who wrote the book of Ecclesiastes? "Preacher" (qoheleth) means "one who gathers" or "one among the gathering." So "the Preacher" could be one who gathers wisdom to be taught or one who speaks to a gathering of people.
  • "Ecclesiastes" is from the Greek translation of qoheleth (ekklesiastes). (Ekklesia is the NT word for "church." It means "assembly." A church is a gathering or assembly of Christians, not a building.)
  • The traditional view is that Ecclesiastes was written by Solodmon. He was the only immediate "son of David" to be "king in Jerusalem."
  • Most modern scholars believe that Ecclesiastes was written by an unkown author of a later period. Why? (1) The phrase "son of David" could refer to any legitimate Davidic descendent, as it does in Matthew 1:20 with reference to Joseph and frequently throughout the NT with reference to Jesus Christ. (2) The distinctive nature of the Hebrew language used in the book is widely believed to be indicative of a date much later than the 10th century B.C. (3) The Preacher’s remarks imply a historical setting that seems in tension with the Solomonic era, such as the fact that many have preceded him as king in Jerusalem (e.g., 1:16; 2:7, 9—though these may include non-Israelite kings), that injustice and oppression are openly practiced (3:16-17; 4:1-3; 8:10-11), and that he has observed firsthand the foolishness of kings (4:13-16; 10:5-6) and their abuse of royal power (8:2-9). [ESV Study Bible] It seems obvious that Solomon is the subject of 1:12-2:26. However, many would say that the author of Ecclesiastes in taking on the persona of Solomon to illustrate the vanity of life.
  • There are two voices in Ecclesiastes: the narrator (1:1-11; 12:9-14) and the preacher (1:12-12:8).

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity (v. 2).

Vanity (hebel) is an important word in Ecclesiastes. (By the way, this kind of "vanity" does not mean an obsession with personal appearance.) What does "vanity" mean?
  • Literally, hebel means "vapor," "wind," or "breath."
  • Figuratively, hebel means "fleeting," "meaningless," and "incomprehensible." All three meanings are found in Ecclesiastes. (1) Fleeting: "I loathe my life; I would not live forever. Leave me alone, for my days are a breath [hebel]" (Job 7:16). The NIV reads, "My days have no meaning." "Man is like a breath [hebel]; his days are like a passing shadow" (Psalm 144:4). "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting [hebel]" (Proverbs 31:30 NIV). "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit'—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist [vapour KJV] that appears for a little time and then vanishes" (James 4:13-14). (2) Meaningless: The NIV translates hebel as "meaningless." Hebel is used 13 times to describe pagan idols. (3) Incomprehensible: Sometimes when something cannot be understood, we say, “I can’t grasp that.” A vapor cannot be grasped.
  • "Vanity of vanities" means the greatest vanity. ("King of kings" means the greatest king.)
  • Everything under the sun is "vanity." "All is vanity." See 1:14; 2:11, 17, 21; 4:4, 7-8.
  • "Vanity" is the result of the fall. "The creation was subjected to futility" (Romans 8:20).

What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? (v. 3).

When Adam and Eve sinned, God said to Adam, "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life" (Genesis 3:17 NIV). Hard work is part of the curse.

In many ways, life is a treadmill (vv.4-11). For the most part, we do the same things day after day after day. We run on this treadmill until we die, and then someone else is born and replaces us on the treadmill. Life is a constant cycle. The Preacher uses the examples of the rotation of the earth/rising and setting of the sun (v. 5), the circuit of the wind (v. 6), and the water cycle (v. 7). It appears that a lot of change is taking place, but really it's just constant repetition.

Jesus asked, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?" (Mark 8:36). If all there is to life is work, work, work--life on the treadmill, even if we gain everything this world offers, in the end there is no profit if we forfeit our souls.

Jesus said, "Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you … This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent" (John 6:27, 29).

Thankfully, we don't have to toil for eternal life. The work has been finished. Jesus did the work on the cross. Now through faith in Him, we can receive God's gift of eternal life. And we can say, as the apostle Paul did, "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21).

Life is full of meaning when your faith is in Christ.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Yahweh: God Relates


Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?"

God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.'"

God also said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites, 'The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.' This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation" (Exodus 3:13-15).

Here are a few facts about the name "Yahweh":
  • "Yahweh" is the most sacred name for God in the Old Testament. It is never used for pagan gods.
  • "Yahweh" usually appears as "LORD" in English translations of the Old Testament (over 6,800 times).
  • In the ancient Hebrew Bible, "Yahweh" was written as "YHWH." These four letters are called the "tetragrammaton."
  • The correct pronunciation of "YHWH" is still debated, though scholars agree that "Yahweh" is closer than "Jehovah."
  • "Hallelujah" means "Praise Yahweh." ("Jah" is a shortened form of "Yahweh.")
  • The meaning of "Yahweh" seems to be "I AM" (Exodus 3:13-15). (The NIV notes, "The Hebrew for LORD sounds like and may have been derived from the Hebrew for I AM.")
  • The ancient Jews would never say the name "Yahweh" for fear of breaking the third commandment (Exodus 20:7). They would replace "Yahweh" with "Adonai" ("Lord"). (Even today, many Jews replace the vowels in the words "God" and "Lord" with a dash—"G-d," "L-rd." This is done when there is a chance that the paper or computer file will be discarded or deleted.)
"You are not yet fifty years old," the Jews said to him, "and you have seen Abraham?"

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was, I am!”

At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds (John 8:57-59).


What does the name "Yahweh" tell us about God?
  1. Yahweh is a personal God. God has a name: "Yahweh." He wants us to know him as a person. It's unfortunate that we aren't sure of the exact pronunciation of God's name. When we read "LORD," we think of a title. (My name is not pastor or father or husband. My name is Jonathan, which, by the way, means "Yahweh has given.") God's name is not "LORD"; His name is "Yahweh," "I AM."

  2. Yahweh is an unchanging God. God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM" (Exodus 3:14). "It is what it is," voted by USA Today as the #1 sports cliché of 2004. The phrase means, "It happened. We can’t change it. We have to move on." God is "I AM WHO I AM." He can't be changed.

  3. Yahweh is a faithful God. "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished" (Exodus 34:6-7). These words were spoken right after the Israelites built the golden calf (Exodus 32). "I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed" (Malachi 3:6). God also said to Moses, "I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they lived as aliens. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant" (Exodus 6:2-5). Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not understand the full meaning of "Yahweh." In Moses' day, the Israelites could see that God had not forgotten His covenant with the patriarchs (ten plagues in Egypt, crossing of the Red Sea, provision of manna, quail, and water). But Moses said to God, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And God said, " will be [I am] with you" (Exodus 3:11-12). The Hebrew word translated "I will be" is the same as the one translated "I AM" in verse 14.

  4. Yahweh is a jealous God. "Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God" (Exodus 34:14). Sometimes jealousy is appropriate. If a man’s wife is being unfaithful to Him, He is right to be jealous for her love.

  5. Yahweh is a loving God. But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, "O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity" (Jonah 4:1-2). Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son" (Genesis 22:8). So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided" (Genesis 22:14). "The LORD Will Provide" is "Yahweh Yir'eh" ("Jehovah Jireh"). Jesus Christ became the provided lamb who shed His blood so that that we could be reconciled to Yahweh.