Ecclesiastesby Philip E. Satterthwaite
What images does the word ″editor″ suggest to you? An irritable, cigar-chewing tyrant wielding the ″blue pencil″ with ferocious zeal, hacking his reporters' articles about, so that they are almost unrecognisable when he is finished with them? Perhaps you have been reading too many Marvel comics!
In today's passage, the Teacher's editor, the one who has put Ecclesiastes together, adds some comments of his own. What does he say? Essentially, ″This is all good stuff!″ The Teacher was wise (Ecclesiastes 12:9): he ″imparted knowledge″; he thought matters over, and chose his words carefully, because he wanted to teach what was ″upright and true″ (v. 10). But he did not mean to give his readers an easy ride. His words are like ″goads″ or ″nails″ (v. 11): they dig into you, prodding you into thought. The process can be painful-as you may well agree, having worked through the Teacher's collected sayings. But the Teacher has a pastor's heart; what he says will not lead you astray. So listen to him: let him challenge you regarding how you think and live.
Still, all teaching and all study must come to an end (v. 12). So here is what you should do (vv. 13-14): ″fear God and keep his commandments″, remembering that God will ″bring every deed into judgment″. The Teacher has already spoken of fearing God (5:7; 7:18) and of God's judgment (3:17; 11:9), but the reference to ″commandments″ is new, as is the idea that keeping them is ″the duty of all mankind″.
Some have seen 12:13-14 as a piece of pious spin-doctoring: the editor disapproved of the Teacher and aimed to encourage his readers towards a more conventional piety focussed on the Law of Moses. But that seems unlikely: if the editor didn't like what the Teacher wrote, he could simply have burned the scroll! I see 12:13-14 not as rejecting what the Teacher said, but as skilfully summarising his main points.
″Fear God and keep his commandments″ (v. 13) does indeed capture much of the Teacher's thought: everything he has said about recognising our limitations and examining our aims and motives, about avoiding frustration and evil in all their forms. The final reference to God's judgment (v. 14) underscores what has emerged as one of the foundations of the Teacher's worldview: we are accountable to God for how we conduct ourselves both in public and in our private lives. The Teacher may have had an unusual teaching method; what he says doesn't always sound like other parts of the Old Testament. But he is a true representative of Israelite faith, who desires to see his readers walking in the ways of the Lord.
Hear the word of the Lord, given through his faithful servant the Teacher!
″Much study wearies the body″ (Ecclesiastes 12:12): what is the link between study and discipleship? How much time should we spend studying, and what should we study?
Briefly skim through the entire book of Ecclesiastes, reminding yourself of its contents. Do you agree with the interpretation of the Teacher's words that has been offered in this study, that he is a ″true representative of Israelite faith″, though one with an unconventional teaching method? Or do you read the book differently? In either case, what will you take away from your study of the book?