I had really wanted to do all of Ecclesiastes in one post but it proved to be too much. The first half is fairly uneventful but this half gets a little out of hand. Still, it doesn’t mention specific women by name and just about everything the book has to say about women is in this half, so I won’t be posting a reflections on it. This will work for both.
And here we run into some issues. It’s at the very end.
First, the chapter begins with contrasting wisdom and folly and then he starts going into how he’s seen everything and then something about his search for wisdom and to know folly and then we get about here:
26And I find something more bitter than death: the woman whose heart is snares and nets, and whose hands are fetters. He who pleases God escapes her, but the sinner is taken by her. 27Behold, this is what I found, says the Preacher, while adding one thing to another to find the scheme of things— 28which my soul has sought repeatedly, but I have not found. One man among a thousand I found, but a woman among all these I have not found. 29See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.
Okay, I get how a woman composed of all things used to capture someone may be a bit scary and not the ideal woman to fall in love with. She may consume you. Yep, there are women like that. Men too, by the way. These are what we may refer to today as abusive relationships. Then we get to how he never found a wise or “upright” woman out of a thousand.
A part of me feels like I could make one whole post out of a feminist rant against this one part, but I’ll try to keep it short. There is absolutely no way that a king or preacher such as this who has all this time to search out vanity and wisdom and folly could begin to understand the wisdom or uprightness of woman in their era. While there is no excuse for saying something this ridiculous in a book of wisdom, I’d like the reader to recall the most of the named women in say Genesis or Exodus. There were wise women to be “found” all over the place. How about Ruth? Maybe Esther?
Apparently not. Or maybe the preacher is patriarchal and biased and doesn’t surround himself with wise women. If the author is Solomon, we know he has a tendency to surround himself with women who were not Israelites. Women also know from experience that men have a tendency to overlook or take credit for our contributions to society while we are their contemporaries (as with all the female Nobel Laureates that people like to forget about when they say that women were mostly housewives before the women’s liberation movement). Additionally, what is wise for women is not necessarily wise for men.
For example, most women would consider it wise to adhere to the rape schedule while many men would consider this silly behavior and tell us that we shouldn’t be so paranoid. Not all men are out to get them. We know this, by the way. We aren’t worried about “all men” we’re about which man is going to be the one to hurt us and that those men have this terrible way of disguising themselves as every other not threatening man we’ve ever met.
To sum up, Solomon may not have been in good company for a wise Israelite woman and he might not have recognized what is wise for women to do that men don’t have to worry about. He also probably didn’t look very far back into his own history for the wise women that were in it.
This is the chapter that attempts to justify those things God does that we find unfair down here but that we can’t possibly understand. I get that life moves in mysterious ways, some that are far more awful than others, but it’s not particularly comforting. It also says that “those who fear God will do well” but I think we’ve all seen evidence to the contrary. I get that it may come off as a good overarching concept, and the early Israelites do seem to work with a prosperity doctrine, but it’s not one of those things that made it through to the Christians, what with all those disciples and apostles jailed and beaten and stoned to death later on.
I find it especially strange that the next chapter has a huge bit on how we are all equally did in the end, no matter how righteous or wicked or clean or unclean. But then there comes a line that I’m surprised isn’t quoted more often:
7Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.
Already approved? Guilt free? Yeah, I don’t think that’s what he meant either, but I see so many people pull special little verses out and use them improperly. So, I’m a little surprised.
It is immediately followed by a passage that may be my favorite of the book on how wisdom is still better than folly:
11Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. 12For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them.
13I have also seen this example of wisdom under the sun, and it seemed great to me. 14There was a little city with few men in it, and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siegeworks against it. 15But there was found in it a poor, wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man. 16But I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard.
I like the anecdote a lot and the rest is good to remember when we sometimes fall on our faces.
This chapter reads much like the book of Proverbs had. It’s a set of 20 verses, each having that complimentary cadence to them where there two lines about the same thing, one way that it is good and one way that it is bad. None of it mentions or refers to women and it seems scattered, there’s no central theme to it.
This begins with four verses that sound like gibberish to me, but it recovers with this fantastic line:
This chapter serves to wrap up this book, but it also feels like it was the last book of the wisdom section, but there is one more, Song of Solomon. Still this one ends with whoever compiled it for the “preacher” who is quoted for most of the time.
9Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. 10The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth.
11The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. 12My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
13The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.c 14For God will bring every deed into judgment, withd every secret thing, whether good or evil.
Again, there is an assumption that this preacher is Solomon, but nothing really solid that I found. It’s attributed to him because he was known as a man of wisdom and the preacher was listed as a “son of David”. But so many of the kings were sons of David and it’s not like Solomon was his only son. It also seems the moniker went beyond actual kinship and could be used to reference spiritual kinship.