Ecclesiastes Revisited: Getting to the End of the Matter

Today’s guest post is from Miles Custis, contributing editor for Bible reference projects at Logos Bible Software and author of The End of the Matter.

Scholars often disregard the ending of Ecclesiastes. They view it—especially 12:13–14—as a later addition made by some scribe who wanted to tone down the book’s negative message.

In the typical view, the message of the book is that life is difficult and hopeless (expressed in passages like Eccl 4:2–3). The author doubts God’s justice and portrays Him as distant and unconcerned. Understood this way, the concluding message to “fear God and keep His commands” is incompatible with the rest of the book.

However, a careful reading of Ecclesiastes reveals that the author promotes a hopeful, albeit realistic, view of life throughout. He portrays God as sovereign and the giver of joy (see Eccl 2:26; 3:13; 5:19–20), emphasizing that human knowledge is limited when compared with God’s sovereign power (see Eccl 3:14 and 8:16–17). So the epilogue “fear God and keep His commands,” does not contradict the rest of the book; instead, it complements the book’s message.

In The End of the Matter I take a close look at how the epilogue of Ecclesiastes relates to the rest of the book. I examine how the author uses the term hebel—typically translated as “vanity” or “meaningless”—and what he describes as hebel. I also explore the author’s values, namely wisdom, joy, and the fear of God, finding ways to understand apparent contradictions in the book (as seen in 8:12–13). Finally, I examine how the author uses the epilogue (12:9–14) and prologue (1:1) as a literary device that presents a narrative frame around “the words of Qohelet” (the “Preacher” or “Teacher”). The author shows that, while life is characterized by hebel, one should respond by fearing God and keeping His commands.

The End of the Matter is currently under development. But if you order quickly, you can pick it up on Pre-Pub while it is still only $19.95!