Tag Archives: Ecclesiastes

Futility and Fool’s Laughter

Thorny burnet (2)The Teacher compares the meaning of life to a burning thorn under a pot in Ecclesiastes 7:6.

Bible scholars are not sure who wrote Ecclesiastes. Possibly it was written by Solomon, one of his offspring who reigned later in Israel’s history, or a learned teacher in the Israelite assembly.  Within Ecclesiastes, the writer refers to himself as Teacher. One proverb that the Teacher wrote was, “Like the crackling of thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of fools. This too is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 7:6, NIV-SB, 2002).

In ancient Israel, cooking fires were located in outer courtyards or inside homes. The time of year influenced where the fire was located.  In hot weather it could be found in the courtyard.  While in cooler or cold weather, the fire was probably located inside the home to add warmth.   Many poorer Israelites cooked over a simple hole in the ground (a fire pit) with rocks around it.  Others had ovens, either inside the home or in the courtyard. When King Jehoiakim sat in his winter house with a fire burning in the firepot (Jeremiah 36:22), the firepot was probably a three-legged hearth of copper or bronze.

Wood was the primary fuel used for cooking in ancient Israel; however, in Ecclesiastes 7:6 thorns fueled the fire. Thorn bushes burn faster than dense wood. Many times when thorns were collected and burned, green branches were present at the base of the thorn plant even when the bush appeared dry. Burning green branches contributed to the crackling sound when thorns were burnt. Thorns as the fuel made the point of the Teacher’s proverb. The laughter of fools is like a short-lived fire fueled by thorns not wood. A fool’s laughter, although perhaps loud, does not last very long. It is valueless or meaningless.

The Thorny Burnet

The thorn plant of Ecclesiastes is the Sarcopoterium spinosum. Other names are the thorny burnet and prickly burnet. The thorny burnet’s origins are prehistoric, but it may be native to the Middle East. In present-day Israel, the plant is wide spread in Israel from Mount Hermon and Galilee in the north to the Negev hills and Eilat in the South including the Mediterranean coast. The thorn burnet is a dwarf, perennial shrub that resembles a ball or pillow.  In the female flower, two or three ovaries are set in 4-5 joined sepals. The top of the corolla is covered by the tips of the sepals which make the female flower resemble a covered pot. These flower pots are numerous on stems. When the female flower is young, it is green, but turns reddish at maturity and rusty brown as it dries.  In the heat of fire, the flower “pots” pop and produce a small explosive sound which sounds like crackling. The thorny burnet is used to make brooms, to stuff mattresses, and to form low-growing hedges.

Symbolism: Futility

In the Bible, thorny plants were often associated with desolation and ruin. In the Teacher’s parable in Ecclesiastes 7:6, the meaning was futility. Although a thorny burnet fire may snap, crackle and pop, and be pleasing to the ears, the sound adds nothing to the heat. Futility implies an action that has no use or purpose. Synonyms are ineffective, pointless, and vainness and the antonym is useful.

Malachi is one of the few, if only, prophet in the Old Testament who wrote about futility. He related a hypothetical conversation between God and men of Israel (Malachi 3:13-18). One group identified that it was futile to serve God and carry out his requirements. Arrogant, evildoers prospered. The redemption (Messiah) that good men looked for had not appeared even after many centuries.  Another group of men feared and followed God. God wrote this group’s names in a scroll of remembrance, similar to a record of notable deeds kept by earthly kings (Esther 6:1-6; Isaiah 4:3). God promised that in the day he makes up his treasured possessions, the men’s names in the scroll would be spared. Malachi’s point is that fearing and serving God are not futile but have long-term rewards.

Paul identified several ways and situations where man’s thoughts were futile, e.g., useless and ineffective (Romans 1:18-23, 8:20; 1 Corinthians 3:20-21, 15:17; Ephesians 4:17). Two points seem particularly important today.  First, God is revealed though his creation, yet unrighteous men neither glorify God nor give him thanks (Romans 1:18-23). Instead their thinking becomes futile and their foolish hearts are darkened. They exchanged worship of the immortal God for worship of man-made images, e.g., birds, animals and reptiles. Today, most men and women do not worship animals, but, sometimes, they let their admiration for another man or women approach worship of them. They hang onto the words of these men/women rather than focusing on God’s instruction for life.  Reading commentaries of the Bible should never take the place of reading God’s word.

Writing to the Corinthian church, Paul stated that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sin” (1 Corinthians 15:17, NIV-SB, 2002). Redemption of our bodies, eternal life in Christ, depends on a risen Christ. When I was in college, The Passover Plot (Schoenfield, 1995) was required reading for anyone trying to be intellectual.  The book argued that Christ implemented an elaborate plan to have himself declared the Messiah. He never died on the cross but was hidden away by his closest associates. He appeared three days later to fulfill the Jew’s expectations for the Messiah.

The problem with The Passover Plot’s argument is the lived experiences of individuals who saw Christ’s death and his resurrected body. Evidence of Christ’s death comes from eye-witness accounts of non-believers as well as believers (Mark 15:39; Luke 23:46-49). In his resurrected body, Christ appeared at least 11 times to over 500 people. The phenomena of Christ’s death and resurrection may confound the wise; but do not make the phenomena any less real.

Reflection. The Lord knows that the thoughts of the (supposed) wise are futile (1 Corinthians 3:20). We cannot believe everything we read in books. Truth is not a prerequisite for publication.

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright: April, 14, 2015, Carolyn A. Roth

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Does Old Age Diminish Desire?

Capparis spinosa BushThe Teacher’s description of old age and diminishing desire is in Ecclesiastes 12:1-5.

The Teacher gave advice at the beginning of this teaching, then provided examples to support the advice. The advice is “remember your Creator in the days of your youth before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’” (Ecclesiastes 12:1, NIV-SB, 2002). In poetic and allegorical form the Teacher elaborated how age takes its toll on a man, reducing him to feebleness. Read through the Table for an explanation of various diminished senses and abilities of old age and their accompanying fears.

Description and Interpretation of Old Age

Description Interpretation Verse
Keepers of the house tremble Arms and hands tremble perhaps with a neurological disease, e.g., Parkinsonism 12:3
Strong men stoop Back is bent, shoulders concave possibly from osteoporosis or arthritis 12:3
Grinders cease and are few Teeth cannot chew food because some teeth are lost and others possibly decayed 12:3
Those looking through the windows are dim Eyes are dimmed by cataracts, or near or far sightedness 12:3
Doors to street are closed Hard of hearing; cannot hear street noise or sounds of women grinding meal in the home 12:4
Men rise up at sound of birds No longer able to sleep; arises with first birds of morning 12:4
Songs grow faint Vocal cords no longer allow him to reach notes of favorite songs.  Voice is raspy 12:4
Fear of heights Afraid he will fall because he is unsteady 12:5
Fear of street dangers No longer able to defend his home from intruders 12:5
Almond tree blossoms Hair is white 12:5
Grasshopper drags himself along Unsteady gait and moves slowly perhaps holds onto furniture for support 12:5
Desire no longer is stirred Could be sexual desire, but more likely desire for food, entertainment, or company because his sensations are diminished, e.g. sight, taste, hearing, etc. 12:5

One characteristic of old age is reduced desire or appetite for sex, food, or other types of stimulation. In Ecclesiastes 12:5, the Hebrew word for desire is ʼabîyôwnâh which is translated as caper berry.

The Caperberry

The caperberry is the Capparis spinosa L., also known as the common caper. Probably it originated in dry regions of western or central Asia; but for millennia was present in the Mediterranean basin including Israel. The plant will grow in sand, loam, or clay soils as long as the soil is well-drained. The caperberry tolerates drought.  A rule of thumb is that the caperberry will grow wherever the olive tree grows. In Israel, the  caperberry clings to cracks and crevices of rock piles and abandoned walls. It can be seen between the rocks of the Western (wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

The commercial caper is an immature flower bud that is pickled in vinegar or preserved in granulated salt. Caper taste has been described both as sharply piquant and peppery mustard. Capers are used to flavor pasta sauces, pizza, fish, meats and salads.  Caperberries (cornichon de câpres) are the semi-mature caper fruit. Along with young shoots and small leaves, caperberries are used as condiments. Young caper shoots can be eaten as a vegetable.

Symbolism:  Desire

The symbolism of the caperberry is desire. A desire is a wish, craving, or longing for something or someone. Other words for desire are want, yearn, and need. The Teacher made the point that with old age desires were blunted or reduced. Reflecting on this passage, leads me to believe that some desires may be reduced so that we have time to concentrate on other desires.  It’s possible that the intensity or urgency of sexual desires are muted, we may become less adventurous (I no longer want to paraglide), and we may even hear less well. That does not mean that desire is lost as much as re-focused. Decades of living allows us to acquire experiences and knowledge. An Israelite proverb is “desire without knowledge is not good (Proverbs 19:2, ESV, 2008). God does not view age as a deterrent to usefulness. Not until Abraham was 75 did he leave Haran in response to God’s call.  Moses was 80 when God appeared to him in the Sinai.

Our own desires can cause problems for us. Cain’s offering of fruit was unacceptable to God (Genesis 4:2-7). Cain became angry and his face downcast. God loved Cain, so he explained that a suitable sacrifice would be accepted. Then, God warned Cain that sin was crouching at Cain’s door and “desired” to have Cain. Cain’s fruit, grains, or vegetables were not what God wanted in a sacrifice. Perhaps God wanted the best or first fruits from Cain’s harvest, perhaps he wanted an animal sacrifice similar to Abel’s offering, or perhaps God just wanted Cain to acknowledged that all he reaped was from God. God told the Israelites, “I desire acknowledgement rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6, ESV-SB, 2002).

Saint John counseled Christians that the things of the world – the desires of the flesh and of the eyes and the pride of life – are not from God (I John 2:15-17). The world is passing away along with all of its desires; but whoever does the Lord’s will abides forever. In the poem on old age, the Teacher described the elder as being afraid of street dangers (Ecclesiastes 12:5). Many of us are afraid of things of the world, e.g., muggings, burglary, taxes. Yet the world is temporal and is guaranteed to pass away.

Reflection.  God fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cries and saves them (Psalm 145:19). List your top five desires. Was fear of God one of them?

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright March 23, 2013; carolyn a. roth

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Image

Meaningless Crackling Thorns

Thorny burnetThe Teacher compares the meaning of life to a burning thorn under a pot in Ecclesiastes 7:6.

Bible scholars are not sure who wrote Ecclesiastes. Possibly it was written by Solomon, one of his offspring who reigned later in Israel’s history, or a learned teacher in the Israelite assembly.  Within Ecclesiastes, the writer refers to himself as Teacher. One proverb that the Teacher wrote was, “Like the crackling of thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of fools. This too is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 7:6, NIV-SB, 2002).

In ancient Israel, cooking fires were located in outer courtyards or inside homes. The time of year influenced where the fire was located.  In hot weather it could be found in the courtyard.  While in cooler or cold weather, the fire was probably located inside the home to add warmth.   Many poorer Israelites cooked over a simple hole in the ground (a fire pit) with rocks around it.  Others had ovens, either inside the home or in the courtyard. When King Jehoiakim sat in his winter house with a fire burning in the firepot (Jeremiah 36:22), the firepot was probably a three-legged hearth of copper or bronze.

Wood was the primary fuel used for cooking in ancient Israel; however, in Ecclesiastes 7:6 thorns fueled the fire. Thorn bushes burn faster than dense wood. Many times when thorns were collected and burned, green branches were present at the base of the thorn plant even when the bush appeared dry. Burning green branches contributed to the crackling sound when thorns were burnt. Thorns as the fuel made the point of the Teacher’s proverb. The laughter of fools is like a short-lived fire fueled by thorns not wood. A fool’s laughter, although perhaps loud, does not last very long. It is valueless or meaningless.

The Thorny Burnet

The thorn plant of Ecclesiastes is the Sarcopoterium spinosum. Other names are the thorny burnet and prickly burnet. The thorny burnet’s origins are prehistoric, but it may be native to the Middle East. In present-day Israel, the plant is wide spread in Israel from Mount Hermon and Galilee in the north to the Negev hills and Eilat in the South including the Mediterranean coast. The thorn burnet is a dwarf, perennial shrub that resembles a ball or pillow.  In the female flower, two or three ovaries are set in 4-5 joined sepals. The top of the corolla is covered by the tips of the sepals which make the female flower resemble a covered pot. These flower pots are numerous on stems. When the female flower is young, it is green, but turns reddish at maturity and rusty brown as it dries.  In the heat of fire, the flower “pots” pop and produce a small explosive sound which sounds like crackling. The thorny burnet is used to make brooms, to stuff mattresses, and to form low-growing hedges.

Symbolism: Futility

In the Bible, thorny plants were often associated with desolation and ruin. In the Teacher’s parable in Ecclesiastes 7:6, the meaning was futility. Although a thorny burnet fire may snap, crackle and pop, and be pleasing to the ears, the sound adds nothing to the heat. Futility implies an action that has no use or purpose. Synonyms are ineffective, pointless, and vainness and the antonym is useful.

Malachi is one of the few, if only, prophet in the Old Testament who wrote about futility. He related a hypothetical conversation between God and men of Israel (Malachi 3:13-18). One group identified that it was futile to serve God and carry out his requirements. Arrogant, evildoers prospered. The redemption (Messiah) that good men looked for had not appeared even after many centuries.  Another group of men feared and followed God. God wrote this group’s names in a scroll of remembrance, similar to a record of notable deeds kept by earthly kings (Esther 6:1-6; Isaiah 4:3). God promised that in the day he makes up his treasured possessions, the men’s names in the scroll would be spared. Malachi’s point is that fearing and serving God are not futile but have long-term rewards.

Paul identified several ways and situations where man’s thoughts were futile, e.g., useless and ineffective (Romans 1:18-23, 8:20; 1 Corinthians 3:20-21, 15:17; Ephesians 4:17). Two points seem particularly important today.  First, God is revealed though his creation, yet unrighteous men neither glorify God nor give him thanks (Romans 1:18-23). Instead their thinking becomes futile and their foolish hearts are darkened. They exchanged worship of the immortal God for worship of man-made images, e.g., birds, animals and reptiles. Today, most men and women do not worship animals, but, sometimes, they let their admiration for another man or women approach worship of them. They hang onto the words of these men/women rather than focusing on God’s instruction for life.  Reading commentaries of the Bible should never take the place of reading God’s word.

Writing to the Corinthian church, Paul stated that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sin” (1 Corinthians 15:17, NIV-SB, 2002). Redemption of our bodies, eternal life in Christ, depends on a risen Christ. When I was in college, The Passover Plot (Schoenfield, 1995) was required reading for anyone trying to be intellectual.  The book argued that Christ implemented an elaborate plan to have himself declared the Messiah. He never died on the cross but was hidden away by his closest associates. He appeared three days later to fulfill the Jew’s expectations for the Messiah.

The problem with The Passover Plot’s argument is the lived experiences of individuals who saw Christ’s death and his resurrected body. Evidence of Christ’s death comes from eye-witness accounts of non-believers as well as believers (Mark 15:39; Luke 23:46-49). In his resurrected body, Christ appeared at least 11 times to over 500 people. The phenomena of Christ’s death and resurrection may confound the wise; but do not make the phenomena any less real.

Reflection. The Lord knows that the thoughts of the (supposed) wise are futile (1 Corinthians 3:20). We cannot believe everything we read in books. Truth is not a prerequisite for publication.

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright March 14, 2013; carolyn a. roth

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