"Koheleth's Wisdom: Fear God & Keep His Commandments" (Part 1 of 9)

From the second lecture in the audio seminar Abounding Emptiness, Abundant Living

Koheleth is the Hebrew word for the book in your Bible called Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes is, in some sense, a paradoxical book. It deals, on the one hand, with the abounding meaningless and emptiness of life and, on the other hand, with the true abundance of living that only God can give. So we wish to be challenged by Koheleth, the Preacher or Teacher - as that word is often translated; it really means “the calling of an assembly, the calling of a convocation.”

Do you remember that I began by telling you that Ecclesiastes is a dangerous book? It’s a book that is strange and controversial. It is one of a small group of books in the canon that was long disputed as to whether or not it should be included as part of God’s inspired Word. Both its canonicity and its authorship was questioned and challenged but, largely under the influence of the famous Rabbi Akiva (approximately 100 years after Jesus), this book was included in the Canon. He acknowledged and affirmed its Solomonic authorship and he also confirmed the inspiration of this book. In other words, he said, “this book defiles the hands,” which is the rabbinic parlance or a Hebrew figure of speech for saying it’s inspired. It defiles the hands. It’s an inspired book. And so, an ultimate decision was finally rendered after generations of dispute. And the decision read as follows: “The Holy Spirit alighted on Solomon and he composed three books, Proverbs, Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon) and Ecclesiastes.”

Let’s quickly review the central points that we established in our first teaching to bring you back up to speed, so you can get your mind into this subject. Ecclesiastes, of course, comes from the Greek word ecclesia or church, which is the corresponding word to the Hebrew kahal or congregation. That's where we get Koheleth which comes from kahal, just as Ecclesiastes comes from ekklesia. It is part of what was a well-known literary genre called Wisdom literature. Other books in our Bible are a part of Wisdom literature, like Proverbs. And there are non-canonical books included in that genre like the Wisdom of Ben Sira, or Ecclesiasticus or Ben Sirach.

The point that we must remember is the reason that we’re engaging in the study of an obscure text in the Bible. And that is that the Bible itself greatly exalts and extols Wisdom. Wisdom is supreme, says the writer of Proverbs 4:7, “Therefore, get Wisdom, even if it costs you everything, get Wisdom.” Why? Because Wisdom is as a tree of life to those who lay hold of her. You recall that we talked about some of the forceful language used in reference to acquiring Wisdom because Wisdom is not something that is inherent, that you are born with. Wisdom is something learned, something taught, something imparted. You’re encouraged to lay hold of it, to listen actively, to acquire, to grasp, to seize Wisdom, to seek after it. Now, the Hebrew word for Wisdom is hokmah. Hacham is wise. Hachamim - the talmide hahachmim - were the wise men, the sages, the students. Wisdom is the key word. What does it mean in Hebrew? The essence of it, if you recall, is that Wisdom refers to that superior skill or training or insight or intellect which gives you great success in living, both with respect to God and with respect to your fellow man. In other words, Wisdom is that which - properly understood from a Biblical point of view - leads into abundant life. Prosperity, we could say, if we were not fearful of being misunderstood because of so-called prosperity teachings, but prosperity in the Biblical sense. Wisdom is that which gives you the skill in living a successful, prosperous, whole, complete, productive existence. It’s skillful living. It’s abundant living, as we said in the title for our series. Hokmah.

* This is an audio transcript, listen to the original message here.

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