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23 August. Ecclesiastes chapters 5-8
Chapter 5 starts with a warning that we should be careful in the words we use in prayer, for it is quite possible to speak foolishly to God or to make a promise (vow) to him that we cannot keep. After that the text returns to the theme of the opening chapters – that both the life of the rich and that of the poor is in vain.
Chapter 7 is a series of short proverbs of practical wisdom. Its conclusion is “I said, ‘I will be wise’, but it was far from me. That which is, is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out?” (7:23) In other words, as Pontius Pilate famously asked, “what is truth?” – even the wisest person by human standards cannot comprehend ultimate reality.
It is not until near the end of chapter 8 that we begin to see an answer to the “problem of vanity” that has occupied the writer since the start of the work – why is it that even being healthy, wealthy, wise and happy is pointless since we all die? There can only an answer to that if death is not, in fact, the end of life. What does make sense is an understanding that the righteous life and wise behaviour will be rewarded by God in the life to come: “Though sinners do evil a hundred times and prolong their lives, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they stand in fear before him, but it will not be well with the wicked, neither will they prolong their days like a shadow, because they do not stand in fear before God.” (4:12-13)