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The Scriptorium

Better Off Never Having Lived

Ecclesiastes 6.3

3If a man begets a hundred childrenand lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with goodness, and indeed he has no burial, I say thata stillborn child isbetter than he…

The Story:This verse is a kind of restatement of verses 1 and 2 but with the meaning stretched out a bit. Here is a man who has many children along with all the good things of life, but, at the end of his life, not only has he not enjoyed his “stuff”, his children have all forsaken him; he has no one to bury him. This kind of life, Solomon insists, is worse than ever living at all. Undoubtedly such a man consumed his passion on his possessions, having very little for his many children. At his death they will reciprocate in kind. Love is not to be spent on things; God calls us to love Him and our neighbors – beginning with those closest to us. But if we waste our affections on things, which can never satisfy, those relationships we should have been nurturing won’t hold up for us when we need them most.

The Structure:Solomon is a literary craftsman. We saw his use of inclusio in verses 1 and 2 – beginning and ending his thought at the same place. Now here he employs a form of Hebrew parallelism, a literary device we most often (though not exclusively) associate with poetry. In a parallelism the first idea is stated (vv. 1, 2). Then, it is stated again, in a different form, and, in some types of parallelism, with an extension of its meaning. Curious how Solomon believed poetry to be a powerful vehicle for conveying ideas. These days, with the ruin visited on poetry by modern verse (cf. Czeslaw Milosz, The Witness of Poetry) most of us have little use for poetry. Perhaps Solomon is calling us to repent of our indifference to this divinely-ordained literary form?

Large sections of the Bible are written in poetry. Does God believe poetry can be a valuable means of conveying truth? Do you?

Each week’s studies in our
Scriptorium column are available in a free PDF form, suitable for personal or group use. For this week’s study, “Are We Having Fun Yet?: Ecclesiastes 6,” simply click here.

T. M. Moore

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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