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The time for happiness

bible commentary
Is Ecclesiastes a person who is disillusioned or without hope for the present day? Someone who sees nothing but vanity and futility in everything? And what if behind these now famous phrases there was a real call to enjoy life? There is a time for everything; perhaps now is the time for happiness.

Nathalie Capó

When we open the Bible and start reading it from the beginning, as if it were a novel, we can quickly become discouraged after a few chapters through reading lists of genealogies and texts about wars and the conquest of territories…

But if we keep going, or if we are looking for shorter texts to read, we may be drawn in by a title; basically, it’s a library built up over several centuries, with names like these: Song of Songs, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes (or Qohelet)…

Ecclesiastes is a little book of wisdom, attributed to King Solomon, son of David, builder of the Temple of Jerusalem, and who had the honour of receiving a queen who had travelled from Saba, in Ethiopia, in order to get to know him personally, because his reputation as a wise king had spread far beyond the borders of his Kingdom of Israel and Judah. In this little book of 12 chapters, Solomon presents himself as one who had been truly spoiled by life: he was royal, rich, renowned…

But he senses that his end is approaching, and he looks back over his life and comes to the conclusion that he can be satisfied with the fruits of his labour and with what he has received and experienced throughout his life, but that in the end, what is really worthwhile is the little things that give pleasure to be savoured in simplicity. He talks about the pleasure of living, of enjoying the light, of discovering and sharing wisdom. He does not shy away from criticising the injustices of the world around him, poverty, war, people who let themselves be led without asking questions…

The last chapter describes poetically the effects of ageing on our bodies: the windows that no longer open properly describe the ears; the millers that are too few in number, are the teeth that stop grinding; we have frights along the road, because we lose our balance; the agility of the « grasshopper », which is lacking, and spices which no longer have any taste… He’s not without a sense of humour at times, too, because that is part of the pleasures of life.

Later, one of his proverbs says that « it’s better to have a meal of vegetables with love than a fat ox with hatred and arguments ». Here, he’s talking about this time which passes by so quickly and is made up of so many contrasts: living, dying, loving, hating, sewing, tearing, building, rebuilding…

It has been suggested that the other title of this book, in Hebrew, Qohelet, which is a surprising feminine form, could be translated as « the gatherer », basically the one who summons us all to the end of our lives, death, and who urges us to reflect on its meaning…

Our lives are full of these experiences: deep down, we would like to always be in love, positive, building things up… Every day, we experience these two very important moments: life, death, and the meaning we give them: life to the full, the struggle in the face of difficulties, illness… There’s a time for everything, says Ecclesiastes. A time for planting and uprooting, not just flowers, but also a presence, memories, a time for crying and for laughing, for wailing and for dancing…

And Ecclesiastes concludes by reminding us that there is nothing better than to eat, drink and take pleasure in work well done, in rest, in the simple pleasures of everyday life. This is a far cry from the beatitude of perfect happiness at any price, and also from a despairing pessimism. It’s a down-to-earth realism that does us good, because it helps us to live our daily lives with confidence and hope.

Don

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À propos Gilles

a été pasteur à Amsterdam et en Région parisienne. Il s’est toujours intéressé à la présence de l’Évangile aux marges de l’Église. Il anime depuis 17 ans le site Internet Protestants dans la ville.

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