Qoheleth On The Use And Abuse Of Political Power -- By: Duane A. Garrett

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 08:2 (Fall 1987)
Article: Qoheleth On The Use And Abuse Of Political Power
Author: Duane A. Garrett

Qoheleth On The Use And Abuse
Of Political Power

Duane A. Garrett

Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary
Cochrane, Alberta

Qoheleth’s insights into political power and its use and abuse have escaped the notice of most interpreters even though he had a great deal to say in this area. Scholars either ignore his political insights altogether or suggest that his attitude towards the subject borders on indifference.1 Political oppression and the corruption that exists in high places, however, are the only vices that Qoheleth analyzes in any detail in his book. He hardly concerns himself with other forms of questionable behavior, such as a life of sensuality and pleasure seeking; he only says that in the final analysis these pursuits fail to satisfy (2:4–11).

Qoheleth’s concern for political matters and in particular for matters related to oppression is not surprising. In ancient Israel, as elsewhere in the ancient near east, the divinely imposed duty of rulers to protect the poor and easily oppressed is part of the heritage of wisdom.2 Moreover, biblical wisdom is often highly political in nature and can frequently be defined as the ability to work successfully in a political situation.3 While wisdom’s many roots include the marketplace and ordinary world of folk wisdom, a primary Sitz im Leben of wisdom was the royal court. In Egypt, professional sages instructed young princes and future bureaucrats, and Sumerian and Babylonian scribes similarly had important governmental roles.4 While not exclusively devoted to this subject, much of Ecclesiastes addresses the political arena.

Qoheleth examines the use of political power in eight separate passages. These passages, when analyzed and compared, form a coherent statement on political authority and life under it. This statement is carefully woven into the fabric of the whole book of Ecclesiastes and makes up a significant part of Qoheleth’s world view.

I. 3:15c-17

The first important passage is 3:15c–17. This passage seems out of place as it appears in most translations. In the preceding passage, 3:9–15b, Qoheleth contrasts the transitory nature of human accomplisments with the eternality of God’s works. He then suddenly moves into a brief discourse on corruption and injustice (3: 16–17). The apparent abruptness of this change of topic is greatly reduced if one understands 3:15c to be transitional.

The meaning of 15c, וְהָאֱלה...

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