Words around the Collar

Ecclesiastes 6:1-2

How many times has this happened to you? You start reading the Bible, doing your best to understand the ideas that God has laid onto the pages for just such a time as this, but then you’re hit with a ring around the Bible!

You try your best to get past it, but again it confronts you again: a ring around the Bible. You’ve tried skimming, you’ve tried squinting, but over and over it’s ring around the Bible!

Solomon knew all about it. He knew about ring around the Bible, because he helped to create it.

Here is a tragedy I have observed under the sun, and it weighs heavily on humanity: God gives a person riches, wealth, and honor so that he lacks nothing of all he desires for himself, but God does not allow him to enjoy them. Instead, a stranger will enjoy them. This is futile and a sickening tragedy.

Ecclesiastes 6:1-2

What a Sickening Tragedy

Sometimes we read a passage in the Bible and we have that strange deja vu feeling. “I’ve read this before.” In the case of the verses for today, it was just a few days ago, back in Ecclesiastes 5. Koheleth tells us about the “sickening tragedy” that can come with wealth, and then he just keeps telling us about it. We turn the page, hoping to get to a new topic, some other whole field of futility, but we still find ourselves faced with ring around the Bible.

I have to admit that I have nothing new to say about this passage, so I want to look at the closing words for a moment. In the CSB, we read of a “sickening tragedy.” That’s a strange phrase, so I decided to look the words up in other versions to see just how else it has been translated. Here’s what I got:

  • a sickening tragedy–CSB, HCSB, NLT
  • a grievous evil–NIV, ESV, ISV, and others
  • a grave misfortune–NET
  • a great misery–Douay-Rheims
  • a severe affliction–NASB and others
  • an evil disease–KJV, JPS, and one other
  • terribly unfair–CEV

These translations all come from a couple of Hebrew words that essentially mean “evil” and “illness.” But you can see that they differ in a couple of ways. First, the literal level of it is interpreted in two ways:

  • A sickening tragedy=it’s a bad thing that makes you sick.
  • A severe affliction=it’s an illness that is really bad.

Those are very different things, like seeing something disgusting vs. having the flu. But then there’s the second level, which goes on to interpret the words beyond this idea of bad and illness. Probably the greatest liberty is “terribly unfair,” which is about the same as the Good News Translation’s “and it just isn’t right.” I’d have to argue that these versions take too much liberty with the original as there’s no clear indication of injustice in the Hebrew. Interestingly, both of these versions are publications of the American Bible Society. Take that for what it’s worth. Still, even these version do not significantly change the meaning of the text.

Getting in Tune

Am I getting lost in the weeds here? It’s possible. I’m not sure whether the situation described in these verses is a bad thing that makes you sick or a sickness that is really bad, and maybe I don’t need to care. Maybe it’s enough to boil all of these things–misery, evil, misfortune, and so forth–down to something significantly bad.

As Christians we’ve been given an immense treasure in the pages of the Bible. Unlike the rich man lamented in today’s verses, most Christians opt not to make use of this treasure because they simply let it languish on the shelf. Like the pesky stains from those old Wisk advertisements, our sin-stained selves are not likely to move toward being sanctified until we use God’s Word as it was intended. Otherwise, we’re left with ring around the Bible.

That, friend, is a sickening tragedy, especially if it applies to you.