Friday, 16 September 2016

Rich and poetic imagery - from a biblical cynic (or realist)


As I have been preparing for Saturday's funeral my mind has been drawn to the biblical book of Ecclesiastes.  

It is a collection of the sayings of an anonymous wise woman (or man), who is known as the Teacher, or the Preacher.

I am never sure as to whether the Teacher is  a cynic or a realist, but I am glad for her rich and poetic imagery as she meditates on the vanity  (pretentiousness?)  of life in the face of death.  

I especially admire the poetic allusions as they are rendered in the Authorized/King James Version of the bible.

Here is the text:


Ecclesiastes 12King James Version (KJV)

12 Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;
While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:
In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened,
And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low;
Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:
Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.
Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.

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The passage has so much rich imagery and wisdom.


1. Life begins with God  (Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth)
2. Life ends with God ( the spirit shall return unto God).
3. As our days come to an end in old age we are ready to die. ( I have no pleasure in them;)
4.  Our faculties begin to fail.
(a)  'The Keepers of the House" (arms and legs) begin to fail
(b) " Strong men bow"  (ankles and feet lose their strength).
(c)  "Grinders" ( the molars)  wear down.
(d)  'The eyes begin to fail"   (those that look out of the windows)



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Here are some more detailed notes ("lifted" from the web)




2. Illustrating "the evil days" ( Jeremiah 13:16 ). "Light," "sun," &c., express prosperity; "darkness," pain and calamityIsaiah 13:10 , 30:26 ).
clouds . . . after . . . rain--After rain sunshine (comfort) might be looked for, but only a brief glimpse of it is given, and the gloomy clouds (pains) return.
3. keepers of the house--namely, the hands and arms which protected the body, as guards do a palace ( Genesis 49:24 , Job 4:19 , 2 Corinthians 5:1 ), are now palsied.
strong men . . . bow--( Judges 16:25 Judges 16:30 ). Like supporting pillars, the feet and knees ( Solomon 5:15 ); the strongest members ( Psalms 147:10 ).
grinders--the molar teeth.
cease--are idle.
those that look out of the windows--the eyes; the powers of vision, looking out from beneath the eyelids, which open and shut like the casement of a window.
4. doors--the lips, which are closely shut together as doors, by old men in eating, for, if they did not do so, the food would drop out ( Job 41:14 , Psalms 141:3 , Micah 7:5 ).
in the streets--that is, toward the street, "the outer doors" [MAURER and WEISS].
sound of . . . grinding--The teeth being almost gone, and the lips "shut" in eating, the sound of mastication is scarcely heard.
the bird--the cock. In the East all mostly rise with the dawn. But the old are glad to rise from their sleepless couch, or painful slumbers still earlier, namely, when the cock crows, before dawn ( Job 7:4 ) [HOLDEN]. The least noise awakens them [WEISS].
daughters of music--the organs that produce and that enjoy music; the voice and ear.
5. that which is high--The old are afraid of ascending a hill.
fears . . . in the way--Even on the level highway they are full of fears of falling, &c.
almond . . . flourish--In the East the hair is mostly dark. The white head of the old among the dark-haired is like an almond tree, with its white blossoms, among the dark trees around [HOLDEN]. The almond tree flowers on a leafless stock in winter (answering to old age, in which all the powers are dormant), while the other trees are flowerless. GESENIUS takes the Hebrew for flourishes from a different root, casts off; when the old man loses his gray hairs, as the almond tree casts its white flowers.
grasshoppers--the dry, shrivelled, old man, his backbone sticking out, his knees projecting forwards, his arms backwards, his head down, and the apophyses enlarged, is like that insect. Hence arose the fable, that Tithonus in very old age was changed into a grasshopper [PARKHURST]. "The locust raises itself to fly"; the old man about to leave the body is like a locust when it is assuming its winged form, and is about to fly [MAURER].
a burden--namely, to himself.
desire shall fail--satisfaction shall be abolished. For "desire," Vulgate has "the caper tree," provocative of lust; not so well.
long home--( Job 16:22 , 17:13 ).
mourners--( Jeremiah 9:17-20 ), hired for the occasion ( Matthew 9:23 ).
6. A double image to represent death, as in Ecclesiastes 12:1-5 , old age: (1) A lamp of frail material, but gildedover, often in the East hung from roofs by a cord of silk and silver interwoven; as the lamp is dashed down and broken, when the cord breaks, so man at death; the golden bowl of the lamp answers to the skull, which, from the vital preciousness of its contents, may be called "golden"; "the silver cord" is the spinal marrow, which is white and precious as silver, and is attached to the brain. (2) A fountain, from which water is drawn by a pitcher let down by a rope wound round a wheel; as, when the pitcher and wheel are broken, water can no more be drawn, so life ceases when the vital energies are gone. The "fountain" may mean the right ventricle of the heart; the "cistern," the left; the pitcher, the veins; the wheel the aorta, or great artery [SMITH]. The circulation of the blood, whether known or not to Solomon, seems to be implied in the language put by the Holy Ghost into his mouth. This gloomy picture of old age applies to those who have not "remembered their Creator in youth." They have none of the consolations of God, which they might have obtained in youth; it is now too late to seek them. A good old age is a blessing to the godly ( Genesis 15:15 , Job 5:26 , Proverbs 16:31 , 20:29 ).

7. dust--the dust--formed body.
spirit--surviving the body; implying its immortality

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