Notes on Ecclesiastes
Part Four

Elohim Does It

by Dean H. Hough

The section of Ecclesiastes under consideration (3:1-5:9) presses the point that all our experiences are out of God and they are given for some reason. The experience of changing times and seasons (3:1-8) are given to the sons of humanity to humble us (3:10).

Whatever happens, whether we are able to rejoice in it (3:13), or we would like to see it changed (3:14a), God does it to the end that we grow in awe-inspiring fear of Him (3:14b).

But, according to Ecclesiastes 3:11, we cannot always trace the reasons and purposes of God very clearly. Nevertheless, He is working "from the beginning to the terminus" (3:11).

He is responsible for the cycles of human experience (3:15), for judgment and its consequences (3:16-21) and our ignorance of the future (3:22). This means that exploitations of humans, one against the other, our tears and jealousies, our stupidities and dissatisfactions (4:1-8), these all are given to the sons of humanity by God for His own reasons. Whatever is done, Elohim does it (3:14).

It was wisdom in the days of the Assembler, and it is wisdom today, to know that God is behind our experiences. But for us who have been given revelations of God's grace and purpose in Christ Jesus, there is less of "obscurity" concerning that which God does than in those ancient times. We do not know why God gives terrible seasons of war and sorrow and loss as well as happy times, and this not in apparently strict equality, though we do learn that no one escapes the experience of evil altogether (Ecc.1:13). But, as believers, we are aware of many things about God's operations that the Assembler did not know.

"We are aware that God is working all together for the good of those who are loving God" (Rom.8:28). God is making known to us "the secret of His will (in accord with His delight, which He purposed in [Christ Jesus]) to have an administration of the complement of the eras, to head up all in the Christ—both that in the heavens and that on the earth—in Him in Whom our lot was cast also, being designated beforehand according to the purpose of the One Who is operating all in accord with the counsel of His will" (Eph.1:9-11). We are aware of the One we have believed, Who indeed abolishes death, yet illuminates life and incorruption (2 Tim.1:9-12).


The exact meaning of the Hebrew term in Ecclesiastes 3:11 translated "obscurity" by the CVOT is in dispute. It is the word generally rendered "eon" in our translation, and others, including Vladimir Gelesnoff, have preferred that sense here as well.

In his comments of this passage, Brother Gelesnoff wrote: "The phrase, 'He has set the eon in their heart,' is very striking. The rendering 'world' in the current versions, and the marginal alternative 'eternity,' rob the passage of its grand meaning. In perfect harmony with the whole cast and character of Hebrew prophecy, the 'times' of Ecclesiastes culminate in the golden age of peace. The character of the Messianic age is painted in colors most gorgeous and brilliant in the prophets; but the crowning glory of the Messianic eon is peace." Hence our brother felt that such a "far-off, vague, indistinct" presentiment in the hearts of mankind was what the Assembler had in mind in this passage.

Yet many, including Brother A. E. Knoch, have concluded that some such sense as obscurity" is intended here. Brother Knoch has defended this rendering in an article appearing in Unsearchable Riches, volume 29, starting on page 371. The following selections from that article have guided in the current CVOT rendering:


"Obscurity, in more than one sense, gathers around this passage (Ecc.3:11, AV). It is not clear what is meant by the words themselves, and they give no ground for what follows. The tendency of translators and expositors is to render it as the Septuagint, changing the word world to age or eon. Some prefer to make it eternity, and the teaching that God has set eternity in men's hearts (whatever that may mean) is quite popular in some circles. But why should this keep men from finding out what God is doing? Indeed, would it not be a help rather than a hindrance.

"First let us note the context. It concerns the fact that there is a season for everything (Ecc.3:1-9). Then the assembler of these sayings asks, 'What profit has the doer in what he toils?' The answer is, 'I see the experience which God gives to the sons of humanity, to be humbled by it.' Our life is not the aimless, purposeless, empty thing which it appears to be. Its evil and toil is a gift from God in order to lay us low before Him. With all our striving, how little do we accomplish! But the main object, the real profit, lies in our failure, so that we may take our true place before God.

"In its season God makes everything lovely (verse 11). See how beautiful is the flower in its bud and bloom! But soon thereafter, what a change! The season is past. One who had never seen the flower until its petals are faded and decayed, could not conceive how beautiful it was in its time. This is the picture which is presented to us as introductory to the statement which we are studying. That which is disintegrating does not give us a proper idea of its beauty when it is in its prime ....

"Men see things out of season, in the time when they are disintegrating, and their hearts are too dark to recognize this and look back to their origin or forward to their consummation. They see only a small portion of the process, and even this at its worst stage, hence are sure to be led astray without a revelation from God Himself. Those who have this may exult that all begins in God's love and will terminate in its full display, even though, at present, it may appear to some as if His hate were the ruling factor in His dealings with mankind.

"But why translate obscurity in place of eon or age? The Hebrew stem olm, which is here used denotes obscure. This is clear from the fact that it is rendered secret, hide, blind, and dissemble in the Authorized Version. The meaning eon or age is only a derived one, seeing that the eons were obscure to them. It also denotes an adolescent damsel or stripling. It is quite in order to fall back upon the basic sense when this is manifestly in accord with the context. We know that it is true that God gives men obscurity and that they do not know God's doing on account of it. All other renderings fail to satisfy the context. It must be something which incapacitates men mentally. Obscurity does this."


We conclude that the context does support the translation "obscurity" in this passage. God Himself puts (or "gives") this obscurity into the human heart. Since He has done so, we may be certain that He will be the One Who removes that obscurity, as indeed He has begun to do through the later revelations of His Word, in the hearts of those who believe.

Dean H. Hough

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