Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Ecclesiastes 3 verse 11

Everything he has made pretty in its time. Even time indefinite he has put in their heart, that mankind may never find out the work that the [true] God has made from the start to the finish.

I recently skimmed through an article by a Bible commentator claiming that the above verse was grossly misrendered and that instead of God putting “time indefinite” into us, what he put was “darkness,” that is, God veiled the future so we couldn't see through that veil. When I read something so contrary to what I’ve understood, it makes me want to dig into the original languages to see what was actually said. With that, below is some reference material I transcribed

Young’s Analytical Concordance (p.1073) renders the Hebrew word as “indefinite time.”

KJV with Hebrew & Greek word references. (This reference uses square brackets to designate the numerized / categorized list of all Hebrew words and parenthesis for Greek words.)

He hath made [H6213] (8804) every [thing] beautiful [H3303] in his time [H6256]: also he hath set [H5414] (8804) the world [H5769] in their heart [H3820], so that [H1097] no man [H120] can find out [H4672] (8799) the work [H4639] that God [H430] maketh [H6213] (8804) from the beginning [H7218] to the end [H5490].

In the above quote, keyed off the King James Version, the two points to notice are the Hebrew codes  highlighted. Using Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, in the back-material section "Hebrew & Chaldee Dictionary," here are the translations of those words. You will note that Strong's provides the reader as many possible "flavors" of the word in order to grasp the original intent of the word:

H5769 (p.89) (KJV "world"): States that this word is from 5956. "Concealed, out of mind(-beyond our grasp-). "Vanishing point." Then it states that in practical terms this would mean a "continuance, eternal, ever lasting, ever more, perpetual, time without end."

H5956 (p.89) means "to veil from sight, conceal." (- But this does not seem to specifically imply it being a blinding light, an impenetrable darkness or even a fog. -)

H4672 (p.70) "to come forth, appear, exist, attain, find or acquire. To cause to come.(- realize -)
(In the above, the words appearing between the “ (- -)” marks are my comments.)

Personal Reflection
This scripture does not seem to indicate that God made us with the “heart” (desire) to see an eternal life. There are other scriptures that do indicate that, but this does not seem to be one of them.

After examining the above reference materials, it appears the scripture is saying: God has made the eons of time like a vanishing point of which we cannot discern its beginning or end because of our limited ability (or, perhaps in some cases even complete inability) to understand all he has done and all he will yet do. He (God) has “put” it into our hearts the desire to understand, but our attempts are so feeble that they are humbling. We are forced to concede that we may never find out “the work that the [true] God has made from start to finish.”

In essence then, this scripture is not talking about him putting a desire for eternal life in us. Rather, it is saying that we yearn to understand both creation’s beginning and it’s far-reaching future. Indeed, scientists today spend their lifetime trying to understand how the universe started and are constantly updating both what they think happened in the past and what they feel the will happen to the cosmos in times to come. Also, faithful servants of God throughout recorded history have struggled to understand prophecies of the future.

There is another possible explanation, having to do with the King James Version (KJV) rendering of the word "world." Just as a school child may feel overwhelmed when he is handed a stack of books for the year, mankind sees no vanishing point for all the studies that can be done regarding the Earth and the physical universe. There is literally a "world" of studies to pursue.  He is overwhelmed with everything there is to learn. In fact, just like the school child, he may state "I'll never get through all of this!" Indeed, even after thousands of years of mankind's existence (per Bible chronology), we still have only scratched the surface. Every time we think we've mastered just one field of knowledge, some breakthrough comes along demonstrating just how small and finite our understanding is. Coming back to the analogy of the a student, it is as if after finishing the stack of books he was handed, he is then taken to the city library and shown shelf after shelf of books and told “you must learn this also.” In that vein, notice the rendering of Eccl. 3:11 by the following Bible translations:

Common English Bible (CEB): God has made everything fitting in its time, but has also placed eternity in their hearts, without enabling them to discover what God has done from beginning to end.

Complete Jewish Bible (CJB): He has made everything suited to its time; also, he has given human beings an awareness of eternity; but in such a way that they can’t fully comprehend, from beginning to end, the things God does.

Contemporary English Version (CEV): God makes everything happen at the right time. Yet none of us can ever fully understand all he has done, and he puts questions in our minds about the past and the future.

An article in a 2009 issue of Awake magazine also seems to explain that scripture in the same general direction:

In conclusion, then, that God set “darkness” in us (as the commentator had suggested) is a bit harsh. It reminds me of a child that once told me that honey was actually bee barf--while the mechanics may be there, it is not a true representation. In my mind, darkness implies complete inability to get any bearing. Rather than darkness, it is like the small light at the end of tunnel that we struggle to identify, or obscured vision through fog (which is like a thin veil of sorts)--we know there is something there, we have a sense of what it might be, but there is yet so much to learn--and even then, we will never stop learning. Complete understanding of everything God has done is just beyond our grasp but what we discover keeps us intrigued and searching--which keeps "eternity" or "time indefinite" in our hearts.

Supplimentary Notes:
Here are more than 20 other Bible renderings of Eccl.3:11 for your personal comparative reading:

I did not link the commentator’s article because when I attempted to go back and find it, I could not.

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