Ecclesiastes Is the Story of Abel Writ Large

Biblical Hebrew uses similar names for “vanity” and the slain brother. That’s no accident.

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” So says Qohelet, the author of Ecclesiastes, as he begins his reflections. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

For many, these words resound with a skeptical and, some may say, nihilistic tone. But must they? Russell L. Meek, a gifted Old Testament scholar at Moody Theological Seminary, has endeavored to answer this question in his new book, Ecclesiastes and the Search for Meaning in an Upside-Down World.

Meek seamlessly weaves together scholarly insight, theological profundity, pastoral tact, and moving anecdotes drawn from his own experiences with pain, abuse, sin, and ultimately redemption in Christ. His work is quaint and accessible. I believe it will bless discouraged ministers and laypeople alike, and perhaps would make an excellent guide for a small group study or Sunday School class working through the book of Ecclesiastes.

Well-acquainted with ‘Abel-ness’

Meek begins by observing how Qohelet portrays our upside-down world—one tainted by human sinfulness and still reeling (to borrow from John Milton) from paradise lost. Meek suggests that Qohelet uses the creation narrative of Genesis “to remind us that sin is the ultimate cause for death and injustice in life.”

And yet, as Meek puts it, Qohelet teaches that when we enjoy “fleeting gifts from God,” we “return to the good that once was,” with “God’s gifts represent[ing] a portion of life before sin.” He further notes that, for Qohelet, even in a fallen world, God’s justice may be delayed (Ecc. 8:11), but it is never denied (3:17, 8:12, 12:14).

As for the time between the lost paradise of Eden and the arrival of God’s final …

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