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In 1934 the Ovaltine company gave a secret decoder ring to anyone who joined the “Little Orphan Annie” club. With the ring you were able to reveal the real message hidden in a line of plain text. Today, a great many books and sermons about Ecclesiastes also offer a secret code that unlocks the message of the book. The code is found in the words “under the sun” which these teachers have arbitrarily decided are actually words for “a life without God.” They say that when the writer of Ecclesiastes (Kohelet) wrote the words “under the sun” (some 29 times), we now “know for certain” he was talking about a life without God in the picture. But in order for this theory to work we must ignore all of Kohelet’s teachings about God’s interactions with us in our day-to-day lives. But this is not a major problem for our teachers have already decided the book is pretty much meaningless anyway. Their negative bias plus their secret code ensures that this important little book of wisdom remains ignored and obscured.
The secret code theory completely falls apart when you actually replace “under the sun” throughout the book of Ecclesiastes with “a life without God” (see italics below). Application of the secret code yields some rather bizarre results”
“So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man in a life without God than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him in a life without God.” (8:15)
“Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which God has given to you in a life without God; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored in a life without God.” (9:9)
Unfortunately the secret code theory has become so firmly entrenched in our view of Ecclesiastes that even a logical assessment is unable to repair the damage it has caused.
At the conclusion of Ecclesiastes we read this evaluation of Kohelet’s words, “Kohelet was wise and he passed on his teachings to the people. He pondered, searched out and set in order many proverbs and what he wrote was honest and true.” As I travel about and simply recite the book of Ecclesiastes I have found that the average workaday person can easily understand its message. Over and over again people tell me, “I have read Ecclesiastes all my life, I have studied it and once I even taught classes on it, but today, when you spoke the words, I understood what the book was saying for the very first time.”
Kohelet’s message is not complicated and does not require the use of codes to decipher it, it’s time to toss the secret decoder ring in the trash. Kohelet’s teachings belong “to the people” and I would invite you to listen as I seek to bring his ancient wisdom to life. We need to understand his anew for “the words of the wise guide our lives like a shepherd, their collected sayings are like firmly driven nails.”
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