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:
HE HAS SET THE WORLD IN THEIR HEARTS
"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."
GOD IS THE PLACER
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
Dean H. Hough