Reflections on Ecclesiastes, part 4: ...But is there really nothing new under the sun...?
Qohelet and "the kingdom of God"
One of the recurring themes in Ecclesiastes is that, even though basic principles of justice are universally known, they are frequently ignored. As a Hebrew, Qohelet would have understood such principles to be the living foundation of his people’s life, revealed through the Torah. Beyond that specific source of revelation, he would have expected to see similar ideals as a feature of the God-given natural inheritance of humanity. But despite general awareness of right and wrong, Qohelet knew that human civilization often behaves in direct opposition to this knowledge. The poor, oppressed, and weak have always suffered at the hands of the powerful and wealthy. What is worthless is lionized, what is worthy is degraded. The wise are ignored, the foolish honored. And so on. Qohelet on more than one occasion in the text mentions God’s judgment (for example, 3:17 and 11:9 – although some commentators see the latter as an editorial gloss), but we could easily think that this affirmation of God’s supreme reckoning is only a half-hearted belief on his part. Elsewhere he shows no such conviction. He goes so far, in fact, as to say that death is the great equalizer of both the good and the wicked; and he suggests that God will not so much mete out justice in the end (rewards and punishment), as that he will reduce all human beings to the same fate as that suffered by the beasts(!). Both man and beast breathe the same air, and both will return to the same dust that mothered them, he opines.