Thursday, 11 September 2008

'theology and the dog'

this sunday i will be preaching on ecclesiastes chapter 9 in wesley methodist church segamat. i have been preaching through one chapter of the book of ecclesiastes per sermon per month and have reached chapter 9.

there is this interesting verse in the chapter that is often quoted elsewhere:

'...for a living dog is better than a dead lion.' (9:4b)

this reminds me of a peanuts comic strip some years ago entitled 'theology and the dog'. snoopy is typing on his typewriter and gives what he has typed to charlie brown to read. it says, "as it says in the ninth chapter of ecclesiastes, 'a living dog is better than a dead lion'". so, charlie brown asks snoopy, "what does it mean?" to which snoopy replies, '"i don't know but i agree with it".

so, what exactly does it mean? many people would agree with the Preacher's comment in 9:4b and have some sense of empathy with him although not knowing exactly why!

the saying is simple enough but the interpretation is many. here are two:

1] to be alive and fight another day even to the point of cowardice is far better than to be a dead hero. what is the point of being a hero but the type who dies in trying to save others? it is better to be still alive to fight another day than to give into a pointless self-sacrifice that does no good or bring no fruit in the end. to save one's life to live and fight another day is not seen as cowardice but as smartness!

2] to have a life like a dog is still far better than death itself. in OT times, 'dog' was a word often used in a derogradotry sense. the word refer to the scavengers that roam the streets and eating food off rubbish heaps. hence, these 'dogs' were despised and the term was used to refer to one's enemies. to 'live a life like a dog' was therefore to have a despised life. yet, in terms of the other alternative which is death, life even if it is a dog's life is far better than death which ends everything.

the Preacher was obviously reminding people in this chapter of the Latin phrase 'memento mori' (remember that we must die). that is why after vv. 1-6, the Preacher admonishes his readers with one his 7 'eat and drink' passages. if life is going to be short, go and eat and drink. enjoy your short vain life to the full before it comes to an end.

now, that's calls for a celebration!


Canaan said...

Hey Dr, how would you think the verse 22 of chapter 9 saying that "time and chances happen to them all"?

anthony said...

actually v. 11b 'but time and chance happen to the all'.

these are two of the limitations faced by all human beings in this life 'under the sun'. the first is time. life on earth is short. we will never know when our time is up or when we will die. trying to understand this time is impossible (cf. 3:11 'God has put eternity into man's mind, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end').

secondly, chance is an element found in this world 'under the sun'. chance seem to give everyone a level playing field, yet it also creates uncertainties in life. e.g. how do we know if something would work out right in life? sometimes it is by chance although we can try to plan and work out everything to the details. chance occurs randomly and there is no way to control it.

Canaan said...

sorry for the typing mistakes...there is no verse 22 in chapter 22 ;P

sorry bother you again, does the 'time and chance' element that mention here have any relationship with verse 4 of chapter 11 (this time won't wrong again)that says,"He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap."? Thanks again!

anthony said...

eccl 11:4 is more about the dangers of procrastination and pessimism. if one waits for only good weather before embarking on planting, he may not even get to start at all. similarly, if he waits for the appropriate weather to reap, he may not get to reap at all.

in israel, there was the former rains that come around spring that ripens the barley harvest. in september, there is the latter rain that soften the ground for planting. this verse probably makes reference to this 2 times. the emphasis in this verse is the need to be courageous, to take some risk (vv. 1-3 as well). no courage, no gain.