Ecclesiastes 12:10: “Qohelet sought to find words of delight and to honestly write words of truth.” (Longman)
Exegesis and Application
“The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true.” (NIV) “The preacher sought to find out acceptable words; and that which was written was upright, even words of truth.” (KJV) “The Preacher sought to find out acceptable words, and to write down correctly words of truth.” (James MacDonald)
It is important to see the difference in the Hebrew of “honestly write” and what he wrote was upright” and “that which was written was upright” and “write down correctly.” If you accept the fact that the last verses of chapter 12 are written by someone other than Solomon, and I do based on Longman’s argument, then this verse has a different tone to it. Longman’s arguments are not relevant in this blog but his view is a bit more skeptical towards Solomon’s search for the truth which is contained in the early chapters of Ecclesiastes. His interpretation also makes our search for the truth more realistic, applicable, and consistent with Proverbs. This one verse combines Qohelet’s search for good form and good content. Both are important to him.
A quick word about the title “teacher” or “preacher” or in the Hebrew “Qohelet.” The word literally means “one who assembles” and has no religious connotations except if one assumes that the “assembly” is a synagogue or church gathering. The best translation may be “teacher.” He is called “wise Qohelet” in 12:9 which would give the edge to “teacher.”
The key to this verse is the phrase “sought to find” which in the Hebrew is “bikkaish limso.” Looking at the first word we have “bikkaish” (“search”) which is used many times in the Old Testament and can mean “to seek with care and attention that which is uncertain and doubtful.” The Hebrew word “limso” (“find”) is also the most used word in the Old Testament. It can have the nuanced meaning of “to attain,” “to find sufficiency,” or “to find and keep. The idea seems to be that Qohelet continued his serious, sustained and some times unfruitful search to find and keep the right words in his message. The Hebrew words give us no guarantee that Qohelet will find what he searches for.
Moving on to the next phrase “words of delight” or “acceptable words” or “just the right words” we have the Hebrew “khophats” (“delight,” “acceptable,” “right”) which has its root “to bend towards or give inclination towards or affection to an individual,” thus that which gives pleasure or delight. Here is the focus on the form of the writing: engaging and provocative words. The less interesting “dabar” is the common Hebrew term for “word.”
The next phrase “to honestly write words of truth” is also a bit confusing in the original. Here is the content: truth. The Hebrew word for “write” is “katub” means literally “to cut” or “to engrave” but the real issue is the form of the verb, which can lend itself to a parallel translation of “to find.” Also, “honesty” is “yoser” in the Hebrew. This word can also be translated “straightness,” “that which is right and proper and of integrity.” It is also used as an adverb here and not a noun so it describes the “writing.” Finally, “truth” here is the Hebrew word “emeth” which means “stable,” “reliable,” “certain,” “trustworthy, and “assured,” and this is the common word for “truth in the Old Testament. Thus, we get the observation that Qohelet earnestly tried “to find” and then “to honestly write” words of truth.
The author of the verse is not Qohelet (because he is speaking in the third person), which seems to suggest that Qohelet searched for, but didn’t always find a truthful worldview for himself. The author seems to be saying in verses 13 and 14 that we should look to the first principles of godly theology and not the confused searching of Qohelet. The point we are to derive from verse 10 is that Qohelet searched for truth in the world with honesty and integrity but didn’t always find it. His searches are examples of dead ends and rabbit trails but the truth of God’s revelation (vss. 13-14) is more simple and basic than many believe: fear God and keep His commandments because He will judge you.
1) Christian journalist, Qohelet framed his search for truth, as flawed as it turned out to be, for the end of understanding the world in which he lived. He diligently sought answers from various worldviews and was honest in his approach. He didn’t give up the search. That should be your attitude towards integrating your Christian faith with the journalism calling. There will be many times you fail to provide satisfactory answers to yourself and to those for whom and to whom you report. But you should not quit the search for certainty in your stories. In the end, you know the truth is there because vss. 12 and 13 tell us that.
2) Christian journalist, Qohelet sought to please his audience (“delightful, right, acceptable words”). He wrote for his audience. He wanted to find words that ministered the truth to them. Don’t write for yourself. Write for others. Don’t be self-referential except for the point of applying the truth to your readers or listeners. Make it fun to read your stuff.