The Puritan Exegesis Project: John Trapp on Ecclesiastes 11:5

Handing out resumes and shuffling investments have two things in common: uncertainty and Ecclesiastes 11:6. John Trapp (1601 – 1669) noted that the only works guaranteed to succeed in this life are pure acts of mercy and kindness. He’s right. But it can be such a frustrating answer to those who have lost 1/3 of retirement or can’t get even one interview. For those of us asking, “What is God doing?” Trapp’s exposition needs attention. Trapp’s concern here is the contrast between the wonder of uncertainty and the comfort of faith against the anxiety and despair of unbelief.

Ecclesiastes 11:5 contrasts two kinds of knowledge: natural phenomena and the knowledge of God. Ancient Israel did not have pediatric science or the technology to predict the weather forecast for a whole week as enjoyed today. The point is not the difference between scientific progress and religious faith. The point Ecclesiastes 11:5 is making is something like, “the more we learn the less we know.” This is especially true when it comes to knowing God. Writing in a post-Hamlet climate Trapp places the progress of his age on par with Qoheleth’s: what a work is man! The microcosm of life in the body is, “and abridgment of the visible world, as the soul is of the invisible.”

Like most Puritans, Trapp was not caught in the headlights of uncertainty. The mystery of life presented in the text does not stop at unknowing but acknowledges trust in God as the antithesis to the works of God’s providence:

“Do thou that which God commandeth, and let things fall out as they will, there is an overruling hand in all for the good of those that love God (Prov. 3:5; Isa. 58:7). The Apostle (2 Cor. 8:2) useth a word for liberality, which properly signifieth simplicity; and this he doth in opposition to that crafty and witty wiliness of the covetous, to defend themselves from the danger, as they take it, of liberality (generously*).”

* Sincerely is likely the meaning of aplotes. See Kittel’s TDNT for a defense of generously.

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