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After stating that there is nothing really new in this meaningless existence in this world, the teacher says:

What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted. (Ecclesiastes 1:15, ESV)

What sort of things does he mean as being irreversibly crooked?

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1. Question Restatement

Does Eccl. 1:15 suggest that ALL cannot be made straight, including the nature of men? Or is this phrase limited only to "The Works of Man"?

Eccl 1:13, NASB - And I set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven. It is a grievous task which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with. 14 I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind. 15 What is crooked cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted.

Issues:

  1. In English, "Crooked" connotes a contemptible nature of a man.
  2. In Proverbs, "Crooked" certainly applies to the nature of man, (See Prov. 2:15; 8:8; 11:3; 17:20; 21:7; 28:6; 28:18).

Implications

  1. Potentially relevant to the question of Predestination.
  2. Certainly relevant to the question whether a "wrong" can be made "right"; that is, if an evil action can be turned into good, (at least by men).

2. Answer: the Crooked "Works" of Man--not Nature

Because the text itself explicitly refers to the "Works of Man", because "All", (even if an exaggeration), indicates the scope of his judgment, and because "Human Nature" is outside of this context, the text must be taken at face value, as a non-metaphor, that: "All of the crooked works of man, cannot be made straight, [by men]".

NOTES:

  1. What if a man makes his own path crooked, (Is. 59:8)? (A.) This would not preclude God from helping straighten it out; (B.) This "Work" is not of the obvious "Material" nature in the context of Eccl. 1:15, and therefore does not apply--this does not preclude a man from straightening his own path/nature.
  2. Given the entire context of Ecclesiastes--it is absolutely certain that "Hyperbole" is not being employed--the writer really means ALL and EVERY.

3. Why this isn't about Human Nature

3.1. The Nature of Man is Non-Contextual:

There is nothing—in this context—that indicates that "Crooked" is a metaphor regarding "Human Nature", (where the metaphor is painfully obvious in Proverbs).

  1. The context of 1:15, from Eccl. 1:12-15, and is an "Examination of the Works of Man".
  2. Following this examination, is another, an examination of Wisdom, Madness, and Folly, from Eccl. 1:16-19.
  3. Following this, was an examination of "Pleasure", (Eccl. 2:1-10).
  4. Then Conclusions all three, (Eccl. 2:11-24).
  5. In none of these contexts, was a "crooked" nature of man alluded to.

3.2. "All" Explicitly Refers to "Works"

All is NOT "Pronominal", meaning that that the reader does not have to infer what "All" is referring to.

In Hebrew, "All" is explicitly qualified with "Works"—repeatedly.

Eccl 1:13 - ונתתי את־לבי לדרוש ולתור בחכמה על כל־אשר נעשה תחת השמים הוא ׀ ענין רע נתן אלהים לבני האדם לענות בו׃

... All that is done/accomplished

Eccl 1:14 - ראיתי את־כל־המעשים שנעשו תחת השמש והנה הכל הבל ורעות רוח׃

.. have seen all the works ... that have been done/accomplished

3.3. Crooked applies to the Work of God as Well

Eccl. 7:13 - Consider the work of God, For who is able to straighten what He has bent?

NOTES:

  1. And what if God made the nature of a man "bent" or "crooked"? Then Eccl. 7:13 would apply, as a universal maxim, as a Work of God, not of Man.
  2. This would not preclude God, himself, from unbending a person if he had bent them.
  3. However, this would apply to the issue of predestination, IF AND ONLY IF, there was another passage, anywhere, that states that God bends or makes crooked the nature of men, (Lam. 3:9 is close.).

3.4. Human Nature cannot be "Counted"

"Crooked" could apply to "Human Nature". However, "being counted" certainly does not apply to the nature of a person.

If "Counted" does not connote a sense of "Human Nature", then it is certain that "Crooked" is referring to something else as well.

Eccl. 1.15 - What is crooked cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted.

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  • seems you put a lot of thought into it +1, i think you're right about not directly refering to man's nature but by calling man's activities and meaningless behaviour as crooked ...it's indirectly implied. – Mike Jun 10 '15 at 23:43
  • @Mike, Thanks again for the challenge. :) (A.) Your comment made me question: "is a man's crooked ways/works/path indicative of his crooked nature? Is this always implied?" (B.) To answer this, I had to think of a case where a "Good man" had a crooked path/work/way. (C.) And there is: Jeremiah! Lam. 3:9, NASB - He has blocked my ways with hewn stone; He has made my paths crooked. (D.) That is, a crooked work, or crooked path isn't sufficient to indicate the nature of the man is certainly crooked--there are exceptions, especially when God is involved. – elika kohen Jun 10 '15 at 23:54
  • maybe ;)...but i doubt there is a crooked path in heaven...cheers – Mike Jun 11 '15 at 0:07
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The author states much more in the preceding verses than 'that there is nothing really new in this meaningless existence in this world'. When he says 'what is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted', he isn't actually describing 'all the works' of the previous verse.

What this verse refers to is the vanity of those works. That is, he doesn't mean that 'all the works' are crooked, but that our effort to straighten what we believe to be crooked is futile. Our effort to count what we think we are lacking is pointless.

The author observes that we spend our lives working to acquire wealth and pleasure and to improve our lot in life. This, he says, is 'vanity and striving after wind'. Not the wealth itself, but the belief that we are lacking something vital to life, and therefore our vain efforts to quantify what is lacking and to strive to attain it, as if that is our purpose in life.

He demonstrates this in chapter 2, describing his success in acquiring more wealth and possessions than anyone else, and in granting all that his heart (his body) desired. It is only when he has reached this point, where he has everything he ever wanted so that there cannot possibly be anything lacking, that he realises the futility of the effort. It gains him nothing except what is eventually passed on to someone else. He can take none of it with him on his death.

As for the futility of our efforts to make straight what is crooked, the verses immediately following give clues as to what he means:

I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” 17 And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind.' (Ecclesiastes 1:16-17)

The author is likely referring to his own attempts to guide the ways of men, to make straight the paths that his 'great experience of wisdom and knowledge' has determined to be crooked. Proverbs refers to these crooked or perverse ways frequently, as the opposite of upright or righteous actions, in the same way that 'madness and folly' here are the opposite of 'wisdom' (Proverbs 2:15; 8:8; 11:3; 17:20; 21:7; 28:6,18).

But the author then also rephrases it in the form of a rhetorical question at 7:13 - 'Consider the work of God; for who can straighten what he has made crooked?' In RSV this comes at the end of poetry suggesting that the sorrow of knowledge, wisdom and experience in life is better than the song and laughter of ignorant fools. In NIV, however, it is grouped with the advice following: to accept the good with the bad, because it all comes from God, and we cannot determine what will befall us.

"Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what he has made crooked? When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, no one can discover anything about their future." (NIV Ecclesiastes 7:13-14)

This is backed up a number of times throughout Ecclesiastes: that we will not stop all bad things from happening simply by living wisely. To avoid the experience of adversity at all cost is to be ignorant of the realities of life - to live in darkness. As much as the author's own life appears charmed and favoured by God, wisdom and experience has taught him that fortune is not the exclusive domain of the wise and upright, nor is suffering only for fools and wicked people.

"All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not." (NIV Ecclesiastes 9:2)

"The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all" (NIV Ecclesiastes 9:11)

So what is crooked? Life is crooked - it's not perfect, and no matter how hard we try, no one will ever live a perfectly charmed life. Sometimes, for no apparent reason and despite everything we have at our disposal or whatever we do, life sucks. Deal with it. Find joy in what you do, seek wisdom and knowledge in both the good and the bad experiences in life - because all of it is a gift from God.

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Here's something that all the people that answered did not consider:

That which is crooked cannot be made straight:
-- Ecclesiastes 1:15 KJV

The word "crooked" in Hebrew means:

עָוַת (a.vat) “to pervert” (H5791) Meaning 1) to be bent, be crooked, bend, make crooked, pervert

Here is the English definition of pervert:

alter (something) from its original course, meaning, or state to a distortion or corruption of what was first intended.
-- Definition: Pervert Encyclopedia.com

Now, you be the judge of what King Solomon meant.

For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.
-- Ecclesiastes 1:18 KJV

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