What is the Significance of 'One Man out of a Thousand' but Not 'a Woman among All These' in Ecclesiastes 7:28?
Introduction Ecclesiastes 7:28 presents a challenging and often misunderstood text within the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible. This verse, attributed to the Congregator, or Qoheleth in Hebrew, states, "Which yet my soul seeketh, but I have not found: one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found." To unpack the meaning of this verse, it is essential to consider the literary, historical, and cultural contexts, as well as the linguistic nuances of the original Hebrew text.
Contextual Analysis Ecclesiastes is part of the Ketuvim, or Writings, in the Hebrew Bible and is traditionally attributed to Solomon, known for his wisdom. This book reflects on the vanity and transience of worldly pursuits and the pursuit of wisdom.
The Historical and Cultural Setting
In the ancient Near Eastern context, wisdom literature often employed hyperbolic and rhetorical devices to convey profound truths. The numeric hyperbole "one man out of a thousand" is a literary tool rather than a statistical fact, used to emphasize rarity and value.
The Hebrew term for "man" used here is אִישׁ ('ish), often denoting an individual of honor or integrity. In contrast, the term for "woman" is אִשָּׁה ('ishah), the standard word for woman or wife. The linguistic construction underscores a comparative rather than a disparaging view of gender.
The Rarity of Righteousness. This verse may reflect on the rarity of finding truly righteous individuals. In a world marked by sin and folly, the Congregator might be expressing the scarcity of people who live in accordance with wisdom and godly fear.
The Folly of Overgeneralization. The absence of finding "a woman among all these" could serve as a caution against overgeneralization. It may imply that the Congregator's search was not exhaustive or that his experiences had not led him to find such a woman, without asserting that none existed.
The Contrast in Roles and Expectations. In ancient Israelite society, men and women often had different roles and spheres of influence. The Congregator's observations might reflect the societal structures and expectations of his time, where men were more likely to be in positions of public leadership and wisdom.
Literary and Rhetorical Device. As a wisdom text, Ecclesiastes often uses paradoxes and provocative statements to stimulate thought and self-reflection. This verse could be a rhetorical device to challenge readers to consider their own lives and the rarity of true wisdom and integrity.
In Ecclesiastes 7:28, the Congregator's statement about finding "one man out of a thousand" but not "a woman among all these" is not a categorical dismissal of women's wisdom or value. Instead, it should be understood within its literary, historical, and cultural contexts as a reflection on the rarity of righteousness and the limitations of human wisdom. This verse, like much of Ecclesiastes, invites readers to ponder the complexities of life and the pursuit of wisdom in a fallen world.
About the Author
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 220+ books. In addition, Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).