Welcome to Things Worth Remembering, our Sunday column by Douglas Murray, where he reflects upon the greatest passages of literature. Today, after yesterday’s shocking attack on Israel, he has chosen lines from the Bible. Click below to hear him read from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.
One of the purposes of great literature, and the need to carry it around with us, is to make sense of the world as it happens. Terrible events occur, but if we have the wisdom of the ages in our heads, we can put them into some form of context.
Recent events in Israel have made me think of the Bible, and I’m sure that’s true of many people right now. After Hamas ambushed Israel in the worst attack against the country in 50 years, leaving more than 300 Israelis dead, I’m particularly thinking of one of the most famous lines from Psalms: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”
A prayer that millions of people have uttered down the ages, millions more will utter today.
Unfortunately, some people watching the footage of Israeli women dragged out of their homes and children lying slaughtered on the floors, are engaging in a spot of moral relativism, trying to see this terror from “both sides.” Others are arguing we should view this attack “in context,” as though there can be any context for what happened in places like Sderot yesterday. Still, those are the nobler reactions. Iran rejoiced over the massacre with fireworks. In London, some have been seen celebrating the attacks, waving Palestinian flags and blasting car horns.
Because, of course, Israel is the only country in the world that gets criticized when its citizens are butchered.
Fortunately, ancient civilizations have a long culture and memory from which they can draw strength. And there is no older civilization than that of the Jewish people. For millennia, they have outlived every one of their enemies. They have seen off the Romans, the Assyrians, the Pharaohs, and the Babylonians.
They will see off this enemy, too.
Of all the books in the Bible, Ecclesiastes is one of the greatest and the one, right now, that most comes to mind, possibly because it is a single long poem containing some of the greatest pieces of wisdom that can be found anywhere in literature.
“There is nothing new under the sun” is actually a quote from Ecclesiastes.
I was brought up on the King James translation of the Bible, which must be one of the most perfect and poetic translations of any work. The music of the writing is unforgettable and infinitely consoling. Especially the passage read at so many funerals that begins, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth,” which describes how “all the daughters of music shall be brought low. . . . and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets.”
There are so many passages in Ecclesiastes worth remembering. But the one passage worth keeping in mind today is the one that begins “To every thing there is a season.”
Particularly at a time like this, when the line between civilization and barbarism, peace and horror, proves—once again—alarmingly thin.
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
Douglas’s last column was about Shakespeare’s Hamlet and showing strength in the face of death.
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