As we begin our adventure through Ecclesiastes, we should set out a little background information about it. First of all, I want to be very up front with you: This book is a little tricky, so we need to be very careful about things like context. If we don’t keep the context straight, then we will come away with a long list of contradictions with the rest of Solomon’s writings, not to mention the rest of Scripture. Thus, we must first and foremost bear in mind that this is a book of personal reflections, most of which are not intended as godly counsel or direction. If we aren’t clear on that, and we decide to interpret this in a strictly literal sense, than by the time we are half way through, we will simply give up on life and look for a bridge to jump off of, or a psychiatrist to medicate us. This is not the intent of the book, and it is why I have called it a “tricky” book.
To understand this more fully, let’s take a quick review of the career of Solomon, the book’s author. King Solomon reigned over Israel for 40 years, following in the footsteps of his father, King David. His reign was the high water mark for ancient Israel, being as it was a time of unparalleled power and prosperity. In the early days of his reign, Solomon had a very close relationship with God, received a special gift of wisdom and wrote the Song of Songs. As time passed and Solomon’s storehouse of wives and riches continued, he began to fall away from God, and his apostasy began to show up among his subjects. As a mature man, he penned the Proverbs, sharing much of the wisdom God had granted him. Although the historical books don’t provide a great deal of data on Solomon, they do indicate that he entered a period in which he was, well let’s just say he wasn’t quite right in his thinking, but began to restore his relationship with God, and although his relationship was never again what it had been, he seemed to come to terms with God in his last years. This is when he wrote Ecclesiastes, and it clearly reflects the results of his searching for wisdom and the trials that this search brought upon him. As you might suspect, this is reflected in the structure of the book.
Ecclesiastes has three sections: A prologue (1:1-11) which introduces the book’s main themes, the body (1:12-12:8) which consists of a long monologue outlining Solomon’s search for the meaning of life, and a brief epilogue (12:9-14). The prologue and epilogue are distinguished from the main body by the use of the third person reference to Koheleth (which means “preacher”), and in this respect mirrors the structure of Job.
The aspect of this book that we must always bear in mind is that throughout, Solomon writes from two entirely different points of view. One is the viewpoint of natural man, and the other is from the viewpoint of divine insight. The natural man’s view of life is skeptical and pessimistic (all is vanity) while the divine view is steadfast and hopeful. Obviously, mixing these two up is what results in chaos and confusion for a reader. An example of Solomon’s two points of view is found in 12:11 where he speaks of this negative and positive commentary under the metaphors “the gods” for the negative and “nails” for the positive. As we go through the book, I’ll point out more along these lines, and we won’t be confused.
I have written many times here of the futility of trying to find Truth through human wisdom, pointing out that Truth is to be found in the One who is “the way, the truth and the life.” As you will come to understand, old King Solomon spent a great many years and a whole lot of trouble and anguish to learn this vital lesson.
When we get back together, we will begin our journey by taking a look at the prologue, and our most excellent adventure will begin!