A Brief Introduction

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!

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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7 Responses to A Brief Introduction

  1. I’m looking forward to it. Your reference to dual perspectives already has me intrigued, especially your statement that cynicism is the human view.

  2. AWETHENTIQ says:

    Some say that parts of this book was taken by Solomon from the oldest human scriptures known to man, The Epic of Gilgamesh, as it is said to be an almost word-for-word translation. It is, because as the Buble teaches, Solomon was led astray by his many wives that he dabbled in other religions. There even is evidence of astral travel in chapter twelve.

    • Don Merritt says:

      Yep, there’s quite a bit of speculation among scholars over these things. It’s hard to say for certain if Solomon borrowed some of his text or not, yet in either case there is much wisdom in it.

      • AWETHENTIQ says:

        It really is easy….just look at who said what first. my problem with this is that the book conveys, at some point, advice that proclaims all to be in vain and, in another place, it actually denies eternal life but state that man is just dead when he dies. Just ceases to exist. Now that sounds almost Antichrist to me and lends credibility to the Gilgamesh theory – Gilgamesh apparently was Nimrod, whose history is rather ungodly. Like anything else, if something doesn’t proclaim Jesus, I simply ignore it. Ecclesiastes is the only book in the OT that doesn’t teach Jesus, have you noticed? Yes, wisdom is in there but it hardly goes beyond the kind of wisdom one can gather among old people in a retirement home or at the pub on the corner. We see things as we are told to see them; once we start looking at things more soberly, they look much different. I take from Ecclesiastes what is in line with the remainder of the Bible but I won’t be steered by it any time soon. The silver chord that breaks – people I know who dab in the occult are very much aware of that and where it attaches to the body, as they go on astral travels. Something i stay far away from….why is it even in the Bible?

        • Don Merritt says:

          I’m not sure about that. Context is critical in the book, and in context I think that argument has some problems… but then that’s just me 🙂

        • Citizen Tom says:

          Because Ecclesiastes is not easily understood, we can be easily tempted to reject it. I think that is a serious mistake.

          I am familiar with both The Epic of Gilgamesh and Ecclesiastes, and I believe Don makes a valid point about context. The Epic of Gilgamesh reflects man’s point of view. In the ancient world, that work would have epitomized it, especially for someone like Solomon.

          Nevertheless, you make a good point. If Ecclesiastes does not teach Jesus, then what is it doing in the Bible? Well, Ecclesiastes does teach Jesus, but it is a subtle thing, not in your face and loud. Look carefully, for example, at how the book ends.

          Ecclesiastes 12:9-14 New King James Version (NKJV)
          The Whole Duty of Man

          9 And moreover, because the Preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yes, he pondered and sought out and set in order many proverbs. 10 The Preacher sought to find acceptable words; and what was written was upright—words of truth. 11 The words of the wise are like goads, and the words of scholars are like well-driven nails, given by one Shepherd. 12 And further, my son, be admonished by these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh.

          13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:

          Fear God and keep His commandments,
          For this is man’s all.
          14 For God will bring every work into judgment,
          Including every secret thing,
          Whether good or evil.

          Ecclesiastes points to the Bible as the source of wisdom, the words of the wise, the one Shepherd (The Shepherd meme appears throughout the Bible.), not the many other books such as The Epic of Gilgamesh. When Jesus appeared to the Apostle Paul, he reminded the apostle how it hurt him to kick against the goads. If we just die, cease to exist, why worry God’s judgement?

          I have just started going through Don’s series, but my guess is that he will make clear what he means by context. What have you got to lose?

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