How do we interpret the book of Ecclesiastes?

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How do we interpret the book of Ecclesiastes?

Post by Admin on Fri Jul 01, 2016 9:44 pm

That argument really only occurs when the book of Ecclesiastes is viewed as a strictly human document. At one level, the author is an “ungodly intellectual”—whether a Jew or not. His relevance or worthiness of his wisdom is disputed by the author himself. But we can’t forget that God used the author—King Solomon—in concert with the Holy Spirit to illustrate a certain kind of life, intended to communicate the empty and meaningless consequences of a life lived outside relationship with God—in many ways a profoundly New Testament perspective. The book of Ecclesiastes is essentially a philosophical look at the meaning of life, or at least a search for the meaning of life. The author is likely to have been Solomon, and the book is usually thought to have been written towards the end of his life. Earlier in his life, at the beginning of his reign as king of Israel, the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day. Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both riches and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in my ways and keep my statutes and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life”—I Kings 3:5-14. What amazing promise his life held with God’s offer to guide him. Unfortunately, we know from history that Solomon did not continue on the path he had begun. As the Bible tells us, King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been—I Kings 11:1-4. Solomon was left on his own, to do the best he could, within his own strength and ability, to now find the meaning and purpose of life—quite a challenge with his spiritual bearings lost to him. As he embarked on this search, he vowed to do so only within the scope of human reason; as he wrote, I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens—Ecclesiastes 1:13a. And he determined to limit his search to what was knowable within the created universe, the world that he could see. As he continued, I have seen all the things that are done under the sun—Ecclesiastes 1:14a. And his efforts and, more importantly, his conclusions, must be seen as coming from someone who is limiting himself, and his observations, to human reasoning. As such, much of Ecclesiastes is incredibly pessimistic and full of despair. The author undertakes a journey through the human endeavors of wisdom, pleasure, hard work, popularity, wealth and fame—and comes to the same conclusion; as the King James Version famously cries, “[V]anity of vanities; all is vanity—Ecclesiastes 1:2b. For instance, he observes that, I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasures of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well—the delights of the heart of man. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me. I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward of all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun—Ecclesiastes 2:8-11. But Solomon’s heart has become so distant from God that he cannot view his conclusions through the filter of God’s presence or His handiwork. As he says, God is in heaven and you are on earth—Ecclesiastes 5:2b. There is no sense of relationship or personal connection; Solomon sees only himself. The conclusion of the book is the resounding emptiness that courses through it, underscoring the meaninglessness of life lived apart from Christ, simultaneously highlighting 900 years before Christ what He would tell His disciples in the Upper Room: Apart from Me, you can do nothing—Jesus Christ, John 15:5b. Any human effort done in isolation from God will keep the human in isolation from God. What a contrast to the conclusion the apostle Paul reached about his life: But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus—Paul, Philippians 3:7-14. The author of Ecclesiastes comes to the same conclusion; the joy of life is found not in man’s way, but in God’s way: Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of man—Ecclesiastes 12:13.

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