What is your "take" on the biblical book of Ecclesiastes?
The book of Ecclesiastes has always puzzled me. Wise King Solomon wrote it, and presumably he had a personal relationship with God. Yet he seemed not to have any hope for mankind. It's like he felt that everybody lives a meaningless life, then they die, and that's the end of it. Actually, it's kind of depressing. So what is your "take" on Ecclesiastes?
Ecclesiastes is a very interesting and remarkable book. I've even known atheists and agnostics who have said that Ecclesiastes is their favorite book in the Bible. I think this is the case because it shows such a "worldly" side of Solomon.
Solomon commonly is considered to be the wisest man ever (1 Kings 4:29-34). Believers, of course, know that Jesus was infinitely wiser; but many in the world who have heard about Solomon might give that title to him. I tend to believe, though, that (besides Jesus) Solomon was the wisest man with worldly knowledge. He was tremendously productive, exceedingly wealthy and prosperous, and extremely "world smart" (Ecclesiastes 1:4-9).
I also think he is a very good example of how "absolute power corrupts absolutely." Initially, not only was Solomon someone who loved God, but he also obeyed God's statutes (1 Kings 3:3) and acknowledged God's greatness and faithfulness (8:22-61).
The Lord even appeared to Solomon twice (1 Kings 3:5, 9:2). Once was after Solomon had finished the temple of the Lord and the royal palace (2 Chronicles 7:11,12). At this time, God gave Solomon a warning; He said that if Solomon turned away from Him, abandoned the decrees and commands that God had given him, and served and worshiped other gods, then God would uproot Israel from the land and reject the temple, which Solomon had built (7:19,20).
Indeed, as Solomon grew old, he loved hundreds of foreign women, taking them to be his wives and concubines; and they turned Solomon's heart after other gods so that he did not keep the Lord's commands (1 Kings 11:1-10). This angered the Lord (11:9), who vowed to tear most of the kingdom of Israel away from Solomon's son (11:11-13), Rehoboam (12:1-24)
So in his old age, Solomon's wealth, power, being immersed so deeply in the ways of the world, and disconnection from God caused him to think like the world does. He came to depend on his own power and wisdom to run his day-to-day life. If and when any of us reach that point—which we all need to struggle against doing—then disappointment and failure are inevitable.
Many Christians scratch their heads when reading Ecclesiastes, wondering how such a blessed "man of God" as Solomon could write a book with notable undertones of hopelessness and even despair. I feel that God had him write it at a point in his life when Solomon was more captivated by the world and with other gods than he was with the One, True God.
It could be that Solomon's unsurpassed wisdom itself might have been a factor in his making unwise decisions. Maybe his statement, "For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief" (Ecclesiastes 1:18), provides a clue how this could be the case.
Imagine how exceedingly difficult it would be for someone as uniquely brilliant and exceptional as Solomon to communicate meaningfully with other people who could not fully understand or relate to him. He had knowledge, insight, understanding, and comprehension that no one else possessed. Perhaps he became so lonely and depressed that he pursued the "folly" of the world to "fit in," and he pursued the women and gods of other cultures as a further distraction from his loneliness and depression.
For whatever reason(s) Solomon allowed himself to indulge in the world’s customs and behaviors, Ecclesiastes illustrates how vain, meaningless, and empty—a "chasing after the wind"—the ways of the world become even for someone like Solomon who, from the perspective of others, had "everything that the world had to offer." This is the rule rather than the exception for those whose gods, for all intents and purposes, have become
In Solomon's fallen state, and without the absolute knowledge of a Messiah who later would come to redeem him, all that he could perceive and comprehend was the repetitive, cyclical nature of the world. It had become virtually his entire focus. Of course, his foundational knowledge of God, along with his constructive relationship with Him earlier in life, enabled Solomon to know that God really is in charge of everything. The Lord God is the one who has created a pattern here on earth, which everything follows over and over again, ad infinitum; and He calls everything into account and judgment (Ecclesiastes 3:15).
Solomon was able to conceive of eternity (Ecclesiastes 3:11)—a multi-dimensional time frame existing in all directions at once—but his primary focus was on this one-dimensional, uni-directional time line along which we all are moving. I distinguish between "forever" (which I feel will end when this thin, restrictive, transitory time line ends) and "eternity" (which is infinitely wide, boundless, and endless).
Thinking about events from this present, temporary frame of reference, the things of this present world and creation—all destined for a fiery destruction (2 Peter 3:7,10,12)—are gloomy, dreary, and hopeless. As Solomon implied, they are vain, meaningless, and empty.
However, viewing things from an eternal frame of reference, as I tend to do (see old and new Creations), the overall "Script" of the ages that I feel God has written for this Creation is like a stunningly beautiful, intricately woven tapestry with a virtually infinite amount of colors and textures, full of hope and promise. It is saturated with the endlessly magnificent facets and characteristics of our awesome Creator and of the glorious, faithful, and true Messiah who will govern this world for 1,000 years: the Millennium. That period of time will take place before everything that we see and know passes away; and then a brand new, pristine, perfect eternal Creation will appear (2 Peter 3:10,12,13; Revelation 20:11, 21:1,5).
Had Solomon been thinking about things from this perspective, he might not even have written the book of Ecclesiastes. On the other hand, he had to write it because it was in God's "Script" to do so, probably to show us the despair and hopelessness that happens to people who disobey God and who follow, in utter futility and vanity, the false gods of this world, which is passing away. The best formula that will have the greatest likelihood of enabling you to be content and happy in this world is
Return to Email Questions and Ted’s Responses
Go to Ted’s Bible Commentaries and Other Links
View the New International Version of the Bible
Go to Ted’s Homepage