What is in Ecclesiastes?
Ecclesiastes is the twenty-first book in the Bible. It is a book of wisdom literature. Ecclesiastes can throw Bible-readers for a bit of a loop initially. It appears to start off exceedingly nihilistic by repeatedly proclaiming that “all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2), but as the book goes on, we learn that this is not actually the conclusion that the author reaches. The author has clearly spent his life using his wisdom to search for what makes life valuable. Ultimate value is found in exercising the fear of God, whose ways are unknowable, and enjoying God’s gifts.
Who wrote it?
Ecclesiastes 1:1 is our best clue to the authorship of the book. Tradition has often named Solomon the writer of the book, as the son of David, and a king himself. In Ecclesiastes 1:16, the author calls himself very wise, which we knew that Solomon was. Additionally, the book bears some similarities to Solomon’s proverbs. The conclusion of authorship is not without some problems, though. The phrase “son of David” can actually refer to any descendant of David. For example, Jesus was called a son of David (Luke 18:38). The writer of Ecclesiastes also mentions that he surpassed “all those who were in Jerusalem before me” (Ecclesiastes 1:16), which is somewhat odd because Solomon was only the third King in Jerusalem. Yet, there are no kings later than Solomon who would match the author more.
When was it written?
Assuming Solomonic authorship, “The Complete Book of When and Where: The Bible Throughout History” estimates a date of 935 B.C., later in Solomon’s life.
Why was it written?
We know that Solomon was a king who possessed wisdom. If the above statement about Solomon writing the book later in life is correct, we can then draw parallels from Solomon’s life to the content of the book. Solomon spent his life accumulating massive amounts of wealth, and chasing after many wives. Later in his life, they pulled him away from God in favor of foreign idols. Near the end of his life, God appeared to Solomon (as He had earlier in his life) and vowed to tear Solomon’s kingdom in the days of his son’s reign. In the end, all the earthly gains Solomon had were fleeting, and Ecclesiastes reflects this.
How does Ecclesiastes apply to me today?
What we have, we have from the Lord. Sometimes we see this as unfair, as others may enjoy a life with plenty of riches. Yet, the Lord reigns over them all. Living in a fallen world, disaster strikes regardless of wealth, and wealth is destined to leave us when we die. Work is a divinely appointed task, even going back to the time of Adam and Eve (when they were tasked with working in the Garden of Eden), and the writer of Ecclesiastes finds work to be fulfilling in a way that riches alone are not, yet recognizing that work is also a despairing task at times. We should not let our troubles get in the way of our enjoyment of what God has given us. Finally, while our own work is vanity, God’s work will last way beyond our lifetime. Aligning our work with His is where fulfillment in life is found. To that end, Ecclesiastes ends with a charge to remember God always and keep His commandments, especially in the days when you are young and can do much.
As for all posts in this series, a book introduction in a good study Bible will provide more information than listed here. The ESV Study Bible is one recommendation.
Biblical illustrations by Jim Padgett, courtesy of Sweet Publishing, Ft. Worth, TX, and Gospel Light, Ventura, CA. Copyright 1984. Released under new license, CC-BY-SA 3.0