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Various Views About Life and About Ecclesiastes

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In the following articles we have gathered numerous quotations about the book of Ecclesiastes. We have selected them from various commentators, so they reflect many different approaches and interpretations of the writer and the message of Ecclesiastes. The interpreters sometimes contradict one another, so not all of them are right! We include this spectrum of viewpoints for your information, and to stimulate your own thinking too. –A.V.W.

WHO WROTE IT, and WHY?

An Apple Tree in an Orange Grove “Like an apple tree in the middle of an orange grove stands the book of Ecclesiastes among the other books of the Bible. At first glance, it just does not seem to fit. What place does a book which flaunts the daring assertion ‘Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless’ have in Scripture which intends to reveal the saving work of God in history?

“Along with the book of Job, Ecclesiastes reminds us that God is bigger, and our life in this world more unpredictable, than we might think. The book invites us to take a realistic tour of life. The sight-seeing stops will likely leave those who enjoy nice tidy answers a bit perplexed if not downright frustrated.

“Our guide for this adventure is introduced by the Hebrew title: qoheleth. The title, which translated into Greek is ekklesiastes, comes from a Hebrew word for assembling. It suggests a type of office-bearer. Thus we have such translations as ‘the Preacher’ (KJV, RSV, NASB), ‘the Speaker’ (NEB), ‘the Philosopher’ (TEV), and…’the Teacher’ (NIV).”

–Bill and Teresa Syrios, in Ecclesiastes: Chasing After Meaning

The Common, Older View of Authorship

“There are powerful arguments that the author…was Solomon. External Evidence: Jewish talmudic tradition attributes the book to Solomon but suggests that Hezekiah’s scribes may have edited the text (see Prov. 25:1). Solomonic authorship is the standard Christian position, although some scholars [also] believe the work was later edited during the time of Hezekiah or possibly Ezra.

Internal Evidence: The author calls himself ‘the son of David, king in Jerusalem’ in 1:1, 12. Solomon was the best qualified Davidic descendant for the quest in this book. He was the wisest man who ever taught in Jerusalem (see 1:16; 1 Kings 4:29,30). The descriptions of Qoheleth’s exploration of pleasure (2:1-3), impressive accomplishments (2:4-6), and unparalleled wealth (2:7-10) were fulfilled only by King Solomon. The proverbs in this book are similar to those in the Book of Proverbs (e.g., Eccl. 7; 10).”

–Bruce H. Wilkinson in The Open Bible

Solomon’s Experiences

“Keep in mind that Solomon is the author. It gives…added force to many of the sentiments which are expressed. Is the book the product of a late repentance? Many think so. Is Solomon seeking to atone for past follies, and to warn others from his own bitter experience? Perhaps so. When he speaks about an ‘old and foolish king’ and a ‘poor and wise youth’ who follows him by usurping the throne (4:13-16), is he speaking, with prophetic prescience, of himself, soon now to pass away, and of the scheming usurper, Jeroboam, who thereupon sets himself up as king over ten of the Israel tribes? When he speaks so bitterly of woman (7:26-29), and says that…he has not found one true woman ‘in a thousand,’ is he recalling his countless wives and concubines? Oh, that the gifted Solomon who began so wisely should have had to write such a book as this!”

–J. Sidlow Baxter, in Explore the Book

Another View of Authorship

“Who is Ecclesiastes? The term means ‘assembly-man,’ that is, either the man who calls a religious assembly (Num. l0:7) or one who is its spokesman, its preacher. Our spokesman was not a priest with law, nor a prophet with the word, but a wise man with counsel (see Jer. 18:18), much of whose work resembles the Book of Proverbs.

“From 1:1 it is popularly inferred that he is Solomon, first of Israel’s wise men (12:9,11; cf. 1 Kings 3:12; 4:29-34); at least, part of the book was thought to reflect that sages’s experiences. Yet it may be asked whether Solomon, third king of Israel, would at any time in his history have used the past tense to say, ‘I was king over Israel in Jerusalem’ (1:12)? Could he have confessed that the attempt to be wise ‘was far from’ him (7:23)? Under his efficient government would he have described oppressors as men with power against whom there was no redress (4:1; 5:8; 8:9; 10:5-7; cf. 1 Kings 4:20, 25)?”
–W. Gordon Brown in the Holman Study Bible.

“Today most scholars agree that Solomon was not the author….They usually assume, however, that the central figure in the book is Solomon, and that the unknown author used him as a literary device to convey his message. He did not intend to deceive his original readers, and undoubtedly no one was in fact deceived. Lack of certainty concerning authorship does not destroy canonicity of the book.”

–Robert Laurin in the Wycliffe Bible Commentary. [By the way, both Brown and Laurin believe in the divine inspiration of the Bible. –AVW]

The Book’s Purpose

“Though [the book] is in the Hebrew language, its distinctive marks of Israel are few. God’s covenant name is never used; Israel is mentioned once. Our proverb-mongor speaks to “the children of men” (1:13, and so forth), to mankind. Pointing out man’s natural folly and darkness, he prepares the way for the wisdom and light of the Gospel.

“Why such a book in the canon? Here is no blind optimism: more than a score of life’s pressing problems are too clearly seen for that. Here is no cynical pessimism, for the author is a believer in a God of righteousness (8:12,13 and elsewhere). Here is clear-eyed realism that faces the fun and fury, the triumphs and defeats, the light and shade, only to conclude that the whole thing is a puff of wind (1:2; 12:8; and so forth). Yet paradoxically, the whole of man’s life must be reverence and obedience to God, for to Him at last one must give full account (12:13,14).”

–W. Gordon Brown, in the Holman Study Bible

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I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33