Book Summaries

A treatise on moral philosophy traditionally attributed to Solomon. The title "Ecclesiastes" originated with the LXX, which calls the author an ekklesiastes (ch 1:1), "a presiding officer" or "a speaker" at a public assembly. In Hebrew he is called Qoheleth, meaning the "speaker" at a public assembly, or "preacher." This is also the name the book bears in the Hebrew Bible. Qoheleth is the title by which the author identifies himself in vs. 1, 12. Qoheleth is a feminine form, which may imply that Wisdom personified is speaking through "the Preacher." As a man of unusually broad experience (chs 1:1, 16; 2:7, 9), one who has explored every area of human enterprise, both material and intellectual, and who implies that he is now old and feeble in mind and body (ch 12:1 ­7), Qoheleth addresses himself to God's people, particularly to the young (v 1). Figuratively, they are gathered about him, one and all, as he contrasts for them the false philosophy of life with the true. Qoheleth introduces himself as "son of David, king in Jerusalem" (ch 1:1). He had "come to great estate" and had acquired "more wisdom" and "great experience of wisdom and knowledge" beyond his predecessors (Ec 1:16), as well as greater wealth (ch 2:7, 9). No "son of David, king in Jerusalem" other than Solomon could honestly have made such claims, though one ancient Jewish tradition attributes the book to Hezekiah. In the Hebrew Bible Ecclesiastes appears 6th from the last, the other 5 being in their order Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles. From a literary point of view it was classified with Song of Solomon, Ruth, Esther, and Lamentations, the 5 miscellaneous "rolls," or books, known collectively as the Megilloth. These 2 considerations are thought to indicate that Ecclesiastes are thought to indicate that Ecclesiastes was accepted into the canon toward the close of OT times. Its right to a place in the canon has repeatedly been challenged since ancient times, on the basis of the obvious agnostic quality of some of the sentiments expressed in it. However, close examination each time vindicated its right to be there.

In Ecclesiastes Solomon sets forth his philosophy of life on the basis of his own experience. In succession he had sought ultimate happiness through the pursuit of knowledge, in sensory pleasure and luxury, and by magnificent building projects and vast enterprises (chs 1 and 2). As a powerful young ruler blessed with unique wisdom and wealth, he had lacked no facilities in his quest for happiness, yet when he had secured all that human ingenuity could provide along each path of endeavour he found only "vanity and vexation of spirit" and concluded that in none of them was there any "profit under the sun" (ch 2:11). What distressed him more than anything else, however, was the fact that at the close of a lifetime of labour the wise and diligent man was no better off than the fool, since both were alike in death, and what he had learned and gathered and produced must be left to men who may prove to be fools (vs. 14 ­23). Therefore he despaired of his labours and came to hate life itself (vs. 20, 17). Instead of happiness he had found only vexation of heart (v 22). A cynical attitude darkened his outlook on life and, for practical purposes, he became an agnostic. Losing sight of God, his natural tendencies gained the supremacy over reason, and with his reason increasingly subordinated to inclination, his moral sensibilities were blunted, his conscience seared, and his judgement perverted. Toward the close of life he realised that a lifetime of folly had made him into "an old and foolish king" (Ec 4:13). Conscience awakened and he saw folly in its true light. Spurred on by sincere repentance he sought to retrace his wayward steps, as best he might, and chastened in spirit he finally turned, wearied and thirsting, from earth's broken cisterns to drink once more at the fountain of life.

Having himself learned the great lesson of life the hard way, Solomon sought to counteract his years of evil influence, and to guide others along the pathway to faith in God. Guided by Inspiration, he recorded the history of his wasted years, with their lessons of warning, setting forth a sound philosophy of life and clarifying the purpose of man's existence and stating in simple terms man's duty and destiny. In this life men are to be content with the opportunities and privileges God has afforded them (Ec 2:24; 3:12, 22; 5:18), making the most of them in co-operation with, and obedience to, their Creator. In fact, "the conclusion of the whole matter" is that "the whole duty of man" can be summed up in the one admonition to "fear God, and keep his commandments" (ch 12:13), in view of the fact that when life is over man must be ready to stand in judgement before God (ch 11:9). In the prologue Solomon dwells upon the futility of life (Ec 1:1 ­11). Next he relates his own futile experience in quest of happiness (chs 1:12 to 2:26). Nevertheless, he affirms that there is a purpose to life, that there is an appropriate time for everything, and that even the seeming injustices of life are not without purpose (chs 3:1 to 4:8). He then contrasts the value of companionship, wisdom, reverence, and justice (chs 4:9 to 5:9) with the folly of materialism, the incomprehensibility of suffering, and the seeming futility of human effort (chs 5:10 to 6:12). Character, an understanding of God's dealings with men, and a balanced outlook on life are the things worth striving for (ch 7:1 ­22). The closing chapters of the book summarise the disappointments and conflicts he has encountered in his search for wisdom (chs 7:23 to 8:15). God's ways are often inscrutable, but one may be content amid the vicissitudes of life in the certain knowledge that every deed will have its due reward (chs 8:16 to 12:14).

Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.