the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Ecclesiastes, the Book of
Fausset's Bible Dictionary
The speaker so entitles himself, Hebrew: Qoheleth , Greek Εcclesiastes , "the convener of, and preacher to, assemblies," namely, church assemblies. The feminine form, and its construction once with a feminine verb (Ecclesiastes 7:27), show that divine Wisdom herself speaks through the inspired king Solomon. God had especially endowed him with this wisdom (1 Kings 3:5-14; 1 Kings 6:11-12; 1 Kings 9:1, etc.; 1 Kings 11:9-11). "The preacher taught the people (and inquirers) knowledge" in a divan assembled for the purpose (1 Kings 4:34; 1 Kings 10:2; 1 Kings 10:8; 1 Kings 10:24; 2 Chronicles 9:1; 2 Chronicles 9:7; 2 Chronicles 9:23). "Spake," thrice in 1 Kings 4:32-33, refers not to written compositions, but to addresses spoken in assemblies. Solomon's authorship is supported by Ecclesiastes 1:12; Ecclesiastes 1:16; Ecclesiastes 2:1-15; Ecclesiastes 12:9. But in the book are found words:
(1) rarely employed in the earlier, frequently in the later books of Scripture.
(2) Words never found in Hebrew writings until the Babylonian captivity; as zimaan , "set time," for moed; Ecclesiastes 3:1, namely, in Nehemiah 2:6; Esther 9:27; Esther 9:31. So pithgam , "sentence" (Ecclesiastes 8:11); "thought," madang; 'illuw "though" (Ecclesiastes 6:6); bikeen , "so" (Ecclesiastes 8:10): thus, Esther approximates most to Ecclesiastes in idioms.
(3) Words not found in the late Hebrew, but only in the Aramaic sections of Daniel and Ezra: yithron , "profit "; compare yuthran in the Aramaic targums; kibaar , "already," "long ago"; taaqam , "make straight" (Ecclesiastes 1:15; Ecclesiastes 7:13; Daniel 4:33) (Daniel 4:36 "established"); ruwth , "desire," found also in the Aramaic parts of Ezra.
(4) The grammatical constructions agree with the transition period from Hebrew to Aramaic; frequent participles, the uses of the relative, Vav ( ו ) or waw -conversive rare. Probably, since the book is poetical not historical, a later writer, in the person of Solomon as an idealized Solomon, writes under inspiration the lessons that such an experience as that of Solomon would properly afford. Hence, Solomon is not named; the writer speaks as Qoheleth , "the preacher." If it were merely Solomon's penitent confession in old age, he would have used his own name. The spirit of Solomon speaks, the true Qoheleth ("gatherer"), a type of Him who is "Wisdom" and calls Himself so, and who "would have gathered Jerusalem's children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings"; compare Luke 11:49 with Matthew 23:34-37.
The writer makes Solomon's saying after his late repentance, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity," his text which he expands under the Spirit. So the sons of Korah write Psalm 42 as from David's soul, in his trans-jordanic flight from Absalom, so that David is the speaker throughout. Qoheleth addresses "the great congregation" (Psalms 22:25; Psalms 49:2-4), giving his testimony for godliness as the only solid good, as the seal of his repentance under chastisement for apostasy (1 Kings 11:14; 1 Kings 11:23; Psalms 89:30; Psalms 89:33). It is just possible that the peculiarities of language may be due to Solomon's long intercourse with foreigners; also the Chaldaisms may be fragments preserved from the common tongue of which Hebrew, Syriac, Chaldee, and Arabic were offshoots. So Solomon himself would be the writer. Its canonicity rests on the testimony of the Jewish church, "to whom were committed the oracles of God," and who are never charged in the New Testament with unfaithfulness in that respect, though so unfaithful in other respects (Romans 3:2).
Many allusions to Ecclesiastes occur in New Testament: Ecclesiastes 7:2; Matthew 5:3-4; Ecclesiastes 5:2; Matthew 6:7; Ecclesiastes 6:2; Luke 12:20; Matthew 6:19-34; Ecclesiastes 11:5; John 3:8; Ecclesiastes 9:10; John 9:4; Ecclesiastes 10:12; Colossians 4:6; Ecclesiastes 12:14; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Ecclesiastes 5:1; 1 Timothy 3:15; James 1:19; Ecclesiastes 5:6; 1 Corinthians 11:10. The Old Testament would be incomplete without the book that sets forth the unsatisfying vanity of the creature apart from God, even as the Song depicts the all-satisfying fullness there is for us in God our Savior. The theme is the vanity of all human pursuits when made the chief end, and the consequent wisdom of making the fear of God and His commandments our main aim.
This presumes the immortality of the soul, which was more needed as a doctrine at the time when God, whose theocratic kingship Israel's self chosen king in some measure superseded, was withdrawing the extraordinary providences from whence the Mosaic law had drawn its sanctions of temporal reward or punishment. The anomalies that virtue is not always rewarded, nor vice always punished, here (Ecclesiastes 2:16; Ecclesiastes 3:19; Ecclesiastes 4:1; Ecclesiastes 5:8; Ecclesiastes 7:15; Ecclesiastes 8:14; Ecclesiastes 9:2; Ecclesiastes 9:11), suggested the truth that there must be a future life and. a judgment, wherein God will deal with men according to their present works. This is "the conclusion of the whole" discussion, that man's wisdom and "whole duty" is to "fear God and keep His commandments" (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14), and meanwhile to use in joyful and serene sobriety, and not abuse, life's present passing goods (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13).
David, Solomon's father (Psalms 39:12), and Job (Job 7:16), had already taught the vanity of man and man's earthly aims. So Solomon speaks of man ('adam , not 'iysh ) as such, frail and mortal, not redeemed man nor the elect nation Israel. Hence, not Jehovah, expressing the covenant relation to His people, but the general name God ('Εlohim ), appears throughout, the correlative to "man" ('adam ) in general. The fatiguing toil or travail ('amal ) of man is another characteristic phrase; it bereaves of "quietness" and "good" (Ecclesiastes 4:6; Ecclesiastes 4:8). In contrast stands "the work of God," which "no man can find out from the beginning to the end": yet this much he sees, it is "beautiful," and "in His time," and "for ever"; "nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it" (Ecclesiastes 3:11; Ecclesiastes 3:14); none" can make that straight which He hath made crooked" (Ecclesiastes 7:13).
So the" all" that is "vanity" is whatever work man, frail and mortal, undertakes, not falling in with God's irresistible work. Man's way to escape from the vanity that attends his work, however successful it seem for a time, is to "fear God," and to make His commandments the end of all our work; also to acquiesce patiently, cheerfully, and contentedly in all God's dispensations, however trying and dark (Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:12-13; Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:17; Ecclesiastes 8:15; Ecclesiastes 9:7). The recommendation to "eat and drink," etc., was mistaken as recommending the Epicurean sensuality against which Paul (1 Corinthians 15:32-33) protests, and was made an objection to the book; but the eating and drinking recommended is that associated with labor, not idleness; with pious "fear of God," not sensual ignoring of the future Judge; the cheerful, contented "eating and drinking" which characterized Judah and Israel under Solomon (1 Kings 4:20), and under Josiah (Jeremiah 22:15, "Did not thy father (Josiah) eat and drink, and do judgment and justice, and then it was well with him?")
So Nehemiah enjoins (Nehemiah 8:10-12). Ecclesiastes 2:24 has: "is it not good for man that he should eat?" etc. This is opposed to a self-harassing, covetous, grasping carefulness (Philippians 4:6-7; Matthew 6:24-34; Ecclesiastes 5:18, compare Ecclesiastes 5:11-15). The joy of sensual levity is explicitly forbidden (Ecclesiastes 7:2-6; Ecclesiastes 11:9; Ecclesiastes 12:1). The reference to hopeless oppression (Ecclesiastes 4:1-3) is made the ground for supposing the period was one of the congregations's suffering, as Israel suffered under Persia after the return from Babylon. But even in Solomon's days, in the provinces, and especially when he fell into idolatry and consequent troubles, oppression must have often occurred, which his power was not able to prevent altogether in subordinate governors. Fatalism and skepticism might seem to be taught in Ecclesiastes 7:16; Ecclesiastes 9:2-10, but Ecclesiastes 7:17-18; Ecclesiastes 9:11; Ecclesiastes 11:1-6; Ecclesiastes 12:13, confute such notions.
What is forbidden is a self-made "righteousness" which would constrain God to grant salvation to man's works, and ceremonial strictness with which it wearies itself profitlessly; also that speculation which would fathom God's inscrutable counsels (Ecclesiastes 8:17). "Under the sun" or "the heavens" is another characteristic phrase (Ecclesiastes 1:13; compare Ecclesiastes 7:11; Ecclesiastes 11:7; Ecclesiastes 12:2). Irresistible death is what stamps "vanity" on earthly aims and works (Ecclesiastes 1:4; Ecclesiastes 8:8).; in this respect man has "no preeminence above a beast" (Ecclesiastes 3:19). With all man's ceaseless round of toils he returns to the point from whence he came, like the winds and the currents (Ecclesiastes 1:5-11). He can bring forth no "new" thing, nor ensure his "remembrance." "What profit then hath he of all his labor?" Ecclesiastes 1:3 answering to Matthew 16:26.
The answer is: "Remember God thy Creator" (Ecclesiastes 12:1; Ecclesiastes 12:13). He will create for His people a NEW covenant, name, heart, heavens, and earth, in which the "crooked shall be made straight" (Ecclesiastes 1:15; compare Isaiah 40:4; Isaiah 43:18-19; Isaiah 62:2; Isaiah 65:17; Jeremiah 31:31; Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 18:31). Also God will have "the righteous in everlasting remembrance" (Psalms 112:6; Malachi 3:16). At His "judgment" all thy works for Him shall be remembered (Ecclesiastes 12:14). The hope of eternal life is involved in the "fear of God" enjoined; hence flows the assertion of the difference between "the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth" (Ecclesiastes 3:21, so Ecclesiastes 12:7; compare Genesis 2:7).
But it is not prominently put forward; for Christ first "brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:10; contrast Ecclesiastes 9:5-10 with Philippians 1:21-23). However, what is denied is that "the dead know anything" of the mere earthly concerns which their bodily senses formerly took cognizance of. Therefore, infers the preacher, now is the only time to work for eternity, and at the same time enjoy, in subordination to this first aim, whatever innocent enjoyment God vouchsafes; "whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might, for there is no work, etc., in the grave;" to which our Lord refers, John 9:4. This book is the believing philosopher's inspired reasoning as to life's true end, and as to the practical way to draw from the present scene of vanity the greatest amount of profit and enjoyment.
Compare Solomon's view of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 1:20; Proverbs 1:8; Proverbs 9:10; Psalms 111:10). The introduction is Ecclesiastes 1:1-11; the body of the argument, Ecclesiastes 1:12-12:12; the conclusion arrived at is Ecclesiastes 12:13-14. The experience of Solomon is given, Ecclesiastes 1:12-2:26; and that of mankind is appealed to in the remainder. In the former the dark side of the picture preponderates; in the latter God's beautiful work relieves the gloom, which is perfectly cleared off to the godly it the close. God's providential work, so infinitely manifold, is in all its parts ordered as to time and place. Man's work loses its vanity only by falling into harmony with God's; faith and reverential fear of God is his true wisdom.
The gleams of light from God, amidst the dreary catalogue of vanities, appear at Ecclesiastes 3:11; Ecclesiastes 3:17; Ecclesiastes 7:29; Ecclesiastes 8:12. Even in troubled times and perplexing dispensations of Providence, cheerfully and contentedly enjoy whatever present mercies He gives (Ecclesiastes 3:12; Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:18; Ecclesiastes 8:15; Ecclesiastes 9:7-10). At the same time, not worldly carnal joys are to be sought, but the young are to remember God will judge them for sensual indulgences; therefore, "remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not." The Book of Ecclesiastes is mainly in poetical parallelism. The epithets, imagery, inverted order of words, ellipses, and similarity of diction, when parallelism is absent, mark versification.
These files are public domain.
Fausset, Andrew R. Entry for 'Ecclesiastes, the Book of'. Fausset's Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​fbd/​e/ecclesiastes-the-book-of.html. 1949.