Understanding The Bible
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Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible
THE BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES
Introduction and Summary Outline
Authorship and Time of Writing
Solomon is the author no doubt, as he is the only "son of David" who was "king in Jerusalem" (1:1). It is generally believed that Solomon wrote his Song of Songs when he was young and his heart full of love of God, and that he wrote Ecclesiastes later in his life, after long and bitter experiences in searching out things fro the human viewpoint. His unhappy experience with his thousand wives is no doubt referred to in 7:26-28. This would seem to definitely establish the late writing of Ecclesiastes (cp. note, Song of Sol. 6:8).
Keys to the Book
Certain expressions give the key thoughts of the book. Solomon sought unsuccessfully for heart satisfaction in "things under the sun," but all was "vanity" (worthlessness, nothingness). The expression "vanity" occurs 37 times; "under the sun," 29 times; "under the heavens," 3 times; "upon the earth," 7 times.
Inspiration and Revelation
We must distinguish carefully between a true record of Solomon's experiences (that is, inspiration) and the truth of God (that is, revelation). In the Bible, sometimes bad men, sometimes mistaken good men, and sometimes even the devil are quoted, but we are not to believe that they say just because it is in the Bible. So in this book, by inspiration, God gives us an absolutely accurate account of what Solomon, while wandering from God, thought in his searchings "under the sun," but they are to be recognized only as that -- the best possible reasonings of a man apart from God's revelation. Therefore, his theories and sayings are not to be accepted as God's solution to the problems discussed and no statement of this book should be considered the full truth of God, or of final authority, except it be confirmed by other Scripture. For instance, the false doctrine of "soul-sleep" cannot be taught from 3:18-21 or 9:4-5, because the revelation of God (in such passages as 2 Corinthians 5:8) shows that Solomon's mere human reasoning in the matter was wrong. To summarize, all the Bible is true (a true record), but not all the Bible is truth (revelation). Both things which only God can reveal and things that men could know are recorded inerrantly (inspired) by the Spirit. The true record includes both.
Purpose of the Book
Then, some one may ask, "What is a book like this doing in the Bible?" Our answer is: "As a warning, as a red light to tell ,men to stop their foolish reasonings, and seek the truth from God and His Word only."
In the Bible God has planned to give us a true view of the human heart. In Jeremiah 17:9, we read that the heart of man "is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it," and in the next verse God answers: "I the Lord do search the heart ... and try" it. Thus, in the book of Job, God took the most righteous man of Old Testament times and showed him to be by nature a terrible sinner (Job 40:4, 42:6). In Ecclesiastes, God takes the wisest man the world has known and shows him to be a fool. Not that Solomon's reasonings are not logical; they are, but that is just the point. They leave him unsatisfied, confused, and get him exactly nowhere in soling the riddle of life. And every an who leaves God's truth and reasons "under the sun" will come to the same "dead end" conclusion.
The fact is, man cannot know the real facts apart from God's special revelation in His Word. So Solomon comes to the poet in his conclusion of this book where, after frankly admitting the failure of human wisdom, he returns to God's "commandments" (God's Word) as the only source of truth. And he warns all who read of this vain wanderings that they do not have to go through the long search for truth, only to finally admit failure, as he did (12:12, 8). All we need to do is to start where he finished, accepting God's revelation by faith and regulating our lives according to it (12:13-14).
"Thy Word is Truth" (John 17:17)
"We search the world for truth; we cull
The good, the pure, the beautiful
From graven stone and written scroll,
From all old flowerfields of the soul;
And, weary seekers of the best
We come back laden from the quest
To find that all the sages said
Is in the Book our mothers read."
John Greenleaf Whittier
Message of the Book
This is the book of which Voltaire, the infamous skeptic, said, "Ecclesiastes is the only book in the Bible I can enjoy. It is so true to human life."
And the English poet Swinburne caught the message of the book so bitterly BY EXPERIENCE (rather than taking God's Word for it). The selection from the following poem graphically describes the despair of one who had everything in this life that he could wish, only to find it nauseating without God.
It is entitled:
The Garden of Proserpine
"I am tired of tears and laughter,
And men that laugh and weep
Of what may come hereafter
For men that sow and reap;
I am weary of days and hours,
Blown buds of barren flowers,
Desires and dreams and powers
And everything but sleep.
We are not sure of sorrow,
And joy was never sure;
Today will die tomorrow;
Time stoops to no man's lure;
And love, grown faint and fretful
With lips but half regretful
Weeps that no loves endure.
From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives forever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.
Then star nor sun shall waken,
Nor sound of waters shaken,
Nor any sound or sight
Nor wintry leaves nor vernal
Nor days nor things diurnal
Only sleep eternal
In an eternal night."
Introduction: "All is vanity" 1:1-3
Why all is vanity 1:4-6:12
Wisdom and philosophy cannot satisfy
Pleasure and riches cannot satisfy
Materialism cannot satisfy
Fatalism cannot satisfy
Deism cannot satisfy
Religion and religious practices cannot satisfy
The better findings of human wisdom, or how to make the best out of a hopeless situation 7-10
Advice from the aged Solomon 11:1-12:8
The only satisfactory solution 12:9-14
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