In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon does a lot of whining.
(Don’t get bogged down by his negativity, for he eventually provides some reliable insight in the book’s concluding verses.)
Overall I find it easy to dismiss Solomon’s complaining, but one of his laments does make sense to me. He grumbles about leaving an inheritance to someone who didn’t earn it and doesn’t deserve it.
That’s not fair! And we all want what’s fair, don’t we?
Through Jesus, we receive something we didn’t earn and don’t deserve: eternal life.
That’s not fair either, but I’m not complaining.
[Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, Ecclesiastes 2:21, Romans 6:23]
In reading the book of Ecclesiastes there is one section that may be very familiar. It was used as song lyrics and set to music, which the Byrds recorded in 1965.
Compare Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 with the lyrics to Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season).
Songwriter Pete Seeger only added six words to complete the lyric portion of the song. They are the song’s last six words: “…I swear it’s not too late.”
In considering both the passage these words are taken from, as well as theme of the entire book of Ecclesiastes, these six words are an appropriate encouragement to not become bogged down with the issues of life, but to take action…because “it’s not too late.”
Who says rock and roll and the Bible don’t mix?
The song, by the way, became a hit, arguably making it the number one hit song with the oldest lyrics.
Thank you King Solomon; you rock!
A few years ago there was a popular, yet pessimistic saying: “Life’s a bitch; then you die.”
Although that may be shocking or even offensive to some, I think King Solomon was the originator of this depressing thought. It permeates his writing in Ecclesiastes and it exudes from the text. In fact, an apt and concise summary of Ecclesiastes may well be: “Life’s a bitch; then you die.”
After ranting and whining for 12 chapters about the struggle of life and finality of death, it is easy to miss Solomon’s succinct conclusion nestled in the book’s concluding verses. At this point in the reading, one is often so overwhelmed with negativity that there’s a tendency to skim to the end, or perhaps to even skip to the end.
Nevertheless, his one gem of useful truth is simply this: fear and obey God.
Perhaps Solomon was on to something after all.
God told King Solomon to ask for anything and it would be given to him. (I think this is the closest thing we see in the Bible to God granting wishes like a genie.)
Solomon asked for wisdom and knowledge. And God gave it to him—along with wealth and power as a bonus. The Bible later says that Solomon was wiser than anyone else who ever lived.
It is from this man—the wisest one who ever lived—that we get the book of Ecclesiastes. Go figure. If Solomon’s writing in Ecclesiastes is a showcase of wisdom and the result of knowledge, then I’ll pass.
However, we also know that Solomon was distracted by the beliefs of his many wives. They turned his attention away from God and towards other things.
So, despite being wise, Solomon became unwise and strayed from God. I wonder if the book of Ecclesiastes is a reflection of that.
[2 Chronicles 1:7-12, 1 Kings 10:23, 2 Chronicles 9:22, 1 Kings 4:30-31, 1 Kings 11:1-13]
I am confounded by the book of Ecclesiastes. As mentioned in the post “…and Then You Die,” Ecclesiastes is a depressing read. It is pessimistic and its main point to put God first is easy to miss.
Ecclesiastes abounds with negativity and hyperbole, yet it also contains some wise thoughts and astute observations. Separating the two takes effort and focus. Yet doing so means to discount some parts of this book as foolishness and to embrace other parts as sound. This is unwise, because to do so we must apply our own biases and perceptions of what to accept (such as, obey God) and what to reject (such as, death is better than life). Reading Solomon’s words in this manner merely reinforces what we already know and teaches us nothing new.
What I do know is that given Solomon’s proclivity towards hyperbole in Ecclesiastes, using his words by themselves as a basis for understanding God is not warranted. It is imperative to make sure any conclusions made are also supported elsewhere in biblical texts.
So if Ecclesiastes is not much use for direct instruction, then what good is it?
If I read Ecclesiastes strictly as a story, then I do see one lesson emerge: smart people can be pretty whacked out and morose in their thinking. Is that the point?