Ecclesiastes is an odd book and a strange puzzle. Ecclesiastes begins by speaking of pointlessness of life. In fact, that seems to be the theme of the book. So we should expect godless souls would take delight that such a book is in the Bible. So why don’t they?
The answer comes when we finally solve the puzzle. We realize what an old king wants us to understand, that it is without God that life is pointless. Therefore, after we have read Ecclesiastes the first time, we have to go back and read it it again, wondering at the ease with which that old king fooled us!
Life itself almost fooled King Solomon. Ecclesiastes is his story. God blessed him greatly with riches, power, a long life, and most of all wisdom (1 Kings 3:1-15). Nevertheless, even though he was wise, power and riches corrupted King Solomon.
1 Kings 11:1-8 New King James Version (NKJV)
11 But King Solomon loved many foreign women, as well as the daughter of Pharaoh: women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites— 2 from the nations of whom the Lord had said to the children of Israel, “You shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you. Surely they will turn away your hearts after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. 3 And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. 4 For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David. 5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. 6 Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not fully follow the Lord, as did his father David. 7 Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, on the hill that is east of Jerusalem, and for Molech the abomination of the people of Ammon. 8 And he did likewise for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods.
For the sake of his many wives, Solomon worshiped truly despicable idols, and this we must suppose was his greatest sin. Yet Ecclesiastes does not speak of worshiping ugly idols, and it only says a little about the trap of sexual diversions. With beautiful, carefully chosen words, Solomon tells us of mundane pursuits that entice us from knowing our Creator. He speaks wine, women, and song. He elaborates upon the vanity of earthly wisdom. He speaks of the futility of toiling greedily. Through it all the old king seems to weep softly.
Did King Solomon ever repent and return to our Lord? It is something to wonder about. Other than Ecclesiastes, what is our best clue? That was when God told the prophet Nathan to tell David that King Solomon would build a temple for the Ark of the Covenant.
1 Chronicles 17:10-14 New King James Version (NKJV)
10 “Furthermore I tell you that the Lord will build you a house. 11 And it shall be, when your days are fulfilled, when you must go to be with your fathers, that I will set up your seed after you, who will be of your sons; and I will establish his kingdom. 12 He shall build Me a house, and I will establish his throne forever. 13 I will be his Father, and he shall be My son; and I will not take My mercy away from him, as I took it from him who was before you. 14 And I will establish him in My house and in My kingdom forever; and his throne shall be established forever.”
Was God speaking of Solomon? It would seem so, at least in part.
Fabulously powerful, wealthy, and wise, what did King Solomon learn? Why did he repent of his sins. He tells us at the beginning.
Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 New King James Version (NKJV)
The Vanity of Life
1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
2 “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher;
“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”
3 What profit has a man from all his labor
In which he toils under the sun?
4 One generation passes away, and another generation comes;
But the earth abides forever.
5 The sun also rises, and the sun goes down,
And hastens to the place where it arose.
6 The wind goes toward the south,
And turns around to the north;
The wind whirls about continually,
And comes again on its circuit.
7 All the rivers run into the sea,
Yet the sea is not full;
To the place from which the rivers come,
There they return again.
8 All things are full of labor;
Man cannot express it.
The eye is not satisfied with seeing,
Nor the ear filled with hearing.
9 That which has been is what will be,
That which is done is what will be done,
And there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which it may be said,
“See, this is new”?
It has already been in ancient times before us.
11 There is no remembrance of former things,
Nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come
By those who will come after.
Without God, we live to no purpose. All is vanity. We can be materially rich beyond our wildest dreams. We can have every thing we wish for. We can make others our slaves. Yet all will still be meaningless vanity.
If you have trouble solving the puzzle that is Ecclesiastes (and most people do), check out Rob Barkman‘s series on Ecclesiastes. Here is the Introduction. Barkman did not link to the subsequent posts in his series, however, his blog is searchable. Since Barkman uses the Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV), the easiest way to find a specific lesson is to search for the post that contains the text from the Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV) that you want to study. Note also that there are links at the bottom of each web page. These take you to the previous post and to the next post. So one or two clicks will usually get you to the next post in the series.