Ecclesiastes: Introduction

Ecclesiastes 1‑12  •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 9
IT is difficult to conceive a stronger contrast than this book affords to Song of Solomon in aim, character, and handling. For the latter, of all the O. T., presents Messiah's affection for the object of His choice with a fullness and particularity beyond what is found in any or all others of the Holy Writings; and the effect is produced on that object in drawing out a suited return, with experiences of the deepest interest in its course till the consummation. Here on the contrary it is the sorrowful converse of the utter incapacity of all that is under the sun to satisfy the heart-cravings of one who had personal capacity and unlimited means of finding happiness in the creature if it had been possible. It is the negative counterpart of Proverbs, with the sententious wisdom of which it has not a little in common. The difference of the design accounts for “God” in Ecclesiastes, and “the LORD” or Jehovah in Proverbs. For in the one it is simply a question of man as he is, and therefore of God as such; whereas the other looks at the scene of moral government and those set in relation to it. The Song on the other hand is so full of the Bridegroom and the bride, as to have neither; for one can hardly regard chap. 8:6, admirably strong though the last word be, as an exception—it at any rate just proves the rule. The reserve of the Bridegroom's person, elsewhere unveiled, preserves the divine glory intact; but the plain bearing of the Song gives the fullest scope for the reciprocal love that reigns throughout, and this is best expressed without introducing either of the divine names.
But it is not hard to conceive the Holy Spirit employing the same vessel for His power in writing all these books. Nor did the man ever live who could be a more fitting instrument than Solomon if God so pleased. For He gave him “wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the seashore. And Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the sons of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men; than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol: and his fame was in all the nations round about. And he spoke three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five. And he spake of the trees, from the cedar that is on Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall; he spake also of cattle, and of birds, and of creeping things, and of fishes. And there came of all peoples to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom” (1 Kings 4:29-3429And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore. 30And Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt. 31For he was wiser than all men; than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol: and his fame was in all nations round about. 32And he spake three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five. 33And he spake of trees, from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall: he spake also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes. 34And there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom. (1 Kings 4:29‑34)).
But other elements entered which God could use in His wisdom. The range which Solomon traversed was immense in his unique position, not only of royalty over the throne of Jehovah (1 Chron. 29:2323Then Solomon sat on the throne of the Lord as king instead of David his father, and prospered; and all Israel obeyed him. (1 Chronicles 29:23)), but as endowed, with wisdom and knowledge beyond every other, and, as he did not ask, with riches and wealth and honor beyond what any king possessed before or since. Alas! this was not all. Magnificence, luxury, commerce, reputation, and even the most intimate relations with the heathen became a snare; and the largest wisdom is not faith or righteousness. The king was forbidden in Deut. 17. to multiply to himself horses and wives; Solomon disobeyed flagrantly in both respects. The king was commanded to write him a copy of Jehovah's law in a roll, that he might learn to fear Him and keep all those words; but his wives when he was old turned away his heart after other gods, which was far from being perfect with Jehovah like his father David. If God employed David as the vehicle of the noblest psalms and hymns for his people's praise, spite of his grievous falls, there is nothing on that ground to deny His choice of Solomon, not only in his earlier years when His pleasure in this king is express, but even in such a writing as Ecclesiastes brimful of bitter and humbling experience. On the contrary, bearing in mind the difference between Israel and the church or Christianity, we may readily perceive how Solomon, as in fact he was the writer if we believe scripture, was also the most adapted to the purpose of God.
If the Preacher or Convener had not described himself as son of David, king in Jerusalem, who else could have written it but Solomon? He tells us too that he was “king over Israel in Jerusalem”? Who could this possibly be but Solomon? Even his immediate heir quickly ceased to be king over Israel, losing ten out of the twelve tribes, and became distinctively king over Judah as opposed to Israel. But even if the book had no such marks as chap. 1:1, and 12, who does, who could, speak of wisdom as in the latter half of chap. 1. but Solomon? Who could sit in judgment of all that is done under the heavens, and pronounce on its nothingness as in chap. 2., but one with the weight of that great king? Was any one that ever lived after him in Jerusalem entitled so truly as he to speak of great works that he made, of building and planting with every accessory; of servants within and without; of such possession of herds and flocks and on such a scale of grandeur; of wisdom remaining, notwithstanding vast accumulations of silver and gold and the peculiar treasure of kings? There is no real ground to imagine an anonymous writer personating Solomon: an idea quite alien to scripture, though reasonable in the eyes of worldly men used to fiction. Here all is intense and solemn reality, as he had proved too well who could speak beyond any.
The colloquial character just suits one who loved to unbend from a court; and the Aramaic forms, one who had vast peaceful intercourse with the neighboring peoples in every grade. Never was a mind less tied to time or place.