"Ecclesiastes" is how Greeks rendered the original Hebrew title "Kohelet”: Teacher, Preacher, Leader, Watcher, Seeker, Collector. Just as a friend of mine collects Hummels and Precious Moments figurines, Ecclesiastes collected experience and angst! Angst does not need dusting.
Ecclesiastes seeks an explanation for existence–and he is not finding it. He's looking for a missing purpose and keeps coming up empty. In trying to find the answers to life's persistent questions, he leaves no stone unturned.
And that's a problem. The mystery is always tougher when the detective is a suspect.
Based on past tense in verse 12,
“I, the Teacher, was king…,”
some guess there was an interval when the probable author, Solomon, was not king. Solomon's father David had temporary exile. Alternately bitter and reflective from that loss, he wrote Ecclesiastes. That's just a guess.
Reading Ecclesiastes 1 reminded us of…
- Bill Murray in Groundhog Day – “What has been will be again” (1:9) "What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?"
- He Haw – “Gloom, despair, and agony on me”
- The Stones – “I can’t get no satisfaction”
- David Powter - “So you’ve had a bad day”
- SNL – “Debbie Downer”
- Dariah – "No life. No hope. No future.”
- Dust/Ducks in the Wind – "all we are"
- Coldplay – "Viva la Vida"
Ecclesiastes is not an atheist. But he does a great impression of a deist. A deist is a person who has decided that, having created the universe, God has no further dealings with the universe or that speck called man.
“There is nothing new under the sun.” (1:9)
“Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both. As one dies, so dies the other.” (3:19)
“Nothing is better under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad.” (8:15).
“All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad,…” (9:2)
Ecclesiastes and Lamentations are not cheerful books for dreary winter days. Imagine the relief for any of his 700 wives or 300 concubines. "Whew, I'm glad that's over. No more King Nothing-Really-Matters for five years."
The book of Job similarly contains words offered as wisdom that contradict other scriptures. However, early on the reader is aware that most of the book of Job is a debate. After about forty rancorous chapters, God chastises one of the wise men disputing Job, “I am angry with you and your two friends because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has."
Does Ecclesiastes present a puzzle that aims to provoke people to re-examine their cherished notions? Is he challenging, "Life stinks. Prove me wrong!"
Is there as with Job, a clue in Ecclesiastes that some observations are biased, that some conclusions are faulty?
Consider this repeating theme:
- "There is nothing new under the sun.” (1:9)
- “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun.” (1:14)
- “Nothing was gained under the sun.” (2:11)
- “I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun.” (4:11)
Investigator Ecclesiastes seeks God's purpose for life. Eternity in his heart compels him.
But with that compulsion to find purpose, Ecclesiastes is ever the dour detective. "All we want are the facts, ma'am". He harbors no wishful thinking. He candidly identifies the limits of his beat: under the sun.
"Under the sun" is a panoramic view. "Under the sun" is rather a big picture.
Yet years later, someone offered a yet broader view.
None of these come from the Father, but all of them come from the world. The world and everything that people want in it are passing away, but the person who does what God wants lives forever."
(1 John 2)
"God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son."
“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.
In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.”