“I, the Preacher, am king over Israel in Jerusalem and I put my heart to investigate and to discover through wisdom all that is done under the sun. It is an evil undertaking that God gives to the children of man to undertake.”
We have already discussed the identification of Solomon as Qoheleth — “The Preacher.” The initial “to be” verb, היה (hyh) is a basic Qal stem in the perfect tense, leading many translators to render this phrase: “I, the Preacher, was king over Israel…” And while that is a perfectly legitimate translation, it implies that Solomon is looking back from a point of view where he is no longer a king — the nature of a completed action. In Hebrew, though, the Perfect can also communicate a state of being, which seems to be more consistent with the historical records that do not see Rehoboam as king until after his father’s death. It is still reasonable to see this book as something Solomon wrote later in life as he looks back at his failures, but he is still doing so as king over Israel in Jerusalem.
With this pronouncement of him being King, we now see the basis from which he observes the world — “everything under the sun.” And his approach is to use wisdom to discern the ways of man. His conclusion is that this is an evil (רַא — “ra”) undertaking. Now, do not let Solomon’s answer rattle you, instead remember his context. Here he is king, raised as a king in a household full of “court intrigue.” He has also been surrounded by wealth all of his life and now he rules over people with whom he could never have begun to relate to their experience…yet, he is called upon to rule over them and judge their affairs — debates between prostitutes over whose baby is theirs and the like.
I have heard that sometimes Judges get weary over judging the same sorts of cases and crimes over and over and over again. Why can’t people just live alongside of one another with a degree of modest civility? I know that as a pastor, I feel much the same way at times, wanting to throw up my hands in exasperation, thinking, “why can’t these people just act like Christians!”
And that is exactly the point, isn’t it. People don’t always behave like Christians and they don’t always act with civility toward one another. People are sinners and make a mess of things and that is why God saves his own by Grace, not by our works (even the “best” of us would fail miserably!). That’s why we cannot just live under the sun with the wisdom of men. We need the Gospel. Perhaps this is why Solomon chose the term “Preacher” to describe himself…a realization that the preaching of God’s Word is what we most need. We need it taught, yes. We need it applied, yes. But we need more. We need God’s word pronounced with authority over us to condemn our sins and then offer us the hope of grace that comes through faith. This is so much more than what a teacher or a judge might happen to do.
In today’s world, preaching is not popular. Churches are shortening the time allotted to it, bringing it down to the level of the people rather than elevating it, they are ignoring law in favor of a spineless grace, and some are eliminating it altogether, replacing it will small-group discussions and teaching time focused only on the basics. While this is surely what people want because they flock to it, it is not what we most need. And people are starving spiritually and they don’t even know it. Sad…no, it is an evil undertaking because it is done “under the sun” rather than commanding people to turn their eyes to the Transcendent Son.