The Words of the Preacher
“The words of the Preacher, the son of David, King in Jerusalem.”
The book of Ecclesiastes is one of those interesting little books in the Old Testament that is often quoted but rarely studied closely. Some turn away from this book as it seems to have a quite pessimistic view on life (vanity of vanities!) and others often gravitate to this book because it speaks to them in the midst of their vain attempts at self-satisfaction. It stands as relevant today as it was when Solomon first put pen to paper and while not commonly quoted in the New Testament, the ideas it contains provide an important foundation for the Gospel.
In the Hebrew Bible, this book is called קהלח (Qoheleth) or “the Preacher” or sometimes “the Convener.” Ecclesiastes is taken from the Greek translation of this, drawn from ἐκκλησιαστής (ekklesiastes), referring to a member (or convener) of the church. It is part fo the third section of the Hebrew Bible, known as “The Writings” or sometimes as “The Psalms” and is one of the traditional readings during the festival of the Tabernacles. Since Tabernacles carries with it Messianic overtones, we must not neglect the Messianic nature of this book.
Traditionally this book is attributed to Solomon due to the words of this verse (along with verse 12 below). He identifies himself both as a “son of David” and “King in Jerusalem.” Verse 12 expands on that and identifies him as “King over Israel in Jerusalem.” While this first verse limits the playing field, verse 12 narrows the playing field down to two. We must recognize that in the Hebrew usage, “son of” can extend back generations…thus even Jesus was referred to as “Son of David” (Matthew 1:1; 9:27; 21:9).
Thus, recognizing that a number of kings who ruled from Jerusalem can claim to be “sons of David” we need verse 12, because with the advent of Solomon’s death and the rise of his son, Rehoboam, the northern kingdom of Israel split away and the kings in Jerusalem only ruled over Judah. That leaves just two candidates: Solomon and Absolom. Given the brevity of Absolom’s reign and his violent death, it seems unlikely that he would have written a book like this. That leaves us with Solomon, arguably in his old age, looking back at his folly. Furthermore, references to building projects and wealth are found in chapter 2, which again belong to Solomon’s reign and not to Absolom’s.
And thus we begin an exploration into Solomon’s reflections on life. This book is meant to be sobering, but also to point us to the vanity of our secular humanism and all of the other things that we put into the place of God. And, in a world where people are constantly “redefining” themselves based on the restlessness of their hearts, this book sends a clear message that no matter how we “self-identify” we will never find satisfaction apart from living our our lives as God designed us to do. Again, these words are as relevant today as they were 3,000 years when he wrote them — perhaps even more relevant.