Having read of the death of Solomon, we will again break from the narrative of Kings to consider Solomon’s other writings, beginning with Ecclesiastes. This book is believed to have been written late in Solomon’s life. It speaks of life from two points of view. First, there is the view from “under heaven”. This is the worldview of those that believe there is a God Who is Creator and Sustainer of life, and Who gives ultimate purpose to existence and everything we do. Then, there is the view from “under the sun”. This is the secular-humanist-atheist point of view that says there is nothing greater than man, this life is all there is, and we will eventually cease to be. I am not sure what Solomon believed at the end of his life, but we have seen that he lived most of his life under the sun rather than under heaven.
We begin by being told these are “the words of the preacher” (1:1). The word here for “preacher” occurs only in the book of Ecclesiastes. It is believed to mean “speaker before an assembly.” We are then told that this “preacher” is the Son of David who is king in Jerusalem. This is almost certainly Solomon. And Solomon sets a bleak tone right at the outset. He uses the word “vanity” (can also be translated “empty” “false” or “worthless”) five times in verse 2. Why? Because this is the point of view from under the sun (v. 3). If there is nothing greater than man, and we go to nothing, then what gives value to anything? Generations go by meaninglessly (v. 4). Days go by meaninglessly (v. 5). The wind (v. 6) and waters (v. 7) move in endless, meaningless cycles. Nothing matters (v. 8). There is nothing new to do (vv. 9-10), and nothing is worth remembering (v. 11).
In verses 12-18, Solomon speaks of his wisdom, but we see it is worldly wisdom. In verse 13, we see that Solomon speaks of what is “under heaven” and what God has given the “children of man” to be busy with. He is looking as someone who knows that God is, and considers the Godless life in light of Him. It is unhappy. It is meaningless. In verse 14, he says that things done under the sun is meaningless and literally “feeding on the wind.” This expression is used by God of faithless Israel in Hosea 12:1. Solomon is talking about the same thing: Israel’s, and his, faithlessness. The crooked cannot be made straight apart from God (v. 15). Worldly wisdom is grief and sorrow (v. 18). I find it amazing that the man who wrote Proverbs and so clearly taught that real wisdom is fearing God and obeying Him, lived his life according to worldly wisdom to the point that he laments it so greatly at the end of his life. Indeed, worldly wisdom is no wisdom at all, and knowing what God calls us to and doing it are two totally different things.
Chapter 2 is an autobiographical sketch of Solomon’s search for happiness throughout his life. First, he tried living the life of earthly pleasure (2:1). He laughed (v. 2) and drank (v. 3). But notice why he did it. He did this to see if it was better than what God had to offer through obedience to Him (this is the “test” in verse 1 and the “till I might see…under heaven” of verse 3). Solomon speaks of his great building projects (vv. 4-6), his great possessions (v. 7-8), and his great fame and “wisdom” (v. 9). He kept his eyes and his treasures on earth (v. 10). And what was the outcome of his “test”? It was all worthless (v. 11).
Solomon then speaks of his wisdom again (vv. 12-17). From an earthly point of view, what is the point of wisdom (v. 15)? If the same “good” happens to the fool, and the same “bad” happens to the wise (v. 14), why be wise? What does it gain you? And since both will die and neither will be remembered (v. 16), why does it matter? So Solomon says he “hated life” because it is so very pointless (from the point of view of “under the sun”).
Solomon then reflects back on what he had done in his life (v. 18-23). When Solomon dies, it will be of no use to him (v. 18). Even worse, it is just as likely that what he leaves behind will wind up with a fool as with someone wise (v. 19). So what’s the point (v. 20)? You can’t take any of it with you (v. 21), so what does it gain you (v. 22)? Sorrow, grief, and restlessness, that’s what (v. 23)!
Solomon then concludes that we should just eat, drink, and be merry in all we do (v. 24). But not because life is meaningless. No. Then there is no “merry”, only vanity. Rather, we should receive what we have as a gift of God, because apart from Him, we couldn’t eat, drink, or be merry (v. 25). Because there are two types of people – those who please God, and those who please nobody including themselves! Because apart from God, there is no reason for anything (v. 26).
Chapter 3 opens from the point of view from under heaven (3:1). Everything has its appointed time and appointed purpose: death and life, sowing and reaping, etc., etc. (vv. 2-8). There is no need to expound this since it is the most famous passage of the book. What is important to note is what Solomon says in verse 10-11. Solomon has seen the “business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.” This echoes 1:13. There, Solomon calls it “unhappy”, “vain”, and “feeding on the wind.” Why? Because that is “everything done under the sun” (1:14). Here, that same business is downright beautiful (3:11). Why? Because it is done “under heaven” (v. 1).
It isn’t what we do, it’s Who we do it for. That is the only difference between emptiness and beauty. And those who have had eternity placed into our hearts by God see the purpose in it all – our eyes on are the eternal. We understand that what we do now will be remembered. By God. We know that what we do now does matter, not just now, but for eternity. We can truly eat, drink, and be merry (v. 13)! Nothing new has been done under heaven, because God does not change and He does it all! His eternal purposes will stand. And God has sought us (HE SOUGHT US!) to be part of it all (vv. 14-15).
And then Solomon moves back under the sun. What about those God has not pursued? What about those who have not had eternity placed in their heart by Him? For them, even justice and righteousness is wickedness (v. 16). In verses 17-20, Solomon is talking about physical death. From under the sun, both the righteous and the wicked – along with the animals – all die. They all return to nothingness (v. 20). And nobody can know if there is any life after death (v. 21). So enjoy it while it lasts (v. 22)!
Chapter 4 continues from the point of view from under the sun. There is such oppression in the world, and there is nothing we can do about it (4:1). It would be better to be dead (v. 2). It would be better still to have never been born (v. 3). In other words, to live under the sun is to despair. In verse 4, Solomon says that under the sun, all people care about is how they compare to others (and they didn’t even have social media!). The fool doesn’t work to earn a living (v. 5), but why does it matter when work is meaningless (v. 6)? Especially considering we are never satisfied with what we have (vv. 7-8). Solomon then offers some brief wisdom. Since we are never satisfied with what we have (see v. 8), companionship in labor is better (v. 9). A companion adds help and security (vv. 10-11). There is strength in numbers (v. 12).
In verse 13, Solomon brings back our refrain from Proverbs about heeding wise advice. This may be (I think it is) autobiographical. When Solomon was young, he built the Temple and had a desire to follow God. As he grew older (and wealthier and more famous), he became a fool. He gained the throne through none of his own merit (v. 14). Yet he, and Israel under his leadership, took their eyes off of God (v. 15). He knew that, despite his fame and riches – and even his wisdom – he would not be remembered as a good king (v 16). He wasted his life and reign. For the secular-humanist-atheist, what is there to do but regret your life when the end approaches?