God gave us the book of Ecclesiastes to instruct us in spiritual wisdom as those living in a world fallen in sin and under the curse. He gave it by one who was old and endued not only with the wisdom of age and experience, but with the wisdom that only the Spirit of God can give. The Preacher searches the life of man under the sun, giving us to see with spiritual understanding the way of that life and its value and meaning in a world subject to vanity because of sin. In many ways the book addresses especially the young man and woman taking their place in the affairs of life and beginning life’s journey (Eccl. 11:9; Eccl. 12:1). Its purpose is not so much to give what is mistakenly called practical instruction or to show how to do something, but rather to give true practical wisdom by giving us to see the realities of life with spiritual discernment. The word of God in the book would give us glasses to see the reality of life under the sun.
With the intention of turning to this word of God by way of exposition over a period of time in this column, we would, first of all, have clear in our minds two issues: first, who the author is, and then secondly, the theme of the book. Both these elements are important. There are commentaries on the book that depart from the plain statement of the book that the “Preacher” is king in Jerusalem, namely Solomon. Attributing the book to an author after the captivity, as they do, reshapes its contents and its theme. Both elements have been ably explained on the pages of the Standard Bearer many years ago. The identity of the Preacher by whom God gave this word is explained by Rev. C. Hanko, writing at the time of the Second World War in the Standard Bearer, volume 20. His article is quoted below in full. ï¿½TCM
It has always been a safe and established rule to determine the author of a certain book of holy writ, if at all possible, from the book itself. What surer guide could we have than the Word of God, which is its own indubitable testimony of its infallibility?
Applying this rule to the book of Ecclesiastes, it hardly seems possible that anyone should as much as question the fact that Solomon is its author. The first chapter expresses this very definitely. Its opening statement reads: “The words of the Preacher, the Son of David, king in Jerusalem.” Although he calls himself the Preacher (Koheleth in the Hebrew, Ecclesiastes in the Greek, from which the book derives its name) he adds that he is the son of David and king in Jerusalem. Verse 12 adds to this: “I, the Preacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem.” And verse 16 continues: “I communed with my own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem; yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” To assure ourselves that this could refer only to Solomon, we need but compare it with I Kings 3:12, where the Lord addresses Solomon, saying, “Behold, I have done according to thy words: lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart; so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee.”
If more proof were needed, we could refer to the second chapter, the verses 4-9:
I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards: I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kinds of fruit: I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees: I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me: I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts. So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me.
Comparing this with what is written of him both in Kings and in Chronicles we can only conclude that no one else but Solomon could be the Preacher, who concludes in Eccl. 12:8-10 by saying:
Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity. And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs. The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth.
Considering all this we can safely conclude that the Preacher is none other than king Solomon, whom the Lord granted riches and wisdom in abundance. We can even conclude that he wrote this book in the evening of his life, after he had experienced all that life could offer to one in his position, and after he had tasted to the full the realities of those things of which he wrote.
Yet, with all this overwhelming evidence before them, the Bible critics, almost without exception, are well agreed that Solomon could not possibly be the author of this book. They quite unanimously insist that some other person, at a much later date, either collected various proverbs of Solomon into one book, or wrote the entire book under the assumed name of the Preacher, as if he himself were king Solomon, “reproducing the thoughts and experiences of the memorable personage, Solomon” (Keil and Delitzsch,Commentary on Ecclesiastes).
Entirely ignoring the divine inspiration of the Scriptures and ruthlessly exalting their own opinion above the testimony of the Word itself, they reduce this book to the level of a mere piece of fiction.
Their main objection to recognizing Solomon as the author of Ecclesiastes is, as they say, that the style of the book is of a much later date, when the Hebrew language was interspersed with many Aramaic words and expressions. This objection is based on the assumption that Solomon could not possibly have made acquaintance with those Aramaic terms which they find in the book. Yet it hardly takes into consideration that as king, the like of whom could not be found, with all the building which he had done, he must have had exceptional amount of contact with the nations round about. Granting that there are many words in Ecclesiastes not found in the earlier writings of the Old Testament, this is still no reason to deny the testimony of the book itself that it was written by Solomon. The style and language must be that of Israel’s great king.
The other objections bear even less weight. It is objected that Solomon would never have said: “I, the Preacher, was king over Israel.” He might have said, ‘am king,’ but never ‘was,’ because he remained on the throne until the day of his death. But this objection is more fancied than real. Must we assume that he could not possibly have said that he was king over Israel unless he had abdicated the throne? The only correct explanation is that he appeals his rich experience as Israel’s anointed king in giving his estimate of life, as he does in the first chapter.
Again, it is objected that Solomon would never have said that he was “king over Israel in Jerusalem,” since he had no knowledge of kings over Israel who had not reigned in Jerusalem. The assumption is that only one who was acquainted with Israel’s later history would emphasize that Solomon was king in Jerusalem instead of in Samaria. Also the objection is raised that, since Solomon had not proceeded from a long line of kings, he could not have spoken of “all that were before me in Jerusalem.” These last two objections may well be considered as “begging the question.” Taking for granted that the author was acquainted with Israel’s later history, it is a simple matter to arrive at the conclusion that must first be proven. There is, on the other hand, every reason to accept that the theocratic king of Israel, conscious of his high calling and having his throne in the Holy City, would not hesitate to mention this in introducing himself to his readers. Nor is it strange that he would say that his wisdom exceeded “all that were before me in Jerusalem,” since God Himself had said, “I have given thee a wise and understanding heart, so that there was none like thee before thee.” He is simply stating that God’s promise was fully realized.
Having established in our own minds that Solomon is the author of this book, it raises the interesting question, Is Solomon also among the prophets? We know that no one could hold any office in Israel unless he was anointed of the Lord. Anointing spoke of the fact that God had ordained and called him to a special office, and that God also qualified him through the Holy Spirit to fill the office to which he was appointed.
We also know that Solomon was anointed to be king over Israel, and that he had been endowed with the special gift of wisdom as theocratic king. The Lord had granted his request when he asked for wisdom to judge the people with an understanding heart, “that I may discern between good and bad, for who is able to judge this thy so great a people.” This wisdom was not a mere natural gift, or bent, but a special gift of the Holy Spirit to qualify him to the office to which God had called him.
But Solomon received even more than he had asked. Ecclesiastes informs us that this wisdom qualified him to be a preacher as well as a king in Israel. He writes (1:16), “Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem; yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” And again in chapter 2, verse 9, “Also my wisdom remained with me.” As in his conclusion (12:9), “Because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs.”
This fact is the more significant because the office was generally imposed on separate individuals in the old dispensation. Although the threefold office of prophet, priest, and king is essentially one office, as is evident from Adam in paradise, in Christ in His threefold office, and in the office of believers today; yet the Old Testament prophet was no priest, and the priest was not a king, according to the general rule. But Solomon presents himself to us as the Preacher-King, who had been endowed with the Spirit of wisdom, not only to rule the people as their king, but also to instruct them as their prophet. A fact which clearly emphasizes that the threefold office is essentially one, even as it was perfected in Christ, the Anointed of God, par excellence.
The message of the Preacher carries a special appeal to us in our day because it is so exactly the opposite from all present-day philosophies which boast of the wisdom and culture of the world. One keynote rings through the entire book, that all things, outside of the grace of God in Christ Jesus, are subject to vanity. God’s curse rests upon the world of fallen mankind, and man himself bows under the bondage of corruption and death. There is nothing new under the sun, nothing that is not branded with death, nothing that is not subject to vanity. Even joy and mirth are empty madness, and natural wisdom brings grief, while all labor is vexation of spirit. The creature runs in a treadmill as in a “vicious circle.” All man’s skill and ingenuity, his discoveries and inventions, his labor and his progress end in destruction. War— peace—depression—war stalks man’s path wherever he turns. All that is and all that cometh is vanity. Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, all is vanity.
This is the conclusion of the whole matter, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”