Ecclesiastes: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times

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Solomon did not write Ecclesiastes to bum you out. He wrote it to set you free.

Wisdom is a scarce commodity these days. There is a glut of opinions, conjectures, lies, half-truths, propaganda, and occasional facts that flood the American intellectual marketplace, but very little wisdom to be found. In our times, it is difficult to make sense of the things we are constantly seeing and hearing, to separate the truth from whatever worldview is being mass-marketed to us, and to know how we are to think and to act in a world that seems devoid of reason and truth. What we need is a template to help us process the meaning of the world around us. The wisdom of King Solomon of ancient days may be exactly the commodity we are looking for.

Solomon was a most interesting man who lived around a thousand years before the birth of Jesus. He was born of the union of the great King David and Bathsheba and would become heir to David’s throne. When David was near death, and Solomon was about to inherit his father’s kingdom, God appeared to Solomon in a dream and asked what Solomon wanted from him. Solomon did not ask God for wealth, or status, or power. He asked only for the wisdom to rule in a godly way. God was pleased with Solomon’s request and answered it with miraculous abundance.

God made Solomon the wisest man on earth, but he did not stop there. Because Solomon did not ask for wealth, power, pleasure, and fame, God gave Solomon all of these things in mind-blowing amounts. We read in 1 Kings 10:14 that Solomon collected tribute amounting to 666 talents of gold in a single year (he was king for 40 years) - the modern equivalent of over a billion dollars. He built cities from the ground up and rebuilt others. He built an enormous temple. He had countless horses and chariots and material goods. He ruled a vast kingdom. He had a thousand women (700 wives and 300 concubines) to share his life with. He was revered by the known world. King Solomon had everything we modern folks spend our lives trying to obtain. He was smarter, richer, more powerful, and more famous than anyone else. Solomon was living the dream, right?

Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes to share his knowledge and wisdom with us. Given what we already know about Solomon, you might predict that this book would begin with a sentence like, “Man, it is good to be Solomon!” But Solomon shocks his readers with a contrarian blast of reality.“All things under the sun are meaningless,” he tells us. Everything that we spend our lives chasing is equivalent to us chasing the wind. Wisdom was meaningless to him because he could see how things really were in the world, and it made him miserable. Self-indulgence was meaningless to him because even though he could do whatever he wanted and denied himself nothing, pleasure is fleeting and gone in an instant. He endeavored to find meaning in living wisely, but also came to understand that the wise and the foolish both die anyway. He also came to understand that his hard work and accumulation of things meant nothing either because he was going to die and had no control over his things and what would happen to them. Solomon had it all in the eyes of the world, and it yet meant nothing.

Solomon did not write Ecclesiastes to bum you out. He wrote it to set you free.

This may not seem like the message of comfort you were looking for, but it truly is. Solomon did not write Ecclesiastes to bum you out. He wrote it to set you free. He wrote it to save you the wasted trip and the struggle. Solomon tells you that his life is a cautionary tale. He had “been there, done that, and gotten the t-shirt” and wanted to let you know that these things do not bring you truth, clarity, happiness, fulfillment, or peace. Having made it clear what does not mean anything, Solomon proceeds to tell us what does mean everything:

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecc 12:13-14).

With these words, the wise king has culled away the things that we obsess about, worry about, and devote our time, energy, and industry to. Ecclesiastes guides us to the real truth behind all things: putting our fear, love, and trust in God alone.

Solomon’s wisdom teaches us that life is long and difficult and that much of our time is spent on vanity. He is not inviting us to despise our lives, or our work, or our possessions, or the pleasures in life. He is instead instructing us that life is so much more than these things. Our worry and obsession with clinging so tightly to the things of this world sends us on a daily fool’s errand that profits us nothing. As we lay dying, none of us will be consumed with who we voted for, or if we did or did not wear a mask, or if we were salesman of the year, or if we had an old cell phone, or if we failed to win the trophies of men, or if we won all the internet battles, or if we were smartest, best, or most notorious. The only thing that will matter is the peace of Christ that passes all human understanding.

Solomon tells us that there are joy and laughter in bread and wine, so here is wisdom for life: put your fear, love, and trust in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and have dinner and drinks with people you love. Put vanities aside, live well in the truth of a Father who sent his Son to win a bride and the Holy Spirit who guides us to give eternal life. In the end, there is nothing else.