Because of their highly practical nature, the wisdom books of the Old Testament can be of great assistance in our efforts to live before the face of God in a manner that pleases Him. We will take a short break from our study of how the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New Testament this week in order to look at what one of these books tells us about life coram Deo. Ecclesiastes will be the subject of our study, and Dr. R.C. Sproul’s teaching series Ecclesiastes will be our guide through this important part of Scripture.
Ecclesiastes has had a bit of a contentious role in history, largely because it seems very pessimistic, at least on the surface. Many ancient Jews had trouble receiving the book as Scripture, but the New Testament considers it an inspired work. Paul’s statement that creation was subjected to futility on account of Adam’s sin (Rom. 8:20), for example, is recognized as an echo of Ecclesiastes. Furthermore, the book’s association with Solomon, who wrote most of the book of Proverbs, helped overcome any objections to the book’s place in the canon of Scripture. Of course, Solomon is never explicitly named as the author of Ecclesiastes, which ascribes its contents to the “Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem” (Eccl. 1:1). Traditionally, this “Preacher,” or Qoheleth in Hebrew, has been identified with Solomon, and nothing in the book discounts Solomonic authorship. In fact, one ancient tradition says that Solomon wrote the Song of Solomon when he was a young man, Proverbs when he was middle-aged, and Ecclesiastes when he was elderly.
Whether or not the tradition about Solomon’s age at the time of the composition of Ecclesiastes is true, the book does deal with the quest for meaning that humanity has pursued since the fall. Technology advances and governments change, but the fundamental questions of existence remain. Why are we here? Does my life have a value that endures beyond my death? Where can I find purpose and direction? What is most important? Though our surroundings may change, there is “nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9) in that people continue to wrestle with the same basic questions of existence. And, since human nature never changes, men and women, apart from grace, always look for answers to these questions in things that cannot satisfy.