A Little More Table-Setting – Authorship
The writer of Ecclesiastes identified himself as “the Preacher, the Son of David, king in Jerusalem” (1:1). You can see why most people throughout church history have seen the author to be none other than Solomon. He was the only son of David who was king in Jerusalem. There are those who, because Solomon is not specifically self-identified, and because some statements within the book, along with the style of Hebrews in which the book is written, could, on the surface, point in a direction other than Solomon, contend that he was not the author. But with that being said, I would argue that the arguments against his authorship have good rebuttals, and that the internal evidence points to the authorship of Solomon – i.e. being David’s son (Eccl. 1:1b), “king in Jerusalem” (1:1c), “king over Israel in Jerusalem” (vs.12), and the description as one who “taught the people knowledge…and set in order many proverbs” (12:9b). So going forward I will refer to the writer of Ecclesiastes as either that – the writer of Ecclesiastes, or Qoheleth – the Hebrew word translated “the preacher” (Eccl. 1:1), or, of course, Solomon.
And, in the case of critiquing the success rate of temporal things providing eternal satisfaction, I would be hard pressed to imagine the Holy Spirit choosing a more apt candidate than King Solomon. A man who reached the proverbial mountaintop only to find that he had climbed the wrong mountain. This man wasn’t a lazy, slothful man-child sitting in front of his X-Box bemoaning the meaningless of life; this man had it all by worldly standards. Think about it…
- You own a house (or hope to) … he had a kingdom and he reigned over kingdoms (1 Ki. 4:20-21).
- You have, or hope to have, a pretty wife… he had seven hundred of them and three hundred concubines (1 Ki. 11:3).
- You want to be intelligent… God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure (1 Ki. 4:29)
- You want popularity or some measure of notoriety… Solomon was famous and his fame spread well beyond the borders of Israel (1 Ki. 10:1)
So from that platform of personal experience, Solomon, a man who despite his great wisdom committed the dire moral folly of rebelling against God (1 Ki. 11:1-8), and indulged himself in the pleasure he could find under the sun, essentially answers the following question in the Book of Ecclesiastes: is life as meaningless as it seems to be ‘under the sun?’
After the introduction he wrote,
“Vanity of vanities” says the Preacher; “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” (Eccl. 1:2)
This is the introduction to the book. The preacher begins with the “under the sun” conclusion he has found. He sets forth to speak about the “Vanity of vanities”; in other words, he is going to speak about the chief vanity. For example, when we say that Jesus is the Lord of Lords we are asserting that He is the Lord over and above all lowercase “L” lords. If you lived in Old Testament Israel and made reference to the holy of holies you were referring to the specific part of the Tabernacle which, according to that name, was the holiest of all the holy places. And the Qoheleth appears to be speaking about the chief vanity; namely, that all is vanity.
Now when he used the word vanity he was not talking about someone who cannot stop looking at themselves, nor is he using it to speak of a piece of furniture; rather, he is using the word to speak of emptiness. The Hebrew word hebel literally means, “vapor” and it connotes something that’s here and then gone. Transient. Futile. Meaningless. You can see why one of my professors at RTS wore a Snoopy tie whenever the time of year came around for him to teach on the message of Ecclesiastes – you might need a little ‘pick-me-up’ during the exposition. After all, that’s a scary conclusion to form -everything is vanity. And right on the outset of the book the inspired author wants you and I to see it. In typical Hebrew fashion he uses repetition to communicate emphasis, and repeated repetition at that! And then throughout the book he will use that word again and again, thirty five times, so that we don’t miss the point. And that conclusion makes sense if you view life simply “under the sun.” This is the appropriate conclusion for the earthbound perspective.
And there are many in our culture who would agree and say, “I know! I’ve been saying this life is meaningless for quite a while now.” There’s a branch of philosophical thought known as Nihilism that shows up in songs like Bohemian Rhapsody or in Shakespeare’s MacBeth. In the case of the latter, shortly after MacBeth finds out that his wife has died he says the following:
Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
It’s the kind of thinking found in the outworking of evolutionary ethics – that life comes from non life into a meaningless universe and that human beings are simply sophisticated biological machinery that ceases to exist once it ‘shuts down.’ Any attempt to add meaning into the middle of a life that begins and ends in meaninglessness, with a universe that is meaningless, is illogical and futile.
But the inspired writer doesn’t want to leave you there. Vanity is the logical conclusion of life lived under the sun; but he is showing you its meaninglessness so that you don’t waste your time trying to find meaning in it! You can’t stay ‘under the sun’, you have to get over it, and see life ‘under heaven.’ But, lest you or I think, ‘Other things may be meaningless but my pursuit is quite meaningful,’ well, if it’s an under-the-sun pursuit you’re pursuing, the writer of Ecclesiastes wants to help you cart it away, and he will do so by presenting you and I with some cases studies.