Does life have a meaning? I have known some people who would never dare to ask this question. Some of those people are very religious. Yet, there are parts of the Bible that present human deep thoughts and emotions such as grief, anger and confusion. We classify those as wisdom passages in Scripture.
The Book of Ecclesiastes belongs to biblical wisdom books which affirm the principle that says “A man reaps what he sows” (Gal. 6:7) also known as Deuteronomic teaching: “Obey and you will live a blessed life!” Disobedience on the other hand results in suffering and death. In addition to Deuteronomy, the Book of Proverbs is replete with this and similar sayings. The other type of wisdom writings, exemplified in the books of Job and Ecclesiastes, was written to complement Deuteronomic teaching as well as to be a critique of the extremes of generalization that were taught by some teachers.
For centuries Jewish scholars debated whether Ecclesiastes should be apart of the Hebrew Bible. A very conservative rabbi names Shammai was very much at odds with the book’s teaching. In the end, a more progressive rabbi named Hillel prevailed by arguing that a book written by none other than King Solomon must be considered to be inspired. Solomon’s authorship of Ecclesiastes is the traditional view that is still taken seriously by a number of readers and students of the Bible.
Relevant Biblical Passages
- 1 Kings 4:29-34. Solomon’s wisdom became proverbial. While King David was “Israel’s sweet singer,” Solomon was its “master sage.” Does this have anything to do with the fact that David’s life was full of conflicts and wars, while Solomon’s reign was one of peace and prosperity? Which countries were a part of international wisdom movement? (Egypt, Mesopotamia, Canaan).
- 1 Kings 11:9-12. Solomon was led astray because he had forgotten the Source of his wisdom. Is wisdom a spiritual virtue? Does human wisdom have limits?
- Ecclesiastes 12:9-10. In the original Hebrew the word Qohelet “teacher” has the definite article indicating an office (cf. priest, prophet). This word is used 7 times in the Bible and only in this book. It describes a leader of an assembly, a speaker or a teacher. Roland de Vaux wrote: The teaching of wise men was handed down in the gatherings of the elders, in the conversation at festive meals, in the open air at the city gates, in the streets and at the crossroads (Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions, p. 50).
Lessons for Life
The Book of Ecclesiastes should be read in its entirety and in the context of the whole Bible. Its verses should not be quoted out of context. Finally, it is good to remember that Someone greater than Solomon, who was also Son of David, once said: Do not worry about your life! On another occasion he declared: I AM THE WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE (John 14:6).