Monday, 5 December, 2022

The teaching of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes

Reverend Martin Adhikary

The teaching of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes

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The book of Ecclesiastes, one of the Wisdom books in the Old Testament, appears to be the only philosophic book in the Bible. Most Biblical scholars agree that the author of this book is the Prophet-king Solomon, son of King David. He reigned over the people of ancient Israel from Jerusalem. There are many verses in the book itself that suggest that Solomon, the Wise king of Israel wrote this book. “The words of the Teacher (Hebrew word for teacher is ‘Qoheleth’), son of David, king in Jerusalem” and “I, the teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem” and many other scriptures suggest the same. “ I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them . . . I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flock than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers and a harem as well—the delights of the heart of man. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me. I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind, nothing was gained under the sun” (2: 4-11). Only Solomon could fit this description. The author is here like a teacher and preacher. According to the historical book of I Kings 3:12 God gave Solomon wisdom. Solomon asked God for a discerning heart and God gave his that. He did not ask God for power, influence and prosperity. A clear description about this is provided in I Kings 3. But we must not forget that according to the Biblical narrative Solomon disobeyed God in many ways. He had too many wives. He led Israel to apostasy through unprecedented way of idolatry.

However, king Solomon’s wisdom spread all over the known world in his time.

 This book talks about the futility of material gain, pleasure and worldly enjoyment. The word ‘vanity’ is used about thirty-three times in the book.  Nothing is new under the sun or under the sky, it repeatedly says. Everything will pass away.

There is great deal of wise sayings from Solomon in different Wisdom books, like the Proverbs, and like this book too. He said great and profound words of wisdom that are of practical significance, even for our mundane life.

Towards the end of this book he preached that human life is meaningless without God’s blessings. So we are supposed to give our praises to God in everything that we enjoy in this world. It is of great worth what he said in the conclusion of the book of Ecclesiastes: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments for this are the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” We do well to pay heed to what he says in 7:29: “This only have I found: God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.” How true? Human beings cannot by all their achievements and intellectual abilities can get ultimate or enduring meaning or significance. we cannot make any fundamental transformation into our lives. “Whatever exists have already been named , and what man is has been known; no man can contend with one who is stronger than he. The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone?” Human wisdom cannot solve all of human problems. “Wisdom is better than weapons of war’ but one sinner destroys much good.”  For successful and meaningful life we need to be prudent in all our ways; and we need to keep God’s commandments for justice and peace. We have our limits. We must not forget this truth. This book teaches us how to live our lives meaningfully and joyfully as the crown of God’s creation. For this we ought to place God at the centre of our life, revere him in all our ways trusting and obeying him. The book repeatedly says ‘everything is meaningless, vain’ under the sun or under the sky. So, where we can get meaning to our life? We can get meaning of our life only when we can look beyond the sun, beyond the sky, by looking to the Creator, God who is all in all.


The writer is a Christian theology teacher and church leader