Friday, January 24, 2014

CCXXIX – Ecclesiastes

We have just finished the Book of Proverbs, and right before that was the Book of Psalms.  Both of those books were compilations of songs, poems, aphorisms, and wise sayings.  Both were written by different people in different places, and at various times, containing no story line nor placed in any particular sequence.  But now we come to the Book of Ecclesiastes.  In contrast to the two previous books, I believe the Book of Ecclesiastes was written by only one man and in a seldom interrupted session of whatever length of time it may have taken him to finish it. 

The word “Ecclesiastes” is a Hebrew word and is not indicative of the subject matter of the book as much as it describes the writer.  The word means “someone who gathers a group of people together”.  Various English translations include Teacher, Philosopher, and Preacher.  I feel the most appropriate is the word “Philosopher”.  In modern times as in times past, a philosopher is considered a deep thinker who concentrates his thoughts on the matters of life which remain in question by the human race at large. 

Only the serious student will seek to study and gain an understanding of this book.  At first reading it seems to be a complicated book, begging a second reading.  At second reading, the reader might be somewhat confused and perhaps frustrated in his quest for understanding of what this obviously wise author is trying to say.  I will attempt in this opening post to help you understand the mindset of the author, thus enabling you to understand the book.

My precious son, I had always hoped and prayed that you and your sister would be blessed with a higher level of intellect than I, as the higher level of intellect, the easier it is to navigate through life.  I believe those prayers have been answered, as I have observed you both very closely.  Having said that however, in contrast, I believe that I am more capable of understanding this book than either of you.  I say that with confidence because 1. I am twice your age (at the time of this writing); 2. My life experiences have been broader than yours, and 3. I have been a serious student of human nature since my adolescent years, leading me to a multitude of hours in rather “deep thought” concerning many of the subjects addressed in this book of Ecclesiastes.  IMPORTANT NOTE:  I am not placing myself in the company of this author, but rather suggesting that I understand him.

Now, as to the author:  Although the authorship has been under debate for centuries, no one disputes the fact that it took a very deep thinker to write this book.  Many theologians have suggested Solomon as the author and many have disputed that.  I believe strongly that Solomon wrote every word of Ecclesiastes.  I’ve made a number of comments in this entire blog about Solomon.  My comments have been favorable as I have always been a seeker and respecter of wisdom.  But I have been careful in making no pretense of Solomon being a perfectly Godly man his entire life.  He backslid as he became older. We know he had his priorities mixed up just by the lives of his sons.  We also know that he took many pagan wives and concubines, all of which unfavorably influenced his thoughts and actions.  Most of the recorded good works of Solomon took place in his early adulthood.  His wisdom guided him to building a nation both of military superiority and wealth too vast to be measured.  But Solomon was a human being.  Through decades of having accumulated wealth that multiplied wealth, riches no longer had any savor to them.  All of those items became mere trinkets, one item no more unique or precious than the one before.  Solomon was bound to have become bored with them.  With everything at his fingertips for so many years, I believe there would have come a time in his life when he was bored with EVERYTHING.  And I believe it was at this time in his life when he penned the book of Ecclesiastes.

This Book of Ecclesiastes contains reflections and experiences of a powerful and intelligent man whose mind was in conflict over the problems of life.  A man unaccustomed to the inability to solve any problem.  After speaking at length of the disillusionments that had come to dominate his thoughts, he tends to present the view of what many would describe as an “Epicurean Materialist”, that there is no better way to live life than to pursue carnal pleasures at every opportunity.  {I do not subscribe to any of the philosophies of Epicurus.  Epicurus had quite a following.  He dates back to the third century BC and thought he had everything figured out.  Collectively the Pharisees thought they had everything figured out also.  There are even some people today that think they have it all figured out.  They don’t.}  But the writer goes in and out of reality, as his own thoughts reveal their short-comings, compelling him to utter truths about man’s obligations toward God and His commandments.

This book prompts thoughts too numerous to cover in this opening post, but for the sake of promoting understanding, I cannot conclude this introduction without sharing with you one more thought:   As recorded in the New Testament, Jesus has shed much light on “life after death”.  John, Peter, and Paul gave us further knowledge of this subject.  But even with all that has been written, still no one on earth has a complete understanding.  But this much we do know:  In the after-life, God will bring everything and everyone to justice.  The unfairness of this world will be brought into resolve.  We can and should take comfort in this knowledge.  However, one must realize that at the time of the writing of Ecclesiastes, there was no such established knowledge, nor a consensus of thought.  I’m certain that thoughts about it was shared among Godly men and even some deep thinking ungodly men.  But nothing in writing upon which mankind could depend.  With this thought in mind, I find it easy to understand why Solomon brings a lot of his thoughts into question.  Early in this book he brings to mind some things in life that are just not fair.  For example:

·        People work hard but do not enjoy the fruits of their labor.
·        Some people are cruel to others but are not punished for it.
·        Good people suffer while evil people celebrate.
·        The wise, the good, the foolish, and the evil all die and have the same life expectancy in terms of years.

Those are just a few of the injustices Solomon couldn’t help but label unfair.  If we were not knowledgeable of Heaven waiting for us, would we not be equally as frustrated when confronted with these thoughts?

In the next post we will begin our brief journey into this book, beginning with Chapter 1 – The Vanity of Life

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