It would seem Song of Solomon was written when Solomon was a young man, Proverbs in his middle age, and many would see Ecclesiastes being written in his later life. That it was written by Solomon is seen in the opening verse: “The words of the Teacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem” (Ecclesiastes 1:1 NET). Although some question Solomon’s authorship, if we accept this as being from the Holy Spirit, then it must be a son of David who was king, and the internal evidence fits Solomon well.
Like many who reach an older age, Solomon seemed to be disillusioned with life. Notice what he says: “‘Futile! Futile!’ laments the Teacher. ‘Absolutely futile! Everything is futile!’” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). He had lived a long life and what was there to show for it? Everything continued as it always had: generations come and go, the sun rises and sets, streams flow into the sea but never fill it, there is nothing new that ever happens. Even what is done will be forgotten in future generations.
“I thought to myself, ‘I have become much wiser than any of my predecessors who ruled over Jerusalem; I have acquired much wisdom and knowledge.’ So I decided to discern the benefit of wisdom and knowledge over foolish behavior and ideas; however, I concluded that even this endeavor is like trying to chase the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 1:16-17).
What follows in this book is Solomon’s search for a meaning in life. Keep in mind his wisdom as well as his wealth and we can easily see that he was in a position to try just about everything life had to offer.
He began by trying pleasure. This included ‘partying’, alcohol, increasing what he owned (things), building projects (houses, gardens, vineyards, even parks). He owned slaves as well as herds of animals and he amassed silver and gold. He had singers to entertain and even a “harem of beautiful concubines” (Ecclesiastes 2:1-9).
“I did not restrain myself from getting whatever I wanted; I did not deny myself anything that would bring me pleasure.…Yet when I reflected on everything I had accomplished and on all the effort that I had expended to accomplish it, I concluded: ‘All these achievements and possessions are ultimately profitless—like chasing the wind! There is nothing gained from them on earth.’” (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11)
He went on to examine wisdom (Ecclesiastes 2:12-17) and even being a ‘workaholic’ (Ecclesiastes 2:18-21). He spent considerable time look at various aspects of work (Ecclesiastes 4) and wealth (Ecclesiastes 5). He had some good, memorable observations: there is a time for doing and time for not doing (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8) and it was good to enjoy life (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13). But his conclusion to each of these examinations was the same: “This also is profitless and like chasing the wind” (Ecclesiastes 4:16). A meaning to life, a purpose in living, is not found in anything material, anything worldly.
When we reach the end of the book we find the conclusion to his search. “Rejoice, young man, while you are young, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes, but know that God will judge your motives and actions” (Ecclesiastes 11:9). In other words, live knowing that we will have to answer to God.
We need to remember who God is – our Creator – when we are young, before we become old. If we don’t get this right, life will be meaningless (Ecclesiastes 12:1-8). “Having heard everything, I have reached this conclusion: Fear God and keep his commandments, because this is the whole of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). This, Solomon wrote, is what gives meaning to life.
When we read these words we can have hope that Solomon did return to his senses after being led into idolatry by his many wives and concubines. What is sad is that many today continue to seek meaning for their lives in the same areas that Solomon examined and found to be meaningless. Without God in our lives, we will ultimately arrive at the same conclusion.
Readings for next week: Ecclesiastes 1-12