The Wisdom of Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon
By Don Ruhl
The Book of Ecclesiastes
This is the Bible Book America needs most. Americans are searching for something, but they cannot find it. Solomon searched for something, but he could not find it, until he looked in a certain place, then life became full of meaning. Therefore, do not be surprised to see the contrast between sorrow and joy constantly throughout the Book of Ecclesiastes.
Solomon showed the vanity of everything in which we seek meaning, but along the way he gave hints on where to find meaning, or if we remember the key ingredient, then everything else makes sense. Otherwise, we strive after the wind.
The title of this Bible Book means preacher. The Hebrew word, which first appears in verse 1, refers to one who speaks to an assembly, and in this context that would be a preacher. “Ecclesiastes” is a Latin word, which means the same thing as the Hebrew, but the Greek translation first employed a similar word, that is derived from the same word for which we translate “church,” which is an assembly.
The Preacher made observations on life. He revealed that we do not gain happiness or fulfillment through the common means, the things done under the sun. This is why you will hear him say constantly that something is “vanity,” or “vanity of vanities,” which occurs about 36 times. The Hebrew word means “vapor” or “wisp of smoke.” One great reason for which all things are vanity is that death comes to all people, regardless of who you are or what you have achieved, “All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust” (Ecc 3.20). “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going” (Ecc 9.10).
The Preacher sought to find happiness and meaning through conventional ways, but each came up empty. He tells us in 1.12–2.16, what he set out to do and how he would do it. Along the way, he discovered many injustices in the world. What shall we do about them? Nothing seems to bring happiness and fulfillment. We cannot stop all the injustices. As we journey with him, he points out what we can do. Here is a taste of one of those things, “Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also, I saw, was from the hand of God. For who can eat, or who can have enjoyment, more than I? For God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man who is good in His sight; but to the sinner He gives the work of gathering and collecting, that he may give to him who is good before God. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind” (Ecc 2.24–26).
The Preacher influenced the writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville. The latter said in his work, Moby-Dick,
The truest of all men was the Man of Sorrows, and the truest of all books is Solomon’s, and Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered steel of woe. “All is vanity.” ALL. This willful world hath not got hold of unchristian Solomon’s wisdom yet.
A Message of Ecclesiastes
He began, saying,
“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher;
“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”
Did he mean we should give up? No, but balance your life, “So I commended enjoyment, because a man has nothing better under the sun than to eat, drink, and be merry; for this will remain with him in his labor all the days of his life which God gives him under the sun” (Ecc 8.15). “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has already accepted your works” (Ecc 9.7).
We can enjoy life and the things of life, if we do not make more out of them than intended. Ecclesiastes 3.1–8, which was turned into a song by the Byrds, shows the proper balance. Life will never be always up or always down. After his observations in 3.1–8, he then wrote, “What profit has the worker from that in which he labors? I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God” (Ecc 3.9–13).
The Song of Solomon
Most music speaks of love. The Bible does not shy away from such a deep part of our humanity. The Song of Solomon takes this theme and shows it between a man and a woman. You will see them painting beautiful pictures of one another, and using vivid images to portray their love for one another. Read 1.2, 5; 2.1, 4, 10–12; 5.6; 6.3, 4.
Interestingly, Solomon and the Shulamite never mention God, except in a passing way in 8.6 in some translations. Why then would the Song be included in the Bible? God does not have to be mentioned in every sentence for us to recognize that a work is His. Such is the case with marriage and marital love. God created marriage. Therefore, it makes sense for the Bible to include a Book that speaks highly of the marital love.
A rabbi (Akiva, c. 50–135), said,
Heaven forbid that any man in Israel ever disputed that the Song of Songs is holy. For the whole world is not worth the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the Writings are holy and the Song of Songs is holy of holies.