Handbook of Ecclesiastes
Vanity of Earthly Life
Apart from the Sure Hope of Immortality
Exemplified in the Experience Of Solomon
Solomon, author of this book, was the most famous and most powerful king in all the world, in his day, noted for Wisdom, Riches and Literary Attainments (see on I Kings 4 and 9).
Vanity of Vanities: All is Vanity
This is the theme of the book. It embodies also an attempt to give a philosophic answer as to how best to live in a world where All is Vanity. The book contains many things of Superb Beauty and Transcendant Wisdom. Bur its predominant strain is one of Unutterable Melancholy: so different from the psalms.
David, Solomon's father, in his long and hard struggle to build the kingdom, was forever shouting. Rejoice, Shout for Joy, Sing, Praise God. Solomon, sitting in peaceful security on the throne David had built, with Riches, Honor, Splendor, Power, and living in almost Fabled Luxury, was the one man in all the world whom men would have called Happy. Yet his unceasing refrain was. All is Vanity. And the book, a product of Solomon's old age, leaves us with the distinct impression that Solomon was not a happy man. The word "Vanity" occurs 37 times.
"Eternity" (3:11), RV, a more correct translation than AV "World" may suggest the Key Thought of the book. Eternity in the Hearts of Men. In the inmost depths of his nature man has a longing for Things Eternal. But, at that time, God had not revealed
very much about Things Eternal.
In various places in the Old Testament there are hints and glimpses of the Future Life; and Solomon seems to have had vague ideas of it. But it was Christ who Brought Life and Immortality to light (II Timothy 1:10.). Christ, by Resurrection from the Dead, gave the world a mathematical demonstration of certainty of Life beyond the Grave. And Solomon, who lived 1000 years before Christ, could not possibly have the same feeling of Sureness about Life Beyond that Christ later gave the world.
But Solomon saw earthly life at its best. Not a whim but what he could gratify whenever he wanted to. And he seems to have made it his chief business in life to see how good a time he could have. And this book, the result of Solomon's experience, has running though it a note of Unspeakable Pathos, All is Vanity and Vexation of Spirit.
How Can Such o Book be God's Word?
In that God Had the Record Made. Not that all of Solomon's Ideas were God's Ideas (see note on I Kings 11). But the general Self-Evidence Lessons of the book are from God. God gave Solomon Wisdom and Unparalleled Opportunity to observe and to explore every avenue of earthly life. And, after much research and experiment, Solomon concluded that, on the whole, humanity found little solid Happiness in life; and in his own heart he found an Unutterable Yearning for something beyond himself. Thus the book, in a way, is Humanity's Cry for a SAVIOUR.
With the coming of Christ, the cry was answered. The Vanity of life disappeared. No longer Vanity. But Joy, Peace, Gladness. Jesus never used the word Vanity. But talked much of his Joy, even under the shadow of the Cross. Joy is one of the Key Words of the New Testament. In Christ humanity found the Desire of the Ages: Life; Full, Abundant, Joyous, Glorious Life.
In a world where everything passes away, and fails to satisfy, Solomon sets himself to answer the question, What is the solution to life in such a world? A World of Unending Monotony. Solomon's feeling of the vanity, Emptiness and Uselessness of his own vast works. Even Wisdom, which Solomon sought so diligently, and prized so highly, was Disappointing. Pursuits and Pleasures of mankind generally seemed to him to be merely a Striving after Wind. And it was all made worse by the prevalent Wickedness and Cruelties of men.
Interspersed with various observations, bearing on the general theme of the book. Solomon's favorite form of literature was Proverbs. In 7:27, 28, there may be a sidelight on Solomon's harem. He had a thousand women (I Kings 11:1-11). One would guess, from 7:26-28 that he had had some difficulty in holding the faithless ladies of his
court in line.
To his theme question, What is it that it is good for men to do, in a world where All is Vanity. His answer, scattered through the book. is summed up at the close: Eat, Drink, Rejoice, Do Good, Live joyfully with your Wife. Do with your Might what your hands find to do, and, above all, FEAR GOD, keeping your eyes on the Day of Final Judgment. With all his complaints about the nature of creation, Solomon had no doubt as to the Existence and Justice of the Creator, GOD is mentioned at least Forty times in this book.