With a retrospective survey of life, they can helpfully share with us what they have experienced, to help us live a truly good life. That’s what Solomon provides for us in Ecclesiastes – wise advice on how to live the good life, with words that are ultimately from the one Shepherd (Ecclesiastes 12:11).
Though his name isn’t mentioned, there is internal evidence that Solomon is the preacher who wrote Ecclesiastes. Solomon was known for his wisdom (1:16), his many servants and great wealth (2:7-8), and some of the pathetic reflections of this book seem to reflect a spiritually barren period of his life (cp. 1 Kings 11). And the author is identified as “the son of David, king in Jerusalem” (1:1,12).
The main purpose in speaking of his kingship, though, is to emphasize that when he experienced the things of which he speaks in Ecclesiastes, he sat on the throne at the pinnacle of human greatness. He didn’t go through life having been dealt a bad hand from the world. No, Solomon had it good. These are not the words of a poor, lazy complainer. These are the words of great King Solomon. And with his great wisdom, and education, and wealth, and power, and pleasure, he looked back and said, “It’s all vanity”. An interesting perspective, to say the least. We need to listen to this man’s counsel now, to learn wisdom while young in the faith so we that we don’t miss the road.
And Ecclesiastes is wise counsel. Get the right perspective on Ecclesiastes from the outset so that you can benefit from its right perspective on life. This book is not giving us the confessions of a bitter and disillusioned old cynic – it is giving us wisdom. The preacher has learned that life is full of mysteries, that the world isn’t always fair, and we will all be afflicted by circumstances over which we have no control. If you think wisdom is fully understanding all of God’s good purposes in everything going on in planet earth right now – sort of like a special insight into the inside story – then think again. Life will disappoint you at times and you will be left wondering why it’s gone sideways. Ecclesiastes is up front about that. But it is also teaching us how, amidst the sorrows and surprises, we can still live a life of value; still have joy; and still trust God.
- J. I. Packer has said that God’s “gift of wisdom is to make us more humble, more joyful, more godly, more quick-sighted as to His will, more resolute in the doing of it and less troubled (not less sensitive, but less bewildered) than we were at the dark and painful things of which our life in this fallen world is full” (Knowing God, Hodder & Stoughton, 1975, p.117). That’s what Ecclesiastes gives us – wisdom to live the truly good life under God.