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Ecclesiastes is a very peculiar book in the Bible. Some more sensitive Christians may even feel a little awkward reading Ecclesiastes due to its apparent pessimism and negativity.

The reason for this feeling is often because we do not realize that God’s revelation has a historical order, a hierarchy, and a structure. If we mistakenly think of the whole Bible as a series of flat, side-by-side books, thinking that these volumes present independent, parallel lessons without hierarchy or structure, we may feel that the negative worldview and view of life in Ecclesiastes seems out of place compared to the truth revealed in the New Testament, and thus become confused or even resentful.

But Ecclesiastes is a “diagnosis” of people’s problems, not a “prescription“.

Therefore, there is no obvious salvation or gospel in Ecclesiastes. What Ecclesiastes reveals is the confusion and problems of life faced by the children of Adam in a world tainted by sin. Everyone has some of these confusions and problems in their life experience, but if they are written from the experience of a random person, how can others be convinced? We may think that the author’s experience is his own particular experience, and that his negative perception of life in the world is due to his wrong attitude, or even that he is only pessimistic because of his own incompetence.

However, God knows that man needs this “diagnosis”, lest he have any illusions or illusions about the true picture he is facing.

Qualifications of the preacher

The word “ecclesiastes” means “preacher”. Who can be qualified for being such a preacher? In order to give this “diagnosis” its absolute and universal character, God chose a special person, who was unique among all people and had the necessary qualifications. If there was only one person in the world who could convincingly write the book of Ecclesiastes, it would be this person.

The man was Solomon, the king of Israel in its prime. His qualifications included:

1. The only man who received wisdom directly from God (not as a natural talent he was born with, but a special wisdom given to him as a gift directly by God specifically and exclusively when he was already an adult).

2, The greatest king in the most prosperous period of a kingdom, not under one man.

3, Possessed what a man can possibly have and enjoy: power, wealth, wisdom, ability, honor, reputation, intellect, knowledge, beauty, love, and pleasure.

Thus, when such a man finally says, “vanity, all is vanity,” – “emptiness, or is emptiness,” all people in the world should stop and think about it.

Ecclesiastes and Wisdom

In a sense, Ecclesiastes is a test set by God in a specially predestined person, in order to reveal the truth of the world that is fallen and of man that is corrupt by sin. Ecclesiastes is not the final conclusion that God wants man to draw about the nature of his life and his relationship with God, but rather to show him that without the gospel of salvation in Christ, hidden in Ecclesiastes but revealed in the New Testament, all of man’s experiences in the world are empty. If a person has a different conclusion about the world and life, it is only because he has not experienced and seen the substance behind its surface.

Ecclesiastes is to some extent the opposite of Proverbs – another wisdom book in the Bible, even though the author of both books is the same person, namely Solomon. Yet both books are used by God as a revelation to man.

The revelation in Proverbs is of a king’s son who is in a situation defined by various relationships, accountable to God, to the kingdom, to his parents, to family, to neighbors, to all people, and to himself. There, “the meaning of life” is not a proposition that this son needs to explore in depth. His identity and relationships are already presupposed to give meaning to his life. He must have the wisdom to walk in the circumstances God has given him, which is his responsibility and the value of his life.

But in Ecclesiastes it is an independent man, a man who thinks and explores alone, with no pre-assumed responsibility and relationship. God was still there, and this man knew it, and did not turn away from God, but this man made a thorough inquiry into the meaning of life within the boundaries that God had measured to him, without the constraints of other assumptions.

Some people think that Proverbs was written by Solomon when he was still wise, while Ecclesiastes was written by him when he lost his wisdom in his old age. This is a misunderstanding of the Word of God, and of the work of God in Solomon.

God did not cover up the mistakes that Solomon made in his later years. However, God separated those mistakes from Ecclesiastes. So we should not despise Ecclesiastes because of the mistakes Solomon made in his later years.

Solomon, who wrote Ecclesiastes, was the very one who not only received the wisdom from God, but also retained and applied it (“My wisdom remains,” 2:9). It was his wisdom that enabled him to judge all things that he had seen in his life on earth. This is the wisdom given by God, reaching a conclusion by seeing the world and man through this man Solomon’s eyes (and not God’s own eyes) before the gospel in Christ was revealed.

He tried all things under the sun, and tested all things that were generally thought to be able to satisfy and please man, and all means by which he could enjoy them by human power.

As a result of this test, he found everything to be a vanity, a troubling vanity. All the efforts of man to possess earthly things for his own pleasure, in whatever way and to whatever extent they are carried out, end in nothingness. Life is like a corrupt tree, whose roots have worms that cause it to rot and decay.

The pleasures of the human flesh and eyes (both body and soul) do not satisfy a person, this being an objective observation, not a subjective moral admonishment. Even an ideal of ensuring happiness in this world through extraordinary justice (can there be a better ideal than this, as far as man himself is concerned?) cannot be realized either. Evil is there. In such a world, God’s government has not been implemented to ensure man’s happiness here. It is not that God does not govern this world with good and evil with retribution at all. In fact both Proverbs and the actual experience of man on earth tell us that God keeps those who follow His commands. But when the happiness that man seeks is born from “things below” (earthly things), God does not promise to fully guarantee such a hope in such an effort on earth, because He does not invest in such an earthly value system. All of God’s guaranteed investments are ultimately directed toward heavenly things, that is, things above, eternal things. Ecclesiastes does not reveal this truth, but reaches its conclusion on the basis of it as a fact.

Ecclesiastes and the Gospel

Ecclesiastes does not imply the fact that we are dead in sin, nor does it reveal the gospel. Although the preacher points out that there is nothing better in terms of the things around us than to enjoy the things God has given us, this is not the gospel, nor is it the highest law of God for life. After telling about the emptiness of life, the preacher confesses that the fear of the Lord is the whole meaning of man and the basic principle of man’s walk in the world (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

Many people, seeing this relatively positive conclusion of the author of Ecclesiastes, think that this is the gospel preached in Ecclesiastes, and that these words saves a “spiritual face” to Ecclesiastes.

However, that is not the gospel. Those who know the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ know that what is said in Ecclesiastes is not the gospel.

Like the Law, the knowledge of God in Ecclesiastes is only a sheepfold, which God uses to keep the sheep (people) in and keep them safe for a while, until the shepherd comes. But at that time the Shepherd had not yet come. Christ was the Shepherd, and came to this world over a thousand years later after Solomon.

Thus, concerning man’s joy on earth, the conclusion from the test God made on Solomon was definite: The children of Adam, man, could no longer obtain true and permanent joy, as a consequence of sin. Even if there was a little joy, it could not be retained, and by his own power would not make him truly contented.

God did not give the book of Ecclesiastes for the curious to know the interesting story of what happened to this particular man, Solomon, but to tell the true story of all mankind with Solomon as a “sample” who sets the highest standard who places everyone else under the bar as far as human accomplishment is concerned. He is the king of human experience.

This being the experience of the king, “…what else can those who come after the king do? even that which has been already done.” (Ecclesiastes 2:12).

If we understand this conclusion of God through Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes, we will be more thankful for the salvation we have in Christ.

Because it is true that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

…Until one day John saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:29).

The Lamb is brand new. Nothing under the sun was like the Lamb of God. But this new One is not born from the earth, but from above – heaven (John 8:23), and though new to the earth, yet it is eternally present in heaven (John 8:58). This new One, though coming to earth, is not part of the affairs under the sun, for He is the true light. Man does not see Him by daylight, but through Him he sees everything.

Compared to Solomon, the Lamb the real King, the King of kings, is worthy of power, riches, wisdom, might, honor, glory, and praise (Revelation 5:13). Solomon had received all these things on earth as far as man could, and not unlawfully so, in view of the status and gifts God had given him. However, his life was finally suspended in the book of Ecclesiastes, under the title of vanity – emptiness. The children of Adam did not prove to be worthy of the true blessing. This was not a subjective condemnation, but an objective conclusion, the result of an experiment with the best sample of this world.

It was the wisdom of Solomon that saw the truth of the emptiness of life.

But today, if we read and understand Ecclesiastes, we will not stop there, but will follow the Lamb, enter into the gospel, and walk in the revelation of the new covenant until the final glory. There is no emptiness there, but the riches of God in Jesus Christ.

“Knowing what is the hope of His calling, and what is the riches of the glory of His inheritance among the saints.” Ephesians 1:18.

Solomon and Paul, preachers of the Old Testament and the New Testament

The book of Ecclesiastes ends with this:

“These things have been heard, and this is the end of the matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments, which are all that man (Adam) has. For God will inquire into all things that men do, even into all things that are hidden, whether they be good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:13-14.

In the English translations of the Bible, “all that a man has” is often translated as “this is the whole duty of man,” which actually weakens the words of the preacher. The preacher’s meaning here is not just a moral obligation, as it seems, but the totality of the value and meaning of man’s life.

The preacher stands at the highest point of man, or you could say the lowest point, and sees life through: the fear of God, the keeping of His commandments, which is all that man has, because in the end, man must have an answer before God, and this answer is not merely one of the various answers of life, but the sum of all that life is, because God is not just a superhuman power just overseeing life; He is the Lord of creation, the source of everything, the way of everything, the beginning of everything, and the end of everything. Outside of God, there is no meaning.

But thank God that His revelation to man did not stop at the book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament.

When it came to the New Testament, God sent another preacher to preach to mankind. This man’s name was Paul. He wrote a book called Romans, which can be said to be the Ecclesiastes of the New Testament. It is a follow-up to the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes.

The first Ecclesiastes was only doubts and questions, suspended in time, resting on the fear of God, but the second Ecclesiastes (Romans) is the answer in Jesus Christ, and goes on to last forever.

Did not Solomon say that everything in man is in the fear of God? This may sound positive, but in reality does not solve the problem, because can man truly fear God?

Paul, however, said:

“There is no fear of God before their eyes. Now we know that whatever the things the law says, it speaks to those under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world be on the judgment of God. Therefore by works of law no flesh shall be justified before him; for by law is only the knowledge of sin.” Romans 3:18-20.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; but now by the grace of God they are justified freely through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:23-24.

Again, we see that the book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament is not the gospel, but the awakening of man in wisdom. Jesus Christ is the gospel of mankind. But we need to be awakened first before we can hear and accept the gospel. For this reason, we thank God for giving us the first Ecclesiastes as a warning, and the second Ecclesiastes (the book of Romans) as an answer.