The most famous examples of ‘wisdom literature’ are found in the Bible. The following Biblical books are classified as wisdom literature, the Book of Job, Psalms, the Book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs.
The Book of Ecclesiastes author is Solomon and it’s a book filled with failures and pessimism. We might even call it ‘the book of pessimism’. It furnishes us with some of the most pessimistic literature to be found in the Bible.
David’s life had been hard and difficult. He was constantly on the run from Saul. With the death of Saul, David still did not have complete control of all of the kingdom of Israel. It would take seven more hard years before he finally was accepted as the king over all of Israel.
Yet he could write a book like Psalms and write about joy and praise. He once wrote I was glad when they said unto me let us go up to the house of the Lord. David’s viewpoint was, ‘This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.’ Psalm 118:24.
There is a vast contrast between David and his son Solomon. Solomon seemed to be just the opposite in character of his father. With the coming of David’s death, it had already been decreed that his son Solomon would become the next king.
Solomon swings into action. The period of his reign, 40 years, proved to be the most peaceful time in Israel’s history. Immediately he gives every indication he was going to make a good king to rule over Israel. He became the most powerful and richest ruler in the world. In his early life, he had asked God to give him wisdom to rule his father’s kingdom. God’s answer is found in 1 Kings 3:11-13.
How could he change so dramatically in his personal outlook on life? He had everything he could possibly want from worldly things. How could he end up being such a pessimistic and disappointed man considering what all he had when he started out as the king of Israel and with all the blessings God gave him?
At the close of his life, his observation of life was, ‘The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem’. Ecclesiastes 1:1. He presents himself as a ‘Teacher’ or a ‘Preacher’ who is revealing the delusion of finding happiness in this life with just earthly things. One of the wisest and humblest prayers ever uttered is that of the young man Solomon, 1 Kings 3:9-10.
When we read through Ecclesiastes, we can’t help but ask, how on earth could a man as wise as Solomon become so foolish? How could a man so high, yet so humble, become so foolish? How could a man so rich become so poor? How could a man who asked for the right thing, become so wrong?
In Ecclesiastes, we read of Solomon’s experiments in the laboratory of life. He never found the satisfaction he was looking for. He ends up with his priorities all in the wrong places. He forgot the very God who had blessed him so richly and turned to detestable heathen gods who could do absolutely nothing for him. His harem led to his downfall.
Ecclesiastes is a very ancient book in many respects but it is more up to date than tomorrow’s newspaper. This is because its theme is ages old and unchanging. Its age speaks to our age in a most relevant way.
The problems considered in this book are the same problems that modern-day Britain faces every day. Customs, lifestyles and pleasures remain the same as they were in Solomon’s age. And so, the message applies as much to us as it did to those who lived in Solomon’s age. Human nature has always remained the same at every age and will continue to repeat these mistakes of life.
He was searching for what he considered the supreme good. What would give him the most pleasure in his life? What would give him the most excitement? He turned inward. What will satisfy me the most rather than what will bring the greatest amount of glory to God? It was the trap so many fall into today. It’s all about me with no room left for a gracious and loving God.
He was searching for what is worldly supreme. This search has been conducted by countless thousands. He sought everything he could lay his hands upon. He yielded to every fleshly and sensual impulse. If happiness could be found in earthly things then it would not elude him for, he tried everything he thought would bring him great satisfaction and happiness in his life.
Wisdom. Ecclesiastes 1
Pleasure. Ecclesiastes 2
Power And Prestige. Ecclesiastes 3
Fleshly Indulgence. Ecclesiastes 4-5
Riches And Wealth. Ecclesiastes 6
Reputation. Ecclesiastes 7
If we will look closely, we will probably see ourselves somewhere in this list of things Solomon sought so hard to find happiness in. Yet all resulted in failing to give him the pleasure and satisfaction he wanted so badly. Solomon was searching for supreme pleasure.
This search has been conducted by countless thousands. Few have been able to pursue it as thoroughly as did Solomon. Being king, and the richest man alive, he was in a position to experiment with anything he chose to do.
Few have been able to pursue it as thoroughly as did Solomon. He revelled in everything he could lay his hands on. Each thing he tried he tried to the fullest extent. He revelled in everything he could lay his hands upon. He yielded to every fleshly and sensual impulse. If happiness could be found in earthly things then it would have eluded him for, he tried everything that human wisdom said would bring happiness.
His actions in searching for the supreme good remind us of acts in a play where we are permitted to watch as he goes from one thing to another only to be disappointed. It never gives him the happiness he thought it would bring.
Instead, he concludes, ‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Everything is meaningless!’ Ecclesiastes 12:8. This sentence becomes the theme of his book and is repeated more than a dozen and a half times. Solomon was seeking in the wrong places. He should have been seeking the joy that can be found in the Lord.
Everything is meaningless. Ecclesiastes 1:1-11
Life Under the Sun. Ecclesiastes 1:12-6:12
Life Under God. Ecclesiastes 7:1-12:8
Conclusion. Ecclesiastes 12:9-14
Please remember as we go through this book that Solomon is nearing the end of his life, he is focusing a lot on death but, he along with most people of the Old Testament had no real concept of the afterlife. We should remember that, even if he was the wisest man of his day, Solomon was not omniscient. There were things which even he didn’t know because God hadn’t yet revealed them.
In other words, when he writes later, ‘’or the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing,’ Ecclesiastes 9:5, Solomon was merely expressing the view of death commonly held among his people in his day. But, when we examine the Old Testament Scriptures it becomes clear that, even among God’s ancient chosen people, Israel, there was no clear understanding of, or belief in, life after death.
The Covenant enacted as Sinai related to their manner of life in an earthly ‘Promised Land’. This is quite evident in the Commandment ‘Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you,’ Exodus 20:12, declares that parents were to be honoured, in order, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.
This instruction, with its promise, is also repeated in the Psalms. See Psalm 37, for example, and look particularly at the following verses, Psalm 37:3 / Psalm 37:9 / Psalm 37:11 / Psalm 37:22 / Psalm 37:28 / Psalm 37:34.
A fact, that we are inclined to overlook, is that, in the Covenant, which God made with His people at Sinai, there is no mention of blessings in a life hereafter and certainly no mention of Heaven. The blessings promised to those who kept the Covenant were related to this present life; namely longevity and posterity. A long life in the earthly ‘homeland’, Palestine, and someone to carry the family name forward.
Consequently, the Old Testament reveals that God’s people of that period had a very simple, one might almost say simplistic, view of life, with a philosophy which declared, ‘do good, and God will bless you with prosperity and longevity in the Land which He has promised to His people. But do evil, and you will be punished.’
The effect of this belief was that when a person experienced hardship or adversity in his life, people believed that he was being punished by God because of some wickedness in his life. On the other hand, when one prospered, his prosperity was taken as proof of divine approval and blessing.
Well, of course, it would be fine if life were that simple. But we know and they also were forced to recognise, that it doesn’t always, work out that way! Often the wicked seem to prosper in this life, even to the extent of seeming to escape punishment for their wickedness, whilst those who try to live good lives often have to face severe hardship. This is what comes out very clearly in Psalm 73, where the writer struggles with this very dilemma.
Therefore, gradually it was revealed to the Hebrews that, because the wicked often escape being called to account for their wickedness in this life, there will be a time and a place where the balance will be redressed and justice will be done.
Because God is the Righteous God, the wicked must, and will, be punished, and the righteous will be vindicated, if not in this life but certainly in the afterlife. And yet, as the New Testament scriptures reveal, even in the days of the Lord Jesus, the puzzling question of death and what lies beyond, hadn’t been completely resolved and was still fiercely debated among the various religious parties.
The Pharisees firmly believed in both a future life and a Judgment whilst the Sadducees rejected both. It was the Lord Jesus Himself who ‘brought life and immortality to light, through the Gospel,’ 2 Timothy 1:10. He brought it to light, He drove away the mists and doubts which had engulfed it for so long. And He did it, both by His teaching and His own resurrection from the dead.
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