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Bible Commentaries

Sermon Bible CommentarySermon Bible Commentary

- Ecclesiastes

by Editor - Wiliam Robertson Nicoll


I. There is no book in the Bible which has been so variously interpreted as the book of Ecclesiastes. Some have held that it was written by Solomon in his old age, to prove his penitence, others that he wrote it when he was irreligious and sceptical, during his amours and idolatry, and intended it as a justification of his wickedness. According to some the author of Ecclesiastes teaches that pleasure is worthless, and inculcates the practice of asceticism; while according to others he asserts that pleasure is the chief good, and exhorts men systematically to pursue it. It has been regarded as a disquisition on the summum bonum , as a manual of advice addressed to aspirants for political fame, as a history of the kings of the house of David, as a pasquinade upon the career of Herod the Great.

II. With regard to the authorship of the book, it used to be attributed to Solomon. There is but a single reason for supposing that Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes; namely, that the writer speaks of himself (in Ecclesiastes 1:1 ) as the son of David and as king in Jerusalem, and (in Ecclesiastes 1:16 ) as being celebrated for wisdom above those who had preceded him. These expressions manifestly point to King Solomon, but they do not prove that he wrote the book. They are quite compatible with the alternative that the author had merely assumed the name and personality of Solomon. The author of Ecclesiastes has himself helped us to see that he is but assuming the character of Solomon, for he represents him as belonging to the past. (1) He says, "I was king over Israel." The past tense would be unmeaning in the mouth of the actual Solomon. (2) He compares himself (Ecclesiastes 1:16 ; Ecclesiastes 2:7 ) to all that were before him in Jerusalem. This is an expression which the actual Solomon would not have used, since he had had but one predecessor in Jerusalem. (3) The specification of Jerusalem as the seat of royalty implies the division of the kingdom into two, after which there were two royal residences: one in Jerusalem and one in Samaria. (4) He declares (Ecclesiastes 2:18 ) that his successor, the man who should reign after him, would be an utter stranger; "he might turn out a wise man, or he might just as likely turn out a fool." Solomon would not have spoken thus of his own son. (5) The author of Ecclesiastes does not call himself Solomon, but Koheleth, or, as our version has it, Preacher. The other reputed writings of the actual Solomon bear his name in their opening sentences.

III. There is everything in the book to prove that it was not written by Solomon. (1) The style is poor, quite unworthy of the Solomonic age. Besides, it contains a large number of expressions, chiefly Aramaic, which are never found in Hebrew literature before the time of Malachi. "If Solomon was the author of Ecclesiastes," says Delitzsch, "there is no history of the Hebrew language." (2) Ecclesiastes is saturated, as the Dean of Wells points out, with Greek thought and language. It seems certain that it could not have been written till the schools of Zeno and Epicurus had become prominent and influential; that is, not earlier than 250 b.c. The writer was in all probability a wealthy Jew, who spent his childhood in Palestine and his manhood in Alexandria.

A. W. Momerie, Agnosticism, p. 161.

References: Ecclesiastes 1:1 . R. Buchanan, Ecclesiastes: its Meaning and Lessons, p. 9; T. C. Finlayson, A Practical Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p.13.

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