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The Scriptorium

Is That All There Is?

Ecclesiastes 1.1, 2

Ecclesiastes 1.1, 2

1The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
2Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher;
Vanity of vanities; all

The Story: Since Solomon begins this collection of reminiscences, warnings, and exhortations on such a dour note, we might be tempted to think that this – despair and disappointment – is the ultimate theme of the book. But Solomon is not beginning with his conclusion; instead, he is beginning with the primary lesson he wants to convey to his son, Rehoboam: Life apart from God isn’t worth the trouble. Two reasons appear in these verses for thinking, with most of Christian tradition, that the writer here is Solomon. First, he claims as much, since only one son of David was king of all Israel in Jerusalem (v. 12). Second, he refers to himself not by name but by a curious title, “Qohelet.” The NKJV translates this word, “Preacher,” but it is really closer to “Leader of the Assembly” since it derives from the Hebrew verb meaning, “to assemble.” Solomon refers to himself as something like the “worship leader.” Is Solomon, shamed in his old age, harking back to his glory days, when he led all Israel in assembly before God (cf. 2 Chronicles 5-7, and note how many times Solomon is described as “assembling” the people)? Solomon had made a mess of things by the end of his life, but, as we shall see, he seems to have recovered his senses in the end, at least enough to gather together these words of warning for his son, whom he saw making the same mistakes he had during his reign as king.

The Structure: In his old age Solomon, after straying far from God’s purposes, somehow managed to recover his senses and turn again to the Lord (Eccl. 12). He must have recognized the bad example he had set for his son and, by gathering together these words of testimony, exhortation, common sense, and warning, hoped to spare Rehoboam the disappointment and misery which had overcome him. Ecclesiastes is something like a last testament, directed to Solomon’s son, but with timeless words for anyone considering or trapped in a life apart from God and His Truth. The theme of “vanity” will recur in Ecclesiastes as a way of connecting with those who may be tempted to live any part of their lives with a strictly “this world” frame of reference. When we read this phrase we should be cued to understand that Solomon is not speaking about life as God intended it but as men experience it – as he did – while wandering from God and seeking their own way in life (Prov. 14.12). Appropriately, therefore, he begins his meditations at the point that he believes would most likely connect with his son, and with readers from every age: Is there any meaning, any purpose to life?

How would you explain your purpose in life to another believer? Before this day is over, talk with a friend or loved one about why we’re here, what God intends for us, and how we can know more about His reasons for our being. Don’t fail to do this, for this is what Solomon is challenging us to consider in these meditations he has gathered as Ecclesiastes.

Each week’s studies in our Scriptorium column are available in a free PDF form, suitable for personal or group use. For this week’s study, “Vanity of Vanities: Ecclesiastes 1,” simply click here.

T. M. Moore

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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