Author: Solomon. Specifically, Solomon at the end of his life. This is a drastic contrast between Solomon in the early years of his kingship when he wrote Song of Solomon or during the height of his reign when he likely wrote most of the Proverbs. Instead this is a King Solomon who has fallen into idolatry thanks for his 700 wives and 300 concubines and he is now questioning the meaning of life.
Date: This was likely written at the very end of Solomon’s life, making it around 930 BC.
Two interpretations of Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes is not a very cheerful book. Perhaps because of this there are varying views on why the book was written and what it means. One view is that Solomon doesn’t really believe what he is writing and instead is playing “devil’s advocate.” This view says that Solomon is attempting to get people to think about the real meaning of life by dismissing commonly held views on life.
The other view is that this book is really autobiographical in nature. Solomon has lived a full life and has experienced every pleasure imaginable. And yet as he reflects upon all that he has seen and done, he finds no pleasure in any of it. As he views his life at the end, he is afraid that all of his accomplishments have been pointless and that he will not be remembered as a man.
The Conclusion of the Matter
Ecclesiastes ends on a more positive note. After finding no meaning in everything in life it is summarized that one should fear God and follow Him. An optimist will say that after viewing everything in life and finding it meaningless, Solomon finally realizes that God is the only real meaning in life. Solomon thus repents of all the vain things that he wasted his life on.
Others maintain that the end of the book was not written by Solomon. It is possible that the ending was added by another author who decided that Solomon’s summary of life was too depressing and a positive lesson was added to counterbalance Solomon’s negative example.
While we can’t be certain who penned the closing words to the book, its conclusion is no less true. All of the things that Solomon found to be meaningless at the end of his life truly didn’t matter in the view of eternity. Instead, all that truly matters in life is whether one lives their life righteously and in fear of the Lord.
Key themes in Ecclesiastes
There are three phrases that are repeated numerous times in the book of Ecclesiastes:
- Life is meaningless – used 34 times
- Nothing new under the sun – used 29 times
- A chasing after the wind – used 7 times
Key verse in Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes 2:11 – note that this verse contains all three key phrases in it:
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.