“Although a sinner does evil a hundred times and lives a long time, I know that it will go better with those who fear God, who are reverent before him” (Ecc 8:12*).
Ecclesiastes is one of the wisdom books in the Old Testament canon. Though it is tempting to take its nuggets of wisdom and read them in isolation from the Scriptures, neither Proverbs nor Ecclesiastes is understood correctly outside their covenant context. The wisdom literature is dependent on the covenant for meaning. The wise man is the one who knows how to fear God and live life as a covenant keeper. When Moses gave the Law a second time to Israel, he told them that obedience to the Law would be their wisdom. He commanded Israel,
“Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’” (Deut 4:6).
After he gave them the Law, he gave them a song which he called his “teaching” because it imparted wisdom (Deut 32:1-47). His words were life.
Specifically, Ecclesiastes instructs the listener how to live in wisdom in this broken world, how to keep the Old Covenant in a world burdened with the common curse. This is not the world Adam was created to fill and rule as the Kingdom of God until it would reach its eschatological sabbath state. The juxtaposition of that common curse reality with the covenant of works under the Old Covenant presents the wise man with a great tension. Under the blessings and curses of the Old Covenant, the obedient are blessed and the disobedient are cursed. But under the common curse, the righteous die in their youth and the wicked live long lives! Solomon is not a cynic for hating this twisted world that is not what God made. He is a Biblical realist. In addition, he looks with hope to the day of redemption when things will be right. There is a redeemer coming. But that does not nullify the serious burden of pain and suffering the wise man endures in this life. Solomon is the teacher, and those who would listen are the wise. Meredith G. Kline sums it up well when he writes,
“… Old Testament wisdom sets forth the general order of divine providence and gives instruction as to the life stance appropriate to Yahweh’s servants living within that world order regulated by his covenants. The exposition of this topic inevitably leads to a pondering of the mystery of the sufferings of God’s servants” (M. G. Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority, p. 65).
*Ecclesiastes is my translation unless otherwise noted.
Meredith G. Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority
Meredith M. Kline, Is Qoheleth Unorthodox?: A Review Article of Tremper Longman, III, The Book of Ecclesiastes
Meredith M. Kline , A Conflicted Qohelet: A Review Article of Peter Enns Ecclesiastes
Meredith M. Kline, Ecclesiastes: Musings of an Unfaithful Solomon? A Review Article of Richard P. Belcher Jr. Ecclesiastes: A Mentor Commentary
I am indebted to Meredith M. Kline for the outline and structure of the book based on the Hebrew.
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Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are from NASB. Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. www.lockman.org
AT indicates my translation
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