The book of Ecclesiastes, likely written by King Solomon, the wisest man ever (I Kings 10:23) is a curious book. It’s essentially his ponderings into the age-old question, “What is the meaning and purpose of life?”
In this regard, Ecclesiastes records the meanderings of Solomon’s stream of consciousness. It bizarrely bounces between doubt and faith, along the way being fatalistic, pessimistic, skeptical, and rational, but yet still respectful of God.
As such, it takes on a decidedly dreary tone, but those who stick with its reading are rewarded with a fitting and profound conclusion, which ends the final chapter (Ecclesiastes 12:9-14).
A reoccurring theme throughout is that “all is vanity,” of which Solomon despondently laments. Yet he works his way through this, ending up focusing on God as his final answer.
The Song of Solomon, also called the “Song of Songs,” was written about King Solomon. It’s content is perhaps a bit too explicit for some people’s sense of appropriateness and certainly not what many would expect to find in the Bible.
On the surface, it is a frank poem exalting courtship, sexual desire, and marriage. On a deeper level it becomes a metaphor for the love and yearning that Jesus has for his followers and his desire and longing to connect with them on an intimate spiritual level.
In the gospels, Jesus sometimes metaphorically calls himself the bridegroom; his followers are implied to be his bride (John 3:29, Mark 2:19-20, and Luke 5:34-35).
When Solomon dedicated the temple, the people praised God with much fanfare and then something strange happened.
A cloud formed – inside the building. But there’s more. “The Glory of the Lord filled the temple.” It became so intense that the priests couldn’t even work; God’s presence was that strong. It was extreme.
They became overwhelmed with God’s presence and his glory. But what exactly does that mean?
- It could be the awe of God engulfed them to such an extent that nothing else mattered.
- It could be that fear of being so close to God effectively paralyzed them.
- It could be the cloud was so thick – that is, God’s presence was so heavy – that they literally couldn’t see what they were doing, or
- It could be that with God in the house nothing else mattered.
Regardless of the explanation, we can conclude that God’s presence was so significant that all activity ceased.
Can you imagine worshiping God and collectively feeling his presence to such an extent that all the singers stop singing and all the musicians stop playing? Silence fills the room and nothing else matters. Then the highest form of worship becomes to simply do nothing and bask in his presence.
Have you ever been that overwhelmed with the glory of God?
In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon does a lot of whining.
(Don’t get bogged down by his negativity, for he eventually provides some reliable insight in the book’s concluding verses.)
Overall I find it easy to dismiss Solomon’s complaining, but one of his laments does make sense to me. He grumbles about leaving an inheritance to someone who didn’t earn it and doesn’t deserve it.
That’s not fair! And we all want what’s fair, don’t we?
Through Jesus, we receive something we didn’t earn and don’t deserve: eternal life.
That’s not fair either, but I’m not complaining.
[Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, Ecclesiastes 2:21, Romans 6:23]
The book of Proverbs in the Bible has 31 chapters. They are organized as follows:
- Chapters 1 to 9: Solomon’s personal instructions to his son (or sons). [Proverbs 1:8]
- Chapters 10 to 24: More wise sayings (proverbs) of Solomon. [Proverbs 10:1]
- Chapter 24:23-34: A brief collection of proverbs from other sources. [Proverbs 24:23]
- Chapter 25-29: An apparent addendum, added by King Hezekiah’s men, but understood to have been from Solomon. [Proverbs 25:1]
- Chapter 30 and 31: Two appendices by other people that fit the book’s overall theme: the sayings of Agur [Proverbs 30:1] and the sayings of King Lemuel [Proverbs 31:1], followed by an epilogue, about the wife of noble character [Proverbs 31:10], which is perhaps the most familiar passage in the entire book.
Earlier I wondered if Job was real person or a fictional character. Despite support for both perspectives, my conclusion was that it doesn’t really matter. We can learn from him regardless if his life is a fictitious or historical account.
Another debated question, which is without definitive answer, is when was Job written? While some say that it was an early book of the Bible — perhaps even the first — this conclusion is more speculative than evidentiary.
Regarding this, let me make two observations:
1) There are significant thematic parallels between the books of Job and Ecclesiastes, specifically regarding the brevity of life and futility of living.
2) The books of Job and Song of Solomon have a similar construction, which is not found anywhere else in the Bible. Each is heavy in dialogue — almost exclusively so — reading like a screenplay.
The books of Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon were both written by King Solomon. Because the book of Job shares a similar construction and theme, perhaps Solomon also wrote Job.
Knowing when Job was written doesn’t really matter, but it is an intriguing thought to consider that perhaps King Solomon is the author.
The young girl gazes out into the desert; something is coming towards her. It is Solomon, her lover, traveling by carriage. He is accompanied by a protective band of weapon wielding warriors, tested and poised for whatever threat awaits them. With Solomon — and his army — she will be protected.
In a spiritual sense, this is how it is with God and us. He is coming towards us; with him, we will be protected. (That doesn’t mean there won’t be risks as we journey with him, because there will.) We will also be afforded a band of warriors, ready to battle on our behalf. In the spiritual realm, this is an army of angels.
Centuries later, Jesus tells Satan, “Don’t you know that I could ask my Father, and right away he would send me more than twelve armies of angels?”
While we might not see angels, we have good reason to believe that they are nearby, ready to protect us from both physical threats and spiritual foes.
Our God, who loves us, will make sure we are protected.
[Song of Solomon 3:6-8, Matthew 26:53]
In the Song of Songs, the girl reveals something personal. She is self-conscious about the dark tones of her skin (from spending too much time in the sun, she says). She doesn’t want others to stare.
Yet the friends in this story want to do just that. They admire her uniqueness and ask to gaze upon her. This is ironic; the exact thing that makes her uncomfortable, others admire.
More significantly, is that her lover desires to do the same. He says, “Show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.” His love for her is revealed through his desire.
While this human love story between a man and a woman is wonderful and inviting, the underlying analogy is of the love story between God and us. By extension, God wants to look at us; he wants to hear our voice!
If this seems strange, know that there is precedent.
You may recall that after Adam and Eve hid from God, that God sought them out, calling “Where are you?”*
I hear the same call to us today.
*Their location was not a mystery to God; he merely wanted them to come to him on their own accord — as he does of us.
[read the passages referenced above]
The Song of Songs (Song of Solomon) is a part of the Bible that is not often read. Even so, three phrases jump out as being very familiar.
The first is “rose of Sharon.” It is a beautiful and valued flower. However, according to some translators, this eloquent phrasing should more correctly be rendered as “crocus.” That just doesn’t carry the same punch.
Immediately following that is another flower reference, “lily of the valley.” Lily of the valley is also a pretty flower, usually a pure white and most delicate in appearance.
What is unclear is if these images refer to the king (implying God) or to his beloved (implying us).
The third phrase is “his banner over me is love.” This harkens to I song I remember singing as a child. Aside from this phrase and a vague recollection of the tune, I can recall no other words to the song, but I think this is what we sang (and there are even hand motions to accompany it!)
Interestingly, all three phrases only occur once in the Bible, in the Song of Songs.
In reading the book of Ecclesiastes there is one section that may be very familiar. It was used as song lyrics and set to music, which the Byrds recorded in 1965.
Compare Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 with the lyrics to Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season).
Songwriter Pete Seeger only added six words to complete the lyric portion of the song. They are the song’s last six words: “…I swear it’s not too late.”
In considering both the passage these words are taken from, as well as theme of the entire book of Ecclesiastes, these six words are an appropriate encouragement to not become bogged down with the issues of life, but to take action…because “it’s not too late.”
Who says rock and roll and the Bible don’t mix?
The song, by the way, became a hit, arguably making it the number one hit song with the oldest lyrics.
Thank you King Solomon; you rock!