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The Hebrew title is Koheleth, which the speaker in it applies to himself (Ec 1:12), "I, Koheleth, was king over Israel." It means an Assembler or Convener of a meeting and a Preacher to such a meeting. The feminine form of the Hebrew noun, and its construction once (Ec 7:27) with a feminine verb, show that it not only signifies Solomon, the Preacher to assemblies (in which case it is construed with the verb or noun masculine), but also Divine Wisdom (feminine in Hebrew) speaking by the mouth of the inspired king. In six cases out of seven it is construed with the masculine. Solomon was endowed with inspired wisdom (1Ki 3:5-14; 6:11, 12; 9:1-9; 11:9-11), specially fitting him for the task. The Orientals delight in such meetings for grave discourse. Thus the Arabs formerly had an assembly yearly, at Ocadh, for hearing and reciting poems. Compare "Masters of assemblies" (see on Ec 12:11, also Ec 12:9). "The Preacher taught the people knowledge," probably viva voce ("orally"); 1Ki 4:34; 10:2, 8, 24; 2Ch 9:1, 7, 23, plainly refer to a somewhat public divan met for literary discussion. So "spake," thrice repeated (1Ki 4:32, 33), refers not to written compositions, but to addresses spoken in assemblies convened for the purpose. The Holy Ghost, no doubt, signifies also by the term that Solomon's doctrine is intended for the "great congregation," the Church of all places and ages (Ps 22:25; 49:2-4).
Solomon was plainly the author (Ec 1:12, 16; 2:15; 12:9). That the Rabbins attribute it to Isaiah or Hezekiah is explicable by supposing that one or the other inserted it in the canon. The difference of its style, as compared with Proverbs and Song of Solomon, is due to the difference of subjects, and the different period of his life in which each was written; the Song, in the fervor of his first love to God; Proverbs, about the same time, or somewhat later; but Ecclesiastes in late old age, as the seal and testimony of repentance of his apostasy in the intervening period: Ps 89:30, 33 proves his penitence. The substitution of the title Koheleth for Solomon (that is, peace), may imply that, having troubled Israel, meantime he forfeited his name of peace (1Ki 11:14, 23); but now, having repented, he wishes to be henceforth a Preacher of righteousness. The alleged foreign expressions in the Hebrew may have been easily imported, through the great intercourse there was with other nations during his long reign. Moreover, supposed Chaldaisms may be fragments preserved from the common tongue of which Hebrew, Syriac, Chaldee, and Arabic were offshoots.
The Scope of Ecclesiastes is to show the vanity of all mere human pursuits, when made the chief end, as contrasted with the real blessedness of true wisdom, that is, religion. The immortality of the soul is dwelt on incidentally, as subsidiary to the main scope. Moses' law took this truth for granted but drew its sanctions of rewards and punishments in accordance with the theocracy, which was under a special providence of God as the temporal King of Israel, from the present life, rather than the future. But after Israel chose an earthly king, God withdrew, in part, His extraordinary providence, so that under Solomon, temporal rewards did not invariably follow virtue, and punishments vice (compare Ec 2:16; 3:19; 4:1; 5:8; 7:15; 8:14; 9:2, 11). Hence the need arises to show that these anomalies will be rectified hereafter, and this is the grand "conclusion," therefore, of the "whole" book, that, seeing there is a coming judgment, and seeing that present goods do not satisfy the soul, "man's whole duty is to fear God and keep his commandments" (Ec 12:13, 14), and meanwhile, to use, in joyful and serene sobriety, and not abuse, the present life (Ec 3:12, 13).
It is objected that sensual epicurism seems to be inculcated (Ec 3:12, 13, 22, &c.); but it is a contented, thankful enjoyment of God's present gifts that is taught, as opposed to a murmuring, anxious, avaricious spirit, as is proved by Ec 5:18, compare with Ec 5:11-15, not making them the chief end of life; not the joy of levity and folly; a misunderstanding which he guards against in Ec 7:2-6; 11:9; 12:1. Again, Ec 7:16; 9:2-10, might seem to teach fatalism and skepticism. But these are words put in the mouth of an objector; or rather, they were the language of Solomon himself during his apostasy, finding an echo in the heart of every sensualist, who wishes to be an unbeliever, and, who, therefore, sees difficulties enough in the world around wherewith to prop up his wilful unbelief. The answer is given (Ec 7:17, 18; 9:11, 12; 11:1, 6; 12:13). Even if these passages be taken as words of Solomon, they are to be understood as forbidding a self-made "righteousness," which tries to constrain God to grant salvation to imaginary good works and external strictness with which it wearies itself; also, that speculation which tries to fathom all God's inscrutable counsels (Ec 8:17), and that carefulness about the future forbidden in Mt 6:25.
The Chief Good is that the possession of that which makes us happy, is to be sought as the end, for its own sake; whereas, all other things are but means towards it. Philosophers, who made it the great subject of inquiry, restricted it to the present life, treating the eternal as unreal, and only useful to awe the multitude with. But Solomon shows the vanity of all human things (so-called philosophy included) to satisfy the soul, and that heavenly wisdom alone is the chief good. He had taught so when young (Pr 1:20; 8:1); so also; in Song of Solomon, he had spiritualized the subject in an allegory; and now, after having long personally tried the manifold ways in which the worldly seek to reach happiness, he gives the fruit of his experience in old age.
It is divided into two parts—Ec 1:1-6:10 showing the vanity of earthly things; Ec 6:10-12:14, the excellence of heavenly wisdom. Deviations from strict logical methods occur in these divisions, but in the main they are observed. The deviations make it the less stiff and artificial, and the more suited to all capacities. It is in poetry; the hemistichal division is mostly observed, but occasionally not so. The choice of epithets, imagery, inverted order of words, ellipses, parallelism, or, in its absence, similarity of diction, mark versification.
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