Ecclesiastes is one of the most fascinating—and hauntingly familiar—books of the Old Testament. The sentiments of the main speaker of the book, a person given the name Qohelet, sound incredibly modern. Expressing the uncertainty and anxieties of our own age, he is driven by the question, “Where can we find meaning in the world?”
But while Qohelet’s question resonates with readers today, his answer is shocking. “Meaningless,” says Qohelet, “everything is meaningless.” How does this pessimistic perspective fit into the rest of biblical revelation? In this commentary Tremper Longman III addresses this question by taking a canonical-Christocentric approach to the meaning of Ecclesiastes.
Longman first provides an extensive introduction to Ecclesiastes, exploring such background matters as authorship, language, genre, structure, literary style, and the book’s theological message. He argues that the author of Ecclesiastes is not Solomon, as has been traditionally thought, but a writer who adopts a Solomonic persona. In the verse-by-verse commentary that follows, Longman helps clarify the confusing, sometimes contradictory message of Ecclesiastes by showing that the book should be divided into three sections—a prologue (1:1–11), Qohelet’s autobiographical speech (1:12–12:7), and an epilogue (12:8–14)—and that the frame narrative provided by prologue and epilogue is the key to understanding the message of the book as a whole.
What is the theological message of Qohelet’s autobiography (1:12–12:7)? Life is full of trouble and then you die.12 people highlighted this
It is as if God is baiting or toying with his human creatures, giving them a desire for something that is well beyond their reach.8 people highlighted this
The person who calls himself Qohelet pretends to be Solomon in order to argue that if Solomon cannot find satisfaction and meaning in life in these areas, no one can. Solomon was the perfect literary foil for his argument. Once the search for meaning is over, the Solomonic persona is dropped, and that is when we see the distance between Qohelet and Solomon widen.6 people highlighted this
Thus, if Qohelet’s lengthy speech is pessimistic and out of sorts with the rest of the OT, why is it included in the canon? Qohelet’s speech is a foil, a teaching device, used by the second wise man in order to instruct his son (12:12) concerning the dangers of speculative, doubting wisdom in Israel. Just as in the book of Job, most of the book of Ecclesiastes is composed of the nonorthodox speeches135 of the human participants of the book, speeches that are torn down and demolished in the end.6 people highlighted this
It is more in keeping with the book as a whole to understand these passages as they have been taken through much of the history of interpretation, that is, as a call to seize the day (carpe diem). In the darkness of a life that has no ultimate meaning, enjoy the temporal pleasures that lighten the burden (5:18–19 [English 5:19–20]).6 people highlighted this