To many Christians, Ecclesiastes is a very strange read. Throughout the book, Solomon often sounds depressed, incredibly cynical and at times he seems to say blatantly untrue things or Biblically false ideas. On top of all of that, there are times when he seems to contradict himself.
But hiding behind these initial frustrations and confusions lies a wealth of wisdom, insight and truth waiting for us. When we understand the literary genre and the nature of the task Solomon is accomplishing throughout Ecclesiastes, the light bulbs start to turn on with otherwise very dark passages. Wisdom literature graces us with some of the most helpful, beautiful passages in all of Scripture and simultaneously befuddles us with some of the most confusing passages in all of Scripture.
The reason for Solomon’s apparent pessimism throughout the book of Ecclesiastes originates from the nature of the task that he is accomplishing for us. Throughout the book, Solomon walks in a tension of two views of life:
- Life with no view of God.
- Life with God in view.
Solomon spends a majority of Ecclesiastes considering view number 1 which is why it tends to be so pessimistic, cynical and strange sounding. In brief moments throughout the book he expands his view to include God and we get breaths of fresh air. Whenever you find yourself stumped by a verse or a passage in Ecclesiastes, immediately ask yourself the question “Is he describing life with no view of God right now?” This is the case almost every time he is depressed sounding or seemingly wrong.
For example in Ecclesiastes 10:19, Solomon writes:
“Money answers everything.”
At first glance that is blatantly wrong. But here he is describing life with no view of God and saying at a practical level, money is an answer to an incredible amount of problems under the sun. It won’t fix the underlying brokenness but it can certain solve a lot of symptomatic issues. It’s a truism presented in a very specific context of life considered with no view of God.
Practical steps to interpreting Ecclesiastes:
- Spend time praying and meditating on the tough passages asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate them to you.
- Ask yourself the question, “Is he describing life with no view of God right now?”
- If you are still stuck, talk to your LifeGroup and see if you can figure it out together.
- In a pinch, consult commentaries, your LifeGroup coach or someone you know with more biblical knowledge.
Don’t let a confusing statement here or there and a seemingly pessimistic tone limit you from enjoying all that Jesus has to offer us in this book. When it’s the hardest to understand, rely on Jesus’ strength the most. When it seems too murky to press on, pray for Jesus’ light to illuminate it. And together as a family, let’s learn from Jesus through Solomon how to live The Good Life.