The poetic, or wisdom, books of the Old Testament speak eloquently of life and provide rich insights into the nature of humanity and of the world. The wise instruction and pithy proverbs ring true and provide much needed perspective, but while this wisdom is often uplifting and encouraging, the full scope of truth encompasses the gritty aspects of reality as much as the sublime.
The wisdom literature reflects an honest picture of the world- of its beauty, but also of its ugliness- and reflects it thoroughly and accurately. Together the poetic books balance optimism and pessimism, yielding vibrant truth that still manages to remain beautiful. They search out, to the extent that wisdom can, the meaning of life and death.
In this study of truth, two of the poetic books, Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes, seem to present opposing views of life. As Song of Songs centers on life in the Garden, and the beauty and good things we have in life, Ecclesiastes speaks of life outside the Garden and the inevitable pain and difficulty we encounter. It is likely that Solomon was the author of both of these books.
The common thread that binds these dichotomous themes together is the idea that eating and drinking and finding enjoyment in one’s work are still championed as gifts of God, and the best experiences we can have in this life. Ecc. 8:6: “For there is a proper time and procedure for every delight, though a man’s trouble is heavy upon him.” Always this idea of blessing and enjoyment is embedded in the understanding that good things must be viewed as gifts from God and not as entitlements.
Amid the stark pictures of human cruelty and corruption painted in Ecclesiastes, that taken alone can make one feel hopeless (e.g., 4:1-6), the author surfaces from his musings to remember God, who shines like a great beam of light through the darkness of broken humanity. Meaning, for which Solomon searches so desperately, cannot be found apart from God. Psalm 127, the authorship of which is also attributed to Solomon, reinforces this theme. God is the great Savior of lost humanity, and He is the true comfort for the pain and devastation that we see and experience.
Ecclesiastes tells us not to be shocked by the evil that we see (Ecc. 5:8). Scripture includes copious teaching on the nature of man, so Christians are not surprised by the presence and display of evil in the world. We are also acquainted with the evil inside ourselves, and so the evil of the world is not unexpected. It causes us look to God for salvation and hope in the world and in our own lives.
Solomon held fast to God’s dominion and sovereignty and summarized Ecclesiastes by urging his readers to remember God throughout their lives. “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person” (Ecc. 12:13). This universal truth, extracted from a world of pain and lost meaning, whispers of eternal significance and the day when all things will be made right.