The Book of Ecclesiastes reads like a medical journal entry listing the modern day afflictions of the American populace. Boredom, insomnia, anxiety, depression, angst, fear, anger and despair are all outlined. It describes the emptiness of even phenomenal success and wealth. It is the testimony of a thinking person who is self-analytical in looking back at their life accomplishments and deciding they were all pretty much futile. It uses a common Bible teaching technique of encouraging us to learn from the mistakes of others.
We studied the book of Ecclesiastes in our Tuesday night class at the Bible Education Center a few years ago. Ever since that time, I have held a strong theory about this intriguing book. My theory in a nutshell, is that Solomon had a late-life repentance and returned to the worship of the Living God – and this book is a reflection of that. I don’t know if I’m correct, but let me give you some of the things that I see as possible evidence for this concept. Perhaps it will be a good backdrop for you to consider, as we continue reading through Ecclesiastes in the coming days.
We know that the Bible is very clear to tell us that “when Solomon was old; his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father.” 1 Kings 11:4 There is no debate here. Solomon, a man abundantly blessed on all fronts, turned away from God and watered down his worship. Nevertheless, I think it is possible that the inclusion of the book of Ecclesiastes in God’s inspired word, gives us indication that at some later point he may have turned back. It seems to be the late-life reflections of a man with many regrets – exactly what a repentant Solomon would have looked like.
Take, for example, the simple fact that the book is called “Ecclesiastes” – which, according to my Bible notes, is a “Greek translation of the Hebrew Koheleth, a word of uncertain meaning, sometimes rendered Preacher.” So this book starts by claiming to be “The words of the Preacher”. Ecclesiastes 1:1 A powerful son of David – the Preacher – has truths to share – a “gospel” that needs preaching. And as we go on in the book, it sounds very much like the words of an old man who is trying hard to impart wisdom he has gleaned from his own mistakes. He is attempting to convince the reader not to follow in his foolish footsteps. Chapter 12, especially, highlights in a poetical way many of the details of what it is like to be really old – which seems convincing to me that Solomon is speaking from his then-current condition. And here is his famous summary of advice;
The conclusion, when all has been heard, is fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
This does not seem to be the type of advice a still-practicing idolater would give to future generations, does it? It is the advice that a broken man would give – one who sees his life as fruitless other than what was God-oriented. And he is leaving that message of warning for all future generations. “Learn from my mistakes! Fear God alone!”
Let’s also note that the overall theme of the book describes virtually everything as total vanity when God is not in the picture. This certainly would be the assessment of a man who had spent so many years pursuing pleasures and accomplishments that he now sees as completely worthless. He describes his life as a waste of good time given by God for more worthy pursuits.
I’m suggesting that Solomon would look back with regret and chagrin only if he has turned back to God, and now sees his life through God’s eyes. Many an idolater or atheist has died without either such feelings of repentance, or a desire to help others choose a different course. And it seems fitting to me, if indeed he is a man who has repented, that he now takes action in one last gesture to do something right – something righteous. He puts pen to paper and writes a book of warning and direction to those who would follow. He becomes a Preacher – late in life, yes – but not too late.
So I see this as the story of the “Son of David” (v.1) who failed – miserably, really. But in private reflection during the slowed pace and physical frailty of old age, he looks in the end to directing himself and others to God – his last life work. In fact the book even concludes with the (perhaps especially sobering to himself) warning:
For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether good or evil.
It is also interesting to note that at the end of the book of Proverbs, the Preacher calls himself Agur son of Jakeh, and King Lemuel. Now these may be names of actual compilers of the Proverbs – but I wonder if they might be sort of code names Solomon took for himself. Read those chapters and decide if they sound like they could have written by a repentant Solomon. (Especially Proverbs 31 about what a good wife looks like! 😊 ) Perhaps he no longer considers himself worthy of the name Solomon which means “peace” – since his idolatrous example certainly divided the nation.
You see Agur means “gathered” – could this be Solomon – gathered back to people who worship the true God? Agur is the Son of Jakeh, which means “blameless”. Could this be Solomon, now returned as the son of the blameless God? (cp. The theme of Ecclesiastes to the Prodigal Son story) And Lemuel means “for God.” At the end, Solomon returns to being a King For God – perhaps hoping this book would be read by his people so they could return to Him as well.
And then look at Proverbs 30:
Keep deception and lies far from me, Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is my portion, That I not be full and deny You and say, “Who is the LORD?” Or that I not be in want and steal, And profane the name of my God.
This outlines what Solomon did, doesn’t it? He was full and denied God by turning to idols. But now, as the Preacher of Ecclesiastes, he wants to be content with the bare necessities. This sounds exactly like what Jesus says in the passage where he mentions Solomon. Lilies are arrayed far better than Solomon because they do not have the bother and affliction of worry, greed and desire hampering their existence. Lilies are clothed by God Himself. Matthew 6:28-29 Perhaps Solomon had learned that, ”Godliness with contentment is great gain.” 1 Timothy 6:6
Solomon claims for himself the title “Son of David.” This is a title carefully juxtaposed as a theme in Scripture. In the New Testament Jesus/Messiah is the greater Son of David, for which the crowds in Jerusalem shouted:
“…Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!”
It seems fitting that Solomon, the natural son of David (wise though he was in his young days) could never measure up to the later Son of God/Son of David, doesn’t it? Although Solomon was given the great blessing and responsibility of wise leadership of God’s people – he failed. Jesus was the leader who came to show God’s people true worship and salvation. In fact, the Lord Jesus refers to the Queen of Sheba’s amazement at Solomon’s wisdom by saying – “Behold one greater than Solomon is here.” Luke 11:31 Yes, he was – far greater!
So if my theory is correct, it also highlights God’s great willingness to forgive. He has compassion even toward those who seem to be the “chief of sinners” (If Solomon was like the Apostle Paul in thinking of himself in that way.) Solomon, the natural Son of David, built the magnificent Temple to worship God but failed to worship Him himself. He also failed as a King to lead his people to permanent greatness and peace. But he might possibly have succeeded in repenting of these sins and receiving God’s bountiful forgiveness.
He may also have opportunity to fall at the feet of his Father’s greater Son who will sit, steadfast and faithful, on the very throne that Solomon brought into disrepute. The Lord Jesus will usher in a Kingdom of righteousness and never-ending peace (i.e. Solomon). And perhaps there, Solomon will stand at the Judgment with the Queen of Sheba, when he himself is no longer a king “arrayed in all his glory” (Matt. 6:29) Rather he will have been transformed into a servant, prostrating himself at the feet of the glorious King of Kings – Christ Jesus – the Son of David, the Son of Abraham (Matt. 1:1) Perhaps then, Solomon too will join the chorus shouting in reverent awe:
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”