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What the Bible says about Solomon's Discontent and Frustration
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Ecclesiastes 1:2-3

To a Christian, the book of Ecclesiastes may appear to have a forbidding beginning. It is part of God's Word, but is it true that life is nothing but meaningless trouble and without purpose and value? Does our Creator intend life to be an unremitting stream of frustrations broken only by the blessed relief of death? One may wonder why such a message is even in the Bible. Such thoughts, however, are far from the truth.

The book indicates in a number of places that it was written by Solomon, a man especially gifted by God with understanding and wisdom. In its first verse, the author identifies himself as the son of David and king in Jerusalem. Most commentators believe Solomon wrote it late in his life, following an eventful forty-year reign.

Upon reading Ecclesiastes, many believe that Solomon's outlook on life was decidedly pessimistic despite living in regal glory and with every amenity to make life appealing. Such readers have misjudged him. Once a person understands the reason for his palpable pessimism, then he also understands that it is clearly justified by the record of history.

Ecclesiastes presents the Christian with a unique perspective on life. Though the term "God" is used 41 times, Jesus Christ as Messiah and Savior never appears within its twelve chapters. Nor does it focus on the wondrous miraculous works of God, such as healing, raising the dead to life, or dividing the sea for His people.

Every reference to God within it uses the Hebrew word elohim. The Bible uses this term most frequently in a rather distant sense of "powerful Creator" rather than "One with whom a close, personal relationship exists." Yet, Ecclesiastes reveals Him as deeply involved in the constant operations of His purpose, not only in terms of the oversight of His creation, but in the reality of His unseen hand personally involved in the daily life of His children.

Some commentators have described Ecclesiastes as "gritty," probably because it deals with life's realities and pulls no punches. Life is difficult. The book deals, not with minor issues, but with major goals and events that come up as an individual works out the purposes and challenges of life. Such events, which can be either blessings or curses, fill and change the course of a person's life. They are the kind of happenings that may make one wonder, "Where is God in what I am going through?"

Life can be thought of as being similar to a person trying to navigate toward the exit of a labyrinth. A labyrinth has many possible paths to follow, and thus a person is forced to make many choices that either open or close the way toward his goal. Will his choices yield growth and profit in living, or will they block him, causing mystification and frustration?

For a Christian, this means that a reality of life is that everything matters. Not every event and choice matters to the same extent, but whether serious or passing, it does matter to some degree. The record of Solomon's experiences reminds us that our calling is too precious to waste on meaningless vanity. Though some choices are more consequential than others are, none of our choices is totally inconsequential. God gives us the wisdom in Ecclesiastes to help us grasp what the major paths and choices must be so that life is not meaningless.

The major teaching of the book is that, despite the wide diversity of choices available to us in life, in reality only two ways of life exist: God's and man's. Solomon shows us that, if life is to be filled with profitable purpose, then God and His way must not be merely considered occasionally but deliberately chosen with foresight in every matter. Otherwise, life may be filled with a great deal of activity yet prove to be a futile pursuit of time-wasting and profitless vanity.

Thus, Ecclesiastes is not truly about the meaninglessness of life. Rather, it is about the meaninglessness of living life without God, or as Solomon wrote, living life entirely "under the sun."

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part One)

Ecclesiastes 1:9

Solomon says, "There is no new thing under the sun." No matter what men invent, the basic motivation that brought the thing into being is not new. The "thing" in this context is not what we might normally think of. Remember, this is a treatise on life, not on technology. For example, a lot of new things have come along, such as lasers, hydrogen bombs, and automobiles. In this context, these things are not really new. They may be new technologically, but they are not Solomon's object. They will have no impact on understanding the meaning of life.

A laser will have no more impact than an automobile does. Men see all kinds of possibilities in which they can use this new technology, but will it make life any less vanity-filled? Will it give meaning to life? No more than the automobile, no more than the buggy did before it and the wheel before it—because human nature never changes. Satan never changes. God never changes.

So the more things change, the more they stay the same. This can be awfully frustrating to a thinking individual, who is looking at life and wondering where it is headed, which includes most of the people in the world. Thus, as Solomon sees matters, no new thing appears on the scene.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and the Feast of Tabernacles (Part 1)

Ecclesiastes 2:1-11

Solomon admits that his quest rewarded him with a certain amount of joy, but he still found it unsatisfactory. We might think that with all his wealth, good health, and a discerning mind, he would have had joy in abundance. What he accomplished, however, did not leave him with an enduring sense of well-being because his search continued after this experiment ended. He seems so frustrated that he says we should seize the joy as it comes along and be content with it (verse 24). His ultimate conclusion, found in verse 26, is that God determines whether we experience joy.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Joy

Ecclesiastes 2:3-11

Solomon kept his wits about him through all of this, but verse 11 concedes that the morning after the night before finally arrived—the time he had to give sober thought to what he had accomplished in his life. "I looked on all the works that my hands had done" coincides with the English expression, "The time came to face the facts."

He finds that, though there had been pleasure in accomplishing, he concludes there had been no real gain in terms of meaning of life. By calling his accomplishments "vanity," he does not mean that nothing was gained from them. Certainly a measure of good came from them, but they were disillusioning. They did not give him lasting satisfaction.

Money and the pleasures it can buy do not lift us out of our earthbound frustration. What is going on under the sun has to be connected to something that is happening somewhere else—in the purpose of God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and the Feast of Tabernacles (Part 2)

Ecclesiastes 2:16

Solomon says, "Hey, I have done all these things, and after I am dead, nobody will even remember who did them." Some call the Bible—Adam and Eve, the Flood, the Exodus, and so forth—mythical, legendary, allegorical, and contrived. In fact, it has been just within the last few years that archaeologists have—for the first time ever—unearthed secular evidence for the existence for the great David!

What usually happens is that a biblical personage remains a shadowy figure until something apart from the Bible "proves" that he existed. He may be one of the greatest men who ever lived, yet the world wonders. "Did he really live, or was he just a composite figure made up by Hebrew writers trying to beef up their past?"

Solomon cries foul when he realizes that this will happen to him. He concludes, "Life is meaningless."

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and the Feast of Tabernacles (Part 2)

Ecclesiastes 2:24

Here, the book of Ecclesiastes takes an encouraging turn. Solomon begins to lose his sense of hopelessness, and we see the first positive reference to God in the book. In chapter 1, God appeared but not in a very good sense. The positive turn continues throughout the book.

Solomon does not completely stop writing despairing things. However, they are despairing thoughts on individual, specific areas of life, not his overall conclusion. In this verse, there is a positive conclusion.

Before this, he says that all of his labor was nothing but frustration, but now he sings a different tune. So far, he has painted a dismal picture of life, but now a change begins as he has presented the worse part of his treatise.

God intends that we receive enjoyment, fulfillment, good education—positive things—from the work that we do. Solomon rightly concludes that this is from the hand of God. Certainly, God intends that we receive good things, but remember, Solomon makes his judgments based upon things that are "under the sun," that is, apart from God.

He is beginning to argue that life begins to flesh out, have meaning, fulfillment, the right kind of pleasure, and balance when a person is connected to God. In other words, what Solomon did earlier—all of the works he entered into, his seeking after pleasure, his observations of the natural cycles of the earth, his search for wisdom—are described from the perspective of a person disconnected from God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and the Feast of Tabernacles (Part 2)

Ecclesiastes 4:1-3

Solomon marvels at the injustice occurring without anything being done about it by those in a position to turn these sad affairs in a right direction. We know why these evil things occur because God has shown us, but that is not Solomon's interest at this juncture. His overall interest is still on the frustrating meaninglessness of life lived by the vast bulk of the citizenry. It so amazes him because, even all the way back then, the knowledge that would greatly improve people's lives was readily available in God's Word.

The head-shaking reality that disturbs Solomon continues to this day. To some degree, his mind is still on his disappointment over the evil “justice” system, what caused it, and possible solutions for it. Are we not experiencing similar problems? Where is God? In our culture it appears that almost nobody makes a sincere effort to seek God and His way.

This reality fills Solomon with a high degree of frustration because God gave Israel an adequate court system based on His own laws. Thus, he reaches the arresting conclusion that a person is better off dead because his struggles against what is occurring without change would be over. Better still, he says, is never to have been born!

Let's review what God gave Israel regarding a court system:

Listen to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God will be with you: Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do. Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness, and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you. (Exodus 18:19-22)

The overview is given in this simplified way to let us know that administration of their courts was well-organized. They began with an adequate system for spreading the workload so disputes could be settled quickly. This was implemented even before Israel reached Mount Sinai and the formal giving of God's law. Verse 16 reveals that God's laws were to be the basis for their judgments. It also suggests that some already had a considerable knowledge of God's laws. Verse 21 sets the qualification standards for the judges, which are based in God's character standards.

In Deuteronomy 1:9-18, Moses reiterates and further details what is given in Exodus 18, but now it is forty years later, during the last month of Israel's journey as they prepared to enter the Promised Land.

As for Solomon, the Bible shows him to have been a good administrator, despite taxing the people heavily to pay for the massive building projects he initiated. Despite his leadership, his words point to a reality: It is impossible to guarantee the integrity of every officer of the kingdom.

Solomon apparently had gone into a courtroom to watch a trial. What he witnessed in the hall of so-called justice was exploitation and oppression, the pain and sorrow of the innocent, and the unconcern of those who could have brought comfort to them. What he saw so disturbed him that it led him to declare that it was better to be dead than alive and oppressed, and better yet, not to have been born. In such cases, an individual would never have to experience or even see this grasping, rapacious covetousness.

Edward Gibbon, the historian who authored The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, says about more modern times, “Political corruption is the most infallible symptom of constitutional liberty.” He means that, if a country has a constitution that guarantees freedom to obey, there is also freedom to disobey. He implies that people, regardless of their office, selfishly disobey. This is exactly what we are experiencing in this nation today.

For the citizenry to obey a nation's constitution, it is required to believe firmly in it and to be disciplined in character. If the nation's people do not have these qualities, some will certainly be corrupt and disobey. This is exactly what the founders of the American Republic feared. John Adams, a foremost founder of this nation, wrote, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Five): Comparisons

Ecclesiastes 7:26-29

Solomon's conclusions are certainly not inspiring. He finds the world to be full of alluring but discouraging wickedness. Only one man in a thousand, he deems, actually lives what he considered to be a righteous life.

His findings on women reflect experiences of extreme disappointment. Blaming no woman in particular, he seems to cast all women with whom he had had personal experience as no more than snares to entrap him into some form of slavery. He must have felt that, because he was not pleasing to God, God did not make a way for him to escape women of that nature. His experiences led him to assert that he could not find even one woman in a thousand who lived a righteous life!

He probably did not feel that way about all women, because in other places, such as in the Song of Songs and Proverbs 31, he speaks highly of them, and in Proverbs 4, 7, 8, and 9, he uses a woman to represent wisdom. It cannot be said, then, that he looked on woman as an evil creation, yet his personal experiences definitely color his comments here.

We can perhaps clarify this conclusion by restating it: He found that righteousness is rare indeed regardless of gender. Few people are living before God as they should.

Following these declarations, verse 29 provides an intriguing concluding statement about this search, and it triggers questions.

He calls what he is looking for “wisdom,” and it truly is wisdom because, within the context of his search, the answers would provide a clearer basis for making good choices in life. But considering what we have covered—beginning even with his statement in chapter 1:2, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity”—what he seems to be looking for are answers to why God has created all this and why life is so difficult and puzzling. He seems to be expressing the thought that, if he knew the answers to these questions, it would help his search a great deal.

It cannot be known how much Solomon searched the Bible for an overall answer, but the writings of Moses were available to him. Certainly, his father David knew a great deal, and being the godly man he was, it is impossible to imagine that he did not instruct his son from what Moses was inspired to write.

Deuteronomy 29:29, available to Solomon, is recorded for our understanding: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” The Bible indeed reveals a great deal, but apparently, Solomon did not understand that God chooses to reveal some matters personally and individually in the same way He has called us. God has clearly revealed much more to the elect, but the eyes of the uncalled are still blinded (Romans 11:7-8). Solomon understood a great deal but not every aspect of it.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Fourteen): A Summary


 




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