“Solomon gives over the book of Ecclesiastes to suggesting, … the emptiness of this life, the ultimate objective, to be sure, of making us yearn for another kind of life which is no unsubstantial shadow under the sun but substantial reality, under the sun’s Creator.” ~ Augustine “City of God”
Next week’s sermon will be quite different from most. With no specific text of Scripture to exposit, it will be our intention in the message to take one final flight over the book of Ecclesiastes, only now after having thoroughly explored its terrain. We began our study of the book last Spring, and over the course of 16 sermons we have dissected and analyzed the text in some detail. Now at the end of these studies, before departing, we will think back on the book as a whole, trying to incorporate what we have observed about the book and its author, along our journey.
Around the time we were beginning our exposition of the book of Ecclesiastes, brother Alan Kurschner published this statement in his blog: “The book of Revelation is certainly neglected in the church and when it is paid attention it is often misinterpreted. However, I would contend that the most neglected eschatological book in the Bible is found in the Old Testament, Ecclesiastes” (emphasis added). At the time, I found this a curious statement, particularly since we would normally classify Ecclesiastes as “wisdom literature.” When we think of books dealing with end-time matters, of course Revelation comes to mind, perhaps 2 Thessalonians, Matthew chapter 24, Luke 17; in the Old Testament we think of the prophets, in particular, Zechariah, perhaps Ezekiel or Joel; but few think of Ecclesiastes as a book of eschatology. Yet this statement stuck with me as I preached through the book, and I believe I know why one might consider Ecclesiastes eschatological in nature.
In a nutshell, the book of Ecclesiastes, is a report of the life experience of an old man, Qoheleth, “the Preacher,” who we believe is Solomon, David’s son and King of Israel. Many neglect or ignore the book because of its “cynical” and “hopeless” tone. Some believe that Solomon’s words are tainted as a result of a life steeped in sin and idolatry. Many, after reading the book, are discouraged or left with a sense of despair. Qoheleth’s words have been considered “negative;” and in a world where we are told that only “positive affirmations” are acceptable, the words of Ecclesiastes seem only to cause damage to one’s self-esteem. But as has been repeated on several occasions in this series, Qoheleth is not a pessimist as much as he is a realist. He has taken off the rose-colored glasses in order to give us an honest evaluation of a fallen world; but he does so with his fixed intently on a perfect Eden. With this view then, Qoheleth knows that the vanity of this world is not the way it was supposed to be; it was not the way that God created it to be. The Preacher’s realistic assessment of life under the sun is an expression of anyone who might look at life on earth with an honest eye. Qoheleth’s groans over the meaningless toil of work, injustice in life, and certainty of death are those of one who is yearning for a return to Eden or longing for the coming of a New Jerusalem. We who are in Christ share Qoheleth’s heart’s desire. Like him, we are seeking to make the most of life in a temporary fallen world that is not our home. Like him, we, along with all creation, groan, awaiting the final redemption and return of Christ. Like him, we yearn for a return to the way it’s supposed to be – a day when there will be no more curse and no more sin or temptation; like him, we yearn for a return to Eden.