All of Ecclesiastes Is Wisdom to Receive

In Ecclesiastes 12:8–14, the book is coming to an end, and in this epilogue we find a strong endorsement of the book’s content. In 12:9, the writer calls the Preacher “wise” and someone who “taught the people knowledge.” So the content between the prologue and epilogue came from a wise person who taught wisdom. This Preacher wasn’t rash or thoughtless with his words, either. Wise people know better than to talk like that. His practice was “weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care” (12:9). The frame editor is telling us that the Preacher’s teachings—called “proverbs”—were the result of the Preacher’s prolonged reflection and careful construction.

Interpreting the book of Ecclesiastes has challenges. Some of the claims in the book are uncomfortable to read. The tone throughout the book feels less like a warm hug and more like a splash of cold water to the face. The speaker’s words are quite grim at times, he claims that animals and people have the same destiny, and he makes comments about how stillborn children are better off than the living. The writer even seems preoccupied with the fact that we’re all going to die.

When you survey commentaries on the book of Ecclesiastes, you’ll notice that not every interpreter is convinced we should trust the words in this book. So how should we approach it? Is the content of Ecclesiastes like the book of Job, in which the speeches of Job’s friends have a mixture of truth and error? Or do the Preacher’s observations about life “under the sun” stay uncorrupted and trustworthy?

I think we can thoroughly trust the book’s content and wisdom, and I want to offer some considerations as to why.

If we pay attention to structural elements in the book, we will see that Ecclesiastes 1:1–11 form a prologue to the body of the book, which leads to an epilogue in 12:8–14. The opening and closing sections of the book are in the third person, and the body of the work unfolds in the first person.

There is much scholarly discussion about how the opening and closing sections relate to the body of the book. Are they from the same author or from different authors? I don’t think we can ultimately be sure if the frame of the book (1:1–11 and 12:8–14) was provided by an author different from the first-person “Preacher” (in 1:12–12:7). My inclination is that a second writer provided an introduction and conclusion to the wisdom material. Nevertheless, the resulting words in the book known as Ecclesiastes are inspired by the Holy Spirit, whether the Spirit worked through one human author or through more than one (2 Tim. 3:16).

In Ecclesiastes 12:8–14, the book is coming to an end, and in this epilogue we find a strong endorsement of the book’s content.

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