THE BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES.
Luther writes, in the introduction to his exposition of this book: “This book is one of the most difficult books of all Holy Scriptures, into whose depths no one, till now, has fully penetrated; yea, rather, through improper explanations of many it has been so corrupted that it is almost a greater task to cleanse and liberate our author from the dreams of those people, which they have brought into the text, than to show the true meaning. There was, however, a twofold reason why this book was unusually dark to others. The one is that they did not see the purpose and the scope of the author . . . . The other reason is based upon their ignorance of the Hebrew language and upon a certain peculiar manner of expressing himself which the author has, one which deviates from the ordinary usage of language and differs widely from our own manner of speaking. The consequence has been that this book, which in many respects is worthy of being in the hands of all men daily, with which, moreover, the leaders of a community should particularly be familiar, . . . . has been deprived of its name and dignity and been cast aside in miserable contempt, so that we today have neither the use nor the effect of it . . . Therefore our first endeavor must be to mark the scope of the book, what it intends to accomplish and what is its object.” 1)
The scope and general character of the book is indicated by its divisions, four discourses being clearly included: On the vanity of human wisdom and earthly pleasures, chaps. 1. 2; on the proper use of earthly goods and pleasures, chaps. 3-5; on the vanity of riches and the achievement of true wisdom, chaps. 6-8; on the proper rules of conduct, as based on true wisdom, chaps. 9-12. The author plainly teaches that a person may well enjoy the earthly gifts of God, in proper piety, on the one hand, and in true charity, on the other, without clinging to the vain gifts of this world, but rather in true love to the Word of God and in constant remembrance of the Judgment which is coming.
The title of the book is Ecclesiastes, a word derived from the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the meaning of the word being Preacher, as the author plainly calls himself. The description of the opening sentence, “The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem,” will properly apply to no one but Solomon, to whom the book has been ascribed from the earliest times. All the arguments of modern higher critics have not been able to shake the authenticity of the book. The only question, one which was considered by Luther also, is this, whether Solomon personally wrote the words as contained in this book, or whether the discourses were penned by one of Solomon’s scribes. They appear to have been spoken by Solomon in his old age, and that with the intention of repairing as much as possible the damage he had done by his evil example (1 Kings 11, 1-8), and to warn others against those sins and follies which he had committed. 2)