This morning as I finish my annual walk through Ecclesiastes, I am left with the perplexities that always seem to befall me, as I read these last words of the “preacher.”
Ecclesiastes provides words of wisdom and of woe; words loaded with human perspective as well as primitive, but “spot on” spiritual insight. To everything there is a time and a season, even in where the writings of Solomon are positioned in the canon of scriptures.
The Proverbs seem to add a touch of practicality, having just left those earlier worshipful Psalms. Yet, lest one think he has it spiritually together, the preacher soon “lites” in on what real and raw life is about. Ending with the dreaded reality of where age eventually takes us all. The writer concludes with these truths, “Fear God and keep his commandment, for this is the whole duty of man.” Ecc. 12:13.
Yet, just when depression and confusion might seize the most discipled among us, one of those beautiful moments in the Canon occurs, assuring us that the Holy Spirit somehow guided these ancient and religious men (some with corrupt ambitions I am sure, as we all have clay feet) as they determined the content of the Canon. For just next door to Ecclesiastes, we find the beautiful Song of Solomon; which rings the bells of every man with a sexual imagery that unavoidably defines intimacy, while allegorically pointing to the Lover of our souls; soon revealed in the writings of the prophets, just another eight chapters away.
Why am I challenged? Most certainly by the writings themselves, laden with spiritual revelation; but also, by the obvious way the Holy Spirit uses this fallen man, Solomon. Now there seems hope for me, also?
Solomon, born of Bathsheba, a woman with whom his dad committed his greatest moral failure, obviously knew opportunity that most men will never know. The famed temple construction, denied of David, given his much bloodshed in the name of God; his son Solomon then so artfully erects.
All riches and wisdom were his, significant enough to attract the Queen of Sheba, a monarch of the ancient kingdom of Sheba (Ethiopia or Yemen); referred to in Habeshan history, the Bible, the Qur’an, and Josephus. Why was she mentioned in scripture? Quite possibly to bring historical credence to this extraordinary son of King David; perhaps also, to point out the gullible spirit that wealth and ego can bring to a leader? Solomon by his exposure the Temple’s extravagance to this outsider, surely set the stage for later, as greed driven men would invade Israel.
His heart for God, at least in his early days, was evident in his prayers, especially during the dedication of the Temple and the placement of the beloved Ark (II Chron. 6:41-42. Though Solomon was privileged to witness the physical display of both fire and Shekinah glory, he also received a fair warning in chapter seven, of what folks would one day say about this privileged people and their nation, if they forsake their spiritual moorings.
My heart is occasionally gripped with the possibility of similar woes that might come upon our own nation, as we embrace “other gods, worshiping and serving them.” As well, as we attempt to live out our own religion without the love of Christ.
Back to Solomon and his extravagance: Wives; no, harems; stables and chariots; silver and gold; even apes (not sure why that is in there); his opulence still untold. Ultimately he produces a son, Rehoboam through which the aforementioned warning would in fact become a reality. Yet in all this complexity, the promise made by Jacob to Judah would be fulfilled. For out of Judah, the very land Rehoboam’s rebellion necessitated, would come a Lion!
Herein I find my principal challenge: that God can use fallen men, who live ungodly lives, to shape a story that unfolds over centuries and terminates with the delivery of a Messiah, the Lion of the tribe of Judah. That Anointed One’s life would display greater excellence than Joseph, but ultimately aligns himself with the fallen-ness of Judah only, providing a way of escape for those of us who violate His love. That love demonstrated at Calvary!
Then, by His Spirit, God captures that story in a canon of scripture some 300 years after that Messiah, employing the writings of both sacred prophets and sinful leaders; writings gathered by the dangerously religious I am sure, as they attempted to keep a story, only then of late translated from oral history to manuscripts; in multiple languages and from multiple continents. The likelihood of success for a project like that is miniscule at best.
All this could have certainly been challenged had it not been for a Bedouin shepherd boy, Juma from the West Bank. He tosses a rock into a cave around January of 1947, just as God begins to awaken the nation of Israel; the boy senses the sound of hollow clay jars, alerts his two cousins (named Khalil and Muhammed, hello) only to find the 947 texts called Dead Sea scrolls.
Great story, God!