A Mixed Up Minister?
What insights does the book of Jonah have for ministers today?
Led by The Revd Tom Stuckey, a former President of the Methodist Church.
Ecclesiastes: Dark Days from Solomon’s Diary
Though the book does not bear the actual name of Solomon, nobody else could be described a "son of David", a king in Jerusalem and also a Preacher. The word Ecclesiastes is the Greek equivalent of a Hebrew word, which means "One who summons an assembly and who preaches to it as its acknowledged leader and president". Solomon from time to time led prayers and spoke to the priests and people and was, in effect, the Head of the "Church" in ancient Israel.
This book documents some of Solomon’s private and intimate meditations, thoughts and prayers. He has been described as the most wise man who ever lived, with the one exception of Jesus Christ, so he is certainly someone whom we cannot ignore. Its dark side - it is downright negative at times- probably because the writer is trying to square his experience of life with the kind of cut-and-dry theology that says, "do right and you will be blessed and never have troubles" (see Deuteronomy 28). His experience teaches that troubles befall the best of people; and sometimes the world makes no sense at all.
Though we cannot be certain, the book seems to have been written when Solomon was an older man and looking back on a long life which had had its ups and downs, it highs and its depths. It is particularly addressed to the young; an older man speaks to a youngster to share his wisdom and experience. Proverbs is similarly designed.
Solomon’s deep depressionL~
The book begins with a most depressing announcement. We can reduce it to this: Everything is a waste of time and whatever you achieve it will be swept away by time and tide; and even the best of people and their exploits will have "no remembrance of them" with the passing of the centuries (1:11). Job has similar sentiments and is also, like Ecclesiastes, bracketed with Wisdom literature.
The Preacher then tells us how he has searched for some answers and to make some sense of life. And he tells us: "I have magnified and increased wisdom more than anyone else in Jerusalem before me" (1:16). But, for all his wisdom and knowledge, his depression increases and he sadly has to confess that "in much wisdom there is much grief; and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain"(1:18).
Solomon’s sad backslidingL~
In his deep depression he does what have many have done since in the passing of nearly two millennia: "I said to myself, enjoy yourself" (2:1) and because he was fabulously rich, he could do anything he wanted.
He wallowed in "wine, women and song" and built palaces and gardens to beautify Jerusalem and to surround himself with artistic treasures and every pleasure. Indeed the first eleven verses of chapter 2 depict a whirlwind of hedonism and a flourishing of artistic creativity; and it was no wonder that the Queen of Sheba was absolutely stunned into silence by the opulence surrounding her.
Could that ravishing and long erotic poem, traditionally called the Song of Solomon, have been written during the King’s time of backsliding? Orthodox Jews believe it is a figure of Yahweh’s wooing of Israel or Christians of Christ’s love for the Church; hence it was included in the Canon of Scripture. Origen, one of the greatest of the early theologians, speaks of the beautiful woman as the human soul being wooed by the Son of God.
Now we turn back to our main theme, Solomon’s meditations and reflections. But for all Solomon’s labour and his pleasures, it simply came down to this: "I have been striving after vanity and wind and there was no profit under the sun" (2:11). The city of Jerusalem was beautified and adorned with sparkling fountains, but Solomon’s soul was a barren, arid place!
Solomon’s glimpse of "a greater than Solomon"L~
Amongst pieces of good advice, there is a story that appears that is often ignored: it is the story of a poor man who saved the city from a warring enemy (9:14-16). It surely is a foreshadowing or figure of Jesus who, ultimately, would save Jerusalem in the last days. Though largely ignored by Jews for the best part of two millennia, Jesus, according to Zechariah (chapter 14) will suddenly appear to save Jerusalem from the final conflict and eventually be accepted as the Messiah, Deliverer and King of His People.
It is as if the greatest wise man of the Old Testament, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has a brief glimpse and foreshadowing of Wisdom Incarnate, Jesus of Nazareth! Note another glimpse of the Son in Proverbs 8:22ff - God’s co-worker in Creation: begotten in eternity, He is God’s "master worker at His side"(NIV v23 and 30).
Solomon’s last word (chapter 12)L~
The end of chapter twelve gives, in a nutshell, Solomon’s legendary wisdom, probably written around 900BC. We can summarize it briefly.
We must heed to the "goads" and "nails" of "the wise" (v11) because they are given by the Shepherd (Solomon or the Lord Himself) to spur us on and guide us by their collected precepts and long experience.
We should never study for its own sake (v12) but rather to know God more profoundly and intimately. And, finally, we must give due respect and reverence to God, trusting Him whatever comes along. Above all – a last solemn word - we need keep His commandments (v13) since the Day of Reckoning is at hand (v14) and death comes to all.
Overture and finaleL~
The book opens, as we said, with a pessimistic and sombre overture; but it climaxes with a strong and powerful finale – an affirmation of the kind of faith that runs through all Scripture: Hold on to God whatever the times and whatever the situation! This is surely a treasure and timeless word from an ancient sage.