A Pointless Beginning–Ecclesiastes 1:1

One of my favorite things to say to Penny is a line from Forrest Gump, uttered in my best “Forrest” voice: “Mama, what’s my destiny?” She actually turned it around on me Sunday, writing it on a church bulletin in response to something the pastor said. Today, I’ve decided to take my destiny down a different path for a season.

It’s been a good while since I have worked my through a biblical book, so I decided to jump back in by looking at a simple one: Ecclesiastes. Let’s start at the beginning, Ecclesiastes 1:1:

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem.

At the risk of giving things away, this book, starting with my next entry, is going to take a thorough tour of meaninglessness and, as the King James Version puts it, “vanity.” With that on the horizon, we have to ask ourselves, looking at this first verse, what sort of a teacher this might be who would push a steady message of pointlessness.

But let’s back up a little bit more. Who is this teacher? The text does not name him as Solomon, but what other son of David served as king in Jerusalem? Unlike Song of Solomon, which can be read to be authored by someone else about or in honor of Solomon, Ecclesiastes is pretty clearly either written by Solomon or a fraud.

We certainly can’t explain what sort of teacher delivers this kind of a lesson (especially since we haven’t heard the lesson yet), but we can give the teacher (or preacher) a name. That’s a start.

But of course many Bible scholars, especially the sort who are skeptics of the Bible and desperately in need of publishing things that will get them tenure in their secular academic posts, will opt for the second option, calling Ecclesiastes a fraud, written under a false name. These people have lots of letters after their names and are widely respected by the likes of the Society for Biblical Literature. In fairness, they are incredibly learned and shouldn’t simply be dismissed. Are they then correct?

To answer that, I’d like to go out to my garden. A few minutes ago, I stepped out there and completed a job for Penny, uprooting a well-established bush. After digging all around the bush and severing what roots I could, I needed to pry it out.  My problem was that I did not have a solid spot, a fulcrum, on which to base my shovel. Stealing a stone from a nearby wall, I created my fulcrum and, after a few minutes of struggle, had the bush out of the ground.

A fixed point, a fulcrum, is a vital thing. If I cannot believe a plain statement in the Bible, fixing my mind on it and applying some leverage, how can I believe anything in the pages? Certainly I can study the book as a cultural artifact of ancient Israel, but to understand it as a guide for life, as a help to discovering my destiny, I have to be able to depend on something. Should verse one of chapter one prove untrustworthy, then the Bible–or at least Ecclesiastes–is indeed meaningless.

With that said, let’s prepare to see tomorrow what Solomon has to tell us about life. Spoiler alert: It’s meaningless.