James Gray - Concise Bible Commentary
The ground for ascribing Ecclesiastes to Solomon is fourfold:
1. The indirect claim of the book as gathered from Ecclesiastes 1:1; Ecclesiastes 1:12; Ecclesiastes 2. the general opinion of Jews and Christians from the earliest times; 3. the fitness of Solomon to write it; 4. the lack of agreement among critics as to any other author or period. There are different plans or theories of the book, but to the compiler of this commentary it is a kind of biography of Solomon’s life, and yet one in which he not only records, but re-acts his search for happiness, making of it a kind of dramatic biography.
In other words, Solomon rehearses the various phases of his former self, having fits of study, luxury, misanthropy, etc., all ending in disappointment. It is important to note that “wisdom” in Ecclesiastes means “science,” while in Proverbs it means “piety.” In the same connection, “vanity” here means not merely foolish pride, but “the emptiness of the final result of life apart from God” (Romans 8:20-22).
They who hold this conception of the book are well represented by W. J. Erdman, in his concise work, entitled “Ecclesiastes,” on which we have permission to draw for what follows. He calls it The Book of the Natural Man, by which he means man as he is “under the sun,” compared with the man of Paul, whose “citizenship is in heaven.”
The first proof is that the only divine name in the book is the “natural” name, God (Elohim), the significance of which all will recognize from our reference to it in Genesis. Jehovah, the name associated with the covenant of redemption, is not once employed; hence man is seeking what is best “under the sun” but not seeking Him who is above the sun.
A second proof is the frequent use of “under the sun.” Man is looking up, not knowing what is beyond, except judgment.
A third proof is that all the experiences and observations of the book are bound together by the one question: “What is the chief good? .... Is life worth living?” The answer is sought amidst general failure, contradictions, and half-truths, because man is out of Christ, and yet face to face with the mysteries of God and nature.
A fourth proof is what the book styles “the conclusion of the whole matter” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14), which is that of the natural man only. “To fear God and keep His commandments,” is right, but the author of Ecclesiastes confessedly has not done so, and yet he sees judgment in the distance and has no preparation to meet it.
“Where man ends therefore, God begins.” The book of the natural man concludes where that of the spiritual man begins. The all-in-all of man under the sun convicts him of failure and guilt in order to lead him to the all-in-all of the man above the sun, the second Adam, who bare our guilt in His own body on the tree.
IS THE BOOK INSPIRED?
This conception of the book explains why some of its conclusions are only partially true and others altogether false, such as Ecclesiastes 2:16; Ecclesiastes 3:19; Ecclesiastes 9:2; etc.
And if it be asked, How then can the book be inspired? the answer is that in the inspiration of the Bible we do not claim the inspiration of the men, but the writings; while in the latter case it is not meant that every word thus written is true, and in that sense God’s Word, but that the record of it is true. That is, God caused it to be written that this or that man felt this or that way, and said thus and so, and hence the record of how he felt and what he said is God’s record, and in that sense true and in that sense inspired.