Rise Up, My Love (5): The Difference in Viewpoint Between the Song and Ecclesiastes

1:1 “The song of songs, which is Solomon’s.” Has it ever occurred to you that the Song of Solomon follows the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible, even though King Solomon authored both, and the Song of Solomon was written forty years earlier? Do you wonder why? The Stuttgartensia (developed sometime during the 8-12th century as the standard Hebrew text from which modern Jewish versions are translated) lists the Song of Solomon first, although Melito of Sardis (who lists the earliest Christian compilation of Scripture, from around 170 AD) lists Ecclesiastes first.

However it came to pass, I am thankful we read Ecclesiastes first and The Song of Solomon second, because—like the Old and New Testaments—we find in Ecclesiastes the message of law, and in the song a wonderful message of love and grace.

Why do I say that? Let’s compare the two texts for just a moment. Both books record the profound journey of a man who was “wiser than all men” seeking happiness, but there is a monumental difference in how he searched and what he found. Are you interested in being happy? Aren’t we all! Let’s look at a thumbnail sketch of what each book records and see if we can surmise how to seek and find happiness!

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon takes the perspective of a self-indulgent scientist. Fabulously rich and supremely astute, Solomon studies the world as a man “under the sun” and spares himself no pleasure as he collects data to discover the principles governing the physical world. What is the result of Solomon’s search through the mazes of life? In the thirteenth verse of the last chapter of Ecclesiastes, Solomon reports: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”

Wow! Any person who reads Ecclesiastes can save a lifetime of wasted money and disillusionment by accepting by faith the lesson that Solomon learned the hard way.  Solomon laments with dreary tones that the end of all fleshly striving is nothing but “vanity and vexation of spirit” (Eccl. 1:14). No matter how hard we work to please ourselves, like Solomon we will never be completely satisfied.  And, furthermore, we will ruin ourselves if we break God’s moral laws in our pursuit of pleasure, because the one who created the world is a just and perfect ruler who, as sovereign over an orderly and morally good universe, will punish sin. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).

Ecclesiastes gives a divinely inspired assessment of the physical universe, and it is absolutely true that we should obey God. However, the motivation Solomon understood from using his head (his own working, so to speak) was that of fear and duty. The great lesson of Ecclesiastes is that any thoughtful man “under the sun,” by using his own intellect and reasoning, will conclude that the first half of Romans 6:23 is true: “The wages of sin is death.” To avoid ruin, one must avoid sin.

In the Song of Songs, however, Solomon reflects the perspective of a lover and through the exercise of his spirit learns the glorious lessons of love and grace, expressing the supreme fulfillment—happiness, joy, and contentment— of the one who finds his all in all in a love relationship where “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me” (7:10). We can also find happiness and experience this sublime love in the fullness of our relationship with Christ, who fills “all in all” (Ephesians 1:23). Through a spiritual understanding of this beautiful song, we can experience the truth in the second half of Romans 6:23. While it is true that “the wages of sin is death,” there is a greater and more wonderful reality: “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Do you (like me) seek greater happiness and fulfillment? Do you seek to possess and fully experience eternal life? Then, let’s continue seeking together!

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