This coming Sunday, July 17, we are beginning a new sermon series on the book of Ecclesiastes. This week on the website, we’ll be posting 5 introductory articles, one each day, explaining some of the background issues surrounding the book that there isn’t time to cover on a Sunday morning. The schedule of what’s coming up:
Monday: Bibliography (a working list of the resources I’ll be using in my study of the book)
Tuesday: Author & Date (Who wrote the book and when?)
Wednesday: Genre (What type of book is it?)
Thursday: Provenance & Destination (From where & to whom was the book written?)
Friday: Purpose & Theme (Why was the book written?)
Because the author and date of Ecclesiastes cannot be nailed down with any certainty, its provenance (place of origin) also remains somewhat of a mystery. However, as Greidanus points out (pp. 11-12), it would appear that it was written in or around Jerusalem–or at least by someone who was intimately familiar with Palestine–because the book references weather patterns (Eccl. 12:2); the hewing of wood (Eccl. 10:9) and the use of cisterns (Eccl. 12:6), both of which rule out Egypt; and the temple (Eccl. 5:1-7; 8:10; 9:2).
In terms of the book’s destination, the question of interest is less to where it was written (most likely the same location it was written from–in or near Jerusalem) and more to whom it was written. It appears that the intended audience was educated (this is the Bible’s most philosophical book, and many commentators believe the Teacher’s interacts with various schools of philosophy) and wealthy (the book exhibits great concern with commerce and the use of money), and internal evidence points to the book’s original audience being young men (Eccl. 11:9; 12:1, 12). It’s unclear, however (despite the address of “my son” in Eccl. 12:12), whether the book is intended to be a father writing for his son(s), a teacher/philosopher writing for his student(s), or a king writing for his court (Eccl. 8:3 appears to indicate that the original audience had access to the king). Of course, if Solomon was the author and/or the Teacher, all three possibilities could be true at once.
Furthermore, whatever the original audience was, the editor/author seems to have anticipated a much larger audience. His description that the teacher was someone who “constantly taught the people” (Eccl. 12:9) indicates that the Teacher’s wisdom is meant for all of God’s people, not just young men.
Craig G. Bartholomew, Ecclesiastes, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 54-59.
Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from Ecclesiastes: Foundations for Expository Sermons (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 9-12.