The Little City Delivered: Christ in Ecclesiastes

Keeping the wisdom literature in its canonical and redemptive-historical setting is one of the more difficult challenges for the student of Scripture.

Many have interpreted the Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes atomistically under the guise of faithful commitment to a grammatical-historical reading of Scripture. However, this is not how Jesus and the Apostles interpreted the Old Testament. For them, everything is related to Creation, fall and the promise of redemption in the coming Redeemer. Jesus declared that Abraham saw His day and that Moses wrote of Him. He explained to the two on the road to Emmaus, “All things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.”

 

Keeping the wisdom literature in its canonical and redemptive-historical setting is one of the more difficult challenges for the student of Scripture. Many have interpreted the Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes atomistically under the guise of faithful commitment to a grammatical-historical reading of Scripture. However, this is not how Jesus and the Apostles interpreted the Old Testament. For them, everything is related to Creation, fall and the promise of redemption (Gen. 3:15) in the coming Redeemer. Jesus declared that Abraham saw His day (John 8:56) and that Moses wrote of Him (John 5:46). He explained to the two on the road to Emmaus, “All things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (Luke 24:44). When he appealed to the Psalms, He did so in light of their prophetic witness to Himself (e.g. Psalm 110:1 in Matt. 22:41-46). In Acts 2:22-30, the Apostle Peter unequivocally taught that David consciously spoke of the resurrection of Christ when he wrote Psalm 16 under inspiration of the Spirit. The constant witness of the New Testament is that the entirety of the Old Testament pointed forward to the Christ to come. The Psalms speak of JesusThe Proverbs speak of HimThe Song of Songs is about the Son of David. This is no less true of Ecclesiastes than it is of the other wisdom literature.

The challenge of interpreting Ecclesiastes in light of its redemptive historical context is heightened by the fact that 1) its authorship is disputed and 2) its structure and overall meaning is elusive. Add to this the fact that there are very few helpful examples in church history. This is one reason why I am so thankful for the Marrowmen (the 18th Century Gospel-centered, Scottish Presbyterians). In his 1732 sermon, “The Little City Besieged and Delivered; or The Deliverance of the Church by Christ, and the Ingratitude of men to the Glorious Redeemer Represented,” (how’s that for a title!) Ralph Erskine expounded the words of Ecclesiastes 11:14-15 in light of Christ and the work of redemption. Here’s how he begins his exposition of the passage:

There was a little city, and few men within it: and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it: now, there was found in it a poor wise man; and he, by his wisdom, delivered the city; yet no man remembered the same poor man.“—Ecclesiastes 11: 14, 15.

It is questioned among interpreters whether this is a history, or a parable. I am not here to dispute the matter, but take it to be parabolical; and reckon that the Spirit of God has left the application for us to make, which I would attempt to do, both in agreeableness, I hope, to the analogy of faith, and in a suitableness to the present occasion.

The verses contain news from heaven; and particularly,

  1. Here is a city described: “There was a little city, and few men in it.”
  2. The city besieged: “There came a great king against it, and besieged it; and built great bulwarks against it.”
  3. The city delivered, and the siege raised: “Now, there was found in it a poor man ; and he, by his wisdom, delivered the city.
  4. The ingratitude of the citizens: “Yet no man remembered the same poor man.

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