Notes on Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Proverbs, and Psalms



--Koheleth or Qoheleth is Hebrew for “Preacher”

--The book is arguably very old; is a kind of extended poem

--what’s odd about this text is that it doesn’t seem God is “there” in the text/the text seem to lack any notion of covenant theology

--vanity is more accurately translated as “breath” so the repeated references to “all is vanity” are more accurately “all is breath” or “breath of a breath”

--imagery of wind and breath; Hebrew word for breath is “hebel” (hear the breath sound in this word)

--a major theme is that humankind is “time bound” sometime our life will be over, the pattern of “breath in/breath out” will sometime be “breath out” for the last time

--beginning of the book seems to “draw in breath”—an echo of Genesis when God breathed the Spirit into man

--watch the description of the person who “has” everything, “has tried” everything, who “has wisdom” but where has it gotten the person?

--the text talks of “no new thing under the sun” and “no remembrance of things past”

--because the life (breath) in others will also wear out, you’ll (any person) be forgotten

--Koheleth is describing transience “all has been forgotten/you will be forgotten”

--wisdom, sex, possessions, position—none of these can give humans ultimate meaning in life

--nothing by which humans can ultimately be redeemed, but you may enjoy wisdom, riches, delights of the body, being alive, being able to enact the mind’s and the body’s capacities

--some passages to note where the theme is repeated: 2:16, 4:13, 5:12, 5:15, 7:23, 9:2, 9:4, 11: 4, 6; all of chapter 12—12:2 means “before your eyes fail”; 12:3 grinders are teeth; 12:4 “doors on the street” are ears; 12:6—almond tree—the reference is to gray/white hair/old age


Song of Songs


--theory is that this book is the work of Solomon—probably not his work

--deeply erotic text and this sense of eroticism worried Biblical compilers/those of Biblical tradition

--many traditionalists then attempted to make the text an “allegory” –in the Jewish tradition the allegory was the love of God for Israel; in the later Christian tradition, the allegory was the love of Jesus for the Church;

--the text is poetry, tremendous love poetry, that celebrates the joy and beauty in sexuality

--frequently it is hard to recognize who is speaking

--several dreams depicting the huge anxiety of women in the ancient world, beginning in 3:1 expressing the anxiety of a woman in love who can’t find her beloved

--in this culture, very serious and dangerous for a woman to go out alone (3:2)

--3:4, the woman’s relief in finding her beloved

--3:6ff woman describing what she desires in the male

--4:1-15 male glance/gaze of love, follows down the female body

--2nd dream in 5; 5:2 the fears, 5:7, 8 the violence done to the woman; demonstrates again the long history of desire of female for male and the violence done to females


quote of Jewish scholar, Akiba, on Song: “the whole world is not worth the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the Scriptures are holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies”



--another example of wisdom literature

--consists of sayings, commands, and admonitions (hortatory style), and of long poems

--purpose to transmit ideas of how a young person might learn to cope with life

--notion that wisdom (fear of the Lord sense) brings success/long life; folly or wickedness brings destruction

--watch the shifting presentation of women—sometimes wisdom is personified as a woman (Ch. 8); also the image of the “loose” or seductive woman—Ch. 7

--Ch. 6:6 – fable like part on the industrious ant

--Ch. 31:10-end on the wise woman—great to use in honor of mothers



--like an anthology—the author is unknown though editors frequently attribute the psalms to David

--presented orally/musically—dancers, singers/instruments

--the psalms represent all of life in Israel—ritual, honor of king, wisdom, lament, thanksgiving

--Types of Psalms

Enthronement Hymns: celebrating God’s kingship

Songs of Zion: expressing devotion for the Holy City—Jerusalem or City of Zion

Laments: either individuals seeking deliverance from illness or false accusation OR a

nation asking for help in time of distress

Songs of Trust: individuals expressing confidence in God’s readiness to help

Thanksgiving: individuals expressing gratitude for deliverance

Sacred History: nation recounts the story of God’s dealings with it

Royal Psalms: to be used for coronation or royal weddings and such occasions

Wisdom Psalms: meditations on the life and ways of God

Liturgies: often mixed types, composed for some special cultic or historical occasions (ceremony for renewing the covenant)


Ps. 1—wisdom psalm

Ps. 2 –coronation psalm

Ps. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 –laments, prayers for deliverance from illness, from personal enemies

Ps. 8—song celebrating God’s glory and the God-given dignity of humans

Ps. 9, 10—laments

Ps. 19 – hymn to God as creator and lawgiver

Ps. 23—psalm of trust (the Lord is my shepherd)

Ps. 42—lament, prayer for healing and for the pilgrimage

Ps. 51 – lament, prayer of deliverance

Ps. 89 – King’s prayer for deliverance

Ps. 90 – group lament

Ps. 120 – lament

Ps. 121 – a liturgy of blessing

Ps. 122 – song praising Zion as the pilgrim’s goal

Ps. 123 – a group lament

Ps. 124 – thanksgiving for national deliverance

Ps. 125 – group lament, prayer for national deliverance

Ps. 126 – prayer for deliverance from national misfortune

Ps. 127, 128 – wisdom psalm

Ps. 129 and 130 – laments

Ps. 139—lament

Ps. 150 – a doxology (summative hymn of praise)