The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
Ecclesiastes begins with a sideways introduction to its author: “The words of the Preacher.” The word here, translated Preacher, is Qoheleth in the Hebrew, a title that’s meant to intrigue us. “Preachers”, at least those pounding pulpits or wearing vestments, didn’t exist in Qoheleth’s day. Rather, Israel was governed by a mashup of three offices: Prophets who spoke the words of God, Priests who administered the presence of God, and Kings who enforced the law of God. Qoheleth draws from elements of these, but is none of them. He is carving out a new, creative title for himself.
Already, we have a sense of the book’s tone. There is something playful and Dr. Suessish about this new word, Qoheleth: a small shenanigan to be sure, but it resounds. This book is a rogue. It is a shock of new color on a watercolor landscape. It will surprise and delight us, shake and stir us.
Eugene Peterson once compared the parables of Jesus to seeds planted in the heart. They are unnoticed at first, lingering beneath the surface. Then, in a burst, they sprout. The book of Ecclesiastes is just so: at first we are intrigued, then baffled. We are perhaps indignant.
Finally, we are changed.