Of the five books of wisdom in the Old Testament, three of them commonly have their authorship attributed to Solomon. Interestingly, we might roughly divide adulthood into stages that each of these books reflect. In so doing, this gives us general guidelines for consideration that would help us understand more fully the particular admonitions of wisdom found in each book.
Proverbs: The Stage of Anticipation. Clearly Solomon collected these proverbs to give guidance to his son who is in early manhood. Repeatedly he calls his son to listen to him, as in each of the first seven chapters the address “my son” is found (1:8, 15; 2:1; 3:1; 4:1, 10, 20; 5:1; 6:1; 7:1). He knows as his son goes out into the world, he will basically encounter two worldviews. Since Solomon knows his son will be thinking about woman anyway, he personifies these worldviews in what we might call Mistress Folly and Woman Wisdom. Both are persuasively calling to him (see chapter 9), with Mistress Folly offering immediate pleasures apart from God’s ways that will only lead to his ruin. That is why Solomon warns his son so constantly against immorality and adultery. Instead of this disastrous path, he wants his son to cultivate an inner desire to be in the company of Woman Wisdom, whose call if heeded will grant to him a safe and prosperous way.
This wisdom finds its ultimate source in the Lord Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God. Filling young men and women’s minds and hearts with His wisdom in the Proverbs, and having them seriously consider the trajectory their early adult years will put their life upon, are incredibly important during this stage. A key verse for this anticipation stage is Proverbs 9:10.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”
Song of Solomon: The Stage of Exploration. In the celebration of wedded bliss this book reveals to us, we come to the next stage, that of exploration. Solomon uses his one happy marriage to express the delight of enjoying the years of youth and healthiness the Lord typically gives to His people. In so much of the anticipation stage, young people struggle to see the world beyond the circling orbit of their own selves. As one enters fully into the stage of exploration highlighted in marriage, he or she realizes more of the depths of what it can mean to be in a significant relationship with another. Together with another, one discovers the wonders of the gifts God has given to us in the created world, from beautiful gardens to the sexual union, and all they are meant to symbolize to us. Yet this stage, seen in the backdrop of what we know about Solomon’s life and hinted at even in this book as he admits to having sixty queens and eighty concubines (6:8), is also a time where hearts are revealed not to be nearly as singular as they should be. Solomon displays outwardly in frightening fashion what is true inwardly of all our hearts: we have many mistresses of folly that we pursue.
So one is to deepen his or her knowledge and experience of true love in this stage. In looking at a happy marriage, one should see reflected in this relationship the redeeming love of Christ for His people. Each person in this stage should be growing toward making the declaration of faith in Christ found in Song of Solomon 7:10.
I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me.”
Ecclesiastes: The Stage of Realization. In this final stage, toward the end of his life Solomon wants to gather people before him as a “Preacher” (1:1) and have them reflect with him on what he has learned through the years. He evaluates his life and realizes how much of it was lived “under the sun,” or in the foolish worldview that lives life without acknowledging the God who rules from on high above the sun. All of his false pursuits of riches, knowledge, and pleasure – representing deviations from the fear of God he encouraged his son to follow in Proverbs – were vanity (1:2) and chasing after the wind (1:14).
Yet he does this evaluation without demeaning the earlier stages, as he encourages such things as enjoying hard work (2:24), good food (2:25), companionship (4:9-12), and the joys of youth (11:9). What must accompany these activities is the fear and presence of God. When we reach the end of our days, will we have finished well by coming to the conclusion that Solomon expressed in the last words of Ecclesiastes (12:13-14)?
The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.”