“Go thy way”: Solomon’s musings from Ecclesiastes 9 and Song 1
by Jonathan S Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Solomon. The son of David, the king of Israel, the wisest man who ever lived; he was also the first king to forsake his heritage, promises, and faith in order to please his pagan wives. Which picture of Solomon is correct?
They’re both correct. It’s just that each one of these “portraits” was taken at a different time, or a different phase of his life, we could say. Some have observed that Ecclesiastes was Solomon’s musings about how he had lived his life for his pleasures, in his old age; Proverbs, his advice and sayings on many topics, written, perhaps, in his middle age; and the Song of Solomon in his youth. This could be true but we’ll never know for sure.
It’s interesting that Solomon used the phrase “go thy way” one time in each of these books. Although Ecclesiastes comes first, in order, the Song seems to be portraying a much earlier time of his life. So we’ll look at the “song” passage first, then the one in Ecclesiastes.
The verses we’ll use for texts are provided below, and they’re both from the King James version:
Ecc 9:7 Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works.
Song 1:8 If thou know not, O thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock, and feed thy kids beside the shepherds' tents.
Solomon’s words from the Song of Songs
One of the beauties of the Song of Songs is that it’s a rolling narrative. Some of the commentators, from J. Vernon McGee to John Phillips, and others, have given some varying opinions about who’s saying what, and when. There is also some difference of opinion regarding who is the focus of the Song. Is this a song Solomon wrote about himself? If not, who did he have in mind?
According to 1 Kings 3:1, he had already married Pharaoh’s daughter when he began his reign, and had brought her to Jerusalem. I don’t think Pharaoh’s daughter would have loved the life of a shepherdess, especially if she had been raised in a royal environment! As is also true of Asenath, the wife of Joseph (see Genesis 41), and Bithiah the daughter of Pharaoh (see 1 Chronicles 4:18), Scripture does not record one single word that she ever spoke.
Regardless of his home life, though, Solomon wrote a beautiful song or series of songs about love. We can learn a lot about true love from reading this book.
But we do have many words, spoken by the Shulamite girl, the heroine, shall we say, of this story. Solomon seems to have structured the book — or song — about her and her love for the man she loves. The first few verses of this book have some of her musings in that regard.
She begins her story with stating that she had been living a very hard life! She spoke of how her skin had become darkened (black, in the KJV) because she had been forced to work out in the sun for a long time. According to verse 6 of chapter 1, she had to work hard at keeping at least two vineyards, to the neglect of her own. As if that isn’t enough, she apparently had a flock of goats to take care of as well! All of this takes a lot of hard work, and she didn’t seem to have any help in any of this.
Now we come to her question and the unusual response from her beloved one. In verse 7 of chapter 1, she asks her beloved, “Where do you feed your flocks?” I’m not sure why she asked him this question: was she just starting out as a shepherd girl (goat keeper, actually) and didn’t know where to find food? Or was she simply making conversation, looking for a way to share a moment of time with her beloved?
Col. Robert L. Scott wrote in his book “God Is My Co-Pilot” that when he was going through pilot training in Texas, he would drive home to Georgia every weekend, just to spend some time with “my girl”, as he called her. The time he could spend with her varied from a few hours to as little as ten minutes, he said, but for him it didn’t matter. The time he got was worth the drive!
The reply from her beloved, as mentioned earlier, seems somewhat unusual to me. He told the Shulamite girl, “If you don’t know (did she know?), go thy way and follow the footprints!” Something that also I find puzzling is that the beloved didn’t offer to lead the Shuamite’s flock himself. He simply said, follow the footprints.
The rest of the Song describes the various words, musings, and interactions between the Shulamite girl, her beloved, and others. This is a beautiful book, and we would do well to study what it means to be genuinely in love with the ONE person you love. Solomon wrote a masterpiece with this work, and we can be grateful for his musings here.
Solomon’s words from Ecclesiastes
Fast forward a number of years and although it’s the same writer, he’s not the same man. I myself have a difficult time every time I read Ecclesiastes, which, after all, is Solomon’s journal or blog of his experiences “under the sun”. This book has Solomon’s writings but nowhere does the work claim to be inspired.
Some commentators have observed that only the name “God” (Hebrew, Elohim) appears often but the word “Lord” or “The Lord” (YHWH) is never seen in this book. I don’t understand why, except that Solomon’s focus seems to have shifted to a very basic, perhaps simplistic, view of God and His dealings in this world.
It’s also interesting to me that he injects the phrase “go thy way” into a passage that, to me, doesn’t seem to fit. He takes us from chapter 1, expressing “all is vanity” and giving a précis of his pursuits in chapters 1-3. We find more of the same through chapter 9, but in the middle of a musing, he inserts the verse, “Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works”.
It’s sad, really, that Solomon’s faith seems to have shrunken over the years. He’s gone from writing songs of love, like the Song of Solomon, to cynicism or, perhaps, misplaced praise. It’s true that we do have to live in a world that has always been hostile to God and His saints, and it’s true that the unsaved generally don’t want to follow the same God that we do.
Solomon’s marriages to 1000 wives and concubines did him in, spiritually: we read in 1 Kings 11:3 that his foreign wives turned his heart away from God. We don’t, however, have to “cave” or give in to the pressures that the unsaved world wants to force us into. Paul, in fact, wrote in Romans 12 that we shouldn’t be conformed to this world but be transformed. One translation renders that phrase as “don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold”. Excellent advice for every believer!
Eventually, we hope, Solomon got right with God. He did mention that he taught the people knowledge (chapter 12, verse 9) and gave the summary by saying “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man (12:13)”.
These two views, these musings, the two very different ideas of “go thy way” from Solomon reflect his views at different stages of his life. May we learn from our Lord and may we never make the same mistakes Solomon did. When we’re told “go thy way”, may we always take God’s way, the right way—the ONLY way.
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible.