The Book of Ecclesiastes

The Book of Ecclesiastes

Background

The book of Ecclesiastes is written by Solomon, the author of Proverbs and Song of Solomon. In this book, Solomon is looking for something that lasts, for what is worthwhile in this life. He ponders how we are surrounded by people living for this world and they are still empty and discontent. This is a book written by human wisdom, not the word of God. It shows that no one can have a happy life on this Earth without God and an eternal perspective. 

Common Themes

  • “vanity” 
  • “under the sun” : emphasizes Solomon’s narrow-minded viewpoint throughout most of this book; he is only looking at life on this Earth. 
  • “this too is meaningless” / “everything is meaningless”/ “meaningless”: Solomon learns that on this Earth, nothing truly has a point when you don’t have an eternal perspective, and you are carrying out your life for yourself. 
  • “chasing of the wind”: cannot be grasped and held onto, just as the wind cannot be captured. Wind temporarily fills your sails, but does not stay forever, just like the temporary joys Solomon finds in his pursuits of meaning. 
  • pleasure, toil, wisdom, greed 
  • “no one knows what is coming”: we do not know our fates, this we all have in common. We do not know what will come from day to day. Only God knows this. 

Ecclesiastes 1

Solomon is lost and distraught, pondering the cycles of time (“generations come and generations go…the sun rises and the sun sets..” Ecc. 1: 3-7) and how “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecc. 1:9). He questions what man gains from all his toil under the sun, and states that everything is meaningless. He then decides to follow three pursuits to see if he can discover some meaning in life: wisdom, pleasure (hedonism), and things/success (materialism). Through his pursuit of wisdom, Solomon realizes that knowledge alone as fulfillment will never fully satisfy. “For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief”. 

  • Take away: Solomon has drifted away from the Lord. He questions how anything can be gained is cycles are constantly repeating, and if nothing is gained then what is the point of all of our toil? If there is nothing new, then everything is meaningless. What Solomon fails to recognize is that all of this is occurring under the sun, on this Earth. He is forgetting the eternal perspective, and that God has a time for everything. He learns that wisdom alone is not the answer, for it opens his eyes to more sorrows and griefs in the world. 
  • Time is the only resource that is never replaced. 

Ecclesiastes 2

Solomon explores the meanings of pleasure and work in life. He denies himself nothing, acquires all of the “delights of the heart of man” (Ecc. 2:8), yet he keeps his wisdom as well. He takes delight in anything he wishes, but states that at the end of the day when he looks at what he has achieved, it still appears meaningless. He then flips to the opposite side of the spectrum and explores the outcomes of hard work and toil. He realizes that wisdom is better than folly, but that the same fate is hanging over all of our heads- death. He then becomes angry and frustrated that man can work his whole life away, constantly in “pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest” (Ecc. 2:23), and declares this meaningless as well. 

  • Take away: All of these worldly pleasures will make us happy only for a moment, but stressing constantly and working our life away will not bring us joy either. Solomon finally comes to the realization at the end of chapter 2 that to work and enjoy the fruits of our labor is a gift from God. Without God, we cannot find lasting enjoyment. Life was meant to be enjoyed, for the glory of God. 

Ecclesiastes 3

Solomon looks at how there is a time and place for everything, and questions what we gain at the end of the day. If all of these events are going to happen anyways, what is the point? Solomon begins to realize that God wants us to be happy, and “do good” while we live. That God will be the final judge over the wickedness of this world and “there will be a time for every activity, a time for every deed” (Ecc. 3: 17). Solomon states that God tests us, for we all have the same fate at the end. 

  • All events in life are beautiful in their own time (Ecc. 3:11), and God wants us to view life with an eternal perspective. God is in control of the timing of everything. We all will die at the end of the day, and we do not know what will come after us, but God wants us to enjoy our work while we are here. That is His gift to us- to be able to work, but to also enjoy what we have earned. 

Ecclesiastes 4

Solomon finally looks at other people, and considers the importance of relationships. He sees the oppression around him, and that people can be cruel. He sees that labor spurned from envy of others is pointless. He realizes that working for the sole purpose of ourselves is also pointless. Solomon sees that “two are better than one” (Ecc. 4: 9), and that we need to life and work for the benefit of others. 

  • Work to be able to impress others is pointless, but not working is also unhealthy. We should not stop working, but we should stop working for wanting what others have. Our work has meaning in community. We need the help of each other. We are not meant to be alone on this Earth; we are meant to have fellowship with others. 

Ecclesiastes 5

This chapter takes a look at how we are to approach God, and it takes a look at our love for money. Solomon states that we go near to the Lord to listen, and that we are to “not be quick” with our mouths or “hasty” in our hearts (Ecc. 5:2). We are to let our words be few. Solomon speaks the importance of fulfilling all vows we promise to God, stating that it is better to not make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it. 

He then explores the human relationship with riches, realizing that those who love money never have enough and those who love wealth never have enough (Ecc. 5: 10-11). He ponders about the dangers of lusting after wealth and possessions, stating that if we toil “for the wind” we gain nothing. We all die the same, with just our bodies. 

  • When we go before God, we are to listen and speak thoughtfully. We are to humble ourselves before the Lord. 
  • Our actions speak louder than our words and promises.
  •  Money is not inherently bad, but our love of it is. Our love of wealth breeds greed, envy, unhappiness, and discontent. We all enter and leave this world with just the skin on our backs, so we should remember not to make money our idol. It is God’s gift to us to be able to work and be happy with what we are given. To be able to enjoy our work and our wealth, and to not worry about obtaining more but be content with what we have been given, is God’s gift to us. 

Ecclesiastes 5: 18-20: 

Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him-for this is his lot. Moreover, when God give any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work-this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.”  

Ecclesiastes 6

In chapter 6, Solomon realizes that man can have all the wealth in the world and still be unhappy if he does not enjoy and give thanks for what he has. “A stillborn child is better off than he” is the dramatic statement Solomon makes about this man (Ecclesiastes 5: 3).  He notes that if we fail to enjoy our prosperity here on earth, we will still die all the same. Solomon states that we should be content with what we have, even the “little” things, and keep our focus eternally. 

 Be grateful for and take pleasure in the gifts we are given, no matter how big or small. 

Ecclesiastes 7

Chapter seven is full of wise thoughts Solomon has about death, sadness, and the progression of life. It talks about how there is a time and purpose for all things in life.   The chapter opens up with Solomon speaking of death, and how the day of death is greater than the day of birth because one’s character has been established by death. “Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart” indicates the wisdom that there is a time, place, and purpose for sadness in our lives and our development (Ecclesiastes 7:3).  He speaks again of living in the present moment, enjoying what we currently have versus what we used to have or want to have. Verses 13-14 recognize that God has made our lives to be non-linear, and that He is behind the good and the bad. “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other” ( Ecclesiastes 7: 14) 

There is a time, place, and purpose for everything in our lives. God did not design our lifetime to be filled with only successes and joy.

God created and allows sadness for a reason. 

Ecclesiastes 8

Solomon (who is a king) speaks about being respectful to the king and the authoritative systems. Again, he states how there is a proper time and place for everything. Like Daniel, Joseph, and Jesus, we we are to trust in God’s timing and plans by being respectful of our human rulers. 

Solomon then goes on to discuss how a sinner might seem to get away with his actions, but judgement will always come. That even though the righteous men can get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked can get what the righteous deserve, God is just. Justice might be slow but it will come (Ecclesiastes 8:11-14). Then Solomon circles back to the importance of enjoying our current lives here on Earth, for we do not know God’s plans for us. “No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 8: 17) so we are to appreciate and enjoy our gifts while we can. 

Justice will come for everyone, even if it is not on this Earth 

Do not be abusive of our gifts, but do enjoy our time here on Earth. We do not and never will be able to understand God’s plan for us, not matter how wise we become. 

Ecclesiastes 9

“No man knows whether love or hate awaits him. All share a common destiny- the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not….this is the evil in everything that happens under the sun. The same destiny overtakes all” (Ecclesiastes 9:1-3). 

Everyone dies. Solomon only sees this fact. He does not see that eternity is different for everyone. Even so, Solomon urges us to life our lives like a celebration, “with a joyful heart”. Our days are fleeting, the battle does not always go to the wealthiest, the most brilliant, the healthiest, we do not know when our time will come (Ecclesiastes 9: 11-12). 

Solomon briefly discusses the importance of wisdom over brashness at the end of the chapter. 

We do not know when our life will end. Celebrate it daily, and do not take it for granted. 

Just because you are wealthy, you are not exempt from fleeting days and wickedness and sadness.

 A quiet wisdom is better than loud foolishness.

Ecclesiastes 10

Solomon wisely states that “as dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor” (Ecclesiastes 10:1). This is to say that you can live your life well overall, but little mistakes can ruin you. Kind of a bleak outlook, although not entirely wrong. 

The rest of the chapter carries on many of the same themes as several before it; folly is madness, wickedness is stupid, skill and wisdom will bring success. Living life only for pleasure will heed no joy; one must work before pleasure. Again, “no one knows what is coming – who can tell him what will happen after him?” (Ecclesiastes 10: 14). 

Ecclesiastes 11

Some seemingly anachronistic investment advice- “give portions to seven, yes to eight, for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land” (Eccl. 11: 2). Diversity your investments, for failure is a part of life and if all your eggs are in one basket, failure can wreck you. 

Ecclesiastes 12

Our time too will end/for dust you are from and to dust you will return/aging body, hands trembling, eyes dim our fire flickers out. While you still have time left, do not waste it. “Fear God and keep his commandments…For God will bring every deed into judgement, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecc. 12:13-14).

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