The book of Ecclesiastes has fascinated many people. Some feel it is the most puzzling book in the Old Testament. It has been called one of the most melancholy books of the Bible. It has been used by some to teach that man ceases to exist after death.
It is not a book that Christians should ignore. As with all Old Testament Scripture, it was written for our learning (Ro 15:4) and admonition (1Co 10:11). It is therefore profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness (2Ti 3: 16-17).
[Rom 15:4 NKJV] 4 For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.
[1Co 10:11 NKJV] 11 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
[2Ti 3:16-17 NKJV] 16 All Scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
The book has special relevance today in our materialistic society, for it helps us to see the vanity of many earthly pursuits. It contains lessons for all, but especially for the young who have so much to lose should they make the wrong choices early in life.
In the Hebrew Bible, the book is called "Qoheleth" (Koheleth) which means "preacher" (cf. 1:1). The term suggests one who speaks to an assembly. The translators of the Septuagint (a Greek version of the Old Testament) called it "Ekklesiastes", which also means "preacher". The word is derived from "ekklesia", meaning "assembly".
Jewish and early Christian tradition attribute the book to Solomon. The author identifies himself as "the son of David, king in Jerusalem" (1:1). He also refers to himself as "the Preacher" (1:1,2,12; 7:27; 12:8,9,10). Internal evidences point to Solomon. Note the references to:
* His wisdom - 1:16; cf. 1Ki 3:12
* His building activities - 2:4-6; cf. 1Ki 7:1-12
* His wealth - 2:7-9; cf. 2Ch 9:13-28
* His activities after writing this book - 12:9-10; cf. 1Ki 4:30-34
[1Ki 3:12 NKJV] 12 "behold, I have done according to your words; see, I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you.
[1Ki 7:1-12 NKJV] 1 But Solomon took thirteen years to build his own house; so he finished all his house. 2 He also built the House of the Forest of Lebanon; its length [was] one hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits, with four rows of cedar pillars, and cedar beams on the pillars. 3 And [it was] paneled with cedar above the beams that [were] on forty-five pillars, fifteen [to] a row. 4 [There were] windows [with beveled frames in] three rows, and window [was] opposite window [in] three tiers. 5 And all the doorways and doorposts [had] rectangular frames; and window [was] opposite window [in] three tiers. 6 He also made the Hall of Pillars: its length [was] fifty cubits, and its width thirty cubits; and in front of them [was] a portico with pillars, and a canopy [was] in front of them. 7 Then he made a hall for the throne, the Hall of Judgment, where he might judge; and [it was] paneled with cedar from floor to ceiling. 8 And the house where he dwelt [had] another court inside the hall, of like workmanship. Solomon also made a house like this hall for Pharaoh's daughter, whom he had taken [as wife]. 9 All these [were of] costly stones cut to size, trimmed with saws, inside and out, from the foundation to the eaves, and also on the outside to the great court. 10 The foundation [was of] costly stones, large stones, some ten cubits and some eight cubits. 11 And above [were] costly stones, hewn to size, and cedar wood. 12 The great court [was] enclosed with three rows of hewn stones and a row of cedar beams. So were the inner court of the house of the LORD and the vestibule of the temple.
[2Ch 9:13-28 NKJV] 13 The weight of gold that came to Solomon yearly was six hundred and sixty-six talents of gold, 14 besides [what] the traveling merchants and traders brought. And all the kings of Arabia and governors of the country brought gold and silver to Solomon. 15 And King Solomon made two hundred large shields of hammered gold; six hundred [shekels] of hammered gold went into each shield. 16 [He] also [made] three hundred shields of hammered gold; three hundred [shekels] of gold went into each shield. The king put them in the House of the Forest of Lebanon. 17 Moreover the king made a great throne of ivory, and overlaid it with pure gold. 18 The throne [had] six steps, with a footstool of gold, [which were] fastened to the throne; there were armrests on either side of the place of the seat, and two lions stood beside the armrests. 19 Twelve lions stood there, one on each side of the six steps; nothing like [this] had been made for any [other] kingdom. 20 All King Solomon's drinking vessels [were] gold, and all the vessels of the House of the Forest of Lebanon [were] pure gold. Not [one was] silver, for this was accounted as nothing in the days of Solomon. 21 For the king's ships went to Tarshish with the servants of Hiram. Once every three years the merchant ships came, bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and monkeys. 22 So King Solomon surpassed all the kings of the earth in riches and wisdom. 23 And all the kings of the earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put in his heart. 24 Each man brought his present: articles of silver and gold, garments, armor, spices, horses, and mules, at a set rate year by year. 25 Solomon had four thousand stalls for horses and chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen whom he stationed in the chariot cities and with the king at Jerusalem. 26 So he reigned over all the kings from the River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. 27 The king made silver [as common] in Jerusalem as stones, and he made cedar trees as abundant as the sycamores which [are] in the lowland. 28 And they brought horses to Solomon from Egypt and from all lands.
[1Ki 4:30-34 NKJV] 30 Thus Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the men of the East and all the wisdom of Egypt. 31 For he was wiser than all men--than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol; and his fame was in all the surrounding nations. 32 He spoke three thousand proverbs, and his songs were one thousand and five. 33 Also he spoke of trees, from the cedar tree of Lebanon even to the hyssop that springs out of the wall; he spoke also of animals, of birds, of creeping things, and of fish. 34 And men of all nations, from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom, came to hear the wisdom of Solomon.
Some question whether certain conditions described in the book (cf. 3:16; 4:13-16; 5:8) existed during the reign of Solomon. But these conditions could have been noted by Solomon in neighboring countries, or in lower-level positions of his administration. In my opinion, the evidence is simply not compelling to reject the traditional view of Solomon as the author. If Solomon is indeed the author, then the date the book was written would be around 945 B.C.
PURPOSE FOR WRITING:
The Preacher wondered what many have asked:
"What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun?" (1:3).
In other words, what value or purpose is there for living? What is the meaning of life? Having been blessed with great material resources and wisdom, the Preacher was able to explore all avenues in his search. He writes to share with us the results of his own investigation, and to offer observations and words of counsel gleaned from his search.
There are two main messages. The first is stated in the prologue:
"All is vanity" (1:2)
This theme is repeated by the Preacher time and again:
* Prior to describing his search for meaning - 1:14
* Throughout the course of his search:
The vanity of pleasure - 2:1
The vanity of industry (labor) - 2:11,22-23; 4:4
The vanity of human wisdom - 2:15
The vanity of all life - 2:17
The vanity of leaving an inheritance - 2:18-21
* Throughout his words of counsel and wisdom:
The vanity of earthly existence - 3:19-21
The vanity of acquiring riches over family - 4:7-8
The vanity of political popularity - 4:16
The vanity of many dreams and many words - 5:7
The vanity of loving abundance - 5:10
The vanity of wealth without the gift of God to enjoy it - 6:2
The vanity of wandering desire - 6:9
The vanity of foolish laughter - 7:6
The vanity of injustice in this life - 8:14
The vanity of the days of darkness - 11:8
The vanity of childhood and youth - 11:10
* At the conclusion of the book - 12:8
Indeed, the key word in this book is "vanity". It occurs 35 times in 29 verses. It means "futility, uselessness, nothingness." But a key phrase to be noted is "under the sun". It is found 29 times in 27 verses. It suggests that this message of vanity is true when one looks at life purely from an earthly perspective. Leave God and the afterlife out of the equation, and life is truly vanity!
Therefore another message in this book is the importance of serving God throughout life. This is the message the Preacher would leave with the young (cf. 11:9-12:1), and is stated in his final words:
"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)
Throughout the book, we will find what the Preacher later describes as "goads" and "nails" (cf. 12:11). These are wise sayings that will "prod" our thinking, and exhortations that will provide stability and direction for living. Ecclesiastes is certainly a book worthy of careful study!
INTRODUCTION AND PROLOGUE (1:1-3)
I. THE PREACHER'S SEARCH FOR MEANING IN LIFE (1:4-2:26)
II. THE PREACHER'S OBSERVATIONS FROM LIFE (3:1-6:12)
III. THE PREACHER'S COUNSEL FOR LIFE (7:1-12:7)
EPILOGUE AND CONCLUSION (12:8-14)
REVIEW QUESTIONS FOR THE INTRODUCTION
1) What is the book of Ecclesiastes called in the Hebrew Bible? What does it mean?
- Qoheleth (Koheleth) - Preacher
2) What does the word "ecclesiasates" mean? What Greek word is it derived from?
- Preacher - Ekklesia, meaning "an assembly"
3) According to Jewish and early Christian tradition, who is the author, and when was it likely written?
- Solomon - 945 B.C.
4) What internal evidence is there to identify the author? (1:16; 2:4-6,7-9; 12:9-10)
- His wisdom
- His building activities
- His wealth
- His activities after writing the book
5) What question does the Preacher seek to answer in this book? (1:3)
- "What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun?"
6) What key word is found in this book? What key phrase is repeated time and again?
- Under the sun
7) What are the two main messages found in this book? (1:14; 12:13)
- The vanity of life under the sun (life purely from an earthly perspective)
- The importance of fearing God and keeping His commandments
8) According to the brief outline above, what are the three main divisions of the book?
- The Preacher's search for meaning in life (1-2)
- The Preacher's observations from life (3-6)
- The Preacher's counsel for life (7-12)