Ecclesiastes
קהלת
Reading 0,28 - 12 Chapters - 222 verses - 5,584 words. 

   



Vital Statistics

 Purpose:  To spare future generations the bitterness of learning through their own experience that life is meaningless apart from God 
 Author:  Solomon
 Original audience:  Solomon's subjects in particular, and all people in general  
 Date written:  Probably around 935 B.C., late in Solomon's life
 Setting:  Solomon was looking back on his life, much of which was lived apart from God
 Key verse:  "Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind." (12:13)


Author and Date

    No time period or writer's name is mentioned in the book, but several passages strongly suggest that King Solomon is the author (1:1, 12, 16; 2:4-9; 7:26-29; 12:9; cf. 1Ki 2:9; 3:12; 4:29-34; 5:12; 10:1-8). On the other hand, the writer's title ("Teacher," Hebrew qoheleth; see note on 1:1), his unique style of Hebrew and his attitude toward rulers (suggesting that of a subject rather than a monarch--see, e.g., 4:1-2; 5:8-9; 8:2-4; 10:20) may point to another person and a later period.

Purpose and Teaching

    The author of Ecclesiastes puts his powers of wisdom to work to examine the human experience and assess the human situation. His perspective is limited to what happens "under the sun" (as is that of all the wisdom teachers). He considers life as he has experienced and observed it between the horizons of birth and death -- life within the boundaries of this visible world. His wisdom cannot penetrate beyond that last horizon; he can only observe the phenomenon of death and perceive the limits it places on human beings. Within the limits of human experience and observation, he is concerned to spell out what is "good" for peoples to do. And he represents a devout wisdom. Life in the world is under God -- for all its enigmas. Hence what begins with "Meaningless!" (1:2) ends with "Remember your Creator" (12:1) and "Fear God and keep his commandments" (12:13)

    With a wisdom matured by many years, he takes the measure of human beings, examining their limits and their lot. He has attempted to see what human wisdom can do (1:13, 16-18;7:24; 8:16), and he has discovered that human wisdom, even when it has its beginning in "the fear of the Lord" (Pr 1:7), has limits to its power when it attempts to go it alone-- limits that circumscribe its perspective and relativize its counsel. Most significantly, it cannot find out the larger purposes of God or the ultimate meaning of human existence. With respect to these it can only pose questions. 

    Nevertheless he does take a hard look at the human enterprise--and enterprise in which he himself has fully participated. He sees a busy, busy human ant hill in mad pursuit of many things, trying now this, now that, laboring away as if by dint of effort humans could master the world, lay bare its deepest secrets, change its fundamental structures, somehow burst through the bounds of human limitations, build for themselves enduring monuments, control their destiny, achieve a state of secure and lasting happiness--people laboring at life with an overblown conception of human power and consequently pursuing unrealistic hopes and aspirations.

    He takes a hard look and concludes that human life in this mode is "meaningless," its efforts all futile.   
    What, then, does wisdom teach him?    
  1. Humans cannot by all their striving achieve anything of ultimate or enduring significance. Nothing appears to be going anywhere (1:5-11), and people cannot by all their efforts break out of this caged treadmill (1:2-4; 2:1-11); they cannot fundamentally change anything (1:12-15; 6:10; 7:13). Here they often toil foolishly (4:4, 7-8; 5:10-17; 6:7-9). All their striving "under the sun" (1:3) after unreal goals leads only to disillusionment.  
  2. Wisdom is better than folly (2:13-14; 7:1-6, 11-12, 19; 8:1, 5; 9:17-18; 10:1-3, 12-15; 12:11) -- it is God's gift to those who please him (2:26). But it is unwarranted to expect too much even from such wisdom--to expect that human wisdom is capable of solving all problems (1:16-18) or of securing for itself enduring rewards or advantages (2:12-17; 4:13-16; 9:13-16). 
  3. Experience confronts humans with many apparent disharmonies and anomalies that wisdom cannot unravel. Of these the greatest of all is this: Human life comes to the same end as that of the animals -- death (2:15; 3:16-17; 7:15; 8:14; 9:1-3; 10:5-7). 
  4. Although God made humankind upright, people have gone in search of many "schemes" (for getting ahead by asking advantage of others, 7:29; Ps 10:2; 36:4; 140:2). So even humans are a disappointment (7:24-29).
  5. People cannot know or control what come after them, or even what lies in the more immediate future; therefore all their efforts remain balanced on the razor's edge of uncertainty (2:18; 6:12; 7:14; 9:2).
  6. God keeps humans in their place (3:16-22).
  7. God has ordered all things (3:1-15; 5:19; 6:1-6; 9:1) and a human being cannot change God's appointments or fully understand them or anticipate them (3:1; 7; 11:1-6). But the world is not fundamentally chaotic or irrational. Is is ordered by God, and it is for humans to accept matters as they are by God's appointments, including their own limitations. Everything has its "time" and is good in its time (ch. 3). 
    Therefore wisdom counsels: 
  1. Accept the human state as it is shaped by God's appointments and enjoy the life you have been given as fully as you can.
  2. Don't trouble yourself with unrealistic goals-- know the measure of human capabilities. 
  3. Be prudent in all your ways -- follow wisdom's leading. 
  4. "Fear God and keep his commandments" (12:13), beginning already in your youth before the fleeting days of life's enjoyments are gone and "the days of trouble" (12:1) come when the infirmities of advanced age vex you and hinder you from tasting, seeing and feeling the good things of life.   
    To sum up, Ecclesiastes provide instruction on how live meaningfully, purposefully and joyfully within the theocratic arrangement -- primarily by placing God at the center of one's life, work and activities, by contentedly accepting one's divinely appointed lot in life, and by reverently trusting in and obeying the Creator-King. Note  particularly 2:24-26:; 3:11-14, 22; 5:18-20' 8:15; 9:7-10; 11:7-12:1; 12:9-14.  



Ecclesiastes Interpretive Challenges


The author’s declaration that everything is meaningless” envelops the primary message of the book (fc. 1:2; 12:8). The word translated “meaningless” is used in at least 3 ways throughout the book. In each case, it looks at the nature of man’s activity “under the sun” as:

  1. “fleeting,” which has in view the vapor-like (cf. Jas 4:14) or transitory nature of life

  2. “futile” or “meaningless,” which focused on the cursed condition of the universe and the debilitating effects it has on man’s earthly experience

  3. “incomprehensible” or “enigmatic,” which gives consideration to life’s unanswerable questions. Solomon draws upon all 3 meanings in Ecclesiastes.


While the context in each case will determine which meaning Solomon is focusing upon, the  most recurring meaning of meaningless is “incomprehensible” or “unknowable,” referring to the mysteries of God’s purpose. Solomon’s conclusion to “fear God and keep his commandments” (12:13, 14) is more than the book’s summary; it is the only hope of the good life and the only reasonable response of faith and obedience to sovereign God. He precisely works out all activities under the sun, each in its time according to His perfect plan, but also discloses only as much as His perfect wisdom dictates and holds all men accountable. Those who refuse to take God and His Word seriously are doomed to lives of the severest meaninglessness.  



Literary Features

    The argument of Ecclesiastes does not flow smoothly, it meanders, with jumps and starts, through the general messiness of human experience, to which it is a response. There is also an intermingling of poetry and prose. Nevertheless, the following outline seeks to reflect. at least in a general way, the structure of the book and its main discourses. The announced theme of "meaninglessness" (futility) provides a literary frame around the whole (1:2; 12:8). And the movement from the unrelieved disillusionment of chs. 1-2 to the more serene tone and sober instructions for life in chs. 11-12 marks a development in matured wisdom's coming to terms with the human situation. 

Outline



I. Author (1:1)



II. Theme: The meaninglessness of human

efforts on earth apart from God (1:2)


III. Introduction: The profitlessness of human

toil to accumulate things in order to achieve

happiness (1:3-11)
















IV. Discourse, Part 1: In spite of life’s apparent enigmas and meaninglessness, it is to be enjoyed as a gift from God (1:12-11:6)













A. Since human wisdom and endeavors are meaningless, people should enjoy their life and work and its fruits as gifts from God (1:12-6:9)

1. Introduction (1:12-18)

  1. Human endeavors are meaningless (1:12-15)

  2. Pursuing human wisdom is meaningless (1:16-18)

2. Seeking pleasure is meaningless (2:1-11)

3. Human wisdom is meaningless (2:12-17)

Toiling to accumulate things is meaningless (2:18-6:9)

  1. Because people must leave the fruits of their labor to others (2:18-26)

  2. Because all human efforts remain under the government of God’s sovereign appointments, which people cannot fully know and which all their toil cannot change (3:1-4:3)

  3. Because there are things better for people than the envy, greed and ambition that motivate such toil (4:4-16)

  4. Because the fruits of human labor can be lost, resulting in frustration (5:1-6:9)



B. Since people cannot fully know what is best to do or what the future holds for them, they should enjoy now the life and work God has given them (6:10-11:6)

1. Introduction: What is predetermined by God is inalterable, and people cannot fully know what is best or what the future holds (6:10-12)

2. People cannot fully know what is best to do (chs. 7-8)

3. People cannot fully know what the future holds (9:1-11:6)






V. Discourse, Part 2: Since old age and death will soon come, people should enjoy life in their youth, remembering that God will judge (11:7-12:7)

A. People should enjoy their life on earth because their future after death is mysterious, and in that sense is meaningless for their present life (11:7-8)

B. People should enjoy the fleeting joys of youth, but remember that God will judge (11:9-10)

C. People should remember their Creator (and his gifts) in their youth, before the deteriorations of old age and the dissolution on the body come (12:1-7)


VI. Theme Repeated (12:8)



VII. Conclusion: Reverently trust in and obey God (12:9-14)





Ecclesiastes Horizontal



1:1 - Intro: All is vanity

Experience of


1:12 - Personal experience of vanity

Vanity

Search

3:1 - Time


for

4:1 - Toil / Task / Treasure

Observation

Meaning

7:1 - Advantages of wisdom

of

in

8:10 - Righteousness vs. wickedness

Vanity

Live

9:13 - Wisdom vs, Folly  



11:1 - Advice for the future

Living with Vanity


12:9 - Fear God, keep His commandments