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Getting to Know the Bible: Ecclesiastes Overview

Updated: Jan 28, 2023

Peace & Blessings Beloved,

TGBTG for allowing us to see another day. I pray all is well with you and yours, and that your week has been fruitful & blessed thus far.


Today we are going to visit our Getting to Know the Bible Series. In this series, our goal is to come to a comprehensive understanding of each book of the bible. At this point of the series we're going to focus on Ecclesiastes. But before we get to Ecclesiastes 1, I want to ensure we have a baseline understanding of the book of Ecclesiastes. This way we can have a full appreciation for the exquisiteness of the entire book, as well as each individual chapter.


And so, in that spirit, see below for a comprehensive overview of the book of Ecclesiastes, as we prepare to behold and discern Ecclesiastes, beginning with Ecclesiastes 1 in our next installment of this series.





Book Type: The fifth book of Wisdom; the twenty-first book of the Old Testament


Authors: Traditionally considered to be King Solomon.


Date of Writing: Solomon's reign as king of Israel lasted from around 970 B.C. to around 930 B.C. The Book of Ecclesiastes was likely written towards the end of his reign, approximately 935 B.C.


Audience: The people of Israel.


Theme: This wisdom teacher reveals what he has discovered about the meaninglessness of every human endeavor without God at the center of one's life.


Original Language: Hebrew


Genre: Autobiography; Poetry; Rhetorical.


Timeline: Unknown; possibly during the 10th century BC.


Purpose of Writing:

Ecclesiastes is a book of perspective. The narrative of the Preacher (KJV) reveals the depression that inevitably results from seeking happiness in worldly things. This book gives Christians a chance to see the world through the eyes of a person who, though very wise, is trying to find meaning in temporary, human things. Most every form of worldly pleasure is explored by the Preacher, and none of it gives him a sense of meaning.


In the end, the Preacher comes to accept that faith in God is the only way to find personal meaning. He decides to accept the fact that life is brief and ultimately worthless without God. The Preacher advises the reader to focus on an eternal God instead of temporary pleasure.


Summary:

Two phrases are repeated often in Ecclesiastes. The word translated as vanity in the KJV, and meaningless in the NIV appears often, and is used to emphasize the temporary nature of worldly things. In the end, even the most impressive human achievements will be left behind. The phrase under the sun occurs 28 times and refers to the mortal world. When the Preacher refers to all things under the sun, he is talking about earthly, temporary, human things.


The first seven chapters of the book of Ecclesiastes describe all the worldly things under the sun that the Preacher tries to find fulfillment in. He tries scientific discovery (1:10-11), wisdom and philosophy (1:13-18), mirth (2:1), alcohol (2:3), architecture (2:4), property (2:7-8), and luxury (2:8). The Preacher turned his mind towards different philosophies to find meaning, such as materialism (2:19-20), and even moral codes (including chapters 8-9). He found that everything was meaningless, a temporary diversion that, without God, had no purpose or longevity.


Chapters 8-12 of Ecclesiastes describe the Preacher's suggestions and comments on how a life should be lived. He concludes that without God, there is no truth or meaning to life. He has seen many evils and realized that even the best of man's achievements is worth nothing in the long run. So, he advises the reader to acknowledge God from youth (12:1) and to follow His will (12:13-14).


Overview:

While the book of Proverbs is meant to be understood in small pieces, this is not the case with Ecclesiastes. Much of the book is rhetorical—meaning it is stated in order to explore a certain idea. The final verses show the ultimate conclusion this train of thought will lead to.


Ecclesiastes includes 12 chapters broadly organized around Solomon's search for the true meaning of life. After a brief preface in Ecclesiastes 1:1¬–11, Solomon's four-part experiment unfolds. The book begins with an introduction (Ecclesiastes 1:12–18), followed by seeking meaning through pleasure (Ecclesiastes 2:1–11), through wisdom and folly (Ecclesiastes 2:12–17), and through work and rewards (Ecclesiastes 2:18—6:9). This focus on work is the longest section of the book, concerned with the tentative nature of the rewards of one's efforts.


Solomon's conclusions are then discussed in chapters 6—12. Solomon explains the limitations of wisdom in chapters 7—8. Themes of prosperity, suffering, justice, evil, wisdom, and rulers all have their place, yet these all create limits on what a person can know about the future.


In chapters 9—11, Solomon expresses concern over human mortality. He notes that all people die, can do nothing from the grave, do not know when they will die, or what will happen in the future. This could lead to despair, yet Solomon notes that purpose, meaning, and enjoyment of life are based on honoring God and living for Him. This, instead of pleasure or work or wisdom, is the best strategy for a life well lived (Ecclesiastes 11:7—12:8). He concludes his investigation with closing words of advice as well as information about himself as the author (Ecclesiastes 12:9—14).


Foreshadowing:

For all the vanities described in the Book of Ecclesiastes, the answer is Christ. According to Ecclesiastes 3:17, God judges the righteous and the wicked, and the righteous are only those who are in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). God has placed the desire for eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11) and has provided the Way to eternal life through Christ (John 3:16). We are reminded that striving after the world's wealth is not only vanity because it does not satisfy (Ecclesiastes 5:10), but even if we could attain it, without Christ we would lose our souls and what profit is there in that (Mark 8:36)? Ultimately, every disappointment and vanity described in Ecclesiastes has its remedy in Christ, the wisdom of God and the only true meaning to be found in life.


Application:

Ecclesiastes offers the Christian an opportunity to understand the emptiness and despair that those who do not know God grapple with. When we’re surrounded by the temptation to proclaim life’s ultimate emptiness, we can find in Ecclesiastes a vision tempered by experience and ultimately seen through divinely colored lenses. Those who do not have a saving faith in Christ are faced with a life that will ultimately end and become irrelevant. Life is destined to remain unsatisfying apart from our recognition of God’s intervention. If there is no salvation, and no God, then not only is there no point to life, but no purpose or direction to it, either. The world under the sun, apart from God, is frustrating, cruel, unfair, brief, and utterly meaningless. But with Christ, life is but a shadow of the glories to come in a heaven that is only accessible through Him.


Key Verses (ESV):


Ecclesiastes 1:2: "Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity." Ecclesiastes 1:8: "All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing." Ecclesiastes 1:18: "For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow." Ecclesiastes 2:1: "I said in my heart, 'Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.' But behold, this also was vanity." Ecclesiastes 2:11: "Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun." Ecclesiastes 3:1: "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven." Ecclesiastes 12:1: "Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, 'I have no pleasure in them.'" Ecclesiastes 12:13: "The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man."


*Note:

Ecclesiastes presents us a naturalistic vision of life—one that sees life through distinctively human eyes—but ultimately recognizes the rule and reign of God in the world. This more humanistic quality has made the book especially popular among younger audiences today, men and women who have seen more than their fair share of pain and instability in life but who still cling to their hope in God.


Ecclesiastes, like much of life, represents a journey from one point to another. Solomon articulated his starting point early in the book: “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2), indicating the utter futility and meaninglessness of life as he saw it. Nothing made sense to him because he had already tried any number of remedies—pleasure, work, and intellect—to alleviate his sense of feeling lost in the world.


However, even in the writer’s desperate search for meaning and significance in life, God remained present. For instance, we read that God provides food, drink, and work (2:24); both the sinner and the righteous person live in God’s sight (2:26); God’s deeds are eternal (3:14); and God empowers people to enjoy His provision (5:19). Ultimately, the great truth of Ecclesiastes lies in the acknowledgment of God’s ever-present hand on our lives. Even when injustice and uncertainty threaten to overwhelm us, we can trust Him and follow after Him (12:13–14).


I pray you receive this with the love intended, and apply it to wisdom.


May the joy of the Lord continue to be your strength.


Love you much.


Stay Safe, Stay Healthy, Stay Blessed!


-Humble Servant


P.S- If you have not given your life to Jesus Christ, I implore you to take the time to do so right now. Use John 3:16 & Romans 10:9-10 as a foundation for making your confession of faith. And use Ephesians 2:1-10 to provide proper context for your salvation.

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