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Series Theme: Why Read the Bible: Ecclesiastes



INTRODUCTION to Ecclesiastes


Why Read Ecclesiastes: The name basically means ‘Gatherer of knowledge and wisdom', or simply, ‘The Teacher'. It often seems it is a book you either love or hate because you either see in it a dry cynicism or wise-although-jaded counsel. As someone has well-written it is “not God's arguments but God's record of man's arguments”. To understand it we really need to understand its perspective and once we see that it makes a lot of sense and should provide much instruction for our lives today.


The Perspective of Ecclesiastes: There are three things to note:

i) The historical context: It is usually suggested that Song of Songs was written by Solomon when he was young, Proverbs written by him in middle age, and Ecclesiastes when he was old. Now to catch something of his personal history we have to read 1 Kings 10 that shows us his incredible successes, but which is followed immediately in chapter 11 by, King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women …..   As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God.” (v.1,4) It was in this latter period that he clearly became very jaded about life, out of fellowship with God.

ii) Overall Perspective: A key phrase that occurs many times in the book is “under the sun”, meaning from an earthly perspective. This is a book from a very human perspective and, even worse, from a jaded human perspective.

iii) The God Perspective: What is remarkable to reflect on, is that his successes that made him one of the richest men in the history of the world [perhaps until modern times] came through the wisdom that God gave him. He was blessed, prosperous and famous because of the enabling of God. It was this that enabled him to become rich, carry out all the projects he mentions in 2:4-6, and then go on to spend so much time studying. However it might be suggested that as time passed, this studying came more and more in a time when he had drifted away from the Lord and was, therefore, studying to find meaning in an increasingly unhappy and unfulfilled life. For these reasons we should take much note of what we find here as salutary warnings for how we should go about life in the twenty-first century where we too, have so much prosperity and affluence, in the West at least.


The Ultimate Lessons of Ecclesiastes: T he overall warning is that human endeavour in the absence of God , whether physically or mentally, comes to the ultimate conclusion that it is all pointless. Having said that, despite this overwhelming sense that is there in the early chapters, Solomon, even in his jaded state, has the temerity we might say to declare the following:

2:26 To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness

3:12,13 there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live.  That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God [also 5:18,19]

12:13 fear God and keep his commandments,   for this is the duty of all mankind.


It is also interesting to note that although Solomon has turned away from the Lord he nevertheless can't help himself referring to ‘God' 37 times in this book. God will still be there, in the background, if you like, making His presence known despite our folly when we turn away from Him.


Because of his time and circumstances of life, we think it is legitimate to describe Solomon's outlook as jaded in this book and the modern believer with the New Testament in the other hand, so to speak, may agree that without God all of these negative assertions are so often true, but should go on to rejoice that ‘in Christ' we have purpose, meaning and direction as God leads and guides us and we need never feel jaded as Solomon has come to be. His main folly – which is incredible in a man who in his early years had been gifted by God with immense wisdom – is that he allowed desire to bypass his intellect so, as the record declares he ignored the Law in respect of foreign women declaring, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love,” and so indeed, as noted above, “his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God.” (11:3,4) Ecclesiastes is the result!


Unlike most other books we will not provide a Contents List of the 12 chapters because we conclude that the titles we have given, give little help as to where to turn next. Our best advice is read the whole book from beginning to end.