INTRODUCTION

At some point in your life, potentially multiple times, you’ll ask yourself, “Is this all there is?!?” We have spent countless hours, exhausted our resources, and put all of our efforts into climbing to the top of the proverbial mountain. Once we’ve reached the top, we often wonder, “Is this all I’ll ever have? Is this all there is worth living for?”

Have you been there?

Maybe that is when you start a new hobby. Find a new career. Find a new spouse. The list goes on. We find ourselves having an insatiable hunger and thirst for more. Yet when we get what we were seeking, we’re often left wanting.
Ecclesiastes is a book that puts on full display the utter futility of life. Yet at the same time, it is not done in a manner that is Eeyore-ish, asking, “Why bother?!” The book of Ecclesiastes teaches us that, despite our relentless pursuits, we are to live a life of faith and live life to its fullest, for that is God’s intent for us. We are to enjoy this life and its pleasures as gifts from God.

Ecclesiastes invites us to escape our rosy-colored view of self. Self-confident lives protect us from cynicism and bitterness, knowing that wisdom, pleasure, wealth, and all our other pursuits are insufficient in providing what we really need. Ecclesiastes invites us to know God is there. He is good and generous. Life makes sense and is fulfilling only when we live with that understanding.

AUTHOR/BACKGROUND

At the beginning of the book, the author identifies himself as “son of David, king in Jerusalem.” Other than this, the book is largely anonymous with no specific name given. Jewish and Christian tradition attribute the writing to Solomon. Even though his name is never mentioned within the book, he is the leading candidate as the one who penned it; especially when we take into consideration the author’s description of his life and unrivaled wisdom (Ecclesiastes 1:16), relentless pursuit of pleasure (2:3), empire building (2:4) and unequaled wealth (https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/ecc/2/7/s_6610072:7).

As we study the book of Ecclesiastes, it is important to recognize that there are two speakers within the book, not just one. One of the speakers is referred to as the teacher (Qoheleth, a Hebrew term that means “one who assembles a group”. Thus, why most translations use the term preacher or teacher). We see this person speak in Ecclesiastes 1:12-12:7, occupying the bulk of the book.

The other person in the book speaks about the preacher/teacher. We see them introduce the book and the speaker in Ecclesiastes1:1-11 and provide an epilogue at the end of the book in Ecclesiastes 12:8-14. This second speaker goes unnamed, but it is clear that he’s speaking to his son (Ecclesiastes 12:12). The book could be characterized by having a person who is speaking to his son about the thoughts and lessons of the teacher. 

MAJOR THEMES

Vanity. The word vanity (hevel) and the longer refrain vanity of vanities (hevel hevalim) occurs 38 times. In other Old Testament books, the word hevel has a meaning of vapor, breath, or breeze. Life does not last long despite one’s efforts to extend it. Life itself is also something elusive, we cannot fully grasp it or control it. Life is also something that can be quite disorienting and perplexing. When the Preacher uses this word, he can be drawing from all these views.

Enjoyment. “There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat, drink, and find enjoyment in his toil.” The “calls to enjoyment” are frequent (2:24; 3:12, 22; 5:18; 8:15; 9:7–10). The Preacher encourages us to enjoy the life God has given us. That is the best course of action for us.

Toil. Frequently, the Preacher poses a question asking a thematic question (1:3; 3:9; 5:16): “What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” along with other occurrences of the word gain in 2:11, 13, 15; 3:19; 6:8, 11. No matter how much we strive and make an effort, all that we receive is much like the wind, something we cannot control, nor something we can eternally hold onto.

Under the Sun. This phrase is used regularly in the Preacher’s lesson, referring to a point of time, not necessarily a geographical description. “It’s a way of saying that for as long as the earth lasts, in this period of time, this is how things are. This side of eternity, life is a breath.”[1]

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[1] Living Life Backward by David Gibson, page 28

PURPOSE

The Preacher’s message is this: Life is difficult and then you die. Ultimately there is no meaning in life. We can’t find meaning in wisdom because we can’t even discern the time in order to say the right thing at the right time or do the right thing at the right time. Therefore, seize the day.

 Tremper Longman suggests that the book of Ecclesiastes is “an idol buster.” Ecclesiastes teaches us that if we try to find the meaning of life in things such as wisdom, pleasure, wealth, work, etc. they will ultimately let us down. They are merely false gods. Ecclesiastes encourages us to put God first and when we do, everything else finds its proper place in life. The book aims to show that there is no contradiction between living life to its fullest and living a life of obedience to God.

OUTLINE OF BOOK

I. Prologue (1:1–11)

II. Pursuit of Vanities and Solution (1:4–2:26)

III. God’s Design for Time and Life (3:1-15)

IV. Wickedness and Oppression Under the Sun (3:16–4:16)

IV. Fear God (5:1–7)

VI. Life “Under the Sun” (5:8–8:15)

       a. Futility of Suffering (5:8-20)

       b. Futility of Riches (6:1-12)

       c. Wisdom v. Folly (7:1-14)

       d. Limitations of Wisdom (7:15-24)

       e. The Heart of the Problem: Sin (7:25–29)

       f. Foolish authorities v. Godly Authority (8:1-15)

 

VII. Summary of the Preacher’s Conquest (8:16-9:10)

VIII. Lessons from Wisdom (9:11-11:8)

IX. Instructions for the Young (11:9-12:7)

X. The Epilogue (12:8–14)

– WEEK 1 –

Hevel

ECCLESIASTES 1:3-15
Michael Hearn
July 12, 2020

The Hebrew term hevel, translated vanity, refers to a mist, vapor, or mere breath. It appears 34 times in Ecclesiastes. Are you searching for the meaning of life in nature, work, possessions, or achievements, etc.? Ecclesiastes says it’s all hevel. The only way to find true purpose and meaning in our lives is through following after God.

– WEEK 2 –

Life Under the Sun

ECCLESIASTES 4 – 5:7
Kyle Wetzler
July 19, 2020

It doesn’t take long to look around and realize something isn’t quite right. Romans 8:19-23 even tells us that creation groans under the weight of sin. It’s not supposed to be this way! When God created the world and everything in it, He said it was good. However, when sin entered the world, everything began to disintegrate. But as Christians, we have hope and salvation through Jesus Christ.

– WEEK 3 –

The Futility of Life

ECCLESIASTES 5:8 – 8:17
David Libby
July 26, 2020

Within this next large section of Ecclesiastes, the Preacher takes time to dethrone all the things we quickly elevate to the ultimate in life. Wealth, wisdom, political involvement. While all these things are fine within their proper context, they make really terrible gods. Whether we experience success in these, or suffer great loss, our role is to remember that it is God who gives and takes away. Regardless of what we experience, we must remember that God is with us.

– WEEK 4 –

Death is Certain

ECCLESIASTES 9 – 11:10
Jon Siebert
August 2, 2020

While planning and strategizing are never just a task for naught, we often over-estimate what we’re able to do and accomplish because ultimately, we are not in control. The only thing we know for certain that will happen is death. The rest is up in the air. This is the lesson the Preacher further develops in our study of Ecclesiastes.

– WEEK 5 –

The End

ECCLESIASTES 12
Michael Hearn
August 9, 2020

In a poetic way, the end of the message found in Ecclesiastes is very poignant to our own end here on Earth. The message of Ecclesiastes isn’t necessarily the idea that nothing matters; but rather, everything matters. Ecclesiastes teaches us to live in light of this reality and stop ignoring what’s coming towards us – death and judgement. For believers, this is something that is not to be feared, but embraced, for we know what lies ahead.