The simple read on Ecclesiastes is that all is vanity. Life is meaningless. You live, then you die. A deeper read reveals the purpose of life. 

EcclesiastesMy wife and I are in the midst of a 2-year Bible study series together. This past week the study flew over the Book of Ecclesiastes.

Ecclesiastes is one of those Bible books that many people have heard of and know only generally.

There are a few popular and pithy verses in this Old Testament book that get a lot of attention. Actually though, left by themselves, these verses might leave one with the wrong idea or conclusion of what this book with 12 brief chapters is all about.

Here are a few notable verses:

  • Vanity of vanities! All is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 1:2)
  • [T]here is nothing new under the sun. (1:9)
  • This also is vanity and a striving after wind. (2:26)
  • For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die. (3:1-2)
  • A threefold cord is not quickly broken. (4:12)

Seems like a collection of proverbial advice that essentially lays out a pessimistic perspective or even philosophy of life that is downright depressing.

So what is this doing in the Bible and why bother with it?

Solomon, the Author of Ecclesiastes
While not specifically named in the book, Ecclesiastes has been ascribed to King Solomon, the son of King David. Solomon lived and reigned in Jerusalem during the 10th century BC and was best known for building the first spectacularly beautiful Temple in Israel. According to the Bible, Solomon had great wealth, 700 wives and 300 concubines (see 1 Kings 11). 

While given the gift of wisdom by God (see 1 Kings 3), Solomon ultimately allowed foreign idolatry to permeate the Jewish kingdom as he was heavily influenced by the pagan religions of many of his wives.

It is claimed that he wrote Ecclesiastes near the end of his life after living a life of hedonistic luxury including “everything under the sun.”

Summary: The 5 Key Discourses of Ecclesiastes
The Book of Ecclesiastes can be divided up into 5 key discourses, or almost sermons. After all, the opening words are:

The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king of Jerusalem. – Ecclesiastes 1:1

Here they are in summary including a strong conclusion about the purpose of life:

  1. First Discourse (Chapters 1-2)The Vanity of Human Life. Key verse: Vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? (v1:2-3) The main theme here is that all human effort and experience is but vanity; it is meaningless. Solomon covers it all: drink, wealth, power, wisdom, property, sex, entertainment. He concludes this section however with the notion that all is from the hand of God, who gives wisdom, knowledge and joy. (v2:24-26)
  2. Second Discourse (Chapters 3-5)The Disappointing Experience of Life. Key verse: This all is vanity and a striving after wind. (v4:16) The major theme here is that given the vanity of life, man should be prudent and not self-serving. He should make the best of what can be a disappointing and frustrating life. He again concludes though that anything good and enjoyable under the sun, be it even wealth, possessions, and power, is given by God, and should fill one with joy in his heart. (v5:18-20)
  3. Third Discourse (Chapters 6-8) – The Vanity of Wealth and Honor. Key verse: Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of desire; this also is vanity and a striving after wind. (v6:9) The major counsel here is the control of selfish ambition and prudent wisdom and good choices in life regarding folly, women, wickedness, and justice. He concludes that even with wisdom, one cannot know or fathom the work of God. (v8:16-17)

  4. Fourth Discourse (Chapters 9-11) God Handles to Injustices of Life. Key verse: Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all. (9:11). The theme here again is to make the best of this life and your investments in spite of the uncertainty, apparent injustice, and unfairness of circumstances. He concludes that you do not know the work of God who makes everything. (v11:5)

  5. Fifth Discourse (Chapter 12) – Conclusion in the Light of Eternity. Key Verse: The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. (v12:13) The final conclusion is actually a build up of what has been discussed throughout the earlier chapters: that God is your Creator and giver of all things. That while all is, in fact, vanity of vanities, good and bad as it comes, we are merely to live, fear God, and keep His commandments. And this is our whole duty and purpose in life.

Lingering Thoughts
This Book of Ecclesiastes, like the rest of the Word of God, can play in your head and haunt you. It is deep, rich, and not to be taken lightly. It ultimately is convicting of the heart, challenging of the mind, and uplifting of the soul if we allow it to take root and then blossom like a wild vine.

Yes, in this strange book, the gamut of life is considered with all its pain, trouble, gain, and blessing, and the answer always returns to God, the source and power and purpose of all things.

Do you know the purpose of life?
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. – Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

Categories: Abundant Living, Calling, Devotion, Discipleship, Evil, Faith, Family, Fathering, Forgiveness, Israel, Jesus, Manhood, Marketplace, Marriage, Old Testament, Parenting, Prayer, Purpose, Suffering, The Church

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1 reply

  1. I dabbled in blogging with my thoughts on Ecclesiastes. You’re welcome to use or copy anything from there that you find helpful.


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