Commentary on Ecclesiastes (last update to this page was made on 08/04/2003)
No other book in the bible has frustrated me more than this book. For me, it once was no more than a book of despair with very few answers other than to conclude at the end of the book to fear God and follow his commandments. It seemed to suggest that life is bound in futility without purpose. It now has become one of my most favorite books with deep meaning and purpose.
The name of the book is from the Septuagint. In the Hebrew Bible is it called "Koheleth" (some use the word Qoheleth). There is disagreement on what the word means, though in the English version it is considered as one whom addresses an assembly or "preacher". The author of the book is most likely Solomon. The supposed chronological order, according to Robert Young translation, is 975 B.C.
On the surface, the book of Ecclesiastes may appear to be no more than a lesson that is hopeless and perhaps even pagan in nature. Yet this book is under the inspiration of Holy Spirit and therefore should instruct and inspire us.
The book presents two worldviews (e.g., a way of looking at life and the world around us). One of the "Epicurean" which is materialistic and sees nothing better than the pleasures of life. The other of the one contemplating the essence of life with the view of God and his involvement.
There are two key phrases and conflicting views of life which ought to be understood if one is to grasp the significance of this book. The first is "under the sun". This refers to those things that happen in the time and space dimension or under the sun. It is the realm that is common to all men and from the perspective of the world without God. It is from the perspective of living under the sun. It is a viewpoint that limits itself and is incapable of seeing above or beyond the sun. God is beyond the sun and transcends this realm. The second phrase is "under heaven". This is the realm where all perspective is seen under the hand of God. It brings meaning and purpose to the experience of life when living under God. One world view is without God and under the sun while another view transcends the sun and is with God in view.
Solomon, as a wise teacher, taught divine instruction and moral understanding in the book of Proverbs (1000 B.C.) near the beginning of his work. With this understanding as a foundation, one may leave behind the "vanity of vanities" and the things of the visible to embrace the invisible and eternal things of lasting value.
Solomon presents the two worldviews, as if in a struggle within himself, only to emerge in victory and the final conclusion to fear God and keep his ways as our whole duty and complete fulfillment.
Please read each chapter and verse from the Bible and give it to your own contemplation and guiding of the Holy Spirit for you may see much more than is presented below.
Verses: 1 - 11
Solomon reflects on the mundane of life, as we are to do the same! The book opens with statements filled with despair. However, it represents a form of wisdom literature that was common in its day which were basically writings searching for the meaning of life.
In verse two, the preacher states "utterly vain, utterly vain, everything is vain!" (Moffatt). The expression of vanity and vain are used approximately 65 times in the old testament with nearly half of them found in the book of Ecclesiastes. According to the Strong's concordance, the hebrew word 'hebel' and 'habel' means emptiness, transitory, unsatisfactory and altogether vain. In today's culture, we think of vanity as conceited and self-worship. There is no doubt that words like 'futility' and 'useless' describe vanity. Futility is what is meant by Solomon. It is to see all as empty and bringing no significance or value. Interesting that the Psalmist states "Surely men of low degree are vanity" (Ps 62:9) and "every man at his best state is altogether vanity." (Ps 39:5). Man, without God is useless and forever empty, having no purpose or meaning. During those times of despair and emptiness, I too have found myself not remembering the faithfulness and closeness of God and in a sense - without God.
In verse four, man passes away from one generation to the next, yet the earth abides for the ages. In Matthew 24:35. Jesus states that heaven and earth shall pass away but his words shall not pass away. In Revelation 21:1 John states that he saw the first heaven and earth pass away and he saw new ones.
In verses five through seven, Solomon rehearses the cycle of the natural elements (the sun, air and water) and their routine.
In verse eight, man himself is FULL of all activity and yet not satisfied. The natural senses (e.g., seeing, hearing, etc.) can never be satisfied. They are as a "bottomless pit", with no end or fulfillment.
In verses nine and ten, the cycle of life and its real basic issues has never really changed all through time. That which hath been is still here today and will continue to be. Though knowledge has increased, the behavior of man and his internal struggles and joys have really been the same since ancient days of old. There is nothing new under the sun, as stated by the preacher. Even at this writing 3,000 years ago, he already considered that of "old time" before his time and concludes nothing is really new.
Verses: 12 - 18
In verse twelve, the writer states he was king over Israel in Jerusalem, as was Solomon.
In verse thirteen, To seek and search out things under heaven or in view of God and come to any conclusion that is correct can only be done by one of the seven spirits of God, namely wisdom (Is. 11:2). Solomon gave his heart for this journey BY WISDOM.
In verse fifteen, without God and his divine intervention to change a thing, it is true that which is crooked cannot be made straight and that which wants is infinite (cannot be numbered).
In verse sixteen, Solomon's heart had great experience in the spirit of wisdom and the spirit of knowledge (Is. 11:2).
In verse eighteen, true wisdom and knowledge is often acquired in grief and sorrow as one contemplates life, his creator and the meaning and purpose behind circumstances and events.
Verses: 1 - 11
Solomon speaks of the vanity of pleasure. He describes the meaning of life in the pursuit of happiness and pleasure. He is less than satisfied in the end. It all ends in futility.
In verses one through six, the meaning of life and the pursuit thereof is not found in the pleasures of this world nor in the construction of beautiful buildings, homes and such.
In verses seven through eleven, it is not found in great possessions, including servants, livestock, gold, silver, priceless treasures, music and anything that the eyes desire! After all is considered, the results of our labour cannot satisfy us or have any eternal significance.
Verses: 12 - 21
The wise man walks in light while the fool in darkness and wisdom far exceeds foolishness.
Verses: 22 - 26
The Epicurean view of life is to eat, drink and be merry and enjoy the labour of his own hand. Yet in verse twenty-six, the good man enjoys wisdom, knowledge and joy while the experience of the sinner is to travail in his labour to gather riches which only is vanity.
We have heard it taught that this book is from the perspective of "under heaven" while we are to view ourselves as seated with Christ IN heaven. While there is a wonderful lesson of what is ours IN heavenly places, this very chapter has meaningful things that are quite positive and beautiful in its time while "under heaven". We can not discard only the negative and more difficult experiences such as dying, weeping, hating, mourning, etc. because it is under heaven while wanting to retain the positive ones (which certainly would be IN heaven) as to laugh, to dance, to embrace, to love, etc. The entire chapter makes more sense with the lessons coming forth in experiences (negative and positive) while having a view of under the divine hand of God or under heaven.
Verses: 1 - 11
In verse one, to everything there is a season and time to everything under heaven. For everything that is subject to time and space, there is a season. For a thing to have a season, it has a beginning and follows through to an end. The wise man will learn from the beginning of a thing. He will pay close attention and understand the basic building blocks, yet he will not stay there. As a thing matures and continues on to its end, we too will mature in our understanding while experiencing the same thing. It is as Paul states that we leave the principles of the doctrine of Christ and go on unto maturity or perfection (Heb 6:1). There is a time for every purpose under heaven. There is a purpose and meaning to everything that we do when seen from this perspective of "under heaven" or seeing things working after the counsel of God. There is also an appropriate TIME for everything. The wise man will consider the times and do what is appropriate at the right time and moment.
In verse two, there is a time to be born and a time to die. God decides when a child is born and when to die. God decides that time. There is a time to plant and time to pluck. There is a time for man to plant and an appropriate time to harvest the crop.
In verse three, there is a time to kill and a time to heal. There is a time to inflict death. Do you eat meat? Then there is certainly a time to kill in order to feed our young and survive. Likewise, there is a time to heal. If God permits, he can heal and may even use a person in his church to do so. Yet we should take notice that there is a time and there is not a time! Just as the prophets of Baal, many huddle and pray hard and loud for healing with no avail. Why? Too many don't know nor do they discern the time.
In verse three, there is a time to break down and a time to build up. In the history of Israel and by the words of the prophet of Jeremiah, we see a rooting out and pulling down (Jer. 1:10).
In verse four, there is an appropriate time to weep and to laugh. There is an appropriate time to mourn and we are to mourn with those that mourn. Jesus wept over Lazarus. It is wrong to laugh and dance at certain times. There is also a time to rejoice and dance.
In verse eight, there is a time to love and a time to hate. I can not truly love unless God gives me his love for my love will always fail. Likewise, God hates evil and there are things that are repulsive and destructive and should be hated.
In verse eleven, God makes everything beautiful in its time. We go through a thing and though its beginning may be less than beautiful, perhaps difficult and even utterly painful to the soul. Yet, in its TIME a thing will mature in wisdom and become beautiful to the one with the worldview of under heaven.
In verse eleven, God hath set the AGES (e.g., world or eternity) in the heart of a man. We were made for the ages and it has meaning and purpose. There is a time that God has established for all things.
Verses: 1 - 14
In verse one, "A good name is better than precious ointment." It was a frequent technique used in wisdom literature to compare abstract things to common things. Here we see the comparison of a good name or reputation to precious ointment. In the ancient world, it was rare to find a precious ointment to relieve pain.
In verse one, we also see the words that it is better for "the day of death than the day of one's birth." When people are in despair, they sometimes curse the day of their birth or ask God to take them from this life. We see this in scripture with Job as he cursed the day he was born. Others in scripture have done the same.
In verse two through four, "It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth." Here we see the contrast of the wise person and the foolish person. While in the house of feasting, everything is fun, light and easy going. There is certainly a time for such things. However, we aren't in a place of mediation and contemplation concerning the things of life. When in the house of mourning and the experience of grief, we find ourselves seeking wisdom from God. It is in this place of grief and sorrows that we learn insights and true joy.
In verse eight through ten, we can see that the end of a matter is better than its beginning for in the end, we have hopefully matured and gained understanding and wisdom.
In verse thirteen and fourteen, we are to "consider the work of God." This is to seek the meaning of a matter. To think of a work and see it from a perspective of "under heaven" or by the hand of God. While in the day of prosperity we are to be joyful but in the day of troubles and affliction, we are to consider or seek the meaning and evaluate the matter. Yet we must see the hand of God in both good times as well as times of trouble.
Verses: 9 - 12
God often uses the person of low degree and not the great men. We see that life doesn't always provide the race to the fastest or the fight to the best or strongest person, "... the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all." God will decide the outcome and provide the means for it to come to pass.
Verses: 1 - 8
In verse one, we are instructed to remember our Creator in the days of our youth. Why thy youth? This is a storehouse principle. We are to store up thoughts and an understanding of God while the cares of life and the afflictions thereof have been small. We are to enter into a meaningful relationship with God when we are strong in our days of youth. As life marches on, life will certainly deliver its challenges and heartaches. Wisdom teaches us to build on God while the sun, light, moon and stars are not darkened or time is still young.
Verses: 9- 13
In verse nine, the preacher still taught the things of God!!! Even in the struggle of life and two perspectives, he overcame and performed his task.
In verse twelve, Solomon states to beware of writing many books. In proverbs, he writes "in the multitude of words there wanteth no sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise." (Prov 10:19). So, is talking too much or writing too much a sin even if it is words of truth and aiding those to salvation? If so, would it be better to not talk at all and become monks for risk of too much? Yet, wisdom herself states that she had called yet those did not respond (Prov 1:24)! Yet, (I have read) Solomon spoke 5,000 songs and 3,000 proverbs! Yet, Jesus was not limited to a few words while giving his sermon on the mount! So, what is too much talking or too many books? Simply put, all of scripture is the one WORD, not many words or too much talking. Likewise, all the books of the Bible is one book and not many books of differing thought.
In verse thirteen and fourteen, it brings the final analysis of the entire matter. It is the essence of consideration. Fear (respect and awe of) God and walk in his instruction for if we do this, we have the perspective of "under heaven".