Tonight we begin a 13-week study of the book of Ecclesiastes. This book is full of memorable and quotable statements, and there is much to admire about its eloquence. There is both positivity and negativity in Ecclesiastes, but as we will see as we move through the book, much of the negativity masquerades as positivity.
It is widely assumed that King Solomon is the author of Ecclesiastes because the writer is identified in chapter one, verse one as “…the Preacher, the son of David, the king of Jerusalem.” Solomon had chosen wisdom in I Kings 3:1-15 after God was pleased with his sacrifices and love. God asked Solomon, “Ask! What shall I give you?”
Solomon, already showing qualities of humility and wisdom, answers God: “You have shown great mercy to Your servant David my father, because he walked before You in truth, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with You; You have continued this great kindness for him, and You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king instead of my father David, but I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to be numbered or counted. Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?”
This context matters because, in the highly likely event that Solomon wrote the book of Ecclesiastes, it follows that the wisdom herein is special. It is godly wisdom, bestowed upon a man by God with the express purpose of discerning good and evil and judging God’s people. This kind of wisdom exceeds any of that found today in books on philosophy, theology, or other man-made constructs. This is godly wisdom, put forth here in the book of Ecclesiastes for our benefit.
Granted, Solomon was not perfect; he sought foreign wives (which had been forbidden) and also sacrificed to idols during his time. The book, however, is thought to have been written later in his life, after he had repented of these sins.
So, what can we learn from it?
It is easy to be fatalistic or cynical after reading many of the statements in Ecclesiastes. For example:
“All the labor of man is for his mouth, and yet the soul is not satisfied.” Ecclesiastes 6:7
“I have seen everything in my days of vanity: there is a just man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs life in his wickedness.: Ecclesiastes 7:15
“But if a man lives many years and rejoices in them all, yet let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many. All that is coming is vanity” Ecclesiastes 11:8
In light of these sentiments, we are compelled to ask – what can we learn from statements such as these? In many ways, the entirety of the book of Ecclesiastes is a prologue to the statement: “Now go serve the Lord.” Because so much of the book speaks to the vanity and the futility of life, the natural conclusion to make is that we should serve God in preparation for the hereafter and enjoy His blessings while we are here.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 has a unique way of categorizing the message. Since God created us, there is a yearning we have for Him, which can only be satisfied by an honest and obedient relationship with God. The regular person goes about their life, working, eating, playing, loving, etc., but we can only find that deep satisfaction through loving and knowing Him: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.” It is the eternity that God put in our hearts which compels us to seek Him.
Despite the descriptions of life on earth as vain and despite the sometimes hopeless perspective, it is all built on godly wisdom that leads us to a truth by which to live our lives. The last two verses of the book sum it up perfectly:
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
I very much look forward to our study of this book together. I hope that you get some valuable things out of it.
Please feel free to post questions, impressions or reactions in the comments section.