The book of Ecclesiastes is a very interesting and unique book in the Bible found in the poetical books section, so it is written in Hebrew poetry. If you are reading this book for the first time, you might ask several questions, for instance, why is this even in the Bible? What do we get out of it, and for what purpose was it written? This short outline will attempt to answer some of the several questions that Christians have when reading the book of Ecclesiastes.
It is in my opinion that when you pick up a book in the Bible, you would want to know some of the following points:
- Who wrote the book and when was it written?
- To whom was it written?
- What are some features of this book?
- Why was it written, and what is the writer trying to tell us? What is God telling us?
- What lessons can we receive from the book?
- Is there any passages that remind you of the Lord Jesus Christ? He is seen as a type, or a picture, in each book.
- Can this book be divided into sections?
You may have more points yourself, or you may study the Bible in another way, which is completely fine, but the above points are a guide for those of you who do not know where to begin.
To start with, the word Ecclesiastes, or the other title is “Preacher”, is from the Hebrew word qohelet, which gives the meaning “to gather”. The Greek Old Testament translation, known as the Septuagint, has rendered it with ecclesiasts, so that the name of the book gets the meaning of ecclesiastical gathering. This comes from the Greek work ekklesia, meaning assembly, or church. Therefore, once we know the meaning of a book, it starts to become interesting.
Although the author of the book is not mentioned, there have been attributes to King Solomon. Chapter 1:12-16 is quite evident. It is peculiar that the name Jehovah is not mentioned in this book, but God is mentioned as Elohim at least 40 times, and as the Creator (Chapter 12). It appears that Solomon wrote the book towards the end of his life, looking back on all the things he experienced and concluded with the common phrase in the book – vanity and chasing the wind.
The book was written to a general audience, to a people that want to get the most out of life without giving a thought to God. The question is ‘what is the best way that a human person can spend life’? These answers are given to us from the point of view of a person who had everything, and then drifted away from God. He wanted to see what life was like without God in the picture. The conclusion is that all is vanity, and the word vanity appears at least 37 times in this book. The phrase under the sun is also a common occurrence in this book, which appears about 29 times. The purpose of the book is to show that having everything that life can offer without having the Lord in your life is all vanity. How many sports and movie stars, though very wealthy, but deep down are not satisfied and the end is very sad! Solomon was one who was the wisest person on the earth, and had all the riches, married many, many women, and had everything that life has to offer. Towards the end of his life he drifted away from God and His word, and what was the result? He said, ‘vanity of vanities!’ (Ch 1:2-3). This is a summary of someone’s life far away from God. It is as if he repented of his drifting away and is exhorting the readers to not follow after what he did towards the end of his life.
There are some features in this short book that are worthy to note. Chapter 9:14-15 is a faint type of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was the poor wise Man whose sacrifice on the cross defeated the enemy, and anyone who trusts in Him and accepts Him as Saviour is redeemed and saved. However, the Lord is now forgotten and not many people remember Him and what He did on the cross, and that He is now risen.
Chapter 12 is another good feature, and verse 1 has become a favourite among many Christians, that we are to remember our Creator in the days of our youth, when we are young and full of energy. Apparently, Solomon had not remembered God when he drifted away and he is writing this to stress the fact that it is in the time of our youth that we remember God who created us and gave us blessings. He then concludes the chapter, and the book, with the exhortation to fear God and keep His commandments. Please note this was written in Old Testament times where the children of Israel had the commandments of God. Now we have the whole Bible, and the Word of God is what we keep today, not just merely keeping ritualistic rules and regulations, but we need to have a holy fear (reverence) for the Lord and for His Word. This is a wonderful, fitting conclusion to a book that begins with vanity, despair, hopelessness, empty life without God, and achieving nothing even though one has everything that life has to offer.
There are two main parts in Ecclesiastes.
- Chapters 1-6 bring before us the search of a wise man brining out the fact that the good things that appear in life, and even though one may have everything life has to offer, it is all vanity, grasping for the wind, and will all vanish one day. In other words, these are questions for sense in all that happens on earth (under the sun).
- Chapters 7-12 shows that the search leads to certain conclusions, and good advice and counsel is provided in this section.