Week 25 Devotion
This week we will be finishing up one book of wisdom literature (Proverbs) and we will begin another book in the wisdom literature (Ecclesiastes). So here in the introduction let’s talk about this new book that we will read this week.
The heading or title for the book of Ecclesiastes is the Hebrew word Qoheleth which means Preacher. The book falls into the category of wisdom literature and as such, it is often associated with King Solomon, but scholars aren’t sure if Solomon wrote this book or if it was simply inspired by the wisdom that he taught. Either way, the book opens with this phrase, “The words of the Preacher, the son of David, King in Jerusalem.”
But the internal evidence and the most natural reading of the text itself argues, in my opinion, for Solomon as the author of the book. 1. The title itself fits with Solomon, 2. The profile of the preacher and his experiences in life unmistakably point to Solomon (I Kings 2-11), 3. The wisdom of the preacher which surpasses all in Jerusalem fits with Solomon (I Kings 2), 4. And the role of the one who taught the people wisdom; all of these as well as others that we will see along the way point to Solomon the son of David and Bathsheba as the preacher and primary author of the book.
But what about the background of this book. The life of Solomon was one of unbridled indulgence which seems to stand in opposition to the measure of wisdom that he was given by God that surpassed all the men of the earth. This book shows a man who sought to find pleasure, fulfillment, meaning, and purpose in everything that this world had to offer only to discover that true meaning and purpose could not be found “under the sun” but as it were “beyond it” in fearing and obeying God.
But an even bigger question is, “What is this book about?” Well, let’s work through that by meditating on this book, discussing this book and praying about this book.
Here is something to Meditate on…
One of the major themes to this book is the vanity of life. The preacher repeats himself over and over saying, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” The Hebrew term here is Hevel and the Preacher uses this term more than 40 times in the book and this term means smoke or vapor in some translations it means meaningless. But it’s a little more complicated than that.
So why does the Preacher use this term to describe life? In order to understand the answer to this question, we will have to read the book and as we do we will see three themes that come up over and over. The first theme has to do with the unavoidable march of time and here is how the Preacher brings this up.
Eccl 1:4 A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever. 5 The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises. 6 The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits, the wind returns. 7 All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again…9 What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
His point here is that time simply marches on and we will be born, live, die and be forgotten. This is a fairly pessimistic view of life but it does put things in perspective a little bit. We aren’t the center of the universe. Our accomplishments on this earth are small and will soon be a thing of the past. Time will outlast us all.
The second theme that we see in this book is that death comes for us all (Eccl 9:1-6). Whether it comes quickly or slowly it comes for all, the righteous and the unrighteous alike. Death doesn’t care about your wealth or how much you’ve accomplished in life. It is the great equalizer that makes all mankind equal. Once again this is pretty pessimistic but it causes us to take stock of our lives and not to simply live for this life.
But then he is going to turn it around and point out that since death is coming for all of us we need to recognize what is good in this world and enjoy it with friends and family. He seems to strike a balance between frustration and celebration in the face of the vanity of life. In other words, the realities of this fallen world should not blind us to the beauty of the world God created and we should not despise the good gifts of God such as “relationships, food, drink and satisfying work.”
The third theme is the random and unpredictable nature of life in this fallen world.
Eccl 9:11 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 those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.
Life in this fallen world is complex. But these three things can be seen everywhere you look. Time marches on, death comes for all, and along the way life is unpredictable. This is the Preacher’s wisdom and it comes by observing the world and the way things go in life. But there is more for us to learn about life.
Take some time to meditate as you read this book. Think about how these same truths are still at work today, but how we in Christ can find joy and pleasure in the little things. If these things are true, then what is our hope? If these things are true, then what should be the primary focus of our lives?
Here is something to Discuss…
During Solomon’s life he sought to find meaning in everything that this world had to offer but found his pursuit to be in vain. But in the end he did discover the true meaning of life and it wasn’t something he found “under the sun” it was something he found “beyond the sun.”
A fourth theme that we see in this book is that there is wisdom in fearing the Lord. Time marches on, death comes for us all, life is unpredictable but the fear of the Lord is the whole duty of man. The Preacher wants us to understand the emptiness, meaninglessness of living today for the purpose of today only and he wants us to look beyond today and live in the fear of God.
The Preacher assumes the role of a wisdom teacher pointing out that there is no need to seek meaning and pleasure in the things of this world because they cannot satisfy the deep longing of our soul which cries out for eternity, longing to find peace with God. The answer to our need and our emptiness is in the gifts that come from the hand of God but not just good friends, good food, and good wine. The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus and only this can bring peace to our sin-sick souls.
Discuss how the three main themes of time, death, and unpredictability are meant to lead us to a proper fear of the Lord. Discuss the many passages where we are instructed to find pleasure in the gifts of God? Discuss how our joy in those gifts is meant to bring us greater joy in the Giver.
Here is something to pray about …
This book is meant to humble us and to bring us to our knees before God. We are not in control of this universe, we aren’t even in control of our lives. In the vast expanse of the universe, our lives are but a blip on the map, a blur that is hardly recognizable to those who will come after us. But in the eyes of God, we matter.
Let the gospel have the final word in the wisdom to be gained from the Preacher. Does God care about you? Does God think of you as meaningless? Does God love you? How do you know?
1 John 4:8…God is love. 9 In this, the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.
Pray that you would come to understand the wisdom of Ecclesiastes and that you would stop searching for meaning under the sun. Pray that God would plant your soul firmly in the truth that the meaning of life and the joy of eternity is to be found in the Son. While you’re at it, praise God that He has loved us through Christ and made us His people forever.
 ESV Study Bible, Introduction to Ecclesiastes pg 1195.