Ecclesiastes

 

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Ecclesiastes Bible Walk

Theme: Man, alone, cannot figure out life

 

Or, Right relationship with God is the only answer

 

Tod Kennedy, May 22-July 10, 2005

 

“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” Ecclesiastes 1:2. The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. Ecclesiastes 12:13

 

1.     Key Verses Ecclesiastes 1:2, “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” Ecclesiastes 12:13, “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.

 

a.      Fearing God was the attitude of Abraham (Genesis 22:12), Job (Job 1:1, 8, 9; 2:3), and the Egyptian midwives (Exodus 1:17, 21). God commanded his people to learn his word and to fear him (Deuteronomy 17:19; 31:13). Fearing God or fearing the Lord is not dread of God, but a believing reverential awe and respect and it produces obedience.

2.     Theme: Man alone cannot figure out life.

a.      Ecclesiastes is Solomon’s notebook prepared from what he discovered about himself, a person who had intelligence, wealth, honor, and success and yet lived out of fellowship with God for a time—he tried to live without God. Ecclesiastes, then, is wisdom literature—Solomon’s wisdom gained in his life and written as poetry.

b.     It is Solomon’s own story, the record of a very wise man viewing life without God and God’s revelation as his guide; he goes through life apart from God’s viewpoint. Furthermore, this wise man recognizes that life is very fleeting, and that man must make the best of what he has.

c.      Solomon demonstrates from his observations that life lived without God as the central person and God’s word as the controlling viewpoint has no satisfactory answers or lasting meaning. Another way to express this is that even if one has everything life can offer, he still cannot understand life and find satisfying answers and lasting meaning.

d.     Remember that Solomon speaks as a “man in the street” apart from God’s revelation. His human conclusions are simply human viewpoint, but he comes to realize again the purposelessness and hopelessness of man living apart from God’s revelation. God is necessary because he is the creator and because he is the source of absolute knowledge for living.

e.      He concludes that only relationship and fellowship with God—Solomon calls this “fear God and keep his commandments”—provides the satisfactory and lasting answers.

3.     Author is Solomon (1.1; 1.12; 1.16; 2.4-9).

a.      “The preacher” (qohelet, a speaker in an assembly, 1.1-2, 12; 7.27; 12.8-10) is the title that characterizes Solomon as the one who collects wise sayings and preaches them (1 Kings 4:32). The assembly in this contest refers to the entire covenant community of Israel.

b.     His purpose was to leave a Biblical (divine viewpoint) legacy so that believers know what is most important in life, and what is of lesser importance. If you confuse the priorities, then you will confuse your life (12:9-14).

4.     History

a.      Solomon was the last king over Israel before the civil war and division into the northern kingdom, Israel, and the southern kingdom, Judah.

b.     This was a time of Israel’s expansion of wealth, prestige, and power.  Some have said that the glories of Solomon’s kingdom were romantic and exaggerated. Such was not the case; research has shown that surrounding kingdoms were in decline and that the Israel of Solomon’s time was indeed a great kingdom just as the Bible depicts (1 Kings 3-11; Matthew 6:29; 12:42).

5.     Overview Outline

a.      The problem: Our fleeting life is meaningless without God, Chapters 1-2.

b.     Man’s attempt to understand life, Chapters 3-11.

c.      The answer: Fear God and keep his commandments, Chapter 12

6.     Chapter Titles

a.      The problem: Our fleeting life is meaningless without God, Chapters 1-2.

i.        Chapter 1: Life is empty when based upon human wisdom.

ii.      Chapter 2: Life is empty when based upon pleasure and hard work.

b.     Man’s attempt to understand life, Chapters 3-11.

i.        Chapter 3: There is a time for everything.  Do what you can with your time.

ii.      Chapter 4: Oppression, rivalry, wealth, people.

iii.    Chapter 5: Religious ritual, power and wealth, eat, drink, enjoy.

iv.    Chapter 6: Wealth, children, long life, wisdom, words.

v.      Chapter 7: Wise sayings, excess, man cannot master wisdom, women.

vi.    Chapter 8: Man’s wisdom has limitations.

vii.  Chapter 9: Everything is in God’s hand, so live fully.

viii.            Chapter 10: Wisdom and foolishness: wisdom is better.

ix.    Chapter 11: Live, rejoice, do not worry.

c.      The answer, Chapter 12

i.        Fear God and keep his commandments, Chapter 12

7.     Key People: Solomon, this book is autobiographical.

a.      Solomon was the son of David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 5.14; 12.24) and became the third king of Israel, 971-931 BC (1 Kings 1.28-31).

b.     He asked God for wisdom to rule the nation; God granted his request (1 Kings 3.5ff; 4.29ff; Proverbs 10-22, 25-29, Psalms 72 and 127).

c.      His most noteworthy accomplishment was the construction and dedication of Yahweh’s temple as predicted by God through Nathan the prophet (1 Kings 8).

d.     God warned him about spiritual failure, and Solomon surely failed (1 Kings 9 and 11). God also gave him great prosperity (1 Kings 10.23-29), but he lost this through spiritual failure. He finally recovered from spiritual failure when he was in old age (1 Kings 11.41-43).

e.      Solomon was established as king (1 Kings 2.12) in 970 BC. He brought Israel to her greatest fame and wealth; yet at his death the kingdom tore itself into two because he allowed details of life (his were mainly wealth and foreign wives) to control him, resulting in spiritual failure. Judah and Israel and their kings that followed Solomon were characterized by revolution, bloodshed, and paganism and idolatry.

f.       Solomon was not a warrior like his father, and he did not need to be. He faced no serious threat from external enemies, though he was harassed by Edom and Syria; nor did he have to enlarge his nation. His job was to consolidate and hold the nation together. Solomon concentrated on forming alliances, and he did this by marrying foreign nobility, hence his large harem (1 Kings 11.1-8). Tyre was his most important alliance (1 Kings 5.1-12).

g.     Though not a warrior, he did establish military bases to protect his territory (1 Kings 9.15-22), and developed a chariot corps in his army (10.26). He developed his industry and international trade (1 Kings 10.1-15, 28). The highpoint of his construction was the temple (1 Kings 7), though he built many other sites. Solomon wrote enduring literature: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon (1 Kings 4.29-34; 11.41).

h.     But Solomon’s reign also brought extensive bureaucracy (1 Kings 9.23), high state expenditures, and repressive taxes (1 Kings 12.1-7). In his personal life, he went through a period when he chose details of life (wealth, foreign wives, and pagan religion) over the Lord and because of that the Lord tore his kingdom apart after his death (1 Kings 11.1-13).

i.        Solomon brought Israel to her greatest fame and wealth; yet at his death the kingdom tore itself into two because of evil kings, idolatry, and bloodshed. At the end of his life Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes. In that book he recorded for posterity that details of life did not give him satisfaction.

j.       He finally wrote his conclusion about life: “fear God and keep his commandments” (Ecclesiastes 12.13).

k.      So what does Solomon teach us?

i.        Famous parents do not ensure that the children will always walk with the Lord. David was Solomon’s father.

ii.      Children from parents who have walked closely with the Lord may turn from God to details of life and idolatry. David, Solomon’s father, was a man close to the Lord; he was Israel’s greatest king; he even wrote inspired Scripture.

iii.    Fame, fortune, and people can turn believers away from the Lord. These are constant sources of temptation.

iv.    Happiness does not come with having things, fame, wealth, learning, or power. Happiness comes from right relationship with God.

v.      Because God created man in his image, both unbelievers and carnal believers (a NT term for living by the sinful nature) can observe history and record correct principles about life. Solomon observed the realities of history and life. He was able to evaluate and make choices.

vi.    Mankind has volition. Even though a person has Bible knowledge and wisdom, he still has a sinful nature and is still vulnerable to spiritual failure. Each believer needs to learn the word, live by faith and in fellowship and by Holy Spirit, and make good faith based decisions. Solomon summarizes this in Old Testament terms by “fear God and keep his commandments.”

8.     Key Words and Phrases

a.      Fear God or fear him 7X in NASB. Strong’s #3372 (3:14; 5:7; 7:18; 8:12, 13; 12:13).

b.     Futility. 11X in NASB. Strong’s 1892 (2:1, 17; 6:4, 9, 11; 7:6, 15; 8:10, 14; 11:8).

c.      God, Elohim. 40X in the NASB. We see that Solomon was quite aware of God throughout his life and the book. He just had pushed God and his word away. Note that neither Lord nor LORD is not found in Ecclesiastes.

d.     Happy, Merry, Pleasant, Rejoice. Various Hebrew words. (3:12, 22; 4:16; 5:19; 8:15; 9:7l 10:19; 11:8-9).

e.      Pleasure. 7X in NASB. Strong’s #8057 (2:1, 2, 8, 10; 4:8, 7:4; 8:15).

f.       Striving after wind. 9X in NASB. (1:14, 17; 2:11, 17, 26; 4:4, 6, 16; 6:9).

g.     Time. 41X in NASB. (3.1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 17; 7:17l 8:5, 6, 8; 9:8. 11, 12; 10:17).

h.     Vanity. So translated 22X in NASB Ecclesiastes (1:2, 14; 2:11, 15, 19, 21, 23, 26; 3:19; 4:4, 7, 8, 16; 5:10; 6:2; 12:8). The Hebrew word ( הֶבֶל hebel) generally means indicates vapor, breath, vanity, and emptiness. It occurs 36 times in Ecclesiastes.

i.        Wisdom. 27X in NASB. Strong’s #2451 chokmah (1:13; 2:9, 21; 7:11; 8:1; 9:18; 10:10).

9.     Trace the Theme

a.      The theme of Ecclesiastes is developed from chapter to chapter. Each human acquisition of material wealth, every human success, all his thinking and study, every new philosophy of life—whatever he examined and experimented with came up short of giving him lasting meaning and happiness in life.

b.     Ecclesiastes begins with a prologue that says that all physical creation goes on generation after generation in monotonous unending cycles (1:1-11). The epilogue provides the answers: only special revelation provides the key to unlock the mysteries, meaning, and purpose of life (11:9-12:14).

c.      In between the prologue and epilogue, Solomon experiments and observes life, and he does so without considering special revelation from God (1:12-11:8). Among his experiments and observations he includes wisdom (1), pleasure (2), human accomplishments (2), time (3), oppression (4), work (4), political power (5), religion (5), wealth (5-6), and human advice laced with cynicism and fatalism (7-11).

d.     Examples of the theme traced: hedonism and materialism do not work (2);fatalism does not work (3:14-21); Pessimism does not work (4:1-3); wealth does not work (6:1-2); intellectualism does not work (8:16-17); and others indicate the same thing. Only right relationship with God and God’s word answer life’s questions and give meaning and satisfaction to one’s life.

10. Key Doctrines

a.      Man was created in God’s image to live in relationship with God and God’s word. Life without God and God’s revelation is incomplete, empty, and indefinite. The entire book of Ecclesiastes drives this point home to us.

b.     Fear God, called fear of the Lord in other Scripture is the learned volitional faith commitment to God.  It is the same as Occupation with Christ.  Live for the Lord from your soul (Deuteronomy 6.2; 31.11-13; Proverbs. 1.7; 9.10; 2 Corinthians 5.9,15;7.1; Colossians 3.23; Ephesians 6.7).

c.      Keep His commandments. The Word of God ought to influence what you think and what you do. Today the church is the primary place for Bible instruction. In the Old Testament times people assembled to listen to the prophets and priests teach the Word of God. But, as Solomon realized, when a person learns about God, what he learns should influence him (Ephesians 4.11-12; Hebrews 13.7,17; Titus 2.15; Deuteronomy 32.46-47; Psalm 19.7-14; James 1.1-23; 2 Peter 3.18; Philippians 4.9,  Colossians 3.23).

11. Lessons For Us Today

a.      God is infinite and therefore his wisdom and his acts are infinite; God’s word is the product of his perfect character and infiniteness. Mankind, on the other hand, is limited and therefore his wisdom is limited, his knowledge of life is limited, and his acts are limited.

b.     Man, alone, cannot figure out life. Human knowledge, human wisdom, human accomplishments, and human relationships by themselves cannot make sense out of life. Neither, money, learning, wisdom, wealth, possessions, reputation, or family can give permanent meaning, accomplishment, and happiness to life without relationship and fellowship with God and God’s word.

c.      God had to reveal himself and his thoughts to mankind through his word and through his Son so that man can know about God, know how to have relationship and fellowship with God, and know how to serve God.

d.     Start early in life: relationship with God; fellowship with God; learn and apply God’s word; Christian service.

e.      Therefore to fear God and his word is the right, the smart, the practical thing to do.

f.      Therefore, as Solomon concluded, we should enjoy our fleeting life while we can, but the only right and best way is to do so is to have a right relationship with God and his word and to grow in that relationship.