The Book of Ecclesiastes was included by Jews in the third section of the Old Testament known as Kethuvim (English = ‘Writings’). The book is entitled ‘The Preacher’ in English, but in fact the Hebrew word ‘Qoheleth’ actually means a convener of, or a speaker at an assembly. The book ispart of the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament and reflects on the meaning of life and how it should be lived before God. The writer emphasizes throughout that the choices we as individuals make have a direct link with final outcomes. So the title ‘Qoheleth’ could merely be a nickname for a wise man who has assembled together sayings and reflections. The implication from the text,1. 1, is that this wise man may have been King Solomon, cp. Proverbs chapter 30 verse 1, which is another wisdom text where the writer is also identified in a similar way.
The book is usually divided into three main parts – a beginning (chapter 1 verses 1-11), a middle(chapters 1. 12-12. 7), and an end (chapter 12. 8-14). Within this fairly flexible structure, the writer deals with a number of interesting topics, including the problems of accumulating wealth, growing old, and life’s uncertainties. Believers tend to neglect this book, but most of us can probably quote a number of its most famous texts by heart, e.g. 1. 2, 9; 3. 1; 4. 9; 11. 1, 4; 12. 1, 6, 7.So what is this book really about? Well, in simple terms, the writer looks at life in two different ways by taking one position and then another. Initially, he looks at life from a natural perspective,where God is left completely out of the picture. Everything is viewed from an earthly standpoint or, in the writer’s words, ‘under the sun’. His assessment of this way of life is that it is a sheer waste of time. It leads to scepticism and endless pessimism. His conclusion is deliberately brief - life without God is utterly futile,12. 8. How very true that is!
But when God is at the centre of our life, then it has meaning and purpose. The first viewpoint is essentially like the modern concept of existentialism which regards human existence as unexplainable and that everything is meaningless. How up to date the Bible is!
So why is the second viewpoint so important? Well, if we have a living relationship with God then our lives become meaningful and worthwhile. Life is no longer mundane or humdrum.
The table below shows some of the key words/phrases in the book.
|Words/Phrases||Number of Occurrences||Emphasis|
|Vanity||39 times||The futility (emptiness) of life without God|
|Under the sun||29 times||An earthly and short-lived viewpoint|
|God||4 times||The life of the believer|
|Heart||40 times||The heart is directly affected by different viewpoints|
|Wisdom||50 plus times||The connection between the two differing viewpoints|
A good way of understanding the structure and overall message of the book is as follows:
This may seem to be a time consuming exercise, but it will give you a strategic grasp of the whole book. It will also lay the foundation for future study. The book will then really live for you!