Ecclesiastes – An Introduction

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Ecclesiastes – An Introduction

Sermon by  Thomas Thornhill Jr

Passage: Ecclesiastes 1:1



An Introduction to Ecclesiastes

In life, most us of us at one time or another have contemplated the big questions of life: Who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning of life?   What is there beyond this life? In these times, such questions seem to be even more pronounced and the answers more complex.   The Bible gives us the answer to these questions and gives our life real meaning. As Christians, we accept the Bible as God’s word that is to be followed.

Some 3000 years ago, there was a man, who with wisdom from God, penned the book of Ecclesiastes. In that book, these questions are addressed.   Ecclesiastes is a summary of the quest of Solomon to find what is the meaning of life.

Tonight, we want to begin a study of this book.     As with the psalms, we will examine it from beginning to end.   Because it is a book containing proverbs and addressing numerous subjects, we may from time to time, move around within it, but it is somewhat structured in its message.   In this lesson, we are going to introduce this book.   Our plan is to present a lesson each month (typically the first Sunday evening) until our study is complete.

Though part of the Old Testament, it is “written for our learning” (Romans 15:4), and admonition (1 Corinthians 10:11), and as part of God’s word it is “profitable” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).   As always, we will seek to make application to our lives in theses studies.

  1.   Background of the book
    1. The title – Ecclesiastes – a Greek word (taken from the word “Preacher” in Eccl. 1:1) meaning a preacher or teacher to a public assembly. In Greek the word is related to the Greek word translated “church” which we have established means the assembling of God’s people.
      In Hebrew, it is the word, Qoheleth (קֹהֶ֫לֶת, qōhelet) which again mean, “preacher” or “teacher”.
      The title seems to imply this was a discourse delivered by the teacher to the congregation of Israel.
    2. Solomon, its author.
      While some question his authorship (some dating this book after the return from Exile), the internal evidence seems to point to Solomon as the author.
    3. Brief history of Solomon – Solomon was David’s son with Bathsheba and the promised heir to his throne. 1 Kings 1:28ff describes David at the end of his life appoint Solomon to his throne.
      As king, Solomon began with humility.   1 Kings 3:3 says that he loved the LORD and walked in His statutes, except he sacrificed in the high places (temple not yet built)
      1 Kings 3:5-9 – The LORD appears to Him in a dream and offers him anything he wants – Solomon requests wisdom.   Not only is he given wisdom, but tremendous wealth, power and fame.
      1 Kings 6-8 – He also built the temple for God, which He accepted and it became the permanent place of worship for Israel (until its destruction).
      During his life, he was extremely wealthy and successful in subduing his enemies around him.
      In the city of Jerusalem, it is said that silver was as common as stones (1 Kings 10:27), and he made many things with the great amount of gold he possessed.
      He also had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:1-3).   The text says he loved women and intermarried contrary to God’s wishes. These wives caused him to turn his heart away from the LORD and to follow their idols (1 King 11:4-8).
      As a result, the LORD was angered and declared that after his death, the kingdom would be taken from his descendants, EXCEPT for Judah (and this was only because of His promise to David) 1 Kings 11:12-13.   That becomes the tragedy of Solomon’s later life.
    4. Why this book is attributed to him
      1. Ecclesiastes 1:1- It begins by noting that he is the “son of David, king of Jerusalem.”
      2. 1:12 – He notes that he was “King over Israel in Jerusalem”
      3. 1:13 – He sought to seek and search by wisdom all things done under heaven.   Recall that Solomon was given wisdom from God.
      4. 12:9 – he set in order many proverbs. 1 Kings 4:32 – he wrote 3000 proverbs
      5. 2:4-7 – he was very wealthy. Solomon’s life records his great wealth.
      6. 2:4-6 – he built things, including houses. 1 Kings 6-8 records the building of the temple; 1 Kings 7 describes the many other things he built including houses, his own of which took 13 years to build.
      7. 2:7-8 – he acquired male and female servants. We already he loved women and had many.
      8. Clearly, Solomon was “qualified” to write this book.
    5. Some of the qualities we see in the author include:
      1. Pessimism – the very idea of all being vanity
      2. Frustration with life’s inconsistencies – what you do may not be consistently rewarded
      3. He was self-centered and materialistic – this is seen in the various things he tries (we also find this in Solomon)
      4. He proclaimed the existence of God – with Him, life has purpose.   Without Him, it does not
      5. He comes to realize that his life has been a waste and there should be a focus on God.
    6. This book was probably written later in Solomon’s life.
      As I read though this book I see a man looking at his past.   IF this is Solomon, he sees the vanity (emptiness) of everything he has acquired in this life.   He has a pessimistic outlook (a typical quality of the intellectual – because much learning can make you that way) and see failure and foolishness in worldly pursuits.
      I like to think (this is my speculation) that in later years, he realizes how has been alienated from God, and turns back to Him before it is too late. We find the need for God as he concludes this book.
      IF, this was written in his later life, it would be around 940-930 BC.
  2.   What is the purpose of this book?
    1. To answer the question: Why am I here? Of What is the meaning of life?
      Ecclesiastes 1:1-3, 13 – vanity of vanities… And I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven; this burdensome task God has given to the sons of man, by which they may be exercised.  The whole question is – what profit has a man for all his labors under the sun.
    2. Some keys to consider as we study this book
      1. While part of the Old Law, we learn about the nature of man and God, which has not changed.   WE also find practical observations that are always true about life. This book has many proverbs.
      2. Activity is continually addressed – there is a small word translated with several English words (including make, do, accomplish, provide, work, deed) that is used some 64 times.   The book continually deals with being active.   And what it says is NOT all bad.   There’s a place for and merit it being active.
      3. Vanity – a word meaning emptiness or vapor.   Used about 38 times in this book.   1:14, I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind.
        His desire in this book is for man to understand that the pursuits of this worlds ways and resources will NOT bring about true satisfaction.   In Ecclesiastes there are some 21 different things Solomon describes as “vanity”.
        (wind, heart) – another word is used 24 times.
      4. Death – throughout this book, death is dealt with and given as a reason this life is vanity.   All will die, and when you do, you cannot take this life’s accomplishments and things with you.
        And furthermore, there is the reminder that even if you work hard to achieve your success, you don’t take it with you.   What happens to it and how will it be used?
        As Paul noted in 1 Corinthians 15:19 – if in this life only we have hope, we are all men most pitiable.
      5. Wisdom – in its various forms is the second most used word in this book. Found some 53 times. Wisdom is addressed as good and worthy of respect.   In fact, the writer declares that in his quest he used wisdom (Eccl. 1:13).
        BUT don’t let it be the end all.   Wisdom can turn you against God – 1 Corinthians 1:21-25.
      6. Fool – conversely, Solomon deals with the fool some 18 times
      7. Good – that which is good and pleasurable is addressed some 52 times.
      8. Observations – Solomon addressed what he observed or saw or considered some 50 times.
      9. God – (Elohim) is used 40 times in this book. Clearly, he believes and concludes His greatness.   In Eccl. 3:9-15 he addresses who God is.   Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 warns about the seriousness of making vows to God.
    3. A brief outline of this book: This is a difficult book to outline because it deals with so many different subjects. Here’s a brief outline.
      1. Introduction – 1:1-11
      2. His pursuit for meaning – 1:12-2:26
      3. Observations and warnings about lie – 3:1-11:8
      4. Prepare to stand before God – 11:9-12:14. The writer encourages that we start thinking about God even in our youth.
    4. Solomon’s conclusion – Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 – what is the conclusion?   Fear God and keep his commandments.   This is man’s all! Judgment is coming.

And thus we introduce the book of Ecclesiastes.   In coming lessons, may we learn about why we are here and what to do about it. May we learn to prepare to meet our God.     Think about it.