Ecclesiastes – Notes
Session 1 – Introduction
Wisdom Literature in the Bible
Job shows that wisdom is not about knowing the secret purposes of God but accepting by faith that the judge of the earth will always do right.
- His Friends are fools: Job is Wise (38:1-2)
Proverbs is a Fathers’ instruction to his Son on choosing the right way using the search for a suitable bride as the metaphor.
- Proverbs 4:1-9 – Wisdom is personified as a woman suitable for marriage.
- Proverbs 5:1-8 – Folly (Stupidity) is personified as a woman to avoid like the plague.
- The right bride is wisdom and it would appear that he makes the right choice (Proverbs 31:10-31)
1. Ecclesiastes is a Sermon
- It is a Royal Message from the King to a Covenant People
2. Ecclesiastes is a Sermon Given to a Covenantal People
- Feasts and Meals mentioned are generally Religious (Birthday Cake)
Solomon as Wise King & Royal Preacher
- King (Eccl 1:1)
- Preacher (Eccl 1:12)
- Wise (Eccl 1:16; 1 Kings 3:10-12)
The Place of Wisdom Literature in Israel’s History
Scripture is the unfolding story of the acts of God in the world He created for a people who belong to Him.
It is the real life drama of God’s determined plan to put on display the mature man, complete in every way and able to rule the world with justice and wisdom.
- Priest (Law, Child; Youth, Judges); Priests guard God’s Sanctuary.
- Kings (Shepherds) From Warfare to Maturity in Corporate Worship, Psalms.
- Prophets (Solomon on) Solomon prays for wisdom to discern Good and Evil in order to judge.
- Abraham (intercedes for Sodom) – Jacob (Becomes a King) – Joseph (Interpreter of Dreams)
- Adam and Eve: Children destined to grow up to maturity and rule the world. Adam failed to fulfil Priestly role.
- He Grasped at Judicial authority, the power to determine good from evil rather than discerning it.
- This was not an error in judgement on God’s part.
For in the providence of God, that ultimate power to rule the world would come to man and through one Man in particular as a gracious gift.
The Purpose of the Book
- What the Book is Not About
- Bitter Disillusionment of a once Great, but now Back-slidden King.
Many people have taken the view that Ecclesiastes is a bitter rant from a disillusioned man who has lost faith.
- That life under the sun is pretty disappointing on the whole and the only way to get by is to look, “above the sun” and see God.
- The Meaninglessness of Life without God.
This understanding is carried along by the unhelpful – and incorrect – translation of words like, “meaningless” which appears nearly 30 times in the book.
- Solomon was a sinner, but nowhere are we taught that God took away his wisdom or that Solomon’s investigation in preparing His message was not guided by insight.
- On the contrary, we are told just the opposite (Eccl 2:1-3, 9)
- What the Book Is About
Solomon, guided by Wisdom is laying out the results of his investigations with great care:
- “Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth. The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd.” (Ecclesiastes 12:9-11)
- Ecclesiastes is not a random series of one liners. It is an extremely well crafted message. It is well thought out, carefully arranged and has a deliberate goal in mind.
Namely, to teach Israel that:
- You Cannot Know
Man is not capable of comprehending the work that God does in this world unless God reveals it. Which, for the most part He has chosen not to do.
- (Ecclesiastes 8:17-9:1) “Then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out. But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him.”
- You Cannot Control
Man does not and cannot control the events of life.
- (Ecclesiastes 2:11, 15-17) “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” “Then I said in my heart, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” And I said in my heart that this also is vanity. For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.”
Therefore, Solomon concludes, Fear God, Feast Merrily, Work Hard, Walk by Faith and keep the Lord’s Commandments.
The Nature and Purpose of Wisdom
- What wisdom is Not
Wisdom is not about knowing, “Why”.
- Wisdom is not the ability to peer into mysteries and figure things out.
- That was the mistake of Job’s three friends.
- They busied themselves with why Job was suffering and were told by God that they were fools and were ordered to pipe down.In other words, The gift of wisdom is not about getting a privileged seat in the traffic control tower.
- We don’t always get to understand why things happen the way they do.
Wisdom is not about knowing ,”How”.
- Wisdom is not an “How to Manual” which we apply in order to have success.
- How to have a better marriage; How to raise better kids; How to build self esteem; How to get rich and stay rich; How to be happy….
- This kind of wisdom aims at getting leverage over the world around them through manipulation.
- The mistake here is thinking that wisdom gives us control.
- What Wisdom Is
Wisdom is couched in riddles and is therefore, as we have said, for the mature. (Proverbs 1:5-6)
- “A wise man will hear and increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels: To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings.”
- Wisdom is about having a particular view of the world. A particular stance toward life:
- A stance that Begins with God. (Proverbs 1:7)
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Knowledge, Fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
- Wisdom Cannot be had apart from God. (Proverbs 9:10)
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”
- The wise man humbly concedes that he cannot know and he cannot control.
- He is left with no alternative but to walk in the fear of the Lord by faith and not by sight.
That is the Message of Ecclesiastes
What Solomon intends to show is that genuine wisdom and maturity is grounded in the honest acceptance that the course of this life is enigmatic, inexplicable, incomprehensible, out of the reach of our full understanding, out of our grasp and out of our control because God is the Author and Finisher of all things.
- Ecclesiastes is the Old Testament book about Faith. It tells us how the man of faith looks at the world. It tells us that the wise and faithful person will come to embrace the reality that all of life is Vapour.
- The life of wisdom is not grounded in our ability to work everything out or control the events of our life with some “how-to-manual”.
- Instead, to be wise is to take a very particular view of the world. A view which says, “I cannot know or understand the depths of it, nor can I grasp the wheel in order to steer it” – but I know, someone who does.
- And, therefore, life is to be enjoyed by faith and embraced with reverence toward Him.
To be wise is to declare with the author of Hebrews that,
“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.” (Heb 11:1)
- The fool will live his life in anxious toil, striving after the wind, desperate to know and control all of life in this world until he dies in despair.
- The superficially wise man will call for positive attitudes and cheery one dimensional slogans to help overcome his total lack of knowledge and inability to control the events of life.
But, the wise man will resonate with Solomon’s Message.
The wise man has come to acknowledge that, “Everything is Vapour.” Not able to be grasped.
And, armed with this, the wise man is becoming mature, by Faith, to Rule and Reign with Christ.
Excellent write up about Ecclesiastes, David. Well done. Thanks too for clearing up the issues surrounding the points about what the book is and is not about. Very helpful indeed. I’m sure I’ll return to this page again for reference. To quote a great Aussie, “This one’s goin’ straight to the