Ecclesiastes-The Teacher searches for the purpose of our lives

About the Book of Ecclesiastes

A Bible text and commentary on the book of Ecclesiastes. Written by Hilda Bright and Kitty Pride. November 2013.

The Author

The word ‘Ecclesiastes’ tells us about the author of this book. This word means ‘someone who gathers a group of people together’. So, the author of this book was an official who had responsibility for other people. He was leading his people as they searched for the truth about God. There are various English translations of this word: 1) *Preacher; 2) Teacher; 3) Philosopher (wise person who thinks a lot about everything).

The words at the end of this book show that the author was a wise man. He was a teacher and he was a skilful writer (Ecclesiastes 12:9-12). He collected special phrases that people say. These are called ‘proverbs’. And there is a book in the Bible called Proverbs.

The author of Ecclesiastes calls himself the ‘king in the city called Jerusalem’ (Ecclesiastes 1:1). He also says that he ruled over *Israel (Ecclesiastes 1:12). He was famous because he spoke wise words (Ecclesiastes 12:9).

King Solomon was famous because of his wisdom (1 Kings 4:29-34; 10:6, 24). But this book does not use Solomon’s name. It seems to be clear, especially in Ecclesiastes chapter 2, that the author is teaching lessons from Solomon’s life. But other passages cause people to think that the author is not actually King Solomon. (See, for example, Ecclesiastes 8:2; 9:15 and 10:20.)

So perhaps the best opinion is that the author or editor was a ‘wise man’ in *Israel. These were men that most people in Israel respected because of their wisdom. He intended that the book should give honour to Solomon. And he wanted his readers to learn lessons from Solomon’s life.

The message that Ecclesiastes teaches

The author of Ecclesiastes writes about our lives that are ‘in this world’. He connects this phrase with a word that means ‘a breath’ or ‘wind’. And it also means ‘a mystery’ or ‘something that is difficult to understand’.

The author writes about many things that are not fair in this world. For example:

·    People are cruel to other people, but they suffer no punishment.

·    People work hard, but they do not benefit from their efforts.

·    Good people suffer, but bad people receive rewards.

·    Both good people and bad people die in the same manner.

·    Wise people and foolish people all die.

At that time, most people believed that God punishes evil people during their lives in this world. Most people did not understand that there will be a judgement after death. But the author proves that sometimes, bad people have pleasant lives. And he also proves that good people often suffer during their lives in this world. These things are not fair. But God is always fair. So the author thinks about whether people’s *spirits continue to live after the death of their bodies (Ecclesiastes 3:21). If they do, then God could issue a fair judgement about each person after that person’s death.

However, the author does not answer his own question that is in Ecclesiastes 3:21. In many other places, the Bible says clearly that there will be a judgement after death. (See, for example, Revelation 20:11-15.) God will be the judge of every person. And God’s judgements will all be fair and they will all be right. The author of Ecclesiastes does not explain these things. Instead, he emphasises things that seem unfair to us.

People have 2 main ideas about the author’s attitude:

1.    The author’s attitude is complete despair OR

2.    The author has an attitude of both despair and hope.

Our opinion is that the second idea is right.

It is clear that there is a sense of despair in this book. The author has had sad experiences. So he often expresses his sad thoughts. He believes that our lives have no permanent value. It is impossible for people to know the answers to all their questions. Some writers who study Ecclesiastes emphasise this attitude. They believe that the author was a man without any hope. He did not believe that God ruled.

However, Ecclesiastes is a book that a ‘wise man’ wrote. These were men that most people in Israel respected because of their wisdom. *Israel’s ‘wise men’ in the Books of Proverbs and Job believed strongly that God does control things. And they believed that God is good, kind and fair. But they were not afraid to discuss things that seem unfair. They tried hard to understand these things. And they believed that genuine wisdom comes only from God (Job chapter 28; Proverbs 3:5-6).

That is why the Book of Ecclesiastes seems to contain two different opinions. Sometimes those opinions seem to be the opposite of each other. The writer of Ecclesiastes discusses many unfair things. But he also shows that God is generous. God wants people to enjoy their life and their work (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26). God shows people how they must act in order to please him (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7). And God has taught people that wisdom is a wonderful thing (Ecclesiastes 10:13-17).

The writer urges people to live wisely. People can live wisely only if they have a relationship with God. That is why the author urges people to remember God’s gifts. Young people in particular should remember that God made them (Ecclesiastes 12:1). He created them, and so their lives belong to him. Of course, older people should remember this too. But people should start to serve God before they become old. That is much better. People should not neglect God until they are old and weak. That is a foolish attitude. We should not waste our opportunity to live in a manner that pleases God.

People who are wise will be afraid to make God angry. They will realise that they cannot expect to solve all their problems. They will trust God. So they will believe that they are alive for a purpose. And there will be a time when God will be the judge. Everyone will stand in front of him and they will hear his judgement. Therefore people can be confident. But also they should be cautious about what happens after death.

Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5
Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10
Chapter 11 Chapter 12      

 

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