Solomon is generally viewed as the writer. However, he is not named as such. But the self-identification of the author as “the son of David, king in Jerusalem” (1:1), suggests so. Plus, references to the author’s incredible wisdom (1:16), immense wealth (2:7), involvement in pleasure (2:3), and extensive building endeavors (2:4-6), all suggest Solomon since no one else could be identified with those qualifications.
Time written & time covered in history:
Lifetime of Solomon (he reigned 971-931 B.C.)
The Hebrew title is “Qoheleth”, which means “one who convenes and speaks at an assembly,” or “preacher.” Notice the introductory comments several commentators make about Ecclesiastes…
Vanity is the key word…2:11. You do not have to go outside the Bible to find the merely human philosophy of life. God has given us in the book of Ecclesiastes the record of all that human thinking and natural religion has ever been able to discover concerning the meaning and goal of life. The arguments in the book, therefore, are not God’s arguments, but God’s record of man’s arguments. This explains why such passages as 1:15; 2:24; 3:3-4,8,11,19-20; 8:15 are at positive variance with the rest of the Bible.
What the Bible is All About, Henrietta C. Mears, p. 201
This book is a “dramatic autobiography of Solomon’s experiences and reflections while he was out of fellowship with God.” It is a record of his attempt to find satisfaction through philosophy and reasoning (“under the sun”—this phrase is used 28 times)…that is based solely on personal experience. Ultimately, after trying every means available, Solomon comes to the conclusion that such pursuits are useless, “vanity”…and that apart from God life is full of weariness and disappointment, not happiness and peace. God is mentioned at least 40 times. Solomon’s attempts took him down many avenues: science (1:4-11), philosophy (1:12-18), pleasure (mirth, drinking, building, possessions, wealth & music…2:1-11), materialism (2:12-26), fatalism (3:1-15), deism (3:1-4:16), natural religion (5:1-8), wealth (5:9-6:12), and morality (7:1-12:12). Ecclesiastes “only shows us the best that man can do apart from God’s gospel of grace.” “Dr. Pierson well said, ‘The key to Ecclesiastes is that a man is too big for this world.’”
What the Bible is All About, Henrietta C. Mears, pp. 202, 204
…Solomon, sitting in peaceful security on the throne David had built, with Riches, Honor, Splendor, Power, and living in almost Fabled Luxury, was the one man in all the world whom men would have called Happy. Yet his unceasing refrain was, All is Vanity. And the book, a product of Solomon’s old age, leaves us with the distinct impression that Solomon was not a happy man. The word “Vanity” occurs 37 times (it means not only foolish pride but the emptiness of everything apart from God).
“Eternity” (3:11), RV, a more correct translation than AV “World,” may suggest the Key Thought of the book. Eternity in the Hearts of Men. In the inmost depths of his nature man has a longing for Things Eternal…And Solomon, who lived 1000 years before Christ, could not possibly have the same feeling of Sureness about Life Beyond that Christ later gave the world.
But Solomon saw earthly life at its best. Not a whim but what he could gratify whenever he wanted to. And he seems to have made it his chief business in life to see how good a time he could have. And this book, the result of Solomon’s experience, has running through it a note of Unspeakable Pathos, All is Vanity and Vexation of Spirit.
Halley’s Bible Handbook, Henry H. Halley, pp. 274, 275
The message of the book may be stated in the form of three propositions. (1) When you look at life with its seemingly aimless cycles (1:4ff.) and inexplicable paradoxes (4:1; 7:15; 8:8), you might conclude that all is futile, since it is impossible to discern any purpose in the order of events. (2) Nevertheless, life is to be enjoyed to the fullest, realizing that it is the gift of God (3:12-13; 3:22; 5:18-19; 8:15; 9:7-9). (3) The wise man will live his life in obedience to God, recognizing that God will eventually judge all men (3:16-17; 12:14).
The Ryrie Study Bible, Charles Ryrie, p. 985
Key words and their usage:
vanity 37 times
- The utter futility of all thingslabor 36 times
- chasing/striving after the wind 9 times
- man 47 times
- Futile activity
- under the sun 30 times
- “A figure of speech (metonymy) in which the location is named instead of the thing. Used repeatedly, it simply means the earth where man dwells, which is under the sun.”
- The Ryrie Study Bible, Charles Ryrie, p. 986
Been There : Done That : Didn’t Work!
And that Brings Me to My Conclusion Ecclesiastes 1:1-3
Ecclesiastes 1:1-2 In the end: everything you do in life amounts to nothing!
Ecclesisastes 1:1-The author introduces himself...it is probably Solomon.
Ecclesiastes 1:2-He then introduces the theme of his writing by asking a question: What is the purpose of life? He uses a phrase, "under the sun" (we find out that it means "life without God")...to lead us to consider a question in such a way that we determine which is the best of two possible answers. One answer is life with God; and the other, is life without God. He says that life without God is "vanity" which literally means “breath, vapor”. In other words, there is no substance, no content, no lasting value to it. It is utterly futile, meaningless, worthless, a waste.
The book of Ecclesiastes may be summarized by two statements, one made by a sewer worker in Chicago, and the other by a well-known agnostic lawyer. Both statements were in response to a question concerning their personal philosophy of life.
“There is a statement in the Bible which summarizes my life. It says, ‘We have toiled all night, and have taken nothing…’” [Lk. 5:5].—Clarence Darrow
“I digge de ditch to gette de money to buye de food to gette de strength to digge de ditch!”—Cook County Sewer Employee.
Willmington’s Guide to the Bible, H.L. Willmington p. 136
I Can’t Get No Satisfaction Ecclesiastes 1:3-2:23
Solomon now launches into the story of how he tried to find the meaning of life through various pursuits and considerations.
Ecclesiastes 1:3-11 Through Ultimate Significance
Ecclesiastes 1:3-Solomon poses a core question concerning the purpose of life…”What difference does it make how hard you work?” His answer is going to be, “None. It’s all vanity.” No matter what you do…nothing really changes. The world (life under the sun) goes on, and on, and on. Your life doesn’t seem to count for anything. You make no substantive change on the world around you. You work hard all your life. You give it your best. Then you die and basically…nothing’s changed. Vanity. What a dismal and discouraging report.
Ecclesiastes 1:4-11-Life holds nothing new to experience...it is just an endless cycle of repetition..."All things are wearisome" (:8)..."There is nothing new under the sun" (:9). It is "wearisome" trying to continuously keep it up (:8). He is telling us that he tried to find meaning simply in his existence, his place in the cycle of things...and he realized that he is nothing...just a mere moment in time that has little, or no significance. There is no meaning in life to be found in a purely naturalistic explanation. Vanity.
Ecclesiastes 1:12-18 Through Human Intelligence
He tries to discover the meaning of life through knowledge...but found that instead of finding meaning, he just found more trouble...because the more you know, the more you realize that you don't know. He realizes (:14-15) that there are some things that while you may be able to observe them, it is beyond human ability to even begin to understand or explain them. He delved into every area of knowledge and study (:16-17)…seeking to accumulate to himself the total knowledge of all men. Finally, he decided that you can never know everything and you realize that it is an impossible pursuit, it is "striving after the wind" (trying to catch the wind in your hands, :14,17). He determines that since it is impossible for man to be able to know, understand, and explain everything…then that must not be the means of discovering the purpose of life. The purpose of life must lie somewhere else. Vanity.
Ecclesiastes 2:1-2 Through Pleasure and Possessions
He is not willing to give up his pursuit of the meaning of life. So, he decides to try another approach. If he cannot find it through Human Intelligence, then he will try something else. He now tries to find the meaning of life through the indulgences of Pleasure (emotional, physical)...and through the accumulation of Possessions. Yet, these things did not reveal the meaning of life to him. Vanity.
Ecclesiastes 2:3 Through Physical Stimulants
He tried to find the meaning of life through “wine while my mind was guiding me”. He thought that perhaps he would discover the meaning of life by allowing stimulants to heighten his awareness, to change his perspective and see things differently. Didn’t work. Vanity.
Ecclesiastes 2:4 Through Building Projects
Ecclesiastes 2:4-6 Through Gardens and Parks
Ecclesiastes 2:7-8 Through Possessions and Wealth
Ecclesiastes 2:8 Through Music and Merriment
Ecclesiastes 2:8 Through Sexual Fantasy
Ecclesiastes 2:9 Through Fame and Recognition
Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 Through Frivolity and Folly
He looks at all that he has accumulated and owns…and decides to just sit back and enjoy the good life. Take pleasure in what he has already accomplished. Do anything he wants. No agenda. No schedule. No demands. Maybe the meaning of life was to work hard and then retire…to reach the point where you don’t have to do anything more. Didn’t work. In all of that…he was still not satisfied. He still had not found the meaning of life. Vanity.
Ecclesiastes 2:12-23 Through Hard Work and Labor
If those things didn’t show him the meaning of life…then maybe he was going in the wrong direction. He has tried folly. So, he decides to do just the opposite. He will consider a life spent working hard and leaving something of significance behind when you die…a legacy for others to see! But then he begins to consider the long-term difference between folly and wisdom...meaning, the difference between the man who could care less (folly)…and the man who works and plans and leaves a legacy (wisdom). He determines that they both wind up in the same situation when they die...they’re dead. And neither can control what happens to what they had spent their lives doing. So, what difference does it make if you work hard, or just goof off? The meaning of life cannot be found in trying to leave a legacy. All you do is wind up spending your life worrying about your legacy...and not enjoying life. Then you die. Vanity.
Before I Forget, I Did Learn Something about God Ecclesiastes 2:24-3:22
Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 The meaning of life is found in God
In the middle of detailing the numerous pursuits that he made trying to find the meaning of life…Solomon stops and explains that ultimately…he did discover the meaning of life. Perhaps he did not want his readers to become so discouraged by what he was writing that they would quit reading and give up before he got to the answer. So, he goes ahead and gives the answer to the meaning of life, here. After which he picks up and continues to detail the various options that didn’t work. He may have done this just to make certain that his readers did not think that he had left an option out and decided to try it for themselves.
He was beginning to run out of options…at least, human, earthly options…that he felt had the possibility of revealing to him the meaning of life. He has tried everything that life on this earthly plane has to offer…and has come up empty. If the meaning of life is relegated to this earth, to what is experienced in this physical plane…then have at it…eat, drink, and remind yourself of all that you have accomplished. Because God has determined that this is all the meaning you will ever find for life…if you focus solely on life on planet earth. But the secret is this: there is more to life than just this physical realm. The ultimate meaning of life is not in this physical realm…it is in the spiritual realm. The ultimate meaning of life is God. Solomon finally determines that the answer must be that we are to recognize that all things are from God. Everything in this physical plane is the result of the work of His hand and is intended to direct us to Him. Their purpose is to be used in such a manner that they lead us to Him…so that we will go through life doing all that we do in recognition of Him. Solomon either plainly states or alludes to this conclusion six times (2:24; 3:12-14; 3:22; 5:18-19; 8:15; 9:7-9). Life has no meaning apart from God (:25). Vanity.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 The purpose of life’s events are found in God
God is sovereign, He is over all things. The very orderliness of creation is a revelation of God, "He has also set eternity in their heart" (:11)...meaning that the orderliness of the things of creation tell us that there is something, or rather Someone, that has established it...God. This revelation shows us our human limitations, and the greatness of God...we will never understand it all (:11). So, we should recognize that God has established these things and live our lives in light of it. When we do that we are recognizing God (:12-13).
Ecclesiastes 3:14-22 The judgment of life’s activities are found in God
Solomon says that God is control of everything (sovereign). He exists beyond the restrictions of the created realm (:14). He is not limited by anything which is part of the created realm, including time (:15). Since God is the creator of all things…all things are accountable to Him. Solomon has observed that “wickedness” exists where there should be “justice” and “righteousness”. While both man and beast face the same fate, physical death (:18-20)...man must also face judgment at death (:17). As a result, while the “breath” (life) of the beast “descends downward to the earth” (that is the place of its final destination), the “breath” (life) of man “ascends upward” (the place of its final destination). This is a reference to the fact that man’s life does not come to an end in the ground, the physical realm…but, that it continues forever in the spiritual realm. The words, “Who knows…?” (:21) is not an expression of doubt concerning this truth…as if, “Who knows if this is true, or not?” Instead, it is asking, “Who gives consideration to this truth?” He is suggesting that since man will stand before God in judgment…don’t live like the mere beasts who die and it’s all over. Instead, we should give careful consideration to how we live life on earth.
[2.] As to their spirits there is indeed a vast difference, but not a visible one, v. 21. It is certain that the spirit of the sons of men at death is ascending; it goes upwards to the Father of spirits, who made it, to the world of spirits to which it is allied; it dies not with the body, but is redeemed from the power of the grave, Ps. 49:15. It goes upwards to be judged and determined to an unchangeable state. It is certain that the spirit of the beast goes downwards to the earth; it dies with the body; it perishes and is gone at death. The soul of a beast is, at death, like a candle blown out-there is an end of it; whereas the soul of a man is then like a candle taken out of a dark lantern, which leaves the lantern useless indeed, but does itself shine brighter. This great difference there is between the spirits of men and beasts; and a good reason it is why men should set their affections on things above, and lift up their souls to those things, not suffering them, as if they were the souls of brutes, to cleave to this earth. But who knows this difference? We cannot see the ascent of the one and the descent of the other with our bodily eyes; and therefore those that live by sense, as all carnal sensualists do, that walk in the sight of their eyes and will not admit any other discoveries, by their own rule of judgment have no preëminence above the beasts. Who knows, that is, who considers this? Isa. 53:1. Very few. Were it better considered, the world would be every way better; but most men live as if they were to be here always, or as if when they die there were an end of them; and it is not strange that those live like beasts who think they shall die like beasts, but on such the noble faculties of reason are perfectly lost and thrown away.
Matthew Henry :: Commentary on Ecclesiastes 3,
Ecclesiastes 3:22-For some, the thought of judgment leads to an image of life that is dark and dismal. Always living in fear of failure. God looking down from Heaven ready to pounce on our slightest indiscretions. But Solomon, even without the benefit of knowing God’s plan of salvation through Jesus, did not intend for life to be lived this way. He knew that God’s judgment is for our good. The Law of God establishes the parameters for life. Live within the parameters and we are living in a manner that is in keeping with God’s nature…which is woven throughout His creation. Live outside the parameters (sin) and you are living in a manner that is contrary to the nature of God, and thus, contrary to the nature of creation. To do so is to cause harm and difficulty to yourself…both in the physical and the spiritual realms. Solomon’s solution? Live within the parameters of God’s Law and enjoy the life which He has given you…”be happy”…this is what God intended (:22a). God has given you this day to live and enjoy…don’t just think about the future. After all, once you leave this life there will be no second chance to return and enjoy the things that you didn’t do (:22b).
Prayer: Lord, help me to live today…to its fullest. I look forward to Heaven. Honestly, at times I yearn for Heaven. But You have given me today. Help me to honor You by living this day to its fullest. To give You glory by the way that I live this day that is Your gift to me.