Ecclesiastes 3 Meaning Commentary

Ecclesiastes 2:24-3:8

Now, as we move on to chapter 3 for our Ecclesiastes 3 Meaning article, it seems like God gets back out of the picture again. He isn’t mentioned in the first 8 verses. And yet I think the message of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 is still fairly positive. In these verses we see time viewed from a human perspective. And even from a human perspective, time is viewed as orderly. And that’s a good thing.

Season

So, there’s an appointed time – or “season” – for everything. And there’s a time for every activity or event – or as the KJV says, “purpose” – under the sun. Everything that happens on earth has an appointed time. It all happens in such an orderly manner. Again, this is a good thing.

3:1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven:

Birth and Death

There’s a time when you’re born. And that’s a time of joy. A time of newness. Of beginnings. There’s hope. There are aspirations. Plans are made. Parents prepare themselves to guide this new life through the various twists and turns that the world will present.

a time to be born,
and a time to die;

And just like there’s a time for birth, there’s also a time for death. It happens to all. It’s appointed for a man once to die.

Some people like to say that the death process is beautiful. Now, there’s a real sense in which death is very ugly. It isn’t the way that God originally created things. He didn’t make things to die. It’s an enemy and the result of sin.

And yet, even this ugly sad process has a place in life under the sun.

The joy and anticipation of birth is met and – from the vantage point of this life – overwhelmed by the sorrow and pain of death.

The newness of birth gives way to the finality of death.

This can be depressing. But you cannot deny that it’s orderly. Things begin and things end in this life. That’s just the way it is under the sun.

Planting and Uprooting

There’s also a time to plant and a time to pluck up or uproot. Farmers and amateur gardeners know about this.

a time to plant,
and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

There’s a time to plant your vegetables. You do so in hope of a harvest. You have plans for what you’re going to do with your vegetables and fruit and such.

And then the end of the season comes – and the very things you yourself planted with your own hands – now you’re uprooting them. And the uprooting happens at a certain time. You don’t just harvest when you feel like it. No – the crops give you signs that its time to uproot. And when the appointed orderly time comes, you do what comes naturally.

And unlike the life/death cycle we just spoke of previously, there’s really no sense of loss or grief with planting and reaping. At the same time, this cycle is just like the previous one – in the sense that it’s orderly.

Killing and Healing

Next, there’s a time to kill and a time to heal.

a time to kill,
and a time to heal;

If Qoheleth is looking at this from a perspective of agriculture – maybe he moves on from the last cycle of planting and harvesting crops to now speaking of taking care of animals.

There is a time to kill an animal – a cow or goat or chicken – whatever animals one might have on a farm. You raise that chicken or goat for a while – but the whole time you’re doing it with the end of slaughtering it and eating it eventually.

And yet – if while you’re engaged in that process, the chicken gets sick or injured or whatever – you’re going to try your best to heal it.

Those two actions – killing and healing – seem contradictory. But you and I know that in the cycles of life, these two things can and do happen together constantly. And they happen at the right time – in an orderly fashion.

Breaking Down and Building Up

Further, there’s a time to break down and a time to build up.

a time to break down,
and a time to build up;

I imagine that if we’re still on the farm in Qoheleth’s mind then this is either referring to a wall or to a house or maybe to a temporary shelter of some kind.

Maybe he’s thinking of pulling down an old barn and raising a new one.

Weeping and Laughing

Moving on, Ecclesiastes 3:4 tells us that there’s a time to weep and a time to laugh. There are appropriate times for each of these activities.

a time to weep,
and a time to laugh;

You wouldn’t necessarily laugh at a funeral. I mean, there might be some real joy in either of these venues. But you would think a person strange who was just spontaneously laughing during a solemn funeral ceremony.

You’d also think it odd if someone was weeping at the joyful birth of his child. Or at his wedding. Not just a tear here or there – but full-blown weeping. You would start worrying about that relationship if the groom was sobbing uncontrollably during the vows.

The point again is that there’s a right orderly time for everything on earth. Time – viewed from man’s perspective – is orderly. And that’s a good thing.

Mourning and Dancing

Similarly, there’s a time to mourn and a time to dance.

a time to mourn,
and a time to dance;

This is similar to the last phrase we looked at. And let me just say that – yes, dancing is good. It’s good – just like music is good or like clothing is good. It’s good when it’s done in a non-sensual manner. David danced. Miriam and the daughters of Israel danced. And it wasn’t wrong of them to do that. When it becomes wrong is when it’s sexualized in public.

So with that disclaimer, yes, there is a time to dance.

There’s also a time to mourn.

There’s an appropriate time for each of these activities.

Throwing and Gathering Stones

Next, there’s a time to throw stones and a time to gather them. Now, it’s simple enough to see what this text says. But it’s rather difficult to get at its meaning.

a time to cast away stones,
and a time to gather stones together;

Meaning: Sex?

Some say it’s a euphemism for sexual relations. And that might possibly fit with the next statement about embracing. Though I’m not sure how folks who think that this is what it’s talking about would prove their case. I didn’t see where else this phrase was used of sexual relations. So, I’d tend to think that’s not what this is speaking of.

Meaning: Revenge?

Others say it has to do with the practice of throwing stones into the field of an enemy to ruin his crops. But, I kind of doubt that Qoheleth is sanctioning that kind of destructive unloving behavior.

Meaning: Children’s Game

Or is this speaking more on the level of children’s activites? Maybe he has in mind the games that kids play. There’s a time when they throw the stones. And there’s a time that they need to gather them up… only in order to throw them again! That would fit in well with the cyclical nature of things on this earth — gather them, throw them, and on and on.

Meaning: Death Penalty

The only other possibility I could think of is perhaps this is speaking of stoning as a death penalty. There is a time – in ancient Israel, at least – to throw stones at a convicted criminal. And there would be a corresponding time of gathering those stones together – probably in order to use them again as an agent of punishment.

So, there are a number of interpretative options with that one, but I think it’s probably either referring to kids’ games or stoning as a death penalty.

Embracing or Not

Then we have that there’s a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.

a time to embrace,
and a time to refrain from embracing;

And I think this is speaking of interpersonal relationships.

Jesus himself knew what this was like. There was a time when he could rightly embrace each of his disciples. But then a day came when he would say in the words of David, “he who eats my bread has lifted up his heel against me,” referring to Judas. There was a betrayal in his life. And so the one whom he would normally embrace is now one he would not embrace.

And I don’t doubt that you personally have experienced that kind of reversal in relationships you’ve had. It’s heartbreaking. But there’s an appropriate time for each action.

You wouldn’t embrace one who has betrayed you – unless there’s been some serious reconciliation, of course. And you wouldn’t refrain from embracing someone close to you.

There’s an appropriate time for each of these postures.

Searching and Calling It Quits

Then there’s a time to get and a time to lose. Or – really – a time to search and a time to give up as lost what you’re searching for.

a time to seek,
and a time to lose;

Our oldest son used a pacifier when he was a baby. And there came a time when we wanted to get him to stop using the pacifier. We planned and prayed about how to get him to stop. Because we had heard how difficult it is for some kids to relinquish the pacifier. So, with a lot of prayer and planning, we were going to implement the “de-pacifiering”. But the thing was that one day my wife was with him at the table. And he was eating. My wife was making some food and had her back turned to him. He had his pacifier and he had taken it out of his mouth and it was in his hand. My wife remembers hearing him throw the pacifier to the ground. We looked for that thing for a while. There was – for us – a time to search for it. Not that we wanted it back – we just wanted to know where it was! But as much as we searched, we couldn’t find that thing! We asked our son where it went. He didn’t know. We ended up moving out of the apartment and we still couldn’t find it. So, hopefully someone since then has found it and put it to good use.

I give that as an illustration of the search process and the end of that process when you need to give up on the thing as lost forever. There’s an appropriate time for both events in this life.

Keeping and Throwing Away

Next, there’s a time to keep and a time to throw away.

a time to keep,
and a time to cast away;

My wife and I were in rare form on Friday. We somehow were given grace to go into cleaning mode. Oh, we were throwing away stuff left and right. It was great. I even got rid of some 3 ½ ” floppy drives. You might not even know what those are! Yeah, some of my wife’s old college papers were on them. And I had just kept them – maybe I could excuse my hoarding instincts as biblical. I mean, there is “a time to keep”, after all. No, that’s not why I did it, of course. But there is a time to keep. I mean, sometimes it’s fun to look at those documents. And you never know when you might want to access them. But when you don’t even have a device that can read the files anymore, you know it might be the appropriate time to – as Qoheleth says – throw away. And so, that was our appropriate event Friday – to throw a bunch of stuff out – magazines, old electronics, papers – it was the appropriate time to throw those things away.

Rending and Sewing

There’s also a time to rend and a time to sew. There’s a time to rip a garment apart and a time to sew it back up together.

a time to rend,
and a time to sew;

A lot of my old clothing ends up as rags around our house. Sometimes I see pieces of an old shirt and think – oh yeah, I remember that shirt! But then I see that it’s all ripped up and I’m brought back to the reality that the appropriate time had come for that old ratty shirt to be made into a rag. It was time for it to be rent or torn up.

At the same time, I might have a shirt or some pants that have a small tear in them. And it might be more appropriate to sew those back up instead of just automatically rending them and turning them into rags.

There’s a time for either course of action.

Silence and Speaking

There’s a time to keep silence and a time to speak up.

a time to keep silence,
and a time to speak;

And we can struggle with this one. When to speak and when to keep silent. There’s a right time for both.

Can you imagine a person that speaks all the time? Well, you actually may know someone like that. It’s not pleasant.

And you also may know what it’s like to have a person that never speaks – and not because he physically can’t. But because he won’t. He remains silent no matter what.

Neither of these people are ideal or healthy. There is indeed a time to both speak and to keep silent. You and I need wisdom to know which activity is appropriate at any given time. But both are appropriate in their appointed time.

Love and Hate

There’s a time to love and a time to hate.

a time to love,
and a time to hate;

There’s a balance to be achieved here, too. Someone who loves everything in this world is imbalanced. And someone who hates everything is likewise imbalanced.

That’s because God himself balances love and hate. The Bible tells us that God is love. That’s a direct quotation. But we’re also told that he hates certain things and individuals.

Jesus in the book of Revelation tells us that he hated the deeds of a certain group of individuals. Hate? Yes.

God tells us that he hated the individual Esau and loved the individual Jacob. Hate?? Yep.

The point is that God is balanced. He loves the world so much that he sent Jesus to die for our sins. But he hates the world so much so — that if you’re a friend of the world you make yourself an enemy of God — and he goes on and commands his people to not love the world, just like he doesn’t.

God’s love and hate is balanced. And it should be with his creatures as well. There’s an appropriate time to both love and hate.

War and Peace

And lastly, there’s a time of war and a time of peace.

a time for war,
and a time for peace.

Now, when I lived in Fort Atkinson I used to see a sign between there and the little town of Milton that said “Peace Now. Stop the War.” Now, I think I recall this sign being there from way back in 2004 or so. And it’s still there, the last time I checked. This guy has had this sign up for over a decade. What war is he talking about? I get the sense that he’s probably just against all war and so, it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, the war against the Islamic State, or whatever else – if it’s war, there are people who are just automatically opposed to it, no question.

But there is a time for war. We might wish that there wasn’t. And there will be a time when Jesus returns and reigns and then there will be no more war. But in this life there is war. There’s an appropriate time for war.

But there certainly also is an appropriate time for peace. Both activities find their appropriate time or season under the sun.

And so you have these 14 couplets of 28 activities that find their proper time under the sun. And all of them are the exact opposite of the other. And yet, the fact that these activities are the opposite of the one they’re paired with – that doesn’t change the fact that there’s an appropriate time for each of the activities mentioned.

So, we’ve begun to see the human quest for meaning being satisfied.

Enjoy life. It’s God’s gift to you right now.

And think of time as an orderly system in which every activity falls into place and has its appropriate time.

Time

So now, we’ll consider how God views time.

We’ve been seeing that the book of Ecclesiastes is very down-to-earth. Who would have thought that God wants our mindset to be on enjoying the simple pleasures he gives us in this life? Eating. Drinking. Working. We’re supposed to enjoy those things. That’s what we learned so far.

And the key to transform our meaningless, futile life under the sun? God! God is the key in turning the monotony of life into something meaningful. And that means that not even the things that he gives us to enjoy are the key to enjoyment and satisfaction. No – they’re his gifts to us. And we always need to be careful to look beyond the gift to the giver. But as we’re looking to the giver he wants us to enjoy his gifts.

And so now we’re going to be receiving some more counsel from God along the lines of what we’ve just been discussing. What is God’s advice to you regarding what you should do in this world? This is I think what we’ll see in Ecclesiastes 3:9-22 — Enjoy Your Life Now.

Wait. Did I — an Independent Fundamental Baptist — just say that? The title of my message is Enjoy Your Life Now?? This sounds like one of the titles on the racks at Walmart under the Spirituality section right next to Oprah’s new book!

But I trust that what I’m about to proclaim here is faithful to the Scripture. I trust it’s true and if it’s God’s truth then it’s what we need right now.

So let’s be counseled by God on Enjoying Your Life Now.

Verses 9-22 in Seven Sub-Sections

We’ll start by noting that there are 7 sections in Ecclesiastes 3:9-22. Let me just briefly give you the breakdown of this main section and then we’ll come back and consider each one individually.

Verses 9-10

In Ecclesiastes 3:9-10 we have Man’s Work Revisited. Did you notice that through these first 3 chapters the Preacher has been speaking a lot about work? Even when he was trying to pursue pleasure for satisfaction he ended up working! So, the Preacher in Ecclesiastes 3:9-10 comes back to this theme of Man’s Work.

Verse 11

After that, he turns in Ecclesiastes 3:11 to Man’s Relationship to Time and Eternity. He’s already dealt with the theme of time in the Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. Remember? A time to be born and a time to die, etc. But he hasn’t mentioned eternity yet. So, that’s what we’ll see in Ecclesiastes 3:11 – Man’s Relationship to Time and Eternity.

Verses 12-13

Then in Ecclesiastes 3:12-13, the Preacher restates his thesis that Man Should Enjoy His Life & Work. And the first two sub-sections we just glossed over contribute to that conclusion that Man Should Enjoy His Life & Work.

Verses 14-15

After that, we’ll see the Preacher turning his focus to God’s Work. And he’ll tell us there that God’s Work is Permanent & Continuous in Ecclesiastes 3:14-15.

Verses 16-17

Then the Preacher takes some time to speak of a particular aspect of God’s Work – His Judgement of evil. So Ecclesiastes 3:16-17 speak of God’s Work of Judgement.

Verses 18-21

Next, The Preacher focuses on another work of God. Ecclesiastes 3:18-21 point us to God’s Work of Humbling Man through Death.

Verse 22

And the last of the 7 sections summarizes everything. Ecclesiastes 3:22 – Man Should Enjoy Life & Not Worry About the Future – Enjoy Your Life Now!

Verses 9-22 In Detail

So, now that we’ve laid some groundwork, let’s go a little bit deeper with this section.

Man’s Work Revisited

As I said, Ecclesiastes 3:9-10 speak of Man’s Work Revisited.

3:9 What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboreth? 10 I have seen the travail which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised therewith.

So, again, we see the Preacher’s focus on work. In some ways these first three chapters at least seem to be the Preacher showing us the vanity and meaninglessness of work and labor and activity apart from God.

But we were led to believe that he was past all that negative stuff about how worthless work is. I thought he was just telling us about how we’re supposed to enjoy work and see it as a gift from God!

Well, then He goes on to ask about the ultimate profit that one can derive from work. Uh-oh. Again, this sounds negative – like he’s getting ready to smash all of our hopes again. But he doesn’t do that. No, look at the next section. It says that God has made everything – what? Beautiful. That sounds pretty positive.

Man’s Relationship to Time and Eternity

So let’s read Ecclesiastes 3:11 and consider Man’s Relationship to Time & Eternity.

3:11 He hath made everything beautiful in its time: also he hath set eternity in their heart, yet so that man cannot find out the work that God hath done from the beginning even to the end.

I would imagine that “everything” here must include man’s work. Everything – including that work, God has made beautiful or appropriate. He’s made everything to fit beautifully in his time – or in its appropriate time. Again, this hearkens back to the Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. There’s an appropriate time for everything. And when an activity is done at the right time, the Preacher is saying that that’s beautiful.

And yet, there’s something beyond that. There’s something more to life than the things done under the sun. And the reason we know that that’s the case is because God has put the world in our heart. The word there translated as “world” is the Hebrew Olam – forever, long time, eternity.

God has put eternity in our heart. We know there’s more than what we’ve experienced thus far in our life. And it’s just out of our reach. That’s what the Preacher says. There’s this eternity out there beyond our comprehension. And it’s just dark enough that we can’t find out the work that God has done from the beginning to the end.

We know that things happened before us and we know that things will happen after we’re gone from this life. But what those things were or will be – we don’t know.

But here again – God knows. And that’s what the Preacher wants us to remember. Yes, he focuses on the fact that we can’t know eternity past or future. But even more importantly – God does know those things.

And I think the idea is that you want to know that God. You want to make sure you’re on his side. He’s got work to do from eternity past to eternity future. And you want to be sure that you’re part of that work. I think that’s what he’s getting at.

Enjoy Your Work

So, the Preacher revisited the issue of man’s work. Then he admitted that even work in its time is a beautiful thing – while also adding the element of eternity that he wants his audience to be mindful of. And in light of all of that, in Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 he asserts that Man Should Enjoy His Life & Work.

3:12 I know that there is nothing better for them, than to rejoice, and to do good so long as they live. 13 And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy good in all his labor, is the gift of God.

So this is the Preacher’s conclusion – rejoice, do good, eat, drink, enjoy your work – in this life. And recognize that this is all a gift from God – both the actities and the enjoyment that you can find in any of those activites – it’s all God’s gift to you. As much as he allows you to have, take it.

God’s Work is Permanent

That’s the conclusion regarding man’s work. And with that, the Preacher turns to consider God’s work. In particular, he asserts that God’s Work is Permanent, Complete, & Continuous in Ecclesiastes 3:14-15.

3:14 I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it; and God hath done it, that men should fear before him. 15 That which is hath been long ago; and that which is to be hath long ago been: and God seeketh again that which is passed away.

So, God’s work is permanent. What a contrast we see between man’s work and God’s work. Man’s work can grant a certain amount of joy. And God wants us to enjoy it as a gift from him. And yet it’s fleeting. It ends at some point.

On the other hand, God’s work lasts forever. Isn’t that interesting?

The work of man, at its best remains for a while and is given to others after the death of the man who did it.

But what God does endures forever.

And I think the question that the Preacher extends to the man under the sun who has hitherto had no interest whatsoever in spiritual unseen realities is – “Don’t you want to know this God? The one whose work is eternal?

God’s Work is Complete and Perfect

So, God’s work is permanent.

Further, God’s work is complete and perfect. You can’t put or add to it. There’s nothing lacking from what God does – unlike the work of man. With human work, there’s always something that could have theoretically been done to improve on it. Not with God’s work, though.

And you can’t take away anything from it. It’s not as if he does anything inappropriate that needs to be corrected or taken out of his work. God’s work is complete and perfect.

Fear God

And we humans are supposed to take a lesson away from this fact of God’s permanent perfect work. We should fear before him. We should stand in awe of his work. We should see the great contrast between what God can do and what mere man can do.

Again, I think this is another chance that the Preacher is using to draw the natural man to the true God.

God’s Work is Perpetual

And lastly in this section we have that God’s work is continuous or perpetual. What happened in the past is happening now. And what will happen in the future already happened in the past. And the Preacher has used this line of argument before to discourage the natural man from being comfortable in seeking true fulfillment in the stuff of this life. But now he’s going to use this statement to point to God’s work and this attribute of it – that it’s continuous or perpetual.

I think that’s so significant. The same bare facts without God being placed properly in view can lead a man to despair. But put God back into the picture where he rightly belongs – and all of a sudden this is a good thing. Again, God makes all the difference. He makes the difference between you and me living a life of vanity and emptiness or living a life of fulfillment, being fulfilled by the only one who can provide that for us.

God’s Work of Judgement

But now we can move on to the next section in Ecclesiastes 3:16-17 where we’re directed to consider God’s Work of Judgement.

3:16 And moreover I saw under the sun, in the place of justice, that wickedness was there; and in the place of righteousness, that wickedness was there. 17 I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked; for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.

So, the Preacher’s eye turns to the fact of injustice in this life.

Now, it’s one thing when the injustice is perpetrated by individuals who are then judged in the place where that society designates as the place of justice – the place where justice is served out. The place where the righteous should be vindicated and where the wicked should be punished.

But that’s not what the Preacher observes. He observes the total overthrow of an institution. Because that’s what happens when you have an institution in a society that’s designed to mete out justice against evil-doers… when in fact the ones who are given such a charge are the evil-doers themselves!

And our minds jump immediately to perhaps several decisions made in our Supreme Court where it appears that there was wickedness and iniquity in the very place designed to condemn and stop those things. And this is a problem in our day. But we should be a little comforted – the Preacher experienced these exact same dynamics.

Now, I’ll just point out that this is one more reason that I think the author of this book doesn’t want to be too closely linked with Solomon. Because, if Solomon the king were to see injustice in places of judgement, you’d think that he’d do more than just say something in his heart – which we’ll see in the next verse.

Right? He could and would have been required to put an end to the injustice as the king. So, that’s another reason I would caution against equating the Preacher immediately with no distinctions with King Solomon.

So, the Preacher sees this injustice and iniquity and he does just like we do. He needs to work this out in his heart. It can be so distressing to see wicked men do the exact opposite of what even our consciences know is right and just. And here’s how the Preacher handles it.

He consoles himself with the undeniable and unavoidable fact that God will judge the righteous and the wicked. It’s going to happen. And – see – that conviction of future judgement is something that the natural man doesn’t have at his disposal. Because even if he does try to take comfort in it – he needs to come to terms with the fact that he’s a worthy recipient of that same judgement.

In the Preacher’s mind, his observation that there’s a proper time for everything to be done means that surely judgement is coming some day. Judgement is another activity – though when it comes to God’s judgement of course it won’t be under the sun. And yet just like every other activity, God has ordained a time for it to happen.

God Humbles Man

So the Preacher started considering God’s permanent, continuous, and perfect work. Then he zeroed in on God’s work of judgement. And next he’s going to lead us in considering God’s Work of Humbling Man through Death in Ecclesiastes 3:18-21.

3:18 I said in my heart, It is because of the sons of men, that God may prove them, and that they may see that they themselves are but as beasts. 19 For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; and man hath no preeminence above the beasts: for all is vanity. 20 All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. 21 Who knoweth the spirit of man, whether it goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast, whether it goeth downward to the earth?

So, the Preacher is kind of working backward in his thinking now.

He started speaking of God’s work of judgement. But when does that judgement occur?

Well, it’s not in this life. The New Testament book of Hebrews tells us – “it’s appointed unto man once to … die.” And then what? “After this – after death – the judgement.” That’s the order of things. Death. Then judgement.

We’ve considered judgement, which is the end of the road. But how does one get to the judgement? Through death.

And so that’s the Preacher’s logic. He spoke of judgement. Now it’s time to speak of the vehicle that conveys men to judgement – death.

And the Preacher says something in his heart again in Ecclesiastes 3:18. He muses about the estate of the sons of men. I think in the context this is speaking of the universality of death – the very matter he’s going to get to in this section. And concerning death, God has made it this way to humble men – by showing us that we’re beasts.

And of course this isn’t some hint of molecules-to-man evolution that was dreamed up by Charles Darwin. We are beasts in the sense that – Ecclesiastes 3:19 – as beasts die, so does man.

You might think that you’re above mere beasts. You might think you have some advantage or preeminence over – say – your dog. And yes in some ways you and I are higher than animals. We were made in God’s image. And yet, both you and your dog or cat or parakeet or your pet scorpion – both you and they will die some day.

We have the same breath that God gives and God takes away some day. Our bodies are all made of dust. And that’s interesting, because in Genesis we’re explicitly told that man was made of dust. And Genesis does tell us that God ordered the earth to bring forth living creatures. And between that reference and the one we have here in Ecclesiastes we discover that that process involved beasts being made of dust as well.

So, we’re all made of dust. And when that one breath we all have is removed we all go back to the dust.

And I think that last verse – Ecclesiastes 3:21 – is aimed at the man under the sun, who has no interest in spiritual realities. How do you really know – oh natural man – whether your end is any more special than the end of beasts?

And yet, if that natural man has been listening so far, he knows that there’s a judgement coming – and really, animals don’t seem to be a part of that judgement. So, there is a distinction between man and beasts – man is judged in the end. And yet in this life with what the natural eye can see, it appears that both man and beasts just cease to exist. Their bodies stop operating and they return to the ground from where they were originally created.

Enjoy Life and Don’t Worry

And in light of all that – in light of the fact that man will die just like a beast and that there’s a judgement to come and that all of this is God’s work and that it cannot be prevented and it cannot be changed – and certainly in light of man’s relationship to time and eternity – the Preacher returns to his assertion that Man Should Enjoy Life & Not Worry about the Future in Ecclesiates 3:22 to end this section.

3:22 Wherefore I saw that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him back to see what shall be after him?

Let’s start with that last statement. This is key – there will be events that occur after your death. And you’re not going to see them. You’re limited as a human. You die – as we’ve just been reminded of. And so, given that fact, you should enjoy your life now. Don’t worry about what’ll happen in the future. Just concern yourself with the present. And keep it in mind that the enjoyment of work and activity is your portion. It’s your inheritance. And like an inheritance, someone is leaving it you. Who would that be? Yeah, it’s God.

Conclusion

So, enjoy your life now – realizing the main role that God plays in it all – and reverencing him for that fact.

Ecclesiastes 2 Commentary Summary

Ecclesiastes 1:12-2:23

Welcome to this Ecclesiastes 2 Commentary!

Based on how we finished Ecclesiastes 1, we might think – Ah! What about wealth and pleasure? Good times!

Let’s explore that possibility in Ecclesiastes 2:1-11.

Summary

So, Qoheleth gives his summary in advance of what he found when he sought meaning in wealth in Ecclesiastes 2:1. Mirth and pleasure – he tried these – and his conclusion? Vanity, futile, meaningless. No meaning here, folks!

2:1 I said in my heart, Come now, I will prove thee with mirth; therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also was vanity.

So, he kind of spoils the surprise. He tells us up front that there’s ultimately no satisfaction to be found in pleasure and wealth.

Laughter and Mirth

He goes on to question in Ecclesiastes 2:2 the value of laughter and mirth – they have no value in terms of being the source of meaning in life.

I said of laughter, It is mad; and of mirth, What doeth it?

And then he starts drinking alcohol! Because, maybe there’s some satisfaction and fulfillment to be found there. And it’s interesting what he says about this pursuit of his. The whole time he’s testing the value of alcohol, he says his heart is guiding him with wisdom.

Not Drinking for Pleasure Alone

Now, a less exacting figure than Qoheleth might drink for the mere pleasure of it. But what Qoheleth is admitting here is that he’s not drinking for pleasure. He’s drinking to test whether that pleasure is worth pursuing and whether it’s an activity that would bring meaning into one’s life. That’s what he says in Ecclesiastes 2:3 – he’s trying to find out what’s good for the sons of men to do with their lives under the sun.

I searched in my heart how to cheer my flesh with wine, my heart yet guiding me with wisdom, and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what it was good for the sons of men that they should do under heaven all the days of their life.

And – surprisingly – Qoheleth doesn’t actually relay his findings on that matter. Because the pursuit of wine is tied into the next several activities he tells us about engaging in. So, you need to wait until he describes everything else he’s pursued as far as wealth and pleasure. He’ll get to it.

All that Qohelet Did!

So, for now, let’s turn our attention to Ecclesiastes 2:4-8. Look at all the activities that Qoheleth did!

I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards; I made me gardens and parks, and I planted trees in them of all kinds of fruit; I made me pools of water, to water therefrom the forest where trees were reared; I bought men-servants and maid-servants, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of herds and flocks, above all that were before me in Jerusalem; I gathered me also silver and gold, and the treasure of kings and of the provinces; I gat me men-singers and women-singers, and the delights of the sons of men, musical instruments, and that of all sorts.

He made great works, built houses. He had vineyards, gardens, and orchards. He had trees and pools to water those trees. He bought servants. He had servants born in his house. He had more cattle than any before him who were over Jerusalem. He had entertainment. He had things that were looted from other nations. He had musical instruments. Or since that word appears only once in the Old Testament it’s hard to know if it’s speaking of musical instruments or actually, a harem of women. I tend to think he’s saying he had a harem of many women.

And notice the pronoun you keep seeing. “I made me x”. “I planted me x”. “I built me x”. It’s all for him. That’s the focus. He’s focused on doing these things for himself.

I mean, if Qoheleth did these things for altruistic reasons, he might not know if the reason he’s not finding meaning in them is because he’s actually doing them for others and so others are finding meaning instead of him. So, Qoheleth cuts out anyone else from the picture. He does all these things purely for himself – leaving no room for wondering whether he could have tried to squeeze just a bit more satisfaction and meaning out of his activities.

Gaining Stuff

Now, he sums up all of this in Ecclesiastes 2:9. He gained all of that wealth and stuff and pleasure. And yet, his wisdom remained with him. He didn’t allow himself to be sidetracked by all those things. He was still on a solemn pursuit to find meaning in this life apart from God.

So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me.

And think of it, what else can you think of that would make a natural man happy? Buildings, food, beautiful landscaping, water, entertainment, people to serve you, sexual fulfillment, money. What more can a natural man ask for? I would venture to guess that almost every lost man in your city right now would think that this would all make him happy and fulfilled in this life – if only he could have it all.

Some Benefits of Pleasure

And – you know what? – Qoheleth did experience some benefit from these pursuits. He says in Ecclesiastes 2:10 that he didn’t withhold anything from his eyes. Anything he wanted he took and did. He didn’t withhold any pleasure from himself.

10 And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them; I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced because of all my labor; and this was my portion from all my labor. 11 Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labor that I had labored to do; and, behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was no profit under the sun.

And what was the result? Pretty simple. He gave his heart joy. And so… his heart rejoiced. That’s it. That was his portion or payment for all his work.

But that’s it. That’s all. No ultimate fulfillment. No ultimate meaning. It’s just like the sun that does the same thing day after day – or the ocean that keeps receiving water but never gets full – or the wind that just blows around all the time and never really accomplishes anything.

This pleasure that Qoheleth heaped unto himself – what did it really accomplish? What permanent accomplishment had he made by all of this labor?

Is Anything Going to Last?

And I think that’s on his mind as we enter into the next section that occupies Ecclesiastes 2:12-17.

Yeah – all these things are fun. They give me some joy. But is any of this going to last? Is there any lasting meaning to it? Any permanent value?

I’m afraid not.

And so, we see Qoheleth here coming to terms with the fact that he cannot find meaning in any permanent achievement that will survive his death.

Discerning Madness and Folly

Qoheleth starts again in Ecclesiastes 2:12 speaking of his seeking to discern wisdom and madness and folly. And then it’s as if the following thought breaks into his consciousness – What will the man who comes after him do with all his stuff? He spent so much time and effort and money to accumulate all this stuff.

2:12 And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what can the man do that cometh after the king? even that which hath been done long ago.

Well, he comes to think that probably not much will change. The guy who comes after him will just do whatever he’s done.

Wisdom is Better Than Folly

And, now, do you remember how Qoheleth got all of his stuff? It was through his superior and exceeding wisdom. And he recognizes still that wisdom is a good thing. That’s what he says in Ecclesiastes 2:13. If you’re to compare wisdom and folly – well, hands down – wisdom exceeds folly like light is better than darkness.

13 Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.

Then he breaks into a proverb comparing the wise man and the fool. And there’s no doubt that Qoheleth believes that wisdom is a help to those who have it. The wise man can see – while the fool walks and stumbles around in darkness. So, no doubt, having wisdom is better than being a fool.

Death

But then look at the end of Ecclesiastes 2:14. Despite the advantages of earthly natural wisdom – both the wise man and the fool suffer the same fate in the end. What fate is that? Death.

14 The wise man’s eyes are in his head, and the fool walketh in darkness: and yet I perceived that one event happeneth to them all. 15 Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so will it happen even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then said I in my heart, that this also is vanity.

And that bothers Qoheleth. Worldly wisdom is great and all. It’s certainly better than foolishness. But it doesn’t even prevent you from dying.

And so, Qoheleth looks at that reality and he despairs. He had spent his whole life gaining and increasing in earthly wisdom. And in the end? He – the one who worked so hard to be wise – will die just like the one who spent no time at all gaining wisdom.

Wise People Die Like Foolks

The man who is wise about things of this life won’t be remembered any more than a fool will, generally. And again – Qoheleth asks in Ecclesiastes 2:16, How does the wise man die? His response – Just like the fool!

16 For of the wise man, even as of the fool, there is no remembrance for ever; seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. And how doth the wise man die even as the fool!

Hating Life

And that caused him to hate life in Ecclesiastes 2:17. Because he did all this stuff through his great wisdom and yet – even if that stuff survives him after his death – he’s still going to die just like a fool.

17 So I hated life, because the work that is wrought under the sun was grievous unto me; for all is vanity and a striving after wind.

Despair

And so ultimately I think we see Qoheleth despairing of his work. And I think that’s what he comes to in Ecclesiastes 2:18-23.

And we’ll get to that. But let me just summarize what we’ve seen so far.

Qoheleth started off on a quest for meaning in life. He first considered whether human wisdom could provide for that meaning and fulfillment. It didn’t. That was Ecclesiastes 1:12-18.

Then he turned to pleasure and wealth. Would that satisfy? No. That was Ecclesiastes 2:1-11.

And that search for meaning in pleasure and wealth included all the work he did – the gardens, buildings, orchards, etc. So, in the last section – Ecclesiastes 2:12-17 – we saw Qoheleth’s being confronted with the reality that all that work he did – ultimately even if it lasts forever, he’s going to die just like someone who has no concern for being wise. And so he could be as humanly wise as possible and do as much work as is humanly possible – and yet, he’s still going to die and his work will go to someone else.

And it’s that last idea that he’ll focus in on in Ecclesiastes 2:18-23. Ultimately, work for work’s sake – work without an eye on God – is meaningless – because it goes to someone else ultimately.

Hating Work

So, Qoheleth came to hate his work. He didn’t just dislike it. He hated it. Why?

2:18 And I hated all my labor wherein I labored under the sun, seeing that I must leave it unto the man that shall be after me. 19 And who knoweth whether he will be a wise man or a fool? yet will he have rule over all my labor wherein I have labored, and wherein I have showed myself wise under the sun. This also is vanity.

Because – Ecclesiastes 2:18 – that work that he worked so hard to accomplish and which he applied wisdom to achieve – it will survive him and someone else will inherit it. And really – who knows if that person will be wise or foolish?

And let’s think of this – if Qoheleth is truly Solomon, and I think there are reasons to believe that he is – then who inherited all of his stuff? It was Rehoboam. Was Rehoboam wise? No, he was foolish. And really, even a generation after Solomon, a good deal of his work had been squandered by the foolishness of the one who would come after him. And that kind of situation Qoheleth looks at and says “it’s vanity!”

Despairing of Work

And so in Ecclesiastes 2:20 he causes his heart to despair of all his work – the work he did with no consideration of God. He puts no stock in it. He realizes now that his work will achieve nothing lasting. And he repeats in Ecclesiastes 2:21 basically what he’s just said already.

20 Therefore I turned about to cause my heart to despair concerning all the labor wherein I had labored under the sun. 21 For there is a man whose labor is with wisdom, and with knowledge, and with skilfulness; yet to a man that hath not labored therein shall he leave it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil.

And you might get annoyed with this kind of thing.Where the author repeats and repeats the same point. He’ll make the point in verse 1 and verse 8 and verse 16 (just to throw out some numbers). He’ll return to it in a few chapters. And on and on.

And you might wonder why he’s doing that. To us modern western readers, this might seem like an idiosyncracy. But really, others have picked up on this happening in Hebrew writing – especially wisdom writing like Proverbs and Psalms – and they say that this was actually how the Hebrew author would make his point. He will repeat it time after time and in different ways with different nuances and different emphases – until you and I finally get it! So, that’s what he’s doing here.

So, yeah, a man can exercise all sorts of wisdom in this life and accumulate all sorts of wealth from his work. And yet, the next guy in line to inherit it hasn’t done anything to deserve it. And yet, he’ll own it all.

Under the Sun

And then Ecclesiastes 2:22-23 I think shed some light on the kind work we’re talking about here. Again, it’s done “under the sun” – without an acknowledging of God’s role in one’s life.

22 For what hath a man of all his labor, and of the striving of his heart, wherein he laboreth under the sun? 23 For all his days are but sorrows, and his travail is grief; yea, even in the night his heart taketh no rest. This also is vanity.

And the work is along the lines of what Qoheleth said he did – basically back-breaking labor. You don’t think it’s easy to construct buildings or build houses or arrange landscaping and food sources, do you? Especially in Qoheleth’s day. No, it was hard painful work. The kind that doesn’t even let you rest at night because there’s so much to get done the next day and you were working so late already to achieve your goals.

Do you know Qoheleth’s opinion of that kind of work? It’s meaningless. If you’re looking for meaning and fulfillment in this life through work alone – you’re not going to find it.

Update

So, let’s take some stock of where we stand at this point.

Everything apart from God is worthless. It’s empty. There’s no way you can find meaning in anything like that.

Put yourself in the place of someone who doesn’t know God – who doesn’t have any thoughts of spiritual realities – who has no hope of eternity. And the wisest man that’s ever lived is telling you that no matter what you pursue – human wisdom, pleasure, wealth, work, sexual intimacy, you name it – none of that stuff is going to infuse meaning into your life.

I imagine that if you were actually listening, you would be faced with the utter bleakness of life. If all the things I’ve been led to believe will satisfy me… really won’t? What do I do? Where do I turn? I want meaning! I want satisfaction! I want my life to count and I want what I do to last an eternity!

Well then, if that’s how you’re thinking, you’d be in the position to receive Qoheleth’s teaching in the next section. And we’ll get to that next time. We’ll see a glimpse into a worldview that isn’t dominated solely with the here-and-now. A worldview that values spiritual realities.

In other words…

Imagine that you were a man who interprets life completely apart from an awareness of God. You go about your life as if God didn’t exist. You’re living for the here-and-now without any consideration or knowledge of God.

And under those circumstances, you’ve been taught what to value in life. You’ve been told that certain things will give you fulfillment – money, achievements, relationships, knowledge.

But just then the wisest man to ever live sits you down and lays out for you how none of those things will provide for real meaning in your life. He tells you about the vanity or futility of all those things that you’ve come to place your hope in. Here you were, thinking they would somehow provide meaning and satisfaction in this life. But now you’re left with nothing.

When a man who previously placed his hope in something that now all of a sudden he comes to see as being virtually useless – you know there are going to be some changes.

None of us enjoys being anchor-less in our life. We want to have something to hold on to and sense that it won’t move.

So, when the man who takes no thought for God – when he all of a sudden comes to realize that the things he’s hoped in are worthless, he will instinctively seek elsewhere for satisfaction and meaning.

And it’s for exactly that kind of person that Qoheleth writes the section of Ecclesiastes that we’ll be studying now.

In the rest of Ecclesiastes 2, we’ll see the first part of the Human Quest Satisfied.

Enjoyment is a Gift from God

So, let’s read Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 to begin, where we learn that enjoyment of life is a gift from God.

2:24 There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and make his soul enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw, that it is from the hand of God. 25 For who can eat, or who can have enjoyment, more than I? 26 For to the man that pleaseth him God giveth wisdom, and knowledge, and joy; but to the sinner he giveth travail, to gather and to heap up, that he may give to him that pleaseth God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.

Eat and Drink?

Ecclesiastes 2:24 might make you a little uneasy. If you know your Bible, there are a few verses in the New Testament that seem to hearken back to this one. And those verses are not very positive.

The Foolish Godless Farmer

One of those verses is in the Gospels where Jesus is exhorting us to be rich toward God – to pay attention to him and not be living for stuff with no concern for him and his wishes in your life.

That’s the passage where the foolish farmer gets a wonderful bumper crop one season. He says to himself “take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” And now, it’s OK to have a bumper crop and get a lot of food from the work you put in to that.

Then the farmer planned to tear down his current facilities and build new ones to store his extra produce. And again – that’s alright. There’s nothing wrong with upgrading facilities to accommodate increased needs.

So, what is wrong with this farmer? Why is Jesus finding fault with him?

The main problem is this – the guy thought so much about his earthly issues and needs that he completely left God out of the picture. And the farmer died and his stuff went to someone else. And now he’s in eternity needing to face the God who demands faith and love and service of his creatures.

The Faithless Servants

There are other passages in the Gospels that warn Christians to keep alert and keep waiting for the Lord’s return. And in those passages, we’re given parables about a master leaving and putting his slaves in charge until he returns. And some of them begin to “eat and drink” and get drunk and abuse their fellow slaves. So, these passages also put “eating and drinking” in a bad light.

Deniers of Jesus’ Resurrection

And one more – Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 tells us that if the resurrection won’t happen, then we might as well “eat and drink”. And in this case again, eating and drinking is viewed as an activity that excludes God and basically amounts to living one’s life just for your own pleasures and without thought for God.

But, That’s Not What Qoheleth Means…

So, coming from a New Testament perspective we can view a verse like Ecclesiastes 2:24 rather negatively. But Qoheleth doesn’t intend this verse to be taken negatively. And by extension neither does God.

This is what God wants us to consider. There is nothing better than for you and me to eat and drink and enjoy good in our work. Did you know that? Did you know it’s OK – and really, commended by God – to enjoy your work? To eat? To drink? That’s what God wants us to do. Don’t be ashamed if you find simple pleasure in food and drink and work. That’s the way it ought to be.

But we can’t miss the crucial aspect here. End of Ecclesiastes 2:24 – God gives the ability to find such enjoyment. It’s God who allows you to eat and drink and work. And with that recognition, Qoheleth opens the curtains and lets the light pour in.

Here’s the secret: God. God makes all the difference.

What’s the antidote to life lived merely “under the sun” as a lost man who has no interest in or knowledge of spiritual realities? It’s God.

So much of what we’ve already read in this book has been getting us ready for this. We’ve endured almost two whole chapters in which we’ve been told how useless and worthless everything is. We’ve been told that we can’t find meaning or satisfaction in anything. And we’ve been left wondering where we can find meaning in life – because we all want it. And so now we’re given the key. It’s God.

God gives us the ability to enjoy such mundane things as eating and drinking and working. So enjoy them! Don’t think that these things are somehow below you. That somehow it’s sub-Christian to enjoy food and drink and work. No – enjoy them. God wants you to.

Enjoy Things From God

And then Ecclesiastes 2:25 follows this admonition to enjoy these things with an argument. Qoheleth says “who can eat or have enjoyment without him?” The word “hasten” in the KJV can also mean “enjoy” and the phrase “more than I” can also mean “apart from him”.

So – who can eat without God? Who provides you with food? Who created the plants that give seed? Who sends rain to water the seed so that it grows? Who created animals for our food? Yeah, God did it all.

And who can have enjoyment without God? Did you know that God isn’t against enjoyment? Oh! – sometimes we get the wrong idea that God wants us to shun enjoyment and love misery. But who’s the one who has prepared a new heavens and new earth for his people? Who’s the one who has glorious realities in store for those who love him? Yes, God.

He gives us food and pleasure. And there is no real lasting satisfying pleasure apart from him.

God Gives Joy

And the benefits of knowing God just keep accumulating in this section. Ecclesiastes 2:26 tells us that in addition to joy – the joy that only God gives – the joy we ought to have in our eating and drinking and work – well, in addition to that joy, God gives wisdom and knowledge.

And that’s interesting. We’ve already seen in this book that wisdom and knowledge are areas in which a man might try to find meaning and satisfaction – and yet he won’t find it in them.

But look at this – the wisdom and knowledge in Ecclesiastes 2:26 comes from God. The wisdom and knowledge that we considered previously – we have to assume – is – maybe we can call them “so-called” wisdom and knowledge or maybe “human” wisdom and knowledge. Wisdom and knowledge – so-called, not given by God – is futile and useless. But throughout this book, Qoheleth views wisdom and knowledge – the kind given by God – as something of great value.

Now, let’s just consider this as well. Even though Qoheleth is now speaking very highly of wisdom, knowledge, joy, work, food, and drink – these things in and of themselves are still not where people find meaning and satisfaction. Right?

Where is the locus of meaning and satisfaction in this life? Again, God, only. Even to the man who knows God – it’s not as if work in and of itself or wisdom or knowledge by themselves is what provide meaning to our life. It’s God who provides that meaning. We find our purpose in him. We find meaning and satisfaction and lasting achievement in him.

But not all men are like that. In fact, most don’t recognize God. Ecclesiastes 2:26 tells us how God provides wisdom, knowledge, and joy to the one who pleases God – who is good in his sight.

But then we have the sinner. What does God give to him? Travail. Labor. Hard work. And that work contributes not to his own well-being – but to the benefit of the one who pleases God. And it is God who actively makes this happen.

What a contrast we see then in this section from what came before this. God was all but totally absent from this book until this point. But now all of a sudden, we’re given this view of God – he gives joy and wisdom and knowledge. He gives the sinner the task of accumulating stuff just to hand it over to the one who knows God – the one who has transcended mere life under the sun.

So – the message of Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 for you is enjoy the life that GOD has given you – emphasis on God. Emphasis on Joy. Emphasis on Life!

Ecclesiastes 1 Meaning Commentary Summary

Ecclesiastes 1 Meaning

Ecclesiastes 1 Commentary: First of all, let’s discover what the message of the book of Ecclesiastes is. What is the book about in a nutshell?

Everything is Meaningless

Let’s look at what the text says. How’s this for a cheery optimistic start in Ecclesiastes 1:2? Vanity of vanities! Vanity of vanities. All is vanity.

Wait, vanity?

Yes. Breath. Meaningless. Insubstantial. Futile. Frustrating. Unending. Dull. Monotonous. Maddening.

But – wait – ALL is vanity or meaningless or futile? Well, that’s what Qoheleth says. And he would know.

So, let that sink in. Everything is futile. That’s the assertion that God breathed out through Qoheleth for you and me to receive and believe.

It’s All Meaningless… “Under the Sun”

But now that you have completely accepted this fact without reservation – that everything is futile – let’s notice one important caveat that Qoheleth himself makes.

Alright – everything is futile – where? Ecclesiastes 1:3 – What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh … under the sun?

And this is our major clue to interpreting this book correctly. Some people look at the book of Ecclesiastes and think that it’s just the work of a cynic.

In fact, one Old Testament scholar that has earned a reputation of respect in the believing community (Tremper Longman) thinks that all of this book – except the first few verses and last few verses – is the writing of a cynic who’s just utterly jaded with life and he’s basically a wisdom teacher gone rogue. And – according to Longman – the first and last few verses are a warning to not really take all of what the guy says to heart.

I don’t believe that’s how we ought to read this book.

Qoheleth is not unreasonably cynical. Yes, he says that all things ultimately are futile – but really only as those things are done under the sun.

The Meaning of “Under the Sun”

And that phrase is the major phrase to take note of in this book. If you miss this, you miss everything in the book of Ecclesiastes and it will remain an impossible enigma for you forever.

When Qoheleth talks of things under the sun he’s speaking of a life lived with merely human values in mind. He’s talking about a worldly or earthly mindset, a mindset that is limited to what one can see and hear and taste and touch and smell, a mindset that’s devoid of thoughts of heaven, that doesn’t value heavenly realities.

A person who lives only in the realm under the sun is one who is living for merely the here and now. God is not in the picture in his life.

There’s More Than “Under the Sun”

And many of the passages in the book of Ecclesiastes mention life lived merely under the sun without considering spiritual realities. But that’s not all we have in this book.

In this book we also have Qoheleth giving an alternative approach to life. It’s not that living life with no consideration of God is the only way. No, there’s a better way to view life – one that takes into full consideration God and his desires for your life.

That’s why Qoheleth can say at the end of the book that the main duty of man after all is said in this book is to fear God and keep his commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13). But that emphasis is not only at the end of the book. You see this God-focused view throughout the book.

We’ll see those passages throughout our study of the book of Ecclesiastes.

Author

Now, as we see in Ecclesiastes 1:1-3 the author of this book is “the Preacher”.

In Hebrew, the word is Koheleth. That word refers to gathering people together – like a preacher would do. And that concept of gathering people is translated into Greek as Ecclesiastes, from which we get the name of this book.

When we speak of Ecclesiastes or Kohelet or the Preacher, we’re speaking of the same person. So, we have a preacher, a gatherer of men, as the author of this book.

Who is the Preacher?

But that doesn’t help us much in terms of getting the true identity of this author. We know what he does. But who is this man?

So, note from Ecclesiastes 1:1-3 that the author is also a son of David, king in Jerusalem.

He’s portraying himself as the Davidic king in Jerusalem. And if you add that bit of information to the location of this book in our Bibles, you might get the idea that the author is Solomon.

What do I mean about the location of the book? Well, let me ask, what book immediately precedes this one? Proverbs. Who wrote Proverbs? Solomon did. That’s the claim in Proverbs 1:1-5.

OK, now, what book comes after the book of Eccelesiastes? Song of whom? Song of Solomon.

So, the book of Ecclesiastes is nestled in the midst of two other books written by Solomon. Maybe Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes.

Then we have the statement that this author is the Davidic king – and you can see why we might have some warrant in thinking that Solomon wrote the book.

Against Solomon as the Author

Now, some do argue against Solomonic authorship. They don’t think Solomon is the author. Here are their reasons.

They would say that the narrator speaks a little too negatively about kings. And if he’s a king, he wouldn’t speak that way about himself and others who are in his position.

There’s also a place in Ecclesiastes where Koheleth speaks of those who reigned before him in Jerusalem. And if that were Solomon, then how many people were ruling in Jerusalem before him? David, his father. Maybe it could be speaking of Saul. But, that’s it. And so, that’s used as another reason to question whether Solomon wrote this book.

My Opinion

And, here’s my take on it.

Solomon Wrote Ecclesiastes

I think there isn’t enough evidence to say that Solomon didn’t write this book. And so I would tend to think that Solomon did indeed write Ecclesiastes and that he’s the Koheleth in this book.

Solomon Doesn’t Want You To Think He Wrote Ecclesiastes

But at the same time, I’d also encourage us to not make too much of Solomon’s authorship of this book. Here’s why.

Solomon didn’t put his name on this book. He could have. He does it with the Song of Solomon. He does it with the book of Proverbs. He doesn’t do it with Ecclesiastes.

What to Think of Solomon Writing Ecclesiastes

And here’s what I think we should do with that information.

Don’t really try to fit the things written in the book of Ecclesiastes into Solomon’s life. There are some who strain to match up things said in Ecclesiastes with what we have recorded of Solomon’s life. Don’t do that.

This is what led the old Jewish commentators to postulate that Solomon wrote this book at the end of his life. But – you say – Solomon went away from the Lord at the end of his life because of all his foreign wives. That’s true. And that’s why the Jewish commentators of old made up this story where Solomon actually turned back to the Lord after his apostasy and then wrote this book.

Now, is that story romantic and encouraging and exciting? Yes.

It is biblical? No.

Should we try to conjure up some similar story to fit Ecclesiastes into the timeline of Solomon’s life? No. At least, I’m not going to.

So, while I don’t deny that Solomon was likely the author of this book, I imagine I won’t be making any attempt to bring him up in any of our lessons.

But here’s what I will do. I will assume that Solomon is writing this book but not wanting us to think of him as we read it.

So, when this Koheleth says that he was the king, I’ll believe him and teach accordingly.

When he says that he had the finances and power to build all sorts of public works and to have all sorts of wives and concubines like a king would – I’m going to believe him and teach likewise.

This narrator wants us to believe that he’s a Jewish king with unlimited resources. And therefore we’re going to take him at his word.

At the same time, he doesn’t come right out and say that he’s Solomon. So I’m not going to make any sort of effort to force that idea onto his book.

Basically we’re just going to consider this book to be written by a nameless and unidentified Jewish king. And I’m going to use his Hebrew name – Koheleth.

Now that we know the author of Ecclesiates, we’ll start where the book of Ecclesiastes starts – with a view of the meaningless cycle of life lived merely under the sun. What is life like for a man or woman who views this physical world as all there is? That’s Ecclesiastes 1:4-11.

So, when we pick up and start reading this book, we’re immediately directed to the never-ending cycles of life on this earth.

Earth

In Ecclesiastes 1:4, the earth is said to remain fixed and steady. It doesn’t change. It doesn’t pass away. But humans do. One generation of men and women pass off the scene by death. And another generation enters the scene of this life. Year after year, and decade after decade, and century after century, and millenium after millenium this happens.

The people who inhabit the city of Whitewater (where my church is located) will not be around in another 100 years or so. They will pass off the scene. And there will be a new group to take their place. It’s as if it didn’t even matter that this current generation existed. Who’s going to remember all the people that dwell in that city just one century from today? Probably no one. How futile!

And – really – how shocking! Man under the sun is so focused on himself and his life and his activities. And yet, it’s as if the earth just watches every single generation like that — that’s just so full of itself and has such an elevated sense of its own importance. And the earth just sees them come and sees them go and then sees another come and another go and on and on. It seems like there’s nothing substantial or permanent or meaningful to human life. How futile.

Sun

And it’s not just generations of men that come and go endlessly. The sun does something similar in Ecclesiastes 1:5.

Study Psalm 19 some time. It’s in that psalm that the sun is used to assist us in marveling at God’s creation and what God communicates to us through that creation. In fact, the sun – we learn in Psalm 19 – is actually intended to demonstrate to us that we can’t hide from God’s communication through nature.

And yet, here we are now in Ecclesiastes 1 and the sun is communicating something different. It rises, goes down, and rises again. It’s just like the monotonous changing of generations. In fact, the word translated “goeth down” in the King James is the same word in Ecclesiastes 1:4 as “cometh” – speaking of the entering of a new generation. There’s a cyclical pattern to the sun.

And we can all be very happy that the sun keeps coming back day after day. But the idea is – there’s no progress. It’s an endless cycle. It’s not as if the sun makes new advances every day and achieves more and more. No – the sun does the same exact thing day after day after day. It’s an endless meaningless cycle.

Wind

And, in addition to the never-ending pattern of generations of men and the sun itself, we also need to consider the wind in Ecclesiastes 1:6.

The same word used of the generation that passes away into obscurity is used of the wind. The wind, too, just kind of blows around. “Turning” is a big emphasis in this verse. The wind turns. It whirls about. It returns in its circuits. Again, the idea is that there’s no progress. There’s no advancement. Ultimately, nothing changes. It’s not as if the wind accomplishes anything new or gains new heights. It’s basically twirling in a circle and has been from before any living human can remember.

And you might say – “that doesn’t bother me. I don’t care that the various generations of humanity and the sun and the wind don’t make any real progress or ultimately achieve anything.” And to that I say – then you aren’t thinking as deeply as Qoheleth is! You’re not following him in his thinking. He wants you to be bothered by this. God himself wants you to be uncomfortable and a little frustrated by these facts that are evident all around you.

If you don’t see anything disturbing about the realities presented so far, just stay with Qoheleth’s way of thinking. Try to follow. You’ll know that you’ve come to terms with the author of this book when these realities he keeps mentioning start to bother you.

Water Cycle

So, from generations to the sun to the wind, Qoheleth turns to consider what even we refer to as our water “cycle” in Ecclesiastes 1:7.

Again, the Hebrew word used of generations passing away and the wind circling around is used now of the rivers running into the sea.

And you know what this is like. If you put your boat into – say the Rock River – eventually you can make it into the Mississippi River. And from there, you’d make it into the Gulf of Mexico. And from there, you could paddle out into the Atlantic Ocean. And yet, it’s not as if all those waters that contribute to the ocean – as if they start overflowing the ocean. No. Water is evaporated from the ocean to form clouds which are blown by the circling wind which then eventually lets down rain – sometimes at the exact locations from where those rivers start.

It’s interesting to think that a drop of water might flow from your drive way to the sewer to a river to the ocean – and then come right back in a cloud and be dropped right back into your driveway – only to have that exact same process repeat over and over and over again.

And yet, for all that activity, you really can’t tell that anything is happening by simply looking at the ocean. It’s not as if the ocean makes any progress or achieves anything. It’s not as if it can meet some preset capacity and when it reaches that point just say – “OK, I’m done. I’ve reached my goal! I’ve achieved something.” No, it’s an endless cycle. It’s repetitious. It’s monotonous. It’s vanity.

Mankind

And, just like the ocean never gets to experience true satisfaction and fulfillment – a sense of real accomplishment or fullness – so too are we humans. It’s not just nature that experiences this endless apparently irrelevant cycle. Man does, too according to Ecclesiastes 1:8.

All things are full of labour. Or – all things or words are wearisome. Even to speak of these things – the apparent emptiness and futility of life under the sun – is a wearying burden.

Do you feel that way yet? No? OK, then let’s continue on and we’ll be given more and more reasons to feel this way.

Now, we spoke of some of the wearying facts of life from the perspective of nature. The sun. The wind. The rivers. But now let’s consider mankind’s existence.

To begin with, there’s no real and ultimate satisfaction in this life under the sun lived without a consciousness of God and spiritual realities.

Let me ask – what does your eye do? Does your eye taste? Does it smell? Does it touch? Well, it can touch, but that’s not its primary function. No, the eye sees.

And yet, the only thing that the eye is made to do, doesn’t satisfy it.

Have you ever noticed that? You can look at – let’s say – a really fine-looking house. And you can look at it every day as you pass by that nice area of town. Does that satisfy you? No.

You can have your eye on a top-of-the-line luxury car. And you can eye it up every day you pass by that dealership. But does that satisfy? No.

And those two considerations have to do with coveting something, which is immoral. But let’s direct our minds to something not so suspect.

Have you ever seen something that’s just so beautiful that you want to just keep it? It’s hard to explain, but you know what it’s like to experience some beautiful moment – a sunset or a picturesque day on the lake or a walk in a park. And sometimes you can just want to take it in – in some permanent way. And maybe if you can do that, it would satisfy your eyes. But it ends. And you’re left ultimately unsatisfied.

And that’s not an issue for the eye only. There are similar dynamics with the ear. Now, do you remember earlier in this chapter where we were told how the rivers keep pouring into the ocean and yet the ocean is never full? That’s the same word we have here for the ear.

Words and music and all sorts of sounds enter the ear. The ear’s main job is to hear. Actually, that’s all it can do. And yet, even though the ear takes in all sorts of noises, yet, it’s never full. It’s never satisfied.

So, man’s senses are insatiable. Nothing under the sun ultimately satisfies them.

Vanity

Now, Qoheleth continues exposing the vanity of life’s meaningless cycles in Ecclesiastes 1:9. In other words, “What has been… is what currently is… and what has been done… is what is currently done.” What existed a long time ago is what exists now. And what people did a long time ago is what they do now.

The earth and heavens existed from the Creation Week. They still do. The rivers and trees and creatures that exist now existed back then. The stars and asteroids and comets and planets that exist now – they existed back then. It’s not as if there’s anything new under the sun. No, in fact, there is not one single thing that is new under the sun.

And it’s at this point I need to conceed that there are indeed some new gadgets that man has made. And there’s new technology. There’s new fashions. There are new modes of transportation.

Right? I mean, so-called smart phones didn’t exist in Qoheleth’s day. Neither did the internet. Cell towers didn’t exist. Space ships, microwaves, toaster ovens, refrigerators, fluorescent light bulbs, electricity for that matter, diesel engines, telephony, vaccines, pacemakers. And I could go on. None of these things existed in Qoheleth’s day. They’re all new.

So, is Qoheleth wrong?

I don’t think so. Look at some of those things we mentioned.

Cell phones are new, yes. But really, what is their essence? What do we use them for? Communication. Has communication existed since Qoheleth’s day? Of course. It’s not new. The means by which humanity communicates can be new, but the bare fact that we communicate is not.

What about pacemakers? Surely, Qoheleth’s day didn’t see those. But what are pacemakers intended to do? Extend one’s life. And so a medical device like that would fall under the category of things which physicians use to heal their patients. Did physicians exist in Qoheleth’s day? Of course. They didn’t have pacemakers, but their craft has been with us since the fall.

Even something as monstrous as modern-day abortion – do we really think this is something new? Yes, the sterile, medical environment and tools that come along with such a heinous act now are new. But could a mother get rid of an unwanted child in Qoheleth’s day? Of course. Leave him on someone’s door step. Or sacrifice him to your idols. Or whatever else.

What I’m saying is that the manifestations of certain desires and activities of mankind might be new. But those basic desires and activities are certainly not.

And that’s what Qoheleth is thinking. He’s already told us that one generation goes and another – what? Comes. Well, that would be a new generation. Is that something that’s new? Well, yes. But it’s still a generation of people. And having yet another generation of people is nothing new in this world.

And actually, Qoheleth goes on in later verses to tell us that he constructed new building projects and planted gardens and all sorts of things. Those things would have all been new in a sense – but not in the sense in which Qoheleth is speaking in Ecclesiastes 1:9. People before him had planted gardens and built buildings. There’s nothing new under the sun.

Exuberant Optimism

Let’s move on to Ecclesiastes 1:10.

The Preacher addresses in his mind the exuberant optimist.

I can imagine such a one saying “Come on, Qoheleth! Look! Here’s something new!

What’s Qoheleth’s response?

Nah, I’m afraid not, son.

And someone listening to this might have ideas in his mind about this or that that he thinks is new. And regarding that, you need to know that Qoheleth’s not going to agree – for the reasons we already reviewed in Ecclesiastes 1:9. Every basic desire and interest of mankind has been acted out throughout the millenia of human existence. And they’re still with us today.

No Memory of Old Things

Then we get to Ecclesiastes 1:11 with the crowning vanity of this whole meaningless cycle of life under the sun. There’s no remembrance of former things.

Do you know the name of your great-great-great grandfather?

I do. His name was Henry. And that’s one of the only things I know about him. He was a farmer. He came from Ireland in the early 1800s. He was a Roman Catholic man. His family for a few years lived in Erin, WI near Holy Hill in the Hartford area. He moved to Minnesota in the mid- to late-1800s. He passed away in Minnesota in the late 1800s. He owned some land. He had a number of children… And that’s all I know about him. This man, Henry Weir Sr. lived a long time. Maybe 7 decades or a bit more. He woke up every day and did a number of things and at the end of the day he went to sleep. He woke up the next day and did more stuff and then slept. And on and on. He must have done a lot of things in his life. And yet, I know only a handful of the things he did.

And who was his father? I have no idea. And I know what I know about Henry Sr. because I’ve spent multiple hours researching him using the only documents I can find on him.

The point is – I’ve actually tried to know this man and I can’t do much beyond what I’ve already done. The former things aren’t remembered.

And you know what? You and I are going to be like that, too. Do you think that your great-great-great grandchild will know anything about you? Will he even know your name? Will he know what you did?

There’s a good likelihood that no one will know anything about us in 200 years. And that’s not because each of us is just particularly uninteresting. It’s just the fact of the matter. You and I will be forgotten. That’s what it says here – people who come after us won’t remember – not just us – but even our children and grandchildren.

And it’s not just people that are not and will not be remembered. It’s everything.

Its animals. Do you know what animals existed before the flood? Maybe some – especially those laid down in the fossil record – but certainly not all.

Do you know how war was waged in ancient times? We have some clues – again with things written in stone or whatever that’s lasted. But ultimately, so much of ancient history is shrouded in mystery to us.

And it’ll be just like that for people centuries from now who are trying to understand what the United States of America was like.

Or maybe in the future there will be schools in which ancient languages are taught and one of those languages will be English. And they’ll be pretty much guessing at the pronunciation of the vowels and diphthongs because by that point no one will speak it. The language that you all know – maybe the only language most of us know – it will likely be forgotten in a few hundred years or so. No one will remember it. No one will remember you.

That sounds bleak and pessimistic. It is bleak. But it’s not pessimistic. It’s realistic. It’s part of this endless and meaningless cycle of life.

Where’s the significance? Where’s the significance for someone who lives under the sun – for someone who lives without any knowledge of God and spiritual realities?

There is no significance. There is no meaning. There’s nothing but vanity, futility, and emptiness for those men on earth who don’t know God.

And I’d like to end by speaking more about God and the realities that lift a man up from life lived merely under the sun. But I’m not going to in this post. I want to leave us like Qoheleth leaves us – feeling – not just knowing and/or acknowledging – but feeling the emptiness of life without God. Qoheleth will get to giving us a correct perspective and worldview. And even in these rather bleak and pessimistic sections, he’s getting us ready to receive that instruction which we’ll see in the next few chapters, Lord-willing.

And Now… Ecclesiastes 1:12-2:23!

But I’m afraid to say that in this section we’re in for more vanity. In fact, what we’ll see now is Dead Ends in the Journey for Satisfaction in Life.

(By the way, this is another title borrowed from Leland Ryken. Everything he has written and which I’ve read has been of great value to my understanding of the Scripture. If I perhaps don’t agree with everything I’ve read from him, I at least have been challenged in my understanding. I was even privileged to carry on a short e-mail conversation with him a few times. Anyway, just know that I’m indebted to him and that much of what I write on this site is influenced by his writings and perhaps even direct quotes, which I will endeavor to cite.)

The King Speaks

So you see Qoheleth letting you know in Ecclesiastes 1:12 that he’s putting on the hat of a king. He’s going to give you a king’s perspective on the matter under discussion.

1:12 I the Preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem.

Seeking Meaning from Wisdom

And he starts by seeking meaning from wisdom in Ecclesiastes 1:13. What did he find? How did his wisdom work out for him?

13 And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven: it is a sore travail that God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised therewith.

All Vanity

Well, his wisdom led him to see the vanity of life according to Ecclesiastes 1:14. All works done under heaven – or with a merely earthly mindset – it’s all vanity and vexation of spirit.

14 I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.

Now, let me break in here and explain something. Let’s look at this phrase “vexation of spirit” if you’re looking at the King James Version. “Vexation” has the idea of exercising or struggling or striving. The word “spirit” can also mean wind. And this is why some have translated this phrase as “striving after wind”.

Can you picture that? Striving after wind? Like striving and struggling and working so hard… just to find that your reward is … wind.

How disappointing. How unfulfilling. Why would anyone strive and struggle in order to obtain wind? That’s exactly Qoheleth’s point! No one wants to. It’s useless and worthless and frustrating.

And that’s what Qoheleth’s wisdom led him to see — that all work done for merely earthly reasons and with a mindset that leaves God out of the picture — it’s futile.

Irreversible Nature of Things

Qoheleth’s wisdom also led him to acknowledge the irreversible nature of things.

15 That which is crooked cannot be made straight; and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.

He says in Ecclesiastes 1:15 that what’s made crooked can’t be straightened. I think that Qoheleth has in mind the natural world.

The massive crooked branch of a mighty oak cannot be straightened. It can be chopped down, but no one is going to straighten it out.

The crooked turns of a river will never be straightened.

Crooked jagged rocks in the wilderness of Israel will never be straightened.

And on it goes. Crookedness in many cases in nature cannot be reversed. It cannot be straightened.

Qoheleth also noticed one other irreversible trend in this life. He says in Ecclesiastes 1:15 that that which is wanting cannot be counted. This is obvious. But think about it.

If something doesn’t exist, you can’t count it. For many things in life, once it’s gone, it’s gone. This might speak to the reality of scarcity in this world. We do have renewable resources. But there are a number of non-renewable resources.

Could you imagine if that wasn’t the case? If we never ran out of anything?

But that’s not what happens in this world. And Qoheleth’s wisdom brought this to his mind – another irreversible trend in this world.

Taking Inventory

Now, in Ecclesiastes 1:16, Qoheleth kind of takes a step back and evaluates where he is with this wisdom. He communes in his own heart – and by the way, he says that a lot in this section at least. He communes in his own heart – he takes inventory inwardly. And this is what he realizes.

16 I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I have gotten me great wisdom above all that were before me in Jerusalem; yea, my heart hath had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.

His wisdom was astounding! He had more wisdom than any who were before him in Jerusalem. At least, that’s what the King James Version reads. But that word “in” is more often translated as “over”. This would indicate that Qoheleth is stating that he – as king, like he told us earlier – he’s wiser than any who were before him OVER Jerusalem. Ruling over Jerusalem. He was wiser than any king in Jerusalem before him. He was the wisest of the wise.

Again, what that means is that either he’s wanting us to think of him as Solomon and he’s speaking of basically one person when he mentions ANY who were before him as king. Or it’s what I suspect – the author does not necessarily want to be identified with Solomon, and so he’s putting on this character of Qoheleth to make himself out to be some sort of Super-Solomon. A great-than-Solomon.

And as this Super-Solomonic figure, Qoheleth says that he has superior wisdom. We need to believe him with this one. He’s the wisest ever. No one ever anywhere excelled him in wisdom.

Understanding Wisdom

And armed with this wisdom he sought out to understand wisdom in Ecclesiastes 1:17 along with madness and folly. He wisely discerned what these things were like. And what did he discover?

17 And I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also was a striving after wind.

Wisdom Leaves Us Disappointed

He found that even wisdom left him disappointed. I mean – he’s the wisest man in history. And even then, he can’t find meaning in wisdom. Here’s all he ultimately arrives at with the help of worldly wisdom. Grief and sorrow – Ecclesiastes 1:18. A man who doesn’t know God can spend his whole life pursuing being as wise and knowledgeable as possible – and what will it ultimately produce in him? Grief and sorrow.

18 For in much wisdom is much grief; and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.

And you can imagine why. Look at what’s happening in this world. Current events aren’t just bad for Christians and those who fear the Lord. The policies and values being adopted by this nation right now are bad for everyone.

And turning our eyes beyond our shores, the current radical Muslim resurgence is not bad for just Christians. It’s bad for everyone – even Muslims!

I experience regular grief and sorrow over these things – and I’m not all that involved with these issues. I just read about them. Imagine having to study them in-depth for a living.

And what’s the world’s solution to all these problems? More education! Throw more money at our educational system! That’ll fix the problem. But has it? With over a century basically of people taking refuge in education – we’ve had two World Wars. We’ve seen atrocities. We’ve seen oppression. And with all this education – we still can’t seem to solve our problems.

And so in fact, the more educated you are, the more sorrow and grief you generally have. Now, this isn’t to say we shouldn’t be educated people. Get all the education you can. In fact, you know that I work for a Christian university. I believe in the benefits of education – especially from the right worldview. But I’m not deceived into thinking that more education will fix our problems. No, and especially for someone who doesn’t know God, more knowledge basically equates to more sorrow and grief.

And you can extend this principle of sorrow increasing with added knowledge to any other area of learning that one could pursue. The more you learn of any area of life under the sun, the more you’re acquainted with the grief and sorrow that attend life in this sin-cursed world.

Are any of us under the delusion that if only I was smarter – if only I knew more – then I’d be satisfied? Then life would be meaningful? Let the wisest man who ever lived counsel you that that just ain’t the case!

Well, so much for finding meaning by attaining great wisdom and knowledge. So, what else can a natural man find meaning in…?