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Bible Commentaries

Gary H. Everett's Study Notes on the Holy Scriptures

Ecclesiastes 1

Verse 1

Title - The opening verse serves as the customary Hebrew title to the book of Ecclesiastes.

Ecclesiastes 1:1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

Ecclesiastes 1:1 Word Study on “the Preacher” Strong says the Hebrew word “preacher” “qoheleth” ( קֹהֶלֶת ) (H6953) means, “a (female) assembler,” and used abstractly, “preaching,” or “preacher.” The Enhanced Strong says this word is used 7 times in the Old Testament, being translated in the KJV as “the preacher.” All seven uses are found in the book of Ecclesiastes and are used as a proper name. Strong says this Hebrew word is derived from the primitive root “qahal” ( קָהַל ) (H6950), which means, “to assemble, gather.” The Hebrew, Greek and English titles of the book of Ecclesiastes have been taken from “qoheleth” ( קֹהֶלֶת ). Strong says the Hebrew word “qoheleth” ( קֹהֶלֶת ) is the feminine singular active participle of the primitive root “qahal” ( קָהַל ) (H6950) The fact that this participle is used within Ecclesiastes with a feminine verb suggests that it at least on one occasion intends on identifying with the feminine noun “wisdom” as its subject, which words were spoken by the inspired king.

Comments We must remember that oral tradition held strong roots in the Oriental culture. Thus, the Preacher, as well as his predecessors, could have recited these words in Ecclesiastes many times before they were put into written form. In other words, the words of the Preacher may have been orally transmitted years before they were recorded.

Verses 1-11

Introduction: The Preacher Concludes that This Life is Vanity The book of Ecclesiastes opens with the Preacher acknowledging that God has predestined this world to mortality and vanity (Ecclesiastes 1:1-11). We know from the book of Genesis that all of this vanity was the result of the Fall of mankind in the Garden, although God will one day bring redemption back to man and to His creation. In these first eleven verses the Preacher expresses the uselessness of his efforts to make things better for himself and for others in this life. The theme of this passage is stated in the second verse, which says, “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). He then asks the rhetorical question, “What profit does a man have of all his labours in this life?”(Ecclesiastes 1:3) He sees the generations of the earth testifying to its course of vanity (Ecclesiastes 1:4-7), and generations of mankind testifying to the same (Ecclesiastes 1:8-11).

As a result the preacher will attempt to answer this question throughout the rest of the book of Ecclesiastes, in which the Preacher records his efforts to find the purpose and essence of life. This pursuit of man’s purpose is reflected in his repeated statements, “I gave my heart” (Ecclesiastes 1:13), “I communed with mine own heart” (Ecclesiastes 1:16), “I said in mine heart” (Ecclesiastes 2:1), “I sought in mine heart” (Ecclesiastes 2:3) “Then said I in my heart” (Ecclesiastes 2:15), “I said in mine heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:17-18), “I applied mine heart to know” (Ecclesiastes 7:25), “I applied my heart” (Ecclesiastes 8:9), “I applied mine heart” (Ecclesiastes 8:16), and “I considered in my heart” (Ecclesiastes 9:1). Within these passages, the Preacher tests life with knowledge, wisdom, mirth, great works and gardens, and in summary, all of life's pleasures. However, in these pursuits he finds only vanity (Ecclesiastes 2:17).

Ecclesiastes 2:17, “Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.”

He will later find a purpose in eternal things, but he will have to look beyond this life in order to find meaning as to why things are the way they are. For example, in Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 he begins to acknowledge that God intervenes in the affairs of mankind and establishes seasons of purpose in our lives. The Preacher initially notices the repetition of cycles, or seasons of life when he says, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). He will later acknowledge God’s hand in orchestrating these cycles and seasons in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.

The opening passage of Ecclesiastes is a cry about the vanity of life on earth. More particularly, it is a cry regarding the vanity seen in the affairs of this life, the natural realm when contrasted to the eternal realm. The Preacher cries out in despair regarding life’s vanities (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3) with the realization that man is bound by the realm of time (Ecclesiastes 1:4-11), yet hoping for redemption in eternity.

After the author introduces himself as the Preacher (Ecclesiastes 1:1) he immediately sets the theme for the book of Ecclesiastes by asking the rhetorical question regarding the meaning of man’s mortal life (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3). He evaluates man’s efforts in this life as being full of vanity. Therefore, he will answer this rhetorical question in the body of this book by giving us things we can do to overcome the vanities of life.

It is important to note that the Preacher does not refer to God at all during this introduction in Ecclesiastes 1:1-11, although the word “God” is used forty times in this book. This is because he is making his evaluation from the perspective of this life only, without considering the divine perspective. Although his search will soon take this divine perspective into consideration, he begins by assessing the fallen state of man and creation as a result of the Fall in the garden.

In Proverbs 1:2-11 the Preacher presents the question and the dilemma of mankind. In Proverbs 1:12-18, the Preacher begins to seek the answer to this problem. In chapter 2 and the following chapters of Ecclesiastes, the Preacher continues to seek this answer, which will come in the final chapter. The Preacher will conclude by telling us that in this mortal life we are to fear God and keep his commandments, for that is all that God requires of us in this life in order to prepare us for our immortal lives (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

In order to understand the Preacher’s negative evaluation of this life in the opening passage, we must go back to the book of Genesis. If we go back to the Garden of Eden and the Fall, we find that the curse that God placed upon mankind subjected them to vanity. Why did God place these particular curses upon mankind? We know that the woman’s primary job was to be fruitful and multiply while the man’s job was to till the ground. Thus, the woman is more focused upon her family and her children while the man is often focused upon his work. Women often talk about their family while men most often talk about their jobs. But after the Fall, God placed a burden upon each of their jobs. Therefore, God placed a burden upon each of these activities so that mankind would look to God for help. Jesus Christ said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

The endless toils and travails of this life now reveal the vanity of our labours. Such vanities turn our hearts towards more eternal issues, such our enduring hope of eternal life and rest in the presence of God our Creator. When man labours and is heavy laden, he looks to God through Jesus Christ and finds rest. When woman looks to God in fear and reverence, she finds salvation through child bearing (1 Timothy 2:15).

1 Timothy 2:14-15, “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.”

Mankind now eagerly awaits the redemption from our mortal bodies in hopes of taking on immortality (Romans 8:23). Thus, the curse that God placed upon mankind works for our good so that through our travail we will look to eternal issues.

Romans 8:23, “And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.”

This is the focus of the book of Ecclesiastes. The Preacher realizes that God has subjected us to vanity and he searches for answers as to man’s role in the midst of such travail.

In Ecclesiastes 1:4-8 the Preacher refers to the elements of God’s creation that were recognized by men during the ancient times. Man believed that all matter and energy could be found in four states: in the heat from the sun, in the solid elements such as the earth, in the liquid elements represented by water, and in the vapor state of elements represented by clouds. He describes these four states of God’s inanimate creation as being in constant motion, or labor. These elements represent the cycles of nature. He concludes that all of creation has been subjected to vanity, which Paul also concludes in Romans 8:19-22.

The repetition of these cycles of nature teaches us that there are also repetitions in the cycles of human history. Therefore, man has been subjected to vanity just like creation.

Outline Here is a proposed outline:

1. Title Ecclesiastes 1:1

2. Opening Statement Ecclesiastes 1:2-4

3. The 3-fold Testimony of the Generations of the Earth to Vanity Ecclesiastes 1:5-7

Verses 1-18

Predestination: The Vanity of Human Life and Creation The Preacher begins his book by acknowledging that God has predestined this world to mortality and vanity (Ecclesiastes 1:1-11). He will base this conclusion upon his own personal experiences (Ecclesiastes 1:12 to Ecclesiastes 2:11) and upon his evaluation of society (Ecclesiastes 2:12-26).

Solomon, in his old age, looks at the effects of his life on society. In chapter Ecclesiastes 1:1-11, the Preacher expresses the uselessness of his efforts to make things different and better for others. In Ecclesiastes 1:12 thru Ecclesiastes 2:26 he gives examples of his vain efforts. Had he made things better for his nation, for the world around him? In despair, He saw everything the same. He felt that all of his labor and travail had not created the changes that he so desired. He concludes this book with the insight that his duty is not to change the world, but to fear and serve the Lord, for each man will give an account of his own life before God.

Outline Here is a proposed outline:

Intro: The Preacher Concludes that This Life is Vanity Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

Verses 2-4

Opening Statement Ecclesiastes 1:2-4 serves as an opening statement upon which the rest of the book of Ecclesiastes is built. In other words, the Preacher offers his opening statement and builds his arguments from it, reaching his conclusion in Ecclesiastes 12:13. The Preacher realizes that God has set this earth upon a course of mortal decay because of human depravity; and man, whose spirit is immortal, should fear God as a means of overcoming the vanity imposed upon him in this earth-life.

Ecclesiastes 1:2 Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.

Ecclesiastes 1:2 Word Study on “vanity” Gesenius says the Hebrew word “vanity” “hebel” ( הֶבֶל ) (H1892) means, “breath, breathing,” and “exhalation, vapour, midst, darkness.” He says that it is “commonly used of any thing transitory, evanescent, frail.” Strong says it means, “emptiness, vanity,” and is derived from the primitive Hebrew root “habal” ( הָבַל ) (H1891), which means, “to be vain, lead astray.” The Enhanced Strong says it is use 73 times in the Old Testament, being translated in the KJV as “vanity 61, vain 11, altogether 1.”

Comments - The phrase “vanity of vanities” literally, “breath of breaths.” We know that breath, or wind, is fleeting. This phrase means, “utterless, meaningless or useless,” or “a most useless thing.” Breath is transitory and impermanent as the wind. This phrase opens and closes the book of Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes 12:8). After taking the entire book to support this statement, he ends his case by making the same statement.

Ecclesiastes 12:8, “Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.”

Bob Nichols says the word “vanity,” when used within the context of Ecclesiastes, refers to the things pertaining to this earthly life, which will someday pass away. [23] It does not mean that things in this life are not necessary or unimportant, but the Preacher is weighing them in light of the importance of eternal matters. The older we get, the better insight we have into the vanities of this life and our eternal destiny. We see children busying themselves with play and clinging to toys and things that are of little worth. Of course, play is an important aspect of a child’s social development. But the things they pursue are not true treasures. Even as adults, a wise man sees this same vain activity in the lives of people around him. The Preacher will conclude that the only true importance in this life is to fear God and to keep His commandments.

[23] Bob Nichols, “Sermon,” Calvary Cathedral International, Fort Worth, Texas.

Ecclesiastes 1:3 What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?

Ecclesiastes 1:3 “What profit hath a man of all his labour” - Word Study on “profit” Strong says the Hebrew word “profit” ( יִתְרוֹן ) (H3504) means, “preeminence, gain, advantage.” The Enhanced Strong says this word is used nine times in the Old Testament, with all occurrences found within the book of Ecclesiastes. It is translated in the KJV as, “profit 5, profitable 1, excelleth 2, excellency 1, better 1.” It also translated, “.”

Word Study on “labour” Strong says the Hebrew word “labour” ( עָמָל ) (H5999) means, “toil, wearing effort,” thus, “worry, whether of body or mind.” The Enhanced Strong says it is used 55 times in the Old Testament, being translated in the KJV as, “labour 25, mischief 9, misery 3, travail 3, trouble 3, sorrow 2, grievance 1, grievousness 1, iniquity 1, miserable 1, pain 1, painful 1, perverseness 1, toil 1, wearisome 1, wickedness 1.” Strong says it comes from the primitive root ( עָמַל ) (H5998), which means, “to toil, to work severely and with irksomeness.”

Comments - The Hebrew word “labour” ( עָמָל ) (H5999) is used twenty-two (22) in the book of Ecclesiastes of fifty-five (55) uses in the Old Testament, thus becoming a key word that reveals the theme of the book. As we look at the book of beginnings, the book of Genesis, we find that labour and travail were placed upon mankind under the curse as a way of judging him. God said to Adam, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread…” In the book of Ecclesiastes, the Preacher re-evaluates the results of the curse of our labour and travail, saying, “I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it.” (Ecclesiastes 3:10) God uses labour and travail to discipline us so that we will look to Him each day in the midst of our daily travail.

Ecclesiastes 1:3 “which he taketh under the sun” - Comments - The phrase “under the sun” in the book of Ecclesiastes basically means, “in this life.” We know that the word “vanity” is used also in the previous verse (Ecclesiastes 1:2) to refer to the temporal affairs of this life when compared to the importance of eternal matters. It is the sun that causes man to age so quickly and thus, to be mortal. We see later in Ecclesiastes 12:1-8 a discussion on the brevity of this life that is lived under the sun. The rising and setting of the sun is used to measure our mortal life.

In addition, no other aspect of nature brings more stress and travail upon the laboring man that the sun beating down upon his sweaty brow. The sun brings more stress upon the physical body than any other aspect of nature.

Ecclesiastes 1:4 One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.

Ecclesiastes 1:4 “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh” - Comments - Man’s mortality is the greatest witness to his subjection to travail and vanity upon earth, since it refers back to the Fall in the Garden of Eden. At this time man and all of creation was predestined to mortality and vanity.

“but the earth abideth for ever” Comments - Although this present heavens and earth will pass away in order to make way for the new in eternity, it seems to abide forever in that it outlasts each generation of mankind. Thus, relatively speaking, this earth “abides forever.”

Verses 5-7

The Three-fold Testimony of the Generations of the Earth to Man’s Subjection to Vanity Not only does man’s mortality testify to his subjection to travail and vanity until his future redemption (Ecclesiastes 1:4), but all of creation has been subjected to the same (Romans 8:18-23). The second greatest testimony to man’s subjection to travail and labour is characteristics of the earth, which was also cursed at the time of the Fall. Ecclesiastes 1:5-7 describes three primary characteristics of this temporal earth, the sun, wind and rain, which is also described in Genesis 8:22. These three characteristics of nature have the most obvious, continuous movement on any aspect of creation, and may be representative of all the other characteristics of the earth. Because of the rotation of the earth, the sun, the wind and water are always in motion and determine weather patterns. Nothing else in nature moves as consistently and swiftly as do these three; yet they seem to go nowhere. Man has been given authority by God to dominate parts of this creation, in a limited capacity; however, he has not been given the power to rule over the sun, the wind, nor the rivers. These elements of earth's creation behave as they desire, despite man's knowledge and intervention of them. These movements describe the destiny of this temporal earth in which we must live our live under the sun. More specifically, they testify to the vanities of this mortal life. As all aspects of creation testify of the glory of God, the endless and seemingly purposeless movements of the sun, wind and rivers testify to us that God has subjected this temporal earth to vanity.

Genesis 8:22, “While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.”

Ecclesiastes 1:5 The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.

Ecclesiastes 1:5 Comments - The first characteristic of the earth that testifies to man’s travail and vanity is the sun, which appears to rise and go down due to the rotation of the earth. The energy released by the sun becomes the driving force of the wind currents over the earth.

Ecclesiastes 1:6 The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.

Ecclesiastes 1:6 Comments - The second characteristic of the earth that testifies to man’s travail and vanity is the wind, which is driven by the energy of the sun and the rotation of the earth. Ecclesiastes 1:6 provides a clear description of the Jet Stream, which flows in the high altitudes of the earth’s atmosphere. Man did not discover that the Jet Stream existed until the twentieth century.

Ecclesiastes 1:7 All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.

Ecclesiastes 1:7 Comments - The third characteristic of the earth that testifies to man’s travail and vanity is the rain and the rivers that flow as a result of the rain, which weather is driven by the wind currents across the earth.

Verses 8-11

The Testimony of the Generations of Man to His Subjection to Vanity In addition to creation (Ecclesiastes 1:5-7), time also serves as a testimony to man’s subjection to vanity. The events of man’s present life (Ecclesiastes 1:8 b), past events (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10), and future events (Ecclesiastes 1:11), all testify to the fact that God has predestined mankind to travail and vanity.

Divine Intervention in the Affairs of Mankind - In Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 the Preacher acknowledges how God intervenes in the affairs of mankind and establishes seasons of purpose in our lives. The Preacher initially notices the repetition of cycles, or seasons of life when he says, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). He will later acknowledge God’s hand in orchestrating these cycles and seasons in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.

The repetition of particular events in history can be seen in Bible prophecy. For example, Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 7:14) that a virgin would conceive and bear a son and his name will be called Immanuel was two-fold. It was fulfilled during the time of King Ahaz as well as during the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.

History will repeat itself when Jesus will reign as King of Kings from Jerusalem. King Solomon serves as a type and figure of the Lord Jesus as King over the earth. Thus, Solomon’s reign will repeat itself in prophetic fulfillment at the Second Coming of Christ Jesus.

Ecclesiastes 1:8 All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.

Ecclesiastes 1:8 “All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it” Comments - The NIV reads, “All things are wearisome, more than one can say…” In other words, every aspect of our mortal life testifies to life’s travail and vanities.

“the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing” Comments - Man’s present lusts and pursuits testify to life’s vanities.

Ecclesiastes 1:9 The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:10 Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.

Ecclesiastes 1:9-10 Comments The Past Testifies to Man’s Vanities - While Ecclesiastes 1:8 b reflects upon how the present activities of mankind testify to our travail and vanity, Ecclesiastes 1:9 reflects upon how the past activities of mankind testify to the same, in the fact that the events of man’s life seem to repeat themselves in later generations.

Ecclesiastes 1:11 There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.

Ecclesiastes 1:11 Comments - While Ecclesiastes 1:8 b reflects upon how the present activities of mankind testify to our travail and vanity, and Ecclesiastes 1:9-10 reflects upon how the past activities of mankind testify to the same, Ecclesiastes 1:11 reflects upon how the future activities of mankind testify to our travail. The future testifies to our subjection to vanity by having nothing to offer mankind except the certainly of a loss of one’s remembrance (outside of man’s future redemption). Who will even remember that a particular person existed after his life of labours and death?

Verses 12-18

The Preacher Explains How He Came to a Conclusion of Vanity in This Life Having acknowledged the predestined vanity of this world, the Preacher begins to explain how he pursued a purpose for his life in the midst of life’s vanities. He will describe the vanity of his own personal experiences (Ecclesiastes 1:12 to Ecclesiastes 2:11) and those of the society of people around him (Ecclesiastes 2:12-26).

Outline Here is a proposed outline:

1. The Preacher Finds Vanity in the His Own Pursuits Ecclesiastes 1:12 to Ecclesiastes 2:11

2. The Preacher Finds Vanity Around Him Ecclesiastes 2:12-26

Verses 12-18

The Preacher Explains How He Came to a Conclusion of Vanity in This Life Having acknowledged the predestined vanity of this world, the Preacher begins to explain how he pursued a purpose for his life in the midst of life’s vanities. He will describe the vanity of his own personal experiences (Ecclesiastes 1:12 to Ecclesiastes 2:11) and those of the society of people around him (Ecclesiastes 2:12-26).

Outline Here is a proposed outline:

1. The Preacher Finds Vanity in the His Own Pursuits Ecclesiastes 1:12 to Ecclesiastes 2:11

2. The Preacher Finds Vanity Around Him Ecclesiastes 2:12-26

Verses 12-18

The Preacher Explains How He Came to a Conclusion of Vanity in This Life Having acknowledged the predestined vanity of this world, the Preacher begins to explain how he pursued a purpose for his life in the midst of life’s vanities. He will describe the vanity of his own personal experiences (Ecclesiastes 1:12 to Ecclesiastes 2:11) and those of the society of people around him (Ecclesiastes 2:12-26).

Outline Here is a proposed outline:

1. The Preacher Finds Vanity in the His Own Pursuits Ecclesiastes 1:12 to Ecclesiastes 2:11

2. The Preacher Finds Vanity Around Him Ecclesiastes 2:12-26

Copyright Statement
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No distribution beyond personal use without permission.
Bibliographical Information
Everett, Gary H. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 1". Gary H. Everett's Study Notes on the Holy Scriptures. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghe/ecclesiastes-1.html. 2013.