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by Gary H. Everett
STUDY NOTES ON THE HOLY SCRIPTURES
Using a Theme-based Approach
to Identify Literary Structures
By Gary H. Everett
THE BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES
January 2013 Edition
All Scripture quotations in English are taken from the King James Version unless otherwise noted. Some words have been emphasized by the author of this commentary using bold or italics.
All Old Testament Scripture quotations in the Hebrew text are taken from Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: With Westminster Hebrew Morphology, electronic ed., Stuttgart; Glenside PA: German Bible Society, Westminster Seminary, 1996, c1925, morphology c1991, in Libronix Digital Library System, v. 2.1c [CD-ROM] Bellingham, WA: Libronix Corp., 2000-2004.
All New Testament Scripture quotations in the Greek text are taken from Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (with Morphology), eds. Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger, M. Robinson, and Allen Wikgren, Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft (United Bible Societies), c1966, 1993, 2006, in Libronix Digital Library System, v. 2.1c [CD-ROM] Bellingham, WA: Libronix Corp., 2000-2004.
All Hebrew and Greek text for word studies are taken from James Strong in The New Strong's Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, c1996, 1997, in Libronix Digital Library System, v. 2.1c [CD-ROM] Bellingham, WA: Libronix Corp., 2000-2004.
The Crucifixion image on the book cover was created by the author’s daughter Victoria Everett in 2012.
© Gary H. Everett, 1981-2013
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced, stored, or transmitted in any form without prior permission of the author.
Foundational Theme How to Serve the Lord with All Our Heart
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:
And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart,
and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
Structural Theme We are Predestined to Reflect the Image of Christ
as We Follow God’s Plan for our Lives (Body)
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
Imperative Theme Fear God and Keep His Commandments
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:
Fear God, and keep his commandments:
for this is the whole duty of man.
INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES
Study Notes on the Holy Scriptures supports the view of the verbal, plenary inspiration of the biblical text of the Holy Scriptures, meaning that every word originally written down by the authors in the sixty-six books of the Holy Canon were God-breathed when recorded by men, and that the Scriptures are therefore inerrant and infallible. Any view less than this contradicts the testimony of the Holy Scriptures themselves. For this reason, the Holy Scriptures contain both divine attributes and human attributes. While textual criticism engages with the variant readings of the biblical text, acknowledging its human attributes, faith in His Word acknowledges its divine attributes. These views demand the adherence of mankind to the supreme authority of the Holy Scriptures above all else. The Holy Scriptures can only be properly interpreted by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, an aspect of biblical scholarship that is denied by liberal views, causing much misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the Holy Scriptures.
The Message of the Book of Ecclesiastes - The book of Ecclesiastes has been viewed as a book of extreme pessimism. Because of this pessimism and lack of Jewish content, the Talmud tells us that some Jewish rabbis refused to use it in their teachings, although the Talmud then reconciles its message to the Jewish faith ( Shabbath 30b).  The truth is that the theology of this book fits perfectly into our walk with God. In fact, the Preacher, who takes us through Ecclesiastes, teaches us throughout the book that we are to live our brief stay here on this earth by following God’s plan for our lives through His divine providence by obeying His commandments, while enjoying its pleasures in moderation, so that we find joy in each day’s blessings despite life’s adversities (Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:12-15; Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:18-20; Ecclesiastes 8:15; Ecclesiastes 9:7-10; Ecclesiastes 11:9-10); for this is how we are taught to worship the Lord with all of our strength, which is the underlying theme of Ecclesiastes. The fact that we are learning to enjoy each day’s blessings indicates that we are resting in His divine providence for us. Paul the apostle made a similar statement in his first epistle to Timothy by saying that God gave us richly all things to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
 The Talmud says, “Rab Judah son of R. Samuel b. Shilath said in Rab's name: The Sages wished to hide the Book of Ecclesiastes, because its words are self-contradictory; yet why did they not hide it? Because its beginning is religious teaching and its end is religious teaching. Its beginning is religious teaching, as it is written, What profit hath man of all his labour wherein he laboureth under the sun? And the School of R. Jannai commented: Under the sun he has none, but he has it [sc. profit] before the sun. The end thereof is religious teaching, as it is written, Let us hear the conclusion of the matter, fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole of man.http://www.come-and-hear.com/shabbath/shabbath_30.html - 30b_12#30b_12 What is meant by, 'for this is the whole of man'? Said R. Eleazar, The entire world was created only for the sake of this [type of] man. Simeon b. 'Azzai-others state, Simeon b. Zoma-said: The entire world was created only to be a companion to this man. And how are its words self-contradictory? It is written, anger is better than play; but it is written, I said of laughter, It is to be praised. It is written, Then I commended joy;http://www.come-and-hear.com/shabbath/shabbath_30.html - 30b_15#30b_15 but it is written, and of joy [I said] What doeth it? There is no difficulty: 'anger is better than laughter': the anger which the Holy One, blessed be He, displays to the righteous in this world is better than the laughter which the Holy One, blessed be He, laughs with the wicked in this world. 'And I said of laughter, it is to be praised': that refers to the laughter which the Holy One, blessed be He, laughs with the righteous in the world to come. 'Then I commended joy': this refers to the joy of a precept. 'And of joy [I said], what doeth it': this refers to joy [which is] not in connection with a precept. This teaches you that the Divine Presence rests [upon] man] neither through gloom, nor through sloth, nor through frivolity, nor through levity, nor through talk, nor through idle chatter, save through a matter of joy in connection with a precept, as it is said, But now bring me a minstrel. And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the Lord came upon him.” See Isidore Epstein, ed., “Contents of the Soncino Babylonian Talmud,” [on-line]; accessed 27 October 2009; available from http://www.come-and-hear.com/shabbath/shabbath_30.html#PARTb; Internet.
1 Timothy 6:17-19, “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy ; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”
The Preacher teaches us how to find purpose in our everyday tasks by walking daily in the fear of the Lord and by recognizing divine providence; for we are to acknowledge our gifts in this life of wisdom, mirth, labour and wealth, as blessings from God. The book of Ecclesiastes teaches us how inadequate are the pleasures of this world in satisfying the soul of man apart from serving God and fulfilling our divine destiny. It tells us that amidst the injustices, abnormalities, and struggles of life that are beyond our control, there is a God who is intervening in the affairs of mankind through divine providence. We are to fear God, honor the king, become good civil servants, help the poor, and be ever mindful of eternal judgment that awaits every soul of man. Thus, we can take comfort in the fact that there will be a day of reckoning for all of mankind. No book of the Holy Scriptures digs deeper into this truth than does the book of Ecclesiastes.
The book of Ecclesiastes opens with a description of the vanities that mankind has been subjected to as a result of the Fall in the Garden of Eden. Because of Adam and Eve’s sins, all of creation has been subjected to vanity, which Paul also refers to in his epistle to the Romans (Romans 8:20-21).
Romans 8:20-21, “For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”
Ecclesiastes tells us how to live our life productively in the midst of life’s vanities; for God has placed within each of us a sense of destiny and purpose. We fulfill our destinies, not by trial and error or by hard work, but by trusting in the Lord on a day-by-day basis. The book of Ecclesiastes shows us that this is not an easy thing to do. It is interesting to note how long it took King Solomon to learn how to lean on God and to stop walking in the vanity of his ways. We know that King David taught his son Solomon about the Lord and the need to fear Him always. Yet, until Solomon had reached the end of his strength, he would not turn loose and depend upon the Lord. We are the same way. We often have to wear ourselves down and come to the end of our strength and ability before we are able to look entirely to the Lord with our problems. We may labour and travail to turn some situation around for the better and find that we have accomplished nothing. We normally have to walk through some of these challenging times before we begin to learn how to trust in Him for an answer. It is something that we must learn rather than being taught. This is the journey that Solomon describes in the book of Ecclesiastes. For example, Abraham did not learn to fully trust God to fulfill His promise of a son through Sarah his wife until he was tested by God on Mount Moriah. After this event, we never see Abraham trying to make his own decisions. In addition, Jacob was a man who tried to get somewhere in life by doing things his way. He stole his brother’s birthright, and then tricked his father into giving him the blessing. He managed to increase his flocks by keeping the strong ones and giving his father-in-law Laban the weak. One day Jacob could go no further. His brother Esau was marching towards him with an army of men fully intending to kill him. It was that night that Jacob wrestled with an angel at a place called Peniel and it was there that the angel struck him so that Jacob limped from a weak thigh the rest of his life. That night Jacob died to himself and learned how to trust God for his welling being, for he had no choice.
Regarding the underlying theme in Ecclesiastes of serving the Lord with all of our strength, we are reminded of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32 who did not come to himself until he was financially broke, hungry and desperate. Some people do not come to themselves until their bodies are consumed and overcome. Then they say, “How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof; And have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined mine ear to them that instructed me!” (Proverbs 5:11-13) This is why Psalms 127:1 says, “Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it.” Because if we do not find God’s plan for our lives by daily walking in fellowship with Him, all that we have gathered in this life will be vain. Jesus said, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36) Like Jacob, we all want something good in life and God certainly wants us to have good things. We all have a sense of destiny, for God has placed these needs within us, but it is not our job to make things happen. It is our job to fear God and keep His commandments while we trust Him to make a way for us. Why did God make it happen this way? The answer is easy. He designed the Christian walk this way so that He could have daily fellowship with us because of His great love for everyone.
Introductory Material - The introduction to the book of Ecclesiastes will deal with its historical setting, literary style, and theological framework.  These three aspects of introductory material will serve as an important foundation for understanding God’s message to us today from this divinely inspired book of the Holy Scriptures.
 Someone may associate these three categories with Hermann Gunkel’s well-known three-fold approach to form criticism when categorizing the genre found within the book of Psalms: (1) “a common setting in life,” (2) “thoughts and mood,” (3) “literary forms.” In addition, the Word Biblical Commentary uses “Form/Structure/Setting” preceding each commentary section. Although such similarities were not intentional, but rather coincidental, the author was aware of them and found encouragement from them when assigning the three-fold scheme of historical setting, literary style, and theological framework to his introductory material. See Hermann Gunkel, The Psalms: A Form-Critical Introduction, trans. Thomas M. Horner, in Biblical Series, vol. 19, ed. John Reumann (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Fortress Press, 1967), 10; see also Word Biblical Commentary, eds. Bruce M. Metzger, David A. Hubbard, and Glenn W. Barker (Dallas, Texas: Word Incorporated, 1989-2007).
“We dare not divorce our study from understanding the historical setting of every passage of Scripture
if we are going to come to grips with the truth and message of the Bible.”
(J. Hampton Keathley) 
 J. Hampton Keathley, III, “Introduction and Historical Setting for Elijah,” (Bible.org) [on-line]; accessed 23 May 2012; available from http://bible.org/seriespage/introduction-and-historical-setting-elijah; Internet.
Each book of the Holy Scriptures is cloaked within a unique historical setting. An examination of this setting is useful in the interpretation of the book because it provides the context of the passage of Scripture under examination. The section on the historical setting of the book of Ecclesiastes will provide a discussion on its title, historical background, authorship, date and place of writing, recipients, and occasion. This discussion supports the Jewish tradition that Solomon was the author of the book of Ecclesiastes, writing during his reign as king over Israel.
I. The Title
There are a number of ancient titles associated with the book of Numbers.
A. The Ancient Jewish Title “Qoheleth” It was a common practice for the ancient Hebrews to title the books of the Old Testament by their opening words. Thus, they called the book of Ecclesiastes “Qoheleth” ( קהלת ), which is the second word in the Hebrew text. Origen (A.D. 185 to 254) was familiar with this ancient Hebrew title.  Jerome (A.D. 342 to 420) was familiar with this title.  The Hebrew title ( קהלת ) can be found in the standard work Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. 
 Origen writes, “The twenty-two books of the Hebrews are the following: …the book of Psalms, Spharthelleim; the Proverbs of Solomon, Me-loth; Ecclesiastes, Koelth; the Song of Songs (not, as some suppose, Songs of Songs)…” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.25.2) See Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, trans. Arthur C. McGiffert under the title The Church History of Eusebius, in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, A New Series, vol. 1, eds. Henry Wace and Philip Schaff (Oxford: Parker and Company, c1890, 1905), 272.
 Jerome writes, “…To the third class belong the Hagiographa, of which the first book begins with Job, the second with David, whose writings they divide into five parts and comprise in one volume of Psalms; the third is Solomon, in three books, Proverbs, which they call Parables, that is Masaloth, Ecclesiastes, that is Coeleth, the Song of Songs, which they denote by the title Sir Assirim... ” See Jerome, “Prefaces to the Books of the Vulgate Version of the Old Testament: The Books of Samuel and Kings,” trans. W. H. Freemantle, in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, vol. 6, eds. Henry Wace and Philip Schaff (New York: The Christian Literature Company, 1893), 489-90.
 Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, eds. A. Alt, O. Eißfelt, P. Kahle, and R. Kittle (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelstiftung, c1967-77).
B. The Modern English Title “Ecclesiastes” - The English title “Ecclesiastes” is derived from Latin Vulgate title “Liber Ecclesiastes,” which borrowed its title from the Greek LXX title “Eκκλησιαστης,” literally meaning “one who sits (or speaks) in the ἐ κκλησία,” ( Liddell-Scott) and derived from the Greek word “ἐ κκλησία,” or “as sembly” ( BDAG). The LXX translated the Hebrew title using the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “Qoheleth,” meaning “a preacher, a teacher or lecturer,” which is found in the opening words of the book. Thus, we can easily see how the English title originates from the book’s ancient Greek title found in the LXX. However, Jewish scholars tell us that the name “Ecclesiastes” literally means, “member of an assembly,” although it is popularly understood to means, “preacher” because of the influence of Jerome (see Liddell-Scott).  The Greek title “Eκκλησιαστης,” was known by Melito, bishop of Sardis (d. c. 190) and by Eusebius (A.D. 260 to 340),  and by the Church fathers that followed.
 David S. Margoliouth, and Morris Jastrow, Jr., “Book of Ecclesiastes,” in The Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 5, ed. Isidore Singer (New York: KTAV Publishing House, Inc., n.d.), 32.
 Eusebius writes, “‘I learned accurately the books of the Old Testament, and send them to thee as written below. Their names are as follows: Of Moses, five books: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, Deuteronomy; Jesus Nave, Judges, Ruth; of Kings, four books; of Chronicles, two; the Psalms of David; the Proverbs of Solomon, Wisdom also, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Job; of Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah; of the twelve prophets, one book; Daniel, Ezekiel, Esdras. From which also I have made the extracts, dividing them into six books.’ Such are the words of Melito.” ( Ecclesiastical History 4.26.14) See Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, trans. Arthur C. McGiffert under the title The Church History of Eusebius, in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, A New Series, vol 1, eds. Henry Wace and Philip Schaff, (Oxford: Parker and Company, c1890, 1905), 206.
II. Historical Background
The setting of the book of Ecclesiastes finds itself in the reign of King Solomon, the greatest king that ever lived. His reign was a time of peace and could be called the “golden age” of Israel. It was a time when men could turn their hearts from mere survival and war and into the enjoyment of liberal arts. It was a time when men had time to search for a deeper meaning in life. Of anyone who was in a position to explore this question throughout history, King Solomon becomes the most likely candidate. His wealth, wisdom and reign of peace positioned him to devote his attention to such theological questions. The book of Ecclesiastes that he authored is an expression of this pursuit to find the purpose of man’s existence here on earth.
At first, Solomon sought the answer on his own, within his own reach of wealth and pleasure. With his endowment of great wisdom, he amassed to himself great wealth. He built beautiful gardens and massive buildings, including Solomon’s Temple. Yet, in all of these pursuits, he did not find lasting fulfillment and satisfaction in life. He then sought for answers within the intricate workings of his society, where men worked together for a common good. Yet, he only found injustice there, as the strong oppressed the weak and the seat of judgment failed to deliver the innocent. He ultimate came to the conclusion that every person has a divine destiny in life and that God would judge each man by his works. He concludes that the essence of life is simply to fear the Lord and to keep his commandments. Jesus summarized Solomon’s conclusion well when He said, “…Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:13-14) In other words, mankind cannot be satisfied with the things of this world alone. He can only find fulfillment in a relationship with God who created all things.
Finally, we must remember that oral tradition held strong roots in the Oriental culture. Thus, the Preacher, as well as his predecessors, could have recited the words that have been recorded in the book of Ecclesiastes many times before they were put into written form.
The general consent of Jewish antiquity ( Shabbath 30a-b),  as well as many modern conservative scholars, credits the authorship of the book of Ecclesiastes to Solomon, the king of Israel, who reigned over Israel 970-930 B.C. Both internal evidence and external evidence supports this view. However, there is a growing group of modern scholars who oppose this designation, and date it much later.
 See Isidore Epstein, ed., “Contents of the Soncino Babylonian Talmud,” [on-line]; accessed 27 October 2009; available from http://www.come-and-hear.com/shabbath/shabbath_30.html#PARTb; Internet.
A. Internal Evidence - We find no internal evidence that supports this book as a compilation of multiple authorships, as is found in the books of Psalms and Proverbs. It appears to have had one person as its author. Within its pages, one has to conclude that Solomon, the son of David, was its author. There is strong internal evidence to support this widely held belief among biblical scholars.
1. The Author’s Description of Himself - The author’s description of himself can only fit King Solomon. The opening verse tells us that the author was the son of David, as well as a king who reigned in Jerusalem (Ecclesiastes 1:1).
Ecclesiastes 1:1, “The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.”
In addition, the author reigned over the entire nation of Israel from its capital Jerusalem (Ecclesiastes 1:12). Only King Solomon fits the descriptions of Ecclesiastes 1:1 and Ecclesiastes 1:12. After him, the kingdom was divided
Ecclesiastes 1:12, “I the Preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem.”
2. The Many Indirect References to the Author’s Wisdom, Wealth, Servants, Pleasures and Building Activities The many indirect references to the author’s wisdom, wealth, servants, pleasures and building activities lead us to a clear description of the life of King Solomon as described in Scriptures. In fact, there is nothing within the book of Ecclesiastes that contradicts Solomonic authorship. Note the following comparisons by one author of Solomon’s life in 1 Kings with the book of Ecclesiastes.
“The author had “more wisdom than all who were before” him (Ecclesiastes 1:16; 1 Kings 3:12); (2) he gathered for himself “silver and gold and the special treasures of kings” (Ecclesiastes 2:8; 1 Kings 10:11-23); (3) he “acquired male and female servants” in great numbers (Ecclesiastes 2:7; 1 Kings 9:20-23); (4) he engaged in extensive building projects (Ecclesiastes 2:4-6; 1 Kings 9:1-19); (5) he developed a great understanding of plants, birds, and natural phenomena (Ecclesiastes 2:4-7; 1 Kings 4:33); (6) he declared, “there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin” (Ecclesiastes 7:20; 1 Kings 8:46); and (7) “he pondered and sought out and set in order many proverbs” (Ecclesiastes 12:9; 1 Kings 4:32). Radmacher, E. D. 1999. Nelson's new illustrated Bible commentary. T. Nelson Publishers: Nashville
We can even find a phrase in Ecclesiastes 7:20 that King Solomon used in his prayer in 1 Kings 8:46.
Ecclesiastes 7:20, “For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.”
1 Kings 8:46, “If they sin against thee, ( for there is no man that sinneth not ,) and thou be angry with them, and deliver them to the enemy, so that they carry them away captives unto the land of the enemy, far or near;”
His Wisdom (Ecclesiastes 1:13 ; Ecclesiastes 1:16-18 ; Ecclesiastes 12:9 ): The author was a man of great wisdom, above all other before him.
Ecclesiastes 1:16, “I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.”
He was a man who sought out much wisdom.
Ecclesiastes 1:13, “ And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven : this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith.”
Ecclesiastes 1:16-18, “I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge. And I gave my heart to know wisdom , and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit. For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.”
Ecclesiastes 12:9, “And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs .”
Of all the Old Testament figures, King Solomon appears as the one whom most qualifies as an author of wisdom literature, as is found in the book of Ecclesiastes. He was endowed by God with divine wisdom. He was at the crossroads of international trade and culture. We find in the book of Proverbs that he collected, studied and wrote wisdom literature.
His Wealth and Influence: The words given in chapter 2 describe a king of enormous wealth and influence. We read about his pleasures (Ecclesiastes 2:3), his building activities (Ecclesiastes 2:4-6), his servants (Ecclesiastes 2:7), and his wealth (Ecclesiastes 2:8). We know from Scriptures that Solomon built magnificent buildings, cities and gardens, that he hired many male and female servants and accumulated vast wealth. Only King Solomon, of all the kings of Judah and Israel, fits such a description.
3. Evidence of the Unity of the Book - The book of Ecclesiastes opens and closes with the same verse, which confirms the unity of this book.
Ecclesiastes 1:2, “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”
Ecclesiastes 12:8, “Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.”
4. Comparison of Book of Ecclesiastes to the Books of Proverbs and Canticles It is the traditional view that Solomon composed and wrote the three books of wisdom: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Canticles. Upon examination, we can find a number of similar phrases and expressions within these three books. When comparing Ecclesiastes to Proverbs, we note that its poetry, phrases and theme closely resemble the book of Proverbs, which was written mostly by King Solomon. Both books use the phrase “the words of the wise” (see Proverbs 22:17; Proverbs 24:13 and Ecclesiastes 9:17; Ecclesiastes 12:11), which is not found elsewhere in the Old Testament. In Ecclesiastes 1:17, the author contrasts the wise man with the fool, as does the book of Proverbs.
Ecclesiastes 1:17, “And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly : I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.”
In addition, the theme of the fear of the Lord is woven throughout both books.
5. Ecclesiastes in the New Testament Although the book of Ecclesiastes is not directly quoted in the New Testament, we may find an allusion to it in Romans 8:20, where Paul makes a comment about the vanity of this world.
Romans 8:20, “For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,”
Some scholars have suggested an allusion to Ecclesiastes 7:20 in 1 John 1:8.
Ecclesiastes 7:20, “For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.”
1 John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
Some scholars have suggested an allusion to Ecclesiastes 11:5 in John 3:8.
Ecclesiastes 11:5, “As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.”
John 3:8, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”
Some scholars have suggested an allusion to Ecclesiastes 9:10 in John 9:4.
Ecclesiastes 9:10, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.”
John 9:4, “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.”
Some scholars have suggested an allusion to Ecclesiastes 11:9; Ecclesiastes 12:12 in 1 Corinthians 4:5 and 2 Corinthians 5:10.
Ecclesiastes 11:9, “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.”
Ecclesiastes 12:14, “For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”
1 Corinthians 4:5, “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.”
2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.”
B. External Evidence We find strong external support for Solomonic authorship.
1. Ancient Tradition Ancient Jewish tradition supports Solomonic authorship to the book of Ecclesiastes.  However, its authorship is not without differing views among the Jews. W. J. Deane et al. tells us that some rabbis attributed it to Isaiah or Hezekiah,  but this simply means that it may have been compiled by them at a later date.  Its authorship is believed to be first questioned by Martin Luther (although some argue that he was referring to the book of Ecclesiasticus), after which other scholars began to accept alternate views.  German scholars initially followed Luther’s line of reasoning at a later date, along with British and American scholarship. Thus, today a wide range of views has developed as to authorship and date of writing of Ecclesiastes.
 The Babylonian Talmud reads, “Did not then Solomon well say, wherefore I praised the dead that are already dead?...And as to what Solomon said, ‘for a living dog is better than a dead lion’” ( Shabbath 30a, b) See Isidore Epstein, ed., “Contents of the Soncino Babylonian Talmud,” [on-line]; accessed 27 October 2009; available from http://www.come-and-hear.com/shabbath/shabbath_30.html#PARTb; Internet.
 The Babylonian Talmud reads, “King Hezekiah and his company wrote Isaiah, Proverbs, Songs, and Ecclesiastes.” ( Babylonian Talmud, Tract Baba Bathra 15a) See Michael L. Rodkinson, New Edition of the Babylonian Talmud, vol. 13 (New York: New Talmud Publishing Company, 1902), 45-46.
 W. J. Deane, S. T. Taylor-Taswell, Walter F. Adeney, T. Whitelaw, R. A. Redford, and B. C. Caffin, “Introduction to Ecclesiastes,” in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, in The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 9, ed. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph Exell (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1950), in Ages Digital Library, v. 1.0 [CD-ROM] (Rio, WI: Ages Software, Inc., 2001).
 Martin Luther writes, “The author of the book of Ecclesiasticus preaches the law well, but he is no prophet. It is not the work of Solomon, anymore than it is the book of Solomon’s Proverbs. They are both collections made by other people.” See Martin Luther, The Table Talk of Martin Luther, trans. William Hazlitt (London: H. G. Bohn, 1857), 11.
Although the authorship of Ecclesiastes has been debated among the Jews and Christians, all agreed to its canonical status. The fact that it is found in the LXX, and that fragments of the book of Ecclesiastes were discovered at Qumran, testify to its important to ancient Jewish societies. 
 Cave four provided manuscript fragments containing text from Ecclesiastes 5:13-17; Ecclesiastes 6:3-8; Ecclesiastes 7:7-9 (4QQoh a, 4QQoh b). See Harold P. Scanlin, The Dead Sea Scrolls and Modern Translations of the Old Testament (Wheaton, Ill: Tyndale House Publishers, 1993), in Libronix Digital Library System, v. 2.1c [CD-ROM] (Bellingham, WA: Libronix Corp., 2000-2004).
IV. Date and Place of Writing
Determining the date and place of writing of the book of Ecclesiastes must be based upon one’s view of authorship. I date this book during the time of King Solomon in the tenth century B.C.
A. Date - With the view of Solomonic authorship, we are compelled to date the writing of Ecclesiastes within the reign of King Solomon, which scholars assign to 970-930 B.C. We may also be inclined to place the date of writing towards the end of Solomon’s life, since the book of Ecclesiastes describes a lifetime of accumulated wealth and pleasure (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11). We also see a description of old age (Ecclesiastes 11-12), probably from his personal experience. He describes an elder man who has seen it all by saying, “All things have I seen in the days of my vanity” (Ecclesiastes 7:15). The author addresses the youth as a man who is mature in age (Ecclesiastes 11:9, Ecclesiastes 12:1). In Ecclesiastes 7:26 he describes the ensnarement of women as one who has lived to experience much. The book of Ecclesiastes leads us to believe that King Solomon repented in his later years after backsliding from God (1 Kings 11:1-8). Ronald Hawkins says, “One Rabbinic source declares that he wrote the Song of Songs, with its accent on love, in his youth; Proverbs, with its emphasis on practical problems, in his maturity; and Ecclesiastes with its emphasis on the vanity of life, in old age (Midrash, Shir Hashirim Rabba, Ecclesiastes 1:1, Sec. 10) 
 Ronald E. Hawkins, Ecclesiastes, in The KJV Bible Commentary, ed. Edward E. Hindson and Woodrow M. Kroll (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Pub., 1994), in Libronix Digital Library System, v. 2.1c [CD-ROM] (Bellingham, WA: Libronix Corp., 2000-2004), “Introduction.”
However, some scholars believe that Ecclesiastes was written during the time of Ezra (about 450 B.C.). They base their arguments upon several assumptions:
1. Linguistic Studies Perhaps the most popular argument used to argue for a late dating of many of the Old Testament books is based upon linguistics. Some scholars argue that the Hebrew text in the book of Ecclesiastes shows evidence of Aramaic and Phoenician influences. However, it is possible that Solomon may have used Phoenician scribes to write the text, or that later compilation influenced the text. Such arguments are found to be weak by scholastic standards; for it can be argued that the language is compatible with the time of Solomon; for Solomon was exposed to a wide variety of linguistics from neighbouring nations.
2. A Pseudepigraphal Writing If it was a later writing, then such a view must acknowledge that an unknown author attempted to identify himself as King Solomon, the son of David. Although pseudepigraphal writers are found frequently in non-canonical literature, the ancient Jews did not accept such literature into their sacred books of the Holy Bible.
3. An Apostate Solomon Could Not Have Written Inspired Scriptures Some scholars claim that the apostate state of Solomon described in Scripture would exclude him from writing inspired Scriptures. But we can easily assume that Solomon returned to the Lord.
4. The Conditions Described in the Book do not Describe the Prosperity of Israel During the Reign of Solomon Some scholars argue that the conditions described in Ecclesiastes of oppression, death, childish leadership, etc., is descriptive of the later times of the writer, and not that of Israel during the prosperous reign of King Solomon. However, we must be willing to acknowledge that Solomon’s evaluations of man’s depravity looked beyond his nation of Israel and into neighbouring nations.
B. Place of Writing The book of Ecclesiastes makes five references to the city of Jerusalem (Ecclesiastes 1:1; Ecclesiastes 1:12; Ecclesiastes 1:16; Ecclesiastes 2:7; Ecclesiastes 2:9). Thus, we are left with the impression that Solomon wrote this book while ruling in Jerusalem. In addition, the preacher describes a man who built great words and beautiful gardens, which could easily be a description of events that took place in Palestine during the reign of King Solomon.
Universal Application The three books that Solomon wrote, the book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon, are designed for all people everywhere, both Jews and Gentiles, so that they have a universal application. There are three primary recipients identified in God’s Word: the Jews, the Gentiles and the Church (1 Corinthians 10:32). (1) The Jews - The Old Testament placed emphasis upon the Jews as the nation of Israel. (2) The Gentiles - The book of Daniel stands alone in the Old Testament in much the same way that the book of Revelation is unique to the New Testament. Both are apocalyptic in nature, using symbolic figures to prophesy of future events. Daniel takes us through the Times of the Gentiles when God divinely works in this group of people to carry out His divine plan of election and redemption. ( 3) The Church - The New Testament reveals God’s plan of redemption as He works through the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Under the New Covenant, God created a third group of people. He took the Jews and the Gentiles and made one new man in Christ called the Church. This was the mystery that was kept hidden under the old covenant and reveled only in the New Testament. The writings of Solomon stand unique in the Holy Scriptures in that all three people-groups serve as primary recipients. This is because King Solomon was a type and figure of Jesus Christ, who will reign as King of Kings over all the earth, beginning in the Millennial reign.
1 Corinthians 10:32, “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:”
King Solomon was a king of kings. That is, his realm of dominion included other Gentile nations. Thus, in no place in these three books is the nation of Israel mentioned, nor a mention of the Jewish laws, rituals, feasts, ceremonies, sacrifices, the Sabbath day, or the tithe. There are also no prophetic passages about the coming of the Messiah. Nor are there any references to angels or Satan. It is clearly a Jewish writing that is designed for universal application for all ages and cultures. This is why both Jews and Christians have found comfort a clear application to their lives in these three books.
In 2 Chronicles 6:32-33 King Solomon prayed for the Gentiles who would come to the Temple in Jerusalem to call upon the name of the God of Israel. Such Gentiles would have heard and seen the great works of God and would come to receive His salvation and deliverance in their own lives. This shows that the Temple was to serve as a testimony to the nations of the earth that there was a God in heaven who could be approached. This prayer revealed that Solomon understood his office and ministry extended beyond the land of Israel and unto the nations. This would help explain why Solomon’s writings of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon are not designated for the Jews alone, but address all mankind.
2 Chronicles 6:32-33, “Moreover concerning the stranger, which is not of thy people Israel, but is come from a far country for thy great name's sake, and thy mighty hand, and thy stretched out arm; if they come and pray in this house; Then hear thou from the heavens, even from thy dwelling place, and do according to all that the stranger calleth to thee for; that all people of the earth may know thy name, and fear thee, as doth thy people Israel, and may know that this house which I have built is called by thy name.”
When we look for clues as to what would have occasioned the writing of the book of Ecclesiastes, we are faced with the words of a man who had done everything in life and had experienced all the pleasures that one could hope to experience. Yet, in all of life’s pursuits, the Preacher has found vanity. Thus, the Preacher’s pursuit of the true meaning of life seems to have occasioned this writing.
A careful study of the Scriptures reveals how the Lord revealed to King David that his son Solomon would be heir to the throne. As such, the king took his son aside and instilled within him a love for God and His Word. We see that God had previously spoken to King David about a son being born to him and that his name would be called “Solomon” (1 Chronicles 22:8-9). The birth and naming of Solomon took place in 2 Samuel 12:24-25. God also revealed to King David that Solomon was to succeed him on the throne (1 Chronicles 28:5-6). We also see evidence in Proverbs 4:3-4 that King David favored his son Solomon above his other sons. As he groomed Solomon for the kingship, his other sons appear to be raised without discipline and training. We read about the immorality in Amnon in raping his sister, about the murder and rebellion in Absalom, and insurrection and pride in Adonijah. Thus, we see how Solomon received correction in the smallest of areas, while his brothers remained without discipline in their sins. This was because King David gave Solomon special attention during his youth. As King David taught Solomon wisdom, he not only instilled within his son divine truths, but also the passion to seek God for divine wisdom, as Solomon must have seen his father seek the Lord passionately. Not only did Solomon inherit good behavior from these teachings, but he also inherited a yearning for wisdom. He would have sought the deepest meaning of the most noble of all the commandments, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, mind and strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-6) As king, Solomon’s international exposure would have given him the opportunity to hear the wisdom of Egypt and of the East (1 Kings 4:30, Acts 7:22) and gather the collection of proverbs which we call “the words of the wise”. Thus, Solomon's upbringing would occasion the writing of the book of Proverbs. His role as king gave him the opportunity to explore the pursuits of pleasure, wealth and power, thus inspiring the book of Ecclesiastes. His relationships with his harem of wives would have occasioned him to explore the aspects of true love between a man and a woman, thus inspiring the Song of Solomon.
1 Chronicles 22:8-9, “But the word of the LORD came to me, saying, Thou hast shed blood abundantly, and hast made great wars: thou shalt not build an house unto my name, because thou hast shed much blood upon the earth in my sight. Behold, a son shall be born to thee, who shall be a man of rest; and I will give him rest from all his enemies round about: for his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quietness unto Israel in his days.”
2 Samuel 12:24-25, “And David comforted Bathsheba his wife, and went in unto her, and lay with her: and she bare a son, and he called his name Solomon: and the LORD loved him. And he sent by the hand of Nathan the prophet; and he called his name Jedidiah, because of the LORD.”
1 Chronicles 28:5-6, “And of all my sons, (for the LORD hath given me many sons,) he hath chosen Solomon my son to sit upon the throne of the kingdom of the LORD over Israel. And he said unto me, Solomon thy son, he shall build my house and my courts: for I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be his father.”
Proverbs 4:3, “For I was my father's son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother. He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live.”
1 Kings 4:30, “And Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt.”
Acts 7:22, “And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds.”
LITERARY STYLE (GENRE)
“Perhaps the most important issue in interpretation is the issue of genre.
If we misunderstand the genre of a text, the rest of our analysis will be askew.”
(Thomas Schreiner) 
 Thomas R. Schreiner, Interpreting the Pauline Epistles, second edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, c1990, 2011), 11.
Within the historical setting of the early kingdom of Israel, the author of the book of Ecclesiastes chose to write using the literary style of the ancient wisdom literature. Thus, the book of Ecclesiastes is assigned to the literary genre called “wisdom literature.” Also included in this list are the books of Job and Proverbs, with certain psalms (notably Psalms 19:0; Psalms 37:0; Psalms 104:0; Psalms 107:0; Psalms 147:0; Psalms 148:0) as well as some non-canonical Apocrypha literature, such as Ecclesiasticus ( Wisdom of Solomon).
The book of Ecclesiastes has a number of issues regarding its literary style that distinguish it from the other books of the Holy Scriptures: (A) it has a number of literary forms, and (B) its theme is reflected in a number of key words.
A. Literary Devices There are a number of literary devices used by the author within the book of Ecclesiastes.
1. Aphorisms - Most prominent in literary forms in Ecclesiastes are aphorisms, which are short, pithy sayings, also called proverbs (Ecclesiastes 7:1-8, Ecclesiastes 10:1-3; Ecclesiastes 10:8-15).
2. Didactic Narrative We can find didactic narrative in Ecclesiastes, which is a short story with a moral (Ecclesiastes 4:13-16, Ecclesiastes 5:13-17, Ecclesiastes 9:13-16).
3. Admonitions We can find passages in Ecclesiastes that admonish the reader by using the imperative, or jussive, constructions within the text (Ecclesiastes 5:1-4).
B. Grammar and Syntax: Key Words The most frequently used words in a book of the Bible will reflect its theme. When we examine the book of Ecclesiastes, we find a number of words that do just that:
“good, better, well, pleasure, precious, joyful, merry” (H2896) (52 uses),
“vanity” (H1892) (38 uses),
“I perceived, I know, I discerned” (H3045) (36 uses),
“under the sun” (29 uses),
“joy, mirth” or “rejoice” (8055 , 8057 ) (16 uses),
“profit” (H3504) (10 uses),
“vexation of spirit” (9 uses), and
“I said in my heart” (5 uses).
“Scholarly excellence requires a proper theological framework.”
(Andreas Kösenberger) 
 Andreas J. Kösenberger, Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2011), 161.
Based upon the historical setting and literary style of the book of Ecclesiastes, an examination of the purpose, thematic scheme, and literary structure to this book of the Holy Scriptures will reveal its theological framework. This introductory section will sum up its theological framework in the form of an outline, which is then used to identify smaller units or pericopes within the book of Ecclesiastes for preaching and teaching passages of Scripture while following the overriding message of the book. Following this outline allows the minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to take his followers on a spiritual journey that brings them to the same destination that the author intended his readers to reach.
Didactic The primary purpose of wisdom literature is instructional, or didactic. The purpose in writing the book of Ecclesiastes is to advise young men of the true meaning of life. We know that a young man is characterized by a passion for exploring and experiencing life. For example, he is inclined to equate true wisdom with a vast amount of knowledge experiences. Yet, Solomon had accumulated vast wisdom and found it not to be true; or, perhaps the young man thought that life is most enjoyed when one is carefree and indulges in wine. However, Solomon knew better by experience; or, maybe some young men felt that life was given to accumulating wealth, or accomplishing great feats of renown. Again, Solomon had experienced this also and did not find satisfaction.
The Preacher attempts to tell his readers that serving the Lord and obeying His commandments is the true essence of life. The Preacher teaches us that we are to live our brief stay here on this earth with joy, and to do this he teaches us how to find purpose in our everyday tasks by walking daily in the fear of the Lord; for we are to acknowledge our gifts in this life of wisdom, mirth, labour and wealth, as blessings from God. The book of Ecclesiastes teaches us how little this world can satisfy the soul of man apart from serving God. It tells us that amidst the injustices, abnormalities and struggles of life that are beyond our control, there is a God who is intervening in the affairs of mankind. We can take comfort in the fact that there will be a day of reckoning for all of mankind. No book of the Holy Scriptures digs deeper into this truth than does Ecclesiastes.
VIII. Thematic Scheme
Introduction - Each book of the Holy Scriptures contains a three-fold thematic scheme in order to fulfill its intended purpose, which is to transform each child of God into the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). The primary, or foundational, theme of a book offers a central claim that undergirds everything written by the author. The secondary, or structural theme, of the book supports its primary theme by offering reasons and evidence for the central “claim” made by the author as it fully develops the first theme. Thus, the secondary theme is more easily recognized by biblical scholars than the other two themes because they provide the literary content of the book as they navigate the reader through the arguments embedded within the biblical text, thus revealing themselves more clearly.  The third theme is imperative in that it calls the reader to a response based upon the central claim and supporting evidence offered by the author. Each child of God has been predestined to be conformed into the image and likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Scriptures, and they alone, have the power to accomplish this task. This is why a child of God can read the Holy Scriptures with a pure heart and experience a daily transformation taking place in his life, although he may not fully understand what is taking place in his life. In addition, the reason some children of God often do not see these biblical themes is because they have not fully yielded their lives to Jesus Christ, allowing transformation to take place by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Without a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit, a child of God is not willing to allow Him to manage his life and move him down the road that God predestined as his spiritual journey. This journey requires every participant to take up his cross daily and follow Jesus, and not every believer is willing to do this. In fact, every child of God chooses how far down this road of sacrifice he is willing to go. Very few of men and women of God fulfill their divine destinies by completing this difficult journey. In summary, the first theme drives the second theme, which develops the first theme, and together they demand the third theme, which is the reader’s response.
 For an excellent discussion on the use of claims, reasons, and evidence in literature, see Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams, The Craft of Research (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003).
The Three-fold Thematic Scheme of the Book of Ecclesiastes - The primary theme of the book of Ecclesiastes is to teach us how to worship the Lord with all of our strength. We do this by keeping His commandments. However, the driving force for us to obey Him is the fear of the Lord, which is a supporting theme, or secondary theme, in this book, and upon which the book finds it structure.
A. Primary Theme (Foundational) of the Book of Ecclesiastes - Poetry: How to Worship the Lord with all our Heart - Introduction - The central theme of the Holy Bible is God’s plan of redemption for mankind. This theme finds its central focus in the Cross, where our Lord and Saviour died to redeem mankind. The central figure of the Holy Scriptures is the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, the Cross is the place where man meets God and where we die to our selfish ambitions and yield our lives to the God who created all things. Therefore, the Holy Scriptures are not intended to be a precise record of ancient history. Rather, its intent is to provide a record of God’s divine intervention in the history of mankind in order to redeem the world back to Himself through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary.
Every book of the Holy Bible makes a central claim that undergirds the arguments or message contained within its text. For example, the central claim of the Pentateuch is found in Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD,” to which all additional material is subordinate. The bulk of the material in the Old Testament is subordinate in that it serves as reasons and evidence to support this central claim. This material serves as the secondary theme, offering the literary structure of the book. In addition, the central claim calls for a response, which is stated in the following verse, “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” (Deuteronomy 6:5) Such a response is considered the third, imperative theme that runs through every book of the Holy Scriptures.
This central claim is the primary, or foundational, theme and is often obscured by the weight of evidence that is used to drive the central message, which weight of evidence makes up the secondary theme; and thus, it contains more content than the primary theme. Therefore, the secondary themes of the books of the Holy Scripture are generally more recognizable than the primary theme. Nevertheless, the central claim, or truth, must be excavated down to the foundation and made clearly visible in order to understand the central theme driving the arguments contained within the book. Only then can proper exegesis and sermon delivery be executed.
The Primary Theme of the Writings of Solomon - The common underlying theme of the Hebrew poetry of the Scriptures is “How to Worship the Lord with all our Heart.” Poetry is primarily written to express the mood of man’s heart. When we read these books in the Old Testament, we are emotionally moved as we identify with the poet or psalmist. Although there are many poetic passages in the Scriptures, for the purposes of identifying thematic schemes, this division of the Old Testament includes Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and Lamentations, although scholars group this biblical genre differently. The first book of Hebrew poetry we encounter as we read through the Old Testament is the book of Job, which opens with an account of this man worshipping God at an altar of sacrifice (Job 1:5). The Psalms of David show us how to worship the Lord during all seasons of life while the book of Job and Lamentations teaches us how to worship during the times of the greatest tragedies in life. As we journey through this life, we will have times of ecstasy when we are caught up in worship and we will have times of trials when we cry out to God for deliverance. However, most of our days are given to simple routines and decisions that determine our future well-being. We must then look to the book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Songs for a pattern of how to worship the Lord with our hearts during such uneventful days.
The writings of Solomon provide three phases of man’s spiritual journey in learning to love God with all his heart, while Job, Lamentations, and Psalms provide real life illustrations of people who have experienced these aspects of a devout life of faith in God. Although all three writings of Solomon emphasize man’s relationship with God, it is important to note that each one places emphasis upon a different aspect of man’s make-up. Scholars have proposed themes for the writings of Solomon since the time of the early Church fathers. Origen (A.D. 185-254) recognized a three-fold aspect to the books of Solomon by saying Proverbs focused on morals and ethics, Ecclesiastes focused on the natural aspect of man’s existence, and the Song of Songs focused on the divine, spiritual realm of man. He says:
“First, let us examine why it is, since the churches of God acknowledge three books written by Solomon, that of them the book of Proverbs is put first, the one called Ecclesiastes second, and the book of Song of Songs has third place….We can give them the terms moral, natural and contemplative…The moral discipline is defined as the one by which as honorable manner of life is equipped and habits conducive to virtue are prepared. The natural discipline is defined as the consideration of each individual thing, according to which nothing in life happens contrary to nature, but each individual thing is assigned those uses for which it has been brought forth by the Creator. The contemplative discipline is defined as that by which we transcend visible things and contemplate something of divine and heavenly things and gaze at them with the mind alone, since they transcend corporeal appearance…” ( PG 13, col. 74a-b) 
 J. Robert Wright, ed., Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament IX, ed. Thomas C. Oden (Downer Grover, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 278-288; Rowan A. Greer, trans., Origen: An Exhortation to Martyrdom, Prayer and Selected Writings (New York: Paulist Rowan A., 1979), 231-232, 234.
Theodoret of Cyrrhus (A.D. 393-466) makes a similar three-fold evaluation of the writings of Solomon, saying:
“It is also necessary to say by way of introduction that three works belong to Solomon: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs. Proverbs offers those interested moral benefits, while Ecclesiastes comments on the nature of visible realities and thoroughly explains the futility of the present life so that we may learn its transitory character, despise passing realities and long for the future as something lasting. The Song of Songs…brings out the mystical intercourse between the bride and the bridegroom, the result being that the whole of Solomon’s work constitutes a king of ladder with three steps moral, physical and mystical. That is to say, the person approaching a religious way of life must first purify the mind with good behavior, then strive to discern the futility of impermanent things and the transitory character of what seems pleasant, and then finally take wings and long for the bridegroom, who promises eternal goods. Hence this book is placed third, so the person treading this path comes to perfection.” ( Preface to Commentary on Song of Songs) ( PG 81, Colossians 4:0 6d-47a) 
 J. Robert Wright, ed., Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament IX, ed. Thomas C. Oden (Downer Grover, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 288; Pauline Allen, et al., eds., Early Christian Studies (Strathfield, Australia: St. Paul’s Publications, 2001), 2.32.
John Calvin (1509-1564) refers to the theme of the book of Psalms and the writings of Solomon in his argument to the epistle of James, saying:
“The writings of Solomon differ much from those of David, both as to matter and style. Solomon directs his view, chiefly, to form the external man, and to deliver to us the precepts of political life: David constantly chooses the spiritual worship of God, peace of conscience, or the gracious promise of salvation, for his theme.” ( Argument to the Epistle of James) 
 John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentary on the Epistle of James: Newly Translated from the Original Latin (Aberdeen: J. Chalmers and Co., 1797), iii.
B. Secondary Theme (Supportive and Structural) of the Book of Ecclesiastes We are Predestined to Reflect the Image of Christ as We Follow God’s Plan for our Lives (Body) Introduction - The secondary themes of the books of the Holy Scriptures support the primary themes by offering reasons and evidence for the central “claim” of the book made by the author. Thus, the secondary themes are more easily recognized by biblical scholars than the other two themes because they provide the literary structure of the book as they navigate the reader through the arguments embedded within the biblical text, thus revealing themselves more clearly. For example, the central claim of the Pentateuch declares that the Lord God of Israel is the only God that man should serve, and man is to love the Lord God with all of his heart, mind, and strength, a statement found in the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4-5, which is the foundational theme of the Old Testament. The books of Hebrew poetry provide evidence to this claim by expounding upon how man is to love God with all of his heart as its secondary theme. The books of the prophets provide evidence to this claim by expounding upon how man is to love God with all of his mind as its secondary theme, as he set his hope in the coming of the Messiah to redeem mankind. The historical books provide evidence to this claim by expounding upon how man is to love God with all of his strength as its secondary theme.
The central claim of the four Gospel writers is that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, which is the foundational theme of this division of the Holy Scriptures. In addition, each Gospel writer offers evidence as its secondary theme to support his claim. The Gospel of John offers the five-fold testimony of God the Father, John the Baptist, the miracles of Jesus, the Old Testament Scriptures, and the testimony of Jesus Christ Himself as its secondary theme. Matthew expounds upon the testimony of the Old Testament Scriptures as its secondary theme; Mark expounds upon the testimony of the miracles of Jesus as its secondary theme; Luke expounds upon the testimony of John the Baptist and other eye-witnesses and well as that of the apostles in the book of Acts as its secondary theme.
The central claim of the Pauline Church Epistles is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ alone how the power to redeem and transform man into the image of Jesus, which is the foundational theme of this division of the Holy Scriptures. The epistle of Romans supports this claim by offering evidence of mankind’s depravity and God’s plan of redemption to redeem him as its secondary theme. The epistles of Ephesians and Philippians expound upon the role of God the Father in His divine foreknowledge as their secondary theme; the epistles of Colossians and Galatians expound upon the role of Jesus Christ as the head of the Church as their secondary theme; the epistles of 1, 2 Thessalonians , 1, 2 Corinthians expound upon the role of the Holy Spirit in sanctifying the believers as their secondary theme.
The central claim of the Pastoral Epistles is that believers must serve God through the order of the New Testament Church. The epistles of 1, 2 Timothy expound upon how to serve the Lord within the Church with a pure heart, which is its secondary theme. The epistle of Titus expounds upon how to serve the Lord within the Church with a renewed mind, which is its secondary theme. The epistle of Philemon expounds upon how to serve the Lord within the Church with a genuine lifestyle, which is its secondary theme.
The central claim of the General Epistles is that believers must persevere in the Christian faith in order to obtain eternal redemption. The epistles of Hebrews, James, and 1 Peter modify this theme to reflect perseverance from persecutions from without the Church. The epistle of Hebrews expounds upon the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ, which is its secondary theme. The epistle of James expounds upon a lifestyle of perseverance through the joy of the Holy Spirit, which is its secondary theme. The epistle of 1 Peter expounds upon our hope of divine election through God the Father, which is its secondary theme. The epistles of 2 Peter , 1, 2, 3, John and Jude reflect perseverance from false doctrines from within. The epistle of 2 Peter expounds upon growing in the knowledge of God’s Word with a sound mind, which is its secondary theme. The epistles of 1, 2, 3 John expound upon walking in fellowship with God and one another with a pure heart, which is its secondary theme. The epistle of Jude expounds how living a godly lifestyle with our bodies, which is its secondary theme.
The Apocalypse of John, though not considered an epistle, emphasizes the glorification of the Church, giving believers a vision of the hope that is laid up before them as a source of encouragement for those who persevere until the end. The central claim of the book of Revelation is that Jesus Christ is coming to take His Bride the Church to Glory. The secondary theme supports this claim with the evidence of Great Tribulation Period.
The Secondary Themes of the Writings of Proverbs - Although all three writings of Solomon emphasize man’s relationship with God, it is important to note that each one places emphasis upon a different aspect of man’s make-up. (1) Proverbs and Job - The secondary theme of the book of Proverbs teaches us to make wise decisions in our life by pursuing God’s wisdom. It is structured in a way that teaches us how to take our mental journey through this life. We begin this spiritual journey by responding to wisdom’s call to learn of God’s ways as the book of Proverbs reveals. It is by the fear of the Lord that we embark upon this initial phase of learning to love the Lord by understanding and following the path of divine wisdom. The story of Job serves as an excellent illustration of a man that feared God and walked in wisdom with his fellow men, and thus serves as an excellent illustration of the teachings of Proverbs. (2) Ecclesiastes and Lamentations - As we walk in wisdom, we soon perceive that God has a divine plan for our lives in the midst of the vanities of life, as taught in the book of Ecclesiastes. It is at this phase of our spiritual journey that we offer our bodies in obedience to God purpose and plan for our lives as we continue to fear the Lord, which is the secondary theme of Ecclesiastes. The writer of Lamentations teaches us about the results of fearing God and keeping His commandments, and thus serves as an excellent illustration of Ecclesiastes. (3) Song of Solomon and Psalms - We then come to the phase of our spiritual journey where we learn to enter into God’s presence and partake of His intimacy, which is the secondary theme of Songs. The Song of Songs tells us about the intimacy and love that man can have in his relationship with God. It is structured in a way that teaches us how to take our spiritual journey through this life. The Song of Solomon teaches us to move from a level of fearing the Lord into the mature walk of loving God with all of our hearts. The Psalms of David teach us about a man that learned to love the Lord with all of his heart, and thus serves as an excellent illustration of the Songs of Solomon. Summary - Therefore, Proverbs emphasizes our minds, while Ecclesiastes emphasizes our strength, while the Song of Songs reveals to us how to worship the Lord with oneness of heart. In these three books, Solomon deals with the three-fold nature of man: his spirit, his mind and his body. These writings inspire us to commune with God in our hearts.
The Secondary Theme of the Book of Ecclesiastes - The secondary theme gives the book its structure, or outline. Mankind has been predestined to reflect the image of Christ by following the plan God has designed for his life. God initiates man’s spiritual journey on earth by subjecting him to vanities. It is God’s intent to burden every man with vanity and the sorrows of this world so that he will look unto God for direction in his life. Through life’s vanities, God appeals to our physical bodies to understand His ways.
Ecclesiastes teaches us that as we pursue wisdom, wealth, pleasure, position and other things of this life, there is much frustration to be experiences. We must look to God for a higher purpose as we partake of these things in life. Without an awareness of obedience to the Lord, all of our efforts in life will become vanity. Man must begin each day’s journey by realizing that God has a purpose for him for that day. In finding God’s purpose one finds meaning in the physical pursuits of life. He must realize that God will intervene in His time and season and divinely direct his journey in this life. If we will do so, we can eat and drink and enjoy each day despite the vanity of life all around us. It may be summed up in Paul’s statement to Timothy, “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy;” (1 Timothy 6:17) For God has truly given to every man the things of this world to enjoy, only he is to use them in a life of obedience to God.
Jesus summarized the theme of Ecclesiastes well when teaching on covetousness. He tells us that our life was not measured by the abundance of the material possessions (Luke 12:15). Rather, it was in a lifestyle of being rich towards God.
Luke 12:15, “And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”
Another way to identify this primary theme is found in the answer to the Preacher’s dilemma when he tells us to enjoy the blessings that God gives us daily and not to strive after vanity. When we devise projects and set goals and work towards them, and after we accomplish some great feat, we are still left empty inside and without purpose if we are not walking in fellowship God. It is better that we take one day at a time and enjoy that day’s labours with thankfulness in our hearts. If we are anxious, it is because we feel that something is lacking. This can be a form of covetousness when we strive for more than we have without the peace and presence of God with us. For a child who has no thoughts of tomorrow this seems to come naturally. He is too focused upon finding things to enjoy and laugh about today. He does not understand the cares of this world. God created the family unit so that we can observe how our children naturally desire to rejoice in the small things of life. If we are not careful, we as adults can allow the cares of this life to choke out the blessings that God gives to us today. The weight of our cares and energies diminishes our joy.
God would not ask us to do something that He Himself did not have to do. If we read how God laboured in the six days of creation, we can find Him enjoying each day and not fretting about tomorrow. We read throughout the story of Creation where God steps back at the end of each day to look at what He has just created and says that it was good (Ecclesiastes 1:10; Ecclesiastes 1:12; Ecclesiastes 1:18). Joyce Meyer once asked the Lord why He took seven days in creation when He could have spoken it all into existence in one day. The Lord replied that it was because He wanted to enjoy each step of His beautiful creation.  In other words, it was because of enjoyment. This is why He ended each day with the words “It was good.” Just imagine God enjoying each and every day of creation. Although no single day says that the work fully completed, God enjoyed each day’s accomplishments. This teaches us that God wants us to learn to enjoy each day, for this is His divine plan for us. In a similar way, when I finish a project or job after a long, hard day of work, I take pleasure in standing back and spending time looking at the work I have just accomplished and beholding how good it looks. So did God step back with His creation and enjoy His handiwork. Thus, we are to serve the Lord with all of our strength by living a life of moderation in all things so that we can enjoy each day.
 Joyce Meyer, Life in the Word (Fenton, Missouri: Joyce Meyer Ministries), on Trinity Broadcasting Network (Santa Ana, California), television program.
C. Third Theme (Imperative) of the Book of Ecclesiastes - Fear God and Keep His Commandments Introduction - The third theme of each book of the Holy Scriptures is a call by the author for the reader to apply the central truth, or claim, laid down in the book to the Christian life. It is a call to a lifestyle of crucifying the flesh and taking up one’s Cross daily to follow Jesus. Every child of God has been predestined to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29), and every child of God faces challenges as well as failures in the pursuit of his Christian journey. For example, the imperative theme of the Old Testament is that God’s children are to serve the Lord God with all of their heart, mind, and strength, and love their neighbour as themselves (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).
The child of God cannot fulfill his divine destiny of being conformed into the image of Jesus without yielding himself and following the plan of redemption that God avails to every human being. This 4-fold, redemptive path is described in Romans 8:29-30 as predestination, calling, justification, and glorification. The phase of justification can be further divided into regeneration, indoctrination, divine service, and perseverance. Although each individual will follow a unique spiritual journey in life, the path is the same in principle for every believer since it follows the same divine pattern described above. This allows us to superimpose one of three thematic schemes upon each book of the Holy Scriptures in order to vividly see its imperative theme. Every book follows a literary structure that allows either (1) the three-fold scheme of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: or (2) the scheme of spirit, soul, and body of man; or (3) the scheme of predestination, calling, justification (regeneration, indoctrination, divine service, and perseverance), and glorification in some manner.
The Third Imperative Theme of the Book of Ecclesiastes - The third theme of Ecclesiastes supports its secondary theme by revealing the way in which man labours with the purpose of serving God, which is by the fear of the Lord. This theme is easily seen in Ecclesiastes, which declares that we are to fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. The third themes of Ecclesiastes and the book of Proverbs are the same, which is to fear the Lord. Note the key verses in each book:
Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
Ecclesiastes 12:13, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”
The third, imperative theme of Ecclesiastes states that man is to live this life in fear of eternal judgment. It is by the fear of the Lord that men depart from evil (Proverbs 16:6); for this is the necessary ingredient of the heart that motivates us to serve Him instead of ourselves.
Proverbs 16:6, “By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil .”
The key verse to the book of Ecclesiastes is found in Ecclesiastes 1:3. The question asks what is the meaning of life.
Ecclesiastes 1:3, “What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?”
How does a man serve the Lord with all of his strength? He does so by keeping His commandments out of fear and reverence for God, as stated in the conclusion of this book. We serve the Lord by fearing Him and keeping His commandments.
Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”
A person must overcome covetousness in order to put God first. A person must learn to be content with the things that God has given him and not to covet needlessly the riches of this world.
Ecclesiastes 2:24, “There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.”
Thus, as with the book of Proverbs, we find two classes of people described in Ecclesiastes. There is the God-fearing (Ecclesiastes 3:14; Ecclesiastes 5:7; Ecclesiastes 7:18; Ecclesiastes 8:12-13; Ecclesiastes 12:13), the righteous (Ecclesiastes 3:17; Ecclesiastes 7:15-16; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Ecclesiastes 8:14; Ecclesiastes 9:2), the good man (Ecclesiastes 9:2), and wise (frequently mentioned, e.g., Ecclesiastes 10:2). There is the fool, called sinners (Ecclesiastes 2:26; Ecclesiastes 7:26; Ecclesiastes 8:11; Ecclesiastes 9:2; Ecclesiastes 9:18), the wicked (Ecclesiastes 3:17; Ecclesiastes 7:15; Ecclesiastes 8:10; Ecclesiastes 8:12-14; Ecclesiastes 9:2), and the frequent mention of the fool (e.g., Ecclesiastes 5:4). One walks in the fear of God while the other despises God.
The fear of the Lord is referred to six times in the book of Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes 3:14; Ecclesiastes 5:7; Ecclesiastes 7:18; Ecclesiastes 8:12-13; Ecclesiastes 12:13). The name of God is used some forty times.
The Crucified Life is Presented as the Man with a Purpose in his Actions While Resting in Christ The third theme of the book of Ecclesiastes involves the response of the recipient to God’s divine calling revealed in its primary and secondary themes of fearing God as we serve Him with all of our strength. The third theme involves the response of the recipient to embrace the message of Ecclesiastes, which is to live life with purpose and fulfill the destiny given to each human being. A life is wasted when a person puts his energies in worldly pursuits without weighing the consequences of his actions. But a life finds purpose when one obeys God’s commandments, which leads him find his destiny and walk in it with purpose.
Since the writings of Solomon have a universal application, and not addressing the Jews, the Gentiles, or the New Testament Church in particular, there has been an effort for all three people groups to walk in the wisdom of Solomon, and find a purpose in the midst of life’s vanity, and express perfect love towards God and man. Unfortunately, because of the depraved nature of mankind, no one has fulfilled the calling of these three books, except the man Jesus Christ. In much the same way the Law revealed the Jew’s need for a Redeemer, so do the Solomonic writings reveal all of mankind’s need for redemption. Jesus walked in the wisdom revealed in Proverbs, fulfilled His destiny on Calvary in the midst of the vanities of Ecclesiastes, and love the Father with the perfect love of Songs. Only through Christ Jesus can the believer fulfill the third, underlying theme of the Solomonic writings.
As believers, we are to live a crucified life daily through obedience to the divine calling given in this book, which is to fear God so that we can serve Him with all of our strength. We have been predestined to be conformed to the image of God’s Son (Romans 8:29). In the book of Ecclesiastes this aspect of conforming to be like Jesus means that we should not labour in useless vanities, but pursue God in each season of our life, while enjoying each day’s blessings as a way of resting in Christ. This is manifested by eating and drinking, and enjoying the good of all our labour, since it is the gift of God (Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:12-15; Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:18-20; Ecclesiastes 8:15; Ecclesiastes 9:7-10; Ecclesiastes 11:9-10). As we rest in God, He divinely orchestrates our lives and moves us into His divine seasons. These divine seasons are our destiny, so that we fear God and keep His commandments by fulfilling our divine destinies.
Ecclesiastes 2:24, “There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.”
Ecclesiastes 3:12-13, “I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life. And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God.”
Ecclesiastes 3:22, “Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?”
Ecclesiastes 5:18-19, “Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion. Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God.”
Ecclesiastes 8:15, “Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.”
Ecclesiastes 9:7-9, “Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun.”
Ecclesiastes 11:9, “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.”
The books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Songs are structured as a spiritual journey. Each of these journeys leads us into rest. Proverbs tells us that serving the Lord with all of our mind leads us into rest. The book of Ecclesiastes teaches us that serving God with all of our strength and not mammon leads us into rest. The Song of Solomon teaches us that mature love towards God leads us into rest.
D. Summary of the Writings of Proverbs - As a review, the foundational theme of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon is how to serve the Lord with all our hearts. The secondary theme of this three-fold series of writings is what gives these books their structure:
1. Proverbs Wisdom Calls Mankind to Understand His Ways (Mind)
2. Ecclesiastes God Gives Mankind a Purpose in Life When We Serve Him (Body)
3. Song of Solomon God Calls Mankind to Walk With Him in the Cool of the Day (Heart)
The third theme of this three-fold series of writings reveals the results of applying the book’s message to our daily lives:
1. Proverbs - The Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom. The virtuous woman is a reflection of a person walking in wisdom and the fear of God.
2. Ecclesiastes Fear God and Keep His Commandments. The man who keeps God’s commandments has a purpose and destiny in Christ.
3. Song of Solomon Loving God is Mature as We Abide in Christ & Labour in His Vineyard. The man who abides in Christ and produces fruit that remains.
Combining these three themes to see how they flow together in each of Solomon’s writings, we see that Proverbs teaches us to serve the Lord with all of our mind as the fear of the Lord moves us to wise choices above foolishness. The outcome of this journey is the development of a person who is strong in character, symbolized by the virtuous woman. This is illustrated in the story of Job. In Ecclesiastes, the believer serves the Lord with all of his strength by obeying God’s commandments because of his fear of the Lord. The outcome of this journey is the development of a person who walks in his purpose and destiny, rather than in the vanities of this world. This is illustrated in the book of Lamentations. The Song of Solomon reveals the most mature level of serving the Lord with all of one’s heart. This person yields to God’s love being poured into him by learning to abide in constant holy communion with the Lord. The outcome of this journey is the development of a person who overflows in the fruits and gifts of the Spirit. This is illustrated in the book of Psalms.
The themes of the books of the Holy Bible can be often found in the opening verses, and we now can easily see these three themes in opening passages of the writings of Solomon. Proverb’s opening verses emphasize the need to make sound decisions through wisdom, instruction and understanding.
Proverbs 1:2, “To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding;”
Ecclesiastes’ opening verses emphasizes the vanity of human labour when one does not serve the Lord.
Ecclesiastes 1:3, “What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?”
Song of Songs emphasizes the intimacy of love that proceeds from man’s heart.
Song of Solomon 1:2, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.”
Thus, it is easy to see why King Solomon would follow such a three-fold structure in his writings. Since Deuteronomy 6:4-5 was one of the more popular passages of Scripture for the children of Israel, it would make sense that Solomon, in his quest for the meaning of life, would follow this three-fold approach in his analyze of what it meant to worship God. Although the book of Proverbs places emphasis upon serving the Lord by making wise decisions, a careful study of the book of Proverbs will reveal that this three-fold emphasis upon the spirit, soul and body is woven throughout the book.
In addition, the book of Job gives us an extension of the theme of Proverbs, as both of these books serve as wisdom literature, teaching us through poetry to serve the Lord with all our mind. The book of Lamentations gives us an extension of the theme of Ecclesiastes, as both of these books serve as poetic explanations for the vanities of life, teaching us through poetry to serve the Lord with all our strength. The book of Psalms gives an extension of the theme of Songs, as both of these books serve as poetry to edify the heart, teaching us through poetry to serve the Lord with all our heart. Finally, the redemptive message of the poetical books reveals that even when a man like Job walks in wisdom, he finds himself in need of a redeemer. Lamentations reveals a nation who has a divine destiny and purpose, yet the children of Israel find themselves in need of a redeemer. The psalms of David reveal that even when man is at his best intimacy with God, like David, he still finds himself in need of a redeemer.
Figure 1 - Thematic Scheme of the Books of Poetry
IX. Literary Structure
The literary structure of the book of Ecclesiastes must follow the theme of the book. It is important to note that such a breakdown of this book of the Holy Bible was not necessarily intended by the original author, but it is being used as a means of making the interpretation easier. It is hoped that this summary can identify the underlying themes of the book, as well as the themes of its major divisions, sections and subsections. Then individual verses can more easily be understood in light of the emphasis of the immediate passages in which they are found.
The Preacher opens the book of Ecclesiastes by stating his quest for some fixed value, or “profit”, in this life that man lives “under the sun”. His initial evaluation of life is that it is all vanity (Ecclesiastes 1:2). He will conclude the book with the same declaration of vanity (Ecclesiastes 12:8) and conclude that serving God is the only way to find purpose and meaning in this life (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).
In order to support his statement that all is vanity, he will first reflect upon the frustrations of his own pursuits to find gratification in this life (Ecclesiastes 1:12 to Ecclesiastes 2:11). He will then take a broader look into the lives of those in society around him (Ecclesiastes 2:12-26), and he will come to the same conclusion. The Preacher will then take a more in-depth look at life by looking at God’s divine intervention in the affairs of mankind (Ecclesiastes 3:1-15). He will then give illustrations of the vanities of this life (Ecclesiastes 3:16 to Ecclesiastes 6:12) as well as some remedies of serving the Lord in the midst of these vanities of life (Ecclesiastes 7:1 to Ecclesiastes 11:8) before warning the younger generation to serve the Lord with all of their strength (Ecclesiastes 11:9 to Ecclesiastes 12:8). He concludes with a statement that the essence of life is to fear God and keep His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:9-14). In other words, keep life simple and pursue only the basics of life that will have eternal significance before the throne of judgment, which all men must face.
I. Predestination: The Vanity of Human Life and Creation (Ecclesiastes 1:1 to Ecclesiastes 2:26 ) 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 the society of people around him (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.
A. Introduction: The Preacher Concludes that This Life is Vanity (Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 ) 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.
1. Title (Ecclesiastes 1:1 ) - The opening verse serves as the customary Hebrew title to the book of Ecclesiastes.
2. Opening Statement (Ecclesiastes 1:2-4 ) 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.
3. The Three-fold Testimony of the Generations of the Earth to Man’s Subjection to Vanity (Ecclesiastes 1:5-7 ) 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.”
4. The Testimony of the Generations of Man to His Subjection to Vanity (Ecclesiastes 1:8-11 ) 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.
B. Man’s Way of Vanity: The Preacher Explains How He Came to a Conclusion of Vanity in This Life (Ecclesiastes 1:12 to Ecclesiastes 2:26 ) 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).
1. The Preacher Finds Vanity in the Pursuits of Mental, Spiritual, Physical, and Financial Gratification (Ecclesiastes 1:12 to Ecclesiastes 2:11 ) - Throughout the book of Ecclesiastes the Preacher will attempt to answer the question, “What profit does a man have of all of his labours in this life?” (Ecclesiastes 1:3) In Ecclesiastes 1:12 to Ecclesiastes 2:11 the Preacher describes his pursuits to find pleasure in this life. After introducing himself as the king over Israel (Ecclesiastes 1:12), he explains how he pursued gratification for his mind by pursing wisdom (Ecclesiastes 1:13-18). He then changed his pursuits to find gratification for his heart through wine and laughter (Ecclesiastes 2:1-3). He then describes how he set out to work with his hands to construct great edifices for himself (Ecclesiastes 2:4-6) and to gather much wealth (Ecclesiastes 2:7-11). But the Preacher concludes that this too is vanity and grasping for the wind Thus, we see him referring to the three-fold make-up of man: mind, spirit and body as well as finances. We can assume that these three pursuits took place in the Preacher’s life in the order that he gives them. He pursued wisdom and understanding first, followed by mirth and then the construction of great projects and the gathering of wealth. This represents the order of pursuits in the lives of many people. For example, in our society, we start out in our youth focusing upon school and education. When we go into our college years, we find that the influences for party and mirth are everywhere. We later find our place in society by focusing upon a career and learning to work hard towards success. For those who achieve financial success, they are left still searching for a meaning and purpose to their lives, having learned that all of these pursuits did not bring inner peace.
Throughout this passage the author searches for the true meaning of life. He asks the question in Ecclesiastes 1:3, “What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun?” He experiences different interests throughout life for periods of time, just like people today have fads, or hobbies, which are always changing. Illustration: My father would go through phases in his life of being interested in playing the guitar, working on cars, hunting, and various projects. I watched as these interests changed during the course of his life. The preacher will soon recognize the divine seasons that God orchestrates in the lives of those who obey His Word and keep His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13). The king has seasons of pursuits in his life. Because he orchestrated them himself, he found no satisfaction in them. Although none of these pursuits are evil in themselves, they are vanity when a person does not follow God’s plan for his life.
Just as Solomon, we too can have seasons of interests in various things of this world. These interests seem to fade in one area, and refocus on a new area through the years. When we follow God's plan for our lives, we can still enjoy those seasons of change, but in a greater and more dynamic way. His plan for our lives will take us to new levels of interest and adventures. Our own pursuits will produces vain interests, as Solomon has stated here. However, when we follow God's will for our lives, these seasons of interests will be satisfying. Seasons of changing interests are normal for us, but they do not satisfy until God is directing these seasons. Life is made up of seasons of change. When we learn to go with God's seasons in our lives, we will find that they are not vain, but very rewarding.
a) The Preacher Pursues Wisdom to Gratify His Mind (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18 ) In Ecclesiastes 1:12-18 the Preacher describes his pursuits of wisdom in order to give gratification to his mind. However, in all of his pursuing he found only vanity and grief.
b) The Preacher Pursues Mirth to Gratify His Heart (Ecclesiastes 2:1-3 ) In Ecclesiastes 2:1-3 the Preacher pursues mirth in order to find gratification and pleasure for his heart. But in the end he again finds only vanity.
c) The Preacher Pursues Great Works and Wealth to Gratify His Body (Ecclesiastes 2:4-11 ) In Ecclesiastes 2:4-6 the Preacher endeavors to work hard in order to find satisfaction with great accomplishments of building projects. He gathers much wealth in his attempt to find his purpose in life, but finally concludes that this too is vanity and grasping for the wind.
2. The Preacher Finds Vanity in the Mortality of Mankind: The Wise Man and the Fool Partake of the Same Fate, Which is Death (Ecclesiastes 2:12-26 ) After the Preacher reflects upon his own frustration, he looks beyond his own personal experiences to find a purpose and meaning in life. Now he begins to observe the people who surround him in society; but alas, he comes to the same conclusion. Although a wise man walks in light and the fool in darkness (Ecclesiastes 2:14), wisdom does not appear to deliver one from the same fate at the fool (Ecclesiastes 2:15). Both must die and be forgotten (Ecclesiastes 2:16). Both will leave their substance to fate when they die (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19). He concludes that man should learn to enjoy each day by recognizing God’s blessings and not worry about the things of tomorrow (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26).
II. Calling: God’s Calling Through His Divine Intervention in the Affairs of Mankind (The Seasons of Our Life) (Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 ) After the Preacher concludes that God has predestined mankind and creation to vanity based upon reflects upon his own frustrations of life (Ecclesiastes 1:12 to Ecclesiastes 2:11) and upon those of others (Ecclesiastes 2:12-26), he turns himself to a wider search by looking above. He realizes that God’s has a purpose for mankind based upon the fact that God intervenes in the affairs of mankind. We call this divine calling, in which we come to realize that God has a redemptive purpose and plan in His creation.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 represents the Preacher’s next phase of learning when he tells us that our life is made up of times and seasons, or periods that change into another period of life, and we learn that these seasons have been divinely placed within our lives by God (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Once the Preacher recognizes these divine seasons of life (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8), he concludes that man should simply rest in God and enjoy each day’s journey, knowing that God will work in his life each day (Ecclesiastes 3:9-15).
There are twenty-eight seasons listed in the following verses. It is in these seasons of life orchestrated by God that we find meaning and purpose in our lives. The closing verses to Ecclesiastes will warn us that everything we do in these seasons of life must be undergirded with the fear of God and the keeping of His commandments. The fact that there are twenty-eight is significance. Anytime in historical events the number seven or a factor of seven is used, it serves as a witness of divine intervention. One clear example is found in Matthew’s description of Jesus’ divine lineage, where God brought Israel through seasons of change every fourteen generations.
Matthew 1:17, “So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.”
We see these divine seasons (and purposes) listed in Ecclesiastes 3:2-8. We clearly identify with such descriptions of our lives as we recall how we move from birth to childhood to adolescence to adulthood to old age and finally to death. God's involvement in human affairs leads to the understanding that there will be an eternal judgment (Ecclesiastes 3:17). Therefore, enjoy the goodness that God gives to us in this life, but remember to fear God because His judgment will come upon every man.
Ecclesiastes 3:17, “I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.”
Each verse in this passage of Ecclesiastes 3:2-8 contains two couplets. Each of these sets of couplets is similar to one another. For example, in verse two birth is contrasted with death. In Proverbs 31:3 killing and healing are similar to breaking down and building up. In Proverbs 31:4 weeping and laughter are similar to mourning and dancing.
These couplets appear to represent individual seasons of our earthly lives. Within each season in this life there are both good things and evil things to deal with. This is because mankind has been subjected to vanity because of the Fall. Evil is now a part of this life that must be dealt with during every season of life. Thus, we see the struggle between good and evil, between God’s ways and the ways of the devil as we walk through our journey in life.
For example, the joy of the birth of a child will always be overshadowed by the knowledge that he will one day have to die (Ecclesiastes 3:2 a). We see this in the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ. His birth was accompanied with exciting prophecies and visits from wise men from the East. But in the Temple Simeon spoke not only of His office as a Saviour but balanced his prophecy with words of sorrow and grief for Mary. Regarding Proverbs 3:2 b, the travail of planting in the field and waiting patiently for the fruit will one day be forgotten by the joy of taking in a great harvest (Ecclesiastes 3:2 b). In our times of sorrow we must not forget how God brings us a ray of sunshine during our darkest hours (Ecclesiastes 3:4 a). We know that one day sadness will be overcome by joy; for this is how Jesus, because of the joy set before Him, endured the Cross and suffered the shame (Ecclesiastes 3:4 b). There is a season in our lives when we hold our children tightly and protect them in our embrace, while knowing that one day we must release them and send them out to pursue their own destinies (5b). We understand that as horrible wars can be, they always produce peace for a nation if fought in righteousness (Ecclesiastes 3:8). Thus, every season and event in our lives is mixed with sadness as well as joy if we will look for God’s handiwork in it.
The preacher then asks himself the value of labouring and travailing during the seasons of life (Ecclesiastes 3:9), for God subjected mankind to travail at the time of the Fall in the Garden in order to keep us humble (Ecclesiastes 3:10). It is in humility that we will turn back to God.
Now the answer comes when God reveals to him that there is a beauty to be found within each of these seasons in our lives; because each one will teach us a new lesson that we cannot learn from an earlier season of life (Ecclesiastes 3:11 a).
God created our life as a series of seasons so that we would better understand that eternity is made up of ages and periods in which God takes mankind from one dispensation into another. This is why Ecclesiastes 3:11 b says that God has placed eternity in our hearts. He did this by subjecting us to the pattern of seasons the He has subjected eternity to.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 c then tells us that no man can find contentment in these seasons by pursuing earthly works and ambitions. If we try to fully understand the fullness of the world around us during each season of life, just as Solomon, we will realize that we cannot complete such pursuits; for God’s creation is far to vast and our lives too short. This causes us to become unfulfilled with earthly pursuits and dreams, because by them we will only find discontentment in watching them go incomplete as we move into another season of life. As Solomon amidst his vast gardens and building projects, we must conclude that contentment and joy will only be found in pursuing our divine assignment on a daily basis. All other pursuits and ambitions will fall incomplete and unfulfilled at the end of one’s life. We must find our joy today as we serve the Lord.
We must resign ourselves to serving the Lord with gladness of heart (Ecclesiastes 3:12) and enjoy the benefits that God has given us during our daily service to Him, and this without coveting more than we have been given (Ecclesiastes 3:13). This is the secret of happiness in the midst of our being subjected to travail all the days of our lives.
A. The Preacher Concludes that God Has a Purpose for Mankind (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 ) - He now acknowledges that God has a purpose (or calling) for people based upon His divine intervention in the affairs of mankind. He now attempts to understand the meaning of life in light of God’s divine intervention, which the Preacher calls “seasons” and “purpose under heaven”. Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 represents the Preacher’s next phase of learning when he tells us that our life is made up of times and seasons, or periods of change; and we learn that these seasons have been divinely placed within our lives by God (Ecclesiastes 3:1). The Preacher lists these divine seasons in Ecclesiastes 3:2-8. We clearly identify with such a description of our lives as we recall how we move from birth to childhood to adolescence to adulthood to old age and finally to death.
1. General Summary (Ecclesiastes 3:1 ) - In a summary of this passage of Scripture, we see that Solomon begins by making a general summary of about the divinely orchestrated seasons in the affairs of mankind (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
2. The Vanity of Wisdom (Ecclesiastes 3:2-3 ) - Ecclesiastes 3:2-3 reflects upon King Solomon’s conclusion regarding the vanity of his pursuit of wisdom (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18), where he realizes that he cannot control life and death, the seasons of this earth, and good and evil. These are events that God alone has determined and can judge. In Ecclesiastes 3:2 the king deals with the issues of life and death, and with the seasons of planting and harvesting, which often determined life and death in these ancient world. In Ecclesiastes 3:3 King Solomon acknowledges that, despite his vast knowledge and wisdom he obtained, he alone cannot control the forces of good and evil, to stop killing and other destructive forces of mankind; neither can he heal and restore things to good. Although he is a king, he does not have the power to control evil or good. Despite his vast wisdom, the king acknowledges that only God determines life and death, and He also judges good and evil upon this earth. These aspects of one’s life are beyond King Solomon’s grasp. These outcomes were in the hands of God.
3. The Vanity of Mirth and Pleasure (Ecclesiastes 3:4 ) Ecclesiastes 3:4 reflects upon King Solomon’s conclusion regarding the vanity of his pursuit of mirth and pleasure (Ecclesiastes 2:1-3). King Solomon had pursued mirth and pleasure with the greatest of resources that man could obtain; yet, in all of these pursuits he now realizes that he cannot determine the time of a person’s weeping and laughter, mourning and dancing. The reason is because even Solomon could not determine the outcome of every person’s situation, whether it saddened or rejoiced the heart. These outcomes were in the hands of God.
4. The Vanity of Strength and Conquest (Ecclesiastes 3:5 ) - Ecclesiastes 3:5 reflects upon King Solomon’s conclusion regarding the vanity of his pursuit of strength and conquest (Ecclesiastes 2:4-6). The king had embarked upon some of the greatest building projects of the ancient world, carving and moving great stones; yet he could not determine the timing of when these projects could be completed, or even accomplished. His people had gathered stones and cast them away; his hired servants had grasped hold of these projects, and postponed or even cancelled them. The timing of these great building projects was in the hands of God.
5. The Vanity of Riches (Ecclesiastes 3:6 ) - Ecclesiastes 3:6 reflects upon King Solomon’s conclusion regarding the vanity of his pursuit of riches (Ecclesiastes 2:7-11). The king had gathered the greatest accumulation of wealth that had ever been collected upon earth, yet this wealth could not be kept entirely safe and secure. There were times he must give it away, and there were times thieves broke in and stole this wealth. He determined that riches were in the hands of an Almighty God as to whom He would give it to and whom He would take it away.
6. The Vanity of the King’s Rule over Israel and the Nations (Ecclesiastes 3:7-8 ) Ecclesiastes 3:7-8 reflects upon King Solomon’s conclusion regarding the vanity and limitations of his rule over Israel and the nations. The king had decreed some of the wisest judgment among men, yet these judgments could not fix everyone’s problems in the kingdom (Ecclesiastes 3:7). In this respect he found himself in the hands of an Almighty God in knowing when to keep silent and let God work things out, and when to intervene and speak his royal judgment. Although King Solomon was the greatest king upon earth during his period of reign, with the divine wisdom to maintain peace over his kingdom, yet he was not able to control love and hate, war and peace upon the earth (Ecclesiastes 3:8). These were things too great for him, things he had to look to God for their outcome. In all of his judgments, he could not resolve all conflicts. It was beyond his mortal ability to do so; thus, judgment ultimately rested in God’s hands.
B. The Preacher Explains His Conclusion of Man’s Purpose (Ecclesiastes 3:9-15 ) - The Preacher will then acknowledge each man’s purpose, or calling, in this life, in Ecclesiastes 3:9-15 as a calling to rejoice and to do good in this life by enjoying the good of each day’s labours (Ecclesiastes 3:13). In other words, mankind has been called to serve the Lord by doing good works and to rest in God’s divine provision for his life.
III. Justification: The Depravity of Mankind (Ecclesiastes 3:16 to Ecclesiastes 6:12 ) - The Preacher has concluded that this world has been subjected to vanity (Ecclesiastes 1:1 to Ecclesiastes 2:26); yet, God has a purpose for mankind, which can be called a plan of redemption (Ecclesiastes 3:1-15). He now seeks out God’s plan of justification for mankind in the midst of a depraved humanity, but first he must build a case for man’s need of redemption. Thus, in Ecclesiastes 3:16-22 he makes the conclusion that mankind is depraved. In Ecclesiastes 4:1 to Ecclesiastes 6:12 the Preacher uses illustrations from life and from creation to support his theme that all is vanity. In this section he discusses the overall condition of mankind in his fallen state of depravity and his need for redemption.
A. The Preacher Concludes that Mankind is Unjust and Mortal (Ecclesiastes 3:16-22 ) - In Ecclesiastes 3:16-22 the Preacher makes the conclusion that mankind is depraved. He understands that God will judge every man according to his works, both the righteous and the wicked. He observes that wickedness was found in the place of judgment (Ecclesiastes 3:16). He first concludes that God will ultimately give a final and true judgment (Ecclesiastes 3:17). He makes a second conclusion that man is mortal just like beasts (Ecclesiastes 3:18-21). He comes to the conclusion that because of this vanity of unrighteous upon earth a person should respond by learning to enjoy the labours of each day without coveting for more, or worrying about tomorrow; for man is not able to determine his own future, which belongs to God alone (Ecclesiastes 3:22).
1. Man’s Depravity (Ecclesiastes 3:16-17 ) The Preacher makes his first observation by stating the wickedness and depravity of mankind. He concludes that God will bring justice upon this sad condition of man since man is not judging himself righteously.
2. Man’s Mortality (Ecclesiastes 3:18-21 ) - In Ecclesiastes 3:18 the Preacher compares mankind to beasts from the aspect that they are both mortal. He will elaborate on this in Ecclesiastes 3:19 by saying that death befalls them both. Thus, from an earthly perspective, no one is better than the other, since both die and are no more (Ecclesiastes 3:20). In addition, neither man nor beast is able to determine his individual fate, whether he goes up to heaven, or down to hell (Ecclesiastes 3:21).
3. Conclusion (Ecclesiastes 3:22 ) In Ecclesiastes 3:22 the Preacher makes his concluding remarks about man’s depravity and mortality. He decides that man should learn to enjoy those things which God has blessed him with as a result of the works of his own hands.
B. The Preacher Explains His Conclusion (Ecclesiastes 4:1 to Ecclesiastes 6:12 ) In Ecclesiastes 4:1 thru Ecclesiastes 6:12 the Preacher uses illustrations from life and from creation to support his theme that mankind is depraved. In this section he discusses the overall condition of mankind in his fallen state of depravity. However, this time he makes his evaluation from the perspective of divine judgment.
We see a progressive order of events in this passage of Scripture. Man’s fall in the Garden of Eden resulted in his mortality. Mortal man became depraved by his sin. This depravity led man into a state of unrighteousness. He now oppresses the weak, labours without rest, toils selfishly all the days of his life, and struggles to gain ascendancy over others. Thus, those who reach positions of power, wealth and leadership over others are no better than those they rule over. This is the Preacher’s way of reasoning with us to see his point of view that our mortal lives are full of vanity.
1. The Vanity of Oppression on Earth (Ecclesiastes 4:1-3 ) In Ecclesiastes 4:1-3 the Preacher makes an observation about the vanity of oppression in this life. It is man’s depravity, discussed in Ecclesiastes 3:16-22, that causes him to oppress one another. The Preacher notes his observation in Ecclesiastes 4:1 that there is much oppression over those who cannot defend themselves and find a comforter. In Ecclesiastes 4:2-3 he makes his conclusion that the dead are better than the living, and those who are not yet born are better than the both.
2. The Vanity of Toil on Earth (Ecclesiastes 4:4-6 ) - The man who toils for substance creates envy from his neighbor (Ecclesiastes 4:4). Yet, the lazy fool destroys himself because of his laziness (Ecclesiastes 4:5). Neither choice seems good. There must be a balance in work. The Preacher concludes that a man should work quietly to meet his basic needs only, and not chase after an abundance of riches, so that he can have a peaceful life (Ecclesiastes 4:6).
3. The Vanity of Selfish Toil on Earth (Ecclesiastes 4:7-12 ) In Ecclesiastes 4:7-12 the Preacher comments on the vanity of selfish toil in this world. It is futile to labour without end for oneself; for ultimately, there is no reward and joy in such labour.
4. The Vanity of Nobility on Earth (Ecclesiastes 4:13-16 ) In Ecclesiastes 4:13-16 the Preacher comments on nobility and kingship. Even when it appears that a person has achieved a life of rest from toil by becoming a king, yet there is vanity his life also.
5. The Vanity of External Religion: Exhortation to Fear God (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 ) Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 describes the man in pursuit of a plan. In one’s busy schedule and haste to accomplish a multitude of tasks there come dreams in the night and rash vows to God. In these vows we want God to bless our own plans, when we, in fact, should wait before the Lord and hear His plans for our daily pursuits.
6. The Vanity of Riches (Ecclesiastes 5:8 to Ecclesiastes 6:12 ) - There are two dangers to having riches. The first is that riches can easily cause the heart to become covetous, which is discusses in Ecclesiastes 5:8-20. Man’s covetousness results in wealth being accumulated through wicked means. The second vice is that men tend to find no rest and contentment after having accumulated wealth. This negative aspect of riches is discussed in Ecclesiastes 6:1-12. When men gain wealth by honorable methods, he is still in danger of falling prey to discontentment and failing to enjoy the life that God intended him to enjoy.
a) Riches and Covetousness (Ecclesiastes 5:8-20 ) - We can entitle the theme of Ecclesiastes 5:8-20 as “Riches and Covetousness”. The more one toils, the more one is beset by those who deplete it. Even the powerful take the riches that are due the poor because of greed. Yet, when a person dies, he cannot take his possessions with him. God's gift is to be content to enjoy the blessings that He has given to us. Note in chapter three, that God's divine hand is involved in every event in life. God has a plan for each person, so that we can enjoy His daily blessings while being content in the midst of our situations in life, and thus, we learn to enjoy each day as we thank God for His blessings. Otherwise, we complain about what we do not yet have and are prone to covet that which belongs to our neighbour.
b) Riches Without Contentment (Ecclesiastes 6:1-12 ) There are two dangers to having riches. The first is that riches can easily cause the heart to become covetous, which is discusses in Ecclesiastes 5:8-20. Man’s covetousness results in wealth being accumulated through wicked means. The second vice is that men tend to find no rest and contentment after having accumulated wealth. This negative aspect of riches is discussed in Ecclesiastes 6:1-12. When men gain wealth by honorable methods, he is still in danger of falling prey to discontentment and failing to enjoy the life that God intended him to enjoy.
IV. Indoctrination: Practical Wisdom to Fear God (Ecclesiastes 7:1 to Ecclesiastes 11:8 ) In Ecclesiastes 7:1 thru Ecclesiastes 11:8 the Preacher gives illustrations of practical wisdom, or doctrine on how to fear God in this life. In other words, these proverbs give us wisdom on how to bring our lives into God’s divine plan that we were created to pursue. Much of this passage is delivered as a collection of proverbs, or short, pithy sayings, that summarize wisdom and is very similar to the book of Proverbs in structure. However, I believe that these particular set of Proverbs are designed to guide us into finding the answers for how to serve the Lord with all of our strength.
Why is this section the longest one in the book of Ecclesiastes? Perhaps the reason lies in the fact that the underlying theme of the book is the keeping of God’s commandments in the fear of the Lord. Thus, the Preacher takes the time to list these commandments. In a similar way, the longest section in the book of Proverbs is wisdom’s call (Proverbs 1-9), since man’s daily walk in wisdom requires him to constantly recognize and hear wisdom’s call in order to make the right decisions each day.
Here are a number of topics discussed in this section:
Wisdom Seen in Being Sober-minded Ecclesiastes 7:1-6
Wisdom’s Ability to Protect Ecclesiastes 7:11-12
Wisdom Found in Recognizing God’s Hand in Daily Life Ecclesiastes 7:13-14
Wisdom Found in Moderation Ecclesiastes 7:15-18
Wisdom Found in Ignoring What Others Say About You Ecclesiastes 7:21-22
The Preacher’s Pursuit of Wisdom Ecclesiastes 7:23-25
The Tongue of the Wise and the Fool Ecclesiastes 10:11-14
The Principles of Sowing and Reaping Ecclesiastes 11:1-6
A Reminder of the Vanities of Life Ecclesiastes 11:7-8
V. Perseverance: Warning to the Youth to Fear God (Ecclesiastes 11:9 to Ecclesiastes 12:7 ) - In Ecclesiastes 11:9 thru Ecclesiastes 12:7 the Preacher tells young people to enjoy their days of youthfulness, but to balance their lives by remembering the coming Day of Judgment. The Preacher began his sermon in Ecclesiastes 1:1-2 by asking the rhetorical question, “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?” Throughout this book he explains this statement by answering his own opening question. Remember that the book of Ecclesiastes tells us the vanity of our physical labors and of our earthly possessions. It is structured in a way that teaches us how to take our physical journey through this life, from youth to old age. A young person tends to find life adventurous and exciting. He spends much effort in exploring and achieving new feats. But the Preacher knows how vain these youthful adventures can be because he has pursued them all. Since he was once a youth, he knows how much more difficult a youth has in seeing the vanities of life. It is only with wisdom and age that anyone can see the vanities of man's pursuits. This focus upon youth and old age reflects the theme of Ecclesiastes, which is to serve the Lord with all of our strength. The Preacher could have addresses a number of people in society, but he spoke directly to the youth because once they miss this truth in their early years, their life is too far spent to correct this grave error. If they miss their destiny when they are young, it is much harder to put their lives together when they are old and be used by God to fulfill their destinies.
VI. Glorification: Closing Remarks (Ecclesiastes 12:8-14 ) The Preacher makes his closing remarks by restating his theme that all is vanity (Ecclesiastes 12:8). He accepts his divine duty to continue to teach the people on this topic (Ecclesiastes 12:9-12). In the final two verses (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14) he summarizes the solution to life’s vanities with the commandment to fear God because He will judge us in the next life. Within the context of the third responsive theme of Ecclesiastes, we fear Him and keep His commandments by resting in Him as He divinely orchestrates our lives and moves us into His divine seasons. These divine seasons are our destiny, so that we fear God and keep His commandments by fulfilling our divine destinies.
I once heard vanity described this way: a man is born, goes to school, gets a job, finds a wife, raises a family, retires, then he dies. His children do the same. A man works hard all of his life to reach each new phase of life, but for what purpose? Life is vain without a divine purpose. The answer to this dilemma of life’s vanities is found in the closing verses of this book, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13)
A. Repetition of Opening Statement (Ecclesiastes 12:8-12 ) In Ecclesiastes 12:8 the Preacher repeats his opening statement recorded in Ecclesiastes 1:2-4. This time he adds the comment that his words will teach and guide the people through this life of vanity (Ecclesiastes 12:9-12).
B. Conclusion (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 ) - We see the primary and secondary themes reflected in the concluding verses of Ecclesiastes. Its primary theme is how to serve the Lord with all of our strength. We do this by keeping Hs commandments. The secondary theme is to fear the Lord; for this is the necessary ingredient of the heart that motivates us to serve Him instead of ourselves.
For the king, as well as the labourer, life does not consist in the abundance of one's possessions or accomplishments. In the end, each man's life will be measured on Judgment Day by amount of fear and obedience that he showed towards God. All of the pursuits that the Preacher described in the early chapters of this sermon are vanity compared to a man's eternal destiny. The Preacher knows that every man will give an account of his life to God (Ecclesiastes 3:15; Ecclesiastes 3:17).
Ecclesiastes 3:15, “That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past.”
Ecclesiastes 3:17, “I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.”
X. Outline of Book
The following outline is a summary of the preceding literary structure; thus, it reflects the theological framework of the book of Ecclesiastes: its purpose, its three-fold thematic scheme, and its literary structure. As a result, this outline offers sermon sections that fit together into a single message that can be used by preachers and teachers to guide a congregation or class through the book of Ecclesiastes. This journey through Ecclesiastes will lead believers into one aspect of conformity to the image of Christ Jesus that was intended by the Lord, which in this book of the Holy Scriptures is to prepare Christians to keeps God’s commandments for a purpose and destiny in Christ.
I. Predestination: The Vanity of Human Life Ecclesiastes 1:1 to Ecclesiastes 2:26
A. Intro: The Preacher Concludes that This Life is Vanity Ecclesiastes 1:1-11
1. Title Ecclesiastes 1:1
2. Opening Statement Ecclesiastes 1:2-4
3. The 3-fold Testimony of the Earth to Vanity Ecclesiastes 1:5-7
4. The Testimony of the Man to His Subjection to Vanity Ecclesiastes 1:8-11
B. The Preacher Explains His Conclusion Ecclesiastes 1:12 to Ecclesiastes 2:26
1. The Preacher Finds Vanity in His Own Pursuits Ecclesiastes 1:12 to Ecclesiastes 2:11
a) In Pursuits of the Mind Ecclesiastes 1:12-18
b) In Pursuits of the Heart Ecclesiastes 2:1-3
c) In Pursuits of Wealth Ecclesiastes 2:4-11
2. The Preacher See Vanity Around Him Ecclesiastes 2:12-26
II. Calling: God’s Calling Thru His Divine Intervention Ecclesiastes 3:1-15
A. The Preacher Concludes God Has a Purpose Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
1. General Summary Ecclesiastes 3:1
2. The Vanity of Wisdom Ecclesiastes 3:2-3
3. The Vanity of Mirth and Pleasure Ecclesiastes 3:4
4. The Vanity of Strength and Conquest Ecclesiastes 3:5
5. The Vanity of Riches Ecclesiastes 3:6
6. The Vanity of the King’s Rule over Israel and the Nations Ecclesiastes 3:7-8
B. The Preacher Explains His Conclusion Ecclesiastes 3:9-15
III. Justification: The Depravity of Mankind Ecclesiastes 3:16 to Ecclesiastes 6:12
A. The Preacher Concludes Man’s Depravity Ecclesiastes 3:16-22
1. Man’s Depravity Ecclesiastes 3:16-17
2. Man’s Mortality Ecclesiastes 3:18-21
3. Conclusion Ecclesiastes 3:22
B. The Preacher Explains His Conclusion Ecclesiastes 4:1 to Ecclesiastes 6:12
1. The Vanity of Oppression on Earth Ecclesiastes 4:1-3
2. The Vanity of Toil on Earth Ecclesiastes 4:4-6
3. The Vanity of Selfish Toil on Earth Ecclesiastes 4:7-12
4. The Vanity of Nobility on Earth Ecclesiastes 4:13-16
5. The Vanity of External Religion (Fear God) Ecclesiastes 5:1-7
6. The Vanity of Riches Ecclesiastes 5:8 to Ecclesiastes 6:12
a) Riches and Covetousness Ecclesiastes 5:8-20
b) Riches without Contentment Ecclesiastes 6:1-12
VI. Indoctrination: Practical Wisdom to Fear God Ecclesiastes 7:1 to Ecclesiastes 11:8
Wisdom Seen in Being Sober-minded Ecclesiastes 7:1-6
Wisdom’s Ability to Protect Ecclesiastes 7:11-12
Wisdom Found in Recognizing God’s Hand in Daily Life Ecclesiastes 7:13-14
Wisdom Found in Moderation Ecclesiastes 7:15-18
Wisdom Found in Ignoring What Others Say About You Ecclesiastes 7:21-22
The Preacher’s Pursuit of Wisdom Ecclesiastes 7:23-25
The Tongue of the Wise and the Fool Ecclesiastes 10:11-14
The Principles of Sowing and Reaping Ecclesiastes 11:1-6
1. Give with Patience Ecclesiastes 11:1
2. Give Bountifully Ecclesiastes 11:2
3. The Certainty of Giving and Receiving: A Divine Law Ecclesiastes 11:3
4. Giving in Faith Ecclesiastes 11:4-5
5. Give Continually Ecclesiastes 11:6
A Reminder of the Vanities of Life Ecclesiastes 11:7-8
VII. Perseverance: Warning to the Youth to Fear God Ecclesiastes 11:9 to Ecclesiastes 12:7
VIII. Closing Remarks: Glorification Ecclesiastes 12:8-14
A. Repetition of Opening Statement Ecclesiastes 12:8-12
B. Final Conclusion Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
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the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28