UNDERSTANDING THE BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES
AUTHOR: Although the Book of Ecclesiastes doesn't directly identify its author, the internal structure and style of writing strongly implies that King Solomon wrote the book.
DATE OF WRITING: Solomon's reign as king of Israel lasted from around 970 B.C. to around 930 B.C. The Book of Ecclesiastes was likely written towards the end of his reign, approximately 935 B.C.
PURPOSE OF Writing: Ecclesiastes is a book of perspective. The narrative of "the Preacher" (KJV), or "the Teacher" (NIV) reveals the depression that inevitably results from seeking happiness in worldly things. This book gives Christians a chance to see the world through the eyes of a person who, though very wise, has tried to find meaning in temporary, human things. Most every form of worldly pleasure has been explored by the 'Preacher,' and none of them gives him a true sense of meaning or fulfillment. In the end, the Preacher comes to accept that faith in God is the only way to find personal meaning. He decides to accept the fact that life is brief and ultimately worthless without God. The Preacher advises the reader to focus on an eternal God instead of the things that provide only temporary pleasure.
BRIEF SUMMARY: Two phrases are oft repeated in Ecclesiastes: The word translated as "vanity" (lit. meaningless or useless) is used to emphasize the temporary nature of worldly things. In the end, even the most impressive human achievements will be left behind. The phrase "under the sun" occurs 28 times, and refers to the mortal world. When the Preacher refers to "all things under the sun," he is talking about earthly, temporary, human things.
• The first seven chapters of the book of Ecclesiastes describe all of the worldly things "under the sun" in which the Preacher tries to find fulfillment. He tries scientific inquiry and discovery (1:10-11), wisdom and philosophy (1:13-18), entertainment (2:1), alcohol (2:3), architecture (2:4), possessions (2:7-8), and luxury (2:8). The Preacher turned his mind towards different philosophies to find meaning, such as materialism (2:19-20). He ultimately discovered that everything was meaningless, temporary diversions that-without God-held no real purpose or permanence
• The last five chapters (8-12) describe the Preacher's suggestions and comments on how a life should be lived. He comes to the conclusion that without God, there is no truth or meaning to life. He has seen many evils and realized that even the man's best achievements are worth nothing in the long run. Thus, the reader should acknowledge God from youth (12:1) and to follow His will (12:13-14).
FORESHADOWINGS: For all of the vanities described in the Book of Ecclesiastes, the answer is Christ.
According to Eccl. 3:17, God judges the righteous and the wicked, and the righteous are only those who are in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). God has placed the desire for eternity in our hearts (Eccl. 3:11) and has provided the Way to eternal life through Christ (John 3:16). We are reminded that striving after the world's wealth is not only vanity because it does not satisfy (Eccl. 5:10), but even if we could attain it, without Christ we would lose our souls and what profit is there in that (Mark 8:36)? Ultimately, every disappointment and vanity described in Ecclesiastes has its remedy in Christ, the only true meaning to be found in life.
PRACTICAL APPLICATION: Ecclesiastes offers the Christian an opportunity to understand the emptiness and despair that those who do not know God are forced to struggle with. Those who don't have a saving faith in Christ are faced with a life that will ultimately end without meaning or purpose. If there is no salvation and no God, then there no point to life and no purpose or direction in it. The world "under the sun," apart from God, is frustrating, confusing, cruel, unfair, brief, and ultimately meaningless. But with Christ, life is but a shadow of the glories to come in a heaven that is only accessible through Him.