The Book of Ecclesiastes

August 24, 2019

Rector’s Weekly Letter to the Congregation for Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Book of Ecclesiastes

Ecclesiastes is the twenty-first book of the Bible. It has twelve chapters and 222 verses. Its authorship is attributed to King Solomon, and its message corroborates this. In chapter one, the author is described the same way, namely, as King David’s son who ruled in Jerusalem. King Solomon was very rich, had many wives and servants, and surrounded himself with high-class pomp. Its title in Hebrew is Qoheleth which can be translated Preacher or just Teacher. 

The book is written as a reflection about life, and the human activity that goes on year after year intended to make life work and bring pleasure and rest to the human soul. The author asks what the benefit of it all is. If this world were all there was for human beings, it would be futile to engage in all the hullabaloo we fuss about while everything we work for will go to naught. Is there anything in the world that is invaluable for all time and worthy the unrelenting human struggle at break-neck speed? That rhetorical question expects the answer to be a huge NO. The author says that there’s nothing we can do or enjoy in the world that will last forever so that we find our meaning in it. But every statement the author makes and every question he asks is supposed to make perfect sense when we add the phrase, “apart from God.” Life is meaningless, apart from God. Pleasure is meaningless, apart from God. Work is meaningless, apart from God. Success is meaningless, apart from God, and so on. But with God in the center of things, not simply as a convenient attachment patch, everything assumes meaning.

The author observes that there’s monotony in the world through the repeated cycles of life. Day dawning and sun setting and water flowing in rivers to the sea and back again. Same thing over and over and over again.

Outline of Ecclesiastes 

  1. Prologue 1:1
  2. Reflections on life 1:2 – 11
  3. Observations about life 2:12 – 6:9
  • Meaning can’t be found in having wisdom
  • Meaning can’t be found pleasure
  • Meaning can’t be found in work
  • There’s a time for everything
  • There are injustices in life
  • Friendship is valuable
  • The futility of political power
  • Take seriously relationship with God
  • The futility of wealth
  1. More observations by the Preacher 6:10 – 12:14
  • The future is unknown and uncertain 6:10 – 12
  • It is difficult to know how to act 7:1 – 8:17
  • The ironies of life 9:1 – 11:11
  • Wise sayings 10:12 – 9
  • The Teacher’s final advice 12:9 – 14
I find three verses in this book to be the pivot on which the entire book rotates: 

1:2, “Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless.” 
 
7:29, “But I did find this: God created people to be virtuous, but they have each turned to follow their own downward path.
 
12:13, “That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty” (New Living Translation). 

The Message renders those verses as follows:

1:1, “Smoke, nothing but smoke There’s nothing to anything—it’s all smoke.”  
 
7:29, “This only have I found: God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.” 
 
12:13, The last final word is this: “Fear God. Do what he tells you.” 
 
The author of Ecclesiastes is so on point. Take God out of the equation of life, or the equation of any undertaking anywhere and everywhere in the world, for all time, and everything and every activity under heaven become meaningless, a chasing after the wind to catch it, which would be a futile act. Human beings were put on earth by the God of heaven and earth to follow his guidelines to the T, and not to invent their own ways and seek meaning in things other than himself.  

Can we wise up, good people?

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