The Teacher searches for
the purpose of our lives
An EasyEnglish Bible Version and Commentary (LEE level B) on the Book of Ecclesiastes
Hilda Bright and Kitty Pride
This commentary has been through Advanced Checking.
Words in boxes are from the Bible.
A word list at the end explains words with a *star by them.
The word ‘Ecclesiastes’ tells us about the author of this book. This word means ‘someone who gathers a group of people together’. So, the author of this book was an official who had responsibility for other people. He was leading his people as they searched for the truth about God. There are various English translations of this word: 1) *Preacher; 2) Teacher; 3) Philosopher (wise person who thinks a lot about everything).
The words at the end of this book show that the author was a wise man. He was a teacher and he was a skilful writer (Ecclesiastes 12:9-12). He collected special phrases that people say. These are called ‘proverbs’. And there is a book in the Bible called Proverbs.
The author of Ecclesiastes calls himself the ‘king in the city called Jerusalem’ (Ecclesiastes 1:1). He also says that he ruled over *Israel (Ecclesiastes 1:12). He was famous because he spoke wise words (Ecclesiastes 12:9).
King Solomon was famous because of his wisdom (1 Kings 4:29-34; 10:6, 24). But this book does not use Solomon’s name. It seems to be clear, especially in Ecclesiastes chapter 2, that the author is teaching lessons from Solomon’s life. But other passages cause people to think that the author is not actually King Solomon. (See, for example, Ecclesiastes 8:2; 9:15 and 10:20.)
So perhaps the best opinion is that the author or editor was a ‘wise man’ in *Israel. These were men that most people in Israel respected because of their wisdom. He intended that the book should give honour to Solomon. And he wanted his readers to learn lessons from Solomon’s life.
The author of Ecclesiastes writes about our lives that are ‘in this world’. He connects this phrase with a word that means ‘a breath’ or ‘wind’. And it also means ‘a mystery’ or ‘something that is difficult to understand’.
The author writes about many things that are not fair in this world. For example:
· People are cruel to other people, but they suffer no punishment.
· People work hard, but they do not benefit from their efforts.
· Good people suffer, but bad people receive rewards.
· Both good people and bad people die in the same manner.
· Wise people and foolish people all die.
At that time, most people believed that God punishes evil people during their lives in this world. Most people did not understand that there will be a judgement after death. But the author proves that sometimes, bad people have pleasant lives. And he also proves that good people often suffer during their lives in this world. These things are not fair. But God is always fair. So the author thinks about whether people’s *spirits continue to live after the death of their bodies (Ecclesiastes 3:21). If they do, then God could issue a fair judgement about each person after that person’s death.
However, the author does not answer his own question that is in Ecclesiastes 3:21. In many other places, the Bible says clearly that there will be a judgement after death. (See, for example, Revelation 20:11-15.) God will be the judge of every person. And God’s judgements will all be fair and they will all be right. The author of Ecclesiastes does not explain these things. Instead, he emphasises things that seem unfair to us.
People have 2 main ideas about the author’s attitude:
1. The author’s attitude is complete despair OR
2. The author has an attitude of both despair and hope.
Our opinion is that the second idea is right.
It is clear that there is a sense of despair in this book. The author has had sad experiences. So he often expresses his sad thoughts. He believes that our lives have no permanent value. It is impossible for people to know the answers to all their questions. Some writers who study Ecclesiastes emphasise this attitude. They believe that the author was a man without any hope. He did not believe that God ruled.
However, Ecclesiastes is a book that a ‘wise man’ wrote. These were men that most people in Israel respected because of their wisdom. *Israel’s ‘wise men’ in the Books of Proverbs and Job believed strongly that God does control things. And they believed that God is good, kind and fair. But they were not afraid to discuss things that seem unfair. They tried hard to understand these things. And they believed that genuine wisdom comes only from God (Job chapter 28; Proverbs 3:5-6).
That is why the Book of Ecclesiastes seems to contain two different opinions. Sometimes those opinions seem to be the opposite of each other. The writer of Ecclesiastes discusses many unfair things. But he also shows that God is generous. God wants people to enjoy their life and their work (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26). God shows people how they must act in order to please him (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7). And God has taught people that wisdom is a wonderful thing (Ecclesiastes 10:13-17).
The writer urges people to live wisely. People can live wisely only if they have a relationship with God. That is why the author urges people to remember God’s gifts. Young people in particular should remember that God made them (Ecclesiastes 12:1). He created them, and so their lives belong to him. Of course, older people should remember this too. But people should start to serve God before they become old. That is much better. People should not neglect God until they are old and weak. That is a foolish attitude. We should not waste our opportunity to live in a manner that pleases God.
People who are wise will be afraid to make God angry. They will realise that they cannot expect to solve all their problems. They will trust God. So they will believe that they are alive for a purpose. And there will be a time when God will be the judge. Everyone will stand in front of him and they will hear his judgement. Therefore people can be confident. But also they should be cautious about what happens after death.
Verse 1 Our translation here uses the word ‘Teacher’. The word means someone who gathered people together to speak to them. Some translations use the word ‘Speaker’ or ‘*Preacher’. King David’s son might mean Solomon. Or it might mean another king who was from David’s family. Solomon was famous because he was wise (1 Kings 10:24). The writer or editor was someone who was like Solomon. He wanted to understand why we are alive.
Verses 2-3 The words ‘in this world’ show what the Teacher is thinking. (The *Hebrew words say ‘under the sun’.) The Teacher speaks about people who think only about their life in this world. He shows what their life is like for them here. They have left God out of their lives. People cannot trust that anyone or anything in this world will make them completely happy. They cannot achieve anything that will last. And soon, their life ends. Work is hard. And although you work during your whole life this seems to have no real reward. The Teacher thinks in the end that this is a puzzle. We cannot understand it.
Verses 4-11 are a poem that describes history. Nothing in human history and nothing in nature moves forward. Things always seem to change. But they remain as they were. People are born and people die. But the earth, that they come from, never changes. The sun, the wind and the streams return again and again to where they begin. There is nothing new in people’s experience. Nobody in the future will remember people and events from the past.
Verse 5 In Psalm 19:4-5, the writer describes the sun, ‘like a bridegroom in his splendid clothes’. And here the writer describes that sun as he would describe a person. The sun ‘hurries’ back to where it started. The *Hebrew word ‘hurry’ refers to someone who is running. So the sun is like someone who is running. And he is struggling to breathe. The sun is eager to return to where it started. Or perhaps the writer thinks that the sun is tired. It must rise and it must go down again daily.
Verse 6 The wind seems to be free. It may blow where it chooses to blow (John 3:8). The Teacher thinks about the wind’s constant movement. It is always changing the place from where it blows. But it always comes back to its first direction.
Verse 7 Streams flow into the sea but they never manage to fill the sea. The streams continue to flow. Job spoke about water that comes from streams. Water comes from the clouds and it comes from the rain. Then it returns to the streams (Job 36:27). Water goes up from the sea as mist and it returns as rain.
Verse 8 Our senses are like the sea, which is never full. There is no end to what we can see. And there is no end to what we can hear. It is impossible to describe this tired person. He looks at the world that God created. After God had made Adam and Eve they did not obey him (Genesis 3:17-19). Then God said that they will have troubles because of their wicked deeds.
Verses 9-11 Everything that existed in the past will continue to exist. People will continue to do everything that they have done before. The Teacher is describing events to us. They will happen in this way if we think about the world without God. Then nothing can change. This is different from what the *Israelites believed. They believed that God controls human history. God can change people and events. One example is Joseph. His brothers had intended to hurt him. But Joseph believed that God had a purpose for him. God intended him to save lives in Egypt (Genesis 50:20).
People often think that they have found new things. People may invent something that is new. But they use what God has created. And people soon forget what happened in the past. They do not remember people who lived before them. The word ‘people’ can also mean ‘things’. So people also forget things. And they forget events that were in the past. People always want something ‘new’.
Verses 12-13 Here it seems that the Teacher was King Solomon. He decided that he would try to discover the purpose of our lives. He would think very carefully about people’s experience. He wanted to search for purpose, but it was very difficult. God has given a strong desire to everyone. They all want to discover the truth about why we live in this world. And God wants people to discover the truth. He is the only answer to the purpose of our lives. So people are not peaceful without God.
Verse 14 People cannot expect to control the wind. In the same way, they cannot expect to understand all that happens in the world.
Verse 15 The words say that people cannot do everything. Sometimes they cannot change their circumstances. People must realise that they cannot know everything.
Verse 16 The Teacher said that he had become very wise. He was wiser than the kings who had ruled before him. He knew a lot about wise behaviour. He knew a lot of facts about the world. But he wanted to understand more. He wanted to be really wise all the time. And he wanted to understand what stupid behaviour and foolish behaviour meant. Although he searched carefully he was not successful. He felt like somebody who was trying to catch the wind. It was an impossible task.
Verse 18 When you know more about people and about situations, you will worry more. You will think about whether you should help to discover a solution to the problems. You will be sad because people suffer. And you will not always understand why some things go wrong.
Verses 1-2 The Teacher decided to test himself. He wanted to learn what the purpose of his life was. So he made a decision that he would try to be happy. He tells us the result from his test before he gives the details of his experiment. He thinks in the end that no kind of fun satisfies people completely. Whatever he does, it disappoints him in the end. He felt like this because he did not think about God.
Verse 3 He drank wine. He tried other ‘foolish activities’ but he does not describe those activities. And he thought carefully about it all. He asked himself this question. What has real value for people during their life on the earth?
Verses 4-11 The words ‘for myself’ show that he was thinking only about himself. Like King Solomon, he lived in a wealthy and comfortable way.
Verse 4 The ‘houses’ here are like Solomon’s splendid buildings. (See 2 Chronicles 8:1-6.) The Teacher refers to ‘God’s house’ in Ecclesiastes 5:1-7. People put plants that are called vines in *vineyards. And these plants produce small fruit that are called grapes. Then people squeeze the grapes to get juice. Then they make wine from the juice.
Verse 5 Gardens belonged to important people. A person needed a lot of land where he could plant so many trees and plants.
Verse 6 There was a pool in Jerusalem called the ‘king’s pool’ (Nehemiah 2:14). Another writer thought that Solomon had made it.
Verse 7 The Teacher owned many slaves. This showed to everyone that he was wealthy. Every day Solomon needed enormous numbers of animals to provide the meals for his people. He had to feed all the people who lived in his palace (1 Kings 4:22-23).
Verse 8 King Solomon had great quantities of gold (1 Kings chapter 10). And silver was ‘as common as stone’ (1 Kings 10:27). Apart from his personal wealth, he also received gifts. And money came to him from taxes in foreign countries where he ruled.
Singers provided music to please his guests at splendid meals.
Many women belonged to him. They lived with him in addition to his real wives. Apart from his many wives, King Solomon had 300 other women who lived in his home (1 Kings 11:3).
Verse 9 The Teacher says that he was the most powerful person in Jerusalem. He was the most powerful person who had ever lived there. But he reminds his readers that he always continued to think wisely. He wanted to test and to discover why people live in this world. Everything that he did was for that reason.
Verses 10-11 The Teacher had done his experiment in a way that tested everything. He had wanted to enjoy everything. And he was happy with his work. He was interested in his work as he continued his plans. But then he thought about what he had achieved. He thought about all his hard work. Then he realised the truth. He had done it all to please himself. And this disappointed him. There is no permanent benefit if you search merely for your own happiness. It is impossible to discover the purpose of our lives. It is like someone who tries to catch the wind.
Verse 12 The Teacher thinks about whether future kings would examine the same problems. They should examine the problems as carefully as the Teacher had examined them.
Verses 13-14 He thinks in the end that wisdom has value. It is better to be wise. Light and darkness show the difference between good things and bad things. Wise people know what they should do. Foolish people are like someone who tries to travel in the dark. But at the end, the same thing happens both to wise people and to foolish people. They all die.
Verses 15-17 The Teacher thought about whether wise people have any advantage. A wise person dies and a fool dies. It was a puzzle. Everyone soon forgets both wise people and foolish people. So the Teacher thought in the end that there was no answer to these puzzles at this time. It was like someone who tries to catch the wind. But the Teacher will get nearer to the answer later.
Verses 18-19 The Teacher thinks that he must die soon. Then he will leave behind everything in the world. Another person will benefit from all his hard work. And he will not know whether or not that person appreciates his work. Perhaps that person will destroy the work. People do not always appreciate something that they have not worked for. King Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, showed that, when he became king. He was so foolish that he destroyed the unity in Solomon’s *kingdom (1 Kings 12:1-19).
Verses 20-23 The Teacher did not think that it was fair. Other people ought not to enjoy the results from the Teacher’s hard work. He had worked hard and worried a lot during his life. He had suffered strain in his body and he had suffered mental strain. Every day, he had to think about difficult problems. At night, he could not sleep because he was worrying. So he thought in the end that hard work was not the satisfactory answer. He was still looking for the real purpose of our lives.
Verses 24-25 The Teacher is wise, but he has failed to discover the purpose of our lives. Pleasure has not satisfied him completely. Hard work has disappointed him because he must die. And he will leave behind all that he has achieved. Another person will benefit from his work and that person may not deserve it. The Teacher’s experiments have all been about our life in this world. But it has been without reference to God. In these verses, the Teacher begins to change his attitude. Now he shows that our life is a gift from God. So he can enjoy his life. To ‘eat’ and to ‘drink’ means to be content.
Verse 26 People who please God will recognise God’s gifts. They recognise that everything comes from God. And God wants people to enjoy his gifts to them. ‘Everything that God created is good. You should thank God for it.’ (That is 1 Timothy 4:4.) The foolish person, who takes no notice of God, must work too. The foolish person gets no satisfaction from his work. And he gets no satisfaction from all the things that he gains. They benefit ‘the person who pleases God’. The Teacher does not explain how this would happen. Many people are without God. It is also difficult to understand what happens to them. It is like someone who is trying to catch the wind.
Verses 1-2 The poem begins with a general statement that there is a right time for everything. It then describes all people’s activities that God rules over. However, the right action depends on the circumstances.
Verses 2-3 Three pairs of words about time describe people’s activities here. Some activities create things and other activities destroy things.
1) There is a right time for a farmer to plant his seed. There is a right time for him to harvest his crop. The words ‘to plant’ and ‘to pull up’ may also refer to God’s actions. He had ‘planted’ *Israel in their country like a farmer plants his seed. But *Israel’s people did not obey God, so God had to punish them. He allowed their enemies to destroy their nation. The enemies were stealing the ‘crop’.
2) ‘To kill’ may mean ‘to suffer’ (or ‘to have difficulties’) as well. *Israel’s people had difficulties because they had not obeyed God. Only God could ‘cure’ the nation. He would rescue the nation if the people began to obey him. God said this in Deuteronomy 32:39: ‘I cause death and I make people alive.’
3) ‘To pull down’ and ‘to build up’ describe people’s actions. They could be either bad actions or good actions. To gossip about someone can ‘pull down’ (ruin) that person’s character. There is never a right time to speak cruel words about people. Words that encourage will ‘build up’ a person. Those words help him to become a more confident person. God told Jeremiah ‘to tear down’. God told him also ‘to build up’. Jeremiah must remove wrong beliefs and actions. He must warn nations that God would be their judge. He also gave a message that spoke about hope (Jeremiah 1:10). The *Jews were living in a distant country called Babylon. But Jeremiah caused them to hope. At the right time, God would take them back to their own country. He would ‘build them up and he would not tear them down’ (Jeremiah 24:6).
Verse 4 People should show emotion at the proper time. It is sometimes right to weep. And it is sometimes right to laugh. It is right to be sad about a death. There is a right time to be unhappy about people’s wrong actions. But on a special day or at a special event people can be very happy. King David was very pleased that God’s special box was going into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:14-15). So it was good that he danced. He wanted to praise God.
Verse 5 There are several possible meanings for ‘to scatter stones’ and ‘to gather stones’.
1) It might refer to when people are preparing a field. Men need to clear the stones away before they can plant a crop (Isaiah 5:2). Then people can gather those stones to build a wall round the field (Matthew 21:33).
2) People sometimes scattered stones on a field because they wanted to ruin an enemy’s crops (2 Kings 3:19, 25). ‘To gather’ perhaps means ‘to show friendship’. Perhaps friends would help someone to clear the stones from his ground.
3) ‘To scatter stones’ may mean ‘to destroy’. Then ‘to gather stones’ would mean ‘to build again’.
4) It might be a special way in *Hebrew to talk about sex. It may refer to two people when they have sex. So, there is a time to have sex. And there is a time not to have sex (1 Corinthians 7:1-7).
Verse 5 There is a suitable time to hug someone. That shows friendship or love. But there is a time when you should not hug them. It is not always proper to hold people in that way.
Verse 6 You may lose something. There is a time to search for it. But there is also a time to stop searching. There is a time to keep things. And there is a time to throw away things.
Verse 7 When people were sad they would tear their clothes. They did it on purpose. For example, Jacob tore his clothes when he was very sad. He thought that Joseph, his son, was dead (Genesis 37:34). Also Joel wrote about people who tore their clothes. He said that the *Jews should be more sad about their *sins than about other things (Joel 2:13).
A foolish person talks too much and he talks at the wrong time. ‘He likes to declare his own opinions’ (Proverbs 18:2). We should be silent when we are listening. We should not share secret information with other people (Proverbs 20:19). But there is also a right time to speak. It might be the right time to correct someone. Perhaps they did not understand what someone had said. Perhaps other people had not understood them. Perhaps it is an opportunity to encourage other people. God is sometimes silent as he waits for people. He wants them to obey him. So he gives them time while they decide to obey.
Verse 8 ‘To love’ means really to care about other people. ‘To hate’ does not mean to feel a bad emotion towards another person. It means to hate *sin. We should hate all bad things and hate all bad actions. And we should try to improve bad situations. ‘Hate what is evil. Love what is good.’ (That is Amos 5:15.)
People go to war at certain times. But when the war ends, then people can have peace. They can feel safe and happy. In the *Old Testament we read that God sometimes used war to punish bad people.
Verses 9-11 The Teacher begins to speak about how God controls history. Also, God gives us a desire to understand our future beyond time. Time does not control God. His name is ‘I am’ (Exodus 3:14). God has made us similar to him (Genesis 1:26). So it is part of our nature to think about the future. We want to understand what happens after our life in this world. But people can never understand God’s plans completely.
Verses 12-13 God wants people to be content as they live. People can enjoy their food, because God gave it to them. They should enjoy their work too. We should not think that it has no real purpose. We know when we want to please God. And then our work is valuable (1 Corinthians 15:58).
Verse 14 God’s actions are permanent. We can trust God. What he does gives the best results.
Verse 15 The first part of this verse is like Ecclesiastes 1:9-11. It might seem that our situation on earth is without hope. But the similar words here suggest hope. God controls history. God cares about people who have suffered in the past. But ‘God makes the same things happen again and again.’ So God controls both events and people.
Verse 16 The Teacher had noticed the way that the judges worked. They did not act as they should act. They expected that people would give money to them. Then the judges would say that a rich person was innocent. But they would not say that a poor man was innocent. If the poor man had no money, he could not give it to the judges. So their decision would be against the poor man. King Jehoshaphat warned his judges to think carefully about their work. They must remember that they were the people’s servants. They were God’s servants too (2 Chronicles 19:5-7). In the *New Testament, Jesus told a story about a judge who was not fair. He would not help a poor widow (Luke 18:1-5). Perhaps that was because she had no money to give to him.
Verse 17 The man who wrote Psalm 73 could not understand the world. He did not know why wicked people seemed to have a very good life in the world. But he went to *worship God. Then he realised that there is an answer to the problem. In the end, God will punish those wicked people. The Teacher also realised that God’s judgement will come. God will be the judge of everyone after their death. The judge of all the earth will do what is right (Genesis 18:25). All the good people and all the bad people will have to stand in front of God. He will be the judge of everyone. He will be the judge of our actions and of our decisions. Perhaps we neglect what we should do. But our judge will see what we have neglected. The *New Testament teaches this clearly. Jesus taught it in his story about the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46).
Verses 18-22 In verse 19, the word ‘breathe’ is almost the same as the word ‘*spirit’, which is in verse 21. The Teacher thinks about how people and animals are alike. They both breathe because they are both alive. They both die in the end. They came from the earth or from ‘dust’ (Genesis 2:7, 19). And they will return to the dust when they die (Genesis 3:19). Their graves will be in the earth and their bodies will become dust again. So the bodies of people have no advantage over the bodies of animals. The *spirit of an animal just refers to their breath, which is just physical. But the Teacher thinks about whether any part of a human being goes up to heaven. Nobody can be sure about what happens to people after their death. Therefore, the Teacher thought in the end that it is best for a person to enjoy their life here on the earth. But Christians can be sure about a future that is in heaven. The *New Testament shows this (John 10:25; 11:25). Three times the Teacher has given the advice that people should enjoy their lives. (See also Ecclesiastes 2:24; 3:12). ‘Work’ may include all the activities that people can enjoy. This type of ‘work’ is God’s gift. ‘Nobody can know what will happen in the future.’ The Teacher also may be referring to people who have died. Perhaps they will know nothing more about events in this world.
This chapter contains several subjects.
Verse 1 Powerful people can cause other people to suffer and to have troubles. A bad ruler encourages bad officials. And they cause his people to suffer (Proverbs 29:12). Judges can lie. They might say that wicked rich people are innocent. And they might say that innocent poor people are guilty. The Teacher saw that poor people were suffering. Merchants cheated them. The merchants would not weigh things properly. And then they charged too much money for things of poor quality (Amos 8:5-6). People were afraid of those men with power. So nobody was willing to help the poor people who had these troubles.
Verses 2-3 The people who have died do not suffer. And the people who are not yet born cannot see all the wicked things. People do terrible things on the earth. So it is better for those who are not yet born. That is what the Teacher thinks, anyway. The people who are alive will suffer. And the people who have died also suffered. They all had troubles while they lived on this earth.
Verse 4 People often see all the things that other people have. They look at other people and they become jealous. So perhaps they spend much time and effort as they try to be successful. However, they may not always produce a good result. They may neglect their family and they may lose their friends. They may lose their own good health too.
Verse 5 The lazy man is different from the man who works too hard. The *Hebrew text says that the fool ‘folds his hands’. This means, ‘he has decided not to work’. The result is that he ruins himself. He becomes so poor that he has nothing to eat. Then he dies. Or he becomes so selfish that other people do not respect him. In the end, he does not respect himself.
Verse 6 If you have enough, it seems better to live without too much effort. Then your life will be quiet and calm. It is better to be content than to be jealous. To gain a lot, you must work too much. And if you work too hard you do not achieve anything really worthwhile. This behaviour is like someone who is trying to catch the wind.
Verses 7-8 These verses describe a man who has no family. He works hard and he becomes rich. But he is not happy with the results. He has no pleasure in anything. He does not know who will benefit from all his work. The man who wrote Psalm 39:6 wrote something similar: ‘A person gains wealth. But he does not know who will get it.’
Verses 9-11 The Teacher has thought about the lonely man. Now he realises the advantages if someone has a companion. The companion may be a friend, a husband or a wife. They benefit each other.
If a person fell, especially at night, it might be dangerous. There might be nobody available to help. But to ‘fall’ does not always refer to a physical accident. It may refer to any difficulty, perhaps in business. It may be the result when we do something wrong. A friend can advise us, and a friend can give practical help to us. Two people who sleep together may be a husband and a wife. But in the country called Israel the nights can be cold. And travellers sometimes slept close to each other.
Verse 12 This is another example that shows a friend’s value. Someone may attack a man who is travelling alone. Jesus told a story about a man who was travelling. He was walking to the town called Jericho. Somebody attacked the man as he walked along the road (Luke 10:30). This man was travelling alone. But if someone is travelling with a friend, they can protect each other.
A rope is a thick string that is very strong. A person winds several strings together to make rope. In this verse, the strings refer to people. One string is not very strong. In a similar way, just one person is not very strong. But there seems to be something special about 3 people who work together. King David had 3 very special soldiers (2 Samuel 23:18). In the *New Testament Jesus had Peter, James and John who were his closest friends. Some writers think that the 3 strings refer to a husband, a wife and a child. When people have married, the birth of a child will make their love stronger. Other writers think that one string refers to God. God is the partner that makes a husband and wife or a friendship much stronger.
Verses 13-14 Usually the *Israelites thought that old people were wise. The Teacher does not mention anyone’s name. But when King David was old, he was like the foolish king. He had ruled for a long time. He had forgotten what his people needed. He did not appoint a king to follow him. Finally, his friend, Nathan, and his wife, Bathsheba, told him what his young son, Adonijah, was trying to do. (See 1 Kings 1:1 – 27.) Old King David still thought that he was wise (Proverbs 26:12). In, Job 32:4-11, Elihu said, ‘It is not only old people who can be wise.’ The *Israelites thought that ‘young’ meant under 30 years old. Many years ago, young Joseph was in prison. But he became an important ruler in the country called Egypt (Genesis 41:14; 41-43).
Verses 15-16 At first the new young king was popular with many people. But later he was not popular with many other people. Perhaps it was not his fault. Perhaps he became so familiar to them that the people wanted a change. People can be loyal for a time. Then their children become adults and those new adults want someone different as their leader. All this has no purpose. It is like someone who is trying to catch the wind.
Verse 1 The Teacher warns people about how they should approach God. ‘God’s house’ may mean the holy building that is called ‘the *temple’. It is in the city called Jerusalem. Or it may mean any place where people go to *worship God. ‘To listen’ means to take in carefully. And we must obey what we hear. People need to think carefully before they offer a gift to God. Then they will show that they really want to give honour to him. ‘To obey God is better. To give a gift to him is less important.’ (See 1 Samuel 15:22.) People are stupid if they do not intend to obey God. *Worship is foolish if it is only a custom. That kind of *worship is not sincere. The people are just imitating other people’s ideas. They are not showing that they themselves really want to *worship God. They may think that they are doing the right thing. But they may be doing something that is wrong.
Verses 2-3 are about prayer. We cannot behave towards God as we sometimes behave towards people. Jesus taught us to pray, ‘Our Father who is in heaven’. ‘In heaven’ reminds us that we must not speak to God carelessly. He is great because he made everything. And he is the great Judge who makes decisions about all men and all women. We must think before we speak. And we must not be impatient. Also, Jesus himself taught us that there is no need to say a lot (Matthew 6:7).
Verses 4-6 People make serious promises to God. A man and a woman make serious promises to each other when they marry. People may promise to give something to God. Or they may promise to do something for him. Here are some examples:
1) Jacob wanted God to protect him. So he made a serious promise to God. Jacob said that he would give to God one from every 10 of his possessions (Genesis 28:20-22).
2) Hannah promised that she would give her son to God (1 Samuel 1:11). Her son, Samuel, served God during all his life.
3) Jonah made a serious promise to give a gift to God. He wanted to thank God because God had rescued him from danger (Jonah 2:9).
A person is free to decide whether he promises something to God. So it is right to think carefully about it first. People should be sure that they can do that thing (Deuteronomy 23:21-23).
The leader would be an official person who worked in the *temple. The person has not done what he promised to God. So the leader would ask the person why he has not done it. The person must not answer just with an excuse. He must not say only that the promise was a mistake. He could not merely say that he wanted God to forgive him for the mistake. So the priest must stand and speak to God on behalf of the person. Perhaps the person had not intended to do a bad thing. But he was careless (Leviticus 4:22, 27). God would be angry about a careless attitude to a promise. Whatever the person did in the future might not be successful.
Verse 7 Many dreams have no use. And people may talk a lot but their words have no value. So a wise person will be afraid to make God angry. They will use only a few sincere words when they talk to him.
Verse 8 Where there are many officials, it is very hard for a poor person. He cannot obtain a fair decision. He cannot afford to give money to the officials. He must wait while the officials make excuses. Maybe they do nothing. Or maybe they send him to another official. People should realise that this happens in the world. Each official watches the other officials and each official takes a part of the taxes.
Verse 9 The *Hebrew text is not clear. These are three possible explanations of this verse.
1) The people’s work was agriculture. Perhaps it was better to have a king and his officials. This was true, even if some officials were unfair.
2) Some people think that these words praise a king like Uzziah. He liked agriculture (2 Chronicles 26:10).
3) A king exists to protect the country. This should benefit everyone who lives there.
There are three reasons why money cannot satisfy its owner.
1. Verse 10 People who have a lot of money often want more money. A man who earns a lot of money wants to earn even more money. Some people play games to gain more money. But what they gain does not satisfy them.
2. Verse 11 Money attracts other people who want to depend on wealthy people. Then the wealthy people have extra responsibilities. So there are more demands on the money. The owner has gained nothing for himself except something that he can look at. He cannot enjoy his wealth, because extra costs use all his money.
3. Verse 12 The poor man sleeps well at night after his hard work. Whether he has had enough to eat or not, he is free from anxious thoughts. But the rich man stays awake. He cannot sleep. Perhaps he has eaten too much and he has a pain in his stomach. Or perhaps he is worrying about his money and his possessions, so he cannot sleep.
Verses 13-14 A person may save his money. He may work to protect his money. But he may not be wise in his business decisions. So he may lose all his money. Or he may lose it suddenly for some other reason. Then he would have nothing to give to his children.
Verses 15-16 Babies have nothing when they are born. They do not even have clothes! And people cannot take their possessions with them when they die. But people can forget this. If their hard work is only for their own satisfaction, it will not benefit them in the end. It is like people who are trying to catch the wind. But verse 18 will provide the answer. (See below.)
Verse 17 These people are very unhappy. They often feel disappointed and they worry a lot. Hard work and worry can affect their health so that they become ill. Sometimes they are angry because their plans fail.
Verses 18-19 The Teacher has talked about the wealthy person who was not aware of God. Here he describes the life that God has given to the wise person. The words ‘to eat and to drink’ mean ‘to be happy with friends’. A person can enjoy hard work too because it is God’s gift. God gives wealth to some people. Also he gives to them the power so that they can enjoy that wealth. People will enjoy things that they use wisely. But what they have depends on God. And people must remember that. In the *New Testament, Paul wrote this in Philippians 4:12: ‘I have learnt the secret about how to be content in any situation and in every situation.’
Verse 20 We should enjoy all that God gives to us. Then our days will be full of happy activity and the time will pass quickly. There will be little opportunity to worry. We will not think about why we do not live for a long time. We will not try to understand why we are alive. As a result, we will sleep well.
Verses 1-2 A person may be famous and wealthy. But, for some reason, he cannot enjoy his life. He may become tired of his possessions. Or maybe he has to leave them. It is sad if a stranger will enjoy those possessions.
Verses 3-6 People thought that it was good to have many children in a family. They thought that God was *blessing that family especially. (See Psalm 127:3-5.) In this passage, 100 children sounds like too many children for one man. But a man who had many wives could have a great number of children. (Read, for example, about Gideon in Judges 8:30.) And people thought that a long life was good. Old people thought that God was *blessing them especially. But it was very bad to die without a proper grave. This showed that the dead person had no value. Jeremiah spoke about the wicked king who was called Jehoiakim. Nobody will be sad about his death. And his body will have no grave (Jeremiah 22:18-19).
Someone might have many children and he might live for a long time. But if he is not happy, then it is a sad situation. So it would be better for him if he had died before his birth. Sometimes, sadly, a child is born dead. Such a child never knows what happens here on the earth. Our lives are a gift from God. God wants us to think about him while we are alive. And God wants us to think about other people. Nobody knows what a dead baby’s character might have become. But this child does not have to live with difficulties and troubles. So the dead baby’s rest is more peaceful than the rich man’s rest. The rich man might live twice as long as Methuselah. He was the oldest man who ever lived (Genesis 5:27). But everyone dies in the end. Then they are all like the child who died at birth. These verses imagine that no part of us lives after death. Then people may think in the way that the Teacher describes. However, a Christian thinks in a different way.
Verses 7-9 A person works in order to live. ‘We never get enough’ may mean this: We must always continue to work in order to stay alive. And we always think that we need more things. Instead, people should enjoy the things that they have.
Verses 10-11 A person cannot change the way that things are. He should be humble. The first man’s name was ‘Adam’. And it means that he came from the earth. God created us from dust (Genesis 3:19, 20). Nobody can win an argument with God. But Job tried to demand an answer from God. Job could not understand why he was suffering. But finally he realised that God is greater than any person. It is impossible for a person to understand God’s ways (Job 42:2-3).
Verse 12 The Teacher is thinking about two problems. He will try to answer his own questions in the next chapters. It is a mystery why we are alive. He thinks about whether anything can have permanent value. A person’s life ends so soon. It passes as quickly as a shadow. Also, after a person dies he cannot know anything. He does not know his own future. And he cannot know what will happen in the world after his death. So a person who does not believe God has nothing certain in his life. He does not know what to do about his future. He does not expect to live after his body has died.
The Teacher does not continue to ask questions. Instead, he uses many special sentences that are called ‘proverbs’.
Verses 1-4 Oil that had a sweet smell was precious. It made people’s skin soft and smooth. It is better to have a good character than to be pretty or handsome. For some people, death frees them from painful experiences and from unhappy problems. The Teacher thinks about death and about the times when we are sad. He says that these thoughts are valuable. They remind people to live in the right way. The foolish person thinks only about how to enjoy himself. He does not remember that his life will end soon. He is like the farmer in Jesus’ story in the *New Testament. The farmer spoke to himself and said this. ‘Eat and drink. Enjoy yourself.’ But God called him a fool. God said that the farmer would die during that night (Luke 12:19-20).
Verse 5 Nathan blamed King David because David had taken Uriah’s wife. And David caused Uriah to die (2 Samuel 12:1-12). Nathan helped the king to recognise his *sin. Then David asked God to forgive his *sin. A true friend will warn someone if he is doing some wrong thing. He will warn his friend if he is saying wrong things. Sometimes a person praises people when they do not deserve it. This gives to those other people wrong ideas about themselves. And wrong ideas can cause wrong actions.
Verse 6 Where there are few big trees, people must use thin, small branches as fuel for their fires. These burn very quickly and they may make a lot of noise. But they do not make much heat in order to cook things. The small branches burn too quickly and the pot does not boil. This is not useful. The foolish person laughs loudly for no reason and that benefits nobody.
Verse 7 When a person has troubles, it may not be his own fault. And even a wise person can become very foolish, then:
1. a) He becomes foolish because he begins to doubt God. He is not sure now that God is really good and fair. He believes God less.
b) Any advice that he gives may seem foolish to other people.
2. a) People may ask a wise man to act as a judge. He might accept money in order to make a wrong judgement. This will make him rich but it will spoil his character.
b) People choose wise men to be their leaders. But some people might want a special advantage, so they offer money to the wise leader. It is wrong for the leader to take this money. His character will suffer and he will not be completely wise afterwards.
Verse 8 Difficulties may make us better people. Those difficulties will last for a period only. Some difficult responsibilities may last longer than we expect. But a humble person will be patient, because he trusts God. A proud person is not patient with God. Proud people forget that God made them.
Verse 9 The Teacher warns people who are in difficult situations or in unhappy situations. They must control themselves. Only foolish people allow themselves to remain angry for a long time. They will have trouble with other people. And foolish people will never be at peace.
Verse 10 It is not wise to think only about the past. Do not say always that the past was better than the present. The *Israelites thought about how things were in Egypt. But they remembered only the good food that they had enjoyed there (Numbers 11:5-6). They forgot all the things that they had suffered there as slaves. The things that were evil in the past may be different for people now. But each age has difficulties and problems. When people think only about the past, they do not do anything in the present. And they do not appreciate what is good in the present times.
Verses 11-12 In Proverbs 3:13-18, we can read about wisdom. To be wise is more precious than silver, gold, or precious stones. Here the Teacher says that wisdom is more valuable than precious things. When a father dies, his possessions are valuable to his children. But wisdom is more valuable. Wisdom is also like money when you have enough. The money provides security from danger. Both wisdom and money are like a shelter, and their shelter guards our lives.
Verses 13-14 There is a limit to what people know. And there is a limit to what a wise person can do. These verses repeat that we cannot change things. (See Ecclesiastes 1:15 also.) We cannot change the way that God has made things. There are events in our life that we must accept. We may not like what is happening. Good events allow us to enjoy our life. But bad events help us to think more seriously about our life. The wisest way is to trust God whatever the circumstances are. We cannot know what will happen in the future. God always has a purpose in what he does. But we cannot always understand his purpose.
Verse 15 Most people think about this problem sometimes. Some people obey God. But they die while they are still young. This is a puzzle. For example, in Psalm 91:16 we read that God said this: ‘Because he loves me, I will satisfy him with a long life.’ But that does not happen always. Also, we see wicked people who seem to have easy and happy lives (Job 21:7-15). But God offers to us a life that is good quality. That is true, even if it is not very long.
Verses 16-17 These verses do not mean that there should be a limit to good behaviour. And they are not suggesting that we should be slightly wicked. It is not satisfactory just because you are not too wicked. Some people are very proud that they are ‘good’ people. They forget that nobody obeys God perfectly. In the *New Testament, Jesus told a story about that. A *Jewish man reminded God that he had obeyed the rules of his religion (Luke 18:9-14). This man thought that he was a good man. Jesus referred to people who were like this. And he said that he could not help them (Luke 5:32). They liked to think that they were very wise. They thought that other people should respect them (Matthew 23:5-7). The Teacher was warning against these wrong attitudes. All people have a desire to do wrong things. That is *sin. So it is important that people must control their own nature and their desires. They should not become fools. Fools do not believe that there is a God. They just want to behave in any way that they choose.
Verse 18 The Teacher warns the readers. They must not forget what the Teacher has said. People must not think too much about how good they are. They must not pretend to be wise. They must always try not to do wicked things.
Verse 19 The wise people who give honour to God are strong. They will have the power to act in the right way. They will be more powerful than any wise group of leaders. In this verse, 10 may mean a number that is not definite. Or it may be the exact number of rulers in a city.
Verse 20 Romans 3:23 says that people everywhere *sin. People do wrong things and they think wrong thoughts. They *sin because they do not respect God’s importance. So they neglect what God wants. (For example, see James 4:17.)
Verses 21-22 This is an example of how to be wise. Other people may insult you. But the words that people say affect their whole character (James 3:2). Wise people do not worry when other people speak bad words about them. It is also wise to remember your own words and your own thoughts. You may have insulted people too. Perhaps your words have hurt other people.
Verses 23-25 ‘These things’ refers to verses 19-22. The Teacher had examined the power that wise people can have. He had also shown that even a wise person cannot be perfect. The Teacher thought in the end that he could not discover the answer to the problems in our lives. There is a limit to what a person can understand about very difficult matters. The purpose of our life is a mystery for everyone. Verse 25 may start a new section. That may explain why this verse seems to have an opposite meaning to verse 24. Then the next verses describe what the Teacher discovered.
Verse 26 The Teacher has thought in a serious way about people’s characters. He thought in the end that some women want to catch men. They are like a hunter with a trap. These women want to see men do wrong things. This kind of woman will prevent people who want to escape from her. It was as if she tied up people with chains. This kind of woman may be someone who is attracting men to herself. She may want to have sex with them. But perhaps this ‘woman’ is a way to describe foolish ideas. These ideas cause people to do wrong things. The Book of Proverbs, in chapters 5 and 7, talks about foolish men. They agree when a woman suggests wrong things to them. Instead, we must be wise. We must not allow false ideas to attract us. If we respect God, then we will avoid the wrong thoughts. We know that these thoughts are like a trap. And bad women will try to persuade foolish men. In the *New Testament, the Christians who lived in the town called Colossae were in danger. That was because they were willing to believe false ideas. They needed to trust Christ only. Paul warned them not to become prisoners of those foolish ideas (Colossians 2:8).
Verses 27-28 The Teacher searched, but he did not find a good result. He found only a few good men. Perhaps he remembered Joseph from a long time ago. Joseph gave wise advice to the king in Egypt during a time when the crops did not grow. The king listened, and that advice saved the people (Genesis 41:33-40). The Teacher could not find a woman who was completely good. He thought that it would be very difficult. Perhaps that was because of Solomon’s own experiences with his many wives. But there were wise women in the Bible who were good, like Naomi (Ruth chapters 1 - 3) and Abigail (1 Samuel 25:2-25).
Verse 29 God created people who were honest and ‘fair’. The *Hebrew word for ‘fair’ also means ‘straight’. But this whole section is about people who do bad things. So this verse may refer to people who were not content to have good ‘straight’ characters. Instead, people used their clever thoughts to discover things for themselves. Then their minds became ‘bent’. This means that they were not fair or honest. They plotted wicked schemes.
Verse 1 The Teacher is telling us what a wise person is like. People’s faces usually show what sort of character they have. A wise person will not have a severe expression. Instead, wise people will have pleasant faces. This will show that they are kind people.
Verse 2 People made a serious promise to obey their king. All King David’s important officials and David’s other sons promised to be loyal to his son, Solomon (1 Chronicles 29:24). They asked God to be a witness to their promise. They made a serious promise to God. So they had to do what they had promised. If not, they had agreed that God should punish them.
Verses 3-4 To act against the king would be foolish. The king had absolute authority. So it was better to remain loyal to him. The king could punish people in whatever way that he chose. Nobody should ask him to explain his actions. Before the *Israelites had a king, God’s servant, Samuel, warned them. If they have a king, then they will have problems and difficulties (1 Samuel 8:10-18).
Verses 5-6 Wise people will choose the right time and the right way to approach the king. They will do right things and they will do them in the right way. Esther is one example. She chose the best way to speak to the king on behalf of the *Jews. She invited the king to eat some wonderful meals with her. So he became very curious (Esther 5:1-8). In every difficult situation, you must be wise and you must think carefully. You must consider the most suitable time and the most sensible way to act in that situation.
Verse 7 People feel unhappy because they cannot know their future. And nobody can help them to know about it.
Verse 8 There is a limit to people’s authority. Nobody can control the ‘wind’. This is the *Hebrew word ‘ruach’, which also means ‘*spirit’. So this ‘wind’ includes people’s *spirits. The same word also means ‘breath’. Death happens when a person does not breathe. Nobody can choose the day when they will die.
During a war, the army do not allow a soldier to leave. And, in the same way, wicked people cannot win the war against death.
Verse 9 People cannot choose how long they will live. But they do have the power to affect other people’s lives. They can cause trouble and pain for other people. And sometimes they can control other people. The *Hebrew words do not make it clear which person has the pain. It may refer to the person who is causing the pain. Or it may refer to the person who is receiving the pain. Both meanings are true. Those people who cause pain to other people damage their own character.
Verse 10 The Teacher saw many wicked people. They would visit the place where people *worshipped God. Perhaps this was in the city called Jerusalem. But they did not *worship God sincerely. They would act in evil ways. And the Teacher could not understand why other people respected those wicked people. He thought about why people gave honour to wicked people at their funerals. Perhaps people believed that they were *worshipping God in the right way. Or perhaps a person’s wicked deeds had gained wealth and success for him. Then people might praise him because they wanted to benefit in some way.
Verse 11 It is not good to delay the punishment that people get for their crimes. It encourages bad people to do more bad things. Because everything seems normal, sometimes other people start to do bad things too.
Verses 12-13 Wicked people think that God does not care about their actions. They forget that he is patient. God’s time is different from our time. And God wants everybody to have the opportunity to change their behaviour. Finally, God will punish wicked people. They may live for a long time, but one day they will die. A shadow becomes long in the afternoon, but it disappears quickly at night. God will *bless those people who are afraid to make him angry.
Verse 14 The Teacher repeats the problem that is a puzzle to him. People who deserve rewards receive punishment. But wicked people seem to receive rewards.
Verse 15 Many things are not fair in the world. But there does not seem to be any immediate answer to this puzzle. So the Teacher encourages people to enjoy their life. He has already given this advice 3 times (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25; 3:13; 5:18). God decides how much time each person can live on this earth. So, people should enjoy all the days that God gives to them. Then they will enjoy the hard work that they do.
Verses 16-17 The Teacher was eager. He wanted to discover the purpose of our lives. So he spent days without rest and he spent nights without sleep. He thought in the end that there is a limit. People cannot understand everything about God’s ways. Even wise people cannot do that, whatever they might say. They will never understand everything about the purpose of people’s lives. Because we are human, we must just trust God.
Verses 1-2 Nobody knows what will happen in the future. God has authority over people’s actions. We are responsible for our actions. However, God can reduce the damage that people might want to do. But people cannot know what God has prepared for each person. A good man may not have an easy life. But whatever happens during their life, all people have the same fate finally. If they are good, they will die. If they are bad, they will die. Those who offered gifts to God were serious about their religion. Other people did not offer anything to God. But all people will die. Some people promised things. They would or they would not do something for God. They promised God in a serious way. And they expected punishment if they did not do that thing. Other people did not promise things to God. But all people will die. (The Teacher was thinking as human beings think. That is why he made all these remarks. But God has told us that we can live for always after death.)
Verse 3 People do not think that their life is fair. It is painful for them to realise the truth. Everyone must die. Some people may be wicked and be foolish all through their lives. But their lives will end in the same way as other people’s do.
Verses 4-6 At that time, a dog was a dirty animal that lived in the street. To call someone a ‘dog’ was an insult. A lion is a powerful animal that is very strong. So people praised it (Proverbs 30:30). But even a dirty animal that is alive has an advantage. Even a royal animal that is dead has nothing. So it is better to be alive. People who are alive can prepare for their death. They can still share in events in the world. People who have died have nothing more. They cannot love anybody, nor can they hate anybody. They cannot be jealous of anyone. These feelings may refer to the people who are still alive as well. They do not think about those people who have died. Soon, they forget the dead people completely.
Verses 7-10 The Teacher is encouraging people to enjoy their life. That is what God intended. People’s nicest clothes in those days were white clothes. They wore them on special occasions. People used oil on their skin. The hot sun would burn them, but the oil prevented that. ‘To put oil on the head’ sometimes referred to God. It meant that he was *blessing a person in a special way. That person would be very happy (Psalm 23:5).
A man can still enjoy his life, even if he sometimes has troubles in this world. His wife, whom he loves, will help him. His wife is God’s gift to him. She will be his companion and she will encourage him in his duties during his life (Genesis 2:18). People should use all their mental and physical energy to deal with their responsibilities. When people have died, they just lie in a grave. They will be unable to work. They cannot use their ideas. They will be unable to discover new things and they will never become wiser.
Verse 11 The Teacher mentions several situations that he has seen. But sometimes they did not have the result that people expected. ‘Food’ may also refer to other things. Some examples are:
1) The young man who was called Asahel was a very fast runner. But Abner was able to kill him (2 Samuel 2:18).
2) Goliath was a very tall and strong man. He did not expect that someone as young as David would kill him (1 Samuel 17:41-51).
3) The strong army from Assyria prepared to destroy the city called Jerusalem. But God caused thousands of their soldiers to die suddenly. His soldiers’ deaths forced the king of Assyria to leave. And he did not attack the city (Isaiah 37:36-37).
Wise people, clever people and capable people may not always receive the rewards that they deserve. These results may surprise us. But these things happen for two reasons:
a) People do not always have enough time. Then they cannot do all that they want to do. Sometimes difficulties happen when people do not expect them. Our lives are in God’s control, so we can trust him.
b) We may say ‘chance’ (or ‘luck’) when we cannot control our circumstances.
Verse 12 We cannot know what will happen in the future. People can catch fish and birds in nets or traps and they cannot escape. This happens suddenly when the animals are not expecting trouble. And death happens to people suddenly. Other bad things may happen suddenly in our lives too.
Verses 13-15 The Teacher may be describing an actual incident. Or he may be using a story. But he wants to show that wise words can be important. Also he says that foolish people are not always grateful. And they may not take any notice of wise people’s advice. The powerful king’s army attacked a small city where only a few people lived. The army surrounded the city. Then the people who were inside the city could not get out. They could not obtain food or water. When they were starving, they could not fight. So the enemy soldiers built a huge pile of rocks, stones and earth against the city’s walls. They would be able to climb up this pile to get over the walls into the city. The poor man gave wise advice to the people and he saved their city. But, because he was poor, nobody remembered him later.
Verses 16-17 The Teacher emphasises what he believes. ‘Wisdom is better than strength.’ So it is good to be strong. But to be wise is better. This is true, although people did not appreciate the poor man in that little city. After his wisdom had saved the city, the people did not remember him. It is better to listen to calm advice from wise people. It is not useful when a ruler shouts at foolish people. It shows that the ruler cannot control his own temper.
Verse 18 If a person is wise, he is more powerful. Someone who fights with military arms is less powerful than the wise man. But even one foolish act can destroy many good things that a wise person has done.
Verse 1 This verse continues the thought that is in Ecclesiastes 9:18. It is very easy to ruin good things. Flies may fall into sweet oil that is called ‘perfume’. They make the sweet oil become bad. Its lovely smell becomes a very bad smell. In the same way, a foolish little act can spoil things. As a result, all the wise advice has become of no use.
Verse 2 The *Hebrew words say that people’s hearts lead them to the right or to the left. The *Hebrew word ‘heart’ means ‘mind’ or ‘thought’. ‘To go to the right’ means to live in an honourable way. It also means to do right things and skilful things. ‘To go to the left’ means to do wrong things. It is good to be wise so that we do the right things.
Verse 3 The fool does not know how to behave. People quickly see that he is very foolish. And he cannot prevent that. He talks too much (Ecclesiastes 5:3) and he laughs in a noisy way (Ecclesiastes 7:6). He is lazy, and he gets angry very quickly with little reason (Ecclesiastes 4:5; 7:9). A fool wants people to know his opinion (Proverbs 18:2). But nobody can trust him with a message (Proverbs 26:6).
Verse 4 The Teacher advises a person what to do. Perhaps a ruler or another person who has authority is angry with him. We do not know whether the man deserves the ruler’s anger. But the man must not be proud. He should stay in his place and he should continue to work. He should stay calm and he should respect the ruler. Then the ruler’s anger will not last. In the *New Testament, Peter advises slaves who have a severe master. Slaves should respect their masters, even when the masters are not fair to them (1 Peter 2:18-20).
Verses 5-6 A weak ruler may appoint the wrong people to do important jobs. ‘Rich’ may not mean financially rich. Rich people are the people who have much experience. But the ruler may not recognise that. So he gives to them a job that is not important. And everyone suffers.
Verse 7 Only kings and other important people rode on horses. Slaves had no power. The Teacher saw the usual rules and ideas change in the society. Slaves were enjoying authority and power as they rode on horses. But princes must walk like humble people with no power. The Teacher does not say how this happened. But it showed that the order in society is not permanent.
Verse 8 People sometimes dig deep holes as traps for animals. Perhaps a person would forget where he dug the hole. Then he might fall into it. In this verse, a ‘deep hole’ means that one person wants to cause trouble for another person. Jeremiah spoke about his enemies who were ‘digging a deep hole’ for him (Jeremiah 18:22). They were trying to stop Jeremiah’s work. King David said that his enemies had ‘dug a deep hole’ for him. So he prayed that they would fall into their own ‘hole’ (Psalm 35:7-8). His enemies had caused David to suffer. So he wanted them to suffer God’s judgement.
A snake might hide in a wall. If someone pulls stones out of the wall, the snake might bite them. Amos used this same idea to represent God’s judgement. He wanted to emphasise that the *Israelites would not be able to avoid God’s punishment (Amos 5:18-20).
Verse 9 Men cut and break rocks. Sometimes they work in a hole in the ground. This is dangerous work. To cut wood can be dangerous work also.
Verse 10 It is better to use a sharp axe. It is much more difficult to use a blunt axe. A wise person will think about his tools before he needs to use them. He will prepare his tools, so that he can work well in any kind of work. In the same way, he will prepare his words so that he can use them with the most effect.
Verse 11 Many people believe that music can have an effect on snakes. Some people use music to control the snake’s movement. But the snake may move quickly before the music starts. And the snake may bite a person who does not move away quickly enough. Then people will not pay the man who did not control the snake.
Verses 12-14 A wise man’s words are very different from a fool’s words. The wise man’s words help him to have a good relationship with other people. People will respect him. But a fool’s words ruin him. Everything that he says is stupid. He continues to talk. He thinks that he knows everything. He says what he will do in the future. But he knows nothing. Nobody knows what will happen in the future. In the *New Testament, Jesus talked about a farmer who was a fool. The farmer forgot that his life would end (Luke 12:13-21). And James warned Christians that they should not be too confident about their plans. They should say this: ‘We can do only what God allows us to do. If he allows us to live, we will do this or that’ (James 4:13-15).
Verse 15 The fool talks constantly, and that makes him very tired. He may think that he knows everything about the future. He is so stupid that he makes things difficult for himself. ‘He does not know which way to go.’ This means that he cannot do even the easiest things.
Verses 16-17 A foolish king and leaders who do not control their desires can cause great trouble for a country. But a wise ruler and other responsible leaders will help the nation to be safe and happy. King Solomon’s son, who was called Rehoboam, was a foolish king. He refused to listen to what the older people told him. They had a lot of experience. But Rehoboam decided to do what his foolish young friends suggested. The result was that his country divided into two parts (1 Kings 12:1-11, 16-19).
Isaiah also described foolish rulers. They got up early and they started to drink wine (Isaiah 5:11). The wine affected their minds so that they were foolish. That meant that they could not make fair judgements. And they were too selfish to care about it. They did not think about the nation that they were leading (Isaiah 5:22-23).
Verse 18 The beams in a house support the roof. A lazy man may neglect to repair his roof. Then the beams will fall and the rain will come into the house. And the rain will ruin the man’s whole house. In a similar way, this can happen to a country that has foolish rulers. If they are too lazy, they neglect their duties. And when they neglect their duties, they are destroying their nation.
Verse 19 A wise person can enjoy their pleasures. Wise people may like a good meal or they may like to drink a little wine. They will use those things in the right way. They will not be like the foolish leaders in verse 16. Amos spoke about rich people who loved luxury. And they were lazy. (See Amos 6:4-6.)
The reference to money is difficult for us to understand. It may mean –
Money is necessary to buy food and wine.
Money will buy everything that you need.
Money will buy everything that you want.
Money will pay people. Then they will do whatever you want them to do.
Verse 20 This is practical advice. You must be cautious about what you say. You may be angry because the leaders behave so badly. But it is not wise to blame them with strong words. If you control your thoughts, probably you will not say them aloud. If a ruler does not feel safe, he may suspect other people. He may think that they are plotting against him. So he will order his servants to listen secretly to any conversations. The servants can listen like birds, even in the most private place. And they will report to the ruler what they have heard. In many languages in the world people say, ‘A little bird told me.’ It means that they have heard a secret. So it is dangerous to make remarks about a ruler’s faults.
Verses 1-2 There are two explanations:
1. This is a reference to business. People must be willing to take risks during their life. ‘Throw your bread on the water.’ This may mean to send ships that contain grain to sea. The ships that carried grain might not return home for months or years. This was a great risk. King Solomon’s ships took grain and other products to sell. They did not come back for 3 years. But they returned with gold, silver and other things that they had gained (1 Kings 10:22). This would be advice to the businessman. He should avoid the situation where he obtains his income from just one place. Then, if there is any trouble, he will not lose all his money.
2. These verses are an order to give food to hungry people. Because difficulties may be coming, people should be generous to other people. They should share with as many people as they can. In the *New Testament, Paul and Barnabas took food to poor Christians in Jerusalem. The Christians there had difficulty. They could not buy food because supplies were not sufficient (Acts 11:27-30). Paul urged Christians to be generous. Then God would *bless them. And other people would know that they really believed Jesus (2 Corinthians 9:6-13).
Verse 3 There are certain things that we can know. We know about dark clouds. They show that soon the rain will come. We know about trees that fall in a storm. They will stay where they fall. But we cannot control the clouds. And we cannot control the storm’s effect on a tree. Difficulties may come when we expect them. (We expect rain from clouds.) Or problems may come when we do not expect them. (We do not know that the storm will blow a tree to the ground.)
Verse 4 Nobody should wait for the ideal situation before they begin to do their work. The farmer will never plant his seeds if he is always waiting for a ‘good wind’. He will never begin to harvest if he is always watching the clouds. And he will have no harvest if he does not plant the seed.
Verse 5 This is a possible translation of this verse. ‘You do not understand the wind or how the child breathes.’ The *Hebrew word ‘ruach’ means ‘wind’, and also, it means ‘*spirit’ and ‘breath’. The baby that is growing inside its mother is a mystery. The baby is alive and it has a *spirit. Jesus spoke about the wind and the *spirit when he answered Nicodemus. Jesus told him that his *soul could live for always (John 3:8). Today we understand more about the wind. We also understand more about how a baby grows inside its mother. But we still do not understand how God gives to each baby its character.
Verse 6 We do not know the future. But it is best to work hard. The farmer sows his seeds. He does not know how much will grow. But he works hard. And he hopes that it will produce a good crop. In the *New Testament, Paul told his young friend, Timothy, to tell the good news about Jesus at every opportunity. Timothy should not wait to see whether or not it seemed to be the right time (2 Timothy 4:2). ‘Let us not become tired when we are doing good things. At the proper time we will harvest a crop, if we do not give up’ (Galatians 6:9).
Verses 7-8 The *Hebrew words in verse 7 say ‘light is sweet’. It means that all the days in your life should be good. Each new day is a new opportunity. People should enjoy their life for as long as they live. But they must remember that old age will come with all its difficulties. Then death will come. And they will have no more opportunity to enjoy their life in this world. The Teacher thinks that there are many questions. He is not sure about what happens after death.
Verse 9 A young man should think about what he wants to do. He has the freedom to decide. But he should not choose to live in a way that has little value. He should choose what is the wisest way to live. ‘What you see’ means this: He should notice what is the best way to live. He must remember that God will be his judge. Also, God is the judge, even while people are living. God allows them to suffer the results of their wrong actions. But this verse probably refers to the final day of judgement. The *Hebrew words say that ‘God will bring you into the judgement.’ A person should not forget to act in the right way. We know that God is powerful. And his judgement will be completely fair.
Verse 10 We must concentrate on good thoughts if we want to enjoy our life. We will not be happy if we concentrate on angry thoughts or sad thoughts. We should try to remove anything that causes pain to our bodies. When people are young and strong they should enjoy themselves. This time of youth does not last for many years.
Verse 1 In Chapter 11:9 we read that a young man should remember God. It says this: ‘Do not forget that God is your judge.’ While a man is still young, he should think about God. God created him. So God has the right to demand things. And he demands that young people should obey him all their lives. This poem gives many examples that show old age. When we are old, many things may be more difficult. We may have more problems as we become old. We may not remember God because of those problems. Then we will be sorry that we cannot enjoy ourselves. These words can mean also that there is no more time for pleasure.
Verse 2 ‘Light’ is a way to describe ‘joy’. The sun, moon and stars shine with great or less powerful lights. And these lights refer to every kind of joy, both great and small. ‘Become dark’ refers to old age. Then we cannot enjoy all these things. Rain clouds continue to bring one storm after another. This means that troubles follow one another. This happens when we are old. There are physical problems and mental problems. And friends may die. Changes have to happen.
Verses 3-5 probably mean more than they actually say. They may mean something like this:
Your arms will shake and your legs will become weak. And you will be unable to guard your house. You will be like a mill without stones, because your teeth will fall out. And then you will not be able to eat properly. Your eyes will be like dirty windows, so that you will not be able to see clearly. You will not be strong enough to open the doors into the street. And it will be difficult for you to hear anything. You will not hear the stones that are making corn into flour. The birds’ song early in the morning will disturb you. Then you will get up too early. But it will be hard for you to hear music. You will be afraid to climb up to a high place. And you will expect to meet dangerous things in the street. Your hair will turn white like the flowers that are on the *almond tree. And you will drag yourself along like an old *grasshopper. You will not have any desires because you are too old.
Verse 3 Young people can protect a house from danger. Psalm 147:10 speaks about men’s legs as a sign of strength. Young people have strong legs and strong arms. But as a person becomes old, their arms and legs become weak.
A mill needs special big stones to make flour from corn. The Teacher thinks that people’s teeth are like those stones. Old people’s teeth often fall out. So they will find it difficult to eat.
Also, when people become old, their eyes cannot see as clearly.
Verse 4 Old people cannot open doors easily. So they cannot go very far. So they cannot join in with everything. And old people may become deaf. Then they cannot hear the ordinary sounds from outside their house or their room.
When birds begin to sing early in the morning, old people cannot sleep. So they get up early. But they cannot appreciate music. One example is old Barzillai. He refused King David’s invitation to go to Jerusalem. He said that he could not hear men and women. He could not hear them sing (2 Samuel 19:33-35).
Verse 5 It is an effort for old people to climb hills or to climb steps to high places. Their legs are stiff. And they are afraid that they will fall. They are afraid that people might push against them.
The grasshopper is an insect that jumps. It is usually very active. But it may be cold or it may have an injury. Then it drags itself along. This may describe the slow, stiff way that an old person walks. Another translation is ‘the *grasshopper insect becomes a heavy load’. This would mean that old people cannot carry even light things. And an old person loses interest in many things. That person may start to think that even his great desires have become unimportant.
All people die. They go to a permanent place. And the people who weep for them may be their family and friends. Or they may be the people who have a special job. The dead person’s family paid people to weep at a funeral. ‘They walk along the streets.’ Perhaps this means that these people are looking for a job. They are waiting for an opportunity to do their work at a funeral.
Verses 6-7 These words make us think about the end of things. They refer to death. Silver and gold are precious metals. So our lives are precious. A basin or anything may hang from a silver chain. But it will suffer great damage if the chain breaks suddenly. Someone may make a jar out of wet material from the ground. They use heat to make it hard. But this kind of jar can break into many pieces. If the jar hits against something, it may break. If someone drops it, it will break. A person’s life is also weak, and it ends quickly. People pull up water in a bucket from a well. A wheel with a thick string round it helps them. But if the wheel breaks, the bucket may fall into the well. Then nobody would be able to get water. The water here refers to our life. So this idea is a way to describe the end of our life.
‘Dust’ and ‘ground’ emphasise people’s physical origin. (See Genesis 2:7.) Also we read this: ‘God remembers that we are only dust.’ (See Psalm 103:14.) The person’s *spirit or breath will return to God who gave it. (‘*Spirit’ and ‘breath’ are the same word in the *Hebrew language.) When their *spirit leaves people, their physical body begins to return to dust. The Teacher compares these two things. ‘Return like dust to the ground’ and ‘return to God’. He means that the person will continue to exist.
Verse 8 ‘Nothing has a purpose!’ was the Teacher’s cry in Ecclesiastes 1:2. It reminds us that a life without God has no purpose. People have problems in their lives. This can be difficult to understand. But this poem reminds us that God controls everything. He created everything. So people can avoid despair if they think about God.
These final remarks are in two parts:
1) Verses 9-11 praise the Teacher’s work.
2) Verses 12-14 are the final message from the Teacher.
An editor may have written these verses. They refer to what the writer is trying to teach us in the whole book.
1) Verses 9-10 The Teacher was like Moses (Deuteronomy 6:1) and like Ezra (Ezra 7:10), and like other great leaders. They all wanted to teach God’s laws to people. Before the Teacher wrote his message, he studied. He made every effort to understand other people’s wise words. And he chose the best way to explain his ideas. He wanted people to read them. People should read his ideas with pleasure. They should think that the ideas were attractive. What he wrote was honest and true.
Verse 11 Farmers used sharp sticks to make their animals move. And then the animals went in the right direction. In the same way, the Teacher’s words should encourage people to act. He wants them to act in the right way. He collected these wise words so that they would remain in people’s minds. He wanted people to remember the words for a long time. The words should be like nails that remain firm in wood. The person who looks after sheep is called the ‘shepherd’. The Teacher is probably referring to God. King David wrote about God who was his Shepherd (Psalm 23:1). And he called God the ‘Shepherd of the *Israelites’ (Psalm 80:1). So the Teacher’s words have authority because God gave these words to him. And the Teacher made every effort to write down the words in the best way.
2) Verses 12-14 The Teacher warns his son about words that are in books. He is referring to many other books that were not helpful. So people who read books need to be cautious. They must be careful about what they read. Also the Teacher warns people not to study too much. Your study is not helpful if you become weak in your body.
The Teacher says that he has come to the end of his message. So he reminds his readers about two important facts. They must be afraid to make God angry. People should realise that God is great. And they should realise that God hates *sin. Then they will be wise and they will want to obey God. ‘People who are afraid to make God angry are starting to be wise’ (Psalm 111:10). Everyone should obey God. And the Teacher warns people that God is the judge of everyone. God knows our secret thoughts. God knows everything that we do. Psalm 90:8 says that God’s ‘light’ will show all bad things. It will show everything that is in darkness. God, our judge, sees both the good things and the bad things that people do. And he will make a judgement about each person. In the *New Testament, Paul says that God knows the reasons for everyone’s actions (1 Corinthians 4:5). If God cares so much about us, then our life does have a purpose. Jesus said that even the smallest detail matters. Everything that happens on the earth matters to God. He knows about everything, even a tiny bird’s death (Luke 12:6-7). Many questions about our lives do not seem to have an answer. But God is in control. He wants us to trust him. He wants us to enjoy our life. At the same time, we should not forget that God is our judge.
almond ~ a kind of nut.
bless ~ to be especially good and kind to someone.
grasshopper ~ a small insect.
Hebrew ~ the language that the *Israelites spoke.
Israel ~ the nation that God chose to be his special people or their country.
Israelite ~ a person that belonged to the nation called *Israel.
Jew ~ a person who was born from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their children.
kingdom ~ the country and people that a king rules. God is the great king. And his kingdom is all the people who belong to him.
New Testament ~ the part of the Bible that is about Jesus and the first Christians.
Old Testament ~ the first part of the Bible; it tells about the history and the beliefs of the *Jews.
preacher ~ someone who tells and explains important things (often about religion) to a group of people.
rope ~ a thick string.
sin ~ to do wrong things that are against God’s law; a wrong or wicked action.
soul ~ a part of a person that we cannot see; the real person inside.
spirit ~ part of a person that we cannot see and that remains alive after death; sometimes it may refer just to a person’s or to an animal’s breath.
temple ~ the special building in the city called Jerusalem where the *Jews *worshipped God.
vineyard ~ a field that produces fruit called grapes.
worship ~ to thank God and to praise him.
Eaton, Michael A. ~ Ecclesiastes, Tyndale OT Commentaries ~ IVP (1983)
Kidner, Derek ~ The Message of Ecclesiastes, The Bible speaks today ~ IVP (1976)
Leopold, H.C. ~ Exposition of Ecclesiastes ~ Evangelical Press (1952)
Ogden, Graham S. and Zogbo, Lynell ~ A Handbook on Ecclesiastes (Helps for Translators) ~ United Bible Societies (1997)
Bibles ~ NIV, New Light Bible (New International Readers Version), RSV
© 2013, Wycliffe Associates (UK)
This publication is in EasyEnglish Level B (2800 words).
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