This is another book in the ‘Wisdom Literature’ of the Old Testament. It is very different from the book of Proverbs. That book has serious warnings. But it is a happy book. Ecclesiastes is not like that. It is a sad book. The writer seems to be in a state of despair.

‘The Preacher’ is talking. (A preacher is a person who speaks God's word in public.)

He is thinking about life. He is honest. But sometimes he can cause confusion. The main subject is about being human. There are things that we all have in common. We all have doubts and ambitions. We all search for something in life. And there are times when difficulties seem to defeat us.

The book of Ecclesiastes makes something very clear. Its words attract our attention. We see that God must be the centre of our lives. If we fail to do this, we are wasting our lives. We could describe the book as a mirror. It shows us what we are like. We see ourselves without Christ. Only he can change us completely.

The book of Ecclesiastes has a variety of subjects. This is the same as the book of Proverbs. So we cannot just look at each chapter. That would not be the best way. We will divide the book into main ideas.

To Be Human Limits us

The Preacher had an aim. He wanted to examine life and its meaning (1:13). But he became upset. And he felt disappointment. There was a reason for this. Sometimes there did not seem to be any meaning to life. Things just happened. It was like this with nature too. There seemed to be a continuous series of similar events (1:1-11).

Men and women might try to discover the meaning of life. They could use all their intelligence. But they would still not be successful (1:12-18). The author felt that there was no special benefit in being wise (2:12-17). This was because both wise people and foolish people will die (2:15-16).

The Preacher came to a bitter decision. He hated life. This sort of attitude makes the book a sad one. We notice this especially in his attitude about death. For him, there was little joy after death (3:16-4:3). In that world that is beyond the grave, nothing was certain. Men and women seemed to be in no better state than the animals!

Chapter 6:1-12 is sad too. This was because of the idea that man cannot make his own decisions. ‘God has decided everything already. It was known long ago what each person would be’ (6:10). In many other parts of the Old Testament, it is different. People admired and respected God. They gave him honour, because he controls all things. God controls what happens to us. He supports our lives. The book of Ecclesiastes is not like this in any way.

Chapter 8:6-9:6 is also about life. The author felt that life was of no use or value. He felt awful despair about the life that comes after death too (9:5).

Chapter 11:1-8 is about the fact that we do not understand everything. This time it is about nature. But the author felt more hopeful. We do not know how everything works in nature. But we do know something (11:5). It is this. If we plant lots, then we will harvest plenty.

Our Pleasures

Human life has serious weaknesses. So the Preacher suggested something. He felt that it was natural for men and women to try to forget themselves. And there was a way that they could do it. They should enjoy life whenever they could. Notice that these passages are often next to those about death.

The author did not let himself think too much about life. So he suggested something. It was better just to enjoy life. But there was a problem with this idea. Despair still controlled his thoughts. But he was honest. He admitted that pleasures did not really satisfy him.

Chapter 2:1-11 is an example of this kind of thought. It ends with the same sad words: ‘…it was all a waste of time! It was like trying to catch the wind’. He felt that nothing had any meaning.

The next section is 2:18-3:15. There was despair for the Preacher (2:18). Then he began to feel a little bit better (2:24). That was when he advised the people to enjoy their work. It was his idea to ‘be as happy as possible’.

Chapter 3:11 shows something that is rare. It is a moment of understanding about God. The author saw the great work of God as Creator.

[Note: The creator is the one who creates.]

Our Neighbours

Some passages about this subject are 4:4-16; 7:1-10; 9:7-18; 10:1-20. There is discussion about various matters. Some of the more important subjects are:

  • the value of friendship (4:8-12)
  • respect (7:1)
  • wise correction (7:5-6)
  • being patient (7:8-9)
  • obeying the king or ruler (8:1-5)
  • being content in the home (9:7-10)
  • wisdom (9:11-18)

Chapter 10 is a collection of short sayings. (Sayings are things that people often say.) They are about good and bad behaviour. They have a certain style that is similar to the book of Proverbs. Here are some examples:

  • Do not gossip (10:11-14).
  • Avoid certain foolish people who suddenly have positions of authority (10:5-7, 17).
  • Do not be lazy (10:18).
  • Be careful what you say about other people. Someone usually tells them what you said about them (10:20)!

Our Maker

Ecclesiastes says more about men and women than it says about God. Wordsworth is a famous poet. He once wrote that people are like music. He spoke about ‘the still, sad music of humanity’. Ecclesiastes is like this most of the time. There is not much good ‘music’ about God. But, sometimes, there are wonderful passages. They are about a person's relationship with God.

The teaching in these passages is about five main things:

Honour him (5:1-8). This teaches about promises to God. You must keep whatever promises that you make to God.

Trust him (7:11-29). There is something to encourage us. We can see God's goodness in our lives. Things are never all bad for anybody. ‘God gives us good times and he gives us hard times’ (7:14).

Remember him (11:9-12:7). We should do this especially when we are young (11:9-12:2). There is the beginning of life and there is the end of life. We read about them both in this section.

Worship him (12:13). To fear God means to respect him. This subject comes several times in Ecclesiastes (3:14; 5:7; 8:12). We find the same idea in Psalms 15:4; 22:23; 25:14 and 66:16.

Obey him (12:13). ‘Obey his commands’. Compare John 15:10-14 and 1 John 3:22.