Ecclesiastes Bible Study Notes

WEEK 1: Introduction to Ecclesiastes

A. Introductory thoughts on Ecclesiastes

1. Hearing the “canonical conversation”

Ecclesiastes cannot be read in isolation. It must be read as part of the “canonical conversation” of the Bible. What does “canonical conversation” mean? It means that the Bible is one cohesive and continuous story, beginning in Genesis and ending with Revelation, and within this story is a conversation – a back and forth dialogue between the various books of the Bible. The Bible, in fact, teaches itself. We will note throughout this study how the book of Ecclesiastes has a dialogue with other books of both the Old and New Testaments, and seeing and hearing this dialogue will allow us to take part in the canonical conversation of the Bible. The reader who studies Ecclesiastes in isolation from the rest of Scripture will likely miss the entire point that the author of Ecclesiastes is trying to make. I think this point can be summed up in one phrase: the Fear of the Lord.

2. The concept of “the Fear of the Lord”

An alternate wording: walking in God’s world on God’s terms.

My hope is that this study will challenge every participant’s concept of what the phrase “Fear of the Lord” means. I will even propose that whenever you see this phrase in text throughout the Bible, it has much less to do with “fear” in terms of apprehension, trepidation, or dread (although at times it certainly does mean these things, especially in terms of Israel’s repeated and willful abandonment of God and God’s response to their apostasy) and much more to do with the simple notion of “walking in God’s world on God’s terms.” (I give full credit to Vern Steiner, PhD, for introducing this phrase to me in one of the many classes and seminars I have taken through the MIQRA Institute.)

B. Approaching a study of Ecclesiastes: the “medium”

We begin first by thinking about how we should approach the study of any Biblical text. In other words, what will be our method for determining a Biblical book’s meaning and message? The first aspect to consider is the book’s “medium” or how the book presents the material under study. Some scholars call this aspect the “literary shape” of the book. Specifically, we will consider the manner in which God led the original author of Ecclesiastes to write the book, the Jewish scribes (such as the Masoretes) to interpret the ancient Hebrew texts , and the Christian church fathers to position the book within the writings of the Old Testament (the placement of the book differs among the Hebrew, Greek, and English canons).

1. Three aspects of the “medium” of Ecclesiastes

a. How God led the author(s) to write the book

Examples: genres, literary techniques, vocabulary, numerical pattern

b. How God led the Jewish scribes (such as the Masoretes) to interpret the ancient Hebrew texts

Examples: clustering of sentences, chapter and paragraph division

c. How God led the Christian church fathers to position the book in the Old Testament

2. Why study the “medium” of a Biblical book?

By investigating the medium of a Biblical book, we find keys to interpretation and tools with which to “listen in” on the conversation taking place between a particular Biblical book and the rest of the canon. We learn to appreciate how God uses poetry, prose, and proverb to tell His story. We learn how the nature of words in Hebrew (ie, their sound, how the words are spoken) actually lends to an understanding of the meaning of the text. We learn how a simple difference in chapter and sentence division can group a verse with another cluster of verses to further clarify the meaning and intent of the author.

C. The location of Ecclesiastes in the canon

1. There are 3 traditional canons of Scripture: Hebrew, Greek, and English.

a. The Hebrew canon is divided into 3 portions: Torah (meaning “Instruction” in Hebrew – this portion is identical in the Hebrew, Greek, and English canons), the Nebi’im (meaning “Prophets” in Hebrew), and the Ketubim (meaning “Writings” in Hebrew)

b. Ecclesiastes is part of the Ketubim, and more precisely, is considered part of the “wisdom” books of the Bible. The wisdom books also traditionally include the books of Job and Proverbs.

The TaNaKh is the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures based on the Masoretic (traditional Hebrew) text. This book is named such because the “T” stands for Torah, the “N” for Nebi’im, and the “K” for Ketubim; vowel sounds are placed between these letters for purposes of vocalization. In this translation, Ecclesiastes is located after Lamentations and before Esther. This is the Jewish Bible that I will be referring to primarily during this study because the Masoretes were noted for their intense and rigorous scholarly interpretation and commentary on all literary aspects of the Hebrew Scriptures.

In the Greek and English canons, Ecclesiastes is located in the portion referred to as the “Psalms and Wisdom” books. We are most familiar with the English canon, where you will see Ecclesiastes placed after Proverbs and before Song of Solomon. This placement reflects the book’s traditional association with Solomon, which we will discuss later in this lesson.

2. Problematic issues with the inclusion of Ecclesiastes in the canon

Historically, there were many problematic issues in relation to the inclusion of Ecclesiastes in the canon of Scripture, and for many of the most obvious reasons mentioned at the beginning of this lesson: the worldly nature of the subject matter, the seemingly contradictory messages, the author’s despair about the futility of life, and even the notion of an uncertain afterlife. In the end, it appears that the authenticity and relevance of Ecclesiastes was confirmed when it was included in the fold of the Biblical wisdom literature. Its importance is evident in Jewish worship, as Ecclesiastes is traditionally read on the Sabbath during Sukkoth (also called the Festival of Booths or the Festival of Tabernacles).

D. Title and author of Ecclesiastes

1. What does the title mean?

The Latin/English word “Ecclesiastes” comes from the Greek word “Ekklesiastes” used in the Septuagint (the Greek canon). This word was translated from the actual Hebrew title of the book, which is קהלת or “Qohelet.” The word Qohelet can be translated as “Teacher” or “Preacher.” This word can also be translated more generally as “assembler” or “gatherer.” We will note throughout this study that there appears to be two personalities at work in Ecclesiastes, the “Preacher” who is doing the teaching and the “assembler” who has gathered together the teachings of this anonymous Preacher and in turn provides us with both a commentary on those teachings and a certain degree of narration.

2. Who was the author?

The true identity of the author of Ecclesiastes is unknown. Scholars believe that there could be up to 9 different authors or compilers of the book. Qohelet has long been associated with Solomon, most likely because of the reference to himself as the “son of David” and “king in Jerusalem” (1:1,12) and the narrator’s description of Qohelet as both a “sage” and recorder of “many maxims” and “genuinely truthful sayings” (12:9-10). However, most scholars have concluded that Qohelet is actually not Solomon. Mainly because his identity is never explicitly revealed (as opposed to Proverbs 1:1), and the Hebrew with which Ecclesiastes was originally written is from 3 to 4 centuries after the time of Solomon. Some scholars think it is possible that a group of authors may have assembled Solomon’s teachings many centuries later. In other words, although the book may be about Solomon and contain his teachings, it was not actually written by Solomon.

a. Does it matter?

In the end, although the identity of the Preacher (Qohelet) remains anonymous from the beginning to the end of the book, it is clear in the text that he possesses both the credentials and the ability to search out the nature of wisdom and the meaning of life.

We should consider that the anonymity of Qohelet is purposeful and an important part of understanding the meaning of the book. Consider the possibility that we are to simply read Ecclesiastes with the idea of Solomon in mind, recognizing that the wisdom shared in the book is to be read in light of the nature of Solomon’s character, and associated with the powerful wisdom of Solomon shared in the books known to be written by him, namely Proverbs and Song of Songs. Consider that what we are to learn in Ecclesiastes about the Fear of the Lord (walking in God’s world on God’s terms) in no way requires that we know the identity of the Preacher.

E. Language and Composition of Ecclesiastes

1. Vocabulary

Ecclesiastes is noted for its use of repetitious vocabulary in a book with only 12 chapters. We will see as we study this book that the author uses the technique of repeating words and phrases to not only emphasize their importance, but also to provide stark contrasts.

Of particular note is that, while the word “Elohim” (God) or “haElohim” (the God) is used 40 times throughout the book, the Preacher does not once refer to God as YHWH (Yahweh). YHWH is, of course, the proper name of God as revealed to Moses in Exodus 6:2-3. This was a problematic issue for the early Jewish rabbis and led to Ecclesiastes being viewed by many as “secular.”

2. Other aspects of language

Other aspects of language used in Ecclesiastes include assonance (the use of sounds to stress the meaning of a word – we will discuss this in the next lesson in relationship to the word “hebel”), rhyming, and wordplay (the effect of which is more recognizable in Hebrew but largely lost in the English translation). Literary techniques used in Ecclesiastes include inclusio (bracketing or framing a section of text by presenting similar material at the beginning and end of that section), and possible numerical patterns.

3. Literary techniques and genres

The book is framed with a prologue (1:1-11) and an epilogue (12:9-14), and in between the author presents the Preacher’s teaching in many different ways: autobiography, prose, parable, proverb, poem, instruction, and rhetorical questions.

4. Suggestion of overall structure

There is a great deal of disagreement among scholars as to how Ecclesiastes is organized, with some believing that there is a definite recognizable structure, and some believing that absolutely no structure exists within the book at all. As we go through the different chapters, I will note where the Masoretic text (as read in the TaNaKh) groups verses/sentences/paragraphs differently than the English translation, and I will generally follow the overall structure proposed by my former professor at the MIQRA Institute, Vern Steiner, PhD. This structure is as follows:

I. Prologue: The title, the motto, and the opening poem (1:1-11)

II. Monologue: Qohelet’s reflections and instructions on the meaning of life (1:12-12:7)

A. His credentials and summary conclusions (1:12-18)

B. His investigation into the “Good” in life (2:1-26)

C. His Investigation into God’s purpose-plan for life (3:1-6:12)

D. His further observations on the “Good” in Life (7:1-8:17)

E. His further observations on God’s purpose-plan for life
(9:1-12:8)

III. Epilogue: The conclusion to the matter (12:9-14)

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WEEK 2: Introduction to Biblical Wisdom and
Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

A. Wisdom: What is wisdom? And how does one become wise?

1. The empirical method

For centuries, philosophers and scientists have used the empirical method to determine truth in the universe. Gathering objective data from the senses and using the trial and error of experience, empirical methods are not necessarily scientific in nature but nevertheless can provide valuable information about the world and the way it works. As we mature as human beings, we collect empirical data from all around us all the time. We observe what it takes to be successful on the world’s terms: a good job, a successful marriage, sound finances, or well-adjusted children. We can see what other people are doing to become successful and apply it to our own lives. In this sense, empiricism definitely provides knowledge, and may even provide wisdom to live well in the world (if the end of living well in the world is in fact our goal). Certainly, the hallmark of empiricism is that it places the focal point of knowledge on the individual and what that individual is able to discern as truth within himself.

When we view wisdom from a worldly perspective, it appears that wisdom of the world gained through empirical knowledge is just as valid as Biblical wisdom. After all, we don’t need the Bible to know that poor performance can lead to losing your job, infidelity can lead to divorce, uncontrolled debt can lead to financial failure, and poor parenting can lead to troubled children. So why do we need Biblical wisdom when it appears there are many other ways to figure out what works in the “real” world? Is there a difference between Biblical wisdom and the wisdom of the world?

2. Biblical wisdom vs. the wisdom of the Middle East

When comparing Biblical wisdom (ie, the wisdom of Israel) and her neighbors, it appears that Biblical wisdom was not unique. While we read in I Kings 4:29-34 about the legendary wisdom of Solomon, whose “breadth of mind” was “like the sand on the seashore,” we read in the same verse of the “wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt.”

In fact, some of the wisdom writings of Middle Eastern tradition are almost indistinguishable from the wisdom writings in the Bible. A fascinating example of this is a comparison of the Egyptian Instruction of Amenemope, dated from approximately the 12th century BC, and Proverbs 22:17-24:22 (cited from Steiner’s “Wisdom, The Writings, and the World as God Envisions It” [2003]).

Note the similarities:

Amenemope

Proverbs (ESV)

Give your ears, hear what is said, give your heart to understand it. It is useful to put it in your heart…[Such teachings] will be a peg for your tongue (3.9ff) Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart to my knowledge, for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you, if all of them are ready on your lips (22:17-18)
See these thirty chapters, they entertain and instruct…they give knowledge to the ignorant (27.7-10) Have I not written for you thirty sayings of counsel and knowledge (22:20)
Guard yourself against robbing the oppressed and driving away a weak man (4.4-5) Do not orb the poor, because he is poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate (22:22)
Do not make the hot man your companion, an do not seek a conversation with him (11.13-14) Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man (22:24)

3. So what makes Biblical wisdom different?

a. It is depends wholly on the complete and over-arching Biblical story from Genesis to Revelation, and the purposefully designed plan that God reveals within that story.

b. It describes a world perspective that is focused not on human effort and meeting human need, but a world perspective that is focused on God’s purposeful design for His creation that meets an end entirely within His plan.

4. An example of when empiricism fails

The method of seeking worldly wisdom based on our own terms is as old as humanity itself. In the Garden, was Satan not presenting the empirical method to Eve when he presented the verbal challenge that led to the fall?

“But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ ” (Genesis 3:4-5)

Notice the focus on the eyes and trusting in what could be seen as good as opposed to what God had already defined for them as good. Eve then proceeded to trust the serpent’s advice, using the empirical method to discern what is good.

“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate…” (Genesis 3:6)

Alas, when “the eyes of both were opened” they did not see that they had in fact become “like God” but instead saw that they were in fact naked before God and in direct rebellion to what He had defined as good. Satan’s lie to our original parents was that what God had defined as good was not good enough. Satan’s lie was that our efforts at determining wisdom could somehow be superior to God’s ability to define wisdom for us.

Yes, after the Fall human beings were finally “like God” in that we were able to see good and evil. But, tragically, we are not “like God” in that we are unable to see good and evil from God’s perspective. We are only able to see good and evil from “under the sun.”

B. Wisdom literature of the Bible

1. The unique nature of the wisdom literature of the Writings

a. These books have relatively little to say about the subjects that make up a large part of the rest of the Old Testament. (eg, Israel’s history, pivotal events, laws, or covenants)

While the word YHWH occurs a total of 6800+ times in the entire Old Testament (an average of 285 times per book), this word occurs only 119 times in the books of Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes combined.

b. These books have a lot to say about wisdom/knowledge and related subjects in comparison to the rest of the Old Testament.

While the Hebrew word for “wise/wisdom/be wise” occurs a total of 338 times in the entire Old Testament, over half of these occurrences are found in Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes (183 times).

c. Do the wisdom books serve a different purpose for us as modern day Christians as they served for Israel?

As Christians, the wisdom books do not serve an entirely different purpose than they did for Israel. Even in light of the salvation of Christ, we are still called to recognize and respond to Torah and the Prophets. Notice how Jesus revealed himself to the two men on the road to Emmaus, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27) And when Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection he stated, “Everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24: 44b) If the wisdom books serve the purpose of interpreting the Law and the Prophets, and the Law and the Prophets were in fact about the coming Christ, then they are nothing less than essential reading for us as modern-day Christians. After all, Jesus was the logos – the physical embodiment of the divine word and wisdom of God. (John 1:1)

C. Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

1. Title 1:1

a. An unidentified “Preacher” who echoes the character of Solomon.

At the very beginning of the book (1:1) we are reminded that what we are about to read is the work of an unidentified Preacher (Kohelet) who echoes the character of Solomon. As discussed in Week 1, we do not know if Solomon was in fact the author of the teaching in Ecclesiastes, but nevertheless we are to read the wisdom on the page with the legendary wisdom of Solomon in mind.

2. Theme 1:2

a. Sets the tone for the Preacher’s pending investigation of life “under the sun” and his perspective on worldly wisdom.

The recurring phrase in verse 2 is translated many different ways depending on the Bible you are reading. Here are 3 examples:

~ “Utter futility!” said Koheleth. “Utter futility! All is futile!” (TaNaKh)
~ “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (NIV)
~ “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, “vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” (ESV)

b. “Hebel”

The repeated Hebrew word that is the focus of verse 2 is “hebel,” which means vanity, vapor, emptiness, futility, or meaningless. But what is at the heart of this word? The writer uses the technique of assonance, as the sound of the Hebrew letter “he” at the beginning of the word hebel is breathy and evokes the idea of a vapor or breath that escapes out of the mouth and quickly evaporates into the air. Hebel is meant to give the sense of the fleeting nature of things of this world, as well as the fruitless nature of our worldly struggles. The Preacher is lamenting the absurdity of trying to hold on to that which is fleeting (like trying to grasp hold of a vapor) to the point where all of your efforts are futile. Consider in contrast God’s assessment of His creation in Genesis 1:31, that it was “very good” and clearly not “hebel.”

3. Opening poem 1:3-11

a. The question (1:3)

The Preacher wonders what ultimately there is to gain by searching for meaning “under the sun.”

b. “Under the sun”

The phrase “under the sun” is unique and is only found in the book of Ecclesiastes. We will see throughout the book that this phrase is clearly meant to describe not only life apart from God, but also simply life in the visible world. In the creation description in Genesis 1, we observe a God who is “above the sun,” seemingly operating outside of the space-time continuum, and simply speaking a word to bring the things of the earth into existence. God further describes his position “above the sun,” saying “The heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool…” (Isaiah 66:1)

c. The first part of the response (1:4-8)

The Preacher describes the endless repetition of things of the earth: generation after generation, the predictable rising and setting of the sun, the blowing of the winds, the continual flowing of the rivers to the sea and back again. Our words are never sufficient to explain the meaning of the things we observe, we can never see enough with our eyes to find the meaning, and our ears never seem to hear enough of an explanation to fully satisfy us.

d. The second part of the response (1:9-11)

We are introduced to the often-quoted phrase that “there is nothing new under the sun.” Is it possible that things seem new only because we have forgotten the past? In life under the sun, it is easy to be deluded about newness, and a hard realization that things yet to come in this life will also someday be forgotten. A vapor indeed.

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WEEK 3: Ecclesiastes 1:12 – 2:26

A. Ecclesiastes 1:12-18 An autobiographical monologue

~The final portion of Ecclesiastes chapter 1 (verses 12-18) is comprised of a type of autobiographical monologue presented as a set of verses structured into two units: verses 12-15 and verses 16-18.

~Each unit contains 4 elements: the Preacher’s credits, his intentions, his conclusions, and a summary proverb.

1. Parallel structure

There is notable parallel structure between these two units, with similar language and repetition used to emphasize the Preacher’s message.

Unit 1: vv 12-15

Unit 2: vv 16-18

v 12 Credits: “king in Jerusalem over Israel” v 16 Credits: rich, wise, experienced, zealous mind with knowledge and wisdom
v 13a Intentions: “set his mind” to study, probe, and search all that happens under the sun v 17a Intentions: “set his mind” to appraise wisdom, madness, and folly
v 14 Conclusion: all is futile and pursuit of wind v 17b Conclusion: pursuit of wind
v 15 Proverb: A twisted thing cannot be made straight; a lack cannot be made good. v 18 Proverb: As wisdom grows, vexation grows; to increase learning is to increase heartache.

a. Verse 12 vs. Verse 16

  • In the first verse of the first unit, verse 12, the Preacher reminds us of his credentials – that he is “king in Jerusalem over Israel.” The parallel verse in the second unit is verse 16, where the Preacher elaborates on his credentials – he is not only king, but he is rich, wise, and experienced, with a zealous mind that has already absorbed knowledge and wisdom.

b. Verse 13a vs. Verse 17a

  • In the second verse of the first unit, verse 13a, we are introduced for the first time to the Preacher’s quest: he has “set his mind” to study, probe, and search all that happens under the sun. The parallel verse in the second unit is verse 17a, where the Preacher elaborates on his quest – that he has “set his mind” to appraise wisdom, madness, and folly. According to the ESV translation, the Hebrew meaning of the term “set his mind” denotes the center of one’s inner life, including mind, will, and emotions. The Preacher’s intent is serious, his goals are lofty, and we are to understand that seeking wisdom will be his only occupation.

~In verse 13b, the Preacher contends that seeking wisdom is an “unhappy business” that was actually given to us by God.

Recall Genesis 2 and consider: Was this business given? Or was it chosen? Or was it given because it was chosen?

Did not our original parents choose this occupation in the Garden? God gave us explicit instructions: “As for the tree of knowledge of good and evil, you must not eat of it; for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die.” (Genesis 2:17) God was saying, “This work of determining good and evil is not in My design for you. Walk in my world on my terms as I have instructed you.” We had complete freedom – we were given every tree of the garden! (Genesis 2:16) And yet we were also given free will. When Eve believed Satan’s lie – that their eyes would be opened and they would have the wisdom of God – and when she “took of the fruit and ate” she plunged humankind into an existence of struggling and wrestling with how to determine wisdom in a fallen world. She refused to walk in God’s world on God’s terms and we live out that legacy.

c. Verse 14 vs. Verse 17b

  • In the third verse of the first unit, verse 14, the Preacher assures us that he has seen “everything under the sun” and provides us with his conclusion: “all is futile and pursuit of wind.” The parallel verse in the second unit is verse 17b, where the Preacher assures us that he has met his goal of appraising wisdom, madness, and folly, and has come to the same conclusion: “this too was a pursuit of wind.”

Notice the Preacher prefaces his conclusions by stating, “I observed…” and “I determined…” The focus is entirely self-centered. The Preacher was demonstrating the hallmark of empiricism, placing the focal point of knowledge on himself and what he alone was able to discern as truth.

d. Verse 15 vs. Verse 18

  • The fourth verse of the first unit, verse 15, presents the first proverb that summarizes the conclusions of the Preacher’s quest. “A twisted [crooked] thing cannot be made straight; a lack cannot be made good.” On the surface, this proverb could be interpreted as simply saying that life has twists and gaps that cannot be explained. The Preacher seems content to conclude that the matter ends here, and even asks the question again later in chapter 7 verse13, “Who can straighten what [God] has made twisted?” We can look to the prophet Isaiah and the gospel of Luke to help us understand this proverb further.

In Isaiah 40:4-5, the prophet speaks of comfort for God’s people, prophesying centuries beforehand that the way of the Lord would be prepared in the wilderness, and that “the uneven ground shall become level…and the glory of the LORD shall be revealed…” In Luke 3:5-6, this same verse is translated that “the crooked shall become straight…and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Yes, God would straighten what He had made twisted. He would send John the Baptist to prepare the way of the Lord, to level the ground before His presence, and to proclaim a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The twisted world described by the Preacher in Ecclesiastes was ultimately straightened through the salvation of Christ Jesus.

  • The parallel verse in the second unit, verse 18, actually poses a different yet similar summary proverb to conclude the Preacher’s quest: “For as wisdom grows, vexation grows; to increase learning is to increase heartache.” Again, on the surface, this proverb could be interpreted as simply saying that not being able to come to life’s meaning causes vexation and sorrow. The Preacher again seems content to conclude that the matter ends here. But we can look to the gospel of John to gain perspective on this proverb, and realize that Christ promises something very different.

In John 16:16-20, Christ speaks to his disciples somewhat cryptically saying, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” The disciples respond with great vexation, not understanding how Christ is speaking to them, and murmuring amongst themselves that that they do not know what he is talking about. Yet just shortly before, Christ had acknowledged that the knowledge He was giving them about His coming suffering was causing sorrow to fill their hearts (v. 6), but that He must go away in order for the Spirit of truth to come (v. 7) and guide them into all truth (v. 13). The Spirit would enable them to understand the wisdom He had shared that they were ultimately unable to understand. Yes, as the disciples’ wisdom and learning of the nature of their Messiah grew, so did their vexation and sorrow. But He gave them the promise of the Holy Spirit, just as He promises this gift to us, with the guarantee that “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” (v. 20) The vexation and sorrow described by the Preacher in Ecclesiastes were treated with the balm of the Holy Spirit so promised by Christ Jesus.

B. Ecclesiastes 2:1-26 The Preacher’s initial investigation into the “good” in life

~This chapter can be divided into three sections: in verses 1-11, the Preacher investigates if good can be found in the enjoyment of the present life; in verses 12-23, he investigates if good can be found in future hopes; and in verses 24-26, he provides a conclusion of his investigation.

1. Section 1: Can the “good” be found in the enjoyment of the present life?

a. Investigating earthly pleasures

  • Verses 1-11: The Preacher describes experimenting with temptations of all kinds, gaining possessions of all kinds, grasping folly, amassing wealth, and withholding nothing from his experience.

The interesting aspect of the Preacher’s investigation of earthly pleasures is how the language of this passage reflects chapters 1 through 3 of Genesis and the story of creation. Some similar words and phrases: day, life, heaven, garden, grove, fruit, water, tree, male and female, tempt. Yet these two accounts of earthly pleasures have very different outcomes. In Genesis we are told of a creation that God determined was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). God’s love for the man that He created was so great that God Himself planted a lush and beautiful garden and placed man within it. In this garden man had no need, and no part of creation was futile, meaningless, or a pursuit of wind. In contrast, the Preacher’s assessment of the enjoyment, fortune, and wealth he had amassed is that “it was all futile and pursuit of wind; there was no real value under the sun!” (2:11)

But what is the ultimate difference between these two assessments? In one we have God’s assessment of the work of His hands – what He had defined as good – and in the other what one man (the Preacher) had defined as good. One is an assessment of good from above the sun, and one is an assessment from under the sun. One is an assessment of earth and all its glory as God intended it to be, and one is an assessment of what is truly fleeting about the world (pleasure, fortune, and wealth).

2. Section 2: Can the “good” be found in future hopes?

a. Investigating if it is wise or even safe to place hopes in the one who will succeed you

  • Verses 12-23: The Preacher attempts to determine if good can be found in future hopes. Possibly thinking of himself and his own reign as king, he wonders what the one will be like who will succeed him and inherit all of the benefits that he has earned. (v. 12a) And even though the Preacher is sure that wisdom (which he equates with light and sight) is superior to folly (which he equates with darkness and blindness), he still concludes that the same fate awaits both the wise man and the fool. Both will meet death and will ultimately be forgotten. (vv. 13-16). Further, the Preacher considers how the fruits of one’s labors will go to an inheritor who may be a complete fool. Can one safely or wisely place hope in the intentions of an inheritor? At a minimum, the Preacher’s fortune is going to someone who did not have to work for it at all, and this is clearly a very grievous and anxiety-inducing prospect for the Preacher. (vv. 18-23)

3. Section 3: The conclusion of the investigation

a. “There is nothing worthwhile for a man but to eat and drink and afford himself enjoyment with his means. And even that, I noted, comes from God.” (2:24)

  • It is worthy to note that the Preacher has not mentioned God in the entire chapter until now, and this is with the recognition that for all of the toil that man must endure in this life (to emphasize this the word “futile” or “vanity” is repeated at the end of verses 19, 21, and 23), God sees fit to provide each of us with a certain kind of “present inheritance” under the sun. Contentment. Enjoyment. The recognition of the goodness of God. This inheritance is a kind of shadow of what is to come, a token of what was lost when creation fell, a reminder that God intends for there to be something more than all that seems futile around us.

b. The gift is given to the one who pleases God

  • The Preacher quickly notes that this present inheritance is given to those who please God and, in turn, God actually provides the one who pleases Him with the “wisdom and shrewdness” to enjoy the inheritance. We are not only given the gift, but also the ability to fully enjoy it! How many people do we know who seem to have every blessing yet lack the ability to find enjoyment in life? We must remind ourselves that God is sovereign in both what He provides and even in how we enjoy it. He has called us to enjoy the inheritance He has provided in this life – what He has defined as good. And not only that, He will reveal the joy that is awaiting us in that inheritance. It may be quite unexpected.

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WEEK 4: Ecclesiastes 3:1-15

A. The Preacher’s investigation of God’s perfect and intentional design of His creation

1. Opening thesis: “A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven.” (3:1) Two phrases that are not necessarily saying the same thing.

a. The first phrase: “A season is set for everything…”

Key words:
~Season = zemân = a set or appointed time
~Everything = kôl = all, the whole, any/each/every thing, or totality

Meaning: All human experiences are preordained by God.

b. The second phrase: “…a time for every experience under heaven”

~Time = ‛êth = a literal time of an event or occurrence
~Experience = chêphets = a delight, a desire or longing, or a valuable thing

Meaning: God brings each experience to pass at a planned and perfect time. These experiences may be those that delight us, those that are our deepest desires or longings, those that give us pleasure, or simply those that are valuable to the fabric of our lives.

2. The opening thesis (3:1) is developed further in two sets of verses

~”A season is set for everything…” is developed in vv. 9-15 and “…a time for every experience under heaven” is developed in vv. 2-8

a. Verses 2 through 8: 7 pairs of 14 illustrations that develop the second phrase of verse 1 (“…a time for every experience under heaven”)

The key words in each illustration are underlined and the Hebrew meanings of these words follow.

Verse 2: Illustrations #1 and #2

“A time for being born and a time for dying
~Being born = yâlad = to bear, bring forth, cause or help bring forth
~Dying = mûth = to die, kill, put to death, have one executed

“A time for planting and a time for uprooting the planted”
~Planting = nâta‛ = to plant, fasten, fix, establish, to be planted or established
~Uprooting = ‛âqar = to dig down and root up that which has been planted

Verse 3: Illustrations #3 and #4
“A time for slaying and a time for healing
~Slaying = hârag = kill, murder, destroy, ruin, to smite with deadly intent
~Healing = râphâh = to heal (of God), to heal (as a physician for men), mend, cure, make whole, heal of individual distress

“A time for tearing down and a time for building up
~Tearing down = pârats = break or burst out, break through, break into, break open (to use violence to do so), breach
~Building up = bânâh = build/rebuild, establish (make permanent), cause to continue

Verse 4: Illustrations #5 and #6
“A time for weeping and a time for laughing
~Weeping = bâkâh = shed tears bitterly, in grief/humiliation or joy, lament
~Laughing = sâchaq = laugh, play, mock, sport, jest, play music/sing

“A time for wailing and a time for dancing
~Wailing = sâphad = wail, lament, mourn, to tear the hair and beat the breast
~Dancing = râqad = leap, jump, skip wildly or for joy

Verse 5: Illustrations #7 and #8
“A time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones
~Throwing stones = shâlak ‘eben = throw, cast, hurl, fling, shed a common or precious stone or a weight. In this particular phrase, a “stone” can also mean a perverse or hard heart, or a heart petrified with terror.
~Gathering stones = kânas ‘eben = to gather, collect, wrap up stones, or wrap one’s self up

“A time for embracing and a time for shunning embraces
~Embracing = châbaq = clasp, embrace, fold, embrace or fold one’s hands in idleness
~Shunning embraces = râchaq min châbaq = to become far, distant, removed, come out of a clasp or embrace

Verse 6: Illustrations #9 and #10
“A time for seeking and a time for losing
~Seeking = bâqash = require, request, seek to find/secure, seek the face, search out in worship/prayer, strive after
~Losing = ‘âbad = vanish, perish, be lost/strayed, blot out, do away with, destroy, to wander away and lose one’s self

“A time for keeping and a time for discarding
~Keeping = shâmar = guard, have charge of, protect, save the life of, to observe or perform a command or covenant
~Discarding = shâlak = throw, cast, hurl, fling

Verse 7: Illustrations #11 and #12
“A time for ripping and a time for sewing
~Ripping = qâra‛ = tear into pieces, tear/split open, cut out
~Sewing = tâphar = sew together

“A time for silence (keeping silent) and a time for speaking
~Keeping silent = châshâh = still, quiet, inactive, hold peace
~Speaking = dâbar = declare, converse, command, answer, pronounce

Verse 8: Illustrations #13 and #14
“A time for loving and a time for hating
~Loving = ‘âhab = human love to another or for God, to have affection for, God’s love to individual men/Israel/righteousness
~Hating = sânê’ = hate of man or God, a hater of persons, God, or wisdom, to be an enemy

“A time for war and a time for peace” (NOTE: all have been verbs until now)
~War = milchâmâh = battle, fighting a war/battle
~Peace = shâlôm = completeness, soundness, safety, soundness of body and health, quiet/tranquil/content, peace/friendship of human relationships or with God (especially in covenantal relationship)

b. Verses 9 through 15: a question, insight, and realizations that develop the first phrase of verse 1 (“A season is set for everything…”)

  • The question: “What value, then, can the man of affairs get from what he earns?” (3:9)

The Preacher’s focus has turned back on himself. Refer back to the question in 1:3.

The Preacher seems to be asking the question that if this is true, why do anything? What’s the point?

  • The preface to the insight: “I have observed the business God gave man to be concerned with…” (3:10)

Refer back to the statement in 1:13. The Preacher reminds us of the “business” (Hebrew = ‛inyân = occupation, task, or job) that God has given (Hebrew = nâwthan = entrusted, given over, granted, permitted, assigned) man.

  • The insight: “He brings everything to pass precisely at its time; he also puts eternity in their mind, but without man ever guessing, from first to last, all the things that God brings to pass.” (3:11)

The Preacher’s insight is very different than his insight back in Chapter 1. Whereas the Preacher’s insight in 1:14 was “all is futile and pursuit of wind,” he now makes a statement of faith!

“He brings everything to pass precisely at its time…”

~Everything = kôl = all, the whole, any/each/every thing, totality. Note this is the same word the Preacher used in 3:1.

“…He also puts eternity in their mind, but without man ever guessing, from first to last, all the things that God brings to pass.”

~Eternity = ‛ôlâm = the everlasting, unending future, the vanishing point, or time out of mind past or future

  • The first realization: “Thus I realized that the only worthwhile thing there is for them is to enjoy themselves and do what is good in their lifetime; also, that whenever a man does eat and drink and get enjoyment out of all his wealth, it is a gift of God.” (3:12-13)

Even in light of realizing that God’s plans and purposes remain a mystery, we should rejoice and enjoy what God has defined as good.

  • The second realization: “I realized, too, that whatever God has brought to pass will recur evermore: Nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it – and God has brought to pass that man revere Him.” (v. 14)

Even in light of realizing that there is no part of God’s plan that is outside of God’s will, we can be assured that God operates in this way so that we will walk in His world on His terms (“fear before Him”).

  • The third realization: “What is occurring occurred long since, and what is to occur occurred long since: and God seeks the pursued.” (v. 15)

~Pursued = râdaph = to chase, pursue ardently, aim eagerly to secure, or attend closely upon.

The Preacher reminds us that God is doing all of this while working within the ‛ôlâm.

Not only has our sovereign God appointed every event to happen in our lives precisely at its time, and not only has He done this for us so that we will walk in His world on His terms, but he presently and continually is pursuing us – ardently chasing us down in our busy and hectic lives, attending closely upon us to make us His own. He aims eagerly to secure us. And we can rest knowing that we have been secured by Him when we have accepted salvation through His Son.

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WEEK 5: Ecclesiastes 3:16-4:16

A. The anomalies in God’s perfect and intentional design of creation

~Six realities that don’t seem to “fit” into God’s plan

1. The anomaly of injustice

~”And, indeed, I have observed under the sun: Alongside justice there is wickedness, alongside righteousness there is wickedness. I mused: God will doom both righteous and wicked, for there is a time for every experience and for every happening.” (3:16-17)

~Reference: Habakkuk Chapter 1

a. Justice = “mishpât” = a court, a place of judgment, or a legal decision

Righteousness = “tsedeq” = justice or rightness in a legal sense

Wickedness = “resha‛” = wrong, wickedness, or guilt

~In this fallen world, even in the place where justice and righteousness should rule we will find injustice and wrong being carried out.

Examples in our world today? A person wrongly convicted of a crime is freed from prison after 25 years (or longer!) because the courts finally allowed DNA evidence.

b. Justice (“mishpât”) can refer to an attribute of man or God

Righteousness (“tsedeq”) can specifically mean the “righteousness of God as covenant-keeping in redemption”

~Contrast between what justice and righteousness look like when they are carried out by human hands, and what justice and righteousness look like when they are carried out by a covenant-keeping YHWH.

2. The anomaly of indiscriminate death

~”So I decided, as regards men, to dissociate them [from] the divine beings and to face the fact that they are beasts. For in respect of the fate of man and the fate of beast, they have one and the same fate: as the one dies so dies the other and both have the same life breath; man has no superiority over beast, since both amount to nothing. Both go to the same place; both came from dust and both return to dust. Who knows if a man’s life breath does rise upward and if a beast’s breath does sink down into the earth? I saw that there is nothing better for man than to enjoy his possessions, since that is his portion. For who can enable him to see what will happen afterward?” (3:18-22)

a. Literal translation of the Hebrew in verse 21: “Who knows the spirit of man that it is the one who goes upward and the spirit of the beast that it is the one going down into the earth?”

~In this fallen world, we can see no differentiation between man and beast when it comes to death. Under the sun, both human and animal go into the ground.

b. Man = ‘âdâm = ruddy, or of the ground (sometimes translated as “groundling”)

Dust = ‘âphâr = clay, earth, or ground

~In other words, ‘âdâm returns to ‘âphâr

3. The anomaly of social oppression

~”I further observed all the oppression that goes on under the sun: the tears of the oppressed, with none to comfort them; and the power of their oppressors – with none to comfort them. Then I accounted those who died long since more fortunate than those who are still living; and happier than either are those who have not yet come into being and have never witnessed the miseries that go on under the sun.” (4:1-3)

a. 5 categories of destitution in Torah: Godless, fatherless, penniless, homeless, and husbandless

References: Exodus 22:22; Deuteronomy 10:18, 14:29, 16:11, 16:14, 24:17, 24:19-21, 26:13, 27:19; Psalm 146:9; Isaiah 1:17; Jeremiah 22:3; Zechariah 7:10; James 2:5-6

b. For some in this world the social injustice they experience is so harsh that a person may wish that they had never been born.

Examples in our world today? The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the genocide in Rwanda, or the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans or in Darfur, Sudan.

4. The anomaly of toil without contentment

~”I have also noted that all labor and skillful enterprise come from men’s envy of each other – another futility and pursuit of wind! [True,] the fool folds his hands together and has to eat his own flesh. [But no less truly,] better is a handful of gratification than two fistfuls of labor which is pursuit of wind.” (4:4-6)

a. The true incentive to work for many people is simple envy of another’s belongings.

Examples in our world today? (“keeping up appearances” or “keeping up with the Joneses”)

b. Fool = “kesîyl” = fat, stupid, or silly

Folds = “châbaq” = refer to 3:5 and folding or clasping the hands together in idleness

~The lazy person who refuses to work and remains idle becomes desperate to the point of resorting to eating his own flesh. Better is even a small amount of gratifying work than a life full of futile labor to accumulate possessions out of the envy of another.

5. The anomaly of loneliness and isolation

~”And I have also noted this further futility under the sun: the case of the man who is alone, with no companion, who has neither son nor brother; yet he amasses wealth without limit, and his eye is never sated with riches. For who, now, is he amassing it while denying himself enjoyment? That too is a futility and an unhappy business. Two are better off than one, in that they have greater benefit from their earnings. For should they fall, one can raise the other; but woe betide him who is alone and falls with no companion to raise him! Further, when two lie together they are warm; but how can he who is alone get warm? Also, if one attacks, two can stand up to him. A three-fold cord is not readily broken.” (4:7-12)a. Continued theme of a life full of toil without contentment

Examples in our world today? An article in the Londom Times from June 19, 2008, called “Japan gripped by suicide epidemic” detailed how Japan is struggling with a “runaway suicide epidemic” among Japanese in their thirties and experts believe “work-related depression” is a prime motive. A Japanese travel website advertises “capsule hotels” where exhausted Japanese businessmen can sleep in rooms the size of coffins rather than pay the expensive cab fare home only to sleep a couple of hours and return to work the next day. Workers in the United States put in more hours per year at work compared to the major European countries and it is estimated that jobs with mandatory overtime in the US cost industry an average of $300 billion per year in stress- and fatigue-related problems.

b. Benefits of companionship: warmth, security, protection, assistance, and support

Reference: Genesis 2:18

6. The anomaly of insecurity

~Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer has the sense to heed warnings. For the former can emerge from a dungeon to become king; while the latter, even if born to kingship, can become a pauper. [However,] I reflected about all the living who walk under the sun with that youthful successor who steps into his place. Unnumbered are the multitudes of all those who preceded them; and later generations will not acclaim him either. For that too is futile and pursuit is wind.” (4:13-16)

a. No position in life is secure, and popularity can be fleeting

~The king has no guarantee in his position if he is a fool, and it is no matter if the youth was born into poverty if he is wise.

Reference: King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel Chapter 4

b. As the Preacher reminded us in 2:15-16, the one who has come before and the one who comes after will both be forgotten.

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WEEK 6: Ecclesiastes 5:1-6:12

A. Responding to God’s perfect and intentional design of His creation

1. Our approach – 5:1

a. Watch our steps

The TaNaKh tells us that a literal translation of the first portion of verse 1 is “Guard your foot when it [or, you] would go” to the House of God, and a Hebrew translation of the key words in this portion of the verse would also be to “attend to” or “watch” your steps when you approach God. In other words, approach with caution.

b. Approach with the intent to listen

The key words in the last part of verse 1 that are translated as “more acceptable is obedience” are the word qârab, which means approach or draw near, and the word shâma‛, which means to hear, listen to, or obey. In other words, this verse is telling us that approaching God appropriately means approaching Him with the intent of listening as our first priority. The fool would approach God with the opposite intent, or the intent to do all the talking.

Reference: Proverbs 3:5-6

2. Our words – 5:2-3

a. Intend to listen instead of speak

Dealing with the anomalies in God’s creation should not cause us to neglect submission to God and His will. We are being told in vv. 2-3 that part of obedience and fearing the Lord is to approach God with the intent of listening rather than speaking. But this can be very difficult and almost impossible when we are forced to deal with realities in life that make absolutely no sense.

b. Try not to rationalize with God about the anomalies

When we hear about an unnecessary and premature death, a court verdict that seems unjust, or a tragedy that has befallen a loved one, how do we approach God? Do we approach to simply listen? Or do we try to rationalize with God?

3. Our intentions – 5:4-6

a. Promises and vows

Many times our response to life’s anomalies is to make promises and vows. And unfortunately, sometimes these promises and vows are made rashly and with no intention to fulfill them.

Reference: Proverbs 20:25 and Jonah Chapters 1 and 2

b. The fear of the Lord

These verses are clearly telling us to “fear God” – we should ask ourselves… How does fearing the Lord determine the vows me make and the promises we intend to keep?

4. The Preacher’s conclusion – 5:7

a. Pleading before God leads to more words, more promises, and an increase in “hebel” – emptiness, vanity, and the meaninglessness of all that is around us.

B. The blessings of the Fear of the Lord

1. Perspective on money and wealth – 5:8-17

a. Injustice is institutionalized “under the sun”

The alternate interpretation of verse 8b provided in the TaNaKh says: “Thus the greatest advantage in all the land is his: the high official profits from the labor of others.” Again, we are presented with the reality of the social oppression of the powerful over the weak. For many in today’s world this speaks to the issue of the rich profiting off of the labor of the poor. In this fallen world, systems are created by people to benefit themselves and others like themselves.

b. Money and wealth are insufficient, impermanent, unfulfilling, insecure, and an illusion

Reference: King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2:1 and 4:1-2

2. Perspective on pleasure and enjoyment – 5:18-20

a. God’s gift of a present inheritance

It is entirely appropriate to enjoy life’s gifts and God expects for us to recognize that they are gifts given entirely by Him. Enjoyment of these gifts is an added blessing.

b. God’s mercy, goodness, and sovereignty

The language in this passage begs humility and recognition of God’s mercy, goodness, and sovereignty “God has given…” (God will do the giving), “…whenever a man is given riches…” (God will choose the time), “permitted by Him to enjoy…to take…and get pleasure…” (God will permit the enjoyment and the pleasure).

Reference: Philippians 4:11-13

3. Perspective on the anomalies – 6:1-9

a. There are some who are not given the blessing of enjoyment (vv. 1-2)

b. Even “traditional” blessings can be like a curse without the blessing of enjoyment (vv. 3-6)

c. All learning and all wisdom may be to no advantage (vv. 7-9)

C. The Preacher’s conclusion – 6:10-12

1. Strategic portion of the book and “hinge” between first 6 chapters and last 6 chapters

a. Conclusion of any arguments presented thus far in Chapters 1-6

The Preachers says in verses 10-11: “Whatever happens, it was designated long ago and it was known that it would happen; as for man, he cannot contend with what is stronger than he. Often, much talk means much futility. How does it benefit a man?” This verse concludes the argument presented in Chapter 3, verses 1-15. Looking back in particular at Chapter 3, verses 14-15, we see that Preacher restating that “…whatever God has brought to pass will recur evermore: Nothing can be added to it, and nothing taken from it – and God has brought to pass that men revere Him.”

Reference: Isaiah 45:9-13

b. Summarization of any points presented thus far in Chapters 1-6

In verse 12a the Preacher says: “Who can possibly know what is best for a man to do in life – the few days of his fleeting life?” This summarizes the question presented in Chapter 2: who knows what is good under the sun? In verse 12b the Preacher says: “For who can tell him what the future holds for him under the sun?” This summarizes the arguments presented in Chapters 3 through 6, that the future and times of future events cannot be determined, yet God has placed the ‛ôlâm within us to keep us connected to Him.

c. Verbal ties to Genesis in vv 10-12

The word “designated” in verse 10 is the same word as “called” in Genesis 1 and 2; the word “man” in verse 10 is “âdâm” from Genesis; and other repeated vocabulary are “life”, “good”, “day”, “sun”, in some translations “shadow”.

Clearly we see the link between the human attempt in Genesis for man to be God unto him/herself, and the human attempt in Ecclesiastes to determine what is good rather than seeking what God has called good.

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WEEK 7: Ecclesiastes 7:1 – 7:29

A. Helpful hints for reading proverbs

a. Slow down

b. Break it apart and determine relationships

c. Don’t just read 1 proverb for complete meaning

d. Application is important

~”Proverb” = Hebrew “mâshâl” = a sentence or maxim of ethical wisdom.

Strong’s Hebrew dictionary adds, “in some original sense of superiority in mental action.” In other words, proverbs are intended to be wisdom that leads to action.

B. Proverbs concerning prosperity and adversity – 7:1-14

1. A good name at death vs. hopes for a good name at birth – 7:1

a. At birth there are hopes for a life yet to be lived, and at death there is an evaluation of the life that was lived.

b. Success in life is not guaranteed and the achievement of a good name at death is a worthy accomplishment.

2. Adversity vs. merriment – 7:2-4

a. We tend to reflect more deeply on our lives in times of sadness than in times of merriment.

b. Connecting mourning with wisdom illustrates that important life lessons are learned through adversity.

3. Criticism of the wise vs. support from fools – 7:5-7

a. Harshest life lessons can come from a wise person’s criticism of our actions or decisions.

b. It is better to receive harsh yet honest criticism from a wise person than meaningless words of support from a fool.

Reference: Job 5:17-18; Proverbs 5:1-3; 3:11-12; 6:23; 9:8-9; 13:18, 24; 15:31-32; 17:10; 28:23

4. Patience in times of trouble vs. vexation and distress – 7:8-10

a. The benefit of being patient and seeing a situation to the end, rather than responding with pride at the first signs of trouble and wishing you could go back in time before the situation happened.

b. How often do we realize these truths when the situation or time of trouble has ended and we are able to reflect on what happened?

Reference: Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:34

5. Wisdom vs. wealth – 7:11-12

a. Verse 12 in the King James Version: “For wisdom is a defense, and money is a defense, but the excellency of knowledge is that wisdom giveth life to those that have it.”

b. Both wisdom and money provide their own types of shelter, defense, or protection (and hence “life”), but it is wisdom that has the ability to preserve the life of the one that possesses it.

~”Preserve” = Hebrew “châyâh” = revive, nourish, recover, repair, or restore

6. Conclusion – 7:13-14

a. God is sovereign over both the “crooked” and the “straight” in life, and we should respond to Him with this knowledge.

Reference: Ecclesiastes 1:15 and 3:1-15

b. Further lessons from the canonical conversation happening between Isaiah 45:5-7 and Job 1:22 and 2:10.

B. Proverbs concerning righteousness and wickedness – 7:15-22

1. A difficult reality – 7:15-18

a. Sometimes the bad guy wins and the good guy loses “under the sun.”

b. Just as a life of excess and foolishness can disappoint, so can a life of excess “good acts” and “wise words” if these are done apart from the fear of the Lord.

2. An important clarification – 7:19-22

a. For the true wise man (one who has fear of the Lord and is walking in God’s world on God’s terms) wisdom will provide him with more strength than ten mighty men.

b. No man is sinless and not prone to error; therefore, having true wisdom is even more necessary.

C. Proverbs concerning wisdom and folly – 7:23-8:1

1. The Preacher’s admission and continued commitment – 7:23-25

a. He first re-establishes his confidence in his quest, but then for the first time concretely admits that his goal is eluding him.

~”The secret” (TaNaKh) = 3 Hebrew words that mean “that which is”

~”Elusive” = Hebrew “râchôq” = something remote or distant, in both space and time.

~”Deep, deep down” (TaNaKh) = Hebrew “‛âmôq” = something that is so deep or in the depths that it is unsearchable

In other words, the nature of existence is so remote or distant from our understanding that it is essentially unsearchable.

b. The Preacher does not stop his quest but remains committed!

2. The “woman” – 7:26-29

a. Not a critique against women! Need to listen in on the canonical conversation happening here between Ecclesiastes and Proverbs.

b. Juxtapose “woman Wisdom” with “woman Folly” presented in Proverbs 1:20-33 and Proverbs 9:13-18

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WEEK 8: Ecclesiastes 8:1-10:20

A. The opening question and a statement – 8:1

1. “Who is like the wise? And who know the interpretation of a thing? A man’s wisdom makes his face shine, and the hardness of his face is changed.” (ESV)

shine = Hebrew ‘ôr = to become light or be illuminated

hardness = Hebrew ‛ôz = strength or might

a. thing = Hebrew dâbâr = word

changed = shânâ’ = to be altered

b. The Preacher seems to be asking the question: “Who is like the wise and can interpret wisdom?”

He then answers, “I will tell you! The one having the true wisdom of God will literally have a different appearance. There will be no mistaking it — God’s wisdom will be written all over his face.”

B. Success and failure of human government

1. Responding to being under the authority of the kings command – 8:2-8

a. “Keep the king’s command…” (ESV)

Observe the authority of government and have the appropriate degree of respect for authority both because of the fact that God has allowed that person to be in authority but also because we are under the authority of God.

Note: No notion here that one should have respect for authority because of some quality of that particular person or entity.

b. Recognize that those in authority will often do as they please without being questioned. What is our response?

“Be not hasty to go from his presence. Do not take your stand in an evil cause…” (ESV)

hasty = bâhal = to be disturbed, anxious, afraid, hurried, or nervous

stand = ‛âmad = to make a stand or hold one’s ground

We can recognize a leader’s authority yet still maintain the individual autonomy to respectfully disagree and not be part of a cause that we determine is evil.

c. There is a right time and a right way to keep the king’s command we will be able to discern this.

2. Human governments can fail – 8:9-14

a. The wicked in authority are often honored instead of being justly punished, and the righteous are unjustly punished when they should have been honored.

b. The evil man’s life may literally be long and full of evil, but he will not prolong his days “like a shadow” (shadow = Hebrew “tsêl” = shade as in protection) – he will not be protected – because he has not feared the Lord (walked in God’s world on God’s terms).

3. Conclusion – 8:10-14

a. Enjoy the present inheritance that God gives us in spite of uncertainties.

b. Recognize that we can never fully know God’s plan.

C. Further observations of God’s purposeful and intentional design for His creation – 9:1-10:20

1. Death comes to all (9:1-6). What is our response?

a. Enjoy our present inheritance.

b. Live well, love well, and work well!

2. Take joy in life with the reminder that life is uncertain – 9:11-10:20

a. However superior wisdom is, it is still vulnerable to neglect or being ignored, and it can easily be overshadowed by folly. (9:11-18)

b. Even a little folly can cause massive effects and the differences between a wise man and a fool are great. A mark of wisdom appears to be a calm attitude and quiet speech. (10:1-4)

c. There are times when people rise to positions of authority when they do not deserve them. (10:5-7)

d. Success is unpredictable (10:8-11)

e. Excessive talk and action can be useless. Clearly, a mark of wisdom is knowing when to criticize those in authority and when to hold your tongue. (10:12-15)

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WEEK 9: Ecclesiastes 11:1-12:14

Chapter 11 is seen as a response to the proverbs the Preacher has presented to us in Chapters 9 and 10.

A. Give generously and live trustingly – 11:1-6

1. 11:1 – begins with a word that is translated “therefore”

2. 11:1-2 – “Therefore, send your bread forth upon the waters; for after many days you will find it. Distribute (give) portions to seven or even to eight, for you cannot know what misfortune may occur on earth.”

a. send = Hebrew shâlach = to send out, let loose, let go, or set free

bread = Hebrew lechem = bread or food

many = Hebrew rôb = multitude or numerous

find = Hebrew mâtsâ’ = to find, secure, acquire what is being sought

give = Hebrew nâthan = to bestow, grant, give over, or even to stretch out or extend.

b. Cross reference: Luke 12:33

3. 11:3-6

a. We are unable to predict the future.

b. Using the metaphor of planting, he encourages us not to wait to proceed with that needs to be done for conditions to be perfect.

c. Freedom in knowing that the God we put faith in will meet every need!

B. Concluding thoughts on living life and trusting God – 11:7-10

1. 11:7 – “light” is a metaphor of life

a. Cross reference: Job 3:16, 33:28, and 33:30

2. 11:8 – in contrast is “darkness

a. darkness = Hebrew chôshek = misery, destruction, or death

3. 11:9-10

a. Let your heart experience as much good as possible, BUT this good should be what God defines as good, knowing that we are called into account for all of our actions in this life.

b. “Banish care” and “pluck sorrow” is part of the command of enjoying life!

C. A poem about remembering God in our youth – 12:1-8

1. Remember your Creator in the days of your youth

a. remember = Hebrew zâkar = literally means to call to mind or recall

2. 12:2-6 – various metaphors for old age

a. vision grows dim and things around us grow “dark” (v 2)

b. hands and fingers tremble, the back is bent, we lose teeth (v 3)

c. we lose our hearing and struggle with sleeplessness (v 4)

d. our fears grow, our movement slows, and our desires fail (v 5)

e. finally we come to the end of life (v 6)

3. 12:7 – language reminiscent of Genesis

D. The Epilogue and the Return of the Narrator – 12:9-12

1. 12:9-10 – reminders of the Preacher’s qualifications (echoes of Solomon)

a. last word of verse 10 translated as “truth” = Hebrew ’emeth = from the same root word as ‘âmên that is translated as “so be it” or “truly”

2. 12:11 – description of the Preacher’s teaching

a. a goad and nails: the teaching will prod us or move us into action but will also anchor or fasten us down.

b. shepherd = Hebrew râ’âh = someone who tends a flock

Cross reference: I Peter 2:25

3. 12:12 – take these writings seriously

a. endless writings = Hebrew sêpher = missives, documents, prophecies

4. “The sum of the matter”

a. Fear God and observe His commands. These commands are the totality of ‘âdâm – or the whole of mankind.

4 thoughts on “Ecclesiastes Bible Study Notes

  1. Hi Vern,

    Melanie and I sat through your Ecclesiastes study in Lincoln EFree several years ago. I am meeting with FCA men’s group in GI now and we are beginning a study in Ecclesiastes. Thanks for the past teaching and the resources you provide for all to learn God’s Word.We would both be very interested in study materials and any seminars you may be leading.

    Doyle and Melanie Denney

  2. Reading this has been a true blessing for me. Thank you for your labor. You have done a wonderful job of explaining God’s word in a comprehensive and detailed fashion.

    I found your piece using Google after trying to find more meaning behind a Sunday School lesson this past week.

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