If you have time, read the entire book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible of your choice. If you are able to locate a copy of the TaNaKh (Jewish Bible) consider reading the book in that version as well.
Specifically focus this week on Ecclesiastes 1:1-11.
Before you start your reading, consider the following questions:
1. How do you define wisdom?
2. Empiricism is a way of thinking and knowing based on our own experience; knowledge based upon information gathered from our senses. Philosophers and scientists have used the empirical method for centuries. Do you believe that empiricism is a source of wisdom? Or knowledge? Or both?
3. Do you think there is a difference between worldly wisdom and Biblical wisdom?
4. What are some examples of non-Biblical wisdom literature?
5. How do these “worldly” books differ from Biblical wisdom literature (traditionally Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes)
Read Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 and consider the following questions:
1. The recurring phrase in verse 2 is translated many different ways depending on the Bible you are reading. Here are 3 examples:
~ “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (NIV)
~ “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, “vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” (ESV)
~ “Utter futility!” said Koheleth. “Utter futility! All is futile!” (TaNaKh)
What do you think the Preacher means?
2. Do you see a structure within the poem in verses 3-11?
3. What do you think the phrase “under the sun” means? Does the existence of things “under the sun” imply the existence of things “above the sun”?
Focus this week on Ecclesiastes 1:12 – 2:26 and consider the following questions:
1. The Preacher presents two parables in 1:15 and 1:18. What do you think these proverbs mean? Is discovering the answers to or explanation of these particular proverbs the point of the passage? Or do you think it is possible that God has something greater in mind?
2. Compare Ecclesiastes 2:3-10 and Genesis chapters 1 and 2. List all of the similar words and phrases that you notice. Would you agree that we hear “echoes of Paradise” in this early portion of Ecclesiastes?
3. Compare the different assessments of creation in Genesis 1:31 and Ecclesiastes 2:11. What are the ultimate differences between these two assessments?
4. In 2:24, we are introduced for the first time to the notion that God provides us with a “present inheritance” or a certain kind of “gift portion” during our time under the sun. Are we satisfied with this present inheritance? Do you think it is designed to cause us to seek something more?
Focus this week on Ecclesiastes 3:1 – 3:15 and consider the following questions:
1. Verses 1-8 are well-loved and even the subject of a popular song. If you can, read these verses in more than one translation of Ecclesiastes and notice any differences in the terms used for the different “seasons” and “experiences.”
~Do any of the seasons or experiences strike a chord for you? Any that cause you to respond emotionally or cause you to recall a time that God brought you through that particular season or experience? Maybe you are still in that season or experience and want to share?
2. In verses 1-8 we are essentially told that everything and its opposite can happen during this life. In verse 9 the Preacher appears to be asking the question: If this is true, why do anything? What’s the point?
~Do you agree? If not, what is the point?
3. In verse 11, we are introduced to the word “‘olam” which in Hebrew means “eternity.”
~What do you think the Preacher means when he says, “He also puts eternity (‘olam) in their mind, but without man every guessing, from first to last, all the things that god brings to pass.”
~Why would God do this? Simply to frustrate us? Or could it be a mark of sovereignty designed to prompt in us a certain response?
Focus this week on Ecclesiastes 3:16 – 4:16 and consider the following questions:
This portion of Ecclesiastes presents the “anomalies” in God’s perfect and intentional design for His creation – 6 realities that don’t seem to “fit” into God’s plan.
3:16-17 – The anomaly of injustice
3:18-22 – The anomaly of indiscriminate death
4:1-3 – The anomaly of social oppression
4: 4-6 – The anomaly of toil without contentment
4:7-12 – The anomaly of loneliness and isolation
4:13-16 – The anomaly of insecurity
1. How should we as people of God respond to these anomalies?
2. What is our responsibility towards those in the 5 categories of destitution presented in 4:1-3?
3. How can we further enable the church to respond to social need?
Focus this week on Ecclesiastes 4:17 – 6:12 and consider the following questions:
1. In 4:17 through 5:6, we are given very specific instructions for how to approach God. Keep in mind that we have been told thus far in Ecclesiastes that this is a God who has a very purposeful and intentionally designed plan for His creation, yet this plan has some very striking anomalies that we must struggle with.
~How often do we approach God and do all of the talking?
~If your life has been affected by one of the 6 “anomalies” discussed in Week 5, how did your processing of/reacting to this event affect your approach to God about the issue?
~Can you think of specific examples of how you have approached God about things in the past and how you might approach Him differently at this point in your life?
2. What perspectives on money and wealth are we given in 5:9 – 5:16?
3. Compare what the Preacher has to say about abundance in 5:17 – 5:19 with what Paul has to say in Philippians 4:11-13. Would you agree that Paul was well-versed in Ecclesiastes? Why or why not?
4. Chapter 6:10-12 is a very strategic part of Ecclesiastes because these 3 verses are at the precise midpoint of the book and are seen as a “hinge” between the first 6 chapters and the last 6 chapters.
Read vv 10-12 in more than one translation of the Bible and challenge yourself to see if you can observe any of the following:
~Conclusion of any arguments presented thus far in Chapters 1-6?
~Summarization of any points presented thus far in Chapters 1-6?
~Any verbal ties to Genesis in vv 10-12?
Chapter 7 presents the Preacher’s continued attempts to determine the good (“tob”) in life — this time using the medium of proverb.
Focus this week on Ecclesiastes 7:1 – 7:29 and consider the following questions:
1. What do the proverbs in 7:1-14 tell us specifically about…
2. What do the proverbs in 7:15-22 tell us specifically about…
3. What do the proverbs in 7:23-29 tell us specifically about…
Focus this week on Ecclesiastes 8:1 – 10:20 and consider the following questions:
1. Chapter 8:2-8 discusses the success and failure of human government.
- Do you think these verses apply to a country or people at war? If so, how?
2. Chapter 9:13-10:1 discusses the vulnerability of wisdom.
- Based on what these verses are saying, should we continue pursuing wisdom? Why or why not?
3. Chapter 10:8-11 seems to be saying that success in work may never be attained.
- Based on what these verses are saying, should we forget trying to succeed? Why or why not?
Focus this week on Ecclesiastes 11:1 – 12:14 and consider the following questions:
1. Chapter 11:1-6 discusses giving generously and living trustingly.
- How can faithful generosity be a priority when life is so unpredictable?
2. Chapter 11:7-10 shares very wise words about enjoyment.
- Think back over the entire book of Ecclesiastes and the theme of enjoyment. How would you sum up the Preacher’s thoughts about enjoying life?
3. Chapter 12:1-8 is a poem about youth and old age.
- Verse 1 is often translated “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth.” We are also told to “remember” the Sabbath and keep it holy, and Christ instructs us to observe the Lord’s supper “in remembrance” of Him.What are your thoughts on the theme of “remembering” in the word of God?
4. Chapter 12:9-14 is the prologue to the book of Ecclesiastes.
- The Preacher provides “the sum of the matter” in verses 13-14.In what ways can we read the Gospel “between the lines” of verses 13-14?