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Bible: What Does Ecclesiastes 1-4 Teach Us About "Life"?

Updated on September 9, 2016

The Wisdom of Solomon


Ecclesiastes 1-4: The "Vanity" of Life, and the Rich Variety of "Life"

Ecclesiastes 1

Solomon, the author/preacher (v. 12), speaks about the ‘‘vanity’’ of life (vv. 1-2, 14).

[How should the interpreter determine what the original writer meant by the term 'vanity'?

The English word is derived from the Hebrew term meaning "breath."

Therefore, is it possible that Solomon may have meant that because this earthly life is like a breath—that is, it does not last very long—, one cannot fully experience, accomplish, and enjoy what one desires?]

Man cannot profit much from his work because he eventually dies (vv. 3-4).

The physical world carries on its normal cycles; the sun, the winds and the waters continue their circuitous routes (vv. 5-7).

Man's finiteness and mortality frustrate his labor and his enjoyment of the fruits thereof (v. 8).

Verses 9-11 do not teach a cyclical view of existence—specifically, that history has no termination point, that it is an endless repetition of birth, growth, and death.

[This is an Eastern, pantheistic perspective.

Those who believe that a personal God exists who has devised eternal purposes for this life and has set an end to temporal existence must reject it].

This passage does teach that life's patterns (that is, the past and man’s actions) do not essentially change from generation to generation.

Solomon labels the activities of humanity collectively as "this grievous task" (v. 13); many things that are wrong will never be righted in this life (v. 15).

Possessing great knowledge and wisdom has its down side: the more one knows and understands about life, the more difficult it is to keep one's sorrow in check (vv. 16-18).

The Fool


Ecclesiastes' Message

What was Solomon's view toward this life?

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Ecclesiastes 2

"Eat, Drink, and Enjoy"

Solomon pursued many kinds of pleasure—humorous entertainment, alcoholic beverages, architecture, botany, "slavery" of humanity, animal husbandry, money and music—in his search for something that would last, but he found nothing (vv. 1-8).

[This search is extremely personal (note the many “I's”). But is it thus all sinful?]

He considers the joy he received from his work as his reward (v. 10).

However, realizing the brevity of his existence, he chalks it all up as ultimately meaningless (v. 11).

The king understands wisdom to be better than folly to guide one's life, but also admits that both methods eventually lead the individual to "the same event" (death?).

After the wise pass away, no one remembers them, just as no one remembers the fool (vv. 12-16).

Solomon says that he came to hate both life (v. 17) and his work (v. 18) when he understood that he would not be able to enjoy them to their fullest; that is, forever.

Some person unknown to him would take over his possessions after he died, and only God knows what would then become of them (vv. 19-21).

Summing it all up as vanity, the sage asserts that the best thing for man to do is to eat, drink, and enjoy the accomplishments that God allows him to have (vv. 24-26).

Solomon's Conclusion

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We Have Time

Ecclesiastes 3

A Time for Everything

God permits humanity the opportunity to experience many events and a variety of emotions within those events, each having its own appropriate role to play in life (vv. 1-8; cf. v. 11).

Some are “negative” (dying, killing, breaking down, weeping, mourning, refraining from embracing, losing, tearing, hating, warring), and some are “positive” (being born, planting, healing, building up, laughing, dancing, embracing, gaining, keeping, sewing, loving, peace-making).

In a fallen world, such a mixture will always comprise the essence of Life.

Man intuitively perceives eternity's existence, but he cannot discover God’s inscrutable purposes for it all (v. 11b).

Therefore, Solomon's bottom line—rejoice, do good, eat, drink, and enjoy God's gifts (vv. 12-13)—results because the LORD's eternal decree is final.

No matter what epoch a man traverses this globe, he still stands accountable to God (vv. 14-15; cf. 1:9).

Solomon continues this idea of judgment in vv. 16-17, stating that God will set to right all wrongs.

Man dies just like the animals, and no one knows what happens to his spirit afterwards (vv. 18-21).

Therefore, he advises man to rejoice in his works, because after death he will not see what becomes of anything (v. 22).

[At least Solomon acknowledged that man's spirit goes somewhere at death]!

Ecclesiastes 4

Solomon was sensitive to the injustices in life, especially to mankind's cruelty to his fellow man; he manifested his compassion by his great sorrow for the uncomforted and downtrodden (v. 1).

He ranks as most fortunate those who did not survive birth to face oppression and suffering (vv. 2-3).

Verses 4-8 center around the folly of toiling alone for selfish gain.

Such labor causes envy (v. 4), does not satisfy (v. 8a), and ends up being empty (v. 8b).

Just having a little with quietness is much better than having much with discontentment (v. 6).

Having a friend to help in times of need is of great value, because he provides strength, protection, and profit (vv. 9-12).

The Preacher recognizes that a king may hold sway for a time; eventually, however, his popularity wanes, and the people follow another (vv. 13-16).

[Whether this account is autobiographical or merely arises after Solomon observed the careers of other historical figures, this writer can only speculate].

© 2013 glynch1


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    • glynch1 profile image

      glynch1 4 years ago

      I appreciate your kind words. Ecclesiastes is a widely misunderstood book.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Very enlightening study on Ecclesiastes. Will read some other studies as well.