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Lessons for life from Ecclesiastes

Updated on February 24, 2018

These last couple of weeks I began again to question what life is all about. We seem to spend so much time doing things that are actually of little or no importance. This is such a waste of time and energy. The question came as I taught the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament at the East Cape Bible College in East London. At the same time I again read the book Walden by Henry David Thoreau in the Scott Library published in about 1909. Thoreau lived near Boston in the USA but dropped out of the rat race to live at Walden Lake on the Concord River. As a scholar-gipsy, poet, naturalist and transcendentalist he built his own simple house and spent two and a half years living of the land and rejecting normal participation in society.

At that time Thoreau asked some difficult questions about life as he saw it unfolding in the USA over one hundred years ago. In my opinion he did not really come up with any real answers. His experience in going back to nature was interesting but one gets the feeling that in the end he was very much where he started.

In the book of Ecclesiastes a very wise and very rich man, who lived in a palace, came to the end of his life with a definite answer and records that in this Old Testament book. A careful reading of the book of Ecclesiastes leads us to discover that Solomon writing those12 chapters extolls the “vanity” of life and what it offers.

The writer mentions how people strive for meaning in all the wrong places. These include; riches (2:8), experiences and activity (1:8,9), great projects (2:4-7), keeping up with your neighbours (4:4), lording over others, (8:9) and pleasure, laughter and wine (2:1-3). In the end he finds that "this is all a chasing after the wind" (1:17) What brings meaning to life is hard work (5:12), sharing your life with someone (4:7-12), respect for law (8:2-6), the wise use of words (10:12-14) and finding God's purpose for your life. While all the human efforts seem so important as we battle through life, what is really important is finding the life that you were created for. This can only be found in what is revealed in God's Word.

Solomon like Thoreau was a naturalist, poet and a human like you and me. In Walden, Thoreau writes over 300 pages of vivid description praising the beautiful lake that he loved and the nature in and around it. Yet in the final analysis he returns to society to live a "normal life".

While they both seem to be on a quest to find truth and what is important in this world, they come at it from very different angles and find very different answer. Yes, in some ways their conclusions are very similar as they go along but in other ways they are vastly different.

Thoreau ends his book with a statement that is profound and challenging:”Only that day dawns to which we are awake”. Jesus proclaims in the gospels that we need to live one day at a time. The writer of Ecclesiastes writes: ‘After all this, there is only one thing to say: have reverence for God and obey his commands, for this is all that man was created for”.(N.E.B.)

It is however from a careful study of the journey that these two men in different ages took that an important message for our lives jumps out: Take stock of your life, set some priorities and then live your life with meaning. Otherwise you may just waste it!

Surely God has a plan for you and me and so if we search for it, find it, and follow it, then we may find real meaning. After all that is what God intended for us; to be the unique and special person that we are; the person with opportunities and possibilities that no one else has; the person that we really need to be.

Anything else is the sad story of a life wasted. Ever in todays busy world the lessons from Ecclesiastes are really worth learning on many different levels. Dust off your Bible and look up the message from the wise man many years ago. It may just be what you and I need as we look forward to a new year that is approaching fast!


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    • Johan Smulders profile image

      Johan Smulders 5 years ago from East London, South Africa

      Thanks for the comment. For years we have worked with really poor people and they are often smiling and love the Lord

    • MissMelissaK profile image

      MissMelissaK 5 years ago from Stuart, Florida

      Excellent hub. I love this chapter from the bible. He had everything anyone could ever hope for and yet he still wasn't happy. Through the ages, it seems to never change. People seek fame and fortune only to find little meaning once they've obtained everything. Look at all the millions of people who have money and are just plain miserable and then those who destroy it with drugs and foolish choices. It's interesting to note that some of the poorest countries in the world that have the Christian faith are some of the happiest people you will ever meet filled with love and compassion. The Word of God sustains the heart even in the darkest of hours.

    • Johan Smulders profile image

      Johan Smulders 5 years ago from East London, South Africa

      Thanks snowdrops, I love your name!

    • snowdrops profile image

      snowdrops 5 years ago from The Second Star to the Right

      Aemn. This is one great write! Voted up!

    • Johan Smulders profile image

      Johan Smulders 5 years ago from East London, South Africa

      Amen and thanks!

    • Civil War Bob profile image

      Civil War Bob 5 years ago from Glenside, Pennsylvania

      Good hub, Johan...voted up and interesting. It's good to stand still in the Road of Life to look back on where you've been. One reassuring fact is when you're walking on The Long and Winding Narrow Road, the Celestial City is at the end! Grace and peace!