Making Sense Of Ecclesiastes

It is written:

“The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. 2  “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher; “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” 3  What profit has a man from all his labor In which he toils under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:1-3)

Ecclesiastes is often thought of as the most depressing and morbid Book of the entire Bible. Solomon expresses anguish and outrage at the seeming meaningless existence of humanity, the futility of life, and the grim certainty of death. Life, it seems to the wise king, is an empty shell of existence with no lasting joy and purpose.

Yet is that what Solomon is trying to communicate in this great Book?

Or is there a deeper meaning?

To answer, notice this phrase that is found throughout Ecclesiastes: “under the sun.” It is a big clue in understanding the overall meaning of this great Book.

“While it is true that the Preacher takes a sober view of life, never flinching from any of its complexities and confusions, it is equally true that he has solid hope in the goodness of God as well as lasting joy in the beauty of his many gifts. This is exactly why he has shown us the futility of everything earthly: it is so we will put our hope in the everlasting God. The Preacher hints at his evangelistic purpose by using an important phrase almost thirty times over the course of his argument: “under the sun.” As he describes the absurdity and futility of work and wisdom and pleasure and everything else, he repeatedly says that this is what things are like “under the sun” (e.g., Ecclesiastes 1: 3). In other words, this is what life is like when we view it from a merely human perspective, when we limit our gaze to this solar system, without ever lifting our eyes to see the beauty and glory of God in Heaven. If that is all we see, then life will leave us empty and unhappy. But when we look to God with reverence and awe, we are able to see the meaning of life, and the beauty of its pleasures, and the eternal significance of everything we do, including the little things of everyday life. Only then can we discover why everything matters. We catch glimpses of this eternal perspective throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, but it becomes even clearer at the very end. Vanity does not have the last word. Instead, the author says, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12: 13). Similarly, the book of Proverbs says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (1: 7). Here in Ecclesiastes, Solomon says that the fear of God is not just the beginning but also the end—the goal of our existence. But in order to know and enjoy God properly, we first have to see the emptiness of life without him, becoming thoroughly disillusioned with everything the world has to offer. To this end, Ecclesiastes gives us a true assessment of what life is like apart from the grace of God. This makes it a hopeful book, not a depressing one; ultimately its worldview is positive, not negative. Like a good pastor, Qoheleth shows us the absolute vanity of life without God, so that we finally stop expecting earthly things to give us lasting satisfaction and learn to live for God rather than for ourselves. The great English preacher John Wesley once preached his way through this great book of the Bible. In his personal journal he described what it was like to begin that sermon series. “Began expounding the Book of Ecclesiastes,” he wrote. “Never before had I so clear a sight either of its meaning or beauties. Neither did I imagine, that the several parts of it were in so exquisite a manner connected together, all tending to prove the grand truth, that there is no happiness out of God.” 21 What Wesley discovered was a life-changing truth, which we can pray that Ecclesiastes will also teach us: we will never find any true meaning or lasting happiness unless and until we find it in God.” (Philip Graham Ryken, Ecclesiastes: Why Everything Matters (Preaching the Word), 20-21 (Kindle Edition); Wheaton, Illinois; Crossway)

Thus, Solomon is not trying to show that life has no meaning. Rather, he is helping us to remember that a life lived APART FROM GOD has no truly lasting joy and purpose.

Colossians 3:4-Christ gives meaning to your life, and when he appears, you will also appear with him in glory.

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