Ecclesiastes

This is an in-depth study on the book of Ecclesiastes, which teaches that everything in life is fleeting and thus one's only meaning is found in Yahweh. The wisdom books are Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job and should be studied in this order. This study is 1 hour long (recorded in 2020). This is worth 0.3 Bible CEUs.

 

pdf-icon.png Ecclesiastes Notes (391.72 KB)

 

Ecclesiastes-Purpose and Structure
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20:34 min
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Ecclesiastes-Prologue
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8:01 min
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Ecclesiastes-Pursuits
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11:26 min
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Ecclesiastes-Deconstruction
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19:50 min
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Ecclesiastes-Epilogue
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9:34 min
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In the Hebrew, the title of this book is all of Ecclesiastes 1:1. The Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) gave it the name “Ekklesiastes,” from which the English title is a transliteration. This word is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word qohelet (Ecc. 1:1), which means “teacher.” The book claims that it contains the teachings of Solomon (Ecc. 1:1, 12; 2:26; 2:4-9; 12:9). Most scholars believe that a separate, unknown author gathered the teachings of Solomon into his own book sometime after the reign of Solomon but before the exile.

The books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job are considered wisdom literature. While narrative uses stories to reveal the character of Yahweh and the nature of humanity, and poetry is the expression of human emotions to Yahweh, wisdom literature instructs and provides the practical skills to obtain a good and full life. The books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job are all asking the question “What does it mean to live well in the world?” Each book explores what it means to have the good life, with three different perspectives.[1] The good life is directly connected to the retribution principle, which means that the righteous will be rewarded justly for good behavior and the wicked will be punished justly for bad behavior. It is not possible to have a good life if there is no justice for good and bad behavior in the world.

Proverbs provides the perspective of Lady Wisdom who is a wise teacher, who believes that Yahweh is wise and just, and there is a clear cause and effect between doing the right thing and being rewarded or doing the wrong thing and suffering. Ecclesiastes speaks as the cynic who makes the observation that this is not always true. Life is not just; sometimes bad things happen to good people and good things happen to foolish people. And Job is the old man who has seen and suffered a lot in his life and questions justice of Yahweh when good people suffer. All three of these books together address the wisdom of Yahweh and how one is to live wisely and obtain the good life in a fallen world.

The purpose of the book of Ecclesiastes is to demonstrate that humans cannot grasp the meaning in life and, thus, one’s only meaning is found in Yahweh. Proverbs consistently assumes that good behavior results in positive outcomes and bad behavior results in negative outcomes. The teacher in Ecclesiastics denies these outcomes as consistent. The retribution principle does not work, and it should. Life is unfair. The wise and the foolish share the same outcomes regardless of how they conduct themselves (Ecc. 2:14-16; 8:14). The teacher recognizes the contradictions in life, which is what leads to his statement that life is meaningless. Quoting one side of the tension without acknowledging the other leads to serious distortion. The reader is challenged to allow the competing claims to be heard, and to find truth in their clash.[2]

The book address two principal questions. The first is whether human experience is meaningful, controllable, and predictable. The teacher’s answer is that people are not able to glean meaning from life or control their circumstances. The only certainty in life is death. The second is whether human well-being is possible. The teacher’s answer is that it is possible to enjoy the pleasures of life, food, family, and work. Thus, these two conclusions are in tension. Life has no discernable meaning, but it still can be enjoyed. There is the possibility of joy, but it exists within the context of human limitations.[3]

 

[1] See Temper Longman III. Proverbs, pp. 61-63.

[2] See Roland E. Murphy and Elizabeth Huwiler. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs, p. 167.

[3] See Roland E. Murphy and Elizabeth Huwiler. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs, p. 159.