One of five poetic books in the Bible, Ecclesiastes is an intriguing book to many. It is also a much misunderstood book. Pessimists find enough material in it to boost their gloomy outlook of life. Skeptics use it to support their view that death ends all. Some believers find it hard to harmonise its unusual contents with the rest of the Scriptures. Despite these views, Ecclesiastes is a book that we should not dismiss. As with all Scriptures, Ecclesiastes was written “for our learning” (Rom 15: 4) and “admonition” (I Cor 10: 11).
“The book has special relevance today in our materialistic society, for it helps us to see the vanity of many earthly pursuits. It contains lessons for all, but especially for the young who have so much to lose should they make the wrong choices early in life” (www.ccel.org/contrib/exec_outlines/ecc/ecc_00.htm).
King Solomon began “Ecclesiastes” with a lament – “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity” (1: 1). Solomon – the richest and wisest of all men who ever lived – had set his heart to search for satisfaction and happiness. Despite his great wealth and resources, all his experiments and efforts ended in futility. Reflecting on his extensive experiences, Solomon’s opening statement in Ecclesiastes summed up the lessons learnt from his search – that life, apart from God is vain and meaningless: “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity” (1: 2).
Perturbed by the emptiness of earthly pursuits, the king asked: “What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?” (v 3). He put forward the same question in Ecclesiastes 3: 9 and 5: 16. As God has set eternity in man’s hearts, Solomon realised that man can never be satisfied with the things of this temporal earthly life: “He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end” (3: 11).
Solomon ended his sermon with a fitting answer to his question above. While “all is vanity” (12: 8), Solomon wisely counselled all men to “fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (12: 13-14). The pursuit of earthly wisdom is a futile quest which will only frustrate and weary the seeker. On the other hand, he who fears God and obeys Him will have true happiness and satisfaction in life.
Outline of the Book of Ecclesiastes
A. Title (1:1)
B. Poem—A Life of Activity That Appears Wearisome (1:2–11)
II. Solomon’s Investigation (1:12–6:9)
A. Introduction—The King and His Investigation (1:12–18)
B. Investigation of Pleasure-Seeking (2:1–11)
C. Investigation of Wisdom and Folly (2:12–17)
D. Investigation of Labor and Rewards (2:18–6:9)
1. One has to leave them to another (2:18–26)
2. One cannot find the right time to act (3:1–4:6)
3. One often must work alone (4:7–16)
4. One can easily lose all he acquires (5:1–6:9)
III. Solomon’s Conclusions (6:10–12:8)
A. Introduction—The Problem of Not Knowing (6:10–12)
B. Man Cannot Always Find Out Which Route is the Most Successful for Him to Take Because His Wisdom is Limited (7:1–8:17)
1. On prosperity and adversity (7:1–14)
2. On justice and wickedness (7:15–24)
3. On women and folly (7:25–29)
4. On the wise man and the king (8:1–17)
C. Man Does Not Know What Will Come After Him (9:1–11:6)
1. He knows he will die (9:1–4)
2. He has no knowledge in the grave (9:5–10)
3. He does not know his time of death (9:11, 12)
4. He does not know what will happen (9:13–10:15)
5. He does not know what evil will come (10:16–11:2)
6. He does not know what good will come (11:3–6)
D. Man Should Enjoy Life, But Not Sin, Because Judgment Will Come to All (11:7–12:8)
IV. Solomon’s Final Advice (12:9–14)
Let us look forward to a meaningful time of study of this fascinating poetic book. May the Lord minister to us through His precious Word. Amen.