Ecclesiastes 1

Chapter 1:1-11

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  • Why do we spend our time in study of God’s word?

2Tim. 3:14 You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them,
2Tim. 3:15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
2Tim. 3:16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;
2Tim. 3:17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
  • Understanding scripture is ultimately about preparing every believer to do the good work God has for them. It is our walk of sanctification, helping to make us holy and set apart as sacred. It is how we are disciples of Jesus and what we are to use as we disciple other believers.

    • Paul tells Timothy, you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom… What scared writings would Paul be referring to? (The OT scriptures)

    • It is as important to know what is given to us in the Old Testament scriptures as it is the New Testament scriptures. At VBVF we study both.

  • For our study time together we are moving to the Old Testament, we are going to study the book of Ecclesiastes.

  • How many of you have studied this book before? It is new book for many of us, including me. It was a suggestion from one of the members of our class.

    • I read through it, and was struck by the appropriateness for the wisdom it offers as we navigate the times we are in!

  • What genre, or categories of literature are found in the Old Testament scriptures?

    • Pentateuch–the first 5 books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy

      • Historical

      • Prophets

      • Wisdom

  • Ecclesiastes falls into the group known as Wisdom books.

    • It has a reputation of being what type of book? (depressing)

    • Within the Wisdom Literature of the ancient Near East there was a style of writing which we may call "pessimism literature". Ecclesiastes is the only example of this style of writing included in the scriptures.

    • Ecclesiastes is also one of five books, or scrolls, included in what is called the Megilloth (muh-gee-lah), which in the Jewish tradition is read during Sukkot, or Feast of Booths (Tabernacles). It is the seventh and last festival on the biblical calendar, as recorded in Leviticus 23.

      • The other four books read are the Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations and Esther.

  • I do not often spend a lot of time setting up a book before we just start the study of the book. I try to wait until something is mentioned in the book and then follow that assessment. I am going to do a bit more in background and preview of the book this time. We will also refer back to these as they are brought to us in the verse-by-verse study of the book as well as doing a review when we are finished.

  • This author begins with his conclusion and then spends the book defending his position. We can discuss at the conclusion of the study if we think that this was true.

    • It appears to be reflective in nature, which might indicate that it was written by someone after they had lived much of their life, and had their experiences to look back upon to share what they learned and how it changed their perspectives on life.

      • This is not an uncommon desire for people in all cultures and throughout history. Many of us have experienced this in our own lives either as the receiver or giver of the information.

    • There are interesting approaches used by the writer to cause the reader to think more deeply about their own observations. The writer is inviting us to take this journey with him, to think about questions and answers for ourselves.

  • A number of recognizable literary forms are used in the Book of Ecclesiastes:

    • Aphorism – short truth statements sometimes called Proverbs, which are also admonitions. Some help clarify life’s difficulties while others used to be argued against.

    • Admonition – warnings or reproofs.

    • Didactic narrative: Didactic – intending to teach a moral lesson, and Narrative – using a short story to teach the moral lesson.

    • Antiproverbs – sayings with an opposite conclusion than tradition would dictate.

      • It is presented to make you think the person is leading in a predictable direction and then they turn at the last minute.

      • We see this most often used in humorous ways. Like, "If at first you don't succeed, quit”. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stranger.”

        • The humor is only seen if the hearer knows the standard proverb.

        • This is why we miss the use of so many of these in works that are old, from another culture, or translated from another language.

    • Rhetorical questions – a question asked only to produce an effect or to make an assertion of affirmation or denial and not to elicit a reply, example “Are you out of your mind?”

      • My family accuses me of using these ALL the time. Asking ‘What time do you need to be there?”, instead of saying directly, “you should stop doing what you are doing now when you should be getting ready to leave.”

    • We find very descriptive language used for emphasis and simplification of understanding. Repetition is always used for emphasis. 1:2 displays this.

  • I will try to define the type of literary form being used as we progress through this book. I may miss this at times because I don’t want to over analyze the style and miss the focus of the substance.

Eccl. 1:1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
Eccl. 1:2  “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher,
“Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”
  • v.1 How does this book begin? (The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.)

  • The author is not specifically identified by name.

    • The first descriptor of the author given is, “The words of the Preacher” (NASB translation).

    • The Hebrew literally is “The words of Koheleth”, a noun, from the root kahal; to collect, gather together, assemble, “one who convenes a congregation”.

      • There is nowhere else in the Old Testament this exact word is used.

      • Specifically the translation in the Septuagint is qohelet “one who convenes a congregation”, with the word for a public speaker, a speaker in an assembly; (ekklesia) or in English “Ecclesiastes” finally translated for us as preacher, teacher.

    • The focus became the role of the person, not the name the person.

    • This is also why, when translations were made in English, the idea of the role this person would have in calling the assembly would be The Teacher, The Preacher or The Leader of the Assembly.

  • What is the Septuagint? (the oldest Greek version of the Old Testament)

  • v.1 Secondly, the author clearly identifies he is what? (the son of David)

    • This would narrow the list of individuals we could identify as the author.

2 Sam. 12:24 Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and went in to her and lay with her; and she gave birth to a son, and he named him Solomon. Now the LORD loved him
2 Sam. 12:25 and sent word through Nathan the prophet, and he named him Jedidiah for the LORD’S sake.
  • We see Solomon was the son of David and Bathsheba.

  • v.1 Finally the author says he is what? (King in Jerusalem).

1Kings 1:28 Then King David said, “Call Bathsheba to me.” And she came into the king’s presence and stood before the king.
1Kings 1:29 The king vowed and said, “As the LORD lives, who has redeemed my life from all distress,
1Kings 1:30 surely as I vowed to you by the LORD the God of Israel, saying, ‘Your son Solomon shall be king after me, and he shall sit on my throne in my place’; I will indeed do so this day.”
  • Read more of 1 Kings to get the details of the events of Solomon becoming king of all Israel, ruling from Jerusalem.

  • This would be the first verse we would look to in identifying the author of this book and why many have concluded this is Solomon, since he clearly meets all the criteria. Solomon’s authorship was historically accepted by Christians and Jews.

    • There have been books written about the suggestions that Ecclesiastes was written by someone else. They hypothesize that the Hebrew used in the text belongs to a time considerably later than that of Solomon’s time and that the identifying writing styles were not common at the time of Solomon’s life.

    • There is nothing definitive excluding Solomon as the author, and I will teach from the perspective that Solomon is the author. Who wrote the words does not diminish what the words mean.

  • The early verdict to credit this writing to Solomon is why it was placed after the writings in the scriptures attributed to his father David. The works of the father come before the son.

    • I think it might be important for us to know a bit about Solomon before we delve into what this book contains for us. Who was Solomon according to scripture?

1Kings 2:12 And Solomon sat on the throne of David his father, and his kingdom was firmly established.
  • Solomon reigned over a united Israel (both Israel and Judah) from about 970 to 931 BCE. 

    • Solomon was given great understanding and discernment by God.

1Kings 3:3  Now Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David, except he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places.
1Kings 3:4 The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place; Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar.
1Kings 3:5 In Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night; and God said, “Ask what you wish Me to give you.”
1Kings 3:6 Then Solomon said, “You have shown great lovingkindness to Your servant David my father, according as he walked before You in truth and righteousness and uprightness of heart toward You; and You have reserved for him this great lovingkindness, that You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day.
1Kings 3:7 “Now, O LORD my God, You have made Your servant king in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.
1Kings 3:8 “Your servant is in the midst of Your people which You have chosen, a great people who are too many to be numbered or counted.
1Kings 3:9 “So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?”
1Kings 3:10 It was pleasing in the sight of the Lord that Solomon had asked this thing.
1Kings 3:11 God said to him, “Because you have asked this thing and have not asked for yourself long life, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have you asked for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself discernment to understand justice,
1Kings 3:12 behold, I have done according to your words. Behold, I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you.
1Kings 3:13 “I have also given you what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that there will not be any among the kings like you all your days.
  • v.3 Solomon loved the Lord.

  • v.12 God gave Solomon a wise and discerning heart above any other human being before or since.

    • This is very important to understand especially as we move through Ecclesiastes. The words of wisdom come from the man defined by God as the wisest man with most discerning heart.

    • Solomon built the house of the LORD.

1Kings 9:10 It came about at the end of twenty years in which Solomon had built the two houses, the house of the LORD and the king’s house
  • Solomon was a great king!
1Kings 10:23 So King Solomon became greater than all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom.
1Kings 10:24 All the earth was seeking the presence of Solomon, to hear his wisdom which God had put in his heart.
  • This would also mean the things that other cultures in other lands held in esteem or regarded as important were not seen as discerning as the wisdom of Solomon given by God.

  • We also understand this man given this great discernment from God was far from perfect.

1Kings 11:1 Now King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women,
1Kings 11:2 from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the sons of Israel, “You shall not associate with them, nor shall they associate with you, for they will surely turn your heart away after their gods.” Solomon held fast to these in love.
1Kings 11:3 He had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines, and his wives turned his heart away.
1Kings 11:4 For when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.
1Kings 11:5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians and after Milcom the detestable idol of the Ammonites.
1Kings 11:6 Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not follow the LORD fully, as David his father had done.
1Kings 11:7 Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable idol of Moab, on the mountain which is east of Jerusalem, and for Molech the detestable idol of the sons of Ammon.
1Kings 11:8 Thus also he did for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods.
1Kings 11:9  Now the LORD was angry with Solomon because his heart was turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice,
1Kings 11:10 and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not observe what the LORD had commanded.
1Kings 11:11 So the LORD said to Solomon, “Because you have done this, and you have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you, and will give it to your servant.
1Kings 11:12 “Nevertheless I will not do it in your days for the sake of your father David, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son.
1Kings 11:13 “However, I will not tear away all the kingdom, but I will give one tribe to your son for the sake of My servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem which I have chosen.”
  • This is the overview of Solomons’ life. This is the testimony recorded in scripture of this man. This is the man who appears to have shared his insights through the book of Ecclesiastes. It would appear that even with the wisdom given by God, this vast knowledge was not enough to bind him to God or to cause him to obey God.

  • God’s will demonstrated His grace and mercy to Solomon as he enjoyed a long reign as king of Israel.

1Kings 11:42 Thus the time that Solomon reigned in Jerusalem over all Israel was forty years.
  • Back to Eccl. 1v2 What do we read? ( “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”)

    • Other translations use in place of vanity the word "futile".

    • The Hebrew word used here is meaningless. Something devoid of value, significance, meaning, without real substance, or permanency.

  • We begin by noticing the repetition of words used to show the emphasis of this point. This verse is the theme of the book.

    • We could also say this is Solomon’s theory of life. A theory is someone’s interpretation of facts. This is what the remainder of the book puts forward, an evaluation of the facts as Solomon sees them. We will evaluate the conclusion Solomon puts forth at the end of the book.

Eccl. 1:3 What advantage does man have in all his work
Which he does under the sun?
Eccl. 1:4 A generation goes and a generation comes,
But the earth remains forever.
  • v.3 How does Solomon ask the reader to consider his statement of meaninglessness? (What advantage does man have in all his work – Which he does under the sun?)

  • This is an example of a rhetorical question.

    • What does “advantage” mean? (What is the true achievement, or the evidence something substantial has been achieved.)

    • Where is the measurement of this work being assessed? (Which he does under the sun)

    • What does “under the sun” mean? (This is a focus on what occurs down here on the earth. This is important to understand as it is repeated 29 times in this book.

  • To begin with, this would be a phrase that would be inclusive of all people, not unique to a given people, like only the Israelites.

  • Secondly, it sets up a dichotomy of viewing events on earth versus events in heaven.

    • In spiritual terms the focus is between a temporal view versus an eternal view of events.

  • v.4  What first proof does Solomon offer in the true lack of achievement? (A generation goes and a generation comes, But the earth remains forever.)

  • The existence of mankind is a cycle one after the other. One man’s life lived to give way to the next man’s life lived to the next man’s life lived. Each very much like the last with no evident measurable change. Each of these lives out his days on the same planet.

    • There is no sum gain to the existence of one man’s lifetime on this earth. The earth stays the same and is not affected by the life of one person. The life cycle continues unabated.

Eccl. 1:5  Also, the sun rises and the sun sets;
And hastening to its place it rises there again.
Eccl. 1:6  Blowing toward the south,
Then turning toward the north,
The wind continues swirling along;
And on its circular courses the wind returns.
Eccl. 1:7  All the rivers flow into the sea,
Yet the sea is not full.
To the place where the rivers flow,
There they flow again.
  • v.5  What example of this lack of advantage does Solomon give us to ponder next? (Also, the sun rises and the sun sets; And hastening to its place it rises there again.)

    • Solomon is not focused on the uniqueness of each sunrise or sunset. He is focusing the attention on the relatively boring nature of the unending repetition of the cycling of the sun.

    • Every person can see this display for themselves. Nothing ever changes this event from reoccurring.

  • v.6  What does Solomon draw our attention to next? (Blowing toward the south, Then turning toward the north, The wind continues swirling along; And on its circular courses the wind returns.)

    • Every person can feel this display for themselves as well. Nothing ever changes the process from reoccurring.

    • There is an interesting note found in Adam Clark’s commentary:

All the versions agree in applying the first clause of the sixth verse to the sun, and not to the wind. Our version alone has mistaken the meaning. My old MS. Bible is quite correct: “The sunne riisith up, and goth doun, and to his place turnith agein; and there agein riising, goth about bi the south, and then agein to the north.” The author points out two things here:
1) Day and night, marked by the appearance of the sun above the horizon; proceeding apparently from east to west; where he sinks under the horizon, and appears to be lost during the night.
2) His annual course through the twelve signs of the zodiac, when, from the equinoctial, he proceeds southward to the tropic of Capricorn; and thence turneth about towards the north, till he reaches the tropic of Cancer; and so on.
  • v.7  What final earthly cycle does Solomon mention? (All the rivers flow into the sea, yet the sea is not full. To the place where the rivers flow, there they flow again.)

    • Water recycling through rivers going into seas just to be absorbed in the air and put back to the land to become the river flowing into the sea again. The unending loop with no end goal of filling something up and then ceasing.

    • Solomon gives examples of things that have continual loops of activity starting with the human life cycle and then earthly cycles of sun in the sky, wind on the land and water in the sea. For all their continual activity there is never really a change in what occurs.

Eccl. 1:8  All things are wearisome;
Man is not able to tell it.
The eye is not satisfied with seeing,
Nor is the ear filled with hearing.
Eccl. 1:9  That which has been is that which will be,
And that which has been done is that which will be done.
So there is nothing new under the sun.
Eccl. 1:10  Is there anything of which one might say,
“See this, it is new”?
Already it has existed for ages
Which were before us.
Eccl. 1:11  There is no remembrance of earlier things;
And also of the later things which will occur,
There will be for them no remembrance
Among those who will come later still.
  • Solomon introduced what are repeating cycles with no end or apparent change in nature  in verses 5-7 and now asks the reader to see this parallel in the thoughts and actions in the human realm.

    • A poetic conclusion

  • v.8 How does Solomon introduce his transition? (All things are wearisome; Man is not able to tell it.)

    • All things produce only indescribable weariness or lack of satisfaction.

    • Man seems unable to even put into words a way to convey this burdensome truth, often only wanting to escape it.

  • What observation does Solomon make? (The eye is not satisfied with seeing,)

    • There is always more we want to see, it is never enough.

    • Why do you think we slow down to see an accident? It is not enough to know there was an accident we want to see it for ourselves.

    • The same is true for what else? (Nor is the ear filled with hearing.)

    • Why do we listen to the same stories or news cycles over again? What nuances are we trying to decipher? We want to know just a little bit more.

    • Go back and listen to news from a year ago or from a big event from the past. You hear the drama in the voices as there is speculation about what impact that event might have and all the droning on about everyone’s opinions. From our vantage point looking back it appears silly to have gotten so uptight about those situations.

  • v.9 What is ultimately true no matter if we are able to see more or hear more in the moment? (That which has been is that which will be,)

    • Things that are true of what has been will be the same things true in the future of things that will be again. An example would be catastrophes of nature are reoccurring, earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, hurricanes, droughts etc.

  • What is declared true about activity men engage in? (And that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun.)

    • The human experience is a cycle just like nature’s cycle. The things which men can do and have done are the same things they will do in the future. War, build things, observe and record, plant, eat,

  • Solomon has made a statement. In science when one puts forth a statement it is called a theory or hypothesis.

    • If everything a man can do or think or create has already been done Solomon concludes what? (So there is nothing new under the sun.)

  • v.10 How does Solomon ask the reader to challenge his conclusion? (Is there anything of which one might say, “See this, it is new?” )

    • Solomon answers his question how? (Already it has existed for ages, Which were before us.)

    • Every discovery made is usually an unveiling of what exists already but we are just now “discovering” it or finding a way to explain it or use it.

  • v.11 Even if something had been learned what happens to the information? (There is no remembrance of earlier things;)

    • Because we don’t remember the information what is the result? (And also of the later things which will occur,)

    • The results will be the same unalterably.

  • Solomon demonstrates this cycle how? (There will be for them no remembrance)

    • Who is this true for? (Among those who will come later still.)

  • As a human race we do not learn from the past so as to prevent repeating those errors in the future.

    • Ask any history buff.