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Ecclesiastes

February 14, 2010

 

I. Preamble      Ecclesiastes 1:1-18

II. Eat, Drink, Work, and be Merry      Ecclesiastes 2:1-11

III. Wisdom-Part 1      Ecclesiastes 2:12-16

IV. Work      Ecclesiastes 2:17-26

V. Time      Ecclesiastes 3:1-22

VI. Oppression      Ecclesiastes 4:1-16

VII. Listen      Ecclesiastes 5:1-7

VIII. Wealth      Ecclesiastes 5:8-6:12

IX. Wisdom-Part 2      Ecclesiastes 7:1-8:1

X. Sovereignty      Ecclesiastes 8:2-9:12

XI. Wisdom-Part 3      Ecclesiastes 9:13-11:10

XII. Conclusion      Ecclesiastes 12:1-14

Commentary

Introduction:

I have included this book in my commentary because it helps explain who Solomon is. The same is true for the Song of Songs which follows. Many scholars do not agree that Solomon was the author but Jewish writings as late as 1200 years ago accept Solomon as the author. Ecclesiastes 1:12-16 certainly strongly implies Solomon is the author. He is the King who asked God for wisdom and received it in abundance. He ruled the golden years of Israel. Ecclesiastes tells of his [the kings’] abilities and exploits. His accomplishments in 40 years of rule are extraordinary and are possible only through God’s blessing of abundant wisdom.

I have approached Ecclesiastes as defining Solomon, the Philosopher. In it, we see he was much more. But we read it as both musings and serious thought. In many ways it is pessimistic but it is also real. Truth is documented regarding man’s life on earth. We come away with such philosophical conclusions as:

1. What goes around comes around.

2. There is nothing new under the sun.

3. Live one day at a time.

4. There is a time for everything.

5. The purpose of life is?

6. The more one knows the less one knows.

7. We must account for our time.

8. Talk softly, not continuously.

9. All is vain.

When all is said and done, only one thing matters, “Fear God and keep His commandments” [Ecc. 12:13].

Preamble:      Ecclesiastes 1:1-18

The book begins stating “everything is meaningless” and/or “everything is vanity”. If anything has value to you now, it is really a false value in the end. This refers to our present natural human world and not our future spiritual eternal world as children of God. In a scientific sense, this is Solomon’s hypothesis. What follows is his proof or argument in favor of this hypothesis.

Solomon notes that:

1. The earth remains but man comes and goes. [vs. 3-4]

2. Nature is both stable and variable. [vs. 5-7]

3. Life is tiring and repeats itself. [vs. 8-9]

4. Creation is complete. [vs. 10]

5. Man’s hindsight is inadequate and our future is unknown. [vs. 11]

Solomon has dedicated his life to studying and learning. He was able to do this because Israel had peace with her enemies. He has looked for meaning in all that he has seen and done and come up empty. He has been gifted with much wisdom but has concluded the more one knows the more one doesn’t understand, bringing sorrow and grief because there is no end in sight [Ecc. 1:18].

Eat, Drink, Work and be Merry      Ecclesiastes 2:1-11

Verses 1-11 seem to discuss a life as described in the title of this section. Today we would describe it as the lifestyle of the “rich and famous”. It describes Solomon’s life and success as King. He had abundant material possessions in money and could afford the finest cuisine and the best most professional entertainment. If he wanted it, he could have it and did have it. Nothing was out of reach or impossible to obtain. He didn’t just party, he worked. He invested his wealth and it reproduced more wealth. He also used his wealth to pay for building projects and parks. Anything he wanted he could have and he enjoyed working. His lifestyle was that of heaven on earth but his conclusion was ‘So what”. It had no lasting meaning. Once a particular party or project ended, he was deflated and had to search for more. His pleasure was in being fully occupied. Resting, relaxing, and enjoying his surroundings was depressing. Life was meaningless. His joy was momentary and did not last.

Wisdom-Part 1      Ecclesiastes 2:12-16

Solomon asked God for wisdom and God blessed him with wisdom and intelligence. Being wise is better than being foolish but is there any difference in the end? Both will die and neither will be long remembered. Life goes on. People, both wise and foolish, live and die with little or no lasting effect on life, a depressing thought.

Work      Ecclesiastes 2:17-26

Solomon stated he delighted in his work in Ecc. 2:10 but now he says it was grievous and meaningless. All he did was good but he had no time to enjoy the fruit of his labor. That was left to those who lived after he died. They would enjoy them and maintain them. Whether these people were wise or foolish had no bearing on what they did. It depressed him to pour his heart and soul into accomplishing something and then have somebody else enjoy it who had no appreciation for the effort it took to make it happen. Again, what was good had lost its’ value, its’ meaning.

Solomon reverts back to recognizing there is value and enjoyment in work. After all, work is a gift from God and does bring satisfaction even if it is short-lived. Wisdom, knowledge, and happiness is of God and comes through working on behalf of God. But if one works just to accumulate wealth, it is meaningless. One must have a God-given purpose if work is to have value and meaning. There must be unity between our work and God’s Will. Only then will joy abound.

Time      Ecclesiastes 3:1-22

This section of Scripture is more like musings and less statements. Even Solomon seems to have difficulty comprehending life.

This section begins with what probably is the most famous, well known, and quoted passage in Ecclesiastes because it is simple, profound, true, and filled with wisdom. It covers all the emotional times one experiences in life. Verses 1-8 describes life. Both the pro and con, good and bad, are necessary but it takes wisdom and discernment to know when and how to employ these emotion driven actions.

But Solomon slides right back discussing work again in verse 9. He calls it God’s burden in verse 10, most likely in reference to Genesis 3:17-19 because of man’s sin. When creation happened, it was beautiful and good [vs. 11] and man was created for eternity. However, man is not capable of understanding all that God has set in motion. The fact that we can be happy and satisfied in working is truly a gift from God [vs. 13]. What God has created will endure forever; at least until He calls it to account, that is, judges it. God’s creation is unchangeable, stable whether it is stationary or cycling.

Judgment is also real because wickedness is real. Judgment is exercised by God on both the righteous and the wicked when God requires it. The time of judgment is in God’s hands. We humans are more like the animals than like God in that we both die. We both turn to dust after we die. Solomon offers no natural, physical proof for the resurrection of man. Since there is no physical proof of a resurrection or of eternity [they may have gone like Enoch, Moses, Elijah but none have returned to tell about it except Jesus], man is best to enjoy his work and gain satisfaction from it. There is a time to work and it is now. There is no time not to work in life. Work is one of the main purposes of man.

Time is what man has. We are to discern what time is right for what. Regardless, time is work. It too may be meaningless but it is also satisfying. Man needs to occupy his time with work.

Oppression      Ecclesiastes 4:1-16

Solomon observes the oppression of one to another in society. He sees the tears of the oppressed and their lack of a comforter or advocate. They have little reason to live and would be far happier if they didn’t experience evil or know that it exists.

A great motivator of ambition seems to rise from an attitude of greed and covetousness [vs. 4]. This too is vanity. Some refuse to work even then but they are fools and become worthless [vs. 5]. It would be better if they at least did something, some good [vs. 6]. Some work day and night but they have no relationship with anyone else and, therefore, their work has no meaning and brings no satisfaction [vs. 8]. Relationships [marriage] is important because one can help the other. They can comfort one another, support one another, defend one another, and strengthen one another.

What does all this have to do with oppression? The root causes of oppression is greed, the failure to work, and the workaholic. It is caused by those with too much ambition who oppress others and it is caused by those with too little ambition bringing oppression upon themselves. Balance is good and it happens when man has a relationship with another such as in the marriage relationship. Then man’s motivation is to “give” and not “take” or “beg”.

Long life can also be a problem in that one can become stubborn and set in his ways [vs. 13]. Youth are generally defined as ambitious and people are most likely to follow those who are ambitious [vs. 15]. But ambition can also create problems [vs. 16]. Once again relationships between men suffer when stubbornness sets in and when objectives become more important than the means. These too can lead to oppression and consequently, relationships suffer.

I can’t help but think that Chapter 4 is a result of observations made by Solomon in judging the cases that came before him in his court. People came before him seeking justice from oppression and these motivations were at the source of the issue.

Listen      Ecclesiastes 5:1-7

Solomon switches momentarily from work to worship with an exhortation to LISTEN. He mentions “the sacrifice of fools” which seems to infer those who come to talk instead of to listen and learn [vs. 2]. Solomon seems to be chastising those who think they know it all and talk instead of listen. He calls them fools. One of my favorite sayings is “you can’t learn anything while you are talking” and that seems to be Solomon’s point in verses 1-3.

He continues by discussing vows which are also a part of our worship. We are not to take vows lightly or say them to impress someone. They are to be taken seriously and fulfilled quickly without delay. If one commits to doing something, do it. Unfulfilled vows/commitments are usually the result of too much talk and not enough listening. The fool talks to impress but fails to act because they didn’t listen to their heart or with their heart. Vows are serious to God but not serious to the fool. Therefore, we are to be on guard when we enter the Lord’s house to worship. We are to worship before the Lord with a sense of awe; listening and saying little. In other words, worship by letting God speak.

Wealth      Ecclesiastes 5:8-6:12

Don’t be surprised when hearing and seeing that the poor are oppressed and that they receive little justice. The people in power above someone always take from those below them. And the love of money is at the root of the problem [vs. 10]. Everybody wants more than they have and the more you have the less you sleep because you are afraid of losing what you have and not being able to pass on an inheritance to your children [vs. 14]. Remember, we arrive with nothing and we leave with nothing [vs. 15-16].

That fact in itself is a good reason to work. Work enables us to survive, putting food on our tables, and that is satisfying. Besides, any wealth that we may accumulate during our short time on earth is a gift from God bringing happiness and gladness of heart. God gives us wealth, possessions, and honor so that we are satisfied and lack nothing [Ecc. 6:2] even though the time to enjoy them is short. Work is satisfying but having time to enjoy the fruit of our labor is either short or missing [vs. 4-5].

Accumulating wealth or having wealth is analogous to eating. We work to eat but our appetites tell us we need more. It makes no difference whether we are rich or poor, wise or foolish, all humanity has been created with the same desires which are also meaningless. Life is short and passes quickly. Maximize your listening and minimize your talking. Pass on your knowledge and don’t worry about your accumulated wealth.

Wisdom-Part 2      Ecclesiastes 7:1-8:1

Solomon was known for his wisdom and so this seems to ramble a bit based on his emotions and observations. It also seems to be a continuation of Wisdom in Chapter 2:12-16. He seems to be asking himself “If I am so wise, what have I learned that will make a difference?” There is an sense of depression among the many proverbs. He begins by saying:

• One’s reputation, if good, is a virtue, a plus [vs. 1] and then implies life is not worth living [vs. 2].

• Sorrow and wisdom are one [vs. 3] as is laughter and the foolish [vs. 4]. Perhaps “sorrow” should be interpreted as “sober” or “responsible”. Solomon appears to be contrasting two different lifestyles, the responsible and the irresponsible.

• Practicing extortion and bribery corrupts our hearts and will ruin reputations [vs. 7].

• It is better to be persistent and patient, not given to anger. Then one can complete what they have started [vs. 8].

• Don’t live in the past [vs. 10] but look forward [vs. 11].

• Possessing wisdom and applying it in life is of great benefit and will shelter you from fools [vs. 12].

Next Solomon turns his attention from man to God stating we cannot change what God has ordained [vs. 13]. He continues saying:

• God allows both good and bad and hides the future. Therefore, we have reason to be happy and sad but we must be content with the present [vs. 14].

• The length of life is not governed by one’s righteousness or wickedness. It is best not to be over zealous for righteousness or wickedness because they lead to extreme and distorted views.

• Fear [worship, respect, awe, reverence, humility] of God avoids extremism which is contrary to God’s Will [vs. 16].

• A wise man possesses great influence and power [vs. 19]

• Those we consider righteous also sin [vs. 20].

• Don’t believe everything you hear [vs. 21-22].

Solomon recognizes he is wise but can’t seem to understand it or make sense of it. He asks the question “Why does anyone prefer wickedness and folly?” He continues:

• A woman will ensnare a man [adultery] and make his life more miserable than death. Only God can save him [vs. 26]

• Very few men are righteous and no women are [vs. 28]. I wonder if he was observing his many wives and concubines.

• God created man in righteousness but he sought other means of living [reference to Adam/Eve and original sin] [vs. 29].

Finally, Solomon comes to his “punch line”; “It’s difficult to explain but Wisdom [God] brightens man’s face”. Wisdom is of God. Words do not explain God. Minds cannot comprehend God. But God has the ability to bring joy to life in the midst of good and bad, joy and sorrow, and in righteousness and wickedness. Life is all about God and our relationship with Him. That is Wisdom!

Sovereignty      Ecclesiastes 8:2-9:12

We are to obey the king’s commands. Solomon is most likely referring to the office of king and not necessarily to just himself. Our king is anyone who has authority over us. Our King is the Lord God Almighty! Whether you read this from an earthly perspective or a heavenly perspective, what is said is true. We are to obey those who are placed in authority over us [see Romans 13]. We take an oath or make a commitment to those above us. In many situations, our commitment is expressed in an oath before God and with our hand on the Bible, His Word. Our responsibility is to serve and advise [vs. 3] the king, not rule [vs. 4].

A good servant obeys and will carry out the king’s instructions at the right time and in the right way. A good faithful servant is a trustworthy servant even in times of inconvenience and/or anguish. We do not know the future [vs. 8]. Therefore, we obey. Man does not have the power to change circumstances.

There are times when a man rules over another and hurts himself [bad decisions]. There are times when a man worships God but dies in wickedness. Judgments must be swift to be effective [vs. 11]. Some wicked live a long time but it is far better if the righteous live long [vs. 12]. Sometimes the righteous are punished and the wicked freed [vs. 14]. In other words, sometimes a king’s decisions are not just or right.

It is far better to make the best of life and enjoy it [vs. 15]. Solomon expresses amazement as to how life goes on naturally without anyone’s direct involvement [vs. 16-17]. It is God’s doing. It is in God’s hands, especially the actions of the wise and righteous [Ecc. 9:1]. God is sovereign over the lives of the righteous, the wicked, the good, the bad, the healthy, the sick, those who honor Him, and those who do not [vs. 2]. God is sovereign over man’s destiny. God is sovereign over man’s death because man is sinful [vs. 3].

The living have hope but they are forgotten when they die whether they were good or bad [vs. 5-6]. So live a joyful life while you can. Do good, be faithful to your wife, work, and serve [vs. 9-10]. Make the best of the time you have [vs. 11-12].

Wisdom-Part 3      Ecclesiastes 9:13-11:10

Solomon tells about a poor man who happened to be wise. He lived in a small city and saved it from a powerful king who had laid siege to it. Solomon concludes it is better to have wisdom than strength. Quiet wisdom is better than a loud king and wisdom is better than weapons of war. Unfortunately, it took only one sinning fool to turn the people against the wise but poor man. The poor man was despised, they forgot his wisdom, and they forgot him.

Foolishness carries more weight/influence than wisdom [Ecc. 10:1]. A wise man is directed to travel in the opposite direction of the fool. [I wonder if Ecc. 10:2 has any bearing on today’s politics?] In fact the fool has no direction at all [vs. 3].

Solomon advises us to practice self-control and patience when opposing those who have authority over us, especially if they have a quick temper. Rulers have a tendency toward evil and then make poor decisions which cause them to look like fools [vs. 5-6]. These rulers are slaves to their bad decisions while their subjects are free to change direction [vs. 7]. These fools dig a pit and fall into it, they strike stone and it hurts them, and they cut wood subjecting themselves to injury because their axe is dull [vs. 8-10].

The wise speak graciously while the fool talks continuously and hears no one [vs. 13-14]. He is consumed by his own rhetoric and needs help to do the simplest of tasks [vs. 15]. Woe to all who are subjected to a foolish ruler [vs. 16]. Blessings to all who serve a king who listens and practices self-control [vs. 17]. Therefore, enjoy a prosperous life but watch your tongue so that any foolish or false words do not reach the ears of your king [vs. 19-20].

Take the talents and abilities you have and use them for your benefit and the benefit of others [Ecc. 11:1]. Set aside some of your profits to tide you over during bad times [vs. 2-3]. Sow your crops with wisdom because you cannot predict what God will do. He is sovereign over the clouds, the rain, the wind, and the sun. Rejoice in your good years while remembering your bad years. Rejoice in your youth when your are blessed with energy to pursue whatever you wish but remember God will also be the judge of your works [vs. 9]. Take full advantage of your youth and vigor but those years pass quickly [vs. 10].

Conclusion      Ecclesiastes 12:1-14

Verses 1-8 can be summed up as “Remember your Creator, your God, before you get old” and:

• You no longer can enjoy life. [vs. 1]

• Your memory is gone and your mind is weak. [vs. 2]

• You are unable to work. [vs.3]

• You cannot see. [vs. 3]

• Your voice is weak. [vs. 4]

• Fear sets in. [vs. 5]

• You are near death. [vs. 5-8]

Remember your God, commit to love Him and obey Him while you are able and before it’s too late. Everything else is meaningless.

Solomon, the Teacher, has spoken and concludes we are to “Fear God and keep His commandments”.   God is the Sovereign Creator and Judge of the past, the present, and the future.  Fear God; revere Him, respect Him, humble yourself before Him, worship Him, love Him, serve Him, and glorify His Name.  That is the only purpose for which God created man so let us do as He has purposed.

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