The Brilliant Conclusion of Ecclesiastes

Posted on May 10, 2018

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By David Ettinger

A Cynical Book
The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes is a mystery to most Bible readers. After all, it is perhaps the most cynical book of the Bible, and its outlook on life is dark, downcast, and dour.

ecclesiastesWhat else can you say about a book which begins with these words: “‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!’” (1:2).

Some believe the negative tone of Ecclesiastes has to do with its author and the time of life in which he penned the book. Most scholars believe the author to be Solomon, and that he wrote this series of ponderings near the end of his life when he had pretty much turned his back on God.

I endorse this school of thought, though it should be noted that nowhere is Solomon mentioned by name, and that no one can be 100 percent certain of his authorship.

This said, there is another, perhaps more reasonable, explanation for the grittiness of Ecclesiastes, and it is found in Chapter 1, verses 12-14:

I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men! I have seen all the things that are under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

This is the key. The author has set out to examine the physical world, that which is “under heaven” and “under the sun.” The author is examining the toil, trials, and tribulations which human beings face daily. He is viewing life from a “fallen world” perspective, that of the activities of men and women.

thoughtfulThe author’s purpose is not theological (until the end), but to take a common-sense look at the challenges of everyday life. This should give you a sensible framework in approaching Ecclesiastes. (By the way, if you have never laid eyes on this biblical gem, please do so immediately! It consists of 12 short, quick-moving chapters, and makes for a “great read.”)

The Body
The body of Ecclesiastes is made up of contemplations, observations, “what-if” scenarios, and some worthwhile words of advice.

Ecclesiastes also features beautiful poetry, most notably Chapter 3, verses 1-8. These stirring lines were turned into a popular song by American folksinger Pete Seeger in the 1950s and transformed into an international hit in 1965 by the American rock group the Byrds.

Topics covered in Ecclesiastes include the dreariness of everyday life, the meaningless of riches, the meaningless of toil, and the meaningless of wisdom and folly. I know this doesn’t sound too inviting, but trust me, it’s good stuff!

The Brilliant Conclusion
Finally, when the author has at last exhausted all of his reflections, speculations, and meditations regarding our physical world, he blesses us with this brilliant conclusion:

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil (12:13-14).

worship girlDespite the difficulty of living in this fallen world, Ecclesiastes happily informs us that a time is coming when God will set the world aright. In the meantime, we are to “fear God.” The Hebrew word for “fear” indicates respect, honor, and worship. If we are to find meaning in this fallen world, it comes in our love and reverence for our Creator. To “fear” God is at the very core of our humanity.

Furthermore, as verse 14 makes clear, there will be a final time of judgment by God, a time when He will shed light on all of humanity’s activities, be they “good or evil.”

The ultimate message of Ecclesiastes is that the only place to find meaning in this “meaningless” life we live under the sun is in the One who transcends the physical world: our glorious God who created all things!

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