Overview of the book of Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes is a perfect sermon by Solomon, the preacher. The sermon is delivered to an assembly of people (ekklesia – 12:9-11). The word preacher occurs seven times in the book (1:1-2, 12; 7:27; 12:8-10). The preacher demonstrated the art of preaching or homiletics. The message contains organized points for a specific purpose of bringing the listener to a decision. Solomon’s doctrinal theme was the vanity of life under the sun and his conclusion encouraged the listener to fulfill the proper duty of life (12:13-14; Micah 6:8).
The entire book is aimed at intellectual philosophers, educated humanists, and materialistic hedonists who are trying to live life to its fullest without God. King Solomon was the perfect philosopher who analyze life from the perspective of wine, women, and wealth. The doctrinal theme of the book is about life under the sun and this theme occurs 29 times. Solomon list of the vanities of the world that lead to a vexation of spirit. This phrase occurs nine times in the book. Fame and fortune cannot buy happiness or piece of heart.
The Lord Jesus Christ gives purpose and true meaning to life (John 10:10).
The Jews used to read the book publicly during the feast of Tabernacle’s. This reminded the Jews that material wealth and prosperity should not sidetrack people from the real purpose of life (Deut. 8:7-20; Matt. 13:22; Rev. 4:11). Solomon hinted at some prophecies of the Great Tribulation, but the author limited his writing specifically to life under the sun.
Solomon’s Summary of a Wasted Life
Scripture: Ecclesiastes 1 – 12
Memory Verse: Ecclesiastes 12:13, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”
Introduction: The time of the book was 979 B.C. Ecclesiastes was penned Solomon and its theme is “Solomon’s Summary of His Wasted Life.” Solomon is an old man. He has had everything in life that one normally thinks brings happiness. He has found, however, that his life has been wasted and that he never found happiness. He gathers all of his family, his relatives, employees and servants and speaks to them the book of Ecclesiastes. He is advising them not to follow in his footsteps. He is telling them all the things he had in life, all the successes he made in life, and yet he explains to them that he had never found happiness, and he advises them not to take the same road that he has taken. There are several key phrases in the book. One is “under the sun.” Another is “I perceive.” Another is “I said in my heart.” In other words, Solomon is telling them the folly of the self life.
Some have suggested that two statements may be used to summarize the entire book of Ecclesiastes.
Key Verse: Eccl 1:2 Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
To pronounce, “Vanity of vanities,” upon anything is to say that it is a philosophy of life that regards the created world of human enjoyment as end in itself.
PREACHER – used 7 times
MAN – used 47 times
LABOR – used 36 times
VANITY – used 37 times
THINGS “UNDER THE SUN.”
Solomon reminds the people that he has had everything “under the sun.” Then he tells them that happiness does not come “under the sun”; it comes from “above the sun.” Notice some of the things that Solomon had “under the sun.”
Eccl 2:20‑23 Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labour which I took under the sun.
21 For there is a man whose labour is in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity; yet to a man that hath not laboured therein shall he leave it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil.
22 For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun?
23 For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity.
These are just a few of the things that Solomon sought “under the sun,” but no one ever finds happiness there. In the book of Ecclesiastes Solomon says, “God hath set eternity in man’s heart.”
Eccl 3:11 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.
In other words, there is something in man that craves for something eternal, and man will never be happy until he finds that something to fill the spot that is empty. This spot may be filled only by Jesus Christ. People may try drugs but they are not eternal – they are only temporary. People may try liquor but liquor is not eternal – it is only temporary. People may try money but money is not eternal – money is only temporary. People may try sex but sex is not eternal – it is only temporary. People may try filling that void with them self and living for them self but when you live for, “YOU,” you cannot please, “YOU,” because you are never satisfied. Proverbs 17:20 YOU think you can make YOU happy but you cannot. The Lord Jesus Christ is a much easier master to serve than yourself. The only thing that will fill the eternal space in man is He who is eternal – Jesus Christ.
Isaiah 57:15 For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.
John 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
This spot may be filled only by Jesus Christ – John 10:10
II.THE THINGS THAT SOLOMON HAD.
In fact, he said that whatever he set his heart on, he got.
He withheld nothing from himself; he got anything that he wanted.
III. SOLOMON’S AGE.
Eccl 12:2‑7 While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:
3 In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened,
4 And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low;
5 Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:
6 Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.
7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
Here Solomon lists the conditions under which he is speaking.
In other words, he was facing the last years of his life. That which was “under the sun” could no longer be enjoyed. His body was unable to enjoy that which was “under the sun.” He now is left with that which is “above the sun” or nothing, and he is a miserable old man.
“All is vanity and vexation of spirit.“ Ecclesiastes 1:14. This is a word which means “beating at the wind,” “shadow boxing,” “swinging at the wind,” “reaching for something that isn’t there.” If you pursue the things that he calls vanity you are reaching for something that is not there. The word vanity implies a thing is useless and without profit when it is connected with a love for self (Jud. 9:4; 11:3; 1 Cor. 3:20; Eph. 4:17; 1 Tim. 6:20-21; 2 Tim. 3:1-7).
Solomon took 4 things as far as you can take them or you could say he took them to an extreme.
When he was done he came to the conclusion that they cannot satisfy and they are vanity. The only thing worth living for is God and only what is done for Christ will last. The book of Ecclesiastes is almost Solomon asking this question: “Wasn’t there something I was supposed to do with my life?”
Ecclesiastes 12:1, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them.”
Why should You serve God when You are young?
LESSONS FROM ECCLESIASTES
Ecclesiastes 1:2 Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
The word vanity implies a thing is useless and without profit when it is connected with a love for self (Jud. 9:4; 11:3; 1 Cor. 3:20; Eph. 4:17; 1 Tim. 6:20-21; 2 Tim. 3:1-7).
Ecclesiastes 1:4 One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.
Foolish cultists think the phrase the earth abideth forever promises them an eternal home on the earth, but other passages in the Bible predict the destruction of the earth (Isa. 24:16-20; Matt. 24:35; 2 Peter 3:10-13; Rev. 20:10). The earth does appear to abide forever from under the sun (Gen. 49:26; Ex. 21:6; Luke 16:9) and people commonly say that they waited forever.
Ecclesiastes 1:9 The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
Men learn from history that man seldom learn from history; therefore, they are destined to repeat it (Matt. 24:36-38). You know the future by studying the past (Ps. 78:2; 1 Cor. 10:11).
Ecclesiastes 1:17 And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.
Worldly wisdom, folly, and madness are usually found in schools of higher learning that glorify humanism, socialism, and hedonism (Rom. 1:22; 2 Tim. 3:1-7; 1 Peter 4:3).
Ecclesiastes 1:18 For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.
The wise old sage was a pessimist toward the world and its works (Gal. 1:4; 1 John 2:15). True knowledge and wisdom increase pessimism and sorrow because the end of May and without Jesus Christ is death, destruction, and hellfire (Rom. 9:1-5). Mankind as a whole is trying to make the world a better place to live, but it is totally and completely vain. Transportation and communication have increased learning (Dan. 12:4), but they have also made deception, lust, theft, fraud, and murder more convenient (Gen. 6:11-13; Matt. 24:4-12; 2 Tim. 3:17).
Ecclesiastes 3:18 I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts.
The basic instincts of animals are self-preservation, self-gratification, and self-propagation; but no animal practices self-justification or self-righteousness. Evolution is a religion designed to provide pagans justification for their animalistic life (Rom. 1:18-32; 2 Thess. 2:10-12). All men will face the judgment of God, but no animal faces judgment (Matt. 12:36-37; Rom. 2:16; Heb. 9:27). The basic difference between man and animal is the spirit (3:21). The spirit of man rebels against his Maker, but the spirit of animals obey God at all times; therefore, man will be judged for his rebellion against God (1 Sam. 15:23; Isa. 1:16-20; Jer. 28:16; 29:32).
Ecclesiastes 7:1 A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.
Wise Christians commemorate the death of Christ (1 Cor. 11:26), more than the birth of Christ.
Ecclesiastes 7:21 Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee:
All followers criticize their leaders sometimes (Ezek. 33:30-33) just as all leaders criticize their followers sometimes (Rom. 2:1-3).
Ecclesiastes 8:1 Who is as the wise man? and who knoweth the interpretation of a thing? a man’s wisdom maketh his face to shine, and the boldness of his face shall be changed.
There is only one true interpretation of the scripture and the key to understanding the truth is the Holy Ghost (Luke 11;52; 2 Peter 1:20-21). The scholars replaced the key with many books including, without restriction, lexicons and Alexandrian translations (12:12). The word James is also the word Jacob, who was a prince with God. The King James translators begin their dedicatory, “TO THE MOST HIGH AND MIGHTY PRINCE JAMES.” The pure words of the King’s English interpreted by the Holy Ghost are the most powerful and universal words of life (Eccl. 8:4; Heb. 4:12-13).
Ecclesiastes 8:11 Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.
Men wax worse and worse because inconsistent punishment, permissiveness, and mercy allow the sinner to continue his evil without interference (2 Tim. 3:13). The long-suffering of God allows a man to destroy himself (Ps. 50:21; Isa. 26:10; Jer. 6:19; Hosea 13:9).
Ecclesiastes 9:5 For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.
Cults misuse this idea for their sandy basis of soul sleep (All souls lie unconscious at death and remain there until the general resurrection.). Soul sleep is a fable of the OT death and the resurrection (1 Sam 28:15; Matt. 27:52). This doctrinal philosophizing of death is from under the sun (Only a prejudice mind could purposefully ignore the 29 occurrences of the phrase.). NT doctrine about death is recorded by Paul (2 Cor. 5:1-8; Phil. 1:21; 1 Thess. 4:13-18).
Ecclesiastes 9:18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war: but one sinner destroyeth much good.
One tyrant can kill millions (Esther 7:6), one critical scorner can destroy any work (Prov. 22:10), and one Alexandrian scholar can destroy the faith of many preacher boys (1 Kings 13:18).
Ecclesiastes 11:1 Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.
Toward the end of the Preacher’s message, Solomon reveals the priorities of life. The seed of the word of God and the light of the Gospel are the priorities (Luke 8:11; John 9:5). I wise steward faithfully sows both regardless of the winds of opposition (Rom. 1:13).
Ecclesiastes 12:9-11 And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs.
10 The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth.
11 The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.
The most vital responsibility of the preacher is to study sound words of doctrine, law, and truth (Ps. 119:80; Acts 22:22-29; 1 Tim. 5:17; 2 Tim. 1:13; 2:1-5, 15; 3:15-17; Titus 2:6-8.
Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: 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.
The conclusion by this wise philosopher is to fear God and obey the written word of God because everyone will face judgment by God and His word (John 12:48). Foolish humanists, materialists, intellectuals, and hedonists try to ignore the judgment (Acts 24;25; Rom. 14:12; Heb. 9:27; rev. 20:11-15), but wise people prepare for it (Amos 4:12; 2 Cor. 4:17-5:11).
ANOTHER OUTLINE OF THE BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES
Solomon’s life is divided into 3 distinct phases, which readily correspond to the “average” Christian life. These 3 phases are also reflected in his writings.
(1) Solomon’s first phase was one characterized by love. When we first got saved, we cherished our Bible and read with amazement what God had to say to us.
(2) This love is mirrored in his “Song of Solomon” which displays his love toward his bride.
(1) Solomon’s second phase was characterized by a high level of wisdom, which was given by God. When we have been saved awhile, we become known as a mature Christian. At this phase, we learn how to walk with God, we carry the right kind of Bible, have personal and family devotions, and enjoy serving God.
(2) This maturity and wisdom is seen in the Proverbs written by Solomon.
(1) Solomon’s third phase was characterized by a departure from his love for God and failure to exercise wisdom. In other words, Solomon became backslidden! This is all too often repeated in the life of a Christian who used to walk with God, but now is walking with the world.
(2) This sad portion of his life is discussed in Ecclesiastes, which he wrote after he had returned to the Lord, and is given as a warning not to do what he had done.
Ecclesiastes is an important book because it reveals the emptiness and frustration of trying to live a life independent of God! Solomon shows us how everything without God is nothing but vanity.
Solomon’s life clearly disproves 3 famous quotes of potential backsliders.
The unsuspecting Christian will encounter several things which will help them become a backslider if they refuse to stand guard.
Ecc. 1:2 – “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”
Ecc. 1:17 – “And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.”
We aren’t supposed to be living right in order to be free from trouble. We’re supposed to do right to please the Lord!
Ecc. 1:16 – “I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.”
Human wisdom and learning usually lead to one thing – pride. The great conflict in Bible colleges and seminaries exist because education will naturally inflate the ego and pride and a spiritually weak institution is unable to keep godly humility intact. That’s why a college and church are extremely wise to maintain a solid soul winning program.
Ecc. 2:1 – “I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity.”
From a career.
Ecc. 7:25-26 – “I applied mine heart to know, and to search, and to seek out wisdom, and the reason of things, and to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness: And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her.”
Solomon chose to seek sexual pleasure and discovered that the damage to his spiritual life was worse than death!
Ecc. 1:17 – “And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.”
Solomon wanted to go beyond the Word of God and learn by his own mistakes. He sought wisdom gained by experience and still felt frustrated.
Ecc. 2:1 -“I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity.”
Solomon discovered what many homosexuals have. The more sexual sin you engage in, the more you want to experiment, trying to find new excitement which leads to perversion.
Ecc. 4:2 – “Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive.”
After having made himself an enormous reputation, Solomon considered the dead more fortunate than himself!
Ecc. 5:10 – “He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.”
Greed is a bottomless pit that will never allow the person to ever be satisfied, regardless of how much money is accumulated.