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Viewing Life through Ecclesiastes

Viewing Life through Ecclesiastes

I.       Author:

The book begins with the author’s self-introduction.  He is the King of Israel, the son of David.  Many believe that this book is the penmanship of Solomon, the wise King. Out of the Old Testament’s thirty- nine books, King Solomon wrote three of them.  The Song of Solomon was written in the prime of his youth when he was full of energy and romance.  Proverbs was written in his middle age, when his wisdom had fully developed and he had a deep understanding of God’s words.  Ecclesiastes was written during his latter years, when he had much experience.  Looking back at his life, Solomon wrote his regrets with tears.  It is a book of wisdom written for guidance and is of great value to future generations.

II.    Outline:

A.     Ecclesiastes is one of the Jews’ wisdom books. 

The author dictates this history of life through his own abundant experience and wisdom.  In this book, he meticulously observes the value of life.  He tells the people the difference between vanity and satisfaction, loss and gain, sorrow and happiness, being noble and abase, wisdom and folly, success and failure, eternal and transient, etc.

B.     This book presents the philosophy of life. 

The main theme of this book is: everything that is done under the sun is vanity and chasing after the wind.  According to the writer’s life experience, if a person only pursues the happiness of this world, in the end, what he will receive is vanity and meaninglessness. Since this world is centered on humanity and individual happiness, life is full of vanity and folly.  Striving after material enjoyment and wealth is also chasing after wind.  If a man gains the whole world but loses God, what is the benefit?  Amassing wealth instead of trying to strive for God only results in emptiness.  Thus, people strive continuously, overcoming all their difficulties in the hope of gaining more and even obtaining the whole world.  They hope to control their own fate but in the end, they discover that all their labor is in vain.  (Ecc. 1:14; 2:1; 4:16; 6:19)

C.     All creation is imperfect. 

Man’s wisdom, life span, and ability are very limited – there is no way to find out the conclusion of life nor is there any way for man to eliminate regret.  More knowledge results in more grief (Ecc. 1: 17-18; 7:16-17, 24).  The Creator is the solution for those who drink the water of this world and is still thirsty.  For those who drink of the fountain of the life of Christ will never thirst again.  If a man departs from the Lord, he will not gain anything.  True happiness does not lie in wealth, but in fearing God.  It cannot be found under the sun, but in heaven.  The things of this world are imperfect, only the Lord can make them perfect because He can straighten the crooked and resurrect the dead.  Therefore it is better to remember the Creator in our youth, than to pursue things created. 

D.     Ecclesiastes does not describe the vanity of human life pessimistically, but through faith, the author observes that everything has its own order and the will of God (Ecc. 3:1-15; 6:1-2). 

Man cannot find out all the splendors and wonders of this world.  From the external point of view, it cannot satisfy our hearts because God has already put eternity into the hearts of men (Ecc. 3:11), and there is limitation of time in the world.  Material transience cannot satisfy man’s bottomless void.  The author stresses how men should remember the Creator of this universe and recognize their own limitations.  Furthermore, man needs to accept that he cannot totally comprehend life but through keeping the commandments of God humbly he is able to enjoy a beautiful life (Ecc. 12:13).

III. The relationship between Ecclesiastes and the Gospel. 

This book can be said to be a philosophy of life, which precedes the appearance of the gospel.  It sees everything “under the sun” from man’s perspective therefore the meaning of life is vanity.  However, through the accomplishment of Christ’s salvation, He changed emptiness to fullness (Eph. 1:23; 3: 17-19; Jn. 1: 14-16).  The way is pursuing joy in the Holy Spirit and the hope of the coming age, substituting material enjoyment and transient pleasure (Jn. 4:13-14; 7: 37-39; Is. 55: 1-2; Rom. 14:17).

IV.  Outline of content

A.     Prologue (Ecc. 1: 1-11).

1.        Self-introduction (1).

2.        The theme of the book – vanity (1:2).

3.        Raises a question – what profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun? (1:3-11)

 a.      One generation passes away, and another generation comes, but the earth abides forever (4).

 b.      The sun rises and it goes down, and hastens to the place where it rose (5).

 c.      The wind whirls about continually, and comes again on its circuit (6).

 d.      All the rivers run to the sea, back to its origin (7).

 e.      Everything is wearisome and dissatisfactory (8).

 f.       Under the sun there is nothing new (9-10).

 g.      There is no remembrance of former things (11).

B.     First section (Ecc.1:12-6:12)

Vanity in the midst of plenty.

1.        The true depiction of the vanity of life (1:12-2:26)

 a.      The more wisdom, the more sorrow (1:12-18).

·         Through wisdom he diligently searched for the conclusion of everything that is under heaven.

(a)     Life is very burdensome (13).

(b)     Life is full of vanity (14).

(c)     Man’s strength is extremely limited (15).

(d)     Wisdom and knowledge increases grief and sorrow (16-18).

 b.      Wealth is temporary and is unprofitable (2:1-11).

(a)     Pleasure and laughter does not accomplish anything (1-2).

(b)     Quenching our worries with wine will only increase our sorrow (3).

(c)     Vineyards, buildings, fresh fruit and flowers.

(d)     Servants, herds and flocks, singers, concubines, silver and gold, and treasures (7-10).

·         All this is vanity (11).

 c.      Even though the wise and the foolish are different, they have the same ending. (2:12-17).

(a)     A wise person excels the foolish person (13-14).

(b)     When death comes, what advantage does a wise man have? (15-16)

 d.      All our labor under the sun will be given to others (2:18-23).

(a)     The results of our labor cannot be guaranteed.

(b)     What kind of person will manage all that I have toiled? 

(c)     He must leave all he owns to someone who has not labored for it.

·         He detests toil and his heart turns to despair, worry and sorrow.

 e.      Encouragement (2:24-26) – eat, drink and enjoy life under the grace of God.

2.        There is a time for everything, but do not abuse it (3:1-22).

 a.      To everything there is a season (1-8).

(a)     A time to be born, and a time to die.

(b)     A time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted.

(c)     A time to kill, and a time to heal.

(d)     A time to break down, and a time to build up.

(e)     A time to weep, and a time to laugh.  A time to mourn, and a time to dance.

(f)      A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones.

(g)     A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.

(h)     A time to gain, and a time to lose.  A time to keep, and a time to throw away.

(i)       A time to tear, and a time to sew.

(j)       A time to keep silence, and a time to speak.

(k)     A time to love, and a time to hate.  A time of war, and a time of peace.

 b.      We should carry out God’s will at the appropriate time.

(a)     Man should work according to the time that God sets.  If not, man labors in vain.

(b)     The temporary things we do cannot satisfy our bottomless void (11).

(c)     Man cannot fathom out the work of God (11).

(d)     Treasure and enjoy the grace of God (12-13).

(e)     Whatever God does will be eternal; man should fear Him (14).

(f)      Remembering things past and hoping for the future allows us to treasure what is in the present (15).

 c.      Two types of judgement (16-17).

(a)     Under the sun – unjust judgment.

(i)       Laws are imperfect, and those who carry out the judgment are not righteous.

(b)     God’s judgment.

(i)       The whole world (righteous and wicked) is judged according to the same standard.  The judgment will be complete and perfect.

 d.      The difference between humans and beasts (19-22).

(a)     Similarities

(i)       Same encounters – environment, procreation

(ii)     Need air to breathe

(iii)    All experience death and return to dust

(b)     Differences

(i)       Process of creation: Man is made with dust and has the Spirit of God

(ii)     Different endings: Man’s spirit ascends, the soul of beasts’ descends.

(c)     Differences between the righteous and the wicked (18)

(i)       The wicked are like beasts who lack spirituality (Ps 49:12-15; Mt 7:6; 2 Pet. 2:22; Jude 1, 10).

(ii)     A Christian has the life of Christ.  They are new creations.

3.        Oppression and unfriendliness (4:1-16)

 a.      Oppression in the world (1-3)

(a)     The oppressed have nowhere to turn to, no one to comfort.

(b)     The oppressors are ruthless, but inside their hearts, they are lonely and unhappy.

(c)     The dead is better than the living, for they have escaped from endless troubles (Job 3:13-19).

(d)     Better still are those who have not been born for they have not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.

 b.      They strive and compete and arouse jealousy (4-6)

(a)     Skilled work arouses envy (4)

(b)     The lazy fool has no food (5)

(c)     Blessed are those who have pure motives and work with all their heart and strength.  Better is one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind (6).

 c.      Woe to those who are alone.  Those who have companions have support (7-12).

(a)     The man who is alone and accumulates for himself does not know why or for whom he toils (7-8).

(b)     When those who are alone fall, there is none to help him (10).

(c)     Those who are alone are easily overpowered (12).

(d)     Those who are united in heart and work together reap good benefit (9).

(e)     When two lie together, they will be warm (11).

(f)      A three-fold cord is not easily broken (12).

 d.      If a man is stubborn, the people will leave him (13-16).

(a)     If a king rules alone and does not heed advice, he will lose the support of his people (13; Prov 12: 15).

(b)     A poor and wise youth will rise from chains to the throne (14).

(c)     A new king who commits the same error is foolish and will subsequently be rejected (16).

·         Power and authority are vain.

4.        The meaninglessness of materialism (5:1-20).

 a.      Superficial worship is meaningless (1-7).

(a)     Guard your steps when you go to the house of the Lord, go near to listen, sacrifice, and repent.

(i)       Do not neglect services.  Do no evil, do not emphasize on formality or superficiality, or have a casual attitude.

(b)     Guard your speech in God’s presence.  Do not be rash in speech or utter anything hastily before God (Ps. 39:1-2; Prov. 10:19; 12:18; 17:27; 29:20; Mal. 3:16; Mt. 12:36-37).

(c)     Repay vows (4-6).

(d)     Much dreaming results in much vanity.  We should fear God (7).

 b.      The vanity of material management (8-17).

(a)     Corruption in rank (8-9).

(i)       Those in authority oppress the weak and the poor and justice and rights are denied.  But know that one official is eyed by a higher one (Cf. Rm. 12:19; Ecc 12:14).

(ii)     The benefits of the land should belong to all and not to the few.  The king himself and officials profit from the field. Their duties should ensure equality and justice for all the people (9).

(b)     The suffering of having riches (10-12).

(i)       Cannot receive satisfaction from love of money (10).

(ii)     As goods increase so do those who consume them.  So what profit have the owners except to see them with their eyes?  (11)

(iii)    Eats but cannot savor, sleeps but cannot rest.  Wealth is lost through misfortune.  Lives in fear.

(c)     The grievances of being a slave to wealth (13-17).

(i)       Hoarded wealth brings shame to the owner (13).

(ii)     No security (14).  Misfortune can take all the wealth away in one night.

(iii)    When death comes, a man departs naked (15-16).

(iv)   He only knows how to guard his wealth therefore, he suffers sorrow, sickness and anger (17).

 c.      Exhortation: Rejoice and live under the blessings of God (18-20).

5.        Blessed are those who enjoy and know the will of God, for whatever they encounter, they will have peace (6:1-12).

·         Conclusion of the vanity of life and the way of the world.

 a.      The vanity of those who are rich but cannot enjoy it (1-2).

 b.      The vanity of having many sons and longevity but cannot enjoy it (3-6).

 c.      Fine food cannot satisfy the soul (7).

 d.      It is better to be content than to have wandering desires (9).

 e.      What man is has already been arranged.  Simply submitting to God’s arrangement is wise.

 f.       Do not contend with the Creator (10-11).

 g.      Life is like a shadow.  Man cannot control his destiny, not to mention what will happen after him (12).

C.     Second Section

Seeking satisfaction amidst vanity

1.        Gain wisdom through meditating on life (7:1-29).

 a.      Meditate on the value of life (1-6).

(a)     A good name is better than precious ointment (1).  Cultivate noble character and good reputation that is long-lasting.

(b)     The day of death is better than the day of one’s birth (1).  We hope for the eternal blessings.

(c)     It is better to go in the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting (2-4).  We can have a correct perspective of life through observing the ending of man.

(d)     Sorrow is better than laughter (3), for by a sad countenance the heart is made better. 

(e)     It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools (5-6).  Bitter medicine is good for sickness and rebuke is beneficial to turn us from evil ways.

 b.      Avoid foolish ways (7-10).

(a)     The folly of usury, bribery and corruption (7)

(b)     The folly of being quick-tempered (8-9).

(c)     The folly of not being satisfied with reality (10).

 c.      The benefits of wisdom (11-12).

(a)     Wisdom is better than an inheritance (11).

(b)     Wisdom defends and preserves life (12).

(c)     The benefits of knowledge surpasses the benefits of wealth (12).

 d.      Our life is under God’s control (13-14).

(a)     God determines the straight and the crooked .

(b)     In the day of prosperity be joyful.  In the day of adversity consider.

(c)     God has appointed the one as well as the other.  Thus, man cannot boast.  He should trust and rely on God.

 e.      Do not side to the left or to the right (15-22).

(a)     Although the righteous perish and the wicked enjoy long life, we still have to remain upright (15).

(b)     Do not be overly righteous (16).

(c)     Do not be overly wicked (17).

(d)     Wisdom is the standard by which we do all things (19).

(e)     Do not take to heart man’s curses (21-22).

(i)       For we have cursed others.

 f.       It is not easy to fathom the principle of all things (23-29).

(a)     Pursue the true and highest wisdom (the mystery of the universe and life) , true nature of all things (principles), and characteristics of men.  Man has not yet found answers.

(b)     In the midst of searching, Solomon discovered three kinds of attitudes:

(i)       Something more bitter than death is a woman who is a snare and whose hands are chains.

(ii)     The difficulty of finding an upright man.

(iii)    God made men upright but they have sought out many schemes.

2.        The wisdom of facing disaster (8:1-17).

 a.      The benefits of wisdom (1).

(a)     The ability to discern matters.

(b)     Causes a man’s face to shine.

(c)     Can change bad temper.

 b.      Obey those who rule (2-6).

(a)     Obey the king’s command (2).

(b)     Do not leave the king’s presence hastily (3).

(c)     Do not take your stand for evil thing (3).

(d)     Respect the king’s authority and be cautious in doing certain matters (4).

(e)     Discern the times and procedures (5-6).

 c.      Understand about retribution and judgment (7-9).

(a)     Power cannot retain life and no one has the power to delay the day of his death.

(b)     Wickedness will not release those who practice it.

 d.      A wise man fears God (10-14).

(a)     The hearts of man are filled with schemes to do wrong because:

(i)       The wicked receive peace and the righteous is forsaken.

(ii)     They are not judged.

(iii)    The wicked do wrong, yet still enjoy long life.

(iv)   Reward and punishment are perverted (14).

(b)     In the end, the wicked will be destroyed and the righteous will enjoy blessings (12-13).

 e.      No one can comprehend God’s will (15-17).

3.        The ways of man are in the hands of God (9:1-18).

 a.      Through reliance on God, the righteous and the wise are blessed.

 b.      Under the sun the righteous and the wicked share a common destiny (2-3).

 c.      After death, they go to different places (4-6).

(a)     Death is the dividing line between the living and the dead.  It is the most crucial point.

(b)     While men are alive, they hope to live on.  

(c)     Love, hate, and jealousy perish after death.

 d.      An optimistic view of life (7-10).

(a)     Enjoy God’s blessing.

(b)     Always be clothed in white.

(c)     Enjoy life with your spouse.

(d)     Treasure time and work diligently.

 e.      Success depends on opportunity (11-12).

(a)     The battle is not to the strong (11)

(i)       Success and prosperity cannot be guaranteed to the swift, the strong, the wise, the brilliant, and the learned.  Two reasons for failure are time and opportunity.

(b)     No one can predict whether blessing or disaster will befall us.

 f.       A life of honor depends on wisdom (13-18).

(a)     Wisdom is better than strength (13-15).

(b)     No one pays attention to wisdom (15-16).

(c)     Heed the words of the wise (17-18).

4.        Do not be foolish men (10:1-20).

·         The foolish lack the fear of God, and not intellectual ability  (Ps. 14:1)

 a.      The characteristics of the foolish man (1-3).

(a)     Overlooks minor follies (1).

(b)     The heart of the fool is inclined to do evil (2).

(c)     Lacking sense in whatever he does (3).

 b.      The foolishness of the rulers (4-7).

(a)     Unrestrained anger (4).

(b)     Choosing the wrong person for the job (5).  Right and wrong are perverted: there is no justice.

(c)     Laws are forsaken (7). Statues are rejected.

 c.      The ways of the foolish (8-11).

(a)     They have evil plans and bring harm to themselves (8).

(b)     They lack skill and thus labor in vain (9-10).

(c)     Too late to rectify their mistakes.  Loss can not be recovered  (11)

 d.      The words of the foolish (12-15).

(a)     Self-destruction.

(b)     Raving madness and wickedness.

(c)     Endless nonsense.      

(d)     Superficial and immature.

 e.      The blessings and curses of nations (16-20).

(a)     Woe to the foolish king (16).

(b)     Blessed are the wise and self-disciplined (17).

(c)     If a man is lazy, rafters sag and houses leak (18).

(d)     Be careful in speech for someone might be listening (20).

5.        An active and progressive life (11:1-10).

 a.      Be generous (1-3).

(a)     Cast your bread upon the waters for you will find it after many days.

(b)     Give a portion to seven or eight.

(c)     If the clouds are full of rain, they will empty themselves upon the earth.

 b.      Work diligently and unceasingly (4-6).

(a)     He who solely observes the wind and regards the clouds will not progress

(b)     The path of the wind and the growth of the unborn child are the works of God.

(c)     Sow seeds unceasingly day and night.

 c.      Enjoy life (7-8).

(a)     A beautiful and delightful life.

(b)     Grasping hold of opportunities.

 d.      Restrain youthful desires (9-10).

(a)     Guard your heart and thoughts (9).

(b)     Control the desire of your eye (9).

(c)     Eliminate the sinful desires of the flesh (10).

6.        Fear God and keep His commandments (12:1-14).

·         The conclusion of Ecclesiastes: fearing God is the way to a blessed life.

 a.      Remember the Creator in the days of your youth (1).

(a)     Establish a firm faith when children are young and are simple-hearted for they will not turn from it.

(b)     One of the greatest blessings is to believe in the Lord at an early age and to live in God’s love.

(c)     Have more opportunities to serve the Lord.

 b.      Remember the Lord before old age (2-6).

·         The author uses different methods to describe the pitifulness of old age.

(a)     Using nature as an example (2):

(i)       Like the sun, the moon, and the stars that lose their brightness, so man also degenerates.

(b)     Using the house as an example (3-4).

(i)       The house represents our bodies. 

1.        The keepers of the house tremble – both hands tremble and shake naturally or when carrying things.

2.        The strong man stoops – two legs and lower back lack strength.

3.        The grinders cease because they are few – teeth fall out.

4.        Windows are dimmed – eyesight deteriorates.

5.        The doors on the street are shut – becoming hard of hearing.

6.        Rises up at the voice of a bird, and the daughters of song are brought low.

(c)     Using flowers and insects as an analogy (5).

(i)       The almond tree blossoms.

(ii)     The grasshopper drags itself.

(d)     Using instruments as an analogy (6).

(i)       Silver cord is snapped.

(ii)     The golden bowl is broken.

(iii)    The pitcher is broken.

(iv)   The wheel is broken.

·         The man goes to his eternal home and mourners go about the streets.    

 c.      The dwelling place after death (7).

(a)     Dust returns to the earth.

(b)     The spirit returns to God who gave it.

 d.      The spirit and attitude of the book of Ecclesiastes.

(a)     Contains words of encouragement and rebuke that are filled with wisdom and knowledge (9)

(b)     The results of much searching and upright words from a sincere heart (10)

(c)     The sayings are like goads and nails and are God-breathed (11).

(d)     There is no end to the making and studying of books.  This is the mystery of life (12).

 e.      Conclusion (13-14)

·         Man should reflect on what he should do that is worthwhile (2:3).

(a)     The duties of man – fear God.

(b)     The life of man – keep His commandments.

(c)     The end of man – face judgment.