Introduction to Ecclesiastes

By James M. Rochford

The title “Ecclesiastes” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Qōhelet, which means “preacher.” This Hebrew word comes from the term qāhal or “assembly.” Students of the New Testament recognize the term ecclesia, which refers to the church. The term qāhal is the Hebrew equivalent (which just means an assembly of people). Ecclesiastes should probably be rendered “one who gathers an assembly,” because the term “preacher” comes from anachronistic church culture in our time—not theirs.

Authorship

Solomon never explicitly claims to have written the book. Yet we hold that he is the most likely candidate for authorship. Frequently, other people purport other authors, but none have the evidence of Solomon.

Internal evidence. The author needs to have been the son of David (Eccl. 1:1) and the king of Israel (Eccl. 1:1, 12). He also needed to have been a man of incredible wisdom (Eccl. 1:16; 1 Kings 4:34), wealth (Eccl. 2:8; 1 Kings 10:10-14), and women (Eccl. 2:8; 1 Kings 11:1). All of these descriptions fit Solomon to a tee, and no other proponents come even close to fitting these descriptions of the author.

External evidence. The Baba Bathra 15a states that Hezekiah wrote the book, but Archer writes, “[This] probably means no more than that Hezekiah and his company simply edited and published the text for public use.”[1] Other Jewish traditions state that Solomon was the author (Megilla 7a and Shabbath 30). Moreover, Solomon uses the verb (qhl) frequently in 1 Kings 8 to gather the people together for the inauguration of the Temple (1 Kings 8:1-2, 14, 22, 25).[2]

Is this a work of Greek philosophy?

Because Ecclesiastes seems to be such a fatalistic book, older critics believed that it was actually a byproduct of Greek philosophy. Yet Rooker writes, “Critics such as George A. Barton argued that the resemblance between Ecclesiastes and Stoicism was artificial and in fact the philosophies represented in the works were in complete opposition. Since Barton’s study the attempts to link Ecclesiastes with Greek philosophy have met stern rebuttals from the academic community. The issues pondered by Qoheleth are thoroughly Semitic and totally independent of Greek influence. Moreover, there are no clear Greek constructions or idioms in the book and not one Greek word. In addition, Brevard Childs has noted the drift of modern scholarship is to view the book as a unified composition of one author. This trend began early in the twentieth century when S. R. Driver recognized that the epilogue should be attributed to the author of the whole book.”[3]

What about the language and grammatical differences with other pre-exilic literature?

Some scholars deny that Solomon wrote this book (among these are even Martin Luther). Some expressions in this book seem to date to the post-exilic era. Franz Delitzsch cites “ninety-six words, forms, and expressions found nowhere else in the Bible except in exilic and post-exilic works like Ezra, Esther, Nehemiah, Chronicles, Malachi—or else in the Mishnah.”[4] In other words, the basis of this argument is that the Hebrew doesn’t fit with Solomon’s era in history (10th century BC).

However, the Hebrew really doesn’t fit with any known era of Hebrew literature, so this argument is really erroneous. Rooker writes,

Many scholars note that the Hebrew of Ecclesiastes differs from the Hebrew of any other OT book. The book fits into no known period of the history of the Hebrew language. Yet Daniel Fredericks has convincingly shown that the language reflects an earlier stage in the history of the Hebrew language. Clearly the language can certainly not be classified with later postexilic and postbiblical Hebrew works.[5]

Archer notes,

It should be carefully observed that a comprehensive survey of all the data, including vocabulary, morphology, syntax, and style, yields the result that the text of Ecclesiastes fits into no known period in the history of the Hebrew language.[6]

Aramaisms (i.e. loans words) could be explained by the fact that Solomon was heavily invested in trade with various peoples from all across the known world. Archer continues, “Commercial ties with both the Phoenician-speaking and the Aramaean peoples of the Syrian areas during Solomon’s reign were closer than any other period in Israel’s history (with the possible exception of Ahab in the ninth century.”[7] Moreover, language differences could be explained by the uniqueness of Ecclesiastes. Archer also speculates that loan words could have been imported from India, as Solomon’s trade was quite widespread, bringing loan words from farther than we might expect.[8] J. Stafford Wright speculates that Solomon may have used an amanuensis.[9]

Ecclesiastes 1:16 speaks of “all who were… before me.”

Critics point out that “Solomon” states, “I have magnified and increased wisdom more than all who were over Jerusalem before me” (Eccl. 1:16). He also writes, “I have been king over Israel in Jerusalem” (Eccl. 1:12). These are odd statements coming from Solomon, because David and Saul were the only two kings that reigned before him. Who then could he be referring to?

Of course, 1 Kings 14:9 makes a similar claim to Jeroboam (“you also have done more evil than all who were before you”). This passage (like Eccl. 1:16) doesn’t explicitly speak against kings, but could refer to prophets or judges, or really anyone, in Israel’s history. In fact, Jerusalem was a city during the time of Melchizedek (~2,000 BC), having a very ancient history. Moreover, this could refer to Solomon’s great wisdom over the wise men of Israel (1 Kings 4:31).

Regarding verse 12, Wright explains, “The perfect tense (hāyîṯî) can be translated either as ‘I was [and am no longer]’ or ‘I have been [and still am].’ The second meaning would be applicable at the end of Solomon’s life when he cited the fruit of his experiences.”[10]

Canonicity: Is Ecclesiastes really Scripture?

The canonicity of Ecclesiastes was questioned by many of the early rabbis, because it has such a skeptical outlook on life. Rabbi Hillel accepted the book, but Rabbi Shammai opposed it because of apparent contradictions (e.g. Eccl. 8:15; 2:2; 7:3).[11] How could this be included in Scripture with such a fatalistic view of the meaning of life?

(1) Internal evidence. The book claims to be inspired by God: “” (Eccl. 12:11). The “one Shepherd” refers to God (Gen. 49:24; Ps. 23:1; 80:1). This is the wisdom literature’s equivalent to writing, “Thus says the Lord.”[12]

(2) External evidence. Historical evidence supports the canonicity of Ecclesiastes. It is found in the canon of Josephus, the canon of Aquila, and was “quoted with standard formulas for citing Scripture, in the Mishnah (Sukkah 2.6; Hagigah 1.6; Kiddushin 1.10) and the other tannaitic literature.”[13] Melito (late second century) included it. Canonicity scholar Roger Beckwith writes, “Pseudo-Philo, De Sampsone 44, quotes with the formula ‘Scripture says’ words which come either from Prov. 26.27 or Eccles. 10.8. More definite is the reference in Greek Testament of Naphtali 8.7f. to Eccles. 3.5, which it ascribes to ‘the Law’, i.e. Scripture.”[14] Furthermore, there is “little doubt” that Paul refers to Ecclesiastes when writing about the futility of creation (Rom. 8:20).[15] Other allusions—though not quotations—abound throughout the NT.

What does Solomon mean by “vanity of vanities”?

Translators render the Hebrew term hebel as “vanity” (NASB, ESV), “meaningless” (NIV, NLT), or “futile” (NET). When the NASB and NIV render this term “vanity,” they don’t mean narcissism. Instead, it refers to someone pursuing a goal in vain. Rooker writes, “This term occurs 38 times in the book, more than half of its total occurrences in the Old Testament. The concrete meaning is ‘vapor’ or ‘breath’ (see Job 7:16; Pss 39:5, 11 [HB, vv. 6, 12]; 62:9 [HB, v. 10]). Hebel conveys notions of transience and insubstantiality.”[16]

Why is Solomon so nihilistic (or at the very least pessimistic) about life?

Solomon captures what life looks like apart from God. In his Proverbs, Solomon writes what life is like with God, but in Ecclesiastes, he writes about what it is like to reject God. Since Solomon had tried out both perspectives, he is eminently qualified to write on these topics. At points, Ecclesiastes reads like a modern piece of atheistic existential literature. But this is because Solomon is trying to engage his readers with the folly and uselessness of living apart from God. This type of wisdom literature is closer to Job, than to Proverbs.[17]

To be clear, however, Solomon was no atheist. He speaks of God roughly 40 times throughout the book, and he mentions the “fear of God” several times (3:14; 5:7; 7:18; 8:12-13; 12:13).[18] In fact, the conclusion to the book is that life is meaningful and valuable when we factor God into the picture (Eccl. 12:10-14). But interestingly, Solomon only refers to God as the Creator (Elohim), not the Covenant-Maker (Yahweh). This may be a literary device to show that Solomon is appealing to general revelation—not specific revelation.

Consequently, Ecclesiastes can be very difficult to interpret. We simply need to realize that sometimes Solomon is reasoning from the perspective of the “ground up” (i.e. starting from human experience and moving outward), while other times he is reasoning from the “top down” (i.e. explaining how God makes sense of the human condition).

The purpose of this book

Ecclesiastes explains the uselessness of life apart from God. Solomon’s purpose in writing this book is to show that even the wisest man on Earth (1 Kings 4:30) cannot know the meaning of life—apart from God. He writes, “I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it” (Eccl. 8:17). Archer writes,

The purpose of Ecclesiastes was to convince men of the uselessness of any worldview which does not rise above the horizon of man himself. It pronounces the verdict of ‘vanity of vanities’ upon any philosophy of life which regards the created world or human enjoyment as an end in itself.[19]

Solomon is an apt teacher, because he experienced the fullness of pleasures in this world, including sex, power, and wealth. And yet, he is highly critical of the fulfillment and purpose of these things. Instead, his conclusion is to seek after God (Eccl. 12:13-14).

Commentary on Ecclesiastes

Unless otherwise stated, all citations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).

Ecclesiastes 1 (The Absurdity of Life without God)

(1:1-3) Solomon uses the expression “under the sun” 29 times in this book, and it appears nowhere else. Paul refers to the “creation being subjected to futility” (Rom. 8:20), and Solomon writes twelve chapters unpacking life apart from God. Wright explains, “Man chose to become self-centered and self-guided rather than remaining God-centered and God-guided. Thus man became earthbound and frustrated, and this book demonstrates that there is no firm foundation under the sun for earthbound man to build on so as to find meaning, satisfaction, and the key to existence.”[20]

Solomon’s description of life is strikingly similar Bertrand Russell’s thoughts in his essay “A Free Man’s Worship.”

(1:4) From the naturalistic worldview, humanity replaces itself on the Earth, but nothing ultimately changes. The Earth will shake off our “generation” like a bad cold—given enough time.

(1:5-7) The natural course of the sun, the wind, and the waters do not give meaning—only repetition.

(1:8) This repetition doesn’t result in some sort of meaning. It only results in being “wearisome.”

(1:9-10) Each generation strives to find some meaning in the monotony, but there are no new answers to gain from the regularity of nature.

(1:11) Our lives may feel important, but no one will remember us in the future. Likewise, those future generations will be forgotten as well.

(1:12-13) Apart from God, it is truly “grievous” to search for a meaning or purpose to life. God has given us this task so that we would ultimately find him (Eccl. 3:11).

(1:14-15) Everything that people do is ultimately meaningless—like trying to capture the wind. As soon as you get your hands on it, it slips through your fingers. Even the horrors of the past cannot be ultimately fixed.

(1:16) Even the wisest man who ever lived could not find a meaning or purpose apart from God.

(1:17) He seems to be saying that wisdom, madness, and folly are equally meaningless without God (cf. 2:16).

(1:18) The more we reflect on this, the worse we feel. From this standpoint, it would be better to be ignorant of these topics entirely. Wright states, “Those who take life seriously can never take it lightly.”[21]

Ecclesiastes 2 (Hedonism)

Solomon moves from abstract thinking to autobiographical thinking. He pursued all sorts of pleasures, but what was the result? He tried hedonism (e.g. sex, wine, etc.) and materialism (e.g. building projects). But nothing filled the God-shaped-hole.

(2:1) Pleasure ultimately ended in futility (cf. Eccl. 7:26).

(2:2) For Solomon, the laughter of the parties eventually grew boring and banal (Eccl. 7:1-6).

(2:3) He turned to the hedonism of wine.

(2:4-6) He pursued building projects, environmentalism, and overall power (cf. 1 Kings 7:1–9; 9:15–19; Song of Songs 8:11).

(2:7-10) He pursued money and power (1 Kings 10:21-29). He even pursued the arts (i.e. musicians and singers).

(2:11) The result? All of these endeavors were meaningless.

(2:12-16) Solomon saw some hope for finding meaning by turning to wisdom itself. But death is the ultimate leveler: Whether you’re a wise man or a fool, the same fate comes to both. Moreover, both will be forgotten in the end (v.15).

(2:17) These realizations led Solomon to hate life itself.

(2:18-23) Many people claim that they are living for their kids. They want to leave behind a major inheritance to take care of them. However, Solomon argues that this could actually have the opposite effect on the heirs: they could be a fool who squanders it, or they could be a wise person who didn’t earn it. Either way, there is no guarantee of them being fulfilled by the money. Incidentally, Solomon’s kids squandered his empire after he died.

(2:24-25) Wright notes, “The terms ‘good’ and ‘better’ always take their significance from their context. Here the reference is not to moral goodness but to functional behavior; i.e., this is the best way for man to pass along the road of life.”[22]

(2:26) The sinner is clearly frustrated because he cannot gain contentment from the ordinary events in life.[23] This results in feeling an on-going thirst for more.

Ecclesiastes 3 (Life, Death, and the Afterlife)

The band “The Byrds” sing these lyrics in “Turn, Turn, Turn.” The song sounds upbeat, but that doesn’t seem to be Solomon’s purpose.

(3:1) J. Stafford Wright argues that the purpose of this chapter “is that man is responsible to discern the right times for the right actions; and when he does the right action according to God’s time, the result is ‘beautiful’ (v. 11).”[24]

(3:2) The section stars with the boundaries of life: birth and death. This is parallel to planting and harvesting crops.

(3:3) The word of “kill” (hārag) is not the word used in the sixth commandment (Ex. 20:13; Deut. 5:17). That term refers to premeditated murder, while Wright argues that this term refers to just war or capital punishment.[25]

(3:4) Other societies (especially ancient ones) didn’t spurn the expression of emotion as we do today (Ps. 6:6-7; Rom. 12:15; Jn. 11:35).

(3:5) Wright understands the “throwing” and “gathering” of stones to refer to building some sort of edifice (e.g. house).[26] Is it possible that it refers to capital punishment in view of verse 3?

(3:6-7) This seems to refer to natural wisdom on where and when to invest our time.

(3:8) It is okay to “hate” certain things (Rom. 12:9), as long as “we love and hate the proper things.”[27] This could refer back to verse 3.

(3:9-10) The “burden” (NIV) is to know which time is appropriate for which action. How do we know when each time is appropriate?

(3:11) God knows the plan from beginning to end, wanting to make it “beautiful in its time” (NIV). Even though we have a sense of “eternity” (hāʿōlām, cf. Eccl. 1:4; 12:5), we do not know God’s eternal purposes in the past or the future. We need to trust God for what we should do in the present.

(3:12-14) Because God is working from eternity and for eternity (v.11), we should live our lives based on this. Solomon is saying that we should “do good” in our lives. God has arranged the world—and perhaps this sense of eternity—so that we would “fear him.”

(Eccl. 3:12-13) Is eating and drinking the meaning of life?

(3:15) Solomon’s point seems to be that we should learn from the past, so that we do not repeat it.[28]

(3:16-17) In the current moment, we do not see righteousness on the Earth. The expression “under the sun” appears to show life apart from God.

(3:18-22) Apart from God, we have no guarantee that we’ll have eternal life. Humans will expire just like any other animal species. Solomon seems to be questioning the assumptions of the afterlife—if there is no God. We might as well pursue happiness, because we won’t be able to know what happens after death (v.22).

(Eccl. 3:18-22) Are humans worthless animals?

Ecclesiastes 4

Wright lumps the contents of this chapter into politics in general.[29]

(4:1) Solomon wrestles with the severe state of injustice in the lives of many people who are oppressed. Earlier, he affirmed that God would judge people after death: “God will judge both the righteous man and the wicked man” (Eccl. 3:17). However, in the meantime, the oppressed look completely abandoned.

(4:2) There are times when we are happy to see someone die, because of the intense suffering and pain they are enduring. Wright concurs, “There are times when we thank God for delivering some poor tortured sufferer through death.”[30]

(4:3) Jesus said something similar regarding Judas (Mt. 26:24). He also stated that it is the evil person who will wish that they were never born (Mt. 18:6-7).

(4:4) Solomon seems to state that the root of oppression is egotism and selfish rivalry.

(4:5) A foolish person could conclude (based on verse 4) that we should just become idle and lazy. However, Solomon argues that the fool would starve, or he would have to cannibalize himself (!!). This is obvious hyperbole—or perhaps, sarcasm.

(4:6) Our work should be measured with some times of rest.

(4:7-8) The workaholic doesn’t stop to ask himself why he is working himself to death. He isn’t following Solomon’s earlier advice: “I have seen that nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities, for that is his lot” (Eccl. 3:22).

(Eccl. 4:9-12) Should we quote this passage at weddings?

(4:13-16) A wise youth could take over the throne—even if he was a poor prisoner. However, even after taking over the kingdom, he would just be replaced by someone else. It still all ends the same. It’s better, but not by enough.

Ecclesiastes 5

 

Prayer

(5:1) This seems similar to Jesus’ indictment against the people who honor God with their lips, but not their hearts (Mt. 15:8; Isa. 29:13; cf. Lk. 18:9-14).

(5:2) This seems similar to Jesus’ teaching that we should not use “meaningless repetition” in prayer (Mt. 6:7-8). The purpose of not speaking a lot is because of taking on a state of humility: God is far greater than us. A great deal of prayer should be spent in silence, listening to God and meditating on his word (v.1).

(5:3) The wisdom principle seems to be that we should leave our personal business at the door before we enter into prayer. Wright explains, “When we come before God, our minds are full of our own business rather than with the worship of God.”[31] This could explain why the person is talking too much in prayer: they are talking about their carnal desires, rather than focusing on God’s will (Jas. 4:2-3).

Vows

(5:4-6) Wright gives the examples of following through on a specific ministry or with a financial pledge to God’s work.[32] If we pledge our time, talent, or treasure, then we should do our best to fulfill this. We need to do what we say, and say what we do.

This doesn’t refer to vowing to never sin again. In that case, we shouldn’t make the vow in the first place (v.5).

(5:7) Instead of foisting our dreams or demands on God, we should stand in reference of him.

Government

(5:8-9) Solomon writes about the hierarchy of governmental powers. His point is that we shouldn’t be surprised at human nature. However, if the authorities are good, then this will be good for society (v.9).

Money

(5:10) This is very similar to 1 Timothy 6:10 (“For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil”).

(5:11) Rich people need to constantly wonder if their acquaintances really care for them—or just their money.

(5:12) Wealth brings anxiety: “The anxieties of the man of money drive him to sleeping pills and tranquilizers.”[33]

(5:13-17) These verses are strikingly similar to Paul’s argument against materialism in 1 Timothy 6:7.

(5:18-20) If we can, we should enjoy our work for what it is—not an end in itself but a means to making a living. God has given us money to enjoy (1 Tim. 6:17), but never to love (1 Tim. 6:10).

Ecclesiastes 6

(6:1-2) The focus for this person is on their status as a rich and wealthy person. But when this is taken away, it fundamentally ruins them.[34]

(6:3-6) The length of life isn’t the key to meaning. It’s the length, plus the satisfaction of God. This language is similar to Job: “Like a miscarriage which is discarded, I would not be, as infants that never saw light” (Job 3:16).

(6:7-9) The wealthy are consumed with materialism. The average person who is content with “what the eye sees” is better off.[35]

(Eccl. 6:8) Is wisdom worthless?

(6:10-12) Solomon brings in what a fatalistic worldview would look like: If everything is determined (by God?), then what is the use of arguing over the “good life”? Wright argues that Solomon will give practical advice to this problem in the next chapter.[36]

Ecclesiastes 7

Wright introduces this chapter by stating that this is the solution to the fatalism at the end of chapter 6: “We now have some practical proverbs for daily living, showing that God’s will for man is not a set of meaningless rules but a walk that brings a sense of fulfillment. The advice is clearly an answer to the petulant objection of 6:12. Here are some of the things known to be good for man both for the present and for the future.”[37]

Reflecting on death

(7:1a) We should strive to have a good character (“good name”), rather than just a good public image (“good ointment”).

(7:1b-2) The laughter and levity of parties doesn’t reveal the meaning of life. When we go to a funeral, it reminds us that life is transitory.

(7:3-4) Mourning together could be better for our soul than just laughing or kidding around. Wright notes, “A sorrow shared may bring more inner happiness than an evening with back-slapping jokers.”[38]

(7:5-6) The laughter of fools is compared to the quick burning thorns under a cooking pot. They spark for a moment, but then they are gone.

Dealing with prosperity and adversity

(7:7) Bribes and extortion corrupt the wise.

(7:8-9) It’s easy to start a project, but difficult to finish them.

(7:10) We shouldn’t allow the past to take over the present: “Wise people certainly learn from the past, but they live in the present with all its opportunities.”[39]

(7:11-12) We shouldn’t trust in money (“inheritance”). Wisdom is a safer protection than money could ever be. Money doesn’t always live into the next generation, but wisdom could.

(7:13-14) The point is not that God is doing something immoral; rather, this refers to his sovereignty.[40] We need to see prosperity and adversity through the eyes of faith, knowing that God can bring something out of these circumstances in the future (Rom. 8:28).

(7:15) Living a life of wisdom does not always result in prosperity. Life is not that simple.

Righteousness and wickedness

(Eccl. 7:16) Is it possible to be “excessively righteous”?

(7:17-19) The extremes are self-righteousness or wickedness. The solution is to “fear God” (v.18). This is true wisdom (v.19).

(7:20) A sinless life is practically impossible.

(7:21-22) We shouldn’t be overly judgmental of other people gossiping about us, when we do the very same thing. Again, this fits with the context of being self-righteous (v.16), but not actually righteous (v.20).

(7:23-25) To some extent, these questions are impossible to answer from a purely rationalistic perspective. We need revelation—not rationalism (i.e. reasoning purely outward from self, rather than including God).

(7:26-29) Solomon would’ve been better off if he had followed his own advice: to have one good wife (Eccl. 9:9; Prov. 31), rather than polygamy and a massive harem (1 Kings 11:3-4).

Ecclesiastes 8

(8:1) The pessimism about the attainment of wisdom could be hyperbole based on this passage.[41]

(8:2-7) It is best to submit to the king and serve him, because a king can be severe and oppressive (v.6).

(8:8) Death is inevitable. Solomon compares this to being a traitor during war, hoping to flee to the other army. Death conquers everyone.

The wicked do not ultimately get away with it

(8:9-13) Solomon looks at evil people who live a long time and have honored funerals. Yet, he notes that these people will not ultimately get away with it. While they may live a long time (v.12), the quality of their lives will catch up with them (v.13).[42] This is especially true at the final judgment (Eccl. 11:9).

(8:14) If this life is all that there is, then there is no justice, because the wicked get away with evil all of the time. Malachi addresses this exact same issue of injustice in light of the final judgment (Mal. 3:13-4:3).

Enjoy the pleasures of life

(8:15-17) This is reminiscent of what Solomon wrote earlier (Eccl. 2:24-25). Like Jesus’ statements in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 6:25-34), we shouldn’t worry about the future, but enjoy the good gifts that God has provided, knowing that God knows how these will fit into his eternal plan (Eccl. 3:11).

Ecclesiastes 9

(9:1) God does not guarantee us a happy and healthy life. Wright comments, “You cannot use good and bad events as criteria to decide whether God loves you or hates you. Your future may be a mixture of two. When trouble comes, it is easy to ask, ‘What have I done to deserve this?’ It is less easy to ask the same question when happiness comes.”[43]

(9:2-4) Both the righteous and the wicked face the same fate: death. It could be argued that we should live for selfish gains because it all ends the same way. However, this is only if we exclude God and the afterlife from the picture.

(9:5-6) Once we die, there are no “do overs.” We have one chance to make it count, and once we die, it is all over.

(Eccl. 9:5) Are the dead conscious or unconscious?

(9:7-9) Again (see Eccl. 2:24-25; 8:15-17), we should enjoy the good gifts that God has given us. Here, Solomon points to the simple—yet precious—gifts of life: food, wine, clothing, and family (cf. 1 Tim. 6:8). Wright comments, “If God has given us the blessings of a wife and, presumably, a family, we are to find happiness in the precious gift of love. This is what Solomon himself failed to find.”[44]

(9:10) This passage is similar to Jesus’ statement to the disciples (Jn. 9:4).

Chance

(9:11-12) We cannot plan our futures—even if we are strong, skilled, or smart. From our vantage point, many events are simply chance, and we cannot see the plan behind it all.

Example of a forgotten wise man

(9:13-16) All of the people in the town owed their lives to this wise man. Isn’t it amazing how quickly they forgot about him? Isn’t it amazing how quickly we forget about people who seemed so important decades earlier?

(9:17-18) Reflecting on the example above, we agree that “the citizens were the real losers.”[45] They failed to appreciate the quiet words of the wise man.

Ecclesiastes 10 (Different kinds of fools)

(10:1) A dead fly spoils a bottle of perfume in the same way that a little foolishness can spoil a wise person’s life or decisions. Even one false step can screw up relationships, ministry, or our plans.

(10:2) The “left” was metaphorical for being bad or wrong. Even the Latin word sinister means “left,” as well as a metaphorical meaning for evil.[46]

(10:3) When a fool interacts with other people, he shows what he really is.

(10:4) Fools like to blow up at their bosses and quit. Wise people will take a calm response to their bosses and work through the problem.

(10:5-7) Even rulers can be foolish by their political appointments. The people rulers put into positions of influence can have horrible results.

(10:8-11) This string of pearls show that we need to be careful how we execute tasks. We might refer to these as “work smarter, not harder.”

(10:12-14) Fools act like they can know the future. They talk on and on, but their words lack any substantive content or meaning.

(10:15) In the context, the fool is busy by talking about the big issues of life, but he is exhausted by a little bit of work. They want to find the way for everyone through their foolish words (vv.12-14), but they can’t even find their way home!

(10:16-19) The king is described as a “lad” (NASB), “child” (ESV, NET), or “servant” (NIV, NLT). The Hebrew word (naʿar) doesn’t refer to “servant leadership,” but rather certainly refers to “an inexperienced person in this context.”[47] The fact that he feasts in the morning shows that he isn’t getting to work to serve the land, but rather wakes up and starts to get drunk (v.17). The king should be hardworking, rather than a lazy drunkard (v.18). This lazy king believes that wine and money can fix everything (v.19), rather than hard work and wisdom.

(10:20) Even though leaders can be lazy and selfish, Solomon concludes that we shouldn’t trash talk leaders behind their backs. Wright explains, “If there is something wrong in your town or in the place where you work, you must either keep totally silent or be prepared for your proper criticisms to come to the ears of those at the top.”[48]

Ecclesiastes 11

Taking calculated risks

(11:1) This proverb might be similar to our modern trope, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”[49]

(11:2) This proverb is similar to our modern saying, “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.”

(11:3-4) We cannot predict all of life’s circumstances. But if we are hyper-conservative, this has its own problems. At some point, we need to take risks.

(11:5-6) We don’t know everything about human embryology, but we can still nurture and raise babies into maturity. The same is true with regard to God’s plan: We don’t have all of the answers, but we need to step out in faith.[50]

Enjoying your youth

(11:7-8) Whether we are young or old, we should be prepared for good days and bad.

(11:9-10) Youth should be enjoyed, but young people need to be reminded that they will give an account to how they used their time (cf. Eccl. 12:1-7).

(Eccl. 11:9) Should we follow our own way, or God’s way?

Ecclesiastes 12

Don’t waste your youth

(12:1) God should be factored into the days of our youth, because our time of youth is fleeting. We don’t want to look back on our lives and realize that we wasted our youth on pleasure-seeking.

(12:2-7) Solomon keeps telling young people to “remember… remember… remember!” This must imply that young people could easily waste their lives. The advertisement states, “Life comes at you fast.” How true! All of the sudden, we can wake up and realize that we are old, grey, and preparing to die.

Regarding verse 5, the caperberry is not necessarily an aphrodisiac, but an appetizer.[51]

(12:8) Here we see Solomon’s repeated expression in a new light: By living for self, we could look back and realize that our lives truly were meaningless.

Solomon’s conclusion

(12:9) Solomon wasn’t a man who kept his wisdom to himself. The true purpose of wisdom is to give it away to others.

(12:10) Solomon cared both about (1) delivery, as well as (2) truth. We shouldn’t let the flowery language and delivery overcome truth itself, as many Bible teachers are tempted to do. At the same time, there is nothing unspiritual about making a good presentation of the truth to others: We need both good presentation and sound teaching.

(12:11) The “one Shepherd” refers to God (Gen. 49:24; Ps. 23:1; 80:1). This is the wisdom literature’s equivalent to writing, “Thus says the Lord.”[52]

(12:12) This fits with the endless speculations of people on God’s plans. We shouldn’t live most of our lives in speculation, but in God’s revelation.

(12:13-14) All good writers have strong conclusions. Solomon has shown considerable skepticism, but this shouldn’t obscure his main point and conclusion: Fear God! Follow God! And get ready for finally meeting God!

[1] Archer, Gleason. A survey of Old Testament introduction (3rd. ed.,). Chicago: Moody Press. 1994. 528.

[2] Merrill, Eugene H.; Rooker, Mark; Grisanti, Michael A. The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing. 2011. 539.

[3] Emphasis mine. Merrill, Eugene H.; Rooker, Mark; Grisanti, Michael A. The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing. 2011. 540.

[4] Archer, Gleason. A survey of Old Testament introduction (3rd. ed.,). Chicago: Moody Press. 1994. 529.

[5] Merrill, Eugene H.; Rooker, Mark; Grisanti, Michael A. The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing. 2011. 540.

[6] Archer, Gleason. A survey of Old Testament introduction (3rd. ed.,). Chicago: Moody Press. 1994. 530.

[7] Archer, Gleason. A survey of Old Testament introduction (3rd. ed.,). Chicago: Moody Press. 1994. 530.

[8] Archer, Gleason. A survey of Old Testament introduction (3rd. ed.,). Chicago: Moody Press. 1994. 535.

[9] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1143). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[10] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1155). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[11] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, pp. 1148–1149). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[12] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1196). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[13] Roger T. Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church and Its Background in Early Judaism (Grand Rapids, MI: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1986), 321.

[14] Roger T. Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church and Its Background in Early Judaism (Grand Rapids, MI: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1986), 320.

[15] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1149). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[16] Merrill, Eugene H.; Rooker, Mark; Grisanti, Michael A. The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing. 2011. 540-541.

[17] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1144). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[18] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1148). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[19] Archer, Gleason. A survey of Old Testament introduction (3rd. ed.,). Chicago: Moody Press. 1994. 525.

[20] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1152). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[21] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1155). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[22] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1160). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[23] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1159). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[24] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1160). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[25] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1161). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[26] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1161). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[27] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1161). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[28] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, pp. 1162–1163). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[29] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1165). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[30] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1166). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[31] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1168). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[32] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1168). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[33] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1170). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[34] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1171). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[35] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1172). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[36] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1173). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[37] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1174). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[38] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1174). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[39] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1174). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[40] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1175). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[41] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1178). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[42] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1179). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[43] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1181). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[44] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1182). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[45] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1184). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[46] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1185). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[47] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1187). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[48] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1188). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[49] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1189). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[50] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1189). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[51] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1193). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[52] Wright, J. S. (1991). Ecclesiastes. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 1196). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.