The book of Ecclesiastes is found in the Old Testament, following the book of Proverbs and before Song of Solomon. While the book contains important lessons for its readers, the book is often overlooked and its message missed. Given this, you may ask what important message can we learn from this complicated, and often overlooked book. The answer? A lot.
Before we jump into the message, it’s important to understand the book’s authorship. The narrator of Ecclesiastes is nameless, identified as a “Teacher”. Ecclesiastes is often attributed to Solomon because of the books first verse which reads, “The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king of Jerusalem” (Ecclesiastes 1:1). His authorship isn’t a surprise given Solomon was King David’s son and he wrote many sayings in the book of Proverbs. The writer is granted by God with great wisdom. In fact, he is the wisest man in Jerusalem and has the unfortunate task of discerning this wisdom. The second verse begins with the exclamation, “Vanity of vanities…! All is vanity” eluding that everything in life is not only endless, but also empty, meaningless and useless. This message at first sounds negative and depressing. What good news can come from a message like this? You have to look at the big picture.
Ecclesiastes can be a confusing read for many given the uncertainty and ambiguousness of the author’s writing, and at times, the writing can seem contradictory, which is most likely attributed to his own back and forth in his search towards understanding. It can also be a challenge to decipher whether the change in his tone throughout the book is done to describe how humans naturally behave or how they should behave. Yes, Solomon was given great amounts of wisdom by God and that seems important. Remember, he was given the unhappy task of discerning wisdom given he had seen “all the deeds that are under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:14). But how he discerns this wisdom is just as important.
At times Solomon appears to trust himself before he trusts God. Solomon begins to indulge in earthly pleasures. He becomes wealthy, acquires many wives, buys property, seeks sexual gratification, and gains power among other things. In his quest for truth, he lives an ungodly life, focusing on his accomplishments, goals and experiences and the accomplishments, goals and experiences of others, and begins to lose sight of what truly matters. Ecclesiastes 7:23 tells us that Solomon began testing by wisdom but in his pursuit realizes that the wise and the foolish die the same way. He becomes bothered by what he believes he’s discovered about righteousness and wickedness, good and bad, chance and fate. He begins to focus on life on earth, but with his own wisdom, without God as the center focus. The things Solomon was trying to discern and judge others about, he became victim of. He ultimately forgets to look at God’s grace. But through his journey, he begins to discover the importance of having a relationship with God and apart from of a relationship with God, life really is empty and meaningless.
The beautiful thing we can take away from Ecclesiastes is that our God is an awesome God who deserves all worship and praise. We put ourselves above God when we call into question God’s judgments or when we think it is God’s task to answer us. Ecclesiastes 2:24 reminds us that every good thing we have is from God; including the breath in our bodies. How many of us can relate to Solomon? How easy is it to become lost in the consumption of our goods, in our own judgments and the need to be (or the thought to be) right? Ecclesiastes teaches us that nothing we can acquire on earth that are aside from God’s will for us are a complete waste of our time. It doesn’t matter how much wealth we inherit, how beautiful our partners are or much power or fame we acquire. It means nothing if it’s done without a true relationship with God. While they may seem valuable under the sun (on earth), they are selfish pleasures that have no eternal value and ultimately separate us from God. In order for us to live in harmony with our wonderful Creator, we must be fully connected with Him.