As our church family begins to read through the book of Ecclesiastes in our app reading plan, we thought it would be helpful to have an overview or summary of this book. It is one of the more difficult books in the Bible to understand. You almost have to read it with “tongue in check.” It has a decided “bent.”
Who wrote the book? The text says it was the words of the Preacher (Qoheleth). Likely it was King Solomon (David’s son).
When did he write it? Scholars argue about the author and therefore the date of writing, but no time period is mentioned in the text. It does have a timeless message.
What kind of a book is it? Ecclesiastes is part of the wisdom literature of the Bible. These five books (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes) are a kind of literature. They are not narrative like the history books. The message in these books does not flow smoothly. As one writer put it, “it meanders with jumps and starts through the messiness of human experience.”
And there are unresolved tensions in the book. Occasionally those tensions almost appear as contradictions to other parts of scripture. There is an example in chapter 10 where money is asserted to be the answer for everything. That runs in opposition to I Timothy 6:10 where we are told that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Clearly, understanding this book requires perspective.
The cross-currents that flow through the twelve chapters must be viewed through the lens of Solomon’s eyes. He is going to contrast “what I saw” (8:10-12) and what “he comes to know” (8:12). He will juxtapose what he sees (9:7-10) with what he believes (3;17, 8:12-13, 11:9).
He uses the phrase “under the sun” some twenty-seven times to express that this perspective is strictly a human viewpoint. It is horizontal in nature. It is man’s perspective on things, not necessarily God’s perspective.
So, why did he write it? Most scholars believe that Solomon is reflecting his thoughts on paper, almost like he was writing a journal. He is reflecting on his life (“I said to myself”) and those thoughts are leaving him deflated, discouraged, and disillusioned. He finds himself “empty.” He remarks that nothing can satisfy him. Over and over again, he asserts that all is “vanity.”
But the book does not leave us with despair. While the first eleven chapters do force some serious reflection, the Preacher goes on to conclude that joy can be found when we fear God and keep His commandments (12:13).
As you start reading this book, bear in mind that Solomon is giving his readers a challenge. He is urging us to think things through. Ultimately, he will resolve the literary debate and declare that God “will bring every deed into judgment…” But along the way, Ecclesiastes is a tough book to understand. Read it with a discerning eye.
More comments to follow next week.