Introduction to Ecclesiastes
The author of Ecclesiastes calls himself “the Preacher” (1:1). Some interpreters have concluded that this was Solomon, while others think he was a role-playing writer later than Solomon. Either way, the book claims that its wisdom comes from the “one Shepherd” (12:11), the Lord himself.
Theme and Interpretation of Ecclesiastes
The theme of Ecclesiastes is the necessity of fearing God in this fallen, confusing world. Each human being wants to understand all the ways God is acting in the world, but he cannot, because he is not God. And yet the faithful do not despair but cling to God, even when they cannot see what God is doing. The Lord deserves his people’s trust. They can leave everything to him while they seek to understand what it means to “fear God and keep his commandments” (12:13). This is true wisdom.
- The tragic reality of the fall. The Preacher is painfully aware that the creation has been damaged by sin (7:29; Rom. 8:20, 22). He speaks as one who eagerly awaits the resurrection age (Rom. 8:23).
- The “vanity” of life. The book begins and ends with the exclamation, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (Eccles. 1:2; 12:8). The phrase pictures something fleeting and elusive. All the endeavors and pleasures of earthly life are only temporary. When one sees the consequences of sin in this fallen world, one is left in utter frustration, anger, and sorrow. The more one tries to understand life, the more mysterious it becomes (1:12–18).
- Sin and death. By sinning, human beings forfeited the righteousness they originally had before God (7:29), and thus all people are sinners (7:20). Death was a result of the fall. The Preacher is only too aware of this dreadful reality that affects everyone (e.g., 2:14–17; 3:18–21; 6:6).
- The joy and the frustration of work. God gave Adam work to accomplish prior to the fall, but part of the punishment of his sin was that his work would become difficult (Gen. 2:15; 3:17–19). Both realities are seen in the Preacher’s experience, as he finds his work to be both satisfying (Eccles. 2:10, 24; 3:22; 5:18–20; 9:9–10) and aggravating (2:18–23; 4:4–8).
- The grateful enjoyment of God’s good gifts. The Preacher spends a great deal of time commenting on the twisted realities of a fallen world, but this does not blind him to the beauty of God’s world (3:11). Nor does it cause him to despise God’s good gifts of human relationships, food, drink, and satisfying labor (5:18–20; 8:15; 9:7, 9). These are to be received humbly and enjoyed fully as blessings from God.
- The fear of God. The fact that “all is vanity” should drive people to take refuge in God, fearing and revering him (7:18; 8:12–13; 12:13–14).
- Introduction and Theme (1:1–3)
- First Catalog of “Vanities” (1:4–2:26)
- Poem: A Time for Everything (3:1–8)
- Fear God, the Sovereign One (3:9–15)
- Second Catalog of “Vanities” (3:16–4:16)
- Fear God, the Holy and Righteous One (5:1–7)
- Life “Under the Sun” (5:8–7:24)
- The Heart of the Problem: Sin (7:25–29)
- More on Life “Under the Sun” (8:1–12:7)
- Final Conclusion and Epilogue (12:8–14)