This certainly is one of the more intriguing books in our Bible! We are going to read the entire book during this week in our daily Bible readings. The book opens curiously, “Meaningless! Meaningless! says the Teacher. Utterly meaningless. Everything is meaningless” (1:2). Wow.
Through the years, I have had church members ask me how this book “made the cut” into the Bible! I have heard some scholars refer to the book as a “resident alien” among other books in the Bible. It certainly offers a unique perspective, to say the least.
It also has some of the most recognizable phrases in all of the Old Testament: Eat, drink and be merry (8:15), a fly in the ointment (10:1), there is a time for everything (3:1), cast your bread upon the waters (11:1) and there is nothing new under the sun (1:9).
The repetitive refrain and one of the keys to understanding the teachings of the book is “under the sun” (1:3, 9; 2:11, etc.). The author continually points out the futility of seeking fulfillment in a life fully invested in “under the sun” (earthly as opposed to heavenly) endeavors. In fact, I view this book as principally an evangelistic work. It seems to me that the author is pointing out the various options available to human beings to search for ultimate meaning and purpose.
For example, he testifies that he tried pleasure as a path to ultimate happiness (2:1ff). This led him to conclude that a life given to the pursuit of pleasure results in emptiness. He also tried to discover meaning through accumulation and building (2:4ff). Once again, this led to an experiment in futility.
The author turned to wisdom as a possible solution to his frustration (2:12ff). The result was the same. As many contemporaries in our culture, the writer sought his answer in the accumulation of wealth and power (5:8ff). Again, his conclusion was that he had reached a dead end. He even decided to turn his attention to youth (11:7ff) and again was disappointed.
I think these various pursuits make this ancient book very accessible to 21st century Americans! We can identify with the attractiveness of each of the options explored by the author of Ecclesiastes.
Historically, most scholars have associated this book with Solomon. Most of Hebrew and Christian history has been characterized by biblical interpreters who accept him as the principal author of the book. In recent times, several theologians have suggested this book has insights that are from later experiences in the life of Israel. Plus, there are some textual considerations that have led students of Hebrew and Aramaic to conclude that this book should be dated later than the time of Solomon. However, numerous linguists and interpreters have answered many of the concerns expressed over Solomon’s authorship – so, I still believe he is the principal author of this book.
The book is actually anonymous in spite of 1:1 – “son of David” given as a title of the writer. As you probably know, just about every king after David referred to himself as a son of David. The writer is also called the “Teacher” (Quoholeth in Hebrew). Our title, Ecclesiastes is actually a Latin transliteration of the Greek title of the book.
In our text, the writer addresses his relationship to work. Again, you will not be surprised at his conclusion. It is meaningless (2:17). Why did he reach this conclusion?
You can’t take it with you – You work hard and accumulate all you can – and guess what? You die! And, when you die, you leave it all behind to the people who have not worked for it. Further, how do you know if they will appreciate it or not? What is your kids or heirs don’t practice good stewardship of what you have earned? The writer concludes this just leaves him empty on the inside (2:21).
You may have read about the numerous billionaires today who have signed a pledge to donate their vast wealth to charity. For example, Warren Buffett has claimed he will give away 99% of his wealth before he dies. Michael Bloomberg, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, rock-star Gene Simmons and others have made similar commitments. At least one billionaire, Gina Rinehart – the wealthiest woman in Australia – has decided her children are not fit to manage her estate, so she is disinheriting them! Read about it HERE.
Work keeps us up at night – work can cause some sleepless nights! The writer concludes that his job doesn’t allow him enough rest (v. 23).
Work has to have a spiritual dimension – As Solomon brings this section to a conclusion, he comments that we need the hand of God at work in our lives if we are going to find satisfaction in our labor (v. 24-25). This is one of the few times he pauses to offer a positive comment about one of his pursuits!
What do you get? I think verse 22 offers a key insight into our topic for today. You work for a living – and what do you get? That is a key question in this journey to find fulfillment on earth. If we seek to discover all satisfaction from work – we will be disappointed!