Reading Ecclesiastes

Here just some quick notes on Ecclesiastes to go alongside the “Ecclesiastes – New Years Disillusion” sermon series. Hope you find them helpful!

Firstly, There are 2 voices in the book of Ecclesiastes.

  1. The voice of the Narrator (1:1-11 & 12:8-14)
  2. The voice of the Teacher (1:12 – 12:7)

1. I take the voice of the Narrator to be critical of the Teacher in the final summary (12:8-14) particularly in 12:10 where the Narrator views the task of the Teacher to be a good attempt at understanding life under the sun, but is ultimately a failure (I prefer the translation of the HCSB & NASB here).

The Narrator gives a warning to his son (and the reader) that the words of the wise are like goads and nails: ie. a bit sharp and prickly; and that adding to them is dangerous and endless postulating is a weariness (like the Teacher exemplifies).

The Narrator then puts the book into perspective and gives the reader a framework for understanding the Teacher’s words “The conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments”

2. The voice of the Teacher is one of despair and pessimism at life under the sun; and frustration that he can’t fathom the ways of God.

The Teacher is a Theist who believes in God (though he never mentions the personal name for the God of Israel – YHWH) but only looks at life from an “under the sun” perspective not from God’s perspective..

The book is shaped by a pessimistic voice but it’s not a pessimistic book in itself because of the conclusion.

Other factors:

The voice of the Teacher is not the voice of King Solomon or any king of Israel, but a type of fictional biography written in Solomon’s persona (which seems to have been a completely acceptable genre in the ANE). The identification of the Teacher with Solomon means that we need to take the Teacher and his views seriously.

The purpose of Ecclesiastes:

The 2 purposes of the book are:

  1. That the reader identifies with the Teacher’s pessimistic view of life under the sun and can see how life is meaningless when this is the only view of life. The reader is then moved toward trusting God and his sovereignty over all life.
  2. That the reader sees the satire of the Teacher’s musings as he flip-flops in his ‘wisdom’ and ultimately does not fulfill his goal to “understand by wisdom all that is done under the heavens” (1:13). The reader then sees a reflection of our own foolish attempts at wisdom and understanding and again is moved toward trusting God and his sovereignty over all life..

The OT reader:

For the OT reader, the conclusion is that life viewed from under the sun leads to meaninglessness and that worldly wisdom is foolish. Therefore “Fear God and keep his commandments” means as it does elsewhere in the OT (esp. Deuteronomy, Job and Proverbs) to trust God who can see more of life than we can, and look at life from his perspective.

The NT reader:

The NT reader draws the same conclusion that life viewed from under the sun leads to meaninglessness and that worldly wisdom is foolish. But “Fear God and keep his commandments” now means trust Jesus. The NT reader can unpack what “Fear God and keep his commandments” looks like because Jesus has revealed the wisdom of God and showed us life from God’s perspective in more fullness.

Preaching Ecclesiastes (or reading it with your friends):

Each sermon should help the listener identify with the truthfulness of the Teacher’s observations of life under the sun, but then to also see the folly of such a limited view and move beyond the words of the Teacher to the words of Jesus. Jesus shows us how to view this world so that we may indeed fear God and keep his commands, that is, we are shown how to be in a trusting relationship with God through Jesus.

In a way, Ecclesiastes is quite an evangelistic book because the Teacher’s view on life identifies well with a world that has always struggled to find meaning apart from the fullness of God’s revelation. Ecclesiastes is able to make that connection with the contemporary world and then point them to fear God, keep his commands, meaning: look to Jesus and trust him.

Comments are closed.