FROM PASTOR MAYLAN: As I was getting ready to preach on the intriguing Bible book of Ecclesiastes, I sent out an email challenging the congregation to read through the book, then send me their answers to one or more of the following responses: Why is Ecclesiastes in the Bible? What (if anything) does this book tell you about God? Can you see Him anywhere in this
Several of you responded to my challenge, and I quoted some of what you wrote during my two-part Ecclesiastes sermon series. By the way, if anyone would like to watch either of the two sermons, or read the manuscripts, here are the links. You’ll find the YouTube link just below the title of each:
“Heart Dialogue – Part 1”
“Heart Dialogue – Part 2”
Now, here are your responses, in basically the order I received them. Thanks to each of you for taking the time and thought!
ROBERT HOWSON WRITES: – For me, all the questions are answered with a single response. I believe the writer, presumably Solomon, had gone through some encounter with reality that brought him face to face with his own humanity and hence his own finite condition. No matter what abilities or qualifications he brought to the table he was reduced to the reality that like everyone else, he was finite. Simply put, he, just like the dog and cat, were subject to death.
This apparently was a new awakening to one who had literally grown up with a silver spoon in his mouth, who had been blessed with super-intelligence and discernment. Now he was placed on a level playing field with everyone else on the human team. What a rude awakening.
Its inclusion in the Bible is for all who are faced with disillusionment. This may be caused by old age, or simply the reality that you’re never going to climb all the tallest mountains or write that best-selling novel. The answer to the third question is an extension of the first answer. The writer comes to the realization that the exact opposite of himself is God. God is the only one who is eternal, who is not subject to death. So, every time we hear Solomon talking about the vanity of human effort, the exact opposite is true of God. That means God is found, in contrast, all throughout the book. This also answers the second question, what does it tell us about God? God is eternal, which, of course makes the cross all the more remarkable, that God willingly took upon Himself the vulnerability of humanity. The book should make us both humble and at the same time eternally grateful.
JOE WINN WRITES: To remind us that God is infinite, and man is finite. And the best thing man can do in light of this reality is to be content with his lot in life.
RITCHIE HAMMEN WRITES: Here are my thoughts in answer to your Ecclesiastes questions: Ecclesiastes is in the Bible because it is the pinnacle of human experience and epiphany. Psalms lays down the relational / emotional dynamic of following God through trials. Proverbs gives us the practical “how-to” of life. But Ecclesiastes reduces all the overcomplicated micromanaging we do in life down to the minimalistic essentials.
I used to believe that Ecclesiastes was a grumpy and negative book, but I recently read it again and had an in-depth conversation with one of my No Excuses Project instructors about it. We both agreed that Solomon is not being negative, but actually is being quite positive and is accurately defining what life is (both with and without God), and is describing a calm realization that we are not in control. (Being a former Army Combat Engineer, he has experienced first hand a lot of the things Solomon describes in Ecclesiastes, and has found it to be one of his favorite books). A type of realistic optimism. And an honest recognition that we can fight and try all we want, but at the end of the day (or life), there are only a few simple things that matter.
These are ones we lost in Eden, and we’ve been clawing our way with systems and processes to get back there. When really all we need is “the conclusion of the matter”. To borrow terms from other religions, Solomon has reached a type of “zen” or “nirvana” (I am not giving approval for these beliefs, just using the general meaning of the terms to approximate). Perhaps he has reached the authentic calm abiding trust that “zen” and “nirvana” are counterfeits of. He realizes that things are out of his hands, life is short, God is fair, life is not, and people are more important than things, and God is more important than human ambition and endeavor. I find this book extremely liberating and peace-giving, but perhaps that has something to do with my thesis experience, “as of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body (Ecclesiastes 12:12). I crave the simplicity Solomon discovered.
This book tells me that God is God and I am not. His ways are much higher than my ways and our collective (humanity) ways. I see God in His fairness to send rain on both good and bad. I see God putting “eternity in their hearts” and making “everything beautiful IN ITS TIME”. And I see God, in that the human experience is just a transient thing, yet the decisions for or against God have eternal implications. And I see God the Creator who we must Remember (hint: Remember the Sabbath). I see perhaps a Messianic reference to Jesus in Ecclesiastes 12:11 in the “firmly embedded nails — given by one shepherd”. I see God in his fair judgement of every open or hidden good and evil deed, and can see part of that judgement in the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, and we often forget that he will also one day reward the hidden good deeds (which we never talk about, overshadowed by our fear of the judgement of the hidden evil deeds). Prayer: Help me be a Disciple/Agent of the Hidden Good Deeds. And finally, I see God in that we can have the confidence that one of the most hopeful sayings in Ecclesiastes is “the end of something is better than its beginning”. 7:8
RUTH LEMUS WRITES: Thank you for this thought-provoking homework. Sending you my response early as it is rather lengthy.
I wrote out my response prior to actually reading the book. After reading the entire book, I was surprised to discover various biblical instructions I’d heard over the years but didn’t realize were taken from the book of Ecclesiastes.
Many texts reminded me of the book of Proverbs, same author I believe, so not surprising. Interestingly, verses 14-16 of Chapter 2 and v 19 from Chapter 3, reminded me of Psalm 49. From chapter 1, verse begins, “All things are full of labour…” Now that I no longer have work challenges, I realized that indeed each and every day brings conflict, interruptions or other unexpected hiccups, even in tasks that should be simple, like getting from point A to point B, while using Google maps.
As I ponder this book, I think of the texts stating “there is a time for everything… under heaven,” not that we have time to do things, but rather stages, or seasons, in our lifetime for different circumstances, events, emotions and so on.
On Friday, I was reading the book Experiencing God, by Blackaby & King. The passage, I will quote from pages 56-57, helped me see God as our Creator in the book of Ecclesiastes.
“God did not create you for time; He created you for eternity. Time (your lifetime on earth) provides the opportunity to get acquainted with Him. It is an opportunity for Him to develop your character in His likeness. Then eternity will have its fullest dimensions for you.
“If you just live for time (the here and now), you will miss the ultimate purpose of creation. If you live for time, you will allow your past to mold and shape your life today. Your life as a child of God ought to be shaped by the future (what you will be one day). God uses your present time to mold and shape your future usefulness here on earth and in eternity.”
This passage leads me to think that the book of Ecclesiastes is included in the Bible to show us that without a daily relationship with God and His direction for our time on this planet, we will find no purpose or reason to live a life that will satisfy our souls, quench our throat, fill our yearning.
In addition, off the top of my head, Ecclesiastes is in the Bible to show me that history repeats itself, just as there have been pandemics in the past so will the test of worship from Daniel 3, the days of Noah, the result from the different forms of worship offered to God between Cain and Able will be repeated in history.
In closing, the authors of Experiencing God continue on page 57 to quote Philippians 3:4-14. In this passage, Paul seems to echo the reasoning that all is vanity, or “rubbish” except to be in a relationship with Christ, that he “may gain Christ… know Him and the power of His resurrection.”
MARTHA HAMMEN WRITES: I started reading Ecclesiastes again. It is, with Proverbs, one of my favorite books of the Bible.
I am probably very strange to most people, but I do not think that Solomon was bitter or depressed when he wrote Ecclesiastes.
What I see when I read it, it’s a man, so wise, that he tried everything on this earth, and remember, a sinful and not even close to perfect world, and he being so rich and so wise and so powerful, tried IT ALL, tasted ALL, experience ALL and because he had such wisdom, he realized that nothing he tried filled “the hole,” or made him fulfilled, he really saw how everything you could say was the best the world had to offer, meant nothing, did nothing for him. I think some day when we get to heaven, we might see it like him. And I believe he is right (and I am not depressed or bitter) nothing we do on this earth will ever fulfill us or make us really whole, because this world as is, was not God’s dream for us. He, I think, in his wisdom and the things he learned as he tried it all, SAW, something really revealing, big, profound and very true. He, to me, had an amazing revelation of Truth, he saw the real reality of what this world has to offer us: NOTHING. We are here and we have to live and do and make… so someday we can see and experience the real reality because now we see in part.
“For now, we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.” 1Cor. 13:12
I think Solomon was wiser that we can even imagine! I believe he just said a lot of very great truths.
I see God in Ecclesiastes in the revelation I think He gave Solomon to SEE more clearly the truth about what happens under our Sun in this sinful world, even when you seem to have it ALL.
CARROL GRADY WRITES: I think Solomon is saying that while we may think we have control over our lives, we really don’t. No matter how much wisdom we acquire, we will never understand God’s reasons for the things that happen to us, because His wisdom is so far beyond our understanding. When we try to accomplish something great with our life, it will soon be forgotten after we die, so we might as well enjoy the good things God gives us today.
I sense a great deal of disillusionment in his expounding, but I think his conclusions are in the Bible because God want us to know he is in control, not us.
GAYLE WOODRUFF WRITES: Ecclesiastes laments the sorrow of increased knowledge. At the end of Ecclesiastes Chapter 1, it mentions that he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.
To me this goes back to the beginning of where it all went wrong. Satan promised Eve, in Genesis 3, that the forbidden fruit would give her more knowledge. Ecclesiastes puts on display some of the jarring ripple effects of having acquired that knowledge.
This would all be quite depressing were it not for Jesus coming to earth as our Savior.
RONGHUA JIN WRITES: Thank you for encouraging me to read the book of Ecclesiastes. I read it 6 times, from beginning to end, trying to understand the content. Here is my attempt to answer your question:
1. Why is Ecclesiastes in the Bible? — After reading this book, I feel this book provides similar wisdom gems as the book of Proverbs.
2. What (if anything) does this book tell you about God? Can you see Him anywhere in this book? — One of the themes is that “Everything is meaningless”. But after reading the full text, I got the sense that things are perceived as meaningless because “no one can fathom what God has done” (3:11), “you cannot understand the work of God” (11:5) The book encourages me to “Fear God and keep his commandments” (12;13) and to enjoy the simple things as food, drink and work, as “this is the gift of God” (3;13)(5:19), “for God has already approved what you do” (9:7).
Trust in God, because “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (3:11)
JOHN SKIGGNS WRITES: I think that if it was Solomon that wrote this, it had to be later on in his life. Ecclesiastes is a bittersweet book with much rhetoric on the subject of life and death.
When we are youthful, many of us try to make our mark, that is, find out what we are good at and do it to the point of being expert or masters of our craft. So much so that we wish to be always remembered by a tribute in the history books to ourselves. Ecclesiastes basically paints a picture of what happens to people, good people (that is, not completely bad folks, ones that try to be or do good in their life) and bad people (the ones that are lost in their sin). Then the author shows that whatever transpired in their life, it doesn’t really matter and he further points out that the end game is the same for both, whether or not you are good or bad. Further, he states what is the point of being either? It must have been in a low point in his life when he wrote this. He does however conclude in Eccl 12:13-14:
“After all is said and done, there is only one thing that really matters: Reverence your heavenly Father and do what He says. That’s the only thing that has meaning and lasts. So love God and keep His commandments. He loves you and has told you all you need to know. One day He will judge everything we have done in this life, including every secret thing, whether it was good or bad.” From the Clear Word.
We need to keep our eyes on Jesus as we go through life for He is the only reason that gives meaning to life.
DICK HAMMEN WRITES: The reading for Judaism’s most joyous occasion is Ecclesiastes, and the word most associated with that feast is ‘joy,’ where everyone is reduced to the same level and they live in huts for a week. Life is just a breath. “Dust in the wind.”