The title Ecclesiastes comes from the Greek translation of the opening line, “The words of the Preacher…” The word preacher is qoheleth in the Hebrew or ekklesiastes in Greek. The Hebrew term appears in the feminine form, which shows “…that divine Wisdom herself speaks through the inspired king Solomon” (Fausset Bible Dictionary). It is fitting the word appears seven times, inferring the perfection of wisdom.
Not only does the author of the book identify himself as “the Preacher” but he also speaks of himself as a “son of David, king in Jerusalem” (1:1) and more specifically “…king over Israel in Jerusalem” (1:12). The writer was Solomon. The book is filled with wisdom, but couched in the observations of the king’s own failings. His goal was to “…seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven…” (1:13).
He tested various things which are “under the sun,” a common phrase used in the book to refer to things which are part of the human experience and existence on the earth. He tried all manner of pleasures—wine, great possessions, entertainment, etc—but concluded “…all was vanity and grasping for the wind (2:11). He pursued wisdom and looked into madness and folly, and was discouraged at what he found “…there is no more remembrance of the wise than of the fool…” (2:16), and thus concluded again, “…all is vanity and grasping for the wind” (2:17). The things which people are prone to pursue in order to find fulfillment brought emptiness.
This word “vanity” appears 38x in the book. It is defined as:
emptiness or vanity, figuratively, something transitory and unsatisfactory; often used as an adverb; altogether vain, vanity (Strong’s)
The book essentially begins and ends with the same phrase::
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; vanity of vanities; all is vanity. (1:2; cf. 12:8)
His point is not that everything in this world is vain and useless. In fact, he acknowledges that life and the things of this life are a gift from God (2:24-26; 3:12-13; 5:18; 8:15). However, the life which does not have God as the center, as the compass, is a life of vanity and emptiness. And so he urges the young to rejoice in life and the pleasures it has to offer, but to remember “…God will bring you into judgment…” (11:10). Therefore, live a life that will be pleasing to the Lord.
There are many beautiful poetic sections to the book. He begins chapter 3 by declaring “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven…” which is followed by a series of contrasts in life. In chapter 4 Solomon extols the value of companionship (v 8-12). Chapter 7 begins with a series of “better” statements (ie. “…sorrow is better than laughter…”); statements which on the surface seem contrary to logic, but which are nonetheless true. In the closing chapter, he provides an eloquently metaphoric description of old age and death, beginning with the admonition, “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth…” (12:1) and again “Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed” (12:6).
Bringing the book to a close, the wise king wrote::
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)
Next week we continue with Song Of Solomon…