Suggestion on How to Read?
In the Hebrew Bible, the book is called “Qoheleth” which means “preacher” (1:1).
The term suggests one who speaks to an assembly. The translators of the Septuagint (a Greek version of the Old Testament) called it “Ekklesiastes”, which also means “preacher”. The word is derived from “ekklesia”, meaning “assembly”.
Imagine an old man who has been burdened by all the things he has observed in life. He has finally written down a conclusion on why man lives in this world. The author is a king, (1:12, 2:4-9) or a wise man who had gone through many things in life, both good and evil.
What LIFE questions would he explore? (1:12-14)
It is important to consider the book of Ecclesiastes as a whole due to the nature of this book. The author had explored various philosophies throughout his lifetime so the book is an honest account of his search for meaning in life.
Evaluating different approaches to life
...in the personal realm
The author repeats the word ‘vanity’, ‘meaningless’ many times. How did he verify this and link it to his personal experiences? (2:1, 2:15, 2:19). What was his conclusion about the work of man and the work of God? (2:24-26)
…in the societal realm
After having related this perspective (that life is meaningless) to his personal experiences, he also began to observe that there were numerous cases of ‘vanity’ that also occurred in society. There were injustices and uncertainties that afflicted the oppressed, the hardworking, the lonely and even the young ruler himself (Chapter 4).
While considering all of these issues, he questioned:
- Are we born to suffer?
- Why do we labor?
- Who can we share our life with?
- When will we be replaced?
A God who is in control
Realising the meaninglessness of life caused the author to fall into despair, but then he discovered that there is order in the world (3:1-8). How did God keep things in order?
What is God’s gift to man? Could it be that he will find satisfaction in all his toiling? Will he enjoy his work? And what are man’s limitations? (3:9-14)(3:18-21)
Look out for nuggets of wisdom as the author advises us on how to live our lievs… (eg. Chapter 5-7) He reminds us about what will remain at the end…
As you read, consider these questions:
- Which ‘vanity’ of LIFE are you caught up in? How would ‘the Preacher’ advice apply to you?
- How has the preacher challenged your perspectives on LIFE? (Eg. To remember that the end will come? To live your LIFE to the fullest? Or to not be anxious about what you don’t have?)
- What is ‘wisdom’ to you? How do you stay happy and grateful for what you have?
- Who is God to you when you observe injustices and experience uncertainties in life?
What stays with you after you read this book?
For me, I was struck by the fact that I am ultimately naked before God.
“Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labour that he can carry in his hand.” (5:15)
This made me realise how silly it is to worry about what I should have in this life, or who will be replacing me when I am gone. Ultimately, I cannot take anything with me when I die. The book challenges me how I should live my life.
For all the times that I feel like giving up after experience disappointments in life, the ‘preacher’ advises:
“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” (9:10) “even a live dog is better than a dead lion” (9:4b)
Therefore, I should be happy and learn to be contented with the gift of life that God has given me. I ought to have an attitude of thankfulness to God because I am able to work and have been blessed with the company of friends.
The words of the author of Ecclesiastes have convinced me that keeping an account of the losses and gains I have experienced throughout my life is actually a waste of time. I need to turn away from my foolishness and not destroy myself through words or thoughts. Besides that, if I remain lazy or idle, it will affect others too.
His words have reminded me:
“Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again” (11:1)
“Remember your Creator in the days of your youth…” (12:1a)
“Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.” (11:4)
Because we are only human, we are often constrained by our limitations. But, we can still celebrate God’s gift of eternity and the wisdom He has put in our hearts by extending grace to others. This is a form of ‘long term investment’. When grace is extended to others, the effect may go beyond what we can even imagine.
I realise too that if I should decide to stop fearing God and walking in His righteousness, it is for better that I am consequently granted a shorter life span rather than being kept alive but left without a meaning to my existence.
I ought to stop merely watching the wind and clouds and trying to predict what will happen next. Choosing not to lift a finger to do any work would also not be beneficial for me. Although the result is in God’s hand, not ours, we still need to do our part.
Through his contemplations about life and the tough questions he asked, the author of Ecclesiastes has proven that there are answers in life that only God can provide. Indeed, without God, all would be meaningless.
What resonates with you now that you’ve heard the Word of the preacher of Ecclesiastes?