Outline of Ecclesiastes
1. Author and Theme (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2)
The author is identified as the “Teacher,” which is Qoheleth in Hebrew. The thematic word “vanity” translates the Hebrew hevel, which repeats as a refrain throughout the book. Its literal sense is a breath of air or puff of wind; as a metaphor, it can mean emptiness, nothingness, meaninglessness.
2. The Search for Meaning (Ecclesiastes 1:3-2:26)
In the first major section of the book the author reports on his search for meaning in life. Qoheleth has tried everything. Living for work proves to be wearisome. The perpetual search for wisdom brings only sorrow. And pleasures, from the sensual to the sophisticated, also finally end up as “vanity”–hollow and unsatisfying. Neither the accomplishments of one’s work nor the accumulation of knowledge is ultimately satisfying. So the best thing to do is to enjoy the family and friends God has given you!
3. Who Knows? (Ecclesiastes 3)
“Who knows?” is the theme running through chapter 3. The Teacher acknowledges that there are particular times in life for particular activities. One of the haunting questions in life has to do with what the future will bring. And then there is the matter of death, with all its mysteries. There are some things that the Teacher does know (3:12-15), including the observation that all should stand in awe of God.
4. Earthly Matters (Ecclesiastes 4)
This chapter discusses a number of earthly matters, including evil and injustice, envy and workaholism, the advantages of life together with another, and the power of Wisdom encompasses the qualities of experience, knowledge, and good judgment. The Old Testament book of Proverbs, which sometimes invokes a Woman as the personification of Wisdom, is a collection of aphorisms and moral teachings. Along with other biblical passages, it teaches, “The fear of the… More.
5. Heavenly Matters (Ecclesiastes 5)
This chapter turns to focus on some heavenly matters, reminding humans that God is in heaven and they are on earth. The Teacher counsels readers to enjoy the days that God gives them.
6. Death (Ecclesiastes 6-7)
The major concern of these chapters is death. Death may come too soon, and funerals can serve as reminders of one’s own mortality. In 7:15-29 the Teacher reflects on some of life’s riddles. The Hebrew Bible marks 6:10 as the beginning of the second half of the book.
7. The Limits of Human Understanding (Ecclesiastes 8)
Here the Teacher admits that even the theologians and philosophers do not understand the great mysteries of life and again counsels enjoying the days that God gives.
8. How Then Should Life Be Lived? (Ecclesiastes 9-12)
In the context of remembering one’s mortality, the Teacher reminds humans of the chanciness of life and advises enjoying God’s gifts whether one is old or young. Wisdom is powerful, but young people are advised not to study overmuch, to remember and revere their Creator, and to live rightly.