Summary of Ecclesiastes
The author of Ecclesiastes is unable to find meaning in life by living for work, by searching for the answers to life’s big questions, or by pursuing more and more sophisticated pleasures. All of these efforts result in a sense of emptiness (Hebrew hevel, traditionally translated “vanity”). Life has its perpetual problems, such as injustice and evil, the whims of chance, the impossibility of understanding what God is doing or is about to do, and the inevitability of death. In view of these realities, Ecclesiastes counsels enjoying the everyday gifts God gives, such as times with family and friends, and faithfully remembering and worshiping God.
According to this book, living only for one’s work (workaholism), or to accumulate more and more knowledge (intellectualism), or to find more and more exotic, pleasure-producing thrills (hedonism) will ultimately not be satisfying. The book is also in touch with reality, recognizing that earthly existence is marked by problems of injustice, evildoing, and chance accidents. There are many questions that we have about God, about what God is doing, and about death. We will have to learn to live with these questions. In the meantime, the book counsels us to enjoy one another’s company and to enjoy the day-by-day good gifts that God gives us.
WHERE DO I FIND IT?
Ecclesiastes is the twenty-first book of the Old Testament, falling between Proverbs and the Song of SolomonThird king of Israel who was known for wisdom and building the first Temple More. It is one of several books that come between the books recounting Israel’s history and the books of prophecyProphecy is the gift, inspired by God, of speaking and interpreting the divine will. Prophets such as Amos, Isaiah, and Ezekiel spoke words of judgment and comfort to the people of Israel on behalf of God. More.
WHO WROTE IT?
The writer is identified simply as the “Teacher” (1:1, 12; 7:27; 12:8, 9, 10). Despite some passages that suggest a king as the author, it is best to stay with this designation, ascribing the book to “Qoheleth” (Hebrew) or “Teacher,” that is, one steeped in Israel’s wisdomWisdom 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 traditions (see 12:9-10), preparing a lesson for people who needed to hear what that wisdom had to say to their own lives.
WHEN WAS IT WRITTEN?
While a few scholars would date the book in the fifth or fourth century B.C.E., the consensus of contemporary scholarship understands it to have been written in Jerusalem around 250 B.C.E., in which situation it fits well.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Ecclesiastes offers honest reflections on the human quest for meaning, on the realities of life on this earth and under God, avoiding pious clichés and advising the enjoyment of the gifts God gives.
HOW DO I READ IT?
Do not expect this book to retell the story of the mighty acts of God or to bring prophetic words from God on the great themes of justice, peace, or messianic hope. Nor should you look for prayers of lament or songs of praise. Rather, sit back and listen to what this always critical and sometimes crotchety teacher has to say about life and death, God and love, sorrow and joy.