Life under the sun! Doesn’t this sound like a sermon title for those who live in Florida or Arizona? Every winter here in Michigan we say goodbye to our “snowbirds” who fly South or West for warmer climates. If I were to ask what book of the Bible comes to mind when you hear this little phrase, “Life under the sun,” I am sure that you would say, “Ecclesiastes.” How long has it been since you have either preached from this Old Testament book or studied it in your personal Bible study? I would like to encourage you to do so.
I read somewhere that of all the books of the Bible read by contemporary college students, this is the book that turns them on the most. Ecclesiastes is a book about life and that is where the interests of people lie. They want to know how to get the most out of life. What is the point of a life filled with hard work, sweat and tears? How important should things be in life? Why do the wicked seem to prosper and the righteous suffer? Where’s fairness? Where’s truth? Really, Ecclesiastes is the best news around for baffled modern man. It’s the working man’s book. It’s a book of hope for those who want to live again.
Ecclesiastes is a book about life in which Solomon writes about frustration, fulfillment, work, sex, injustice, friendship, death, worship, happiness, insecurity, suffering, youth, temptation, folly, confusion, emptiness and the list goes on and on. In essence, Solomon writes about our major concerns in life. He is very honest when he says that all human striving is worthless – if God is out of the picture, really, what is life?
The English title Ecclesiastes comes from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The Hebrew word behind the Greek is Qoheleth, which appears seven times in the book. This is the title by which Solomon describes himself and it is translated “preacher” (KJV): 1:1, 2, 12; 7:27; 12:8, 9, 10. The word basically means “To call together to assemble, to collect.” It is that act of gathering people together, especially for spiritual purposes. This would be one good reason for pastors to preach from Ecclesiastes.
It is my conviction that Solomon is the author and that this book is in the form of a first person narrative. Some doubt his authorship simply because he signs Proverbs and the Song of Solomon but not Ecclesiastes. May I share with you a little more background that might entice you to dig into this Old Testament book of poetry?
Solomon the Person
The tenth son of David, the second by Bathsheba, Solomon’s name appears some 300 times in Scripture. He was but twenty years old when he succeeded his father on the throne where he reigned for some forty years. William Graham Scroggie speaks objectively of Solomon when he said, “Personally, he was characterized by wisdom and wickedness. Greatly gifted intellectually, he was very weak ethically. His mind and his morals were not on the same level!”
Viewed officially, Solomon’s primary work was the material development of the kingdom, the erection of the temple, and under the inspiration of God, the writings of Proverbs, Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes. Yet the man who penned a thousand wise things failed to practice the wisdom that he taught. He spent foolishly the money that had been reserved to build the temple and the people had to be taxed (truly, there is nothing new under the sun!). He went to Egypt for his queen and married the daughter of Pharaoh, and with this strange wife came her strange gods. Then came the harem of women that caused him to sin. It is also my conviction that Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes later in life after he had returned to fellowship with God. There seems to be an air of repentance in the writer and the evidence of a deep maturity of one who now gives wise advice on how to live the best possible kind of life and how to avoid the heartaches attached to the ways of the world.
Some Primary Words & Phrases
At least three key words, or phrases, surface as we read and study this book: under the sun, vanity of vanities, God. Elohim, one of the primary names given to God in the Old Testament, carries the meaning of infinite strength and absolute faithfulness. It is found at least 40 times giving us encouragement that hope can be gleaned from this book. If you keep in mind this meaning wherever “God” is found, it will shed great light upon your study. On twelve occasions God is said to give; on seven occasions mankind is said to have a joyful portion from God. The phrase, “Under the sun,” is found at least twenty-nine times and simply speaks of that which goes on upon earth, mostly in relation to man’s lifestyle as the result of a fallen nature. The phrase, “Vanity of vanities,” occurs at least thirty-eight times and carries the meaning of, “breath of breathes; all is utter emptiness; life is meaningless.” Solomon is stating that life is but a puff of wind, or just bubbles in the breeze. This is what life is like apart from God.
Though Solomon is sharing his experiences while out of fellowship with God, he brings everything into proper perspective in Chapter 12:13-14: “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.” God will judge all of our deeds after this life. God must be kept in the center of life because it is so easy to go astray. Here Solomon gives a watchword (fear God), and a warning (judgment). Ecclesiastes can still speak to us today. We all need to be reminded to stop searching for things under the sun and begin setting our affections on things above (Colossians 3:2).
I know that whatever God does, it shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, and nothing taken from it. God does it that men should fear before Him.
–Maynard H. Belt