3 Reflections From Ecclesiastes
In my personal devotions, I try to read through the Bible about once a year. Recently, I had the pleasure of working my way through Ecclesiastes. Many call this book one of the most difficult in the Bible–this is because of its many bleak and ‘seemingly contradictory’ statements about life. Traditionally, the book is thought to have been written by King Solomon, “the Preacher,” at the end of his life (Ecc 1:1, supports this “the son of David, king in Jerusalem”) as an instruction to youth about how to live.
I was really blessed by time in Ecclesiastes, and here’s three of my reflections–hopefully this will help you as you read through the book yourself:
1. THE VANITY OF LIFE ‘UNDER THE SUN’–A TEMPERING EFFECT
One of Ecclesiastes most reoccurring phrases is ‘under the sun;’ the Preacher uses this phrase over 28 times to describe life here on earth. As we read, we learn that for many life ‘under the sun’ is often painful and seemingly very meaningless/vain/fleeting. We may try to give our lives meaning by coming up with something new, but this only leads to failure, because nothing is new or truly unique under the sun (1:9); we may make great accomplishments and impress many around us, but in the end everything we do will be forgotten under the sun(1:11); we can have all that the world desires but our hearts will never be satisfied under the sun (2:11); we might be wise beyond our years and we may still end up with disastrous consequences or situations under the sun (2:14). So what do we with such a reality? I would suggest that we ought to get humbled.
The Preacher’s teaching about the vanity of life humbles us–especially young entrepreneurial or success-driven individuals–and allows us to become more tempered in understanding the significance of our achievements here on earth. We may build empires, win multitudes to our side, or achieve enormous status, but in the end we will be forgotten by everyone along with all of our success. Considering this helps us to walk humbly with our pursuits and not become destroyed when things do not go our way–in this, as Christians we are aided in our fight against idolatry (my kingdom will disappear, but Christ’s will always last). Also, as we are confronted with the reality of the shortness of our life here under the sun, we are led to consider the majesty of God’s eternal nature, who alone is immortal (1 Tim 6:16). Though everything we do will be forgotten by all we know, everything do will not be forgotten by our eternal God, who will bring it all into account on the Last Day (Ecc 12:14).
2. JOY UNDER THE SUN–A GIFT FROM GOD
While Ecclesiastes has the reputation of being a depressing and somber book, there is also a consistent and overlooked theme of joy throughout. 8:15 is an excellent example of this: “I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.” The Preacher reminds his readers that God has given us opportunities to experience joy in this world–even with the bleakness and sadness we often experience in life–and that we ought to take full advantage of this (2:24-26; 3:12; 3:22; 5:18-20; 7:14; 8:15; 9:7; 11:8). So even though life is short, we should still receive and delight in the gifts God gives us (like work or marriage)–rather than getting lost in an introspective depression–and enjoy the time God has given us under the sun.
3. FEAR OF GOD–THE END OF THE MATTER
The Preacher’s final word is this: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (12:13). The fear of God is a principle found throughout Scripture, and refers to a reverential, affectionate submission. It is to rightly recognize God’s infinite power, to adore Him for His might, and to submit to Him and His commands. Herein is true wisdom: fearing God as we live our lives under the sun. Such a word challenges us: am I fearing God or fearing something else? Counterfeit fears often steal us away from serving God: What will others think of me? How will I get ahead? How can I not follow the crowd? These fears and others are foolish, for God will “bring every deed into judgment” (12:14).
These are some of my reflections I read through Ecclesiastes recently. Would you add any? What key verses help you understand the book? How does the message of Ecclesiastes point us forward to Jesus?