What does it say?
Our English Ecclesiastes is taken from the title of the Greek translation of the Hebrew original and it means assembly. The Hebrew title is all of verse one. These are the words of the preacher (Hebrew qohelet) to the assembly. This book is a series of four sermons. Tradition states that Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes in his old age as he reflected back on his successes and failures.
Vanity is a key word in this book. Here it does not mean pride, but rather emptiness and brevity of life in comparison to the greatness of God. Another essential phrase to understand is under the sun, a reminder that these words come from a human, earthly perspective, not divine.
What does it mean?
Chapters one and two comprise the first sermon that deals with the vanity (emptiness), of personal experience. Solomon has seen it all, been there and done that, yet still comes up empty. He’s searched for wisdom in philosophy, riches, pleasure and hard work, and yet no one escapes life’s common denominator of death.
Chapters 3 through 5 are the second sermon describing the emptiness of personal observation. Solomon has observed it all – life cycles (Pro 3), human society (Pro 4) and human selfishness (Pro 5:1-17) concluding it all to be empty, void of anything substantial (Pro 5:18-20).
Chapter 6 begins the third discourse that lasts through chapter 8 and deals with the emptiness of human, practical morality that has no basis absolute divine truth. In particular, chapter 6 covers the emptiness of a materialistic approach to life.
In all this the reader should never lose sight of the fact that Solomon is speaking under the sun. It would be very dangerous to lift any particular statements out of context. The whole point of the book is to make plain that a purely human worldview is meaningless and empty. Solomon’s goal is to move us toward a God-centered worldview.
How will I respond?
Does a prayerful reflection on this passage suggest an attitude, thought or habit in my life that Solomon identifies as being empty or worthless? Our thoughts and attitudes are often products of our worldview, rooted deep in our subconscious. How will I respond to begin moving toward a more God-centered worldview? Does my inner reliance on personal wisdom, experience, hard work, pleasure or observation prevent me from engaging more effectively in God’s mission?