The Book of Ecclesiastes is a very unusual book and hard to understand by some. It is part of what is called Ketuvim in the Tanak, and part of what is called the Five Megillot (scrolls) made up of Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther. Proverbs gives a clear sense of cause and effect in the universe. Bad choices means bad consequences and good choices means good consequences. Ecclesiastes will teach us that it is not so clear and simple. The good suffer and die like the wicked, and seasons come and go without regard to people’s choices. The Book of Job turns the “law of harvest” upside down. The good and the righteous experience horrible problems with no visible cause that the righteous Job can point to.
Ecclesiastes can be very hopeless and dark at times and it talks about the vanity or frailty one encounters in life if one did not have a spiritual or eternal outlook. God is always there and is mentioned in many verses and the author searches the human experience and finds that it is all futile, and he will search various avenues to see if any have any lasting value. Then he will give his final conclusion at the end of the book.
This book begins with “the words of Kohelet” in Hebrew and “Kohelet” has been translated as “preacher” in the KJV and other versions, but it means “assembly or gatherer” of truth. The Hebrew word for assembly is “kahal” (Deut 18.16) and you can see the association with this word in the Hebrew name of this book which is “Kohelet.” The Greek name is “Ecclesiastes” and you can see the word “ecclesia” in this word, where we get the idea of a “called out assembly.” The word Kohelet may be a name for Solomon, the son of David, king in Jerusalem and the author of the book.
Kohelet’s goal is to find what is lastingly important and “tov” (good) or what gives a lasting profit or advantage. But in his search he found nothing permanent in man’s existence without Yehovah. His verdict is things are not so clear and simple. The good suffer and die like the wicked and seasons go in endless cycles without regard to anyone’s choices.. So, the message of the book is simple in the end. We must go deeper into the heart of God to find wisdom and meaning. This book is also prophetic in that Solomon is a picture of the Messiah so Kohelet is another name for the Messiah who will gather his people to himself at the Natzal (2 Thes 2.1).
v 1…The words of Kohelet , the son of David and king in Jerusalem (probably Solomon).
v 2..Vanity (no purpose, worthless) of vanities ,” says the Preacher (Kohelet), “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity (this is the theme of the book).
v 3…What advantage (reward) does man have in all his work which he does under the sun (when Solomon uses “under the sun” he is referring to the nature of man as opposed to the man who has eternity in mind).
v 4…A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever (nothing changes).
v 5…Also, the sun rises and the sun sets; and hastening to its place it rises there again (this is an example of the generations).
v 6…Blowing towards the south, then turning to the north, the wind continues swirling along; and on its circular course the wind returns (another example).
v 7…All the rivers flow to the sea, yet the sea is not full. To the place where the river flow and they flow again (and it all starts the cycle again).
v 8…All things (words) are wearisome (without God) and man is not able to tell it (all the trouble he sees). The ey is not satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear filled with hearing (even the senses get tired of all the impressions that bombard man everyday. Man has a lasting cycle of work that can make life meaningless).
v 9…That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So, there is nothing new under the sun (In the Peshat level, this means that in what constitutes the natural order of things in life, nothing really changes. Man is born, he lives and then he dies. In the Sowd level, this is seen as prophetic. All history is unfulfilled prophecy, and all prophecy is unfulfilled history).
v 10…Is there anything (in context with v 9) of which one might say, “See this, it is new?” Already it has existed for ages which were before us.
v 11…There is no remembrance of earlier things ; and also of the latter things which will occur, there will be for them no remembrance among those who will come later (man forgets the lessons of the past and also the lessons of the future. Man will not remember these events and be warned in the future generations).
v 12…I, the Preacher (Kohelet), have been king over Israel in Jerusalem (he will now look back over his reign).
v 13…And I set my mind (gave my heart) to seek and explore wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven (the motives and actions of men, applying the wisdom God gave him and using the advantages he had as king), it is a grievous task which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with (to acquire knowledge is hard job and it is part of the work God has given to mankind).
v 14…I have seen all the works (of men) which have been done under the sun (in the natural world, wherever the sun shines) and behold, all is vanity (efforts that bring about no lasting good, no purpose, worthless for all the work that goes into it all) and striving after wind (he has considered how man busies himself and realizes it goes nowhere and a vexation of the spirit).
v 15…What is crooked cannot be straightened, and what is lacking cannot be counted (man cannot change the things God has determined and they cannot change their sinful hearts; if something is missing and defective it cannot be supplied by man).
v 16…I said to myself (“I spoke with my heart” in Hebrew; as I thought about it), “Behold (see), I have magnified and increased wisdom more than all who were over Jerusalem before me (and he knew it was a gift from God-1 Kings 3.9-13); and my mind (Hebrew “lev” or “heart”) has observed a wealth (abundance) of wisdom (chachmah meaning knowing what to do when you have understanding of the facts) and knowledge (da’at or knowledge in facts).”
v 17…And I set (gave) my mind (heart) to know wisdom and to know madness and folly (of men and the science of the times) and I realized that this also is striving after wind (vexation of the spirit).
v 18…Because in much wisdom there is much grief (as a result, the more Kohelet understood what was really going on, the greater his despair), and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain (made things worse for him, and only the right usage of this knowledge in Yehovah can bring peace).