What is the Point?

KEY VERSE: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” —Ecclesiastes 12:13,14

SELECTED SCRIPTURE: Ecclesiastes 1:1-3; 2:1,2,10-13; 4:1-3; 12:1,13-14

VANITY OF VANITIES, says the Teacher, Vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?” (Eccles. 1:2,3, New Revised Standard Version) So laments an old and cynical Solomon, while looking back over his extraordinary life, and concluding that in it there is little of lasting substance.

Solomon immersed himself in all the pleasures and enjoyments that one could as a king, but in the end concluded that the accumulation of material things and the pursuit of pleasure brings only frustration and emptiness. (Eccles. 2:1-4,10-15) He observed with heartache the “tears” of the “oppressed” (Eccles. 4:1-3) who are comfortless in the face of the power of their oppressors, concluding that it would have been best not to be born.

These conclusions were in stark contrast to the prevailing wisdom in Israel which preached an exalted role of man in God’s Creation, and placed an emphasis upon human reason, experience, responsibility and decision making. This traditional wisdom claimed that those making wise, moral decisions would find life to be good, while those choosing unwisely would find life to be destructive. While acquiring great ‘wisdom’ during his life, Solomon ultimately found that contrary to popular belief, traditional wisdom was only vanity.

So, what is the point? Is there no good news in the Book of Ecclesiastes? At first the answer seems to be, “No.” Solomon reveals himself as a realist and a cynic who speaks of death as bringing relief from the experience of human cruelty and folly, and seeing the wicked prosper. Despite this revelation, there is good news in God’s Word. First, we are encouraged to receive each day of life as a gift from God. In five chapters (2:24-26; 3:13,22; 5:18-20; 8:15; 9:7-10) the Teacher exhorts us to embrace life and receive its simple pleasures—such as knowledge and joy; eating and drinking; daily labor; marriage and friendship—as gifts from the hand of God. Jesus gave similar advice to his disciples (Matt. 6:24-34), admonishing us to trust God for our daily needs rather than to rely on our own wisdom or the works of our hands.

The second good news follows the first. The warning in Ecclesiastes about the vanity of the pursuit of pleasure and the acquisition of material things prepares us to hear Jesus’ words: “What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Matt. 16:26) Solomon’s remarks about death, a great anxiety to man, prepares us to hear Jesus’ promise: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25) So it is that this book has been written for our admonition. With its realistic expression of the injustices of life, it helps prepare us to receive the hope-filled and life-affirming promises of the one who said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”—John 10:10

Dawn Bible Students Association
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