Introduction To Ecclesiastes
Today we begin a new study in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes.
Ecclesiastes is one of the “wisdom” books of the Bible, along with Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Job. It contains little historical narrative but rather it addresses questions about life that every generation has asked, including our own.
The title of the book comes from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. The word “ecclesiastes” is the English translation of the Greek word ἐκκλησία (pronounced: ek-klay-see’-ah) meaning “assembly; church” which itself is a translation of the Hebrew word קֹהֶ֫לֶת (pronounced:ko-heh’-leth) meaning “congregation”. The ecclesiastes would be the leader of such a gathering and this book contains his observations about, and advice on, life.
We must remember that the author of this book was writing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. So these observations are written by man, they are really from God Himself telling us the truth about life on this earth. God is telling us how our earthly lives were designed by Him.
The author of Ecclesiastes is debated. Most attribute this book to King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived [1 Kings 4:29-31]. But there are others who likewise have reasons to believe that it was written well after King Solomon lived.
Who ever wrote the book offered wisdom for living to those who are young. The author wanted to teach young people to avoid the mistakes he made by offering them truths he had learned much too late in life.
And while this advice is best suited to youth who still have the vast majority of their lives to live, the message is certainly applicable to anyone who still has life left in them. No matter how old we are, we can all learn to use our time more wisely. What constitutes wise living is precisely the subject of this book.
King Solomon misused his life. He had great wisdom, wealth, and power. However he used those things for all the wrong reasons. Yet, assuming he is the author, he reflected on his life in his later years and asked himself some very challenging questions about life, noting that what he expected from life was often not what he observed or experienced. In that regard, each of us can relate to the message of Ecclesiastes.
Interestingly, the seemingly skeptical point-of-view of Ecclesiastes fits right in with our post-modern, cynical world which searches for truth while dismissing biblical truth. This is what led me to tackle this book next in my studies. Even though it was written almost 1,000 years ago the questions it poses and the answers it finds have been no more applicable to any generation than our own.
While Ecclesiastes starts out with a seemingly hopeless message about mankind’s existence, and sometimes seems to encourage hedonism, it does arrive at a hopeful and rational conclusion. Its main purpose is to show the futility of human existence apart from God.
Asking questions about life is never discouraged by God. In fact, God not only wants us to know the truth but encourages us to seek wisdom and even ask for it [1 Timothy 2:4; James 1:5].
Those who search for answers to the meaning of life in science or religion will not find them. As we’ll see as we study through this book, there is no life in life apart from God.
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