BIBLE TEACHING GUIDE
By Henry Jaegers
THE BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES
Author: King Solomon
Theme: A Legacy on the Grace of God
In Matthew chapter 16 when confronting the rich young ruler concerning the dangers of being controlled by his wealth, Jesus uttered these remarkable words: "for what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16: 26)
Although these words were uttered by Jesus, they were experienced by one of the greatest kings in history; namely, King Solomon the son of David. We can say that this word given to the rich young ruler is a message from Jesus that Solomon needed to hear during his reign of Israel's wealthiest king.
It started well. When faced with the enormous task of ruling the nation of Israel, Solomon humbled himself and pleaded to God to give him the wisdom to judge these people. God was pleased with his request and besides giving him understanding, he gave him great wealth, knowledge, and wisdom above all men at the time. One of his final acts was the building of the temple. At this building of the temple, Solomon asked another request from God and God answered and made a covenant with him.
As time progressed, things began to deteriorate in the life of Solomon. He began by marrying the daughter of Pharaoh, (king of Egypt) and that was the beginning of many problems that followed. Solomon toward the end of his life had married one thousand women who were from the heathen nations, and we are told in Scripture, that these are idolatrous wives who turned his heart away from God.
The consequences of Solomon's unfaithfulness to the covenant that he made with God caused him to lose the kingdom that he presently had, eventually resulting in the divided kingdom that forsook God.
There is no doubt, that Solomon was subject to moral weakness and his love for the sins of the flesh led to his eventual destruction; but there is good news in all of this: Although Satan appeared to have had a temporary victory due to Solomon's failure, he did not have the final victory.
The question that no one seems to be able to answer is, “when did Solomon write this book of Ecclesiastes? What time in his life was this book written? Although Solomon lost his kingdom, the contents of the book of Ecclesiastes reveal that he did not lose his soul; otherwise, how could he have written such a book unless he himself had experienced forgiveness from God and the book of Ecclesiastes was his legacy of forgiveness.
So, in short, what is this message found in this book that we need to understand? Solomon in all his glory experienced every conceivable pleasure that life could offer but he summed up all these excesses by the words "vanity of vanities, all is vanity and vexation of spirit. That is what life without God is like and Solomon experienced that.
In the first four chapters of Ecclesiastes, he describes the emptiness of life without God. but in chapter 5 and onward he emphasizes the importance of beginning with God and continuing faithfully throughout the end of life.
Here are his final words: “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them”.
"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole (purpose) of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:1,13,14)
Before we begin to examine the discussion questions, it is important to note two words that are used intermittently throughout the book. It is the word “vanity” and the other term used frequently is "under the sun". None of these terms are desired qualities that lead to a greater understanding of life guided by the spirit of God. The word “vain” (or vanity) means “empty or of no value”. They may have value to the men living by these standards, but they are values which are limited to life in this world but they are valueless in the economy of God, (as the apostle Paul states, “those who live in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8:8)
The term, "Under the sun”, is best understood in its use throughout the book. It refers to a man who lives for this world's values without any consideration of God and eternity. The conclusions that are reached come from rational and logical explanations sometimes being incorrect because they do not take into account the presence of the living God.
The book of Ecclesiastes is the testimony of a man who shares with us his life and experiences in this world and the things that he has observed in the lives of people who give no understanding of God and eternal values. Having said that, we are now ready to proceed with the questions.
1. In chapter 1:1-3, discuss who the writer is, and the philosophy that he puts forth. Is what he is saying true? In what sense is this so?
From chapter 5 to the end of the book, the writer’s perspective begins to change. In the previous chapters, everything was focused on man's problems while living under the sun. But now on a more positive perspective, is presented. What do you think happened that caused him to see differently?
2. Read verses 4-10. How do these words describe the way that he feels? Is he correct in his conclusions?
3. In chapter 2: 1- 22, discuss the various ways the writer tried to find true meaning and happiness for his life. In verses 22-26, discuss the conclusions through which this journey took him.
4. In chapter 3:1-8, compare these beginning words with those in verses 16-18 to determine how a man should wisely use time.
5. In chapter 5 through the end of the book, the writer’s perspective begins to take on a positive note. Whereas in the former chapters, much focus was placed on man and his troubles “under the sun”. What do you think has caused him to be, more positive in his outlook? Read verses 18-22, and observe the change that is now coming forth.
6. In chapter 7, the writer discusses the wisdom that is found in considering the house of mourning to the house of mirth: The time of morning is the time of contemplation concerning the brevity of life and the importance of taking a good life more seriously. Can you identify with these experiences that he is sharing with us?
7. In chapter 8:11,12, what happens when evil in the land is ignored and not judged? In verse 12, what comfort does the man of God have in light of all the evil that prevails?
8. In chapter 11, discuss the positive admonitions that are found throughout this chapter, reflecting a whole new perspective opposite to that found at the beginning of the book in the first four chapters.
9. In chapter 12: 1, 13,14, discuss the exhortation that the writer gives to young people as they face future adversities that may arise? What wise advice is given to young people?
10. In chapter 12: 2-12, as a fun project, discuss how the writer describes the problems of old age and the final wisdom he achieved through all his experiences.