Ecclesiastes Lesson 1 Handout
II. Read 1:1-3, 6-7, 8-11.
1 The words of Koheleth son of David, king in Jerusalem.
2 Utter futility!—said Koheleth— Utter futility! All is futile!
3 What real value is there for a man In all the gains he makes beneath the sun?
6 Southward blowing, Turning northward, Ever turning blows the wind; On its rounds the wind returns.
7 All streams flow into the sea, Yet the sea is never full; To the place [from] which they flow The streams flow back again.
8 All such things are wearisome: No man can ever state them; The eye never has enough of seeing, Nor the ear enough of hearing.
9 Only that shall happen Which has happened, Only that occur Which has occurred; There is nothing new Beneath the sun!
10 Sometimes there is a phenomenon of which they say, “Look, this one is new!” - it occurred long since, in ages that went by before us.
11 The earlier ones are not
remembered; so too those that will occur later will no more be remembered than
those that will occur at the very end.
A. How are these verses conventionally understood?
B. What “promise” of the Bible - at least one experienced on the surface of the text – might be vexing to Solomon? And what idea of the Bible appears to be rejected in these verses, especially in 9-11?
C. How could these verses be understood very differently, indeed in a way that is more in sync with the more traditional perspective of a person of faith?
III. Read 1:12-18; and 2:1-2, 4-8, 10-11.
12 I, Koheleth, was king in Jerusalem over Israel.
13 I set my mind to study and to probe with wisdom all that happens under the sun.
14 An unhappy business, that, which God gave men to be concerned with! I observed all the happenings beneath the sun, and I found that all is futile and pursuit of wind:
15 A twisted thing that cannot be made straight, A lack that cannot be made good.
16 I said to myself: “Here I have grown richer and wiser than any that ruled before me over Jerusalem, and my mind has zealously absorbed wisdom and learning.”
17 And so I set my mind to appraise wisdom and to appraise madness and folly. And I learned—that this too was pursuit of wind:
18 For as wisdom grows, vexation grows; To increase learning is to increase heartache.
1 I said to myself, “Come, I will treat you to merriment. Taste mirth!” That too, I found, was futile.
2 Of revelry I said, “It’s mad!” Of merriment, “What good is that?”
4 I multiplied my possessions. I built myself houses and I planted vineyards.
5 I laid out gardens and groves, in which I planted every kind of fruit tree.
6 I constructed pools of water, enough to irrigate a forest shooting up with trees.
7 I bought male and female slaves, and I acquired stewards. I also acquired more cattle, both herds and flocks, than all who were before me in Jerusalem.
8 I further amassed silver and gold and treasures of kings and provinces; and I got myself male and female singers, as well as the luxuries of commoners—coffers and coffers of them.
10 I withheld from my eyes nothing they asked for, and denied myself no enjoyment; rather, I got enjoyment out of all my wealth. And that was all I got out of my wealth.
11 Then my thoughts turned to
all the fortune my hands had built up, to the wealth I had acquired and won—and
oh, it was all futile and pursuit of wind; there was no real value under the
Here we see Solomon applying his wisdom to all things, including the pursuit of joy and pleasure (including luxury). Again, he finds futility.
Do you recall Solomon’s life from Kings? How might what we read here be seen as a true understanding he developed?
IV. Read 2:13-17, 20-21, and 26.
13 I found that Wisdom is superior to folly As light is superior to darkness;
14 A wise man has his eyes in his head, Whereas a fool walks in darkness. But I also realized that the same fate awaits them both.
15 So I reflected: “The fate of the fool is also destined for me; to what advantage, then, have I been wise?” And I came to the conclusion that that too was futile,
16 because the wise man, just like the fool, is not remembered forever; for, as the succeeding days roll by, both are forgotten. Alas, the wise man dies, just like the fool!
17 And so I loathed life. For I was distressed by all that goes on under the sun, because everything is futile and pursuit of wind.
20 And so I came to view with despair all the gains I had made under the sun.
21 For sometimes a person whose fortune was made with wisdom, knowledge, and skill must hand it on to be the portion of somebody who did not toil for it. That too is futile, and a grave evil.
26 To the man, namely, who pleases Him He has given the wisdom and shrewdness to enjoy himself; and to him who displeases, He has given the urge to gather and amass - only for handing on to one who is pleasing to God. That too is futile and pursuit of wind.
A. In 2:13 and thereafter, we see Solomon making the distinction between wisdom and folly. But he again finds futility. What idea brings him to that conclusion? Where does all this land him?
B. Yet, there seems to be a turn in Verse 26. Do you see it? What is it?
V. Note that the verses 3:1-8 make up a song made popular by the Byrds in the 60's, but proceed to read 3:9-22.
9 What value, then, can the man of affairs get from what he earns?
10 I have observed the business that God gave man to be concerned with:
11 He brings everything to pass precisely at its time; He also puts eternity in their mind, but without man ever guessing, from first to last, all the things that God brings to pass.
12 Thus I realized that the only worthwhile thing there is for them is to enjoy themselves and do what is good in their lifetime;
13 also, that whenever a man does eat and drink and get enjoyment out of all his wealth, it is a gift of God.
14 I realized, too, that whatever God has brought to pass will recur evermore: Nothing can be added to it And nothing taken from it— and God has brought to pass that men revere Him.
15 What is occurring occurred long since, And what is to occur occurred long since: and God seeks the pursued.
16 And, indeed, I have observed under the sun: Alongside justice there is wickedness, alongside righteousness there is wickedness.
17 I mused: “God will doom both righteous and wicked, for there is a time for every experience and for every happening.”
18 So I decided, as regards men, to dissociate them [from] the divine beings and to face the fact that they are beasts.
19 For in respect of the fate of man and the fate of beast, they have one and the same fate: as the one dies so dies the other, and both have the same lifebreath; man has no superiority over beast, since both amount to nothing.
20 Both go to the same place; both came from dust and both return to dust.
21 Who knows if a man’s lifebreath does rise upward and if a beast’s breath does sink down into the earth?
22 I saw that there is nothing better for man than to enjoy his possessions, since that is his portion. For who can enable him to see what will happen afterward?
A. Solomon is struggling back and forth with the major challenges of life. He appears to have an answer and hope but then falls back into doubt and pain, and then back and forth again. Can you follow the flow of it?
What causes the pain? Look, too, at 4:1-6.
1 I further observed all the oppression that goes on under the sun: the tears of the oppressed, with none to comfort them; and the power of their oppressors—with none to comfort them.
2 Then I accounted those who died long since more fortunate than those who are still living;
3 and happier than either are those who have not yet come into being and have never witnessed the miseries that go on under the sun.
4 I have also noted that all labor and skillful enterprise come from men’s envy of each other—another futility and pursuit of wind!
5 [True,] The fool folds his hands together And has to eat his own flesh.
6 [But no less truly,] Better is a handful of gratification Than two fistfuls of labor which is pursuit of wind.
What are the possible ultimate sources of hope?
VI. Read 4:7-15, 5:1
7 And I have noted this further futility under the sun:
8 the case of the man who is alone, with no companion, who has neither son nor brother; yet he amasses wealth without limit, and his eye is never sated with riches. For whom, now, is he amassing it while denying himself enjoyment? That too is a futility and an unhappy business.
9 Two are better off than one, in that they have greater benefit from their earnings.
10 For should they fall, one can raise the other; but woe betide him who is alone and falls with no companion to raise him!
11 Further, when two lie together they are warm; but how can he who is alone get warm?
12 Also, if one attacks, two can stand up to him. A threefold cord is not readily broken!
13 Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer has the sense to heed warnings.
14 For the former can emerge from a dungeon to become king; while the latter, even if born to kingship, can become a pauper.
15 [However,] I reflected about all the living who walk under the sun with that youthful successor who steps into his place.
1 Keep your mouth from being rash, and let not your throat be quick to bring forth speech before God. For God is in heaven and you are on earth; that is why your words should be few.
What do these verses teach? If all were futility, why would we have these verses?
VII. Conclusion - what are our takeaways after our first experience of Ecclesiastes?