Ecclesiastes Lesson 1 Study Plan
I. Introduction to the book - its history, purpose, controversies over understanding, and possibilities
II. Read A. 1:1-3, 6-7, 8-10
B. 12-18; 2:1-2, 4-8, 10-11
C. 2:13-17, 20-21, 26
Note: the Ecclesiastes scripture above can all be found in the class handout.
How are these verses conventionally understood? How might they be understood in a way that is more in sync with the perspective of a person of faith?
(A.1-3: It seems to say exactly what it says on the surface. Everything is futility. If so, a world without purpose is what we encounter in life. This would appear to be a direct challenge to conventional religion, which teaches an ultimate purpose in life as well as guidance for how to live in purposeful ways.
OR these verses could be read as referring to the essence of “all his labor which he toils beneath the sun,” that is, to material matters, to the amassing of riches, to success in the temporal world. It’s what’s attained “under the sun,” in the physical world.
Solomon could be reflecting on his own “successes” in gaining wealth and power.
(It’s set up to contrast the spiritual, the righteous - that which serves God.)
What “promise” of the Bible - at least one experienced on the surface of the text – might be the object of attention here in Ecclesiastes?
(We learn that all will go well for us in all material respects if we follow God’s ways. Could one element of the futility Solomon is experiencing and expressing be a reaction to the reality that that doesn’t always play out, that one may end up in “bad ways” in this world after having done what one should.)
6-10: We see a world that is almost mechanistically a cycle, in which things go where they go, with little we can do to “break the cycle.” Words don’t seem to matter. Nothing seems to matter. Nothing seems to be new.
Again, this is about the secular, which throws us into a world that matters, with God. (But, more on that in a moment.)
B. In the later verses in 1 and the beginning of 2, 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 this be seen as a true understanding? (p. 64) It was an application of “wisdom” in the direction of material success, NOT the wisdom of Proverbs, born of the fear of God, directed by Lady Wisdom, and geared toward righteousness, justice, and equity.
C. In 2:13 and thereafter, we see Solomon marking the distinction between wisdom and folly. But he again finds futility. What idea brings him to that conclusion?
Where does all this land him?
(He sees that both the wise and the foolish share the same fate in that they both die. This leads to despair. It is sad, but is it dispositive? We’ll see.
It certainly makes him sad about all his material accomplishments, which, after his death, give way to ownership by others. It might do the same for others who think that what they build or accumulate should be permanently enduring in order to believe they or their lives worthwhile.)
D. In 26, we begin to see where Solomon is headed. What is it?
(There is a distinction emerging. There is a person who pleases God who has been blessed by God with a certain type of wisdom, knowledge, and joy. In contrast, the sinner is given what we’ve seen is futility and a vexation of the spirit - the urge to gather and amass.)
What’s the significance of Solomon’s creating this distinction here?
III. A. After 3:1-8, which gave the Byrds lyrics for one of their best songs, we pick right back up with 3:9. Read it. How does this help us see the track Solomon is on?
(As we began to see at the beginning of the book, this is about the lack of enduring value in material things.)
B. In 10-11, we see the fundamental challenge he and we are to wrestle with. What is it?
C. 1. Finally, in 12-22, we begin to see Solomon’s major cut at an answer. How does his wisdom in 12-15 respond to the sense of futility he expressed in earlier verses?
(What God has done endures, in contrast to the grand ambitions we’re tempted to have for ourselves, which do not. We should enjoy the fruit of our work in our lives as a gift of God (as opposed to seeking to be like God in the false idea or ambition that our material creations endure forever.) (And one gets the sense that we should begin to seek out how we can associate ourselves with the Divine.)
2. 16-17: This material ambition of ours helps create wickedness instead of what’s to be valued - righteousness and justice. We see this, too, in 4:1-6, regarding acts of oppression. Take a look.
(Now Solomon returns to the wisdom he taught in Proverbs.)
will be judged by God - but on his schedule. This fits in with the “There is a
time for everything theme.” And it answers our perplexity about the appearance
that the good suffer while the bad prosper.
3. Read 19-22:
Yes, all living creatures die. Thinking otherwise leads to futility. We all return to dust.
But verse 21 is crucial. What of significance does it teach?
(This is about spirit, spirit given by God. It ascends. Life is about attending to its needs. That is NOT futility. This is what we should be doing. It is the source of the happiness mentioned in 22. Psalm 111:3: his righteousness (not his possessions) endures forever and accompanies him as his spirit ascends on high.)
IV. In chapter 4, Solomon teaches us about some of the elements of a worthy life. What do you see?
(Work and live with others in harmony. “Two are better than one.” (7-12)
Better to be poor and wise than old and foolish. The latter is called futility and vexation of the spirit. (13-16)
I thought we learned early on that ALL is futility and vexation. Is Solomon contradicting himself here? Or has he refined his thought to say that some things are futile and vexatious and some are not?
Consider and explain 4:17 in your answer.
What are our takeaways from today’s study?