The author of Ecclesiastes is believed to be King Solomon of Israel, the wisest and wealthiest man that ever lived. We can learn quite a bit about him by reading passages found in 1 Kings, Proverbs, Psalms, and Song of Solomon and elsewhere. The biblical text tells us that Solomon was King David’s son (Israel’s most beloved king).
1 Kings 3:3 states that Solomon loved God and walked in his statues just as his father David had done. God was pleased with Solomon appeared to him in a dream. It was in that dream Solomon asked for wisdom, which God gave to him.
During his reign, everything Solomon touched seemed to turn to gold. These were the glory days of Israel, times of success and excess. But King Solomon, the wisest of men, turned away from God as he aged. 1 Kings 11:4 says when Solomon was old his heart served the foreign gods known to his many of his wives. Ecclesiastes is said to be written in Solomon’s twilight years.
There are a number of possibilities as to how the book came to be titled Ecclesiastes. My favorite possibility stems from the Greek word ekklesia, which means an assembly. The person addressing the assembly in Ecclesiastes is simply called “the Preacher”, which is a title given to an official person who speaks before an assembly.
Ecclesiastes can be divided into four sections. William Barrick in his commentary on Ecclesiastes suggests these sections:
- What Solomon did or experienced (chapters 1-2)
- Solomon’s observations (chapters 3-5)
- Solomon’s application (chapters 6-8)
- Solomon’s conclusion of the matter (chapters 9-12)
The opening words of Ecclesiastes are certainly troubling, “Vanity, vanity. All is vanity.” These words come from a King who has seen it all, done it all and possessed it all. The word “vanity” has a wide variety of meanings in scripture, these range from emptiness, futility, a vapor that vanishes quickly leaving nothing behind, and more. All is vanity.
What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun? Ecclesiastes 1:3 NIV
We need to remind ourselves we are looking into the life of a man who is facing the certainty of death and reflecting back over his life. The Hebrew word for man is adam. Adam was the first man, formed from the earth and since that time when each man dies he returns to the earth. Gain (profit), or yitron, means that which is left over, surplus. Toil, or amal, in this case suggests laboring to the point of exhaustion while experiencing little or no fulfillment in your work (grief, weariness and frustration are implied).
The remaining words, “under the sun,” offer a critical perspective or vantage point. Solomon is looking at life from a human perspective (under the sun). As Ecclesiastes unfolds, the reader sees the futility of life from this vantage point in light of the fact that death is a certainty. G. Campbell Morgan said, “It is only as a man takes account of that which is over the sun as well as that which is under the sun that things under the sun are seen in their true light.”
From his life experience, Solomon concludes: (a) that nothing has changed (b) nothing is new (Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Satisfied.)
Generations come and go but the earth remains forever. Eccl 1:4
(a) Solomon sees man as a transient being set against the backdrop of creation (which continues on indefinitely). We make an appearance, have a brief pilgrimage, and then we die. The certainty of death makes our efforts appear futile.
The monotony of nature’s reoccurring cycles signals the intelligent design of our universe. Our Creator did not intend us to experience life like a hamster on an exercise wheel. We are pilgrims, not prisoners of monotony.
All things are wearisome. Eyes have never enough to see, ears never enough to hear. Eccl 1:8
(b) When we are wearied by life, we desperately want something new or different to offer as a distraction or to deliver us from monotony. So, our eyes and ears never have their fill. Solomon points out that there really isn’t anything new (under the sun). We may think things are new because we have a bad memory (v11). Methods and technology may change but principles never do. If we seek eternal bliss in something that’s temporary or perishable, invariably we are disappointed.
If we seek true happiness, a change in perspective is needed. We need to start viewing life from above the sun or eternal perspective. Paul tells we are new creations when we accept Christ as our savior: “the old is gone, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:17.