Bible Book Number 21—Ecclesiastes
Place Written: Jerusalem
Writing Completed: Before 1000 B.C.E.
1. For what lofty purpose was Ecclesiastes written?
THE book of Ecclesiastes was written for a lofty purpose. Solomon, as leader of a people dedicated to Jehovah, had the responsibility to hold them together in faithfulness to their dedication. He sought to fulfill this responsibility by means of the wise counsel of Ecclesiastes.
2. How is this purpose expressed in Ecclesiastes’ Hebrew name, thus making this more appropriate than the Greek and English names?
2 In Ecclesiastes 1:1 he refers to himself as “the congregator.” The word in the Hebrew language is Qo·heʹleth, and in the Hebrew Bible, the book is given that name. The Greek Septuagint gives the title as Ek·kle·si·a·stesʹ, meaning “a member of an ecclesia (congregation; assembly),” from which is derived the English name Ecclesiastes. However, Qo·heʹleth is more aptly translated “The Congregator,” and this is also a more fitting designation for Solomon. It conveys Solomon’s purpose in writing the book.
3. In what sense was Solomon a congregator?
3 In what sense was King Solomon a congregator, and to what did he do congregating? He was a congregator of his people, the Israelites, and of their companions, the temporary residents. He congregated all of these to the worship of his God, Jehovah. Previously he had built Jehovah’s temple in Jerusalem, and at its dedication he had called together, or congregated, all of them to the worship of God. (1 Ki. 8:1) Now, by means of Ecclesiastes, he sought to congregate his people to worthwhile works and away from the vain, fruitless works of this world.—Eccl. 12:8-10.
4. How is Solomon established as the writer?
4 Though Solomon is not specifically named, several passages are quite conclusive in establishing him as the writer. The congregator introduces himself as “the son of David” who “happened to be king over Israel in Jerusalem.” This could apply only to King Solomon, for his successors in Jerusalem were kings over Judah only. Moreover, as the congregator writes: “I myself have greatly increased in wisdom more than anyone that happened to be before me in Jerusalem, and my own heart saw a great deal of wisdom and knowledge.” (1:1, 12, 16) This fits Solomon. Ecclesiastes 12:9 tells us that “he pondered and made a thorough search, that he might arrange many proverbs in order.” King Solomon spoke 3,000 proverbs. (1 Ki. 4:32) Ecclesiastes 2:4-9 tells of the writer’s building program; vineyards, gardens and parks; irrigation system; arrangement of menservants and maidservants; accumulation of silver and gold; and other accomplishments. All of this was true of Solomon. When the queen of Sheba saw Solomon’s wisdom and prosperity, she said: “I had not been told the half.”—1 Ki. 10:7.
5. Where and when must Ecclesiastes have been written?
5 The book identifies Jerusalem as the place of writing in saying that the congregator was king “in Jerusalem.” The time must have been before the year 1000 B.C.E., well along in Solomon’s 40-year reign, after he had engaged in the numerous pursuits referred to in the book but before his fall into idolatry. By then he would have gained extensive knowledge of this world’s occupations and its striving after material gains. At the time he would still have been in God’s favor and under His inspiration.
6. What objections have been raised as to Ecclesiastes’ inspiration, but how may these be refuted?
6 How can we be sure that Ecclesiastes is “inspired of God”? Some may query its inspiration in that it does not once mention the divine name, Jehovah. However, it certainly advocates the true worship of God, and it repeatedly uses the expression ha·ʼElo·himʹ, “the true God.” Another objection may be raised because there are no direct quotations from Ecclesiastes in the other Bible books. However, the teachings presented and the principles laid down in the book are entirely in harmony with the remainder of the Scriptures. Clarke’s Commentary, Volume III, page 799, states: “The book, entitled Koheleth, or Ecclesiastes, has ever been received, both by the Jewish and Christian Church, as written under the inspiration of the Almighty; and was held to be properly a part of the sacred canon.”
7. What in Solomon’s background made him eminently qualified to write the book of Ecclesiastes?
7 Worldly-wise “higher critics” have claimed that Ecclesiastes is not Solomon’s writing or a genuine part of “all Scripture,” saying that its language and its philosophy are of a later date. They ignore the fund of information that Solomon would have accumulated through his progressive development of international trade and industry, as well as from traveling dignitaries and other contacts with the outside world. (1 Ki. 4:30, 34; 9:26-28; 10:1, 23, 24) As F. C. Cook in his Bible Commentary, Volume IV, page 622, writes: “The daily occupations and chosen pursuits of the great Hebrew king must have carried him far out of the sphere of ordinary Hebrew life, thought and language.”
8. What is the strongest argument for the canonicity of Ecclesiastes?
8 However, are outside sources really needed to argue the canonicity of Ecclesiastes? An examination of the book itself will reveal not only its inward harmony but also its harmony with the rest of the Scriptures, of which it is indeed a part.
CONTENTS OF ECCLESIASTES
9. What does the congregator find as to the occupations of the sons of men?
9 The vanity of man’s way of life (1:1–3:22). The opening words sound the theme of the book: “‘The greatest vanity!’ the congregator has said, ‘the greatest vanity! Everything is vanity!’” What profit is there in mankind’s toil and labor? Generations come and go, the natural cycles repeat on earth, and “there is nothing new under the sun.” (1:2, 3, 9) The congregator has set his heart to seek and explore wisdom with regard to the calamitous occupations of the sons of men, but he finds that in wisdom and in folly, in exploits and in hard work, in eating and in drinking, everything is “vanity and a striving after wind.” He comes to ‘hate life,’ a life of calamity and materialistic pursuits.—1:14; 2:11, 17.
10. What is God’s gift, but what eventuality befalls sinful man?
10 For everything there is an appointed time—yes, God has ‘made everything pretty in its time.’ He wants his creatures to enjoy life on earth. “I have come to know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good during one’s life; and also that every man should eat and indeed drink and see good for all his hard work. It is the gift of God.” But, alas! For sinful mankind there is the same eventuality as for the beasts: “As the one dies, so the other dies; and they all have but one spirit, so that there is no superiority of the man over the beast, for everything is vanity.”—3:1, 11-13, 19.
11. What wise counsel does the congregator give the God-fearing man?
11 Wise counsel for those who fear God (4:1–7:29). Solomon congratulates the dead, for they are free of “all the acts of oppression that are being done under the sun.” Then he continues to describe vain and calamitous works. He also wisely counsels that “two are better than one” and that “a threefold cord cannot quickly be torn in two.” (4:1, 2, 9, 12) He gives fine advice on the congregating of God’s people: “Guard your feet whenever you go to the house of the true God; and let there be a drawing near to hear.” Do not be hasty in speaking before God; let ‘your words prove to be few,’ and pay what you vow to God. “Fear the true God himself.” When the poor are oppressed, remember that “one that is higher than the high one is watching, and there are those who are high above them.” The mere servant, he observes, will have sweet sleep, but the rich man is too worried to sleep. Yet, he has come naked into the world, and for all his hard work, he can carry nothing out of the world.—5:1, 2, 4, 7, 8, 12, 15.
12. What advice is given on the serious issues of life, and on the advantage of wisdom over money?
12 A man may receive riches and glory, but what is the use of living “a thousand years twice over” if he has not seen what is good? It is better to take to heart the serious issues of life and death than to associate with the stupid “in the house of rejoicing”; yes, better to receive the rebuke of the wise one, for as the crackling “sound of thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of the stupid one.” Wisdom is advantageous. “For wisdom is for a protection the same as money is for a protection; but the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom itself preserves alive its owners.” Why, then, has the way of mankind become calamitous? “The true God made mankind upright, but they themselves have sought out many plans.”—6:6; 7:4, 6, 12, 29.
13. What does the congregator advise and commend, and what does he say concerning the place where man is going?
13 The one eventuality to all (8:1–9:12). “Keep the very order of the king,” advises the congregator; but he observes that it is because sentence against bad work has not been executed speedily that “the heart of the sons of men has become fully set in them to do bad.” (8:2, 11) He himself commends rejoicing, but there is another calamitous thing! All kinds of men go the same way—to death! The consciousness of the living is that they will die, “but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all . . . All that your hand finds to do, do with your very power, for there is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in Sheol, the place to which you are going.”—9:5, 10.
14. (a) What practical wisdom does the congregator stress? (b) What is the conclusion of the matter?
14 Practical wisdom and man’s obligation (9:13–12:14). The congregator speaks of other calamities, such as “foolishness . . . in many high positions.” He also sets forth many proverbs of practical wisdom, and he declares that even “youth and the prime of life are vanity”—unless true wisdom is heeded. He states: “Remember, now, your grand Creator in the days of your young manhood.” Otherwise, old age will merely return one to the dust of the earth, to the accompaniment of the congregator’s words: “The greatest vanity! . . . Everything is vanity.” He himself has taught the people knowledge continually, for “the words of the wise ones are like oxgoads,” spurring on to right works, but regarding worldly wisdom he warns: “To the making of many books there is no end, and much devotion to them is wearisome to the flesh.” Then the congregator brings the book to its grand climax, summing up all that he has discussed on vanity and wisdom: “The conclusion of the matter, everything having been heard, is: Fear the true God and keep his commandments. For this is the whole obligation of man. For the true God himself will bring every sort of work into the judgment in relation to every hidden thing, as to whether it is good or bad.”—10:6; 11:1, 10; 12:1, 8-14.
15. How does Solomon distinguish between calamitous occupations and worthwhile works?
15 Far from being a book of pessimism, Ecclesiastes is studded with bright gems of divine wisdom. When enumerating the many accomplishments that he labels vanity, Solomon does not include the building of Jehovah’s temple on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem, nor the pure worship of Jehovah. He does not describe God’s gift of life as vanity, but he shows that it was for the purpose of man’s rejoicing and doing good. (3:12, 13; 5:18-20; 8:15) The calamitous occupations are those that ignore God. A father may lay up wealth for his son, but a disaster destroys all and nothing remains for him. Far better it would be to provide an enduring inheritance of spiritual riches. It is calamitous to possess an abundance and not be able to enjoy it. Calamity overtakes all the worldly rich when they “go away” in death, with nothing in their hand.—5:13-15; 6:1, 2.
16. How does Qo·heʹleth, or Ecclesiastes, harmonize with the teachings of Jesus?
16 At Matthew 12:42, Christ Jesus referred to himself as “something more than Solomon.” Since Solomon pictured Jesus, do we find the words of Solomon in the book Qo·heʹleth to be in harmony with the teachings of Jesus? We find many parallels! For example, Jesus underlined the extensive scope of the work of God in saying, “My Father has kept working until now, and I keep working.” (John 5:17) Solomon also refers to God’s works: “And I saw all the work of the true God, how mankind are not able to find out the work that has been done under the sun; however much mankind keep working hard to seek, yet they do not find out. And even if they should say they are wise enough to know, they would be unable to find out.”—Eccl. 8:17.
17. What other parallels are to be found in Jesus’ and Solomon’s words?
17 Both Jesus and Solomon encouraged true worshipers to congregate. (Matt. 18:20; Eccl. 4:9-12; 5:1) Jesus’ comments on “the conclusion of the system of things” and “the appointed times of the nations” are in harmony with the statement by Solomon that “for everything there is an appointed time, even a time for every affair under the heavens.”—Matt. 24:3; Luke 21:24; Eccl. 3:1.
18. In giving what warnings do Jesus and his disciples join with Solomon?
18 Above all, Jesus and his disciples join with Solomon in warning of the pitfalls of materialism. Wisdom is the true protection, for it “preserves alive its owners,” says Solomon. “Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you,” says Jesus. (Eccl. 7:12; Matt. 6:33) At Ecclesiastes 5:10 it is written: “A mere lover of silver will not be satisfied with silver, neither any lover of wealth with income. This too is vanity.” Very similar is the counsel that Paul gives at 1 Timothy 6:6-19 that “the love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things.” There are similar parallel passages on other points of Bible instruction.—Eccl. 3:17—Acts 17:31; Eccl. 4:1—Jas. 5:4; Eccl. 5:1, 2—Jas. 1:19; Eccl. 6:12—Jas. 4:14; Eccl. 7:20—Rom. 3:23; Eccl. 8:17—Rom. 11:33.
19. With what happy prospect may we congregate in Jehovah’s worship today?
19 The Kingdom rule of God’s beloved Son, Jesus Christ, who in the flesh was a descendant of wise King Solomon, will establish a new earthly society. (Rev. 21:1-5) What Solomon wrote for the guidance of his subjects in his typical kingdom is of vital interest to all who now put their hope in God’s Kingdom under Christ Jesus. Under its rule mankind will live by the same wise principles that the congregator set forth and will rejoice eternally in God’s gift of happy life. Now is the time to be congregated in Jehovah’s worship, in order to realize to the full the joys of life under his Kingdom.—Eccl. 3:12, 13; 12:13, 14.