[Heb., Qo·heʹleth, congregator, convener, assembler].
The Hebrew name fittingly describes the role of the king in a theocratic government such as Israel enjoyed. (Eccl. 1:1, 12) It was the responsibility of the ruler to hold the dedicated people of God together in faithfulness to their true King and God. (1 Ki. 8:1-5, 41-43, 66) For that reason, whether a king was good or bad for the nation was determined by whether he led the nation in the worship of Jehovah or not. (2 Ki. 16:1-4; 18:1-6) The congregator, who was Solomon, had already done much congregating of Israel and their companions, the temporary residents, to the temple. In this book he sought to congregate God’s people away from the vain and fruitless works of this world to the works worthy of the God to whom they as a nation were dedicated. The name used in our English Bibles is taken from the wrong translation of Qo·heʹleth in the Greek Septuagint, namely, Ek·kle·si·a·stesʹ (Ecclesiastes), meaning “one who sits or speaks in an ecclesia; a member thereof.”
There was only one “son of David,” namely, Solomon, who was “king over Israel in Jerusalem” (Eccl. 1:1, 12), for kings after Solomon did not reign over all Israel. Solomon was the king so well known for his surpassing wisdom. (Eccl. 1:16; 1 Ki. 4:29-34) He was a builder. (Eccl. 2:4-6; 1 Ki. 6:1; 7:1-8) He was a composer of proverbs. (Eccl. 12:9; 1 Ki. 4:32) Solomon was renowned for his wealth. (Eccl. 2:4-9; 1 Ki. 9:17-19; 10:4-10, 14-29) Qo·heʹleth is in the feminine gender for the reason that Solomon, because of his God-given wisdom, was used as a symbol of wisdom as if he were wisdom personified; and the Hebrew word for “wisdom” is feminine. Therefore, Solomon applies the term to himself. Since the book mentions the building program of Solomon, it must have been written after that time but before he “began to do what was bad in the eyes of Jehovah.” (1 Ki. 11:6) The book was therefore written before 1000 B.C.E., in Jerusalem. That Solomon would be one of the best qualified men to write the book is supported by the fact that he was not only the richest but probably one of the best informed kings of his day, his sailors and tradesmen as well as visiting dignitaries bringing news and knowledge of people of other lands.—1 Ki. 9:26-28; 10:23-25, 28, 29.
Qo·heʹleth, or Ecclesiastes, is accepted as canonical by both the Jewish and the Christian churches. It is in agreement with other portions of the Bible that treat the same subjects. For example, it agrees with Genesis on man’s being made up of a body composed of the dust of the ground and having the spirit or life force and the breath that sustains it from God. (Eccl. 3:20, 21; 12:7; Gen. 2:7; 7:22; Isa. 42:5) It affirms the Bible teaching that man was created upright but willfully chose to disobey God. (Eccl. 7:29; Gen. 1:31; 3:17; Deut. 32:4, 5) It acknowledges God as the Creator. (Eccl. 12:1; Gen. 1:1) It concurs with the rest of the Bible as to the state of the dead. (Eccl. 9:5, 10; Gen. 3:19; Ps. 6:5; 115:17; John 11:11-14; Rom. 6:23) It strongly advocates the worship and the fear of God. It uses the expression ha-ʼElo·himʹ, “the true God,” more than thirty times. The equivalent for the name Jehovah is found in the Syriac Version and Jewish Targum of the book at Ecclesiastes 2:24. While some claim that the book contradicts itself, this is only because they do not see that the book many times sets forth the common view as opposed to the view that reflects divine wisdom. (Compare Ecclesiastes 1:18; 7:11, 12.) So one must read with a view to getting the sense, and keep in mind the theme of the book.
From its contents, the book could be called “The Congregator on Works Vain and Worth While.” In the first chapter Solomon describes the stability and continuity of the cycles of the universe, things man relies on for steadiness, balance and meaning to life, and for life itself, as compared with the transitoriness of man. With such endless repetition of natural processes and man’s short life, the appearance from a natural man’s standpoint is that all is vanity. In his search Solomon saw that mankind is engaged in a calamitous occupation and that things crooked in this system of things cannot be made straight, and many are the things that are wanting. Solomon’s increase in knowledge of things merely increased his vexation and pain.—Eccl. chap. 1.
Solomon then turned to the pursuit of joy and cheerfulness by enjoying material things of which he had an abundance—possessing houses, vineyards, gardens and pools, having servants of all kinds, along with much silver and gold. He employed singers and tried out everything that his heart desired that would bring rejoicing. But then he saw that the same thing that happened to the stupid one would happen to him with all his wisdom. With this viewpoint he hated life and the work of a materialistic nature that he was doing, not the works he had done in temple building and in promoting worship of God. It turned out to be a saddening experiment, “to lay hold on folly until I could see what good there was to the sons of mankind in what they did.” It hurt him to realize that he would leave behind all his possessions to an heir who might be foolish in the use of them. Solomon had enjoyed the best of everything, but he found that the thing God has given to man is for him to enjoy living and the fruits of his work, not the course Solomon tried, the work of pleasure seeking through materialism. On the other hand, he found that there is a reward for the one who is good before God, the one doing worthwhile works, in that he eventually receives the very things that the sinner has gathered together.—Eccl. chap. 2.
Solomon sees that there is a time schedule for every affair under the heavens, and that in the meantime God has given to mankind work with which to be occupied. God’s own works are good and everything has its time. Man can never completely fathom God’s wisdom and purposes. Therefore, the thing for a man to do is to accept the gift of God, to rejoice and to do good and to see good for the hard work he has done. (Compare 1 Corinthians 15:58; Philippians 4:4.) God’s works stand forever and have a purpose; no one can add to or subtract from these. Why does Solomon commend this line of reasoning? Because, in this system of things, judgment and righteousness are not often administered, but there is a Supreme Judge who, in his time, will judge everything righteously. (Compare Romans 2:6.) This is true even though now mankind dies the same as beasts, all going back to the dust, with no proof that there is any difference in the state they are in at death.—Eccl. chap. 3.
Solomon sees that, viewed from a purely human standpoint, many acts of injustice and oppression take place, with no hope in sight, so that the person dead and away from it all is in a better position, free from rivalry and stupidity. A little rest is better than all this struggling. But companions are valuable assets and by them a great deal of calamity can be avoided, for they can mutually help and can combine their forces against oppression.—Eccl. chap. 4; compare Hebrews 10:24, 25.
In approaching the house of God it is better to hear, so as to obey, than to sacrifice while going on with badness. (Compare 1 Samuel 15:22.) Also, one should not be hasty with his words before God, for He is in the heavens, but man is far below, on earth. Consequently, when one makes a vow to God, he must pay it, or it will be considered a sin and will bring God’s indignation. The important thing is to fear the true God himself. One should not fret over injustice and wickedness, for the God-fearing man knows that this does not go unnoticed by the One who is the Supreme Judge.—Eccl. 5:1-9; compare Luke 12:6, 7.
Money is unsatisfying. Riches do not bring contentment or comfort of mind. They can pass away, leaving a man without anything, just as he came into the world. If one adopts the right attitude and, instead of worrying about material things, recognizes that God has given him what he has and enjoys it with contentment, his life will not be something to be hated, or boresome. (Compare 1 Timothy 6:6-8.) In preoccupation of rejoicing in God’s gifts the days pass without bitterness of reflection on the brevity and vexations of life.—Eccl. 5:10-20.
Even though a man may have many material possessions, if he does not have blessing from God, he is worse off than one prematurely born. Living just for what goes into one’s mouth does not satisfy one. If he lives blindly for desire only, no matter how long he lives, he will disappear as a shadow.—Eccl. chap. 6; Jas. 4:13, 14.
Solomon shows that a good reputation is better than material things, and for this reason the day of one’s death is better than that of his birth, for he has had time to make a good name and the days of vanity are over. Those who are stupid laugh lightly and live for banqueting. But it is better to think on the matters of life and death seriously, thereby improving one’s heart condition. Listening to a wise rebuke is better than hearing the song of the stupid ones Patience is better than haughtiness, and quickness at taking offense is stupid. One may look back on former times in the world as better days (compare 1 Peter 4:3), but this is not wise. Rather, look to the work of God. Also unwise is the materialistic viewpoint, for money is useful to a certain extent for temporary protection if used wisely, but wisdom is far better, for it preserves alive those who possess it.—Eccl. 7:1-14.
A person should not go to extremes, being overly righteous, or excessively wise. To be sure, he should seek these qualities, but at the same time should keep his balance by remembering that the fear of God is the key to gaining such worthwhile things. All men are sinners. Therefore, we should not take too much to heart what people say against us. Remember, we ourselves are not so righteous, for we often say things that are not good. Solomon warns particularly against being ensnared by the bad woman, for more bitter than death is her fruitage, and one is good before God if he escapes from her. Solomon has found one man out of a thousand, but not a woman among all of these. Is this chargeable to God? No. God has made man upright, but they themselves have sought out many plans.—Eccl. 7:15-29.
Though many calamitous things have been described as coming upon mankind, if one keeps the commandment he will not really be hurt by any of these. He will discern what is appropriate for the time and will appreciate the judgment taking place. No one, through human reasoning, can foretell the future, but, nonetheless, there is a judgment for every affair. Some may think that by taking a course of wickedness they will find an escape from the things taking place, but this is a fallacy. Men may count God slow and think that they are getting by with badness, but God will see to it that those who fear him will turn out well and that the wicked will pass away like a shadow.—Eccl. chap. 8; compare 2 Peter 3:9; 2:12.
Solomon sees that in this system of things the same eventuality happens to both the righteous and the wicked. Because of this fact those who do not fear God are more than ever bent on doing what is bad. But they end up in death. They realize that as far as this system of things is concerned, the living know that they will die. When they are dead they are unconscious and have no share in anything taking place. But to pursue materialism on the basis of such a viewpoint is wrong. The thing for one to do is to keep his garments white and maintain his joy in God, loving his wife and taking hold with his hands to do with his power what has to be done while he is still alive. In the present time, neither wisdom, mightiness, swiftness, nor knowledge will bring one long life or assurance of security, victory or special favor, because time and unforeseen occurrence befall all in this world. Wisdom, however, is to be valued when used by a needy man to help others, even though the world forgets him, despising him. Nonetheless, wisdom can do much more than weapons. On the other hand, one sinner can destroy much good.—Eccl. chap. 9; compare 1 Corinthians 5:6; Galatians 5:9.
Partaking in even a little foolishness can do great damage to a man who has been known as precious for his wisdom and glory. A wise person will not become overly excited or unbalanced, but will be calm and will not leave his proper place when chastised by a ruler. In the world, however, foolishness has been put in many high positions, and sometimes things are just the reverse of their proper situation. Again the wise man will be calm and cautious and will exert wisdom to make it succeed for him. (Compare Matthew 10:16.) Otherwise, he will dissipate his energies to no result. One who is wise will also speak tactfully, with judgment. Contrariwise, the foolish speak without restraint and cause trouble, calamitous madness for themselves. Solomon next shows the danger of the ruinous fruits, even to rulers, of following bad counsel and eating and drinking as objects in themselves, and of laziness. He emphasizes the unwisdom of speaking evil of a ruler even when one thinks he is not being heard. Our tongue must be always used rightly to avoid trouble.—Eccl. chap. 10; compare 2 Kings 6:12; Proverbs 21:23.
Industriousness, proper use of what a person has, and being diligent in one’s business are admonished. One should do his work regardless of the occasion, weather or the time of day, looking to and waiting for God to bring forth results for him, for he cannot see all that God is working out. If young, he may tend to waste his young manhood in walking in the ways of his heart and the desire of his eyes. But he should remember that, if so, he is spending the prime of his life, which has vain desires, in the wrong way and that he will be judged by the true God for his acts even from his youth.—Eccl. chap. 11.
In view of all these things, Solomon counsels the young man to remember his grand Creator while he is able to serve with vigor. For the time will come when his body will deteriorate, his teeth will be gone, his eyes dim, his sleep will be light and easily disturbed, he will be shaky in his limbs and afraid of falling, his hair will be white and he will lose his appetite, his hands will be unable to care for him and eventually his life force will go out into the hands of the true God and his body will return to the dust. Then what can he present to God?—Eccl. 12:1-7.
After viewing all these things, Solomon came to the conclusion that everything in this system of things is vanity. Nevertheless, he was not bitter or discouraged, for he worked hard to keep the people together in the fear of God, to teach them knowledge. He thought out many proverbs by a thorough search of matters and sought to find delightful and correct words of truth. He tells us that there is one shepherd who gives wise words and these are something secure to which we can anchor ourselves. To these we should give concern. Devoting our time to worldly books of wisdom and philosophy will not be refreshing, as are the words of the wise, but will be wearisome to the flesh. All the observations of Solomon can be concluded in the command: “Fear the true God and keep his commandments. For this is the whole obligation of man.” This present life, therefore, is not the end, if it is lived wisely, for the true God himself will bring every sort of work into judgment in relation to every hidden thing as to whether it is good or bad.—Eccl. 12:8-14; see the book “All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial,” pp. 111-114.