Bible Highlights Ecclesiastes 1:1–12:14
“Fear the True God and Keep His Commandments”
In this day and age, fearing and obeying God is, at best, considered impractical. But the book of Ecclesiastes (Hebrew, Qo·heʹleth, congregator), written some 3,000 years ago by King Solomon (1:1), describes the futility of human endeavors that ignore God’s purpose.
What makes this book so fascinating is the wide range of subjects the writer delves into—human wisdom and rule, material wealth and pleasures, formalistic religion, and so forth. All these things are vanity, for they are not lasting. On the other hand, meditating on them leads the perceptive mind to one conclusion: “Fear the true God and keep his commandments. For this is the whole obligation of man.”—Ecclesiastes 12:13.
“Everything Is Vanity!”
Please read chapters 1 and 2. Compared with the never-ending cycles of nature, all human striving is fleeting and temporary (1:4-7). Even the great accomplishments of the congregator must be passed on to someone perhaps less worthy (2:18, 19). “Vanity,” in Hebrew, means “vapor” or “breath.”
◆ 1:9—In what way is there “nothing new under the sun”?
In the natural cycles of day-to-day living upon which the sun shines, there is nothing altogether new. Even “new” inventions are mostly applications of principles Jehovah had already applied in creation. But “under the sun” Jehovah has brought about new spiritual developments affecting mankind.—See The Watchtower, March 1, 1987, pages 27-9.
◆ 2:2—Is it wrong to have a good time?
No, it is not. Laughter, or having a good time, may help take the mind off one’s problems temporarily, but the problems do not go away. So trying to find true happiness by merrymaking is “insanity”; it makes no sense. Similarly, “rejoicing” does not solve life’s problems. Merriment and pleasures are thus contrasted with the happiness that results from having Jehovah’s blessing upon one’s work.—2:24.
Lesson for Us: We should heed Solomon’s counsel and not make the pursuit of material advantages and thrilling new experiences life’s sole objective. Rather, we should be ‘good before Jehovah’ by obeying him. Then we will enjoy his blessing of “wisdom and knowledge and rejoicing.”—2:26.
A Time for Everything
Read chapters 3 and 4. Solomon was not promoting a fatalistic view of life (3:1-9). Rather, he was pointing out that man simply cannot alter what God has set in motion (3:14). In this regard, humans are not better than the beasts (3:19-21). So a cooperative attitude (4:9-12) is far more rewarding than a competitive spirit (4:4).
◆ 3:11—How has God made everything “pretty in its time”?
The word “pretty” also has the meaning of “good, proper, appropriate.” In its own time, the proper place in which each work of God fits into his purpose will be revealed. God has made many things “pretty” for mankind. For example, he gave humans a perfect start in Eden. He foretold the coming of a redeeming Seed when man fell in sin. At the proper time, God sent the Seed. And, ‘prettiest’ of all, Jehovah made the Seed the King of His Kingdom.
◆ 4:6—Was Solomon advocating an easy life?
No. But Solomon observed that hard work and proficiency for profit’s sake often lead to competition and rivalry (4:4). In turn, this can result in problems and even an early grave. (1 Timothy 6:9, 10) So, what is the balanced view? Be content with less gain coupled with peace, rather than double the gain along with toil and strife.
Lesson for Us: Now is the time to seek first God’s Kingdom rather than ambitious personal interests (3:1). We should work in cooperation with fellow Christians rather than in isolation (4:9-12). In that way, we can receive the needed help and encouragement in spite of hardship and opposition.
True Worship Satisfies
Read chapters 5 and 6. Since Jehovah is almighty, we must take our relationship with him seriously, not acting foolishly and expecting him to accept our “sacrifice” (5:1, 2). One who fears God receives satisfaction from using his material wealth, but one who hoards it gets no enjoyment.—Compare 5:18-20 with 6:2, 3.
◆ 5:2—How does this advice apply?
We should pour out our hearts to God, but we must guard against impulsive, thoughtless words because of his greatness and majesty. (Psalm 62:8) Rather than rambling on, we should use simple, heartfelt expressions. (Matthew 6:7) In only five short Hebrew words, Moses pleaded for Miriam and received a favorable reply.—Numbers 12:13.
◆ 6:9—What is “the walking about of the soul”?
“Soul” here has the meaning of “soulful desire.” So this expression refers to the endless search to satisfy desires that cannot be fulfilled. This is contrasted with “seeing by the eyes,” that is, facing reality. Thus, knowing that only God’s Kingdom can bring about real change, we should be content and not allow unrealistic or unattainable desires to deprive us of peace.
Lesson for Us: At our place of worship, we must conduct ourselves with proper dignity and should be attentive (5:1). We must also be quick to fulfill our obligations before Jehovah. If we are married, this includes fulfilling our marriage vow.—5:4.
Words of Wisdom
Read chapters 7 and 8. The congregator considers the sobering effect of death (7:1-4) and the value of wisdom (7:11, 12, 16-19); he also warns against the bad woman (7:26). Advice is given on such matters as acting wisely toward rulers (8:2-4) and not getting heated up over injustices.—8:11-14.
◆ 7:28—Are these words downgrading womankind?
It appears that the prevailing moral standard was very low. Thus, Solomon was speaking about the rarity of righteous men or women at the time. Among a thousand people, it was hard to find one righteous man, and it was even harder to find one righteous woman. The Bible, however, speaks about the “excellent woman” and the “capable wife.” (Ruth 3:11; Proverbs 31:10) This verse may also be prophetic, for never has a woman given Jehovah perfect obedience, whereas there has been such a man—Jesus Christ.
◆ 8:8—Of what was the congregator here speaking?
He was speaking of death. No one can prevent the life-force from departing from his cells in order to postpone the day of death. In the war waged with our common enemy death, no one can get a discharge or send a substitute. (Psalm 49:7-9) Even the wicked ones with their devious schemes will not escape death.
Lesson for Us: Though material riches have become the life goal of many, only godly wisdom can lead to everlasting life. (7:12; Luke 12:15) Longing for ‘the good old days’ will not make things better for us (7:10). Rather, matters will “turn out well” for us only if we continue to fear God.—8:5, 12.
Read chapters 9 and 10. Life is precious, and God wants us to enjoy it (9:4, 7). Since we have no control of life’s outcome (9:11, 12), it is better to heed godly wisdom, even though most people do not appreciate it (9:17). Because of life’s uncertainties, we should guard our heart (10:2), exercise caution in all we do, and act with practical wisdom.—10:8-10.
◆ 9:1—How are the works of the righteous in God’s hand?
Though calamity besets the wise and the righteous, this happens only by God’s permission, and he will never abandon them. By God’s “hand,” or applied power, righteous ones can either be delivered from a trial or be strengthened to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13) Remembering this fact can be of comfort to a servant of Jehovah when difficulties occur.
◆ 10:2—How is the heart at the right hand?
The “right hand” often denotes a position of favor. (Matthew 25:33) So the fact that the heart of the wise person is “at his right hand” indicates that it motivates him to pursue a good, favorable course. But the stupid individual lacks good motive and acts foolishly and improperly. His heart’s being at his “left hand” indicates that he is motivated to follow a wrong path.
Lesson for Us: Since sudden death can befall any one of us (9:12), we should be using our life in Jehovah’s service in case our demise should bring everything to a halt (9:10). We also need to become skillful in our service because incompetence, even in such simple things as digging a hole or chopping wood, can be damaging to ourselves and others.—10:8, 9.
Youth and Life’s Purpose
Read chapters 11 and 12. All of us should practice generosity and take decisive action (11:1-6). Youths who use their time and energy well in serving the Creator will have no regrets later in life (11:9, 10). Rather, they will have the satisfaction of pleasing God before they lose their health and vigor.—12:1-7; see The Watchtower, December 15, 1977, page 746.
◆ 11:1—What is meant by thus ‘sending out bread’?
Bread is the staff of life. To send it out on “waters” is to part with something valuable. Yet, “you will find it again,” for in an unexpected way the generous one will be repaid.—Luke 6:38.
◆ 12:12—Why such a negative view regarding books?
Compared with the Word of Jehovah, the ‘endless’ volumes of the world contain mere human reasoning. Much of this thinking reflects the mind of Satan. (2 Corinthians 4:4) Accordingly, “much devotion” to such secular material produces little of lasting value.
Lesson for Us: Like Solomon, we should meditate on what God’s Word says about life. Then our resolve to fear and obey God will be strengthened. Knowing that Jehovah is intimately concerned about us (12:13, 14) draws us closer to him.
May we, therefore, “fear the true God and keep his commandments.” This is our obligation and will bring us lasting happiness.