Jehovah’s Word Is Alive
Highlights From the Book of Ecclesiastes
“MAN, born of woman, is short-lived and glutted with agitation,” observed the patriarch Job. (Job 14:1) How vital that we do not waste our short life on worthless concerns and endeavors! What pursuits should occupy our time, energy, and resources? Which ones should be avoided? The words of wisdom recorded in the Bible book of Ecclesiastes give sound guidance in this regard. The message they convey “is able to discern thoughts and intentions of the heart” and can help us live a meaningful life.—Hebrews 4:12.
Written by a man renowned for his wisdom, King Solomon of ancient Israel, the book of Ecclesiastes contains practical advice on what is truly worthwhile in life and what is valueless. Since Solomon refers to some of the building projects he had undertaken, he must have written Ecclesiastes after their completion and before his deflection from true worship. (Nehemiah 13:26) That places the time of writing before 1000 B.C.E., toward the end of Solomon’s 40-year reign.
WHAT IS NOT VANITY?
“Everything is vanity!” says the congregator, who asks: “What profit does a man have in all his hard work at which he works hard under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 3) The expressions “vanity” and “under the sun” appear repeatedly in Ecclesiastes. The Hebrew word for “vanity” literally means “breath” or “vapor” and suggests a lack of substance, permanence, or enduring value. The expression “under the sun” means “on this earth” or “in this world.” Hence, everything—that is, all human strivings that ignore God’s will—is vanity.
“Guard your feet whenever you go to the house of the true God,” says Solomon, “and let there be a drawing near to hear.” (Ecclesiastes 5:1) Engaging in the true worship of Jehovah God is not vanity. In fact, giving attention to our relationship with him is the key to living a meaningful life.
Scriptural Questions Answered:
1:4-10—What is there about the natural cycles that is “wearisome”? The congregator mentions only three of the basic operations that make life on earth possible—the sun, the wind pattern, and the water cycle. In reality, the natural cycles are many, and they are very complex. One can spend a lifetime studying them and still not fully understand them. That can indeed be “wearisome.” It is also frustrating to compare our short life span with the unending repetition of these cycles. Even attempts to make new discoveries are wearisome. After all, new inventions are nothing more than applications of principles that the true God has established and has already used in creation.
2:1, 2—Why is laughter spoken of as “insanity”? Laughter may help us to forget our troubles momentarily, and merrymaking can cause us to view our problems lightly. However, laughter does not make our difficulties disappear. Hence, the pursuit of happiness through laughter is spoken of as “insanity.”
3:11—What has God made “pretty in its time”? Some of the things that Jehovah God has made “pretty,” or appropriate and good, at the proper time are the creation of Adam and Eve, the rainbow covenant, the covenant with Abraham, the Davidic covenant, the coming of the Messiah, and the enthronement of Jesus Christ as King of God’s Kingdom. However, there is something else that Jehovah will make “pretty” in the near future. We can be confident that the righteous new world will become a reality at its right time.—2 Peter 3:13.
3:15b—How does ‘the true God keep seeking what is pursued’? ‘What is pursued’ may refer to what God purposes to do. While the repetitive cycles of birth and death and of war and peace may make man feel powerless and cause him to think that history keeps repeating itself, the true God can seek and accomplish all that He wants to. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-10, 15a) ‘What is pursued’ may also apply to the righteous, who are often pursued by the wicked. In this case, Jehovah keeps seeking righteous ones in order “to show his strength” in their behalf.—2 Chronicles 16:9.
5:9—How is ‘the profit of the earth among them all’? All inhabitants of the earth are dependent upon “the profit of the earth”—what the land produces. A king is no exception. To receive the produce of his field, the king has to be served by the hard work of his servants who cultivate the land.
Lessons for Us:
2:4-11. Cultural activities, such as architecture, gardening, and music, as well as luxurious living are “a striving after wind” because they neither make life truly meaningful nor bring lasting happiness.
2:12-16. Wisdom has the advantage over folly in that it can help solve certain problems. Concerning death, however, human wisdom has no advantage. And even if one may have gained fame because of having such wisdom, one is soon forgotten.
2:26. Godly wisdom, which brings joy, is given to ‘a man who is good before Jehovah.’ It is impossible to gain this wisdom without having a good relationship with God.
3:16, 17. To expect justice in every case is unrealistic. Rather than feel anxious about what is happening in the world today, we should wait on Jehovah to set matters straight.
4:4. Hard work skillfully done can bring satisfaction. Working hard simply to outshine others, however, promotes competition and can breed feelings of ill will and jealousy. Our hard work in the Christian ministry must stem from right motives.
4:7-12. Human relationships are more important than material possessions and should not be sacrificed in the pursuit of riches.
4:13. Position and age do not always win respect. Those in responsible positions should act wisely.
4:15, 16. “The child, who is second”—the king’s successor—may initially have the support of ‘all those people before him,’ but ‘afterward they do not rejoice in him.’ Indeed, popularity is usually short-lived.
5:2. Our prayers should be thoughtful and reverential, not wordy.
5:3-7. Preoccupation with material concerns can prompt one to daydream about selfish interests. It can also put one in a restless, dreamy state of mind at night, depriving one of sweet sleep. An abundance of words can make a person appear foolish to others and can cause him to make a rash vow before God. ‘Fearing the true God’ prevents us from doing either of these things.
6:1-9. What good are riches, glory, long life, and even a large family if circumstances prevent us from enjoying them? And “better is the seeing by the eyes,” or facing realities, than “the walking about of the soul [“soulful desire,” footnote],” that is, striving to gratify desires that are impossible to satisfy. The best way to live, then, is to be content with “having sustenance and covering” while enjoying wholesome things in life and focusing on maintaining a close relationship with Jehovah.—1 Timothy 6:8.
COUNSEL TO THE WISE
How can we safeguard our good name, or reputation? What should be our attitude toward human rulers and injustices that we may witness? Since the dead are conscious of nothing, how should we use our life now? In what way can youths use their time and energy wisely? The congregator’s sound advice on these and other matters is recorded for us in chapters 7 to 12 of Ecclesiastes.
Scriptural Questions Answered:
7:19—How is wisdom stronger than “ten men in power”? When used figuratively in the Bible, the number ten represents completeness. Solomon is saying that the protective value of wisdom is greater than a complete number of warriors guarding a city.
10:2—What does it mean that one’s heart is “at his right hand” or “at his left hand”? Since the right hand often denotes the position of favor, a person’s heart being at his right hand means that his heart motivates him to do good. If it moves an individual to pursue a wrong course, though, his heart is said to be at his left hand.
10:15—How does ‘the hard work of the stupid ones make them weary’? If someone lacks good judgment, his hard work fails to produce anything really worthwhile. He gains no satisfaction from it. Such tireless striving only makes him weary.
11:7, 8—What is the meaning of the statement: “The light is also sweet, and it is good for the eyes to see the sun.” The light and the sun are for the enjoyment of the living. Solomon is stating here that it is good to be alive and that we should “rejoice” before the days of darkness, or old age, rob us of vitality.
11:10—Why are “youth and the prime of life” vanity? If not used properly, these are vanity because, like vapor, the days of youthful vigor disappear quickly.
Lessons for Us:
7:6. Laughter at an inappropriate time is as irritating and useless as the crackling of thorns burning under a pot. We do well to guard against it.
7:21, 22. We should not be overly concerned about what others say.
8:8; 9:5-10, 12. Our life can end as unexpectedly as when fish are caught in a net or birds in a trap. Moreover, no one can restrain the life force from departing at death, nor can anyone be discharged from the war that death wages against mankind. Hence, we should not idly waste time. Jehovah wants us to value life and enjoy it in a wholesome way. To do this, we should give Jehovah’s service the first place in our life.
8:16, 17. The full scope of everything that God has done and has allowed to happen among mankind cannot be fathomed, even if we were to lose sleep over it. Worrying about all the wrongs that have been committed will only rob us of enjoyment in life.
9:16-18. Wisdom is to be valued even when there is a general lack of appreciation for it. The calmly spoken words of a wise person are to be preferred to the boisterous shouts of a stupid one.
10:1. We must be careful about our speech and actions. Just one indiscretion, such as an angry outburst, one act of the misuse of alcohol, or an incident involving unchaste sexual behavior, is enough to ruin the good reputation of a respected person.
10:5-11. An incompetent person in high office is not to be envied. Incompetence in performing even a simple task can have bad consequences. Rather, cultivating the ability to ‘use wisdom to succeed’ is advantageous. How important it is that we become competent in the Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making work!
11:3-6. Life’s uncertainties should not make us indecisive.
“THE WORDS OF THE WISE ONES” TO GUIDE US
How should we view “the delightful words” that the congregator sought to find and write? In contrast with the “many books” of human wisdom, “the words of the wise ones are like oxgoads, and just like nails driven in are those indulging in collections of sentences; they have been given from one shepherd.” (Ecclesiastes 12:10-12) The words of wisdom given from the “one shepherd,” Jehovah, have a stabilizing effect on our life.
Applying the wise counsel found in the book of Ecclesiastes will indeed help us to lead a meaningful and happy life. Moreover, we are assured: “It will turn out well with those fearing the true God.” Let us, then, be firm in our determination to “fear the true God and keep his commandments.”—Ecclesiastes 8:12; 12:13.
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One of the prettiest of God’s handiworks will become a reality at its right time
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God’s gifts include food, drink, and seeing good for all our hard work