How to Read the Book of Ecclesiastes

The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? (Ecclesiastes 1:1-3 ESV)

As with any book, whether in the Bible or not, Ecclesiastes is most accurately understood when read in its context. Similar in some ways to the book of Job, Ecclesiastes, when read simply at face value without proper contextualization, leaves room for the reader to draw incorrect conclusions and develop misguided beliefs about life and God.

The first three lines of the book reveal the perspective of the writer, Solomon, as being in a place of life when all seemed meaningless and empty.

Most people know that Solomon was David’s son, and followed him as king over Israel. Early in his leadership he had an encounter with God, during which he asked for wisdom and a discerning heart, when he could have asked for anything at all. God not only blessed Solomon with wisdom, but also gave him abundant riches and great influence.

But many people do not realize that later in his life Solomon wandered away from his relationship with God. Having married many, many women from various nations (these were primarily politically motivated marriages that secured Solomon’s peace and posterity), he became entangled and confused by the myriad of religions and gods that his wives brought to his life. Sadly, after Solomon’s forty year reign, the nation of Israel was sharply divided into two entirely separate kingdoms.

Although the beginnings of Solomon’s reign were marked by his humility and heart for God, he became encumbered by riches, power, politics, women, and many religions. Like a wandering sheep, he became lost and confused.

Solomon’s view of life became jaded. It was during this time that he wrote the book we refer to as Ecclesiastes.

One of the key phrases of the book, which is repeated throughout the book, is “under the sun.” The phrase helps us understand that Solomon was viewing life from an earthly perspective, only seeing things from man’s vantage point.

From an “under the sun” perspective, life certainly seems meaningless and lived in vain; however, when life is viewed (as it is intended) from an eternal and heavenly perspective, life has profound meaning and makes much more sense.

At this point in Solomon’s life he only viewed life from birth to death, an entirely earthly experience. And it seemed meaningless.

Many people are blinded to this fact:

Life’s meaning is found where eternity intermingles with the earthly, where Word becomes flesh.

If you are struggling to find value and meaning in life, you are walking a road that many have traveled. Great men and women throughout history have asked the same questions and shared the same grief. And many have found that the answer is found in the Person of Jesus Christ. He is the Word who became flesh. The eternal became earthly, so that the earthly (man) could have life eternal.

As you read the book of Ecclesiastes, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the true meaning of life. More than that, He will lead you to the Author of life!

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