The Book of Ecclesiastes
The narrator of Ecclesiastes is a nameless person who calls himself a “Teacher,” and identifies himself as the current king of Israel and a son of King David. The Teacher opens with the exclamation,
“Vanity of vanities . . . ! All is vanity” (1:2). He laments that everything in life is endless and meaningless—especially human toil and the cycles of nature—for nothing is ever truly new on earth. As the wisest man in Jerusalem, the Teacher feels he is cursed with the unhappy task of discerning wisdom, for he has seen “all the deeds that are done under the sun” (1:14).
In a mixture of prose and verse, the Teacher compiles his studies, hypotheses, and proverbs regarding wisdom.
While the context in each case will determine which meaning Solomon is focusing upon, the most recurring meaning of vanity is “incomprehensible or unknowable, referring to the mysteries of God’s purposes.
The thought of the book centers in six key ideas. Three of these are negative and revolve around the problems of life:
(1) All is vanity;
(2) Man is limited;
(3) God is hidden.
The other three are positive and give the solution to life’s crises:
(4) Fear God and keep His commandments;
(5) Enjoy life;
(6) Use wisdom properly.
All six ideas are scattered throughout the book, but taken together they demonstrate that the purpose of the book is to show men that they should lead godly and joyous lives, though they live in a world of divinely condoned mysteries.
Solomon’s conclusion to “fear God and keep His commandments” (12:13-14), is more than the book’s summary. It is the only hope of the good life and the only reasonable response of faith and obedience to sovereign God.
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