I just finish listening and reading Ecclesiastes, and it brought my world down. It made me feel like there is no reason for doing anything or living. I was fine before that. Can it get any sadder?
ESV - 13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
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I agree that the book of Ecclesiastes can be somewhat discouraging. When you read the last verses of the last chapter, they give you the conclusion of the author, who was Solomon, son of David and the third king of Israel: Ecc. 12: 13-14 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. To understand this conclusion better, it helps to remember a few things about Solomon. He was arguably the Bill Gates of his time—rich beyond compare, powerful and influential, well-known way beyond the realm of his kingdom, not only for his wealth, but for his wisdom and influence. There literally was nothing material out of his reach, and he had the world at his command. But in spite of his wisdom and power, he had a weakness for foreign, ungodly women, who were successful in their efforts to tempt him into joining them in some of their pagan rituals and relaxing God’s commands concerning the laws that God had given the nation of Israel regarding worship. In the book of Ecclesiastes Solomon laments many of the mistakes that he made and comments on his personal experiences with wealth, influence, women, and what he had also observed in the lives of others who also sought after worldly pleasures. Like so many people who seem—according to the world’s standards—to “have it all,” he found that there is nothing that truly satisfies in this life but to love and serve God. This explains what he refers to as “the end of the matter” in Ecc. 12:13. He is letting his readers know that as a man who seemingly had it all, the “all” that so many chase is utterly meaningless, and we’ll do better to spend our best energy seeking to serve and please God rather than pursuing earthly pleasures.
Personally I find Ecclesiastes to be incredibly helpful in the journey of life. The reason being, it is like having a person who has done it all and knowing the joys and pitfalls of life, warning and giving me advice about life. On the spiritual level, it is God who speaks to the reader. Although, it is often said that it is depressing, and to some extent I agree, it is a profound book because indeed some aspects of life ARE depressing and sad, and Ecclesiastes comments on them. It also neutralizes many false ideas and goals that many seek in order to attain happiness. Frankly, if I were not a believer, I would find Ecclesiastes to be one of the most depressing reads I ever picked up because it describes the futility of life lived apart from God.
There is reason for doing and living. Ecc 3:13 says to eat and drink and enjoy our work - this is God's gift to man. There is reason to enjoy your life. Ecc 9:9 says enjoy life with the woman you love - this is your reward in life... On the other hand, there is no reason in doing anything pridefully and over-ambitiously for selfish gain. Ecc 2:21says that a man works really hard and leaves his legacy to another who did not labour for it - this is vanity and a great evil. Think of the great Steve Jobs and what he has brought and left behind for the world, but look at Apple now and the iPhone 5s. Could one say that if Mr. Jobs had taken Solomon's advice that his stress from work would've been less, his personal life could've been better, and his health and life should've prolonged? Only God knows for sure...but we can have faith in His Word and do what it says!
The Hebrew title ‘Qoheleth’ and Greek title ‘Ecclesiastes’ both mean ‘preacher.’ In his old age, Solomon, having got right with God as II Chronicles 11:17 suggests, preached words of wisdom about life for people to heed. Many think the book is pessimistic. One misconception stems from the word translated, ‘vanity,’ which has the connotation of ‘worthless’ or ‘meaningless.’ However, the Hebrew word ‘hebel’ does not mean ‘futility’ or ‘purposelessness,’ but ‘vapor’ or ‘breath.’ On a cold day the breath appears one moment and then dissipates within seconds. This word is used for idols, wealth, childhood, all which vanish quickly. The Hebrew word is the same as the name ‘Abel’ whose life was short. Bible translator Robert Alter rendered Ecclesiastes 1:2 (and 12:8), “Merest breath, said Qohelet, merest breath. All is mere breath.” It does not mean futility of life but the fleeting nature of life. There is no thought of pessimism, hopelessness, frustration, depression, and cynicism over life. If it were pessimistic, why is Ecclesiastes in the Bible at all? But that was not Solomon’s point in writing. There is nothing in Ecclesiastes that says Solomon considered his life as folly, and the book is certainly not about vanity. Furthermore, this was not the way the Jews understood the book. Ecclesiastes was read during the Feast of Tabernacles which is also known as the ‘Time of our Joy,’ or ‘Season of our Rejoicing,’ a time which the people were commanded to rejoice, Leviticus 23:40, Deuteronomy 16:14. It would be odd to celebrate it by reading Ecclesiastes if it were a pessimistic book. Solomon set out to scientifically investigate (Ecclesiastes 1:12) and research every part of life’s pleasure, happiness, wisdom, foolishness, labor, reward, wealth, popularity, and cycles of life. And after each category, Solomon summarized his findings with the same conclusion to enjoy life: Ecclesiastes 2:24-26, 3:9-13, 22, 5:18-20, 8:15, 9:7-10, and 11:9-10. In each of them, Solomon refers to God’s gift or portion to man. An example is Ecclesiastes 3:12, which is exactly what they observed at the Feast of Tabernacles as they ate and drank, rejoicing for what God had given them. Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 concludes the book. Commonly, this epilogue is considered to be a correction of what was covered up to here, but it is instead the climax of the book. ‘Under the sun’ found 29 times in the book means things in this life on this earth. Therefore, under the sun all is vapor. We are to look above the sun, to the heavenly city and country. Romans 8:18-20 shows creation is subject to ‘futility,’ or ‘vaporlike.’ In fact, it is the word used throughout Ecclesiastes in the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament. Nothing here lasts. Everything is temporary and will pass away. The Feast of Tabernacles prefigures the permanent, glorious Kingdom of God. That is why we pray, “Your kingdom come...” That is durable. The point of the book is for us to see God’s provisions amidst the turmoil, trouble and transientness of the world.
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