The Word Is Alive

The Book of Ecclesiastes

The Book of Ecclesiastes begins on the note of gloom: <<Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?>> (1:2-3). The sages of the Talmud were so troubled by this blanket condemnation that, even though the author of the book was the wise King Solomon, they doubted that it should be included in Scripture. What tipped the scales in favour of Ecclesiastes was its concluding verse: <<The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone>> (12:13). The climax of the book, the sages recognised, proved that the treatise, all of it, was intended to lead people to the ultimate goal of fearing and serving God.

What then of its gloomy passages? The Talmud explains that man’s striving is futile only if his goal is for success in matters that are under the sun, but if he strives to advance the will of God and affairs of the spirit, which preceded and surpass the sun, then his activities are hardly futile.

Ecclesiastes teaches that humankind should not be deceived by the dazzling splendour that blinds so many people to what really matters in life. Rather, one must maintain one’s sense of values and always recognise that people, the only creature with a Godly soul, must aspire to higher goals.

Because Ecclesiastes focuses mankind’s aspirations on what is truly important, it is read publically during the Jewish Festival of Succos, the time of joy and the prosperity of the harvest season, when mankind’s purpose can easily be swamped by the thrill of success.

Introduction Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three
Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve Summary

There is a mind map of the structure of the Book of Ecclesiastes that may prove useful for study.