Summary of The Book of Ecclesiastes


“The sharp, middle-aged critic”

  • Explores 3 things: (1) Time = The march of time; (2) Death = We are all going to die; (3) Chance = Life’s random nature.
  • Hevel = a metaphor to tie together all these disturbing ideas. Smoke. Vapour. Like smoke, life is beautiful and mysterious, takes new shapes, can’t grab it, can’t see through it at times, confusing, disorienting at times.
  • The only thing you have control = your attitude in the present moment. So enjoy the simple things in life.

“The two voices”

  • Teacher = 1:3 – 12:7.
  • Author = 1:1, 12:9-14. The author has collected the critic’s words and then gets the final word at the end. The author shows his personal search for wisdom, his own process of asking questions in the search for wisdom. He’s attentive, observant, asks questions, weighing it, and drawing lessons from it all. Often concludes with vanity but with a note that there is something preferred + enjoyment by God too. Qoh was a researcher in the modern sense. Applied his mind to wisdom – the totality of human activity – meaning of wisdom = skill in life.


  • Qoh does not consider God as revealer but Creator and Governor of the world. Is NOT agnostic – keeps faith of forefathers before him – ch.5 talks about religious practices (offerings, few words, vows, fear of God, following commandments) – takes it de facto that God exists but also the mystery of God reduces Qoh to reverence & silence rather than speaking about God.

Dealing with contradictory statements

  1. our thoughts evolve = book is an anthology of Qol’s sayings over a lifetime.
  2. commentary = on traditional teachings;
  3. realist = complexity of life presented without trying to resolve it all.


  • Wise man knows opportune time of things – some “times” beyond our control (birth, death).
  • God’s timing = made everything suitable for its time + put eternity into man’s mind (man unsure what God has planned) + man limited before God – so enjoy “now”.
  • Youth – enjoy days of youth but know also that God will judge all that you do as well. Don’t be anxious though.


  • Still worth pursuing – profitable – gives strength (more than 10 rulers) – leads to happier end for wise than foolish – makes one’s face shine + softens mannerisms + better than war weapons.


  • Accepted initially due to Solomon reference + accepted NOW b/c of faith of believing community as voice of God à so keep even though contradictions internally & with other books (vs. Torah on enjoying life & vanity focus).


  • Adapted to suit traditional faith – taught people + arranged proverbs (so he’s taken heritage before him and has commented on it all) + beware of going beyond these proverbs + fear God & keep commandments & all will be well – God will judge everything – will sort out good & evil.


  • Puts to test any theology that ignores experience – don’t be content with heritage given, test it! Try it out. Don’t settle for theology detached from human experience.

NT Application

  • St. Paul = all vanity apart from Christ BUT afterlife (no more grey shadowland). Aquinas.

“The words of Qoheleth, the son of David, king in Jerusalem”

  • Qoheleth refers to a title rather than a name. Qoheleth means “the gatherer” (qahal means to gather). Since ekklesia is the Latin translation of qahal, so Ecclesiastes becomes the English title for this work.
  • By using the pen name, Solomon, the son of David, the author shows that this is a royal experiment – if the King cannot find meaning in life… who can?

Teacher – character in the book and not the author of the book.


  • 38 times.
  • Temporary, fleeting = smoke appears solid when you see it but when you try to grab smoke, it vanishes.
  • Enigma, paradox =
  • The author’s basic goal = target all the ways we find meaning & purpose apart from God. He allows the teacher to deconstruct these and give us a hard lesson in reality.
  • Time (1:3-11) = a mountain is long before us and long after us… the sun will still rise and set… and so time will race everything we care about…
  • Death (11:7-12:7) = the great equalizer. Devours wise & foolish, rich & poor, alike.
  • Wealth, career, status, pleasure… ALL HEVEL.
  • “hevel” = “breath / puff of wind” – occurs 37 times (h + v + l = 37 numerical value) = shows guiding focus for the book.
    • NEGATIVE = No meaning – absurd à enjoyments here = hollow attempt to get something out of meaningless life.
    • POSITIVE = fragile & brief life – enjoyments here = gift from God – do not despair here (eat, drink, work, wife) but NOT hedonism b/c keeps fear of God & God’s workings in balance – so cherish ordinary pleasures in life.

What does the teacher advocate? 

  • Living by wisdom & fear of the Lord have real advantages… but these are hevel too because they don’t guarantee a good life… they are an enigma…
  • So how do you live life in the midst of hevel? Accept it! Everything in your life is totally out of your control. The gift of God is the enjoyment of the simple things in life.


  • Teacher’s words = goads to poke you to move in the right direction to greater wisdom.
  • Don’t take teacher’s words too far and go into life’s existential puzzles.
  • Fear God & keep His commandments.
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