Those little phrases – “Everything is meaningless”, “He has made everything beautiful in its time”, “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken”. Six weeks of spending time in the book of Ecclesiastes has really changed my understanding of it. At first, I thought of Solomon in all his wisdom, a king imparting his knowledge and philosophy to others. Now, I see that despite his wisdom, and despite all his blessings, Solomon was as any other man. He struggled through the same questions we struggle through today. He wrangled with identity and purpose just as we do. He reasoned through faith, through God, through his own inabilities to comprehend. He observed the same mysteries of life we wonder about. I realise that Solomon, rather than imparting answers, shows us a way of thinking in Ecclesiastes; and God, through this, shows us how much He knows us. He questions us at the deepest level of our soul, and stirs up our heart. So what is the point of Ecclesiastes? We have been focusing on topics of interest in Solomon’s journey, so let’s go back a bit and look at the bigger picture.
In these six weeks, we have explored a number of fairly relatable questions, or thoughts:
- Who remembers us?
- How can wisdom can bring sorrow?
- Are pleasures meaningless?
- What is the point of our toil?
- Why is there injustice, and what can we do about it?
Within the book of Ecclesiastes, there remain even more. For example, can position please? What matters in friendship and enmity? The first thing I see in reading Ecclesiastes, is the curiosity, and searching nature of the human heart. I love the way the amplified version describes this in Ecclesiastes 3:11
“He has made everything beautiful and appropriate in its time. He has also planted eternity [a sense of divine purpose] in the human heart [a mysterious longing which nothing under the sun can satisfy, except God]—yet man cannot find out (comprehend, grasp) what God has done (His overall plan) from the beginning to the end.”
From research into the way cells work, to the exploration of space – we, as humans, are seeking understanding. The world intrigues us, life intrigues us, and we are always on this journey of seeking. We look for answers, for knowledge, for purpose, for love. We live and we want to know why. We die and we want to know why. God plants eternity in our hearts, a curiosity that cannot be satisfied by anything other than the knowledge of God. He takes us on a journey of searching Him out and discovering the wonders of His person.
Secondly, there are a number of recurring phrases or thoughts in Ecclesiastes.
- “This also is vanity…”
- “There is an evil in all that is done under the sun..”
- “… a man has nothing better under the sun than to eat, drink and be merry…”
- “… for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and given him power to eat of it, to receive his heritage and rejoice in his labour – this is the gift of God.”
- “… Who can tell a man what will happen after him under the sun?”
Solomon, in all his searching, keeps coming back to these thoughts. For everything that gives pleasure on earth, there is a taint of sin – a reminder of earth’s fleeting nature, of man’s mortality, of time that goes on after we have lived, experienced all we can, and died. What happens after death? If there is no God, and no life after death, then what is the point of life? The only thing we can do is enjoy the brief pleasures we have and continue to chase after them, but of course this turns into vanity. What is the point of pleasure when it has no purpose, when it does not last, when our labour is left to another to enjoy, when there is no knowledge of the One who has given us life to begin with?
It is okay to ask these questions and wrestle with them. Here, God has given us an example of a man gifted with wisdom who despite this, still struggled with understanding purpose in life. As we read Solomon’s thoughts, we see him try out the different pleasures offered by life. He appreciates them, he considers them vanity, he sees their futility, he recognises them as a gift from God, and he concedes his own inability to understand things. At times, he seems to say one thing, only to realise something else. Yet, in the end, Solomon has only one conclusion.
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:
Fear God and keep His commandments,
For this is man’s all.
For God will bring every work into judgement,
Including every secret thing,
Whether good for evil.” – [Song of Solomon 12:13-14]
In the end, Ecclesiastes comes down to one all-encompassing question – can we live life apart from God? I believe the answer is no, and it seems this is the same conclusion Solomon comes to. We can choose to ignore God but His fingerprints are on every aspect of life. Work, pleasure, joy – these are all gifts from God. Judgement, justice – these lie in God’s hand. Omnipresence belongs only to God. Eternity belongs only to God. Purpose can only be found when we live in Him.
What is the purpose of Ecclesiastes? Well, like every other part of the Bible, it points us to God.
- He knows our innermost desires, having placed His curiosity in our hearts.
- He holds the world in His hands – life, death, pleasure, suffering, time and eternity.
- He is our purpose in life, and He is our life.