THE MOULDED bunny lies in the basket, surrounded by green paper “grass”. With Easter morning eyes wide with anticipation, the little boy carefully lifts the chocolate figure and bites into one of the long ears. But the sweet taste fades quickly, and the child looks again at the chocolate in his hand. It’s hollow!
Empty, futile, hollow, nothing… the words rings of disappointment and disillusionment. Yet this is the life-experience of many. Grasping the sweet things – possessions, experience, power, and pleasure – they find nothing inside. Life is empty, meaningless… and they despair.
Almost 3,000 years ago, Solomon spoke of this human dilemma; but the insights and applications of his message are relevant in our time. Ecclesiastes, Solomon’s written sermon, is an analysis of life’s experiences and a critical essay about its meaning. In this profound book, Solomon takes us on a mental journey through his life, explaining how everything he tried, tested, or tasted was “meaningless” – useless, irrational, pointless, foolish, and empty – an exercise in futility. And remember, these words are from one who “had it all” – tremendous intellect, power, and wealth. After this biographical tour, Solomon made his triumphant conclusion: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (12:13, 14).
When Solomon became king, he asked God for wisdom (2 Chronicles 1:7-12), and he became the wisest man in the world (1 Kings 4:29-34). He studied, taught, judged, and wrote. Kings and leaders from other nations came to Jerusalem to learn from him. But with all of his practical insight on life, Solomon failed to heed his own advice, and he began a downward spiral. Near the end of his life, Solomon looked back with an attitude of humility and repentance. He took stock of the world as he had experienced it, hoping to spare his readers the bitterness of learning through personal experience that everything apart from God is empty, hollow, and meaningless.
Although the tone of Ecclesiastes is negative and pessimistic, we must not conclude that the only chapter worth reading and applying is the last one, where he draws his conclusions. In reality, the entire book is filled with practical wisdom (how to accomplish things in the world and stay out of trouble) and spiritual wisdom (how to find and know eternal values). Solomon had a very honest approach to life. All of his remarks relating to the futility of life are there for a purpose – to lead people to seek true happiness in God alone. He was not trying to destroy all hope, but to direct our hope to the only One who can truly fulfil them. Solomon affirms the value of knowledge, relationships, work, and pleasure, but only in their proper place. All of these temporal things in life must be seen in light of the eternal.
Read Ecclesiastes and learn about life. Hear the stern warnings and the dire predictions, and commit yourself to remember your Creator now (12:1).
PPURPOSE: To spare future generations the bitterness of learning through their own experience that life is meaningless apart from God
TO WHOM WRITTEN: Solomon’s subjects in particular, and all people in general
DATE WRITTEN: Probably around 935 B.C., late in Solomon’s life
SETTING: Solomon was looking back on his life, much of which was lived apart from God
KEY VERSE: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (12:13).
Ecclesiastes show that certain paths in life lead to emptiness. This profound book also helps us to discover true purpose in life. Such wisdom can spare us from the emptiness that results from a life without God. Solomon teaches that people will not find meaning in life in knowledge, money, pleasure, work, or popularity. True satisfaction comes from knowing that what we are doing is part of God’s purpose for our lives. This is a book that can help free us from our scramble for power, approval, and money, and draws us closer to God.
EXPLANATION: Solomon searched for satisfaction almost as though he were conducting a scientific experiment. Through this process, he discovered that life without God is a long and fruitless search for enjoyment, meaning, and fulfilment. True happiness is not in our power to accumulate or attain because we always want more than we can have. In addition, there are circumstances beyond our control that can snatch away our possessions or attainments.
IMPORTANCE: People are still searching. Yet the more they try to get, the more they realise how little they really have. No pleasure or happiness is possible without God. Without him, satisfaction is a lost search. Above everything we should strive to know and love God. He gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy.
EXPLANATION: Solomon shows how empty it is to pursue the pleasures that this life has to offer rather than a relationship with an eternal God. The search for pleasure, wealth, and success is ultimately disappointing. Nothing in the world can fill the emptiness and satisfy the deep longings in our restless hearts.
IMPORTANCE: The cure for emptiness is to centre on God. His love can also fill the emptiness of human experience. Fear God throughout your life and fill your life with serving God and others rather than with selfish pleasures.
EXPLANATION: Solomon tried to shake people’s confidence in their own efforts, abilities, and wisdom and to direct them to faith in God as the only sound basis for living. Without God, there is no lasting reward or benefit in hard work.
IMPORTANCE: Work done with the wrong attitude will leave us empty. But work accepted as an assignment from God can be seen as a gift. Examine what you expect from your efforts. God gives you abilities and opportunities to work so that you can use your time well.
EXPLANATION: The certainty of death makes all merely human achievements futile. God has a plan for human destiny that goes beyond life and death. The reality of aging and dying reminds each individual of the end to come when God will judge each person’s life.
IMPORTANCE: Because life is short, we need wisdom that is greater than this world can offer. We need the words of God. If we listen to him, his wisdom spares us the bitterness of futile human experience and gives us a hope that goes beyond death.
EXPLANATION: Human wisdom doesn’t contain all the answers. Knowledge and education have their limits. To understand life, we need the wisdom that can be found only in God’s words to us – the Bible.
IMPORTANCE: When we realise that God will evaluate all that we do, we should learn to live wisely, remembering that he is present each day, and learn to obey his guidelines for living. But in order to have God’s wisdom, we must first get to know and honour him.
©Kingsway International Church, 1973.