Survey of the Old Testament - Lesson 32


The message of Ecclesiastes is that true knowledge, wisdom and meaning in life begins with the fear of the Lord. The author of Ecclesiastes, likely Solomon, tests this conclusion and is unsuccessful in finding ultimate meaning in activities, “under the sun,” like wealth, relationships, power, projects, etc.

Miles Van Pelt
Survey of the Old Testament
Lesson 32
Watching Now

I. Introduction

A. Author

B. Basic message

C. Approach

D. Theme

E. Perspective

F. Main question

G. Mode of instruction

H. Other types of uses

II. Outline

A. Prologue

B. Wisdom experiment

C. Conclusion

III. The Gospel Promised Beforehand

  • Dr. Miles Van Pelt is offering an opportunity to study the Old Testament and understand its overall message in more detail. The Old Testament consists of 2/3 of the Bible, and serves as a foundation for many teachings found in the New Testament. Its main purpose is to point towards Jesus who makes possible a new covenant with God's people. The structure of both Testaments follows a covenantal pattern that compels humans to make choices regarding their relationship with God, while demonstrating His patience and perseverance in doing so.
  • Knowing the purpose, structure and theological center of the Old Testament, will help you understand more accurately the character of God, and his purpose in the world and in your life. The Old Testament teaches you about Christ and describes his ministry. Colossians 3:15-16 reads, "Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart, let the word of Christ dwell in you richly."

  • What you decide is the theological center of the Bible will determine how you understand the Bible and apply it to your life. You can see unity in biblical authorship by the number of times the phrase, “thus says Yahweh” is used in the Old Testament.  The person and work of Jesus is the theological center of the Old Testament. The living force of the canonical word must be the incarnate word. The proper nouns used in the Bible indicate the important characters and themes.

  • Jesus claims that the Old Testament finds its ultimate meaning in him. After his resurrection, Jesus meets two disciples on the road to Emmaus and gives them a lesson in biblical interpretation. The Father and the Scriptures testify about who Jesus is. In Romans 1:3, Paul refers to the Gospel being revealed through his prophets, in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son. Every book in the Bible teaches about Christ so every sermon should teach about Christ. Hebrews 11 refers to the great cloud of witnesses.

  • The Kingdom of God is the over-arching theme of the whole Bible. God governs his kingdom by his covenants. The covenant of grace is in effect throughout the Bible and has different administrations.

  • The form that our Bibles come to us in is meaningful for interpretation. The Hebrew Bible has a different order of the books than the English Bible.  

  • The order of books in the English Bible and the Hebrew Bible is different because the criteria for determining the order is different. The order of the books in the Hebrew Bible reflect an emphasis on covenant, and also teaching important concepts then giving a practical example to illustrate how to put it into practice.

  • The three divisions in the Old Testament are the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. Genesis and Revelation are the introduction and conclusion to the Bible and have parallel themes. Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy are the four covenant books that record the birth and death of the covenant mediator and contain his life and teachings. The former prophets record the history of Israel. The latter prophets call people to repent and return to God.

  • Your presuppositions about whether or not the authors who wrote the books of the Bible were inspired by God will influence your position the authorship of the Pentateuch. The traditional view is that Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament at about 1200 to 1400 B.C. The documentary hypothesis claims that there were four or more separate authors that wrote beginning in about 900 B.C.

  • Genesis is the covenant prologue and is both protological and eschatological. It is the most covenantal book in the Bible. One way to outline the book is into twelve parts, each beginning with the phrase, “these are the generations.” Creation is described using a theological order.

  • Chapter 2 is a detailed description of the sixth day of creation, culminating in the creation of woman. Chapter 3 describes the Fall and the consequences. Hebrew homonyms link the passages and intensify the descriptions.

  • Noah functions as a prophetic covenant mediator. God promises a remnant in his covenant with Noah and also renews the covenant of common grace. God continues his redemptive covenant with Abraham and his descendants. The book of Genesis ends with the narrative of Joseph.

  • This is the beginning of the formal documents of the covenant of God with the people of Israel. It begins with the birth of Moses and ends with the people of Israel coming out of Egypt.

  • Leviticus is primarily instructions to promote the holiness of God’s people. It provides a system that allows for a holy God to live among an unholy people. In the sacrificial system, there are 5 kinds of offerings. Jesus is the fulfillment of the observance of the Day of Atonement.

  • The book of Numbers is a record of the events of the forty years of wandering in the wilderness. The purpose is to contrast the faithfulness of God with the faithlessness of the Israelites. The time in the wilderness was a period of testing for the people of Israel.

  • This is a renewal of the Mosaic covenant in preparation for entering the Promised Land. It’s an encouragement to keep the Law and a reminder of blessings for obedience and cursings for disobedience. Deuteronomy points us to Jesus who ultimately fulfills the Law.

  • Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings describe the nature and purpose of the Sinai Covenant and the historical events of the occupation of the land. God know that the people of Israel would fail to obey the Mosaic Covenant, so he had planned from the beginning to establish the New Covenant when the time was right.

  • Joshua was the successor to Moses. The book of Joshua focuses on the Promised Land. The people of Israel enter the land, conquer the land, divide the land between the tribes and then renew their covenant with God. Holy war and covenant obedience are important themes.

  • Judges has two introductions, two conclusions, six major judges, six minor judges and one anti-judge. It can be described as the, “uncreation” of Israel. Their purpose was to judge the nations and to deliver the people of Israel from their oppressors.

  • The book of Samuel provides the answer to the crisis of kingship. Samuel, as the last judge and first prophet, anoints Saul as king. The people of Israel reject Yahweh as king. Saul is anointed by Samuel and serves as king but is later rejected because of disobedience. David is anointed king because God acts according to his own will. Solomon begins well and ends badly.

  • The book of Kings is the story of the monarchy in the nation of Israel. It begins with the united monarchy under Solomon, then after his death, is divided into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. We can learn about God’s character and the importance of living in a covenant relationship with God.  

  • The Latter Prophets are covenant lawyers. They are executing the lawsuit of God against Israel for unfaithfulness to the covenant. Prophets use both oracular prophecies and sign acts to communicate their message.

  • Isaiah is sometimes described as the, “fifth gospel” because it is quoted so much in the New Testament. The themes in Isaiah are both timely for his generation and also point to their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus and the end of time.

  • Jeremiah’s call was to tell the people of Judah why they were going into exile and also to give them hope for future restoration. The book contains oracles, accounts of visions and symbolic actions, prophetic laments and historical narratives.

  • One key to understanding Ezekiel is the glory of God in the temple. The book begins with God appearing to Ezekiel, then God leaves the temple and, in the end, God returns. Ezekiel’s oracles and signs illustrate each of these.

  • In the Hebrew Bible, these 12 minor prophets are treated as one book. Each one is a covenant lawyer that is prosecuting God’s lawsuit against the unfaithful nation of Israel and also preaching a message of hope for restoration. The Day of the Lord is the day of the king’s victory over his enemy, either to crush an enemy or to save a people.

  • These books are about how you think and live in light of the covenant. The genres include narrative, poetry and prophecy. The Hebrew Bible order emphasizes teaching then example.

  • Covenant life is a life of worship. The book divisions in the manuscripts were purposefully arranged so the book as a whole has a meaningful narrative. It emphasized the kingship of Yahweh, the Davidic line and the temple. You can use specific patterns of construction for understanding lament, thanksgiving and hymns of praise psalms. You can also use the same patterns to help you respond to God and worship him.

  • Job deals with the issue of human tragedy and suffering. Job never knows what happened in heaven that resulted in his suffering. His three friends made correct theological arguments but they were misapplied. Job speaks about suffering and hope. God challenges Job at the end of the book, and also restores his possessions and children.

  • Solomon created a collection of practical wisdom sayings. Some were for instructing children, some for instructing kings, but they all are applicable to help everyone live in the light of the covenant of grace in the context of common grace.

  • Ruth follows Proverbs in the Hebrew Bible. Even though she is from Moab, she lives in Israel with her widowed Israelite mother-in-law to take care of her. She marries Boaz and is included in the genealogy of David and Jesus.

  • Marriage should be both rock solid in terms of covenant commitment and white hot in terms of sexual intimacy. If it is both, you can better resist temptation, endure hardship and promote wholeness.   

  • The message of Ecclesiastes is that true knowledge, wisdom and meaning in life begins with the fear of the Lord. The author of Ecclesiastes, likely Solomon, tests this conclusion and is unsuccessful in finding ultimate meaning in activities, “under the sun,” like wealth, relationships, power, projects, etc.

  • Lamentations is a collection of funeral dirges lamenting the fall and exile of Jerusalem. The elegant structure of the book is a contrast to the chaos and destruction of the events that are taking place. Each poem gives you a different perspective on God’s character and his covenant faithfulness.

  • Esther is a story of living a life of faith in exile. It Bringing “shalom” into a hostile environment sometimes even requires risking your life. The festival of Purim commemorates God saving his people and is still celebrated today.

  • Daniel and Esther are examples of living a life of faith while in exile. Daniel was different than the writing prophets because he is not primarily a covenant lawyer prosecuting God’s lawsuit against the people of Israel. The first six chapters are biographical stories highlighting God’s power to save and his sovereignty over the nations. The second six chapters are visions of the future.

  • The book of Ezra-Nehemiah records the last events, chronologically, in the Old Testament. Ezra returned from exile with authorization to teach the Law of the Jews and institute the sacrificial system. Nehemiah returned to rebuild Jerusalem. They fail in their human attempt to rebuild heaven on earth, which encourages you to look forward to the city built by God.

  • The return from exile is not the greater one prophesied by the prophets. We still look forward to the return from exile with them in the resurrection. Chronicles traces the seed that was promised and gives an account of the return from exile.

Take this opportunity to study with Dr. Miles Van Pelt as he shows you patterns and themes that will help you understand the Old Testament and the whole Bible. He will give you an overall view of the Old Testament then discuss specifics about each of the books. 

For instance, you might ask, "What kind of book is the Old Testament?" The OT is a single story told three times over: once in Genesis, once in Exodus through Nehemiah, and once again in Chronicles (just like day 6 in Genesis 1–2). The OT loves to repeat itself, repeat itself, repeat itself. This is how it teaches us. The Old Testament is about 2/3 of the Bible and is the basis for everything you read in the New Testament. The better you understand the Old Testament, the clearer you will understand the message of the Bible. 

What is the Message of the Old Testament? The Old Testament points to the New Covenant. The teachings, prophecies and examples of covenant life point to Jesus who makes the New Covenant possible and inaugurates it. There are also examples in the Old Testament of how human efforts to create heaven on earth fall short, so that we will anticipate and yearn for our ultimate deliverance from exile.

What is the Structure of the Old Testament? The structure of the Old Testament, and the Bible as a whole, is covenantal. God offers to live in the covenant of grace with him and compels them to make that choice. The administrations of the covenant with Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus demonstrate God's patience and perseverance to include as many as are willing.


Recommended Books

Survey of the Old Testament - Bible Study

Survey of the Old Testament - Bible Study

Take this opportunity to study with Dr. Miles Van Pelt as he shows you patterns and themes that will help you understand the Old Testament and the whole Bible. He will give...

Survey of the Old Testament - Bible Study

Dr. Miles Van Pelt

Survey of the Old Testament



I. Introduction (00:13):

We are now about to begin our lecture on the book of Ecclesiastes, and as you can see on the overhead over here, we're in the third section of the Hebrew Bible called the Writings. The Writings are divided into two sections, Life in the Land: Psalms through Ecclesiastes, and Life and Exile: Lamentations through Chronicles. We're in the last book of the Life in the Land series, where we've begun with Psalms, Job, Proverbs, and Ruth. We've considered Song of Songs. Now we're going to be looking at Ecclesiastes. In terms of position in the cannon Ecclesiastes is the sixth book in the writings, the last book in the subgrouping life in the land. The name of the book in Hebrew is Qohelet. It's Q-O-H-E-L E-T. It means the one who assembles, it's the Hebrew word that we're going to be rendering as Ecclesiastes.

A. Author (01:01):

The English title Ecclesiastes comes from the Greek translation of this particular Hebrew word Qohelet. You might know the word ecclesia, meaning assembly. You may have also heard of something similar from the realm of theology, ecclesiology. So Ecclesiastes, ecclesia, ecclesiology. Those are all related. It's the study, the last one ecclesiology is of the church or the assembly. So Qohelet is the Hebrew name for that, and we're going to talk about that and what that means in a second. So who wrote the book? The best answer is Solomon. He is well known for his ability in wisdom literature, the production of wisdom, and the collection of wisdom. He is closely associated with proverbs, song of songs, and Ecclesiastes. Now, let me just comment for a minute and say why some people have a hard time accepting Solomon as the author for Song of Songs or for Ecclesiastes.

The reason for that is the language employed in the book, the Hebrew employed. It's of a different register, a different type. It looks a lot like late biblical Hebrew, but we know that Solomon was gifted and skilled in language. We know that he collected wisdom from all over the world. Therefore some of the weird things that we see is simply the result of his international trade, his international collecting, and the skill he has in his mind that he had that surpassed all before him and all after him. Otherwise it seems a little deceptive in my opinion, not to consider Solomon as the author because of things like Ecclesiastes 1:1 and 1:12. Let's look at those for a second. We have here. Ecclesiastes 1:1 where it says “the words of the teacher”, in the NIV, the ESV says, preacher, the Hebrew says Qohelet, son of David, king of Jerusalem.

“The words of the teacher, son of David, king of Jerusalem”. Then in verse 12, it says, “I, the teacher preacher or Qohelet, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom, all that is done under heaven”. Now here we have a son of David who's king over all of Israel in Jerusalem. The only person that really it could be is Solomon because after that, the king and Jerusalem was not the king over the whole all of Israel, but only Judah in the south. Then we also have interestingly, in first King's eight, when Solomon is going to do the dedication of the temple. He assembles the people and it's the same verbal route that's used here for Qohelet. So he is the assembler, that's kind of his title, the assembler.

B. Basic Message (03:39):

I think it's fine that he kind of uses that name, Qohelet, to be someone. I've assembled to people, we're going to consider something here, but at the same time, it's clear enough from 1:1 and 1:12, that Solomon is the best option for authorship, which means that something like Ecclesiastes is going to be one of those rare and wonderful wisdom books that we take a long time in our lives to figure out. Let's consider the basic message of the book and the basic approach of the book. The basic message of the book, or you can even say the explicit message of the book, is located in the last two verses of the book. Remember with wisdom literature, sometimes you have to get all the way to the end, and then you find out the answer and then you move back and read it again. So with Job, the solution was solved in chapter 42, when it all got fixed at the end, and we saw exactly what God had planned. With Song of Songs, that wisdom instruction at the end shaped how he reviewed the rest of the book.

Here with Ecclesiastes, the key to the book is at the end, because Ecclesiastes is, it's subversive wisdom. It's tricky wisdom. You've got to get to the end. Here's chapter 12:13-14, “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 or just the wholeness of man, the essence of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil”. Like all of our other wisdom books, right at the heart of it, is the motto from the beginning of Proverbs, “fear the Lord”, this is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge.

C. Approach (05:16):

The message of Ecclesiastes is the same as the book of Proverbs, “true knowledge, wisdom, and meaning of life begin with the fear of the Lord”. However, the approach is not the same. It is an approach designed for the skeptic or for the one who wants to test the underlying thesis of wisdom, that wise living begins with the fear of the Lord. Do you need to believe in God? Do you need to obey God? Do you need to trust God in order to truly embrace wisdom? Now, what's interesting about this book is the author is clearly someone who fears God. But he's not going to let that qualification affect how he pursues the subject. He's going to say for the sake of argument, let's suspend the upper register, the heavenly realm, the fear of God kind of stuff, and we're going to consider all of life from the perspective of under the sun.

D. Theme (06:04):

You can say this will be under the sun perspective. What's the theme of the book then? We know. We covered here the basic message of the book, the fear of the Lord, the basic approach, suspending the fear of the Lord theme. It appears in 1:2 and it's going to appear again in chapter 12. It's going to bracket the book. In fact, I'll just tell you, it occurs in Ecclesiastes 1:2, and in Ecclesiastes 12:8. It's the exact same line in 1:2 and 12:8. It's an inclusio and it tells you where you're at in the book in terms of things. It's this, ready? “Vanity of vanity says the preacher vanity of vanities all is vanity, hebel hebel”l means heavily in, heavily in Hebrew. It's alliterative like that.

“Meaningless, meaningless says that preacher, utterly meaningless, everything is meaningless”. That's the NIV rendering. So what does this vanity of vanities or meaningless of meaninglessness mean? What is that? The Hebrew word is hebel. That's what you hear me say, hebel, heavily in coal, heavily. It really just means breath or vapor. Some understand hebel to mean incomprehensible, which stresses that life is hard to understand, and it is hard to understand. In this sense, hebel may be translated as mystery or enigma. So life is just a mystery or an enigma. We can't get at it. We don't know what it's about. So there's no hope of pursuing wisdom. Another sense or a nuance of hebel is that it's incomprehensible in the sense that life is just hard to understand and altogether impossible, maybe even to figure out in totality.

Here are the ideas expressed by the English translation vanity in the sense of futile, purposelessness, and meaninglessness. Futility. Qohelet also uses hebel to refer to scenarios where there is a disparity between rational expectations and actual consequences. The view that hebel connotes futility is an old view, which has support of certain ancient versions like the Septuagint, the Greek translation, as well as many other English translations. Two scholars, Christensen and Longman took a close look at this particular word, inside and outside of Ecclesiastes. They conclude that refers to something like obviously a false, something that's obviously false, futile or empty. This is perhaps the best way to understand. So something obviously false, futile, or empty. You can just say empty of emptiness says a preacher, everything is empty or something like that from futility.

E. Perspective (08:38):

It's one of those words that's hard to capture like when we say the word, chesed, in Hebrew, the steadfast love of the Lord, the mercy of the Lord. In poetry that's what they like you to do. They like you to have a word that just makes you think and think and think, and so throughout the book you can do that. “Vanity of vanities says the preacher vanity of vanities all is vanity”. 1:2 and 12:8, that's the motto. That's what they're going to be looking at the perspective in. The perspective of the book comes in the expression, “under the sun”. This expression occurs 29 times in the book and it's the most common expression throughout. The one thing that the author wants you to know is that his perspective is an “under the sun” perspective. It's a worldview apart from God, this is a wisdom experiment.

Solomon, the author is saying, we're going to suspend our fear of the Lord worldview right now. We're going to take on an under the sun worldview, and we're going to look at all kinds of things in life, wisdom and folly, pleasure, eating, and drinking, building and tearing down, anything and everything, even considering work and love. We're going to consider all of these things, even life and death, without a fear of God, but under the sun. Think of Ecclesiastes as a great wisdom experiment. It's for the skeptic or even for yourself, when you're thinking like, is this really true? What am I really living for? Even if you think you're someone who fears the Lord, you might run yourself through this and say, do I really have this subversive worldview because of the culture I live in. Maybe you can weed it out of yourself sometimes.

F. Main Question (10:18):

What is the main question of the book? The main question of the book appears in 1:3, and it's this, what profit is there for a person in all his labor, for which he labors under the sun. It's the word profit.

This basic question is repeated in 2:22, 3:9 and 5:16. It contains two key ideas that are important for understanding the book. The first is under the sun mentioned above, and the second is the notion of profit. The Hebrew word for profit, and we're not talking about someone who gives speeches and does lawsuits like that, this is P-R-O-F-I-T, not like Isaiah prophet. The Hebrew word profit is a commercial term referring to surplus or gain. But it also has a wider meaning Ecclesiastes when it's used with reference to wisdom. When two things are compared, the term refers to the advantage one thing has over another there. Does wisdom have advantage over folly? Does loss have advantage over gain? Does hope have advantage over despair? Does being rich have advantage over being wealthy or poor? When profit is used by itself, it refers to any net gain that allows someone to get ahead in life and a desired result produced by effort or labor.

G. Mode of Instruction (11:38):

It is imperative to see that the basic answer to this question in 2:10 and 11, he says there is no profit under the sun. The answer is there is no profit under the sun. Is there profit under the sun? No, there's no profit under the sun. That's going to be the question and the answer. So the mode of instruction is experience. Let's compare these two just so we can see how Ecclesiastes is different from Proverbs. In the book of Proverbs, the question in terms of how do you know something, is answered because I learned it in school. In Qohelet or Ecclesiastes, the approach to wisdom is different. He stresses the role of personal experience and the use of independent, rational intelligence for drawing conclusions about life. In other words, in Ecclesiastes, it's when you ask the question, how do you know? He says, because I observed it, I experienced it. I went out and tried it.

You can see that in chapter two clearly he said, “I said, in my heart, come now I'll test you with pleasure, enjoy yourself. But behold, this also as vanity. I said of laughter, it is mad and of pleasure. What use of it? I searched my heart to know how to cheer my body with wine. My heart's still guiding me with wisdom and how to lay hold of folly till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven the few days of their lives. I made great works. I built houses”, et cetera, et cetera. He went out and he experimented with life. He wasn't a theoretical physicist, he was the guy who does all the testing. He tested all. So in Proverbs, how do you know? I learned it in school, right? In Ecclesiastes, how do you know? I learned it on the street. The school of hard knocks. You can think of it that way.

H. Other Types of Uses (13:30):

Let’s look at the other types of uses, the one I want to read here is Psalm 73. Ecclesiastes is in some sense designed to provoke you to want to fear the Lord, right? It’s because as we observe the world, we despair when we see the wicked flourishing and the righteous suffering, when we see children not doing well, when we see old people mistreated, right? When we see disparity in countries between how schools are done or how people are treated. You despair and you think the Lord out there controlling any of this? Is He sovereign over all this business? Psalm 73 takes the same approach. It might be kind of easy to see some of that. I'm going to read the first part and I'm going to read how the Psalmist gets to the second part and sees, okay, there's something different going on here.

This is a Psalm where the Psalmist is lamenting the prosperity of the wicked. It begins with verse one. I'll begin reading this verse. “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart”. In general, he's looking around. “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled. My steps nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death, their bodies are fat in sleep. They are not in trouble as others are. They're not stricken like the rest of us mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace. Violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out through their face, fatness and their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with malice loftly, they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens and their tongues stretched through the earth. Therefore the people turn back to them and find no fault in them. And they say, how can God know? Is there any knowledge in the most high. Behold, these are the wicked always at ease. They increase in riches all in vain I've kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. Vain, vanity. For all day long I've been stricken and rebuked every morning. If I had said, I will speak thus, I would've betrayed the generations of your children”.

Here we go. Here's the turning point. “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task. Until I went into the sanctuary of God, then I discerned therein”. He went from under the sun to over the sun, as he entered the sanctuary of God. And he said, “truly you set them in slippery places and you make them fall to ruin. And it goes to decant”.

You can see he's doing the same experiment there. He's seeing kind of an upside down world, and he's trying to interpret that world the best he can. The way he does it is by first he despairs because he's looking with his physical eyes, but then he goes into the house of the Lord and he sees something different. He sees that really what's happened is that their prosperity is the key to their ruin. That's a good point because sometimes it's our suffering and our hardships in life that keep us closest to God. So sometimes one of the greatest evil things God could do for us is to give us a life where we didn't need to depend on Him. That's kind of the world that Ecclesiastes is trying to provoke out of us.

II. Outline (16:32):

In terms of an outline. The outline for Ecclesiastes is very simple. The macro outline, and it's here on the board. It's impacted or driven by the person of the verb that's talking. In the introduction and the conclusion or the prologue and the epilogue, these are written for us in third person. Third person, so he did this, he did that. The wisdom experiment is the middle part. That's written in the the first person. The framing, the introduction and the conclusion are in the third person and the middle part, the wisdom experiment proper is in the middle, is in the first person. It’s because we don't have time to do all of the content in here, the best way to get at the content is to read through both the prologue and the epilogue and see how that shapes the material in the middle. That'll prepare you to handle all of the wisdom experiments in the middle.

A. Prologue (17:34):

I'm going to begin here with verse two, because verse one is just the title mentioning the author. Where it begins, “vanity of vanity says the preacher vanity of vanities, all is vanity”. That's the motto. Then we have the question, “what does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun”. Now he begins to tease that out. “A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun goes down and hastens to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south, and it goes around to the north. Around, around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is never full. And to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again.

All things are full of weariness. A man cannot utter it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing nor the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done. And there is nothing new under the sun”. Now you can see he's articulating the circular nature to life. That nothing ever changes, right? The sun keeps coming up and going down, the sun keeps coming up and down. The rivers are entering into the sea, but they're going back to the rivers. There's no meaning to it. Everything's just in a big circle. The circular view of life. That there's not a linear thing. There's no end in hope. There's no eschatology for him. It's just a meaningless life. There's nothing that's going to get better.

B. Wisdom Experiment (19:11):

What he says here is then, “therefore there is nothing new under the sun”. That's the thing. When we put that on our mouths, by the way, you know, when we say that to people, that's really a godless worldview. I would say, oh, there's nothing new. We're going to find out there's some new things under the sun. Then he says here, “is there a thing of which it is said, see this is new. It has already been done in the ages before. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance after of latter things yet to be among those who come after”. You can see that despairing world view. You can see where he moves into the first person in verse 12.

“I the preacher have been king over Israel, Jerusalem, and I applied my heart to seek and to search out wisdom. All that is done under heaven”. That's another metaphor for under the sun. “It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children man to be busy with”, okay. Subjected to the utility. In some sense, if you can think of it this way, to help my students, is that in Genesis chapter three, when Adam and Eve fell in the garden, God cursed the ground and subjected work to futility. But in the midst of that, he also gave the hope that the seed of the woman would produce an heir that would crush the seed of the serpent so that we wouldn't be reduced to that futility all the time. Noah was born in Genesis five, his father says, “perhaps this one will bring us some comfort from the labor of our hands”.

C. Conclusion (20:39):

We have that hope, but here, the author's taking the view that there's no such hope as that. We're just going to keep in this kind of wicked spiral of wake up, go to work, come back, go home, go to sleep, wake up, go to work, come back, go home, go to sleep round and round and round we go. The author's going to push that to its limits in some sense to evangelize your brains and your hearts to take a fear of the Lord position in that particular context. Let's look for a second at the conclusion. He said, when Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered a son and he called his name Noah saying out of the ground that the Lord has cursed. This one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.

That's what he was hoping for. He was on track. It was from him, but many years later in his offspring. You can see that's what the author of Ecclesiastes is looking for, relief from his labors. He has the resources as the king to engage in all kinds of construction and labor and everything he wants to do, it makes him very wearisome. How does the epilogue answer that at the end? The middle section ends in verse eight, where it says “vanity of vanity says the preacher, all is vanity”, again, rehearsing that. Then he says, “besides being wise, the preacher also taught the people, knowledge, wain and studying and arranging many Proverbs with great care”. So we're back to chapter one where he was the wisdom instructor in Jerusalem.

This is very Solomonic in origin. “With great care the preachers sought to find words of delight and uprightly he wrote words of truth. The words of the wise are like goads and like nails firmly fixed and are collected sayings. They are given by one shepherd”. Then we get back to this, “My son” now that's a trigger word to take you back to Proverbs one through nine, right, in the wisdom collection where you have the 15 wisdom poems in Proverbs chapter one through nine. So in some sense, it's taking you back there because that's the whole thing of one through nine in Proverbs, where you choose wisdom or folly. Wisdom is enticing, folly is enticing. There's something to it. Eve was enticed. Adam was enticed in Genesis chapter three. The way of death is enticing to the human heart. “So my son be aware of anything beyond these of making many books there is no end, and much study is weariness to the flesh”. Amen.

The end of the matter is this, “all has been heard”. So he is covered every area of life, fear God, and keep His commands. This is His essence. This is His image. This is His being. “For God will bring every deed into judgment with every secret thing, whether good or evil”. So the fear of God here, the fear of the Lord, is one to say that God knows everything, and He's going to sift those things at the end of the age. So he's talking about not only the fact that God exists, but that God is watching. God at the end will judge what He's seen in our lives.

He's taking us back, then, and putting us over the sea, over the sun. We know we can compare things like this to like with Isaiah. We can compare Isaiah and Qohelet in this way. Qohelet says there is “nothing new under the sun, and that which is crooked cannot be made straight”. Isaiah says this kind of conflicting theology. Behold, I'm about to do something new. He says, “make straight that which is crooked”. You're raising up the valleys and you're smushing down the mountains and you're making straight the highway of our God in Isaiah. So you can't be trapped by this theology right here and say, it's a pessimistic, it's vain life. The very opposite is true. It's only pessimistic or vain when you look at it under the sun. But when you look at the Son Himself, the Son of God, and you have perspective like that, it changes everything.

III. The Gospel Promised Beforehand (24:38):

So how do you grasp the gospel from something like this? Qohelet or the preacher here, he accurately describes a world struggling under the effects of sin and the fall. A broken and wrecked world. One of the key words of Ecclesiastes, one of the key words of Ecclesiastes, right, hebel, that vanity word, is translated into Greek as [inaudible 00:25:03]. We know what that means, but it's the same word used in Romans 8:20 to describe the subjection of creation to futility. That would be a Genesis chapter three event. The creation groans as it waits to be set free from the bondage of decay, however, futility will not always have the last word because Jesus has taken upon Himself the curse of the futility of life.

The power of the new creation is demonstrated in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead where the physical things now become good. There is therefore something new under the sun. The work of creation has a purpose. So Qohelet struggles with the frustrations that arise from labor in Ecclesiastes 2:18- 23, but you've got to remember the exhortation of the apostle Paul in first Corinthians 15:58, that our labor is not in vain. That whole word right. When eating and drinking appeared to be the only pleasure in this life, remember that whatever we do, whether eating or drinking, we do it for the glory of God, First Corinthians 10:31. Under the sun there is nothing new because of the Son of God. We have this miracle of the new. Second Corinthians 5:17 says, “therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away and behold the new has come”.

IV. Conclusions and Questions (26:23):

In Second Peter 3:13, “but according to his promise, we are waiting for a new heavens and a new earth, which is where the righteous dwell”. So we not only have something new now as we're new creations, but we're also awaiting something new in the future. That's what the book of Ecclesiastes provokes us to think about in this wisdom experiment. If you need to test your wisdom, you need to see if you fear the Lord, or if this world is vain, the book of Ecclesiastes is just for you. Any questions?

Well, I just wondered if you could say again, you said the greatest evil might be the life of prosperity. Can you say that one more time?

Yeah. So sometimes, being a father, shapes your life so much. When your kids want something, sometimes the worst thing you can do for your kid is give them exactly what they want. Right. Sometimes the worst thing God can do for us is to give us exactly what we want in our finite minds. Suffering and hardship is one of the ways in which the Lord keeps us close to Him. It's the life of ease and pleasure that cause us to drift away from God, because we have this sense that we don't need Him, or we're doing it all on our own. When we experience suffering and hardship, it's not because the Lord is angry with us or is judging us for sin, He can't do that anymore because we're in Christ, so we are His fully adopted children seen as perfect in His sight.

But what He does do is He disciplines us as a loving father so that we stay close to Him. That's why I was saying, when all these wicked people in here are fat and sassy, rich, and wealthy, having fun, doing what they want, never suffering, always buying the new car, right. That's just keeping them blind to their true need. Right. That can be the hardest thing ever.

I think you clarified it to the end, but I want wanted to make sure on something. I'm used to the translation in this last verse that, “fear God, keep commandments”, is the whole duty. That's kind of a negative view of the Christian life. Of course, I'm looking at it over the sun and this is under the son. I understand. But what you said was that this is the essence. It's not in a way exclusive of other things, but what we crave the most is fulfilled by fearing God and being obedient to Him. Is that what that translation is meaning?

Yeah. The word there in Hebrews is [inaudible 00:28:41], the all of man, right? We're adding and the translator is adding in there, of course, doing their best to make sense of it and what they think is going on, the all of what? The all duty. But it could be this is the essence of man, this is the very nature of man. It's what we were created in the garden to do. In being created in the image of God, we were created to fear Him, not to be terrified by Him, but to hold Him in reverence and awe. I think we talked to about that in Proverbs, that the fear of the Lord, is not being frightened by God, but it's knowing the creature, creator relationship, happily submitting to that and loving to do what He wants.

Just like in Proverbs chapter eight, where wisdom is delighting before God, doing all that He instruct and commands. He's actively engaged in that work. If you take it in a moralistic keep the 10 commandments kind of thing, no, but here we are doing the will of God. We're Fearing God and keeping all His commands, which is wisdom instruction.

We talked about the three different uses of the law. Remember the pedagogical, the moral, and the last one that instructs you in how to live wisely. So we use the law to see what is God's character, how can I love Him and how can I love my neighbor as He would want. So it's not at all something that beats us down with the moralistic hammer. I wouldn't take that. Yeah. But that is true. It can be taken that way, especially in certain context, if you're brought up in a certain way, like I was, it's a little more moralistic. That's a really good question. It's a hard thing to parse those words.