Why Is Ecclesiastes In The Bible?

Ecclesiastes seeks to convince us that life “under the sun” (used 29 times) is meaningless, frustrating, fleeting, and incomprehensible, inducing us to turn our attention to eternal things.

The author of Ecclesiastes spends twelve chapters seeking to convince the reader that devoting one’s time and effort to the things of this life is futile and meaningless. He ends his book with an admonishment: while enjoying the basic pleasures of our very brief lives, we must fear God and keep his commandments, for He will bring everything to judgment after we cease to walk under the sun.

 

The Book of Ecclesiastes contains the observations and reflections of a wise man who spent years seeking to understand life “under the sun.” The focus of the book is on this mortal life. It has little to say about God: the word God is found only 25 times in the book’s 12 chapters, about two times per chapter. It says next to nothing about the afterlife, repentance, sin, forgiveness, salvation, prayer, and other topics so prominent in the rest of the Bible. Why then is Ecclesiastes part of God-breathed Scripture?

I believe the book’s primary role in the body of inspired writings is to convince the reader that life “under the sun” (a phrase that occurs 29 times in Ecclesiastes and nowhere else in the Bible) is meaningless, frustrating, fleeting, and incomprehensible; so as to induce him to turn his attention to eternal things.

The author finds worldly ambition and striving to be “vanity,” that is, a vapor, here today and gone tomorrow. We cannot confidently plan or build for the future because we do not and cannot know what will happen in the future. There is a time for everything, for the undoing of what we strive for as well as for success in our undertakings. Those times are known only to God. He does what he pleases, for weal or woe, and we cannot fathom his purposes or his times. What we can know is that our plans and accomplishments, whether successes or failures, are evanescent, gone as quickly as morning mist. And so are we: all too soon we die and are forgotten. Whatever we have accomplished will dissipate and vanish away, and the world will remain the same.

The secularism of our age has rubbed off on Christians just as secularism rubbed off on Israelites three thousand years ago. We are too earthly minded. We are as prone to put our time and toil into bettering our life under the sun as are those who do not have the hope of eternal life. Whether it is growing our business or our professional status, seeking fame and recognition from the world, pursuing knowledge for its own sake, or simply seeking and enjoying material possessions, we too pursue vanity.

Two thousand years ago the Apostle John warned:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life[a]—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17, ESV)

John was speaking to Christians, but Ecclesiastes proclaimed a similar message to Israel a thousand years earlier.

In light of the vanity of life in this world under the sun, how should we then live? Ecclesiastes tells us the best course to follow during our brief time under the sun is to enjoy the basic pleasures of life: food, drink, life with our spouse, the warm sunshine—all before old age and its infirmities come upon us, and then death.

The author of Ecclesiastes spends twelve chapters seeking to convince the reader that devoting one’s time and effort to the things of this life is futile and meaningless. He ends his book with an admonishment: while enjoying the basic pleasures of our very brief lives, we must fear God and keep his commandments, for He will bring everything to judgment after we cease to walk under the sun.

Ecclesiastes can serve as a real preparatio evangelica, turning an unbeliever wrapped up in the things of this world away from the temporal and towards things that are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18), preparing him to believe on the Son of Man, “that whosoever believes on him may have everlasting life” (John 3:15). That life is not futile, meaningless, and bound to pass away. Ecclesiastes is for believers, yes, but it is also for the unbeliever who is so busy with life under the sun that he has no time for religion. He needs to read this book and take its message to heart.

Robert Rogland is a ruling elder (emeritus) at Faith Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Tacoma, Washington. He has written two Christian children’s books and five Bible study guides. He was a co-founder and teacher at Covenant High School, a ministry of Faith PCA.