Some books of the Bible are obviously easier to read in one sitting than others; and the extent to which doing so is beneficial varies from book to book. But some books of the Bible simply cannot be understood if they are read piecemeal. Some books must be read in one sitting and when read in one sitting the meaning is clear. The book of Ecclesiastes is a book like that. Pulling a passage out of context in this book almost guarantees missing the point of that passage. Here are some of my observations.
The Circle of Life
One theme in the book is that from the human perspective, life seems circular. Everything just seems to go around and around in a big meaningless circle. Everything that has happened now, has happened before and will happen again. No progress has been made or will be made.
Kingdoms rise and fall. Generations come and go. People are born and people die. From the human perspective, the world is like a never ending merry-go-round. You get on and take the same trip everyone else has taken and then you fall off, just like everyone else, but the merry-go-round keeps spinning and spinning forever.
The only two constants for the Preacher of Ecclesiastes is the earth and the Lord. Everything else is just transitory and circular. Everything else is born just to eventually die, everything is going through the same meaningless cycle day after day, year after year, generation after generation.
Who Has the Advantage
The Preacher explores why it is just an illusion that some people have an advantage over others in life. From the human perspective, it seems like wisdom, pleasure, strength, toil, or wealth might give you an advantage of others. If you learn enough, gather enough, are strong enough, or work hard enough maybe you can win at life.
But in the end, who wins? No one. At the end of every generation, everyone is dead. No one wins. No one survives. And no one is really remembered. All the stuff people accumulated for themselves is given to someone else who will squander it and waste it away.
In light of our impending death, all the pursuits of chasing after strength, pleasure, learning, money, etc. all just seem like a monumental waste. All these pursuits are like chasing after wind, even if you ever caught it in your hand, you would still have nothing.
The World from God’s Perspective
The parallel theme is that while from man’s perspective, life seems circular and meaningless, God is above all of this. God sees the big picture. God understands that there is a timeline and the story is making progress to some end. The Preacher even says God has given man some inkling in his heart about this eternal timeline, this big picture, but man never lives long enough to understand it.
The only wise choice for man is to submit himself to God and obey God’s commandments, because God sees the big picture and we don’t. The Preacher understands that even though those who fear God will die and will end up in a grave just like everyone (and everything) else, but it is still worthwhile to fear God and keep his commandments.
But why it is worthwhile to fear God and keep his commandments, remains a mystery in this book. The Preacher just assures us God will take care of those who fear him and keep his commandments.
The Mystery Revealed
The book of Ecclesiastes is the perfect introduction to the Gospel. Ecclesiastes explains the world from man’s perspective, and then the Gospel reveals God’s perspective. In the Gospel, God pulls back the curtain and shows us the big picture. God shows us what he has been doing from beginning to end.
Right now, everything is in bondage to corruption. Everything, including our bodies, is wearing out and dying. The whole creation is stuck in this seemingly endless cycle. Every single person knows, if he is honest, that what has happened to everyone else will happen to him, he will die.
But the Gospel invites us to put our faith in Jesus and look forward to the new creation, the point in time that the cycle of birth and death will be no more. Someday Jesus will return and bring the merry-go-round to a halt. Jesus will raise everyone from the dead, and those who belong to him will live forever as part of the new creation. The Gospel teaches us that the old things are all passing away and everything is being made new.
Ecclesiastes invites us to consider that we are wasting our short little lives chasing after the wind. Jesus invites us to stop wasting our lives. He offers to deliver us from this cycle of death. He invites us to devote our lives to following him and promises to give us life in the age to come, an age without death.
It’s a beautiful thing to read Ecclesiastes in light of the Gospel.
I love you and God loves you,