My friend calls Ecclesiastes the “strangest” book in the Bible. It is certainly one of the most difficult to teach.
Though right next to Proverbs in the Old Testament canon, Ecclesiastes and Proverbs are worlds apart. Proverbs is made up of short, pithy sayings that reinforce the idea of the protection and care of God. My life passage typifies Proverbs: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). Ecclesiastes on the other hand has nothing like that passage.
While Proverbs is concrete and optimistic, Ecclesiastes is philosophical and pessimistic.
How did Ecclesiastes get in the Hebrew Bible? Actually, the Rabbis questioned whether or not it should be admitted. They also did the same with other books, including Proverbs. From human reasoning, Ecclesiastes probably made it in the canon because of its association with Solomon.
I taught Ecclesiastes for a group of pastors this week and spent quite a bit of time contemplating this question. I also wondered how to teach Ecclesiastes.
Just as I pulled out of the parking lot to travel to teach, I received an email on my smart phone. The subject line read: “Prayer Warriors Needed.” I read the sad story of a twelve year old girl in another state who has had a reoccurrence of leukemia. I immediately began to pray for her and her family. Later, I couldn’t get over the thought of a twelve year old with leukemia. I began to think about the questions that the girl must be asking her mother. Does she wonder whether she will die? I wonder how a twelve year old handles something so tragic. What did her mother say? How do her parents feel? What about her grandparents?
All of a sudden it hit me. This is why Ecclesiastes is in the Bible. Ecclesiastes is a very realistic book that deals with the exceptions in life, the times when people aren’t healed and people do die. Ecclesiastes wants to know the meaning of life, not life as it “ought” to be but life as it really is. The Word of God is continually fresh, speaking to the real needs of life.
The “Preacher” of Ecclesiastes tests the conclusions of life. He wanted to know what life is really about. Is life about wisdom? Wealth? Pleasure? He came to the conclusion that all of this is vanity.
He realized that the end of the matter is God Himself. While the Preacher did not know about Jesus and the hope of the resurrection, he knew that our ultimate goal in life is to fear God and keep his commandments.
When you have done all that you can do, go to bed. God is awake.
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