Through the Bible in a Year: Ecclesiastes 1-4

This Week’s Readings

Monday, June 18: Ecclesiastes 1-4
Tuesday, June 19: Ecclesiastes 5-8
Wednesday, June 20: Ecclesiastes 9-12
Thursday, June 21: Song of Solomon 1-4
Friday, June 22: Song of Solomon 5-8

Next week we will read the Gospel of John.

The overall year’s plan is here.

Ecclesiastes 1-2

Solomon wrote this book, as is evident throughout and stated in verse 1.

I put chapters 1 and 2 together in this commentary because I think they need to go together. Chapter 1 gives us an introduction to who "the Preacher" is, and it gives a basic overview of what he’s going to be talking about. "What can we change?" he asks. He suggests that there’s nothing anyone can change, which makes wisdom and insight into life simply depressing.

In much wisdom there is grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain. (1:18, NASB)

This directly contradicts what the same person, Solomon, has said about Wisdom in the beginning of Proverbs.

Ecclesiastes is a thought process. Most of the verses are not conclusions; they are thought experiments and life experiments leading toward a conclusion that he will give us at the end of chapter 12.

Fortunately, we get a brief, less depressing glimpse at the conclusion at the end of chapter 2.

At the start of chapter 2 we are introduced to a life experiment that Hollywood and sports stars provide us with on a regular basis. Being fabulously rich, being able to obtain all you want, and living in profligacy (that big word will allow parents to explain what it means in their own words and with their own care) does not bring happiness.

‘Futility, striving after wind, and no profit’ is how Solomon describes it (v. 11).

Verses 24-26 are the positive end of his depressing reasoning of the first two chapters, though he still calls it useless striving after wind. I’m not sure why.

Ecclesiastes 3

The section on a time for everything is very famous, and songs have been written about it. Going through the list of things that there are a time for is serious food for thought.

I want to apply a "time for everything" to Scripture interpretation, however. We humans love to have exact answers to all our questions. Mystery and doubt scare us. We want prophets to tell us the rules and give us the answers.

God provided Israel a framework in the Law, and he provides Christians guidance through the Spirit and the church. However, I hope it’s becoming evident as we read through the Scriptures that not many answers and rules apply in every situation. Exceptions abound, and at the heart of what matters to God is that we rejoice in him and acknowledge him.

We have looked at Romans 4 … twice. There are people to whom the Lord will not impute sin. We have seen examples of such people: Abraham, David, Samuel, and others. They are people who faithfully take God at his word. They may have weaknesses, even severe weaknesses, but refusing to believe God is never one of those. They’re courageous, and they’re excited about God.

When we read the Scriptures, we need to remember that. When we begin to feel that Pharasaical attitude rising up in us, wanting to demand that others give in to our interpretation of Scripture and the Law of God, let us remember what matters, and let us remember there is a time for everything. Sometimes, the Scripture we read and are applying to every situation in all time, applies only in certain situations and at some times.

Verses 11 and 14 imply that Solomon understands eternity and that God offers eternal life to the righteous. But in verses 19-22 Solomon questions all that and expresses doubts about it. "Who knows that the breath of man ascends upward and the breath of beast descends downward to the earth?"

Jesus knows. He’s been there.

Ecclesiastes 4

One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind. (v. 6)

This rest is an emotional and spiritual rest. Being lazy is nothing Solomon would recommend. To live in a state of rest is the call of God in Christ because Christ is our Sabbath rest. If we feel that we are constantly striving and overwhelmed, it is time for us to labor a different way. We need to labor to enter the rest of God that is in our Lord Jesus Christ, the true Sabbath which cast the shadow that was the Jewish weekly Sabbath (Heb. 4; Col. 2:16).

Solomon’s words on two being better than one have been often quoted. When God speaks of Israel going to war, he says that one will put a thousand to flight, and two will put ten thousand to flight. The power of two is not just double, but ten times what the power of one is.

That is a spiritual principle. We need each other (1 Cor. 12). Together we are much more powerful than we are alone.

Finally, the statement that a cord of three strands is not easily broken is often applied to marriage. I strongly agree with this. A marriage tied together not just with husband and wife, but with Christ as well, is a marriage that is not easily broken.

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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