PDF Commentary on Ecclesiastes

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The title of the book and the penman we shall meet with in the first verse, and therefore shall here only observe,. That it is a sermon, a sermon in print; the text is Eccl. This should be intended in every sermon, and that is a good sermon by which these points are in any measure gained. Let him therefore that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall; and let him that has fallen make haste to get up again, and not despair either of assistance or acceptance therein. That it is a practical profitable sermon.

The fundamental error of the children of men, and that which is at the bottom of all their departures from God, is the same with that of our first parents, hoping to be as gods by entertaining themselves with that which seems good for food, pleasant to the eyes, and desirable to make one wise. Now the scope of this book is to show that this is a great mistake, that our happiness consists not in being as gods to ourselves, to have what we will and do what we will, but in having him that made us to be a God to us.

Various opinions they had about it; but Solomon, in this book, determines the question, and assures us that to fear God and to keep his commandments is the whole of man.

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He tried what satisfaction might be found in the wealth of the world and the pleasures of sense, and at last pronounced all vanity and vexation; yet multitudes will not take his word, but will make the same dangerous experiment, and it proves fatal to them. He, 1. Shows the vanity of those things in which men commonly look for happiness, as human learning and policy, sensual delight, honour and power, riches and great possessions. And then, 2. He prescribes remedies against the vexation of spirit that attends them. Though we cannot cure them of their vanity, we may prevent the trouble they give us, by sitting loose to them, enjoying them comfortable, but laying our expectations low from them, and acquiescing in the will of God concerning us in every event, especially by remembering God in the days of our youth, and continuing in his fear and service all our days, with an eye to the judgment to come.

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When a ship is launched and the bottle of champagne broken across its bow, everyone involved can celebrate their accomplishment. Yet once it leaves the yard, the builders have no control over it. It may be captained by a fool who smashes it against the shoals. It may be chartered to smuggle drugs, weapons or even slaves. Its crew may be treated harshly. It may serve nobly for many years, yet even so it will wear out and become obsolete. Its eventual fate is nearly certain to be a ship breaking yard, probably located in a country where worker safety and environmental pollution are treated lightly.

It passes, like the puffs of wind that once powered ships, first into rusty bones, then into a mix of recycled metal and discarded waste, and finally out of human knowledge. Ships are good. They do not last forever. As long as we live, we must work in this tension. This brings us to the image of the sun racing around the earth, which we discussed in the introduction Eccl. The ceaseless activity by this great object in the sky brings the light and warmth we depend on every day, yet changes nothing as the ages go by. This is an unsentimental observation, though not an eternal condemnation, about our work.

Having declared his theme that toil is vanity in Eccl. In some of these he does find a certain value, less in the earlier explorations and more in the latter. First the Teacher explores achievement. And what did all his achievement mean to him? Not much. No lasting achievement even seems possible. Achieving his goals did not give him happiness, for it only made him realize how hollow and limited anything he could accomplish must be. He acquires wealth, houses, gardens, alcohol, servants slaves , jewelry, entertainment and ready access to sexual pleasure.

Unlike with achievement, he finds some value in seeking pleasure. His supposed achievements had turned out to be nothing new, but his pleasures at least were pleasurable. It seems that work undertaken as a means to an end — in this case, pleasure — is more satisfying than work undertaken as an obsession. If we have ceased to work towards a goal beyond work, if we can no longer enjoy the fruits of our labor, we have become slaves of work, rather than its masters.

Nonetheless, toiling merely in order to gain pleasure is ultimately unsatisfying. Perhaps it is good to seek an object outside of work itself, but a higher objective is needed than pleasure. Pursuing wisdom led the Teacher to the brink of despair Eccl. Then the Teacher turns to wealth, which may be gained as a result of toil. What about the accumulation of wealth as the higher purpose behind work? This turns out to be worse than spending wealth to gain pleasure. Wealth brings the problem of inheritance. When you die, the wealth you accumulated will pass to someone else who may be completely undeserving.

At this point, we get our first glimpse of the character of God. God is a giver. Like the Teacher, many people today who accumulate great wealth find it extremely unsatisfying. When our fortunes are made and we begin to appreciate our mortality, giving away our wealth wisely seems to become a nearly intolerable burden. But the Teacher does not find satisfaction in giving wealth any more than in gaining it Eccl. The satisfaction God in heaven finds in giving somehow escapes the Teacher under the sun. He does not seem to consider the possibility of investing wealth or giving it away for a higher purpose.

If work has no single, unchanging purpose, perhaps it has a myriad of purposes, each meaningful in its own time. The key is that every activity is governed by time. Greg Forgatch and Neil Clark Warren, co-founders of eHarmony, say that their company came to the market with the right offer at the right time. What Dr. Warren was doing for people one-on-one became available to millions as technology advanced.

Work that is completely wrong at one time may be right and necessary at another. At one moment it is right to mourn and wrong to dance, and at another moment the opposite is true. None of these activities or conditions is permanent. We are not angels in timeless bliss.


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We are creatures of this world going through the changes and seasons of time. This is another hard lesson. We deceive ourselves about the fundamental nature of life if we think our labors can bring about permanent peace, prosperity or happiness. Someday, everything we have built will rightly be torn down Eccl.

Thus, the Teacher longs for that which has permanent value, even though he cannot find it. Moreover, even the timely good that people try to do may be thwarted by oppression. Worst of all is oppression by the government. Yet the powerless are not necessarily any better. A common response to feeling powerless is envy. We envy those who have the power, wealth, status, relationships, possessions or other things we lack. The Teacher recognizes that envy is as bad as oppression.

The drive to gain achievement, pleasure, wisdom or wealth either by oppression or by envy is an utter waste of time. Yet who has never fallen into both of these follies? But the Teacher does not despair, for time is a gift from God himself. It is right to cry at the funeral of a loved one, and it is good to rejoice at the birth of a child.

And we should not refuse the legitimate pleasures our work may bring. These life lessons apply in particular to work. Even the limited vision we have into the future is a kind of blessing, for it relieves us of the burden of trying to foresee all ends. Although we are limited by the conditions of life under the sun, God is not. There is more to God than meets the eye. The transcendence of God — to give it a theological name — appears again in Eccl. The second glimpse shows us that God is a God of justice. This idea is repeated later in Eccl.

As we have noted, Ecclesiastes is a realistic exploration of life in the fallen world. Work is toilsome. Yet even amid the toil, our lot is to take pleasure in our toil and enjoy our work. This is not an answer to the conundrums of life, but a sign that God is in the world, even if we do not see clearly what exactly that means for us. Perhaps relationships offer real meaning in work.

The Teacher extols the value of friendships at work. David Bowden and Miles Corbett launched their business knowing they needed each other. How many people find their closest friendships in the workplace?

We miss our workplace friends after we leave, and we find it difficult to form deep, new friendships without the common goals that brought us together with colleagues at work. Building good relationships at work requires openness and a desire to learn from others. Arrogance and power are often barriers to developing the relationships on which effective work depends Eccl. This is one reason many people are better at forming friendships at work than in social settings in which there is no shared goal. Yet even so, work friendships are necessarily temporary.

Job assignments change, teams are formed and dissolve, colleagues quit, retire and get fired, and new workers join whom we may not like. The teacher likens it to a new, young king whose subjects receive him gladly at first, but whose popularity drops as a new generation of youth comes to regard him as just another old king.


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In the end, neither career advancement nor fame offers satisfaction. Monci J.

Ecclesiastes - Free Bible Commentary in easy English

Joe T. Lanny Lancarte and his wife Jodi are part of the third generation that runs this family-owned operation. They say they work hard at having fun while they deliver delicious food and extraordinary service. Second , keep your promises, above all to God Eccl. Third , expect the government to be corrupt. This is not good, but it is universal, and it is better than anarchy Eccl. Fourth , obsession for wealth is an addiction, and like any other addiction, it consumes those it afflicts Eccl. Fifth , wealth is fleeting. It may disappear in this life, and it is sure to disappear at death.

In the midst of this section, the Teacher explores again the gift of God in allowing us to enjoy our work and the wealth, possessions, and honor it may bring for a time. Although the enjoyment is fleeting, it is real. This joy comes not from striving more successfully than others, but from receiving life and work as a gift from God.

If joy in our work does not come as a gift from God, it does not come at all Eccl. Yet the final result is still frustration. For we see plainly that all lives end in the grave, when the life lived wisely comes to nothing greater than the life lived foolishly. It is better to see this plainly than to try to live in a fairy-tale illusion. A life of toil amounts to a chasing after wind, for the results of work are not permanent in the world as the Teacher knows it. So he begins a search to find out what is best to do with the time he has.

As seen earlier in the book, this block of material is divided into sections demarked by a phrase repeated at the end of each exploration. Our toil ends with our death. Ecclesiastes therefore recommends that we spend some serious time in the cemetery Eccl. Can we see any real advantage that one tomb has over another?

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Some people whistle past the graveyard, refusing to consider its lessons. Their laughter is like the crackling of burning thorns, as it is consumed in the flames Eccl. Because our time is short, we cannot find out what impact we may have on the world. We cannot even find out why today is different from yesterday Eccl. One application we can draw from our ignorance of our legacy, is that good ends are no justification for evil means.

For we cannot see the ends of all the actions we take, and the power to mitigate the consequences of our means could come at any time. Politicians who appease public opinion now at the cost of public harm later, financial officers who hide losses this quarter in the hope of making it up next quarter, graduates who lie on a job application with the hope of succeeding in jobs they are not qualified for — all of them are counting on futures they do not have the power to bring about.

Meanwhile, they are doing harm now than can never truly be erased even if their hopes do come true. So we must try to act now according to the good. Yet we cannot really know whether any action we take is wholly good or wholly evil. When we imagine we are acting righteously, wickedness may creep in, and vice versa Eccl. The best we can do is to fear God Eccl. A good self-diagnostic is to examine whether we have to resort to twisted logic and complicated schemes to justify our actions.

Ecclesiastes 1 – The Vanity of Life

Work has many complexities, many factors that have to be taken into account, and moral certainty is usually impossible. But ethical pretzel logic is almost always a bad sign. The exercise of power is a fact of life, and we have a duty to obey those in authority over us Eccl. Yet we do not know whether they will use their authority justly. Quite possibly, they will use their power to harm others Eccl. Justice is perverted. The righteous are punished, and the wicked are rewarded Eccl.