Reading through the book of Ecclesiastes one might, at times, wonder what its purpose is and what God is telling us and teaching us. We come across passages in the book which give the impression that the writer found many inconsistencies, injustices, enigmas and contradictions in life, and so many things he did not understand, that he was driven to despair, pessimism and world-weary cynicism. He seemed to feel that all a man could do was to make the best of a bad situation and lead a hedonistic, pleasure-seeking lifestyle which might be summed up by saying, "Let us eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die".
Internal evidence found in the book indicates that the author was Solomon (1.1,12,16; 2.4,10; 12.9). In the early part of his reign, Solomon walked in the ways of God and kept His commandments, but as he grew older he became increasingly involved in things which were not in accordance with the mind of God. Solomon's riches, self-centred lifestyle, and disobedience to the will of God caused him to backslide and lose "the joy of the Lord" (Neh 8.10).
Under the sun
The phrase "under the sun" occurs many times in Ecclesiastes. Its frequent use indicates that much of what is brought before us consists of Solomon's observations on what he has observed of life and events "under the sun", that is, on the earth. His statements reflect the findings and puzzlement of a highly intelligent and wise man who tried to comprehend and discover reasons for what he observed without having the inestimable benefit of revelation from God to enlighten his understanding.
When we read Solomon's words concerning what he found "under the sun", we are aware of a desperate sadness, emptiness, dissatisfaction and lack of purpose in his life. It makes us praise and thank God for His grace in saving us through the faith He has given us in the person and finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph 2.8), and for graciously enabling us to have, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, a measure of understanding of His written Word and an insight into His ways and purposes.
Solomon was extremely wealthy and very wise, and could buy and obtain virtually anything in his striving to find meaning and happiness in life (1 Kings 10.14-25; 2 Chr 9.22-24). He lived a lavish lifestyle, seeking for pleasure, fulfilment and satisfaction, but eventually declared, "all is vanity and vexation of spirit" (1.14).
He has set eternity in their heart
Adam· was' created in "the, image of God" (Gen 1.27). He 'was made to love God, to know and enjoy God, and to find happiness and satisfaction in having communion with God and serving Him. Sin entered the world through Adam (Rom 5.12). Sin came between men and God, and now those who do not know God in and through His beloved Son (Jn 14.7,9; Heb 1.3) experience dissatisfaction, frustration, sadness and confusion.
In Ecclesiastes 3.11, we read that God "hath set the world in their heart". The word translated "world" could be translated "eternity". God has set an awareness of eternity in men's hearts, and there is no lasting peace and satisfaction until men know and love the One who dwells in eternity. Whatever earthly things men love and devote themselves to will, in the end, fail to give lasting pleasure and satisfaction. Believers are told, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 Jn 2.15).
Solomon used his time, abilities and resources attempting to discover meaning and satisfaction in life through, for example, learning (Eccl 1.13); pleasure (2.1); drugs (2.3); possessions (2.4-23); being a workaholic (4.4-6); and striving to amass wealth (5.10-14). All he learned when his mind was not directed by God was that "all is vanity", empty, transient and futile.
Solomon needed God-given wisdom to understand what he observed. By the grace of God, believers can meditate on the truths that the Lord Jesus Christ is "the wisdom of God" (1 Cor 1.24), and in Him "are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col 2.3). Through Him, believers can acquire true wisdom, "the wisdom that is from above" (James 3.17). Truth and understanding can come only by revelation through His written Word.
Earthy things cannot satisfy spiritual needs, and having drifted away from God and tried in many ways to understand and see meaning in life "under the sun", Solomon ultimately came to a conclusion. He wrote, "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man" (12.13). "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Prov 9.10), and this fear and wisdom clears the mind, enables a believer to see things in a proper perspective, and causes him to hate evil (Prov 8.13). Everything, each new experience and activity, is seen in a new light.
The fear of God is not a craven, servile fear that makes us want to hide from God. To know God, in and through the Lord Jesus Christ, is to love and trust God and have an awesome, healthy awareness of His love, grace, greatness, glory, power and majesty. Knowing God, and knowing what He has done, is doing, and will yet do for His children, produces in a believer a reverential, filial fear of God so that he does not want to do anything which will not meet with His Father's approval. God's love, constant care, and the forgiveness He has made possible through the Lord Jesus Christ produce this fear. It is like the fear a loving child has of hurting his father who loves him. Our fear of God will be shown when we "keep his commandments" and are obedient to the Word of God. The believer who truly fears God will be blessed and will experience a happiness which is independent of circumstances, for, "Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord, that delighteth greatly in his commandments" (Ps 112.1).
Solomon wrote, "God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil" (Eccl 12.14). Believers will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor 5.10). Our salvation will not be called in question, but our service for Him will be reviewed and we shall receive rewards or suffer loss of reward depending on how we served the Lord after we were saved (1 Cor 3.14-15). By the grace of God, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, may each of us learn from the lives and experiences of Solomon and others recorded in the Scriptures for our benefit (Rom 15.4; 2 Tim 3.16). May we set our minds "on things above, not on things on the earth" (Col 3.2), and do those things which are spiritually profitable and for the glory of God, finding our joy and satisfaction in Him.