Saturday 23 May 2015

Why Ecclesiastes is my favourite book of the Bible

Of course, I do not claim to be an expert on Ecclesiastes but I really must stress that this is my favourite book of the Bible.

In this post, I will just note a few quick points about Ecclesiastes that stand out to me.

The book itself is very deep and has lots of mysteries - every time I read it I either learn something new or think about life from a different angle.

So the points I raise below are certainly not exhaustive.

I'd like to dedicate this post to Uncle Richard, Aunty Jenny, Uncle Ken and Aunty Susanna.


Ecclesiastes is a book written by The Teacher, whom many believe to be Solomon ("son of David, King in Jerusalem": Ecclesiastes 1:1) - the wisest man in the Bible.

Generally speaking it is a book of reflections.

While there are plenty of wise things contained within Ecclesiastes, I believe it differs from Proverbs and Psalms in significant respects.

On one hand, Proverbs seems to me to be a random mish-mash of sayings and adages - all of which are excellent of course. The emphasis here is on wisdom and teachings.

On the other hand, Psalms tends to have verses crying out to God and asking for God's help in times of desperation, trouble and anxiety. The emphasis here is on worship, seeking God's justice and crying out for God's help.

In my view, in Ecclesiastes the meaning of life itself is treated as an entire topic of its own, which is truly quite remarkable. It is an incredibly unique and insightful book that I believe holds the answers to our purpose on this world.

I now randomly list some points about Ecclesiastes.

Interesting points about Ecclesiastes

1. Timelessness
"What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun
Is there a thing of which it is said, "See this is new"?  
It has been already in the ages before us.
There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after."
- Ecclesiastes 1:9-11(ESV)
Ecclesiastes reminds me that no problem is "new" - every problem has been encountered before at some stage, by someone, in the history of human existence.

While the problem could take on a slightly different look - possibly due to the era we live in and the context in which the problem occurs - we can be "assured" (for lack of a better word) that it has happened at some stage to someone before in some form.

Whether this actually brings comfort to us, I doubt. But what it does tell us is to look at the bigger picture - in the sea of problems faced by people of today, is our problem really worth complaining about?

Of course, we will always have new technology and innovations. But I think the heart of Ecclesiastes deals with the meaning of life and our existence - that is why I feel the passage above has a more global application in that it is dealing with concepts of human experience.

Though we live in the 21st century, the way in which we experience the ebbs and flows of life is likely to be the same as a person living in, say, 1000 BC or in the 1400's. Not everyone may agree with me, but that is what I feel Ecclesiastes is saying.

2.  Everything seems pointless
"The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. 
The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wing, and on its circuits the wind returns. 
All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again."
- Ecclesiastes 1:5-7 (ESV)
Another big theme of Ecclesiastes is the author's quest in discovering the futility and vanity of life.

Many things seem pointless.

Why do we bother waking up and going through the motions of the day, only for it to start ALL OVER AGAIN the next day? What are we aiming for? Everything seems like a repetitive cycle!!!

Once we reach the small aim we have achieved, what is next? What is the point? What am I doing here?

I keep doing the same thing day in and day out and it keeps on repeating forever. Is there a point to all of this?

How come I always demand so much out of life? Why are my expectations so high?

Why am I here?

Who am I?

What am I doing?

What am I supposed to be doing?

I believe these are all questions we should directly ask God. Perhaps Ecclesiastes is prompting us to think in this way and to address these deep concerns with God directly - by just simply talking to Him.

3. The World will not satisfy. (Too much of something is bad. Balance is key)
"I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.”
But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” 
... I made great works. 
I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. 
I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees.
I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. 
I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. 
I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man.
So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them.
I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil.
Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun."
 - Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 (ESV)

The Teacher here OVERLOADED his life with what the world generally considers to be the "good stuff".
  • He embarked on a building spree; 
  • He bought male and female slaves; 
  • He hoarded great numbers of livestock; 
  • He stored up treasures and riches; and
  • He had his own mistresses or concubines, presumably for sexual purposes.

He had wealth and power.

He had all the sex he could want.

At the end of all of this he realised that it was all a waste of time.

To me this section of Ecclesiastes is very powerful - it shows that material things (even an abundance of them) cannot, and will not, make us truly happy in life.

We do not need to try this experiment of hoarding everything ourselves - the Teacher has already done this on our behalf and he has reported his finding:

Indeed he "kept [his] heart from no pleasure", yet, incredibly, found this all to be "a vanity and a striving after wind."

4. What is the best we can expect from life?
"What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.
There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him, who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind."
 - Ecclesiastes 2:22-26 (ESV)
"And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun."
- Ecclesiastes 8:15 (ESV)

Ecclesiastes promises that one of the best things we can expect in life is for us to enjoy "eating and drinking" and finding enjoyment in our work.

To me these verses are saying that this is as good as it is going to get - enjoying your food and drink and enjoying your work are some of the best things that life has to offer.

Armed with that knowledge, nothing therefore really disappoints me in life. That is to say, I do not really expect that much from this world - the world has, arguably, nothing else to really offer.

However, I should also mention that Ecclesiastes 8 says that there is also nothing better under the sun but joyful. Therefore, there are clearly other things too that can give us something to do under the sun.

Loving and helping others, for example, comes to the top of my head.

While the meaning of " joyful" is open-ended, I do know conclusively that eating and drinking as well as enjoying your own "labour" or "work" are definite joy-bringers.

Who isn't "proud" of their own work?

Who doesn't like to eat and drink?

These two things are directly from the hand of God.

5. Related to Point #2 above, the love of money does not satisfy
"He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity"
- Ecclesiastes 5:10 (ESV)

6. There is a time for everything.
"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 
  • a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
  • a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
  • a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
  • a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
  • a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
  • a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
  • a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace."
- Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (ESV)

There is a time and place for everything!

I do not know how this works in practice. One might ask for example - when should we ever hate something?

Perhaps we should always hate our complacency, stubbornness to change and sin.

7. Storing things up pointlessly
"To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind."
- Ecclesiastes 2:26 (NIV)
What's the point of hoarding - it will just be given to someone else!

8. Death will come to all
"This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead."
 - Ecclesiastes 9:3 (NIV)
Death is the great equalizer. It impacts both the rich and poor, and evil and good.

It does not discriminate.

9. The Conclusion of the Teacher
"The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil."
 - Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
Ecclesiastes ends with a solemn bang.

But if I could summarise the whole book, I'd say that the author is telling us that real contentment and purpose in life can only come from God Himself.

If we chase material things in the absence of God, it will all be pointless.

But if we put God in the centre first, then, for some strange reason, all the material things on this world suddenly have meaning.

In the face of our eventual death, it is God alone who dictates the rhythm of our journey.

Andre Lim


  1. Glad you like the book. I have spent most of my life studying it and it never gets old.

  2. While all the books of the Bible are nothing short of mesmerizing, but the themes represented in the Ecclesiastes makes it an all-time favorite for me too.

  3. Spot on with this write-up, I honestly think this website needs far more attention. I'll probably be returning to read more, thanks for the advice! aol mail sign in