ECCLESIASTES: A WORD TO THE WISE
LESSON TWO: SO MUCH MATTERS SO LITTLE
Text for This Study: Ecclesiastes 1:12 – 2:25
1. What is the function of Wisdom Literature? How does Ecclesiastes fit this genre perfectly?
a. Qohelet (NIV translates this Hebrew word “The Teacher) is a burned-out cynic who sees life negatively and pessimistically; he is bored with everything and tired of living. Everything “under the sun” (i.e., life on Planet Earth) is “meaningless” and empty to him. How terrible!
b. The narrator of Ecclesiastes is listening in with someone to The Teacher’s miserable narrative and will counsel him at the end about an “above the sun” (i.e., faith in God) perspective that makes all things meaningful. Rubel calls them a “father-son duo” – with the father trying to teach his young son a better way to live than the cynics, materialists, and fatalists of his day have adopted. How encouraging!
2. Have you noticed that human beings often spend most of their lives chasing things that don’t really matter a lot? Fame, money, beauty, pleasure – they won’t mean much on Judgment Day! If God is first in all things, some of these things may come and can be used to his glory; without God, none of these things will make a difference in Eternity. Have you ever been tempted to confuse these two perspectives on life? If so, what restored you to spiritual sanity?
3. The recurring theme in Ecclesiastes of how unsatisfying life is “under the sun” (i.e., life without God, life pursued on the basis of human insight) parallels Paul’s teaching in the New Testament about people who live to the flesh, versus those who live to the Spirit. Read Romans 8:5-8. Do you see the connection between the two ways of referring to the same thing?
4. What things had The Teacher pursued (and attained!) that he thought would make him happy? Had they been ultimately satisfying? Why does he call them “chasing after the wind”? (NOTE: The Teacher pursued these goals as “ends in themselves” rather than “means to the end of honoring and serving God.” Have you ever heard someone make a similar lament to the one related in this video about the lady who had achieved so many things and told Rubel they just didn’t mean anything?
5. Rubel calls Ecclesiastes an “orienting book.” What do you understand he means by that description? How does this opening section of the book help you test the orientation of your life right now? Read Matthew 16:26. How does this question from Jesus summarize this section of Ecclesiastes?
Michael Eaton, in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, writes of this book: “It is an essay in apologetics. It defends the life of faith in a generous God by pointing to the grimness of the alternative.”