Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ecclesiastes - Introduction

I have started a new adult Bible class on the Book of Ecclesiastes. I am giving my class some self-guided study guides to work on ahead of time. Here is the first lesson, an introduction.

The title of this book reflects the term that is used to describe the author. The English title, Ecclesiastes, comes from the Greek word (ekklesiastes) that means “one who addresses an assembly (ekklesia)". The Hebrew title is Qohelet [pronounced ko-HEL-et], which means “one who leads an assembly.”

How does your Bible translate Ecc. 1:1. “The words of the ____________” ?

Who was Qohelet? Some people think the author was King Solomon. Take a look at the following passages and explain how they might point to Solomon as the author:




On the other hand, many commentators believe that Solomon was not the author. Some of these arguments are based on linguistic features of the book (certain words that seem to come from a later period than Solomon). However, while it is true that the Hebrew vocabulary in the book is unusual for Solomon’s period, we simply do not know enough about the history of the development of the Hebrew language to make any conclusive arguments on that basis alone.

Take a look at the following passages and explain how they might point away from Solomon as the author:




We may never know who wrote this book, but that does not matter. According to 12:11, the words of this book were ultimately given by whom?

The Structure of the Book
Ecclesiastes is framed by a narrator. This narrator gives a preface to Qohelet’s message in 1:1, and then gives an epilogue to  Qohelet’s message in 12:9-14. The middle section of the book, 1:2-12:8, contains various reflections of Qohelet.

If you have read through Ecclesiastes, you probably noticed that it seems to bounce from one subject to another, and often treats the same subject several times.

It also contains many different styles of writing. Match the following passages with the appropriate description of style:

____ 1.  Proverb                                             A.  1:13-14

____ 2.  Poem                                                B.  9:13-16

____3.   Autobiography                                  C.  10:1

____ 4.  Rhetorical question                          D.  8:1

____ 5.  Example story                                   E.  3:2-8

The Message of the Book
There are two basic themes of the book that seem to be in conflict with each other.

First, notice the key term that frames the message of Qohelet in 1:2 and 12:8: ______________

This word is hard to translate. It comes from the Hebrew word hebel, and is related to the name of Abel. The ESV has a footnote to explain the meaning of this term: “Hebel refers concretely to a ‘mist,’ ‘vapor,’ or ‘mere breath,’ and metaphorically to something that is fleeting or elusive (with different nuances depending on the context). It appears five times in this verse and in 29 other verses in Ecclesiastes.”

If you have access to other translations, list some other ways this term is translated:

How does the idea that life is “vanity” relate to the message of Genesis 3?

At first glance the message of the book seems profoundly pessimistic. But there is another theme found in Ecclesiastes, passages that suggest we should seize the day (carpe diem) and enjoy life’s blessings. Read the following passages, and list at least three things they call the reader to enjoy: 2:24-26; 3:10-15; 5:18-20; 9:7-10.

How do these carpe diem passages related to the message of Genesis 1-2?

So there is a tension in the Bible story generally, and in Ecclesiastes particularly. We were given a world to enjoy, and yet this world is now under a curse. The issue in Ecclesiastes is how to deal with life on a cursed planet.

Some commentators think that Qohelet’s basic message is that life is absurd, and that in 12:9-14 the narrator of the book disagrees with Qohelet’s conclusions. I believe this is incorrect, and simplistic. In fact, in 12:9-12, the narrator says many positive things about what Qohelet has said:

·      Qohelet was __________ and taught the people _________________ (12:9).
·      Qohelet wrote words of ____________ (12:10).
·      Qohelet’s words were given by one __________________ (12:11).
·      The reader should beware of any words _______________ these (12:12).

What, then, is the solution to the tension of the “vanity” passages and the “seize the day” passages? The answer is found in 12:13-14 – to fear _________.

This world is indeed vain and absurd if one tries to live life without the fear of the Lord. Qohelet uses the hard truths of life without God like a goad to point us toward God (12:11). But living under the fear of the Lord allows us to enjoy the good that this life has to offer while bearing up under the pain that this life also brings.

As a final question for you to consider, how does the message of the New Testament provide an even more comprehensive solution to the tension of Ecclesiastes? (Read Romans 8:20-23).

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