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Ecclesiastes:  The Painful Perspective

Unlike other books in Scripture, which often begin with a strong affirmation about God ("The Word of the Lord to . . ."), Ecclesiastes commences with a cry about the meaninglessness of life. "Vanity of vanities . . . all is vanity." This opening sounds more like modern secular writers than a prophet of Yahweh. Nevertheless, as Seventh-day Adventist Christians, we believe that Ecclesiastes was placed in the canon of Scripture because God has in it a message for us.

Nothing, though, about this book, its message, or even its origin, has avoided controversy. For instance, many scholars claim that the author—whoever it was—wasn't King Solomon. Of course, these are often the same scholars who claim that Daniel was written in the second century B.C. or that Moses never wrote Genesis, so we can dismiss them out of hand. We are, instead, proceeding on the assumption that Solomon was the writer, an assumption based on Christian and Jewish tradition, on internal evidence inside the book that points to Solomon as the author, as well as on Ellen White's statements that "the book of Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon in his old age, after he had fully proved that all the pleasures earth is able to give are empty and unsatisfying. He there shows how impossible it is for the vanities of the world to meet the longings of the soul. His conclusion is that it is wisdom to enjoy with gratitude the good gifts of God, and to do right; for all our works will be brought into judgment."—Ellen G. White Comments, The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 3, p. 1164.

Yet, anyone who has ever studied Ecclesiastes knows its challenges. Some texts are obscure, their meanings difficult to discern; sometimes, though, the greatest challenge comes from not when we don't know what the texts mean but when we do. Thus, a few simple points of interpretation will greatly help us as we undertake this study.

To begin, Solomon was writing at the end of his life, a life full of bitterness and anger at himself and his apostasy. What's unique about the book is that in some places Solomon is writing from the perspective of someone alienated from God. Like modern authors, he's giving us thoughts that flow directly from his head. We see the world as it appears through his eyes.

In such places it is well to heed the words of The SDA Bible Commentary: "Those portions of Ecclesiastes that relate the experience and reasoning of [Solomon's] years of apostasy are not to be taken as representing the mind and will of the Spirit. Nevertheless, they are an inspired record of what he actually thought and did during that time (see Prophets and Kings, p. 79), and that record constitutes a sober warning against the wrong kind of thought and action. . . . Passages such as these should not be wrested from their context and made to teach some supposed truth that Inspiration never intended them to teach."—The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 3, p. 1060.

How do we know, though, which are those passages? This question leads to the second important principle for studying Ecclesiastes: We must read it in the context of the whole Scripture. What is Scripture's basic message about life, death, and our purpose in life? When a text of Ecclesiastes seems to conflict with the grand themes of the Bible, we can be sure it's Solomon reflecting on life froth the perspective of alienation and separation from the Lord. These texts, of course, shouldn't be used as the basis of theology; they should be used, instead, as practical warnings about what happens when we lose sight of God, our Creator and Redeemer.

In the end, that's what this book is really about: It's God showing us how cynical, bitter, and empty life is apart from the knowledge of Him. It's our hope that we can learn this lesson from our study of Ecclesiastes, in contrast to how its author, Solomon, had to learn it—the hard way.

Contents:  (all lessons may not be posted)

No. Study


Jan 6 The Rise and Fall of the House of Solomon  (KJV)  (NKJV)


Jan 13 Nothing New Under the Sun  (KJV)  (NKJV)


Jan 20 "All That My Eyes Desired"  (KJV)  (NKJV)


Jan 27 Of Being and Time  (KJV)  (NKJV)


Feb 3 More Life Under the Sun  (KJV)  (NKJV)


Feb 10 Rich Man, Poor Man  (KJV)  (NKJV)


Feb 17 Striving After the Wind  (KJV)  (NKJV)


Feb 24 God Made Man Upright? What Happened?  (KJV)  (NKJV)


Mar 3 Seeing Through a Glass Darkly  (KJV)  (NKJV)


Mar 10 "Whatever Your Hand Finds to Do"  (KJV)  (NKJV)


Mar 17 Dead Flies and Snake Charmers:  More Life Under the Sun  (KJV)  (NKJV)


Mar 24 The Way of the Wind  (KJV)  (NKJV)
 13 Mar 31 The Conclusion of the Matter  (KJV)  (NKJV)

Giardina Sabbath School Study Helps

Jerry Giardina of Pecos, Texas, assisted by his wife, Cheryl, prepares a series of helps to accompany the Sabbath School lesson. He includes all related scripture and most EGW quotations. Jerry has chosen the "New King James Version" of the scriptures this quarter. It is used with permission.  The study helps are provided in three wordprocessing versions Wordperfect; Microsoft Word;  RTF for our MAC friends (this is now a zip file); and HTML (Web Pages).

Last updated on November 12, 2006

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