ECCLESIASTES (21st Letter, Larry Crabb’s 66 Love Letters)

God says – I lower you into the depths of despair to lift you into the heights of joy. The way up is the way down. There is no other way. You will not hear My song of love until you hear no other music.

Until your service to Him seems futile, until pleasures no longer satisfy your empty soul, until wealth and possessions do not fill the emptiness of your heart, until friends don’t energize, until applause no longer makes you feel worthwhile, until church activities become lifeless and dull, until you have nowhere to turn for the satisfaction of your soul’s desire – will God’s grace be sufficient.

ECCLESIASTES: The Inspired Book of Error – From Ray Stedman<-(click here for entire Bible summary)

There is no other book like it, because it is the only book in the Bible that reflects a human, rather than a divine, point of view.

Everything is evaluated according to appearances alone – this is man’s point of view of reality and is utterly exclusive of divine revelation. As such, Ecclesiastes very accurately summarizes what man thinks.

The Debater has completed his survey of life, and he gives this conclusion at the beginning of the book. He says everything is futile, empty, meaningless – there is no sense to anything.

First there is what we might call the mechanistic view, or the scientific outlook if you prefer. This outlook sees the universe as nothing but a great, grinding machine, and the Debater in his investigation of it is lost in the monotonous repetition of nature’s processes.

In Chapter 2 the writer examines the philosophy of hedonism – the pursuit of pleasure as the chief end of life. What gives life meaning? Well, millions today say, “Just enjoy yourself! Here is a man who has given himself to pleasure, to possessions, and to the pursuit of wisdom in the realm of ideas, and he says, “I hated life. I turned about and gave my heart up to despair.”

Chapter 3 – So they said, “All we can really trust is our own reaction to events, to existence.” And that is existentialism.

Chapter 4 – Better is a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king, who will no longer take advice, {Eccl 4:13 RSV} What good does it do to get to the top of the heap when a young man at the bottom with nothing but a few smart ideas can surge ahead of you?

Chapter 5 – he tries religion – religion which recognizes that God exists – and he tries to do good and to be good. He says, then, that religion of that sort doesn’t work either. It comes to the same thing – emptiness and vanity.

Chapter 6 – The philosophy of “the good life.” If you have everything, but in trying to satisfy yourself you discover that there is still a craving that these things can’t meet, then you are no better off than if you had never been born. It all comes out to the same thing.

Chapter 7 – Solomon approaches life from the standpoint of stoicism – a cultivated indifference to events – and his conclusion is that in order to view life this way, aim for a happy medium. “Moderation in all things” – avoid extremes as much as possible, don’t volunteer for anything, try just to get through.

Chapters 8 through 10 and the first eight verses of Chapter 11 are a connected discourse examining what might be referred to as the wisdom of the world, or the common-sense view of life. He says, “I don’t offer you much hope along this line, but if you get on the right side and get in good with the powers that be, you will at least get along pretty well, but you won’t find any answers to life. It’s all futility, don’t you see?”

Chapter 9 – He examines the world’s value judgments and points out again that they all come to the same thing. Here he says, “You see these men who say, like Benjamin Franklin, ‘Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise,’ and, ‘A penny saved is a penny earned.’ All these things,” he says, “have an aura of wisdom about them – but they don’t really work. It doesn’t always work. I have seen some very stupid rich people.” What difference, then, do worldly values make?

Chapter 10 – He exhorts us to maintain discretion in life – be temperate, diligent, cautious, accommodating – try to get by as best you can. But this is only an enlightened expression of selfishness,
which is the motive underlying it all.

Chapter 11 – Is simply a matter of diligence – in order to get something out of life, you need to work and apply yourself.

All the way through it is the same thing: Life lived apart from God all comes out to the same thing.

At this point comes the change in viewpoint, the recognition that life is meaningful and significant when the person of God is enthroned in it.

This is Solomon’s true conclusion to all of his findings, and it begins this way:
Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth; walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into
judgment. {Eccl 11:9 RSV} That doesn’t mean punishment. It means examination: God will bring you into an examination of your life. But “Rejoice!” (That is Solomon’s very word!) The Debater’s final conclusion is thus directly opposite his previous conclusion. The only thing he has to say to the man who approaches life without a genuine commitment to God, is this: “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you must die.”

Utter pessimism rules in a life that is lived without God. Now contrast that with what the writer says in the last chapter:

What is his final advice?

Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole of man. {cf,Eccl 12:13b RSV}
“Wait!” you protest. “You left out a word! It says, ‘this is the whole duty of man.’” No, I didn’t leave it out. The translators put it in. That word doesn’t belong there. The Hebrew says, “this is the whole of man” or “this is what makes man whole,” if you like. “Fear God.” (maybe have a loving respect).

But the philosophy that begins and exists and ends in the dust, and then says that the dust is everything – that this is all life is intended to be, that vanity is everything – is utter folly.
The Debater’s conclusion is that everything is indeed vanity unless you put God in the center of life.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this book is that all the philosophies by which men have attempted to live are gathered together here. There is nothing new underthe sun, the book says – and how true that is.

ECCLESIASTES – David Jeremiah (Understanding the 66 Books of the Bible)

Key thought: Life without God is meaningless.

Key Verse: Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. Ecclesiastes 12:13

Key Action: To be happy and fulfilled, we must fear God, obey Him, live for eternity, and let Him bring meaningfulness to every area of life.