Bible Outlines: Ecclesiastes

The Problem

The book is a puzzle and problem to many, a fruitful field for cults who wrest verses to their own destruction. It finds its place among the poetic books of the Old Testament, yet utters only a deep, sonorous groan in the minor key. It is from the same man who gave us Proverbs and Song of Solomon, but not from the same heart. David, amidst poverty and trial, was praising; Solomon, amidst luxury, was groaning.

  • Proverbs, the wisdom of the Sage
  • Song of Solomon, the wonder of the Singer
  • Ecclesiastes, the weeping of the Seeker

We do not come to Ecclesiastes for doctrine; virtually every false sect finds material here to attempt to justify their heretical views of eternity. We come to it to listen to the sobs of a man who, with every resource at his disposal, could not find what satisfied the human heart.

The Penman

The first three verses identify the writer. Only one of David’s sons was king over all Israel in Jerusalem: Solomon. From Rehoboam onward, the kingdom was divided. As Solomon began his study, he was seeking to understand the meaning of life. Does it have purpose or meaning? The manner in which he went about his investigation is the key to understanding the book. There are differences of opinion by good men as to how to understand Ecclesiastes, but what is suggested here is in light of the introduction in these first few verses.

The Spirit of God took up a man who had all the money needed for the search, all the power and avenues open to him for discovery, and all the time that would be required to devote to his search. Solomon’s court was marked by visitors from all over the known world. He would have been exposed to and have had access to the wisdom of all the cultures of the world. As we are presented with him and the frustration of his search, we are assured that the verdict at which he arrived is valid for all humanity.

The Procedure

He went about a diligent search “under the sun.” He was looking for what was real and lasting. Perhaps along with limiting himself to a sub-solar search, another mistake he made is that he confined his search to his heart and mind. The question which he asked, and is still being asked today, is this: “Is there life, real life, on planet earth?”

The Parallels

A fruitful study, suggested years ago to the writer by Mr. John Stubbs, is to compare and contrast each chapter of Ecclesiastes with an epistle in the New Testament, showing that what Solomon could not find, the Christian has in Christ. For example, note the occurrence of the word “better” in chapter 4 and the contrasts with the letter to the Hebrews. Note the theme of the “house of God” in chapter 5 and the links with 1 Timothy. Chapter 6 has parallels (contrasts) with Ephesians. Look for parallels which mainly contrast a chapter in Ecclesiastes with the other New Testament letters.

The Perspective

Look at the following words and how often they recur. Does it suggest to you the whole background for the book?

  • “vanity” (33 times)
  • “vexation of spirit” or “chasing the wind” (7 times)
  • “under the sun” (29 times)
  • “his heart” (18 times)
  • “fear of God” (6 times)

God is seen in the book in one of three ways: the Creator, the Sovereign and the Wise One. The name of God is used 40 times but, in contrast, there is no mention of Jehovah.

The Pursuit

Ecclesiastes is the pursuit of a natural mind without God, looking for the chief good. He is looking to see if life is really worth living. Notice all the places and experiences in which he searches to find satisfaction. Where does a person start when he wants to find meaning in a meaningless life? Nature, money, possessions, pleasures, prosperity, knowledge, philosophy, nature? Bertrand Russell, a renowned and vocal atheist of a former age, said correctly, “Unless you assume a God, the question of life’s purpose is meaningless.” Without God it is futile to look for life on planet earth, or anywhere else!

The Parts

  • Personal Experiences (chs.1-2)
  • Profound Observations (chs.3-6)
  • Practical Morality (chs.7-9)
  • Proverbial Sayings (ch.10-11:7)
  • Pious Advice (ch.11:8-12:14)

The Particulars of Chapter 1

The Subsolar Search Begun

  • The Frustrating Treadmill of Life (1:4-7)
  • The Frantic Search for New Experiences (1:8)
  • The Futile Exploration for Anything New (1:9-11)
  • The Fruitless Road of Knowledge (1:12-18)