The book of Ecclesiastes is easy to pass over when reading scripture, but I hope that this series has helped you to appreciate its importance in understanding the human experience. It is unique among the books of the Bible in many ways, but its insistence that the things under the sun are merely vapor is its most significant message. Go into the world and remember Solomon’s words to fear God and keep His commandments, and do so for the right reasons. Life can be full of merriment, so do not be afraid to celebrate! Both in reading the Bible and daily life, keeping Ecclesiastes in mind as another lens with which to view experiences can give peace and contentment.

Thank you for spending your precious time reading these posts. I am honored to have been able to speak to you through this medium, and please continue to read scripture regularly.

Ecclesiastes 12

I invite you to open a Bible to Ecclesiastes and to read the twelfth chapter on your own, taking a moment to reflect on the text in silence.

The last chapter of Ecclesiastes is the culmination of the major points that Solomon has been making throughout the book. To remember God in youth and prosperity is the intended result of telling the reader that all under the sun is vanity. By looking to Him in while in the midst of worldly joys, one will not be caught up in a hedonistic life. Solomon’s direct command at the beginning of the chapter is a deliberate attempt to reach some of his readers that may not have internalized the rest of the book. The wisdom in Ecclesiastes is for those in good times and bad, in youth and old age. It is uncommon for young people that are enjoying life to seek wisdom on their own initiative, so Solomon calls to them as a father does to his children. The parallel relationship between father/son and teacher/student is seen in verse twelve of this chapter.

It is important to wrestle with one’s death during youth instead of waiting to think about mortality until some external circumstance prompts reflection. Solomon’s list of images invoking the end of life should wake the reader from their stupor. Life with a view of death is lived very differently than without, and knowing that this life under the sun is finite leads to a great deal of wisdom. We are dust and spirit and will return to the dust when it is our time.

The final section of the book gives insight into reading scripture and receiving wisdom generally. Because fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, this section could not have been at the beginning of the book; one’s first read of Ecclesiastes is meant to be uncomfortable and jarring before offering comfort in God. Now that the reader has the proper perspective and is able to discern what is under the sun and what is above, Solomon gives advice for continuing to seek wisdom. A hallmark of true wisdom is that it pokes and prods the learner in God’s direction. How often have you heard something that you know to be true, but do not want to accept? How much advice have you heard repeatedly but struggle to enact? Becoming wise is slow and there are many false sources of knowledge.

The last two verses are the most important in the book because they point to the rest of scripture. The command to keep God’s commandments is everywhere in both the Old Testament and the New. Lifelong Christians will know that it is impossible to do so perfectly, turning this passage into a reminder of the Gospel. Our imperfection in fulfilling the only duty given to humans is devastating, but faith in God’s grace grants us salvation. All of Ecclesiastes points to this passage, so the entire book is preparation for the reception of the Gospel. Reading the New Testament in light of Ecclesiastes will bear much fruit.

Now that we have reached the end of the book, I encourage you to maintain this habit of devotion elsewhere in scripture. This week, ponder your next journey in the Bible. How can Solomon’s wisdom be used to better understand God’s plan for humanity?

Ecclesiastes 11

I invite you to open a Bible to Ecclesiastes and to read the eleventh chapter on your own, taking a moment to reflect on the text in silence.

Embracing Solomon’s view of all things under the sun as hevel gives one a new motivation to be generous. Physical wealth cannot be taken to heaven, and it is impossible to predict one’s future, so it is best to share each windfall as they come. In the face of an uncertain future under the sun, it is tempting to hoard as many resources as possible in an effort to hedge one’s bets. Doing so reveals that one knows that all under the sun is temporary and shifting, but not that it is all in God’s hands. Again, it is crucial to see the entire pattern at once without forgetting that God is beyond the sun with the answers to each question posed in the book of Ecclesiastes. Blessings and hard times both come and go, so abundance should be shared without measure.

Verse seven may stand out to the reader because at first glance, it does not quite fit with the theme of this chapter. Rather than speculate on its placement, let us examine its relation to the message of the entire book. The distinction between things above and below the sun is fundamental to the book, but why does the sun serve as the boundary? It is already tied to the separation between night and day, but the sun is also giver of light and warmth. It can be seen as the highest, most important thing besides God in our lives, so it represents the pinnacle of creation in Ecclesiastes. Everything that is created by God is under the sun, and even the sun itself is created. Only God is above it. The observation of the sun is then good on two levels. First, it is nice to sit in the sunshine on a summer afternoon. Second, it is comforting to us to see that the sun itself is not the highest thing and that there is a separation between creation and creator. This separation allows us to trust that even though our lives are chaotic and painful, everything we experience is subject to God’s ultimate, loving will.

The last section of this chapter is a serious exhortation towards lightheartedness. Being young is a fleeting experience with dangers and passions, but it is to be enjoyed for what it is. Although being young does not give someone exceptions from God’s judgement, a little foolishness is understandable. It is bad to remain young and naïve, but it offers joyous experiences that cannot be replicated later in life. This section, I hope, is read by all the overly serious students burdened by an excess of pressure from themselves and those around them. It is sometimes alright to take an afternoon to be with friends, even when there is work to be done.

What blessings have you recently been afforded, and how can you share them knowing that they will not last forever? When was the last time you took thirty minutes to watch the sunrise? This week, rejoice in your youth, for we all are children of God.

Ecclesiastes 10

I invite you to open a Bible to Ecclesiastes and to read the tenth chapter on your own, taking a moment to reflect on the text in silence.

To be on the road, the way of and to grace, love, and salvation, is a result of wisdom. A fool can imitate wisdom by walking the road without seeing what it leads to, but he will always reveal himself as foolish through his lack of sense. To walk the road with intent requires the wisdom to know what lies at the end of one’s path, and the intent behind one’s actions is just as important as the actions themselves. The fool seldom walks on the road for long because they see it only as a place to put their next step; they do not move with conviction. Wisdom is the knowledge of something’s purpose, of your purpose, and it is what the road leads to.

Solomon gives a direct imperative statement to the reader to remain calm in the face of anger. Wisdom is farthest in anger, and responding to conflict with aggression is never fruitful. Any accusation has the potential to provoke a rise of anger, defensive arrogance, and compensatory overconfidence in the accused. Giving into it is unproductive and ensures that neither party is acting wisely. Remaining calm, rejecting the fear and anger, will often diffuse the situation by itself by inviting the accuser to take a moment to reevaluate; accusations made in anger usually do not hold any water once the emotion is passed.

The wise are often relegated to positions below their capability, and those that are foolish, unjust, or wicked attain power through nefarious or false ways. Solomon points out this obvious reality in order to remind us that it is only true under the sun. God sees this injustice and will correct it in due time.

Next, we find a series of occupations that are seemingly menial and dangerous, but this section serves to tell the reader that wisdom is valuable for all regardless of occupation. Ecclesiastes has mentioned the benefits of wisdom for kingdoms and very broadly otherwise, but these specific, physical tasks offer some more grounding for readers that are not caught up in kingdom politics.

Returning to the fool, he does not know when to keep silent. Because he has nothing of value to share, his excessive talk reveals his lack of discernment between what is wisdom and what is not. They speak for great lengths of time and are caught up in their own yarn, ending in extreme statements in an attempt to say something that is perceived as notable. The wise do not speak in excess, but they do not keep entirely silent either. Sharing their true wisdom is profitable for all, including themselves.

The last verse connects to this symptom of foolishness through a common habit: talking to oneself. When one is alone, it is easy to speak freely and without thought. But it is an opportunity for one’s own shortcomings, misunderstandings, and flaws to live unexamined. Alone in one’s bedroom, it is easy to complain about any number of things in chaotic rants to the walls. Solomon warns the reader against this because what one thinks in anger or speaks aloud alone will not be excused merely because nobody heard it. Solitude is not an excuse for malice.

This chapter had more direct statements and advice for the reader than some of the previous did. Instead of including a series of questions for your reflection at the end of this post, I will only ask one today in the hope that you give it serious consideration: How have you been a fool?

Ecclesiastes 9

I invite you to open a Bible to Ecclesiastes and to read the ninth chapter on your own, taking a moment to reflect on the text in silence.

The righteous and the wise both receive all that is good from God, so their deeds are enacted through the hand of God. However, we are not given clarity concerning God’s judgement of our deeds while we are in this life. Because the righteous and the unrighteous both die as a result of the fall, determining one’s status with God by judging their earthly blessings is futile. As Christians, we are given hope in the new life through Jesus, and thus through faith are given the answer to the question that all people ask in verse one of this chapter.

Verses one through six point towards verse seven, which is somewhat uncharacteristically explicit for Solomon; we are told God’s judgement of our acts. It may be tempting to see this verse as condoning all actions, but it is crucial to remember the context. All good is from God, but we are unable to discern God’s judgement of our acts because we are all doomed to die. This death is defeated by Christ, granting all who have faith a hope in the next life and a certainty that God has approved our good works. It is in this certainty that Solomon tells us to eat and drink with merriment, for it truly is a cause for celebration!

White garments were prized in Solomon’s context because they required a great deal of cleaning and care. They were viewed as the most precious clothing and were associated with royalty and the rich. Oil was also expensive, so Solomon is telling the reader to be indulgent. This is a message that is rarely preached because it is in conflict with some widespread beliefs about self-denial, discipline, and asceticism. Those things are also important in the life of a Christian, but they are not to be universally applied! Not every ideal Christian is called to a life that extreme, and there is no harm in joy itself. A common misconception among Christians is that it is bad to enjoy something too much. While nothing should overshadow God, there is nothing wrong in “letting yourself” eat a piece of chocolate cake. Even revelry is to be considered a gift of God in moderation! Sharing a large meal and good drink with those you love is not a sin because the roast was expensive or because someone had a couple of extra drinks! The joy present in such a gathering is worth so much more than any money saved by staying in, alone. Solomon gives warnings against excessive hedonism elsewhere in the book, but he balances them here in order to avoid painting the ideal faith as quiet and reserved.

As you celebrate this week, how can you remember your limited time for both work and joy? What would it look like to engage with both to their fullest potential, and what blessings has God given you to enjoy?

Ecclesiastes 8

I invite you to open a Bible to Ecclesiastes and to read the eighth chapter on your own, taking a moment to reflect on the text in silence.

A more intimate effect of wisdom than has been explored so far is shown through one’s face. Throughout life, it is easy to bear every hardship by gritting one’s teeth and furrowing one’s brow. The attitude that comes with this pattern is one of endurance, frustration, and impatience. Sternness can become the default view of the world, and new people and experiences are not met with hope, but with resentment. Wisdom opens one’s face and lets a smile spread light into the world. Wrinkles of frustration are contrasted with smile lines, and the world can be experienced with mirth. Wisdom and patience let one grin at setbacks and inconveniences that previously caused more anger than actual difficulty.

This thought continues in verse six, which expands the scope of the proper attitude. Large difficulties are heavy and hard to bear, and one is not expected to smile through them. Rather than responding with an immediate outburst, one is to remember that the current hardship is not eternal. Letting patience color all decisions, especially in prayer, will reduce the pain caused by one’s own response to any source of frustration.

There are some that seek to avoid hardship, discomfort, and death through various wicked acts. While this may seem to benefit them in the present, they gain nothing that is truly good and are unable to escape judgement. God’s justice is not enacted immediately because He grants time for the sinner to repent. Our entire lives are opportunities for repentance, so it is easy to conclude that the judgment may never come. Ecclesiastes constantly points the reader towards God in order to prevent this mistake. One must not be tempted by the temporary, superficial, vain gains of the wicked because they are ultimately worthless.

But immediately after this discussion, Solomon turns to what is valuable! Joy, food, and drink! Through one’s toil, genuine enjoyment of God’s gifts with a true community are worth more than any riches, and one should not be concerned with their day of death. We cannot extend our lives, and we should not waste them trying. Instead, be merry and joyful with those that you love. Release the tension in your face and smile as you walk in the sunshine, for the world’s wickedness is temporary, but its goodness is eternal.

As you are in your routine this week, what are some of the repeated inconveniences that always seem to rub you the wrong way? Do they warrant your reaction to them, or can you laugh at the extra five minutes waiting for the bus? How can trusting in God’s work and providence grant you patience through difficult times? Each morning, is it your habit to wake up resentful or with hope for the day?

Ecclesiastes 7

I invite you to open a Bible to Ecclesiastes and to read the seventh chapter on your own, taking a moment to reflect on the text in silence.

Chapter seven is particularly harsh, but it justifies its intensity in the first few verses. Looking first at verse five, we find a message that is probably familiar but always uncomfortable. Hearing criticism is better than false reassurance, and the most important personal improvement is painful to hear. This chapter contains a number of truths that can hurt to read and take to heart, but they will be valuable once they are internalized.

Returning to verse one, we find a proverb that aligns with some previous chapters; yet again, we are told that good relationships are more valuable than possessions. A good reputation, among both friends and strangers, is not only more eternally valuable, but more personally rewarding. The day of death’s favorable comparison to the day of birth offers a similar message, namely that remembering one’s mortality points one towards what ultimately matters but remembering one’s birth, while also good, is merely a cause for celebration that offers a less intense opportunity for reflection. There is more to be learned from pondering one’s death than one’s birth because we are reminded of our lives every moment through the mere fact of our existence, but it is easy to forget our deaths and waste our limited time. Intentional pleasure is not bad in itself, but meaningless hedonism leads to no profit.

Jumping over to verse nine, Solomon’s advice to be slow to anger is especially pertinent in our impatient age. When something does not go according to your plan or expectation, the first response is often one of indignation. “How could this happen to me?” Or even, “How could God let this happen to me?” are common gut reactions to disappointment or misfortune. These questions are not asked from a place of understanding, and there are no answers for questions asked without faith. God’s promises are almost never given immediately within one’s desired time horizon, and impatience with God is the cause of mush despair. Current misfortune is not a sign of God’s judgement or that He has forsaken you because He is faithful over the course of lifetimes. Verse fourteen gives the resolution to this tension by pointing the reader to their temporal blessings. If one is frustrated by adversity, they should also look to prosperity and know that both are from God.

Verse sixteen another verse that can seem perplexing, in that righteousness is in itself good; how can there be too much? But this sentence is meant to temper one’s own understanding of their current righteousness, not the ultimate goal. It is good to attempt to be righteous, but to think that one has already attained it is disastrous. Not only does one who falls into this error judge others too harshly, they also judge themselves too harshly. My favorite colloquial reading of this verse is, “don’t take yourself too seriously.” Nobody is perfect, and we can be grateful that our failures in our earnest attempts to live a holy life will be forgiven. The sins of our neighbors will be forgiven just as ours are, and we should treat ourselves and all people as gently as God does.

This chapter asks us to see our own mortality and sins and tells us that it is better to face the pain caused by the recognition of our own flaws because in doing so, we can better enjoy life, feel God’s grace, and give that grace to others. This week, how can you examine yourself while also taking yourself a little less seriously? How can you offer God’s gentle grace to yourself and others?

Ecclesiastes 6

I invite you to open a Bible to Ecclesiastes and to read the sixth chapter on your own, taking a moment to reflect on the text in silence.

The first two verses of this chapter may seem odd at first; why does God seemingly cause this evil? The reason that God does not always grant this gift of enjoyment alongside worldly gifts is that the one who receives the gifts does not always value God over His gifts. How can someone truly enjoy wealth if they think that their life does not have any further meaning? Remembering the source of worldly things and using them to serve God ensures that they can also be enjoyed.

Even if someone has many children and a long life, if they are always seeking more wealth, pleasure, and worldly goods to the detriment of loving God and their family, they will die a sad, quiet death. Not only will their hunger never be satisfied by gold, but they will not even find rest in death. A stillborn, even though they never got to experience the goodness of creation, will rest peacefully with God. This is better than to have lived and scorned God in favor of temporary pleasure. As soon as the man of avarice dies, he will have lost everything. No family at his burial, and no body to mourn his loss. No amount of gold is worth this fate. This section is primarily meant to point the reader to right worship and gratefulness to God, but it also is a reminder to prioritize one’s family.

Verse eight asks after the value of wisdom, which is another initially startling message to find in a book classified within the “wisdom literature” genre. Both the wise man and the fool die eventually, so ultimately, there is no quantitative difference. But in keeping with the themes of Ecclesiastes, the answer lies in God granting enjoyment to the believer. One who is wise will remember God when living, and will thus have a more fulfilling life. The fool will not feel this comfort and will constantly search for meaning, never finding it. Both die in the same manner, but they saw life very differently.

The last section of this chapter asks more questions that can only be answered by God. It is notable that Solomon does not give even one verse as an explicit answer. He assumes that the reader has been attentive enough throughout the previous chapters to know that God gives the advantages, gives the good, and knows what will be after the reader’s life.

As you move through this week, take some time to dwell on your closest relationships. Have you been prioritizing your friends and family enough? Do they know how much you love them, and do you feel how much they love you? Also reflect on God’s love and His generosity, making sure to thank Him for the greatest joys in your life.

Ecclesiastes 5

I invite you to open a Bible to Ecclesiastes and to read the fifth chapter on your own, taking a moment to reflect on the text in silence.

This chapter begins with a stern warning that deserves to be remembered not only each time you enter a church building but also each time you begin to pray. Entering a place of prayer, physical or mental, should be done purposefully and with intent; careless prayer and empty ritual are not useful. Listen, ponder, and then speak meaningfully.

Making a vow to God is often done in desperate times or when one desires something greatly. Too often these vows are proposed as if the speaker is dealing with a different sort of spirit than God, a spirit that can somehow benefit from a trade. Too often promises like “I’ll never… again” are made in the attempt to sway the outcome of a dire situation. These vows, when sworn to God and not kept, are no more than lies to God and oneself. We do not need to offer God this sort of sacrifice in exchange for a temporal outcome for three reasons: it is not the kind of sacrifice that He finds pleasing, we are already free to approach God in confidence, and it is not for us to determine the blessings that we receive. This section ends with the alternative for us in moments of distress, which is to fear God. In this passage, to fear God is not to be struck with terror, but to feel His immense power in the face of both our finitude and the seemingly dire situation we find ourselves in. When our prayers end in “Thy will be done,” we are placing ourselves in God’s hands amidst the unknown and can be sure that He will protect us in ways that we cannot predict.

Next, there is a short aside about observing injustice. The fallen nature of the world and the corruption of its leaders both make it almost inevitable that there are injustices, so we should not be surprised. This is not a passage condemning social or political action. It merely seeks to prevent repeated indignant reactions and comfort the observer that there will be justice metered out by God.

An example of this expected injustice is the mismanagement of and abuse of money. The rich are warned to neither hoard money for its own sake nor to squander it. Money can easily become an idol rather than a tool, and it is the responsibility of one with wealth to use it wisely for their family and community.

This chapter ends with a message that rhymes with others that we have read in Ecclesiastes to far. Eating, drinking, and enjoying toil and its fruits are gifts from God during the days that we have to live. The addition this chapter offers is to also enjoy the wealth that one has by remembering that it to is a gift from God. The rich do not need to feel guilty for their wealth alone, but their source of joy should be the same as that of the poor: God in their hearts. This week, how can you remind yourself that God has your best interests at heart?

Ecclesiastes 4

I invite you to open a Bible to Ecclesiastes and to read the fourth chapter on your own, taking a moment to reflect on the text in silence.

This chapter begins with one of the most difficult questions in religion, but it does not offer an answer. The observation of pain, evil, and oppression in this world prompts those who see them to wrestle with God rather than continue life under the sun without considering that it may be vanity. Each person must come to an answer themselves, and this passage tells us that all who read it are also struggling.

The fool, out of laziness, spite, or apathy, does not work. Without a task or reward, they are consumed by themselves. They may literally have nothing to eat, but they also may be becoming weaker in spirit. Without toil, failure, accomplishment, or a willingness to engage in their purpose, they become nothing. They waste away in every aspect of life.

Verse five is the source of the name of this series because it contains one of the core messages of Ecclesiastes. One hand full of toil is necessary and will provide many rewards, and one handful of quietness will allow you to enjoy them. A commitment to moderation in work and enjoyment, for the sake of enjoying the gifts from God in every facet of life, is the way to experience all that God has given us to embrace during our lives here under the sun.

The next two verses offer another prompt for reflection. Who are you working for? Are you working out of a desire for riches? Are you working to feed your family? Are you working for your own pride? Are you working for God? We often have more than one, and the noble answers are mixed with the selfish. The truest answer is to work in service to God, and there is no better source of reassurance. The purpose of the work then becomes disconnected from the physical results and is bound to God, allowing one to enjoy the fruits to their fullest extent.

In verses nine through twelve, we have an exhortation to join community. Work in the modern age can be lonely and solitary, and it is tempting to attempt to knuckle down and push through alone. But in hardship, two can more easily keep warm. Whether it’s going to lunch once a week with a fellow student or coworker, spending hours with your roommates, or finding someone to love, we all need to proactively build relationships. Our time here under the sun will be full of pain, peace, sorrow, and joy, and each one can be made better by holding loved ones close.

The last section of this chapter is a warning to those that are already successful. No matter the victory, there is a risk of becoming prideful in one’s station. Whatever position it is, this passage reminds us that it is not permanent. Always be willing to hear advice, for it is easy to become blinded.

This week, take time to observe your attitudes toward work and quiet. Are you working too hard to be able to enjoy the pleasures of the day? Are you working too little or without purpose? Is there a new or old friend that you can share a meal with? Love your friends and family, and take some time to share simple joys with them.