Ecclesiastes — Lesson 2
Seeking Meaning from Worldly Wisdom
- Ecclesiastes has been called the greatest of all books of philosophy.
- Its goal is to destroy man's belief in himself and in all his endeavors apart from God.
- The issue is joined between man's ways and God's ways.
- The book undermines every prop on which we might rely apart from God.
- Ecclesiastes is a living message, designed for every person of every kind in every age. Our age is increasingly characterized by its disbelief, disillusionment and despair.
- Ecclesiastes depicts in graphic detail absolute vanity of pursuing happiness and contentment through material and immoral sources -- completely ignoring God and His timeless will.
- Probably no more relevant message than one that illustrates the whole duty of man.
- Described as the most modern book in the Bible.
- Ecclesiastes has been called the contrast, the alternative, to the rest of the Bible -- the question to which the rest of the Bible is the answer.
- From the beginning (1:2) to the end (12:8), Solomon's thesis is, "Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher: vanity of vanities; all is vanity."
- Compare his commentary on "everything under the sun" with our contemporary situation. This gives us greater appreciation for his insights about the nature of human existence.
- Those insights are actually our own as we interpret and respond to the challenges of our time.
- Ecclesiastes responds to a deep and universal human need--adequate solution to life's most perplexing question, "What is the true meaning of life? Is happiness really attainable?"
- No one before or after Solomon could better ask this question.
- He enjoyed the greatest degree of wisdom and knowledge, greatest wealth, unlimited power and control over government and industry, indulged in pleasure beyond imagination.
- Solomon serves as trial case for all word to see. Then he sets forth, like acts in a play, results of his experiment.
- The results reveal that happiness doesn't come through what we can gain, accumulate, control, or indulge in. Rather, happiness is attained through a humble life of faith and trust in God and the performance of His work.
- Solomon considers five toils of man -- all vain, with each lacking gain that man seeks from it.
- Wisdom -- to be studied today.
- Power and riches
- Conventional religion.
Solomon and Wisdom
1. What do we know about Solomon and wisdom?
- When he ascended the throne of David, Solomon prayed for wisdom to judge the people of God.
- God, pleased with his request, promised, "Behold, I have done according to thy word: lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart; so that there hath been none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee." I Kings 3:12.
- Queen of Sheba visited Solomon to see if all she had heard about his wisdom was true. She was amazed that "the half was not told me: thy wisdom and prosperity exceed the fame which I heard." I Kings 10:7.
- Extent of Solomon's wisdom.
- "as the sand that is on the seashore," which "excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men." I Kings 4:29-31.
- No wonder that "all the earth sought the presence of Solomon, to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his heart." I Kings 10:24.
- Ecclesiastes 1:12-18 -- I the Preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered. I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge. And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit. For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.
2. If Solomon was the wisest and most intelligent man in history, we could be assured that he knew the hopes and fears, dreams and disappointments, triumphs and failures of humanity. With this knowledge he would know the key to being happy. But why wasn't he happy?
- As he considers his experience of seeking happiness through wisdom, he realizes it can't come through wisdom alone. After all, death comes to everyone, the wise and the foolish alike.
- This leads him to conclude in 2:14-16 -- "I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all. Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? The I said in my heart, that this also is vanity. For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool forever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? as the fool?
- Perhaps in his pursuit and knowledge he became like those Paul spoke of in Romans 1:21,22 -- "knowing God, they glorified him not as God, neither gave thanks; but became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools."
- Knowledge is useful only as it contributes to a productive life of service and to the glory of God, the source of all knowledge.
3. How does the discussion of Solomon's wisdom compare with the discussion of wisdom in James 3:13-18?
- James 3:13-18 -- "Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? Let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. 4
And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace. "
- What two types of wisdom does this passage compare?
- Earthly wisdom (3:15)
- Wisdom from above (3:15)
4. How can we recognize earthly wisdom?
- Does not come down from above. Meaning what? Comes only by human experience and learning.
- Earthly. Origin is on the earth, limited to earthly values.
- Sensual. Meaning? Same word used in I Cor 2:14 -- Translated "natural" or "unspiritual."
- This describes someone who does not understand spiritual things. This describes a natural type of wisdom derived entirely from unspiritual considerations.
- Devilish (3:15) Meaning?
- Said to literally mean demon-like. Shrewd and cunning as an evil spirit can be.
- Creates jealousy, faction, confusion and every vile deed (3:16)
5. How can we recognize wisdom from above?
- Why is it said to be from above?
- Source is heaven or partakes of the nature of heaven.
- What are its positive qualities?
- Pure (3:17). Does not seek its own advantage or have ulterior motives.
- Peaceable 3:17. Unlike earthly wisdom, does not create confusion. Tendency is to bring about right relationships of God to man, and man to man.
- Gentle (3:17). Kind, forbearing, making allowances and reasonable.
- Easy to be entreated (3:17). Not stubborn, dogmatic, difficult to reason with. Willing to listen, reachable.
- Full of mercy and good fruits (3:17). Compassionate in attitude, shows the good fruit of practical help to others.
- What are its negative qualities?
- Without variance (3:17). Undivided, unwavering, not changeable. Not indecisive, changing all the time.
- Without hypocrisy (3:17). Honest and without pretense. Man of real wisdom won't be insincere.
- What application does verse 18 have to this lesson?
- Fruit of righteousness refers back to the good fruits of verse 17, or the life of the Christian.
- We should sow in peace (3:18). We reflect our wisdom by the way we teach and live.
6. What may we conclude?
- A Christian reveals what kind of wisdom motivates him by the way he lives and teaches.
- We can recognize earthly wisdom as earthbound because of its wrong values and the discord it produces.
- Wisdom from above produces only good things, motivates Christian to live and teach in peace.
- Wisdom in which Solomon failed to find happiness or meaning eventually drifted from being rooted in the fear of the Lord. Instead, it apparently became earthly in its focus.
7. How does the wisdom described in Ecclesiastes contrast with the wisdom outlined in Proverbs?
Proverbs 1:2-7 -- "To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity; To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion. A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels: To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction."
- Knowledge in verse seven involves a much richer and deeper meaning than the English word assigns to it. Denotes a knowledge of God, including total commitment to Him.
- Hosea 4:6 -- God rejected the people due to their lack of knowledge.
- Psalm 111:10 -- "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth forever."
- Proverbs 3:5-7 -- "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil.
- Proverbs begins and Ecclesiastes ends with advice on how to read what these books contain:
- Those who study the "words of the wise" should begin with the fear of the Lord (1:7) and end with the keeping of God's commandments (Eccl 12:13).
- "Words of the wise" occurs only four times in the Hebrew Bible, and all four occurrences are in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.
- Object of the book of Proverbs is to instruct the inexperienced (1:4) in the way of wisdom and to further instruct the mature (1:5).
- How to become wise and not be foolish.
- Course in applied religion. To be wise, one must develop positive attitudes of patience, generosity, modesty, trustworthiness, benevolence to poor, etc. Also avoid pitfalls such as laziness, drunkenness, loose women.
- Book reaffirms God's complete plan and purpose in everyday life.
8. What does the fear of the Lord have to do with wisdom?
- It's the beginning of wisdom.
- Means reverence or respect for God. Practical attitude of human behavior that entails obedience and avoidance of evil.
- What will the fear of the Lord lead to?
- Working righteousness. Acts 10:34-35 -- Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and worketh righteousness is acceptable to him."
- Controlling motive in his life leads individual to lifestyle of awareness of God's presence. Influences our disposition and attitude toward God and man.
- Keeping God's commandments. Ecclesiastes 12:13 -- The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.
- Reverence for God, resulting in love for the heavenly Father, leads one to keep God's commandments.
- Serving God. Joshua 24:14 -- "Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve Him in sincerity and in faithfulness."
- Joshua was calling on Israel to rely completely on the promises given them by God in this covenant.
- In our age, fear of the Lord will cause us, in a free and moral way, to serve the Lord and Him alone.
- Departing from evil. Job 1:8 -- "There is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil."
9. Can Christians obtain wisdom?
- Romans 15:14 -- And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.
- I Cor 10:15 -- I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say.
- Ephesians 5:8 -- For ye were sometime darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light.
- I Thess 5:5 -- Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.
- Hebrews 5:14 -- But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
- II Peter 1:12 -- Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things,though ye know them, and be established in the present truth.
- I John 2:21 -- I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.
10. How can Christians obtain wisdom?
- Studying God's word.
- Ephesians 5:15-17 -- "See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.
- Through prayer.
- James 1:5 -- If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
- Prov 9:10 -- "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; and the knowledge of the holy is understanding."
- If the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, it follows that those who do not fear the Lord cannot be wise.
- Proverbs 2:10-12 -- "When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul; Discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee: To deliver thee from the way of the evil man, from the man that speaketh froward things. . ."
- Isaiah 33:6 -- And wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation: the fear of the Lord is his treasure.
- Knowledge or wisdom are useful only as they contribute to a productive life of service and to the glory of God.
- Solomon's wisdom became flawed because he seemed to forget his admonition in Proverbs that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
- When God is left out of our lives, there are gaping holes and huge problems. The alarming thing is that, like Solomon, we can forget God and become immersed in the vanity of life.
- Wisdom not tempered with respect and love for God is not wisdom at all, but is a characteristic of worldliness. This trait that Solomon sought so diligently, and prized so highly, became disappointing.
- God gave Solomon wisdom and unparalleled opportunity to observe and to explore every avenue of earthly life. And, after much research and experiment, Solomon concluded that, on the whole, humanity found little solid happiness in life.
- Because of Christ, the vanity of life disappears for those who know and serve Him. Life is no longer vanity, but joy, peace, and gladness. If we fear and respect our Father and His Son, we can have true wisdom and full, abundant and joyous life and hope.
God's Plan of Salvation
You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)
You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)
You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)
Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!
Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)