The key word in Ecclesiastes is “vanity,” the emptiness of trying to be happy apart from God. The Preacher (traditionally identified as Solomon, the wisest, richest king in Israel’s history; Eccl. 1:1, 12), looks at life “under the sun” (1:9), and from a purely human perspective he declares it all to be empty. Power, popularity, prestige, pleasure—nothing can fill the God-shaped vacuum in man’s life but God Himself.
Once seen from God’s perspective, however, life takes on great meaning and purpose, causing Solomon to exclaim, “eat … drink … rejoice … do good … live joyfully … fear God … and keep His commandments!” Skepticism and despair melt away when we view life as a daily gift from God.
The Hebrew title, Qoheleth, is a rare term in the Bible, found only in Ecclesiastes (1:1, 2, 12; 7:27; 12:8–10). It comes from the word qahal, “to convoke an assembly, to assemble.” Thus, it means, “one who addresses an assembly; a preacher.” The Septuagint uses the word Ekklesiastes as its title for this book, a name derived from the Greek term ekklesia, “assembly,” “congregation,” “church.”
Because of the largely negative and pessimistic tone of the book, ancient Hebrews debated whether it even belonged in the Bible. In God’s sovereignty, however, Ecclesiastes took its place among the other thirty-eight books of the Old Testament, and so it continues to speak its powerful truths to our own increasingly secular culture. Life without God just does not “work,” even if one can manage to accumulate wealth, fame, popularity and power. So the conclusion of the ancient Preacher stands: “Fear God, and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all” (12:13).
Themes: Outside of a real and dynamic relationship with God, even a “successful” life will be full of futility and vanity.
Author: Uncertain, but thought to be King Solomon.
Time: Solomon ruled Israel in the tenth century B.C.
Structure: The introduction to Ecclesiastes declares the futility of human effort apart from a living relationship with God (1:1–11). Still, life is to be enjoyed as a gift from God’s own hand (1:12–11:6); and because death is coming sooner than we think, in our enjoyment of life we should remember that God’s judgment also is coming (11:7–12:8). The book concludes with a charge to fear God and obey His commandments (12:9–14).
Charles F. Stanley, The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles, 2005), Ec.