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There are several books of the Bible that, if I'm being completely honest here, I skip over, if possible. (Those are the sections in my Bible that have that 'crisp' sound when I turn to them, with pages that are hard to finger through because they've only been handled a few times at most.)

I know that all of the Bible - the entirety - is necessary and vital and the inspired Word of our Father God but let's all be honest - there are books of the Bible that are more challenging to read than others - Leviticus is hard for me to peddle through because I get lost in the laws and regulations, even though I know that the purpose of the book is mostly about holiness (God's and ours). 1st Chronicles is difficult for me because it is full of names that I can't pronounce, much less remember whose family they belong to. Nothing that I would pick out as my "Bible book read of the month".

Ecclesiastes is one of those that would not make the top of my reading list either.

However, knowing that there is something that can be pulled from every book of the Bible, I sat down to give Ecclesiastes more than a half-hearted effort.

In my reading, I realized how relevant this book still is today. Maybe, even more relatable, due to the current tribulations of this world.

While most of the chapters and verses of Ecclesiastes are no-shows on the 'Encouraging Scripture' lists, we've all probably heard the following three parts of Ecclesiastes during our Christian walk:

1) Ecclesiastes 3 - a time for everything. I'm sure we've heard it (or used it) at a handful of funerals, and we've used it to explain away hard times in life, using half of a verse here or there.

2) Ecclesiastes 4 - two are better than one. It's used in friendship, and it's used in marriage, and it's used in family. It's used to draw a picture of the bond between two people with Jesus in the middle explaining that a cord of three strands is not easily broken.

3) the phrase, it's all meaningless. "Meaningless, meaningless, meaningless." Over and over again this word is repeated in Ecclesiastes. Another word used, depending on your version of reading, is "vanity". In versions like the King James Version you read, "Vanities of vanity!"

The original word that we read as "meaningless" or "vanity" in Hebrew is "hebel" which is more accurately translated as "vapor" or "breath". Something that doesn't last. Something that you can see - but can't fully grasp. Something that is here and then, just as quickly, is gone.

Image of hand grasping at sand as the sand falls through. Ecclesiastes 6:12 quoted.

These are the three things we are usually familiar with in Ecclesiastes, but we are rarely familiar with the rest of the book. I know that I wasn't.

I've read through my Bible several times now and I have admittedly drudged through the book of Ecclesiastes with heavy feet. The times that I had read it in the past (mostly to say that I'd done it, without really looking at why this book was written) were done so with a preestablished decision that this was the most depressing book of the Bible.

So, recently I decided to finally look at the book for what it was, with fresh eyes, rather than as a book of the Bible that, like the minor prophets, seemed lost and bleak in today's time.

It seems like such a depressing book when you pick out bits and parts of it beyond the three echoes listed above. "Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!" But, upon studying the book of Ecclesiastes, I am so much more certain and excited at the revelation of how applicable it is to today, tomorrow and will be 50 years from now, if the Lord should tarry. The book of Ecclesiastes is still for today. And I don't think it will ever not be for the present time.

Here's why:

because 10 out of 10 people who live, also die.

And also because, as we live, those of us who have the capacity to do so, will think and reflect on deeper questions in between the first breath and the last one. We seek understanding from birth. We are born curious creations that have a primal need for security and answers.

As we mature, we have deep questions that we often only ask ourselves at the beginning of life or at the end of life. On occasion, we allow our minds to cross briefly over these questions during times of loss, unexpected transitions or deep spiritual encounters.

We ask ourselves:

"Why am I here?"

"What purpose do I have?"

"What happens at the end of this?"

"Will people remember me? How will people remember me?"

"The Teacher" from Ecclesiastes, often thought to be King Solomon, observed life and asked similar questions in this recorded documentation of the searching mind and heart.

Ecclesiastes answers each of those with a raw honesty that we no longer have today because the kind of real, raw honest emotion and truth conveyed in Ecclesiastes not only scrapes at our fear of the unknown but also delves into places of darkness and truths that we would rather feign ignorance to than confront.

This book deals with the ultimate passing of time, the recklessness of the human state and the inability to discard the inevitable.

It can be easy to relate thoughts of hopelessness and morbidity to the book of Ecclesiastes but, in reality, it is just like any other book of the Bible - offering up life examples in the experiences of others, a look at the face of death, the questions we hold onto and unapologetic answers to those questions.

Let's dive into some of this book - the "message of the teacher".

(Hold on with me through this because it gets darker before the light comes.)

"Why am I here?"

Ecclesiastes 1: 9-11

"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; 

there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there anything of which one can say, 'Look! This is something new'?

It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.

No one remembers the former generations,

and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them."

In 50 years, most of us will not even be a memory any longer.

Truth: If the Lord tarries, we might be a dusty picture and if the internet doesn't fail, a small remnant on a Google internet search.

"No one remembers the former generations..." this is a true saying that we don't want to think on. We want to think that we will leave some sort of fantastic memory or legacy that will somehow permit us to be "unforgettable" and live forever both in this world and heaven... but that is really only a humanistic, selfish longing because most of us get caught up with where we tangibly are and we are unable to grasp where we are intangibly going to be, should we live rightly before the Lord with our trust in Him until the end of our limited days.

Our longing to be remembered is only present until we realize and accept that we will not be and, more importantly, that it does not matter.

We ought to live for One thing and one thing alone and that is Christ.

We are not living for the number of people we hope to attend our funeral. Are you hoping it will be a sell-out? That your family will have to rent a space large enough to contain all the people or that the line will go around the block as people scramble to get a glimpse in your casket or at your most dashing picture from 20 years ago on display?

If all that were to actually happen, it doesn't stop life and, very soon afterward, people will go on living their lives and eventually your photograph will fade and be put in a box. Sooner than that, clothes will be donated and items once precious to you will be tossed out with the next round of garbage trucks.

We dance around death, dress it up and make it look pretty because that is more comfortable. Ecclesiastes exposes what we are trying to mask. It deals with all the fine lines of life's portrait. It takes us step by step through what we see and hear and don't know how to make sense of.

Ecclesiastes 9:5-6, "For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing;

they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten. Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun."

Still, we are reminded, as the book wraps up near the end, that we are to remember our Creator.

Meaning that we were created - and all created things do have a purpose.

Ecclesiastes 12:1, "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, 'I find no pleasure in them.'

So then we ask,

"What is my purpose?"

Everything we ourselves try to touch, create or fill the void with is meaningless, unless it is Christ, because nothing else will ever satisfy.

Thankfully, we are given instructions throughout Ecclesiastes to help us navigate this life - to live purposefully through tumultuous storms and to live intentionally and conscientiously through the calmest and most prosperous sailing as well.

We don't have to worry about 'filling in the blanks' because we have the wisdom that leads to fulfillment spelled out, not just in Ecclesiastes, but throughout the entire Word of God.

What does Ecclesiastes say? (I've hyperlinked each verse to the corresponding section in the NKJV via Biblegateway.)

Ecclesiastes 3 tells us to:

  • rejoice and do good, as God makes everything beautiful in its time (vs 11-12)

  • eat and drink the fruit of your labor - the gifts of God (vs 13)

Ecclesiastes 5 instructs us to do these things:

  • fear God (vs 1-7)

  • listen so that we can hear (vs 1)

  • to let our words be few and don't speak in haste (vs 2)

  • when you make a vow - keep it (vs 4-5)

  • don't let your mouth cause your flesh to sin (vs 6)

Ecclesiastes 7 directs us to:

  • be patient in spirit rather than proud in spirit (vs 8)

  • do not be quickly angered (vs 9)

  • don't ask 'why was the past better than the present?' (vs 10)

  • be joyful in prosperity but considerate of the impartiality of life's many factors while in adversity (vs 14)

  • don't be overly righteous or overly wise (vs 16)

  • don't take to heart everything that people say (vs 21-22)

Ecclesiastes 8 says:

  • obey and respect authorities (vs 2-4)

And Ecclesiastes 9 reprimands us to:

  • do whatever your hand finds to do with all your might (vs 10)

"What happens at the end of this life?"

Ecclesiastes 7:1-2, "A good reputation at the time of death is better than loving care at the time of birth. It's better to go to a funeral than to attend a feast; funerals remind us that we all must die."

The book of Ecclesiastes calls death "the great equalizer". It reminds us that no matter who we are - or who are neighbor is - that we all succumb to death - there is no avoiding it or buying your way out of it. We get there at different times, but we all get there - the poor, the rich, the good, the bad, the wise and the foolish. All will come to judgement. All will end.

Ecclesiastes 3:11, "God has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end."

Ecclesiastes 8:8, "No one has power over the spirit to retain the spirit, And no one has power in the day of death. There is no release from that war, and wickedness will not deliver those who are given to it."

We have no power over death - but, because we are given the Gospel - the Word of God - the GOOD NEWS - we are given hope, and we are given the opportunity to personally know the One Who DOES have power over death.

We can read through the sights of the eyes of the writer of Ecclesiastes and understand that life is full of everything that we cannot control - but one of the most vital parts of Ecclesiastes is contained in the last two verses of the book.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:

Fear God and keep His commandments,

for this is man’s all.

For God will bring every work into judgment,

including every secret thing,

whether good or evil."

Sinclair B. Ferguson, excerpt, The Pundit's Folly: Chronicles of an Empty Life -

"To fear God, and to trust God, and to love God, and to know God are really one and the same thing. In fact, the fear of God, about which the Pundit speaks, arises from the discovery of God's love for us in our sin and weakness. It is the sense of awe that results from the discovery that He knows me through and through, means to destroy all that is sinful in me, and yet does so because He loves me with an intensely faithful love. That stretches my mind and emotions to their limits. This is how fear is seen in the Bible. It is those who fear the Lord who say, 'His love endures forever.' It is only those who confess their sinfulness who discover that, with You, there is forgiveness. Therefore, You are to be feared."

May God find us faithful until the end. May we remember the takeaway from Ecclesiastes and add it to the entirety of God's Holy Word, so that we might live well, knowing that this world is not the goal but that each crown awaits in Glory for those who are steadfast and that the true victory has already been won.

Much love to you,

Sarah Jane


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