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What’s the Meaning of Ecclesiastes?

Photo of Tina WilsonTina Wilson | Bio

Tina Wilson

Tina Wilson is a pastor’s wife and mom of seven. Alongside her husband Matt, she has committed her life to serving King Jesus as a church planter, Bible teacher, author, and advocate for all-in family ministry. She also serves on the board for the Christian Standard. She is passionate about making Christ and his church famous in South Carolina and beyond.

What is the meaning of Ecclesiastes? This book in the Hebrew Bible tends to puzzle us with its pessimistic tone and philosophical orientation. What we find as we explore the message and meaning of Ecclesiastes, however, is an honest exploration of the best life has to offer—out from under God’s authority—from a person who was positioned to know. As such, its message is incredibly valuable to anyone who thinks life apart from God can yield meaning and satisfaction. This is an excerpt from Tina Wilson’s forthcoming book Step into Scripture: A Daily Journey to Understanding Your Bible


“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecc. 3:11, NIV) 

We see in name of the book Ecclesiastes the root word ekklesia, which is Greek for “assembly” or “church.” Ecclesiastes means “the speaker to the assembly.” Thus the book opens: “The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem” (Ecc. 1:1, NIV).


“We see in name of the book Ecclesiastes the root word ekklesia, which is Greek for ‘assembly’ or ‘church.'”


The teacher, King Solomon, wasted no time getting to his main point:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Ecc. 1:2, NIV)

This is a massive statement to make, and Solomon is uniquely qualified to draw this conclusion. We read in 2 Chronicles about God’s offer to Solomon: “Ask for whatever you want me to give you” (2 Chron. 1:7). Because God was pleased with Solomon’s request for wisdom to rightly govern his people, God gave him much more.

“God said to Solomon, ‘Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, possessions or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king, therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, possessions and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.’” (2 Chron. 1:11–12, NIV)


“Solomon is uniquely qualified to draw this conclusion.”


Teachability is a marker of wisdom. It also requires wisdom to discern from whom we should receive instruction. A foolish person is not a good choice for a friend or instructor. For someone to teach us, they need to be qualified. We live in a time when so many people claim the status of life coach or leadership guru. Be careful with that. Has the person claiming such authority lived a life that substantiates that claim?

Solomon absolutely had the credentials to write about the meaning of life from an earthly “under the sun” perspective. He had great wisdom, wealth, and power—all the things that we seek after and believe will satisfy. And, having these things, he came to this conclusion: Meaningless.

“I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” (Eph. 1:14, NIV)


The Meaning of Ecclesiastes: “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”


Solomon tried it all:

Wisdom.

We can pursue all the worldly knowledge, yet the more we know, the more troubled we can become. Think of every conspiracy theorist that chases obscure information down rabbit holes. There is no end to it. It’s a grasping at the wind. Even learning all the truth there is to know about a subject can leave you depleted (consider the many tragic seasons of history!).

Partying.

We can engage in revelry day and night, but we’ll never drink away our problems.

Wealth. Pleasure. Sex.

Solomon had it all. He wasn’t just a king—he was the wisest and richest king. “King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth” (1 Kings 10:23, NIV). If there was pleasure to be experienced, Solomon experienced it…with 1,000 women! “He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines” (1 Kings 11:3, NIV).


“If there was pleasure to be experienced, Solomon experienced it.”


Ambition.

“And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. These countries brought tribute and were Solomon’s subjects all his life” (1 Kings 4:21, NIV). “From all nations people came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom” (1 Kings 4:34, NIV). Solomon had a worldwide sphere of influence. And that still didn’t deliver contentment.

At the end of an earthly life, all of this falls to another who didn’t work for it.

“I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me.” (Ecc. 2:18, NIV)

No matter how hard we chase it, there will always be someone that has something we don’t or can’t have.

“And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” (Ecc. 4:4, NIV)


The Meaning of Ecclesiastes: “No matter how hard we chase it, there will always be someone that has something we don’t or can’t have.”


Perhaps one of the most heart-wrenching warnings from Solomon’s ambitious pursuits boils down to this: We can learn too late that relationships are better than wealth and self-sufficiency. We can chase ambition and neglect our loved ones until we end up alone.

“There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. ‘For whom am I toiling,’ he asked, ‘and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?’ This too is meaningless— a miserable business!” (Ecc. 4:8, NIV)

Nothing can be enjoyed as it was meant to be enjoyed apart from God. Rather than chasing these things expecting them to deliver happiness, we ought to enjoy the circumstances God has given us now. Enjoy every phase of the journey—while looking forward to a better eternity.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecc. 3:11, NIV)


The Meaning of Ecclesiastes: “Enjoy every phase of the journey—while looking forward to a better eternity.”


We ought to let the futility and lack of satisfaction of this life point us toward eternity and God’s eternal truth—things that are much greater than meaninglessness under the sun.