Search Bible Outlines and commentaries



The world claims to be searching for answers.  What is the meaning of life?  How can I find fulfillment and significance?  Why do I hide from the boredom of reality and seek escape in the world of entertainment and sports, the world of education and Philosophy, the world of career success and achievements, the world of materialism and possessions, the world of sex and sensual pleasures, etc.?  Most of our unsaved friends refuse to face the emptiness of their pitiful worldview.  They do not want to be reminded of the death that awaits and the unknown eternity that follows.  They do not want to consider their accountability before their Creator.  They deny that they are bankrupt and lost and blind in this meaningless existence of life on this earth apart from God.  They are boastful about their satisfaction with the life they have chosen for themselves.  “I’m living the way I want to live.”  But what will be their destiny?  They need a heavy dose of THE REALITY OF THEIR FUTILITY before they will respond to the good news of the free gift of salvation and meaningful life through the Lord Jesus Christ.

David Thompson: ONE WHO IS IN A POSITION TO DISCUSS LIFE HAS CONCLUDED THAT EVERYTHING APART FROM GOD BEING AT THE CENTER OF IT IS VANITY ! Anything we do or pursue, apart from having God at the center of it, will leave us empty. It doesn’t matter who we are, how much we have, or how much we accomplish; the end result of leaving God out of the center of things will be a total emptiness.

David Fairchild: Many in our day are looking for a purpose to exist. A purpose profound enough, big enough, consuming enough, that it grabs us by the shirt collar and demands our attention. Many are looking for a reason for living that will plumb the depths of our passions and sustain us until we breathe our last.

That’s why this book of Ecclesiastes is such a helpful pre-evangelism tool to use with our unsaved friends.  I encourage you to seek out someone with whom you can share a copy of this book (and Swindoll’s helpful guide – Living on the Ragged Edge) and discuss its perspective.  But I find that too often Solomon’s perspective of futility mirrors my own thinking as a believer. How can that be?  We all need to be reminded of the vast difference between the worldview of humanism vs one who is united to Jesus Christ and living for eternity.

Solomon’s Technique: literary pessimism. It’s a negative argument to demonstrate a profound truth. To learn the true meaning of life … first view life apart from God – see it in all of its futility … then the layer of God-connectiveness can be added and it will mean something.

Under the sun” viewpoint – mark these words throughout the book

Not everything in here is true from God’s perspective … but accurate from Solomon’s experience.

Ray Stedman: Ecclesiastes is a collection of what man is able to discern under the sun, i.e., in the visible world.  The book does not take into consideration revelation that comes from beyond man’s powers of observation and reason. It is an inspired, an accurate book. It guarantees that what it reports is what people actually believe. but it is an examination of those beliefs.

G. S. Hendry? Qoheleth writes from concealed premises, and his book is in reality a major work of apologetic. . . . Its apparent worldliness is dictated by its aim: Qoheleth is addressing the general public whose view is bounded by the horizons of this world; he meets them on their own ground, and proceeds to convict them of its inherent vanity. This is further borne out by his characteristic expression “under the sun”, by which he describes what the NT calls “the world”. . . . His book is in fact a critique of secularism and of secularized religion.



A.  Authoritative Blog (Public Journal)

The words

We are fortunate to have such a record;

Still everyone refuses to listen but stubbornly chases the wind on their own.

What if someone were to come back from the dead and give personal testimony?  Luke 16:19-31

David Hubbard: “Words” means something like “official collection of teachings.” Sages like Agur and Lemuel (Prov. 30:1; 31:1) and prophets like Amos (1:1) and Jeremiah (1:1) had sets of their proverbs and oracles so labeled by those who collected and preserved them for posterity. How the author and other wise teachers went about their work is described with some detail in the conclusion (12:9–10).

B.  Author with Supreme Credentials – Identified with 3 Majestic Descriptions

  1. The Preacher = title of the Book – Ecclesiastes

of the Preacher,”

The Hebrew word designates a leader who speaks before an assembly of people;

Our culture: the preacher is someone TV makes fun of and portrays as weak and out of touch with reality; positive not negative connotations here

David Thompson: This title is critical to the book for it is referred to in several passages: 1:1, 2, 12; 7:27; 12:8, 9, 10. The “preacher” then was one who got the people together publicly in order to give them instruction. In this case, it was instruction of a meaningful life.

  1. Son of David – need to spend some time here and get some background

the son of David

Ray Stedman: Many of the critical commentators of our day question that view, and very few of them accept it.  They try to date the book after the Babylonian exile, some 500 years after Solomon lived. That is the habitual stance of critics of the Old Testament.

(They try to make an argument based on the type of vocabulary and literary devices used …)

Who is this man Solomon:  name means “peace” – contrast to the wars pursued under his father King David (just finished studying 2 Samuel) – chosen to build the Temple; associated with wisdom and wealth; set up for success:

2 Chron. 9:5-8; 22-28

1 Kings 4:21-34

1 Kings 11:1-11 we see God’s displeasure with Solomon later in his reign

Brian Racer: He had the largest geographic parcel of any Israelite king; plenty of wealth; these were happy times in Israel; he was a philosopher, scientist, thinker, diplomat;

He kept a journal of his life; he was more blessed by God than anyone; Still, he was not satisfied!

Don’t try to duplicate his pursuit of meaning in life — Instead, learn by his mistakes.

David Fairchild: Solomon is King David’s son. He was born of Bathsheba, the woman David committed adultery with and had her husband murdered at the front lines of a battle. Though David loved God greatly, he was still a sinner that needed God’s grace. If you ever want to read a Psalm written by someone who has committed a great sin, read Psalm 51. It is the Psalm David wrote after he had sinned against God with Bathsheba.

  1. King in Jerusalem

king in Jerusalem

In control of the pursuit of this special knowledge;

No limitations; no restraints – we need to listen to this authoritative message from Solomon

Pulpit Commentary: Solomon had it all — position, power, possessions, prestige, prominence, pedigree, pleasure, and popularity. He had everything most people dream about. It was the ideal set up. Much of it was handed to him on a silver platter. But the one thing Solomon didn’t automatically have was happiness. In spite of all the things he had, he was empty inside. He wandered away from God and he lost his meaning and fulfillment. As one writer said, for Solomon, life seemed to be “the emptiest and poorest thing possible.”



A.  (:2) Simple Thesis – No Satisfaction in this life – just emptiness and futility

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, Vanity of vanities!  All is vanity.”

Cry of Despair —

Hebrew literary device for emphasis – like calling Christ King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

This insight for living comes from the same man who wrote much of the Book of Proverbs – what a different orientation!

  • Certainly not the mindset of Christ:

John 4:34 My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.

  • Certainly not the mindset of the Apostle Paul:

Phil. 1:21-22  For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me.

David Hubbard: The conclusion brackets the entire book and wraps it in the mood of mystery (see 12:8, where 1:2 is repeated virtually verbatim). This mystery is akin to irony, because it is full of surprises. We find it where we least expect it. Values that we treasure prove false; efforts that should succeed come to failure; pleasures that should satisfy increase our thirst. Ironic futility, futile irony—that is the color of life as seen through the Preacher’s eyes. So frequently does life turn out the opposite of our expectations that “absurdity” (Fox) is one term used to describe Koheleth’s estimate of it.

B.  (:3) Fundamental Question – Why do we do what we do??  What is the point??

What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun?”

Solomon is very analytical – trying to figure life out.

He tried every type of pursuit imaginable – pushed the envelope to the limit.

Using work here in a very general sense – all of life’s pursuits and activities and endeavors;

He will look at work and careers very specifically later.

David Thompson: The Hebrew word “advantage” is critical to understanding this first point. The word is a commercial and business term which has to do with monetary gain due to work. William Gesenius points out that this term not only has to do with a gain or a profit from work, but also with that which is at an over and above level of profit (Hebrew Lexicon, p. 377). This is not just a minimal level of profit because of work; this is a high level of profit because of one’s work.

Ray Stedman: After he has sucked dry all the immediate delight, joy or pleasure out of something, what is left over, what endures, what will remain to continually feed the hunger of his life for satisfaction?

Tremper Longman: Qohelet’s frequent use of the phrase under the sun highlights the restricted scope of his inquiry. His worldview does not allow him to take a transcendent yet immanent God into consideration in his quest for meaning. In the Bible this viewpoint is unique to Qohelet. The choice of the metaphorical phrase under the sun rather than the more prosaic “on earth” intends to appeal to the imagination of the reader in a memorable way.

Douglas Sean O’Donnell: The phrase “under the sun” (used twice in our text and twenty-eight times in the book, synonymous with the expressions “under the heavens” and “on earth”) draws a geographical line between God, who is “in heaven,” and man, who lives “on earth” (Eccl. 5:2; cf. Matt. 6:9), and also a theological one. This phrase designates not the secular life (life without reference to God) but the fallen world that both the secular and nonsecular share as sinners under God’s curse—his faithful carrying out of his promised punishment to Adam. What is found on earth—the thorn and thistle-infested ground, our sun-soaked sweaty toil of the ground, our bodies dying and returning to the ground—is not found with God in heaven. We are “under the sun”; he is above it.

C.  (:4-7) Universal Illustrations of the Meaningless Cycles of Nature

Douglas Murphy: The poem of Ecclesiastes 1:4-11 addresses both humanity and the cosmos, as does the concluding poem in chapter 12. This poem emphasizes that both the world’s activity generally and human toil specifically have vapor’s quality of insubstantiality (1:2-3). It suggests that toil will not accomplish something of genuine significance.

  1. (:4)  The Cycle of Generations don’t make a Difference

A generation goes and a generation comes,

but the earth remains forever.”

  • Baby Boomers – who cares
  • Millennials (Generation X) – who cares
  • Generation Z – who cares
  1. (:5)  The Cycle of the Sun is a Meaningless Repetition

Also, the sun rises and the sun sets;

                    And hastening to its place it rises there again.”

Course of the sun: Thing of beauty to some – but to Solomon, just another reminder visually of the meaningless repetition of life —

What is accomplished??  Nothing

Daniel Akin: Solomon gives three examples from nature and three examples where human experience mirrors the natural cycles (1:5-8). He compares the sun to an exhausted track runner who runs lap after lap, looks like he is moving somewhere, but is actually just going in circles (1:5) (Garrett, Ecclesiastes, 285). The wind also gusts in circles (1:6). There is lots of activity, but nothing changes. The east-to-west observation of verse 5 and the north-to-south observation of verse 6 make up a merism that pictures the totality of the world (Murphy, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, 180). The whole of nature is characterized by monotony. The last cycle is that of the oceans (1:7). All of the streams of the earth run into the sea but the water level stays the same. There is no net gain!

  1. (:6)  The Cycle of the Wind – Accomplishing Nothing

Blowing toward the south, Then turning toward the north,

                    The wind continues swirling along; And on its circular courses the wind returns.”

  • Sort of like the futility of watching NASCAR race — What is the point of it all?
  • Life is like a Beltway – lots of cars and activities – looks like they are just going around in a big circle.
  • Life is like a Treadmill – you work hard and sweat; but go nowhere.

Constant repetitive motion – that is what the movement of the wind symbolizes.

But with no purpose or goal or meaning.

David Fairchild: We often mistake movement with progress. We think we are making progress but in reality we are driving around a cul-de-sac and wondering why the neighborhoods all look the same.

David Hubbard: Much of our toil is monotonous routine that never really ends. You think you have all the dishes washed and from a bedroom or a bathroom there appears, as from a ghost, another dirty glass. And even when all the dishes are washed, it is only a few hours until they demand washing again. So much of our work is cyclical, and so much of it futile. We shape plans that collapse; we pinch out savings that shrink; we toil for promotions that others get; we leave our goods to governments or heirs that squander them.

  1. (:7)  The Cycle of Rivers Flowing into the Sea Makes no Sense

All the rivers flow into the sea, Yet the sea is not full.

                   To the place where the rivers flow, there they flow again.”

Cf. little children asking the question “Why?” repeatedly;

The sea is a bottomless pit; never satisfied; can never be filled up;

All of this impressive activity seems to accomplish nothing;

Probably reminds the housewives of their daily tedious chores:

  • – The dirty clothes and the dirty dishes just keep coming.
  • – Nothing is ever finished.
  • – For business executives, why do you think they call it a rat race?

Tremper Longman: The verse observes that rivers, while constantly flowing into a sea, do not affect the water level, which remains constant. As Graham Ogden notes, the verse entails an action that “does not move toward completion; it knows only constant and cyclic motion.”

Warren Wiersbe: In this section, Solomon approached the problem as a scientist and examined the “wheel of nature” around him: the earth, the sun, the wind, and the water.  (This reminds us of the ancient “elements” of earth, air, fire, and water.)  He was struck by the fact that generations of people came and went while the things of nature remained.  There was “change” all around, yet nothing really changed.  Everything was only part of the “wheel of nature” and contributed to the monotony of life.  So, Solomon asked, “Is life worth living?”

David Hubbard: The point of the summary is to encapsulate in one phrase the repetitive, dependable constancy of creation’s changeless pattern.

D.  (:8-11) Frustrating Conclusion – One Man Cannot Make a Difference, an Impact –

We are a meaningless dot on the timeline of unchanging existence.

There is nothing new under the sun.

  1. (:8)  No Satisfaction or Fulfillment for Man

All things are wearisome; Man is not able to tell it.

                    The eye is not satisfied with seeing, Nor is the ear filled with hearing.”

Our glass is always half-filled; some people you describe that way; really applies to all of us; no matter how upbeat and optimistic we appear.

Human desire is never satisfied; restlessness

David Thompson: The word “weary” means that everything you do without God at the center of life, will leave you fatigued, tired and exhausted (Gesenius, p. 329). In fact, man cannot even put into words how empty life is apart from God. There is a loneliness and an emptiness that is beyond description when men and women try to live life without God at the center.

Daniel Akin: Solomon concludes in verse 8 that our existence is full of weariness. He gives three behaviors to parallel the sun, wind, and sea. He contends that we cannot say enough, see enough, or hear enough. We cannot say enough words to find meaning in the midst of this monotony. The eye will never be able to see it all. There are always more sights to see, experiences to take in, and pictures to look at. For some there is always one more pornographic image to try to find pleasure in because the experience does not last. And the ear has never heard it all. There is always more gossip to spread, songs to hear, jokes to listen to, or flirtatious words to enjoy. Nothing we can say, see, or hear can bring meaning to this redundancy.

  1. (:9-10)  Nothing new under the sun

That which has been is that which will be,

                     And that which has been done is that which will be done.

                     So there is nothing new under the sun.

                     Is there anything of which one might say, See this, it is new?

                     Already it has existed for ages which were before us.”

[Personal Illustration: Design and Funding experience with inventors; selling them on what a wonderful new idea they are trying to bring to market.]

  1. (:11)  No Legacy or Memorials

There is no remembrance of earlier things;

                     And also of the later things which will occur.

                     There will be for them no remembrance among those who will come later still.”

  • Man tries to build monuments and name roads after people – but don’t kid yourself; you are soon forgotten.
  • Mantra of business: no one is indispensable; you are replaceable.
  • Ask your friends tomorrow about the legacy of Solomon … what does his life mean to them?

Daniel Fredericks: History notes and respects the efforts of an infinitesimally small fraction of the earth’s inhabitants, and the intensities of even these legacies are evanescent, fading with every passing year. Anyone who sees their eternal significance referred to in their journals and diaries or autobiographies has not sat at the feet of Qoheleth. Any artist, ruler, entrepreneur, hero, scientist or theologian who aspires to be read about in a “Who’s Who” should understand that their innovations, awards, writings, or whatever feats that are honoured now, will be assessed in the new earth much more modestly compared to the pomp with which they were first celebrated. . .  Today’s celebrities are tomorrow’s obituaries, and their names are as disposable as the morning paper in which their life stories will be printed. And if that is what becomes of our celebrities, what will become of us?



(1:12 – 2:23 — Solomon examining works and then wisdom – repeated cycles … looking for a

way to break out of the monotony and meaninglessness of life)

Douglas Sean O’Donnell: As in most other Hebrew poetry, the structure is simple, or what I prefer to call “simply beautiful.” After an introductory statement (Eccl. 1:12), there follow two reflections, each of which gives a statement about the vanity of pursuing wisdom, followed by a proverb that supports the statement. To express the poetic structure in outline form:

First Reflection—vv. 13–15

Statement of the vanity of pursuing wisdom—vv. 13–14

A proverb quoted in support—v. 15

Second Reflection—vv. 16–18

Statement of the vanity of pursuing wisdom (and folly)—vv. 16–17

A proverb quoted in support—v. 18

From this simple structure, it is easy to find and summarize what Solomon discovered about wisdom.

  • His first reflection is that wisdom cannot change reality;
  • his second is that wisdom can increase sorrow.

A.  (:12-15) Examination of Works

  1. (:12) Supremely Qualified Detective

a.  Preeminent Insight

                                    “I the Preacher

Penned the words of the book of Proverbs earlier — 12:9-12

b.  Preeminent Dominion

                                    “have been king over Israel

c.  Preeminent Location

                        “in Jerusalem.”

  1. (:13)  Mission Impossible – Discover the Secret of Life

a.  Supremely Focused Pursuit

                                    (1).  Analytical and Logical Pursuit

And I set my mind

Not getting some subjective, emotional reaction;

This will be well thought out; enlightened; reasonable

(2).  Comprehensive Pursuit — Swindoll

(a)  “to seek” – investigate the roots of a matter

Do serious research

(b)  “and explore” – examine all sides

It’s a practical word for experimentation

Ray Stedman: the Searcher – he is the ultimate investigative reporter.

Here is a searching mind which has looked over all of life and seen what is behind the actions of people.

(3).  Gifted Pursuit

by wisdom

Who better than Solomon to investigate?

(4).  Unconstrained Pursuit

concerning all that has been done under heaven

Our grand juries are limited; focusing just on investigating one issue;

Can be very frustrating; can’t ask certain questions; can’t go there

b.  Supremely Frustrating Mission

                    “It is a grievous task which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with.”

Warren Wiersbe: Solomon mentions God forty times and always uses “Elohim” and never “Jehovah.”  Elohim (“God” in the English Bible) is the Mighty God, the glorious God of creation who exercises sovereign power.  Jehovah (“LORD” in the English Bible) is the God of the covenant, the God of revelation who is eternally self-existent and yet graciously relates Himself to sinful man.  Since Solomon is dealing exclusively with what he sees “under the sun,” he uses Elohim.

Michael Eaton: God has appointed an unhappy task for the sons of men to do.  The verb “give” sometimes has the force of “appoint” (e.g. Je. 1:5).  People may live secularly in the earthly realm, but the problems they meet are ordained by the God who occupies the heavenly realm.  Mankind cannot be indifferent to or detached from the futility which besets him; it is an “inescapable fact of one’s humanity” (Rylaarsdam).  Business, denoting mankind’s restlessness and vigour in the quest for meaning, derives from anah, “to engage in something”, to be active in doing something”.  It points to the sense of compulsion behind the quest.  Mankind thinks and plans.  This he can scarcely avoid, for he wants to understand where his life is going.  This is the burden which, by God’s decree, every man bears; the problem of life is no optional hobby.

Knut Martin Heim: Qoheleth’s speech continues to explore serious attempts to find success. All of them lead to the same conclusion: that all human efforts to find success are doomed. The goals that humans pursue to find happiness are mirages, optical illusions of the mind. Qoheleth’s claim is not based on gut feelings, generalizations and anecdotes, but on empirical evidence based on experiments and careful reflections on scenarios which represent the gamut of human experience.

  1. (:14-15)  Theory of Futility Substantiated

Cf. Einstein and his theory of Relativity – Solomon known for his more fundamental human theory = The theory of futility

a.  Comprehensive Investigation

                                    “I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun

b.  Consistent Conclusion = Thesis of the Book Repeated

                                    “all is vanity and striving after wind

Warren Wiersbe: Both the workaholic and the alcoholic are running away from reality and living on substitutes, and one day the bubble of illusion will burst.  We only make life harder when we try to escape.  Instead of running away from life, we should run to God and let Him make life worth living.

c.  Confirmed Inevitability

                                    “What is crooked cannot be straightened

                                    And what is lacking cannot be counted.”

Wouldn’t you like to be part of the solution; wouldn’t you like to make a difference; cf all of the politicians each election promising CHANGE – they are going to step into office and enact policies and sponsor legislation that will cure our ills; take just one for example: cutting back on big govt spending … what are the results?

How about trying to make changes in our own lives; all of the self-help books; all of the inspirational speakers who try to get us all enthused about mind over matter; all of the positive thinking gurus; reality: you can’t change the spots on a leopard!

Only God can transform people’s lives from the inside out.

Tremper Longman: The thrust of the verse is that there is something fundamentally wrong with life on earth, and, since the world as it is has come about as a result of God’s will (v. 13), there is absolutely nothing that humans can do about it.

David Thompson: He thoroughly researched everything, seeing if it could really bring a man meaning and fulfillment. He came to four conclusions:

1)  Any pursuit apart from God is empty. 1:14a

2)  Any pursuit to try and find meaning without God is like chasing the wind. 1:14b

3)  Any pursuit without God at the center is a crooked pursuit which will never lead one straight to fulfillment and meaning. 1:15a

4)  Any pursuit without God is so lacking in bringing meaning that one cannot even count or calculate how far short it falls. 1:15b

B.  (:16-18) Examination of Wisdom

  1. Supremely Qualified Detective

I said to myself, Behold, I have magnified and increased wisdom more than all

who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has observed a wealth of

wisdom and knowledge

I stopped at nothing; I gave it my best shot

  1. Mission Impossible

And I set my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly;”

  1. Theory of Futility Substantiated

I realized that this also is striving after wind.  Because in much wisdom there is

much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.”

T. S. Eliot in Choruses from “The Rock”: All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance.

Brian Racer: Why is there so much grief in Education?

1)  Obsolescence — there is always something more and newer to be learned (cf. computer software releases)

2)  Hitting the wall of our own educational and mental capabilities (you can never know it all)

Steve Zeisler: Why is this? we wonder. Why should an increase in knowledge and understanding bring grief and pain? I think most of us suffer from a “cockeyed optimist” syndrome. We feel that if we could just understand reality, that some semblance of coherence would emerge; that there is something beautiful awaiting us at the end of the “yellow brick road”; that although to all outward appearances, the world seems topsy-turvy, at its core everything is good and rational. But no. If all we have to go on is life “under the sun,” if heaven does not break through somewhere along the line, then the farther we penetrate in our search the more we will discover that there is no good center awaiting us at the end of our quest.

Brian Racer: Song: “Chasing the Wind” — sung by Steve Green