Negative and Depressing

“Many of the Philosopher’s thoughts appear negative and even depressing. But the fact that this book is in the Bible shows that Biblical faith is broad enough to take into account such pessimism and doubt. Many have taken comfort in seeing themselves in the mirror of Ecclesiastes, and have discovered that the same Bible which reflects these thoughts also offers the hope in God that gives life its greater meaning.”

–Note in the Good News Bible (TEV)

Demolishing to Build

The Preacher “is demolishing to build. The searching questions he has asked are those that life itself puts to us, if we will only listen. He can afford to ask them, because in the final chapters he has good news for us, once we can stop pretending that what is mortal is enough for us, who have been given a capacity for the eternal [3:11]….

“The function of Ecclesiastes is to bring us to the point where we face the appalling inference that nothing has meaning, nothing matters under the sun. It is then that we can hear, as the good news which it is, that everything matters–‘for God will bring every deed into judgment.’ That is how the book will end. On this rock we can be destroyed: but it is rock, not quicksand. There is the chance to build.”

–Derek Kidner, in A Time to Mourn

Life’s Blessings — Used as Means or Ends?

“The primary aim of the author is to show from personal experience that all earthly goals and blessings, when pursued as ends in them-selves, lead to dissatisfaction and emptiness. The highest good in life lies in reverencing and obeying God, and in enjoying life while one can. Thus the author was a man of faith; he was skeptical only of human wisdom and endeavor.”

–Robert Laurin, in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary

“In themselves, and rightly used, the basic things of life are sweet and good. What spoils them is our hunger to get out of them more than they can give.”

–Derek Kidner, in A Time to Mourn

God Uses Life’s Vanities

“First [the writer] sees that life is full of ‘vanities’ which mock men. Then he sees that these ‘vanities’ are meant to mock men. Then he sees that these ‘vanities’ are not just meant to mock men cruelly, but with a benign purpose, namely, to lead men to seek their true happiness in God Himself. He sees that these things are “from the hand of God” (2:24). And he sees that these things are allowed because God ‘hath set eternity’ in men’s hearts (3:11), and seeks to lead them to a true view of life in relation to material things.”

–J. Sidlow Baxter, in Explore the Book

Causes and Cure of Pessimism

What causes Koheleth’s sombre pessimism? “First, he views life selfishly rather than socially. He has lived to get, instead of to give. And he has found what all such persons find, namely, that the more one lives for self, the less do earthly things satisfy….Lord Beaconsfield’s famous words seem all too true–‘Youth is a mistake, manhood a struggle, and old age a regret.’

“[Then] Koheleth views human life as bounded by the grave rather than as having destiny beyond. Man dies as the beast, he says; and this is his greatest problem of all (3:19-20)….

“What then? Well, Koheleth was wrong. No man can have a true view of life who looks at it selfishly rather than socially…and as bounded by the grave. And when all the available data are considered, no man needs to view it as Koheleth did. Nor did Koheleth himself so view it at the time when he wrote his treatise; for it must be remembered that he was describing how he had thought earlier (as his use of the past tense all through the book indicates).”

–J. Sidlow Baxter, in Explore the Book

Judgment is Good News as well as Bad, Comfort as well as Warning

“The highest good at present open to man is a wise, temperate, grateful use and enjoyment of the present life (11:9,10), combined with a steadfast faith in God and in the life to come (12:1-7). This is what the preacher says:

Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment. Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh; for youth and prime of life are vanity.

Remember also Thy Creator in the days of thy youth, [before] the evil days come, and the years draw nigh when thou shalt say: I have no pleasure in them…and the dust return to the earth, as it was, and the spirit to God who gave it.

“In the above quotation, the words, ‘But know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment,’ have been gravely misunderstood….We get the sense more truly by changing the ‘but’ into ‘and.’ The fact of a righteous judgment hereafter is mentioned not as a scare but as a comfort, because it is then and there that the ironies and enigmas which make this present life vanity, even to the righteous and the wise, will be answered by a final explanation, restitution, and compensation. It is an anticipation of Paul’s word in Romans 8:20, that although the creation has been made ‘subject to vanity,’ it has been thus subjected ‘in hope.’

“Admittedly, the thought of that final judgment is meant also to be a deterrent to folly and sin; but the main thought here is that of hope in it. That is why the preacher, having mentioned it, immediately adds, ‘Therefore, remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh.’ It is important also to realise that the advice to ‘eat and drink and enjoy,’ in Ecclesiastes, has nothing of Epicureanism or ungodly, fleshly indulgence in it. It is simply [a condensed term] for living in a legitimate comfort and prosperity (see Jer. 22:15), due to Jehovah’s bountifulness.”

–J. Sidlow Baxter in Explore the Book