WE might well suppose that the theme of Ecclesiastes is
the vanity, or transitoriness, of life, the world and its
affairs. This is indeed one of the most obvious issues of the book,
a very apparent point of interest. But this is no dissertation on
resignation or despair. Rather it is an honest recognition of these
evils viewed in the light of, and with firm attachment to, the existence
There is all the difference in the world between the
secular, sophisticated cynic or scholarly epicurean, who may soberly and
calmly observe this vanity of things, recording it as boldly and grandly
as the Assembler himself, and the writer of Ecclesiastes. The Assembler
sees and states what we all see and feel but may not often state.
But he observes and speaks always with God in view. And he never
views the transitoriness and the seeming unfairness of things as they
appear without relating them to God. God is the Creator. He is the
First Cause. He has the ultimate responsibility.
Thus the book becomes a source of hope and praise.
We are thankful that the scriptural sense of vanity is not eternal
meaninglessness, but rather transitoriness. In recognizing God as the One
responsible, we begin to realize that there is power and purpose behind
the vanity. This means that the vanity finally is not in vain.
We are caught up by the Assembler's frank recognition of vanity and
stirring description of disorder, but if we listen carefully to the
writer's contextual connection of this evil with the existence of God Who
is wholly involved with all His creation and its sad situation, we will
not despair. Instead indeed we will say with exultation and
thankfulness, "All is well."
The theme of Ecclesiastes is vanity and struggle and hurt
in relation to God Who knows what He is doing with His creation and
where He is going with it.
THE ONE, ELOHIM
Elohim, the One Who subjects all through His chosen
channels and means is the Protagonist of this book. Since this is
so, we are assured that our own experiences of weariness and being cast
down are not meaningless or matters of absolute vanity, but are part of
God's operations within the province of His purpose. They enlighten
us concerning Elohim, or as the Assembler often designates Him, the
Elohim. The Concordant Version renders this divine title which is
preceded by the definite article, the One, Elohim. The
word "One" in lightface type is not intended in the sense of "singular,"
but is used as a pronoun (so as to say, "that One, Elohim") in order to
indicate the emphasis which the definite article suggests. The One
being spoken of is Elohim, the Supreme Subjector.
It may be helpful to separate certain references to God
in this book, stringing them together apart from the details concerning
human experience and observation which occupy so much space. This may aid
us in keeping this necessary aspect of Ecclesiastes in view later when we
look more closely at the various details. The writer never loses sight of
God or of His operations as he writes. Neither should we as we read and
meditate on his writings.
Elohim has given us our experience of evil (1:13). He
gives wisdom, knowledge and rejoicing (2:26). He gives experience (3:10)
and makes everything and does His work (3:11). To eat and drink and see
good is a gift of Elohim (3:13). What Elohim is doing shall be for the eon
and cannot be added to or subtracted from by others; He does it (3:14).
The One, Elohim, shall seek out (3:15) and judge (3:17). He manifests and
shows (3:18). The One, Elohim, is in the heavens (5:2), and He gives us
the number of our days (5:18). He gives riches and substance and good
(5:19) and keeps our hearts occupied (5:20). With His giving of riches He
may not give power to enjoy them (6:2). He is mighty (6:10). He has
overturned (7:13). He makes all kinds of days (7:14). The One, Elohim,
made humanity upright (7:29) and gives us toil (8:15). The righteous and
the wise are in the hand of the One, Elohim (9:1). He gives us the days of
our transitory lives (9:9). The One, Elohim, made everything (11:5) and
shall bring us into judgment (11:9; 12:14). The spirit will return to the
One, Elohim, Who gave it (12:7).
Remember your Creator (12:1).
These are not words for discouragement. They are full of
promise and hope, assurance and expectation. God is our Creator. Remember
Him in all situations and at all times.
GOD HAS GIVEN EVIL TO US
In contemplating the experience of evil he has seen, the
Assembler is not caught up in a feeling of hopelessness or selfish
cynicism because he begins with the premise that God has given the
experience of evil to us. The vanity and the apparent unfairness of our
lives and the ways of the world "is an experience of evil Elohim has given
to the sons of humanity to humble them by it" (Ecc.1:13; cp 3:10).
There are two major revelations here that we must keep in view as we go
through this book. First of all, this vanity and apparent injustice is
given to us by God. And then: What is given to us by God is given to us
for a purpose.
The particular evil that has captured the mind of the
Assembler is the experience of not getting anywhere despite toil and
honesty in our deeds and reverence in service to God. But this is only
apparent. It cannot be eternal if God does exist and He has a goal. To be
humbled is a goal, and even if we cannot appreciate its goodness, at least
it speaks of an end which God has in view. In time we will become thankful
for this humbling, and so we will become prepared for the further glories
God has for us, all of which will be realized with joy because of the
background of evil that we experience during the brief years of the
THIS TREASURE FROM GOD
For us today the revelation of God is far more glorious
than the Assembler could have discovered. In the evangel we are given "the
knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor.4:6).
This does not mean that we will not observe or experience
hurts and pressures and perplexities. In our transitory days there will be
apparent injustices and real discouragements. When we see the foolish
exalted and the wicked applauded, as we will, it will dishearten us. Death
is all around and within us. But we have the awareness of the treasure of
the love of Christ, Who died for the sake of all (2 Cor.5:14).
Having this treasure, the apostle Paul penned his own
"Ecclesiastes" from time to time. "In everything, being afflicted, but not
distressed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken;
cast down but not perishing" (2 Cor.4:9). "For what is being observed is
temporary, yet what is not being observed is eonian" (2 Cor.4;18). "For
you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, being rich, because of
you He became poor, that you, by His poverty, should be rich" (2 Cor.8:9).
As we experience the vanity to which God has subjected the entire creation
(Rom.8:20-25), we are aware that He is working all together for good
(8:28), for He spares not His own Son, but gives Him up for us all (8:32).
Dean H. Hough