The Book of Proverbs The Song of Solomon

THE BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES; OR, THE PREACHER

The book entitled Koheleth, or Ecclesiastes, has ever been received, by both the Jewish and the Christian Church, as written under the inspiration of the Almighty, and was held to be properly a part of the sacred canon. But while this has been almost universally granted, there hs been but little unanimity among learned men and critics as to its author. To Solomon it has been most generally attributed, in both ancient and modern times.

Grotius, however, conjectured that it was written a long time after Solomon, showing that there are many words in it which do not savor of the purity of the Hebrew tongue, and are found in the times of the Captivity and afterwards, and such as appear principally in the Books of Ezra and Daniel.

The Jews in general, and St. Jerome, hold the book to be the composition of Solomon, and the fruit of his repentance when restored from his idolatry, into which he had fallen through means of the strange or heathenish women whom he had taken for wives and concubines. Others, of no mean note, who consider Solomon as the author, believe that he wrote it before his fall. Of the restoration of Solomon to the favor of God there is no proof in the sacred history.

That Solomon, son of David, might have been the author of the whole matter of this, and a subsequent writer put it in his own language, is a possible case; and were this to be allowed, it would solve all difficulties. Let us place the supposition thus: Solomon said all these things, and they are highly worthy of his wisdom; and a divine writer, after his time, who does not mention his name, gives us a faithful version of the whole in his own language.

Ecclesiastes. The Message of the Preacher

Ecclesiastes is "a Greek translation of the Hebrew Koheleth, a word meaning 'one who convenes an assembly,' sometimes rendered Preacher. The book of Ecclesiastes consists of reflections on some of the deepest problems of life, as they present themselves to the thoughtful observer. The epilogue (Eccl. 12:9-14) sets forth the main conclusions at which the writer has arrived. The author describes himself as 'son of David, king in Jerusalem' (1:1).

"The book of Ecclesiastes seems permeated with a pessimistic flavor, but must be read in the light of one of its key phrases: 'under the sun' (1:9), meaning 'from a worldly point of view.' The term vanity also needs clarification, since as used in Ecclesiastes it means transitory, or fleeting. Thus the Preacher laments that as things appear from the point of view of the world, everything is temporary and soon gone -- nothing is permanent. It is in this light also that the reader must understand 9:5 and 9:10, which declare that the dead 'know not any thing,' and there is no knowledge 'in the grave.' These should not be construed as theological pronouncements on the condition of the soul after death; rather, they are observations by the Preacher about how things appear to men on the earth 'under the sun.' The most spiritual part of the book appears in chapters 11 and 12, where it is concluded that the only activity of lasting and permanent value comes from obedience to God's commandments, since all things will be examined in the judgment that God will render on man." (Bible Dictionary, s.v. "Ecclesiastes.")

Ecclesiastes 1:1. Whose words are in Ecclesiastes 1?

Ecclesiastes 1:2b. What is vanity? (See v. 2b)

Ecclesiastes 1:13. What had the preacher given his heart to do? (See also v. 13b)

Ecclesiastes 1:18. What is "in much wisdom"? (v. 18)

Ecclesiastes 2:9-11, 17. What were vanity and vexation of spirit?

Ecclesiastes 2:26. What does God give to man?

Ecclesiastes 3:1. What is there for everything?

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11. Sequence and Order in One's Life

These verses are among those most often quoted from Ecclesiastes. They suggest that there is an appropriate time for everything that occurs in human life. Elder Paul H. Dunn quoted Ecclesiastes 3:1 and commented:

"Our prophet, President Kimball, has counseled you, young people, particularly young men, as to that proper sequence. Would you note the sequence of events that will bring orderliness and happiness to your life. I quote from our prophet:

"'One can have all the blessings if he is in control and takes the experiences in proper turn: first some limited social get-acquainted contacts, then his mission, then his courting, then his temple marriage and [now note] his schooling and his family, then his life's work. In any other sequence he could run into difficulty.' (Spencer W. Kimball, 'The Marriage Decision,' Ensign, Feb. 1975, p. 4.)" (In Conference Report, Apr. 1975, p. 91; or Ensign, May 1975, p. 62.)

Ecclesiastes 3:17. Whom will God judge?

Ecclesiastes 4:1-4. What is vanity?

Ecclesiastes 4:13. What is better than an old and foolish king?

Ecclesiastes 4:13. A Willingness to Continue to Grow

President Brigham Young quoted Ecclesiastes 4:13 and then discussed the importance of one's continuing to grow: "When I was baptized into this Church, it was in its infancy, although a considerable number had been baptized before me, and many of them were older when they were baptized than I was. They improved, their minds expanded, they received truth and intelligence, increased in the knowledge of the things of God, and bid fair to become full-grown men in Christ Jesus. But some of them, when they had gained a little spiritual strength and knowledge, apparently stopped in their growth. This was in the eastern country, and but a few years passed before the fruit-trees began to cease bearing fruit ... Like the fruit-trees, they have ceased to grow and increase and bear the fruits of the Spirit." (In Journal of Discourses, 7:335.)

Ecclesiastes 5:1-17. Proverbs in Ecclesiastes

These verses are the most positive in Ecclesiastes. The counsel given here is in the form of brief proverbs or wise sayings.

Ecclesiastes 5:2-3. How is a fool's voice known?

Ecclesiastes 5:12. The Importance of Loving to Work

Elder Adam S. Bennion said:

"You remember what the Lord has said: 'In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.' (Gen. 3:19.) And there is this wonderful passage in John. When the Savior was criticized for something he did on the Sabbath, he answered his accusers by saying, 'My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.' (John 5:17.)

"And then that memorable passage from Ecclesiastes:

"'The sleep of a labouring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much: (I am glad I have not been rich -- because this next line says) ... but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep.' (Ecclesiastes 5:12.)

"All my life I have enjoyed the blessed privilege of living with people who love to work. I rejoice in a helpmate who delights in keeping up our home ...

"Someone has said, 'Happy is the man who has work he loves to do,' but somebody else has added the basic fundamental thought, 'Happy is the man who loves the work he has to do.'" (In Conference Report, Apr. 1955, pp. 110-11.)

Ecclesiastes 5:19. What are a gift from God?

Ecclesiastes 6:3. What prevents a manís riches, wealth, honor, and posterity from being filled with vanity?

Ecclesiastes 7:11-12, 19. What does wisdom do for those who have it? (See also Ecclesiastes 7:12b)

Ecclesiastes 7:12. What Can One Take with Him?

In this verse the Preacher comes close to the truth expressed in Doctrine and Covenants 130:17-19.

Ecclesiastes 7:13-29. Does Man Control His Destiny?

The theme here is resignation to the will of God. Become content by changing and controlling yourself and by refraining from doing wicked and foolish things. Part of wisdom lies in changing what can be changed and in accepting what cannot.

Ecclesiastes 8:8. What do none have the power to avoid?

Ecclesiastes 8:12-17. Why are the wicked unable to find wisdom?

Ecclesiastes 9:1. Who are in the hand of God?

Ecclesiastes 9:16. What is better than strength?

Ecclesiastes 9:18. Who is able to destroy much good?

Ecclesiastes 10:1. What will destroy the reputation of the wise and honorable?

Ecclesiastes 10:12. Whose words are gracious?

Ecclesiastes 10:14. Who is full of words?

Ecclesiastes 11. Must One Accept What Is?

The stress here is threefold: (1) each individual must take advantage of opportunities while he has them; (2) life is uncertain, and there is no guarantee that opportunities lost will ever return; and (3) one's future lies not in changing or in challenging but in accepting what is and making the most of it.

Jesus taught that we can control our destiny. We do have some influence on our circumstances as well as responsibility for how we respond to them. Our obligation is to do all we can and not just learn to be resigned to our lot.

Ecclesiastes 11:1. The Law of the Harvest

We reap what we sow; we cast our bread on the waters and get a just return. Every good deed will have its reward, and every unworthy thought will register in some recess of the mind.

Ecclesiastes 11:3. As the Tree Falls

Brigham Young interpreted this expression as follows, tieing it to death and the Judgment: "Ere long we will have to lay down these tabernacles and go into the spirit world. And I do know that as we lie down, so judgment will find us, and that is scriptural; 'as the tree falls so it shall lie,' or, in other words, as death leaves us so judgment will find us." (In Journal of Discourses, 4:52-53.)

Ecclesiastes 11:6. What are we encouraged to do?

Ecclesiastes 11:9. What will God do?

Ecclesiastes 12. Life Does Have Meaning

This passage sounds negative, cynical, and without hope, but one must remember that the Preacher is speaking from the viewpoint of a man without God. From the standpoint of the natural man, it is difficult to argue against Ecclesiastes. When a person puts his trust in things under the sun (the things of the world), he finds no lasting spiritual benefits. Energy and labor expended, wisdom and knowledge acquired, fortune and prestige gained, goodness and virtue dispensed are empty without God and pointless in the eternal scheme of things without accompanying spiritual life. The purpose of Ecclesiastes is not to grind us down between futility and despair but to help us remember that there is meaning only through God and keeping His commandments. Otherwise all is vanity.

Ecclesiastes 12:7. What will happen to the spirit at death?

Ecclesiastes 12:7. "The Spirit Shall Return unto God"

"Obviously we could not return to a place where we had never been, so we are talking about death as a process as miraculous as birth, by which we return to 'our Father who art in heaven'" (Harold B. Lee, in Conference Report, Oct. 1973, p. 6; or Ensign, Jan. 1974, p. 4)

In a related passage of scripture, Doctrine and Covenants 88:15-16, the Lord states that the body and the spirit together make up the soul. The separation of the body and the spirit is called death; their reuniting is called resurrection.

Ecclesiastes 12:11. What are the words of the wise? (See also Ecclesiastes 12:11a)

Ecclesiastes 12:13. What is the whole duty of man? (See also v. 14)

Ecclesiastes 12:13. "Fear God, and Keep His Commandments"

This one verse gives meaning to the entire book of Ecclesiastes. The Preacher finally sums up his whole philosophy and tells us to "fear God, and keep his commandments" (v. 13), to put first things first and all else will have meaning and not be just vanity. Life need not be empty or useless, spent in pursuing riches, fame, pleasure, or even wisdom.

Elder Henry D. Taylor, an assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve, said: "If we keep all of God's commandments, we will enjoy a feeling of calmness, serenity, and strength. This will serve as a bulwark to protect us against the winds and storms created by the tensions and uncertainties of present chaotic world conditions. We need not wait until we get to heaven to obtain peace and happiness. We can have heaven on earth, here and now." (In Conference Report, Oct. 1961, p. 103.)


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