The book of Ecclesiastes, along with Job and Proverbs, is one of the three major Wisdom books in the Hebrew Bible. All three are part of the third section of the Hebrew Bible—the Writings—but in the Greek Septuagint Bible they were relocated between the Historical books and the Prophets. The Latin Vulgate Bible and the KJV did the same. The title of this book in Hebrew is Qoheleth, which means “of the congregation.” The English title is borrowed directly from the Greek Septuagint without translating it: Ecclesiastes, the Greek word meaning “of the congregation or assembly.” The opening verse of the book indicates that what will follow are the words of Qoheleth, “the son of David, king in Jerusalem.” Tradition has taken that to mean Solomon in his role as wise “Teacher” of the assembly. Some translations have rendered Qoheleth instead as “Preacher,” but what he has to say is more teaching than preaching. In the Hebrew Bible this book is part of a group of five books called Megilloth, meaning “scrolls,” which are each read on major Jewish festivals. Qoheleth is read for the Feast of Booths (Sukkoth).
Drawing on personal experiences, examples, parables, poems, and proverbs, this book presents the Teacher's reflections on life, wisdom, and humankind's search for meaning. The reader will detect a tone of “seen-it-all” weariness in the Teacher's words. He repeatedly laments that “all is vanity (emptiness), and vexation of spirit” (1.14; 2.11,26; 4.4,16; etc.) and questions whether human beings can really achieve anything in this too short and difficult life. But his pessimism is also balanced by a clear trust in God. As does Job, this book explores the limits of human wisdom and concludes that only God can know what the future will bring. Life, in the Teacher's experience, is brief and full of ambiguity and contradictions. However hard they may try, human beings will never fully comprehend life's mysteries or the ways of God, so trust in God is essential. A central theme in the book is the importance and necessity of coming to terms with one's mortality (see 7.14, for example). This spirit of accepting all that life offers with equanimity, including death, is celebrated in the book's best known passage, “To every thing there is a season,” the Teacher begins, “and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (3.1-8).
A Wise Person and the Search for Meaning in Life (1.1—2.26)
Life Can Be Puzzling, but It Is a Gift from God (3.1—11.8)
Enjoy Life and Remember God in Your Youth (11.9—12.8)
Conclusion (12.9-14)