I love the book of Ecclesiastes. The reason? From my very first reading, it opened my eyes as to how honest and real the Bible is. The raw straightforwardness of this book (in particular) helped to confirm for me that the pages of Holy writ could never originate with man. Take verse 11 from chapter 3. After saying how God has made everything beautiful in its time, it then says that God has…
…put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.
My Pre-Conversion Thought Life
How true this was for me before I became a Christian. Prior to when I had even understood who Jesus actually was, I knew that God had existed, that He had made everything in its time, and that in its untainted form (before rebellious choices) the creation was beautiful in a way which we cannot see at the moment, yet I had no way of knowing Him personally. Life experience up to that point had confirmed the obvious to me… that most of the problems and evils that I had ever witnessed, was effected by, or even participated in myself, came from us… human beings.
I knew my own thought life. Who was I kidding? When I was actually honest with myself (before I knew Christ), I could not deny that there was a Creator and that I had violated His good purpose. I especially knew (somehow), that if I was to ever come face to face with God, I knew with every cell in my body that I would be found to have fallen short of my responsibility to be one of His upright creatures. This is what the Bible means when it refers to us as being made in God’s image. In other words, human beings are supposed to image God. But, we don’t. It is why Paul wrote in Romans 8:29 that we (Christians) were “predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son,” and in 1 Corinthians 15:49 that “we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.”
Without Christ, such is not possible.
Back to Ecclesiastes
Again, as the second half of Ecclesiastes 3:11 says…
“…he (us) cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”
What the writer is pointing out is: Unless God somehow reaches out to us and reveals Himself to us, we could never even fathom the solution to our shared predicament (Jesus Christ) through merely our own investigation and intuition. In other words, unless God gives us… “special revelation” if you will (through scripture), all that we are then left with is just “general revelation,” and we remain lost.
Ecclesiastes puts into perspective the value of life experience devoid of special revelation. Throughout this book, you will see a word repeated. In Hebrew, it’s the word “hevel.” Depending on the translation being read, hevel is represented with words and phrases like vanity, meaningless, pointless, absolute futility, and no purpose… amongst many others.
The root Hebrew understanding of the word hevel is “smoke.” It makes sense that the writer would use smoke so often in this book to get across the point being made, because smoke has a quality which is unique. It’s physical. It’s real. We can see it. We can smell it. We can even taste it. Some of us even enjoy inhaling some forms of it and holding it in the lungs.
But… we cannot keep it. We cannot grab it. It just slips through our fingers and it quickly dissipates into nothing.
Here’s the point: What this book challenges us to do, is to learn to develop the ability to recognize what is worth pursuing in this life and what is not. To see the difference between what is a healthy, temporal enjoyment, and what is an unhealthy, fruitless pursuit. It is meant to force us to ask ourselves…
Is what I am engaging in really just hevel (smoke), or is it something which actually requires my constant attention?
How the Book Ends
After touching upon all aspects of life, The book of Ecclesiastes ends with the most important piece of advice that we could ever receive. This is how the book closes…
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
In One Sitting
If you have never read this book straight through in one sitting, I recommend that you try it. Even though it is 12 chapters, it’s a quick read. It would only take you about 30 minutes. I hope that this encourages you to try reading Ecclesiastes in its entirety…
Godspeed, to the brethren!