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Background Considerations

What happens when we overvalue our accomplishments in wisdom, wealth or pleasure? The author of Ecclesiastes was very successful in life and he claims to have tasted pretty much everything that life has to offer: power, wealth, wisdom, fame. Yet in the end he found life to be meaningless. For this reason in the closing chapters of the book he argues in favor of life of faith.

Relevant Biblical Passages

Ecclesiastes 1:1-6. One characteristic of the style used by ancient Hebrew writers is that they begin with the statement that answers the question “what,” and then they present answers to “how” and “why.” Thus the summary or the conclusion of the whole discourse comes first in the text.

What is the meaning of the expression “vanity of vanities”? (x of x in Hebrew stands for superlative = “everything is utterly meaningless.” A similar statement is found toward the end of the book (inclusio).

The Hebrew word translated “vanity” (hevel) comes from a root that means emptiness, absurdity, absence of meaning. A visual presentation is one of vapor that symbolizes transitory nature of life (Abel from Genesis 4).

Ecclesiastes 1:9-11. Explain the meaning of “new” (hdš) in the statement “there is nothing new under the sun.” A French proverb says: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Should the expression “under the sun” be understood as saying “as seen by a human eye,” and be contrasted with that which can only be seen with the eyes of faith?

Ecclesiastes 1:16-18. Is the author right in saying that wisdom, at times, may appear as meaningless as folly?

Lessons for Life

The author of Ecclesiastes teaches that without faith life may look like being devoid of its true meaning. Even wisdom that is not grounded on faith in God makes no sense. That is the reason why in several places in biblical wisdom passages it is written that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning (Hebrew ‘the most important component'[rë˙šît]) of wisdom.”

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