It has taken me a long time to get started on a sermon series on this book of the OT, mainly because it is not an easy book to preach on. It has a reputation of being pessimistic . What is the first thing you remember as you think of the book of Ecclesiastes ? Most likely this verse : “Vanity of vanities , says the Preacher , vanity of vanities ! All is vanity.” (1:2) . The last thing you want to hear is a pessimistic analysis of the world in which you live . For that, you have the daily news !
In my repeated reading and studies of this book over the years , I must admit however, that it has not left me with a pessimistic perspective of life. I would rather say that it has impressed upon me a very realistic view of life! This book shows us that the things we chase after so very frequently, routinely fail to satisfy us. They are like mist – like vapor – a key word in Ecclesiastes (and perhaps better words to use than “vanity“ ) , as I will demonstrate in the course of our expositions . The experiences of life on this earth, under the sun can make you very cynical , if you take life at face value. Much of what you experience in life is not fair; much of it is unexplainable . People are often puzzled how God can allow certain circumstances to happen . But this book is an excellent help and guide through the difficulties common to man in this life . It will teach us to seize and to enjoy the special moments given to us by God in this life on earth and under the sun. It will teach us to resign ourselves to the sometimes mysterious providences of God in this life . In fact , this book will show us how faith in God alone can take us beyond cynicism and despair .
Apparently , the Jewish synagogue traditionally reads Ecclesiastes on the third day of the Feast of Tabernacles ( late September or early October). It is a festival recalling Israel’s wilderness experience ( Lev 23:34-43). Reading such a book during a festival of great joy tells us that Judaism does not consider this to be a pessimistic book .
Today , I simply want to introduce you to this God inspired portion of Scripture. I want you to get “ a feel for it”, as we consider the title , the type of book , the themes and the theology of Ecclesiastes.
A. THE TITLE : “ECCLESIASTES”
The original Hebrew title for the book is “Qoheleth”. Translated it means “Preacher“ – one who delivers sermons before a “qahal” (a congregation). The Greek translation and equivalent of the OT title is “Ecclesiastes” . The “ ekklesia” is the n assembly/ gathering /congregation of people, being called together by the congregational preacher – the “ecclesiastes”. The word ‘qoheleth’ is not found in any other OT book , but it is used 7 times in this book ( 1:2,12 ; 7:27; 12:8,9,10).
· Author : Solomon : Internal and contextual evidence support Solomon’s authorship . The first verse tells us that the author was “the son of David, king in Jerusalem” (1:1), and again in 1:12 : “I , the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem”. Only four kings ruled over Israel ( the 12 tribes) in Jerusalem: Saul , David ,Solomon , Rehoboam. After Rehoboam , the kingdom was divided into a Northern ( 10 tribe) and a Southern ( 2 tribe) kingdom . Subsequent kings in Jerusalem no longer ruled over the whole of Israel, but only over Judah , the Southern kingdom. By way of deduction we may therefore argue that this author was Solomon , since we know that Solomon was the king endowed by God with unusual wisdom and knowledge. His knowledge and wisdom became legendary ( 2 Chronicles 1:7-13) . Compare also Ecclesiastes 1:16 with 1 Kings 3:12 Ecclesiastes 1:16 “I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.”
1 Kings 3:12 ( Solomon speaking) “… behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you.”
· The Date : If Solomon was the author , the date would be approximately 940-932 B.C.
No other king in Israel matches the qualities of Solomon.
B. THE TYPE OF BOOK : WISDOM LITERATURE
Ecclesiastes is classified as ‘ wisdom literature’ . Five OT books are classified as wisdom literature : Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs. What makes this a unique corpus of literature in the Bible ? Wisdom literature focuses on existential and ultimate questions about God, humanity, creation, and the nature of evil and suffering.
C. THE THEMES OF ECCLESIASTES
I will not try to give you an outline Ecclesiastes . Some have done that , and I could give you their  outlines . Others have simply refused to give an outline , saying that the book defies logical analysis . That view may be a little extreme, since the general aim of the book is clear. It is the connection of thoughts that are not always easy to follow . We must remember that Hebrew thinking and literature ( which is circular , repetitive, emphasizing one point from a number of angles ) is not like Greek thinking ( linear, progressive and to the point ). I will apply the Hebrew thought form in my preaching , and I will endeavor to allow the book to unfold its own logic and wisdom .
· The main point of the book is found in its conclusion : see 12 : 9-14 , and in particular vv 13& 14
· Key words : In terms of getting to know and appreciate the message of Ecclesiastes , it is also important that we should get to know the key words or concepts (i.e. those used repetitively)
1 . Vanity (ESV; KJV) ; meaningless (NIV); - used 38 times . The Hebrew word ‘ hebel’ translates literally as vapour or mist , and outside of Ecclesiastes, the word is often translated as ‘ breath’ ( Ps 62:9; 94:11; 144:4)or ‘vapour’ ( Prov 21:6). Thus it reads literally ‘ vapour of vapours, all is vapour.” We will deal with this word more extensively once we get to the exposition of the text. Interestingly , the name of Adam’s second son ‘ Abel’ is derived from the root of this word, and he was “ the first human to suffer death ( Gen 4:2) , the first to know the reality of life’s vapourousness. In the end , every last one of us is Abel ( hebel” )
2. Under the sun: used 29 times . “Under the sun” describes typical life upon this earth. Solomon’s observations are limited to life ‘under the sun’ , here in time and space .Life under the sun is pre messianic , says Peter Leithart , when the Lord will rend the veil of the heavens and the sun will give way to the blight of the Lamb. ( Rev 21:23) 
3. Striving/chasing after the wind : (literally shepherding the wind) – a very vivid metaphor which helps us to understand our lack of control over the world and over our own lives . “We can no more bring the world under our control than we can guide the wind into a paddock for the night.”  Thank God that Solomon believes that there is life after this life under the sun . For Christians there is Life in the Son NOW and forevermore ! Thankfully Solomon knows that God will bring all wickedness to judgment ( 3:16-17). In the time after the time under the sun, there will be a judgment!
4. The name of “God “ is mentioned 40 times. I will comment on this in closing as we consider the theology of Ecclesiastes.
5. The “heart “ is mentioned 40 times . We remind ourselves that out of the heart are all the issues of life, either for good or for evil . ( ) A major question we shall come up against time and again is this : “Where is your heart rooted and settled under the sun ?”. Believe me , this is a most important question .
6. Wisdom/ wise occurs 52 times .This is the primary purpose of Ecclesiastes – to teach us true wisdom ; a reliable worldview . You will note that wisdom ,philosophy , the pursuit of knowledge, reason in itself and without God gets you nowhere ( cf 2:12)
7 . Rejoice/ joy occurs 17 times . It is one of the major themes of this book – how to find joy under the sun and in the midst of many perplexing trials . Among a number of themes , this book is meant to lift your spirits. It is one of the stated aims : “The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth ( Eccl 12:10)
8. Other important words : good ( 52 times) ; time ( 37 times); trouble ( 33 times); evil (30 times) ; eat and drink ( 6 times)
D. THE THEOLOGY OF ECCLESIASTES
The Word ‘ theology’ proper refers to the doctrine of God - “ theos & logos” i.e. the word about God . It is of course the word of God (the truth about God) in relation to us (mankind) , and the truth about us in relation to God .
In this regard ( and in a nutshell) Solomon develops 3 foundational theological truths about God and man :
1. Mankind is always in search of happiness and enduring substance ( e.g. 2:24; 3:12,22; 5:18; 8:15; 9:7-9; 11:7-10) . This is not wrong in itself , provided that we realize and understand …
2. God is King. Divine sovereignty and often mysterious providences characterize human existence under the sun ( 3:11) . In this respect we must remember that :
(i) Life is lived in a fallen world ( 1:13b; 7:29; 8:15b)
(ii) Good ( 2:24,25; 3:10 ; 5:18-20 ; 6:2 ; 7:14 ) and trials ( 3:18 ; 6:2b; 7:14) come from His hand.
(iii) God must be approached reverently ( 5:1) and cautiously with our words ( 5:2), knowing that our words are counted ( 5:4)
(iv) God must be feared ( 5:7; 12:13 ) and those who fear Him need not to be afraid of Him ( 8:12) ; the wicked must always fear God in an ultimate sense ( 8:13)
(v) God always has the last word ( 7:13)
(vi) God is the sovereign Creator and He can ultimately not be made subject to our whims and fancies ( 5:2 ; 9:7; 11:5)
(vii) What He does is perfect ( 3:14)
(viii) God is the Giver and Taker of Life (5:15; 12:7)
(ix) He will judge the righteous and the wicked ( 3:17; 11:9; 12:14)
3. In the light of your knowledge of God be wise how you live
(i) Be content with where you are at – in whatever circumstance ( 7:10)
(ii) Remember that all things on earth are temporary . Don’t fix your heart on them . It is a striving after the wind.
(iii) Enjoy whatever you have from God. ( 2:24; 3:12; 5:18-20; 7:14;8:15 ;9:7; 11:8)
(iv) Be cautious ( 5:1-7 ; 8:1-9 ; 10:8-11
(v) Don’t be overly righteous ( 7:16,17;20; ) and don’t scheme too much ( 11:10)
 Compare also Ecclesiastes 2:4-6 with 1 Kings 9:17-19; Ecclesiastes 2:7-9 with 1 Kings 10:14-20 ; Ecclesiastes 12:9-10 with 1 Kings 4:32)
 E.g. Stuart Olyott on Ecclesiastes ( Welwyn Commentaries) p.14,15 ; William D. Barrick ( Focus on the Bible Commentaries) pp 24 27
 E.g. G.S Hendry in the New Bible Commentary ( 3rd ed,) p.571
 Peter Leithart :Solomon amongst the Postmoderns , p.67
 Ibid . p. 100
 Ibid. p 68