The name Ecclesiastes is a translation of the Hebrew word koheleth, which means “one who convenes an assembly” or simply a preacher (see Bible Dictionary, “Ecclesiastes”). Throughout this book, the writer presents a series of questions in search of the purpose of life. His questions and subsequent conclusions illustrate his own journey of seeking to understand why we are here on the earth. As students study this book, they can likewise consider the purpose of mortality and discover with the writer that everyone will one day have to stand before God and be judged.
Little is known about the writer of Ecclesiastes beyond his own description of himself as “the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem” (Ecclesiastes 1:1).
It is not clear when or where this book was written. In Ecclesiastes 1:1–11 and 12:8–14, the text refers to the Preacher in third person. This may suggest that someone other than the Preacher compiled his writings and teachings sometime after they were given. This compounds the difficulty of knowing when and where this book was written.
The book of Ecclesiastes is unique because although the Preacher is a believer, he often poses questions and makes statements as if he were not. Everything that he says, therefore, must be taken in context of his final conclusion in Ecclesiastes 12:13–14 that all of our works in this life will one day be judged by God. The teachings of this book seem to be directed at individuals who do not believe in God or at least are not yet fully committed to Him. The Preacher presents questions and statements that many of these individuals may feel inclined to agree with, but then he helps them to see how much purpose and meaning can come into our lives when we seek to live in accordance with God’s will.
Ecclesiastes 1–2 The Preacher concludes that everything in this life is vanity or fleeting and will not last. In support of this conclusion, he shares various efforts he made to find meaning and purpose in life. He sought after frivolity and pleasure, built “great works” (2:4), and gained riches but found that none of it satisfied him.
Ecclesiastes 3 The Preacher explains that good and bad things happen to everyone. The works of man do not last. The works of God, however, are eternal.
Ecclesiastes 4–8 The Preacher teaches that although this life is temporary and all will one day die, there are things we can do to find contentment in this life. He also identifies things that will surely lead to an unfulfilled life, including oppressing others, accumulating wealth for no other purpose than to have more than another, and failing to seek wisdom.
Ecclesiastes 9–10 The Preacher asserts that both the wicked and the righteous will experience tragedy. Everyone has a limited amount of time on this earth and will benefit much more from gaining wisdom than from gaining riches or power.
Ecclesiastes 11–12 The Preacher concludes that unlike most things in life, obedience to God’s commandments is of lasting importance because one day we will die, our spirits will return to God, and He will judge us according to the way we lived during our mortal lives.