Ecclesiastes 1–12

Old Testament Teacher Resource Manual, (2003), 162


Ecclesiastes means “one who convenes an assembly.” It is sometimes translated “preacher.” The book of Ecclesiastes, along with Job and Proverbs, is sometimes called “wisdom literature” and includes teachings that show the superiority of wisdom over folly. In addition, Ecclesiastes is the fourth book in the section of the Old Testament referred to as poetical (see the subheading “Structure of the Bible” in Bible Dictionary, “Bible,” pp. 622–23).

The central theme of the book of Ecclesiastes is the proposition that life is vain if not centered on God. As the preacher wrote, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

For a more detailed overview of this book, see Bible Dictionary, “Ecclesiastes” (p. 659; see also “Ecclesiastes. The Message of the Preacher” in Old Testament Student Manual: 1 Kings–Malachi, p. 19).

Some Important Gospel Principles to Look For

Suggestions for Teaching

Ecclesiastes 1–12. If we do not live close to the Lord, our lives will be empty. (30–35 minutes)

Share the following statement by President Spencer W. Kimball:

“Unless the way we live draws us closer to our Heavenly Father and to our fellowmen, there will be an enormous emptiness in our lives” (“The Abundant Life,” Ensign, July 1978, 4).

Briefly discuss with students the following three ideas, using the accompanying questions:

  • Think about the different decisions people might make if they believed they would not be held accountable by God for their actions or be judged for their choices.

    • Do you think the choices they made would bring lasting happiness?

    • Are there better reasons for choosing to do what is right than simply to avoid God’s punishments?

  • Imagine there was no life after death and that our life’s experiences ended when we died.

    • What might happen to people that would seem unfair, unjust, or inconsistent to you?

    • How does an understanding of the plan of salvation help you deal with those things?

  • Consider some of your favorite material possessions.

    • Do you believe that material possessions can bring us happiness?

    • Generally, how long does happiness based on worldly possessions last?

Explain that the questions you asked are the kinds of questions discussed in Ecclesiastes. Tell students that the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote most of his book as if he believed that this life is all there is. He used the word vanity throughout the book to describe what is meaningless, temporary, or unsatisfying. By writing from that point of view, he showed how frustrating life can be without the gospel. His style helps show that life has little meaning or happiness unless we serve God and prepare for the Judgment that will surely come to all of God’s children.

Even though Ecclesiastes is divided into chapters, it is really one sermon. To help students understand its message, go through the book sequentially.

Have students read Ecclesiastes 2:1–10 and look for what the author searched for, trying to find some lasting feeling of joy and happiness. Ask them how they feel about what he sought for. Read Ecclesiastes 1:1–3, 14–15; 2:11, 17–18. Ask:

  • How is the phrase “under the sun” a good description of worldly things?

  • Do you agree with his conclusion that life is full of vanity—things that do not bring lasting peace and happiness?

Have students read the introduction to Ecclesiastes 3 in their student study guides (p. 136). Ask: What comfort do you get from what is taught in Ecclesiastes 3:1–8?

Ecclesiastes 4–5 teaches that doing good leads to greater happiness than doing evil, even if a person does not believe in God, His plan of salvation, or an afterlife. Read Ecclesiastes 4:13–5:6 and look for how those verses teach that idea.

Have students read the introduction and do activity A for Ecclesiastes 7–11 in their student study guides (p. 137). Discuss what those chapters teach.

Ecclesiastes 12 reveals that the author really believed in life’s eternal nature. Read Ecclesiastes 12:13–14 and find out his real purpose in writing. Ask students:

  • What difference does it make when you know those verses are true?

  • How does an understanding of the “whole duty of man” and the Judgment help you in your search for happiness?

  • How does the sermon of Ecclesiastes help us understand the three ideas discussed at the beginning of this lesson?

Conclude by singing “Keep the Commandments” (Hymns, no. 303). Share your testimony of how understanding and following God’s plan help give meaning to life.