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MeaghanMcGann
Dr.Graves
OTLitandInterpretation
12July2013

ThemeExpositiononEcclesiastes
ThroughoutthebookofEcclesiastes,theauthorutilizesrepetitionaswellasmournful
andrealistictonestoemphasizetheideathatlifeismeaninglessapartfromGod.TheEnglish
translationofthetitle,Ecclesiastes,comesfromtheHebrewword,Qoheleth,whichmeansthe
teacherorpreacher.Thenarratorspeaksasifaddressingalargeaudienceandindeed
conveystheattitudeorpresenceofateacherashepresentsmanyhard,andevendepressing,
truths.Duetotheambiguityoftheauthor,possiblySolomon,thebookishardtodate.Despite
thisdisparityinexactageandthesometimesdepressingattitudeoftheteacher,thebook
expressestimelessadviceonhowtolivealifefullofworthinanotherwisedepravedand
meaninglessworld.Additionally,therecurringcontrastsbetweenameaninglesslifeandalife
fullofmeaningpointtohowGodfulfillsHispromisesinHisredemptionandsalvationthrough
ChristintheNewTestament.
Theauthorsimplementationofrepetitionemphasizesthepointlessnessoflifewithout
God.Throughoutthebook,theauthorrepeatedlyusesthewordHebrewwordhevelwhich
translatestovanityormeaninglessnessinEnglish.Heexplainshowuselessitistowork
hardinthislifebecausewhenwedieallourworkwillnolongermattertous,thefruitofour
laborwillbepassedontothenextgeneration.Allofitismeaningless,hedeclaresbecause,
allthethings[he]toiledforunderthesun...[he]mustleavetotheonewhocomesafter
[him](2:1718).Theauthorpursuedpleasure,butthistoohefoundpointless.[He]denied

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[himself]nothing[his]eyesdesired[he]refused[his]heartnopleasure....yetwhen[he]
surveyedallthat[his]handshaddone....everythingwasmeaningless,achasingafterthe
wind(2:1011).Afterachievingandexperiencingseeminglyboundlesspleasure,the
Ecclesiastesnarratorwasdissatisfiedanddisillusioned.Theauthorthensearchedformeaningin
wisdomandfoolishness,andinfactbecamerenownforhiswisdom,butrealizedthatthesame
fatebecomesboththewiseandthefoolish.Theteacherdeterminesthatlikethefool,thewise
mantoomustdie(2:16).Thispatterncontinues,inchapter4theauthorconcludesthatambition
andadvancementaremeaningless.InEcclesiastes5hepointstothemeaninglessnessinriches
andmaterialgain.InEcclesiastes9theteacherdeclaresthatallshareacommondestinythe
righteousandthewicked,thegoodandthebad,thecleanandtheunclean(9:2).Overandover
thenarratorpursuesearthlygain,butbecomesfrustratedanddepressedwhenherealizeshow
utterlymeaningless....everythingismeaningless(1:2).Thoughthebookthoroughlyexpands
onhowmeaninglesslifecanbe,itdoesnotconcludethere.Inchapter11theteacherencourages
hisaudiencetobehappy,youngman,whileyouareyoung,andletyourheartgivejoyinthe
daysofyouryouthbutalsoremindsthemtobemindfulbecauseGodwillbringyouto
judgment(11:9).TheauthorconcludeswiththeadmonitiontofearGodandkeepHis
commandments,forthisisthewholedutyofman(12:13).Thustheauthorsuseofrepetition
achievesitspurpose.Allthepursuitsoflifecanbemeaningless,butintheobedientpursuitof
Godthereismeaning.
ThemournfulandrealistictonesexhibitedinEcclesiastescontributetothenarrators
recurringideathatlifeisvanityapartfromGod.Throughoutthebook,theauthorwilloffer
commentaryonthemeaninglessnessoflifeandthenapparentlycontradicthimselfbypointingto

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thegoodinwhathehadpreviouslydeterminedtobemeaningless.Thenarratordespairsoverall
hishardworkbecause[he]mustleaveittotheonewhocomesafter[him].Andwhoknows
whetherhewillbeawisemanorafool(2:1819).Allthethingsthenarratortoiledovermay
cometoruininthehandsoftheonewhofollowshim.Inchapter3,theteacheroffersasharp
contrasttohispreviousdespairoverhisfruitlesslabor.Hestatesthatthereisnothingbetterfor
menthantobehappyanddogoodwhiletheylive.Thateveryonemayeatanddrink,andfind
satisfactioninallhistoilthisisthegiftofGod(3:1213).Thissametoilthathehaddeclared
meaningless,thenarratornowdeclaresshouldberejoicedoverasthegiftofGod.Lateroninthe
book,theauthorstoneagainchangestothebittermournfulnessandheappearstoevenresent
God.HedeclaresthatGodgivesamanwealth,possessionsandhonor,sothathelacksnothing
hisheartdesires,butGoddoesnotenablehimtoenjoythem,andastrangerenjoystheminstead.
Thisismeaningless,agrievousevil(6:2).Theteachersdecryturnsmorepracticalinchapter7
andhecommendshisaudiencetoacceptGodswillinboththegoodandthebad:Whentimes
aregood,behappybutwhentimesarebad,consider:Godhasmadetheoneaswellasthe
other(7:14).Ratherthanbelaborthemiserythatmayovercomeourtimehereonearth,the
narratorpointsoutthatGodisthecreatorofboth.Hereasonsthatinbothgoodandbadtimes
Godisstillsovereignandinthatthereismeaning.Throughtheseutilizationsofbothmournful
andrealistictones,theteachergivesmeaningtowhatheconcludeswouldotherwisebe
meaninglesspursuits.
AllthroughoutthebookofEcclesiastestheauthorscontrastbetweenalifewithout
meaningandalifefullofmeaningemphasizeshowGodkeepsHispromisetoredeemtheworld
throughHissonJesus.Asseenintheusageofrepetitionandmournfulandrealistictones,the

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conceptofameaninglesslifeisverypresentthroughoutthebookofEcclesiastes.Theteacher
explicitlystatesthateverythingismeaningless(1:2)whileatthesametimehismournfultone
impliesadespairoverthepurposelesscycleinthislife.Theteachersrealistictoneprovidesthe
ideathatwhilelifeonearthcanattimesappearmeaningless,GodisstillGod,anditisHewho
givesuspurposeandfulfillment.ThisideathatitisGodwhogivesfulfillmentpointstohow
JesuscameintheNewTestamenttogivetheultimatemeaningandsalvationtoourlivesinHis
deathandresurrection.InthebookofActs,Luketellsushowtoreceiveacleansingfromour
earthlylives:Repent,then,andturntoGod,sothatyoursinsmaybewipedout,thattimesof
refreshingmaycomefromtheLord,andthatHemaysendtheChrist,whohasbeenappointed
foryouevenJesus(Acts3:1920).ThroughsalvationinChrist,weareblessedwithtimesof
refreshingfromtheLord.Wenolongerhavetobeburdenedormournfulaboutmeaningless
living,butmayberenewedandrefreshedbythegraceofGod.TheapostlePaulstatesthisnew
wayoflivingasbeingbroughtfromdeathtolife.InRomanshedeclaresthatwearetooffer
[ourselves]toGod,asthosewhohadbeenbroughtfromdeathtolife....forsinshallnotbe[our]
master,because[we]arenotunderlaw,butundergrace(Romans6:1314).Additionally,weare
givenanewpurposeinJesuscommandtogoandmakedisciplesofallthenationsbaptizing
theminthenameoftheFatherandoftheSonandoftheHolySpirit,andteachingthemtoobey
everythingIhavecommandedyou(Matthew28:1920).ThroughChristsredemptivework,not
onlyarewerenewedandredeemedbutwearealsogivenanewpurposeandmissiontolivefor.
ThesharpcontrastbetweenthemeaninglesslifeandthelifefullofmeaningwithGodin
Ecclesiastes,isrepeatedintheNewTestament.Theidearemainsthesame.ItisGodwhogives
meaningtolife,apartfromHimitisalmostasifwewerezombiesalive,butwithnomissionor

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purposetoourliving.Thus,inEcclesiastestheteachersimplementationofrepetitionandboth
mournfulandrealistictonescontributestotheredemptivemessageofthebookaswellasthe
salvationstoryinitsemphasisoftheideathatmeaninginthislifecanonlybefoundthrough
God.