Christy

The Book of Ecclesiastes Explained with Illustrations by The Bible Project

Charts and images help us quickly comprehend concepts. That’s why I recommend you watch this brief video produced by The Bible Project. As the narrator explains the ideas, you can watch illustrations take shape on a chart demonstrating the structure and flow of the text. It’s fascinating to watch the drawings in progress before your eyes. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Download a Free Digital Copy of the Poster from the Video

These illustrated charts are so helpful, I encourage you to download a copy for personal study. It’s free! Courtesy of The Bible Project.

[button link=”https://thebibleproject.com/product/ecclesiastes-poster/” color=”purple” newwindow=”yes”] Ecclesiastes Poster[/button]

 

Video Transcript

0:03
The book of Ecclesiastes. It’s part of the Bible’s wisdom literature
0:06
and it opens with this line:
0:08
The words of “Qohelet”, the son of David, king in Jerusalem
0:13
Now in Hebrew the word “Qohelet” means someone who has gathered people together
0:17
and in this case it’s to learn so it’s often translated in english as teacher
0:22
and the teacher said to be a son or a descendant of King David
0:26
and so there are different views about who this figure might have been
0:29
Many think that it refers to King Solomon
0:31
Others to maybe one of the later kings of David’s line
0:35
and still others think that it’s actually a later Israelite teacher
0:39
who has adopted a Solomon like persona as a teaching aid
0:43
whichever of these uses correct the key thing is to recognize that the teacher is a character in the book
0:49
and is different than the author of the book who remains anonymous
0:53
so we do here the teachers voice for most of the book but it’s actually a different voice, the author
1:00
who introduces us to the teacher in the first sentence
1:02
and then at the end concludes the book by summarizing and evaluating everything the teacher just said
1:09
so the author is someone who wants us to hear all that the teacher has to say and
1:13
then help us process it and form our own conclusion
1:16
so what does the teacher have to say
1:18
Well the author summarizes the teacher’s basic message at the beginning and right at the end
1:23
and it’s “Hevel”, “Hevel”, Everything is utterly “Hevel”
1:28
Now most English Bibles translate this word “Hevel” as meaningless
1:33
but that doesn’t quite capture the heart of the idea
1:36
In Hebrew, “Hevel” literally means vapor or smoke
1:39
and the teacher uses this word 38 times in the book as a metaphor
1:44
to describe how life is first of all temporary or fleeting like a wisp of smoke
1:49
but secondly also how life is an enigma or a paradox
1:54
Like smoke, it appears solid but when you try and grab onto it there’s nothing there
2:01
So there’s so much beauty or goodness in the world
2:03
but just when you’re enjoying it tragedy strikes and it all seems to blow away
2:08
We all have a strong sense of justice but all the time bad things happen to good people
2:14
so life is constantly is unpredictable
2:17
It’s unstable or in the teachers words like chasing after the wind, “Hevel”
2:22
now that’s kind of a downer so why is he saying all of this
2:26
the authors basic goal is to target all of the ways
2:29
that we try to build meaning and purpose in our lives apart from God
2:33
and he lets the teacher deconstruct these
2:36
So the author thinks we spend most of our time investing energy and emotion in things
2:40
that ultimately have no lasting meaning or significance
2:43
and he lets the teacher give us a hard lesson in reality
2:47
you can see this most clearly in the opening and closing poems
2:51
which focus first of all on time and then on death
2:54
so the teacher says you can spend your whole life working and achieving
2:58
because you think that makes your life meaningful
3:00
you should really stop and consider the march of time
3:03
For all of the human effort that takes place in the world, nothing really ever changes
3:08
So sure! We develop technology
3:11
and we build nations that rise and fall
3:13
but go climb a mountain and see if it cares
3:16
it was there long before any of us and it will be here long after
3:20
I mean no one’s even going to remember you or anything you did a hundred years from now
3:25
But that mountain it’ll still be there
3:27
and the ocean will still be breaking on the beach
3:29
and the Sun will still rise and set
3:32
and so time will eventually erase you and me and everything that we care about
3:38
and if that’s not disheartening enough
3:40
the teacher also can’t stop talking about death all the way through the book
3:44
but especially in this poem near the end he says death is the great equalizer and
3:49
it renders meaningless most of our daily activities it devours the wise and the
3:54
fool the rich and the poor no matter who you are
3:58
what you’ve done good or bad we’re all going to die and it’s inescapable
4:03
So with these two ideas in hand the teacher goes on to consider all the activities
4:07
and false hopes that we invest our lives in to find meaning and significance
4:11
like wealth or career or social status or pleasure
4:16
So you think working hard is going to make life worth it
4:19
think about the stress and the toll that takes on you all the anxiety and the sleepless nights
4:25
and by the time you actually earned some wealth
4:28
you’re going to be too old enjoy it anyway
4:30
and then by the time that you have to pass it on to someone
4:33
they may not even be someone who cares about anything that you did
4:36
or maybe you think pleasure is going to make life worth it for you
4:40
go for it you know live for your vacations live for the weekend party
4:44
monday always comes
4:47
“Hevel”, “Hevel”, everything is utterly “Hevel”
4:51
so what does the teacher advocate then
4:53
that we become pure hedonists or relativist
4:56
Well No! that would be “Hevel” too
4:58
the teacher acknowledges the ideas from Proverbs that living by wisdom and the fear of the Lord
5:03
that these have real advantages on the whole life will probably go better for you
5:07
See that the problem is that even living by wisdom and the fear of the Lord
5:12
they’re “Hevel” too- because they don’t guarantee a good life
5:16
Good people died tragically and horrible people live long and prosper
5:20
There’s just too many exceptions and so even wisdom is “Hevel”
5:25
Again not meaningless but an enigma
5:27
wisdom doesn’t work the way you think it should all of the time
5:31
so what’s the way forward in the midst of all this “Hevel”
5:34
and here paradoxically, the teacher discovers the key to the true enjoyment of life under the Sun
5:40
it’s accepting “Hevel”
5:43
it’s acknowledging that everything in your life is totally out of your control
5:48
about six different times at some of the bleakest moments in his monologue
5:52
the teacher talks about the gift of God
5:54
which is the enjoyment of simple good things in life
5:58
like friendship or family a good meal or a sunny day
6:04
you can’t control these things you’re certainly not guaranteed them
6:07
but that’s their beauty when I come to adopt a posture of total trust in God
6:13
it frees me to simply enjoy my life as I actually experience it
6:18
not as I think it ought to be
6:21
because even my expectations about what life ought to be are ultimately
6:25
“Hevel”, “Hevel”, everything under the Sun is utterly “Hevel”
6:30
and so the teachers words come to a close
6:33
right here at the end the author speaks up again
6:35
and he brings it all to a conclusion
6:37
he says the teachers words are very important for us to hear
6:41
he liked into them to a shepherd’s staff with a goat too pointy end
6:46
which might hurt when it pokes you
6:48
but he says the teacher is trying to poke you to get you to move in the right direction towards greater wisdom
6:54
the author then warns us that you can actually take the teachers words too far
6:59
and you could spend your whole life buried in books
7:02
trying to answer life’s existential puzzles
7:05
Don’t try~ he says you’ll never get there
7:07
and so instead the author offers his own conclusion
7:10
and it’s this: Fear God and keep his Commandments
7:14
this is the whole duty of humans
7:16
For God will bring every deed into judgment every hidden thing whether good or evil
7:23
and so the author thinks it’s good to let the teacher challenge your false hopes
7:28
and remind you that time and death make most of life completely out of your control
7:34
but what gives life true meaning is the hope of God’s judgment
7:39
the hope that one day God will clear away all of the “Hevel”
7:42
and bring true justice to our world and it’s that hope
7:46
that should fuel a life of honesty and integrity before God
7:50
despite the fact that I remain puzzled by most of life’s mysteries
7:55
and that’s the wisdom of the book of Ecclesiastes
Christy

An Animated Explanation of the Book of Ecclesiastes by The Bible Project

When I think of Ecclesiastes, I think of the phrase, “Life is meaningless,” because that is a recurring phrase in this book of wisdom from King Solomon. The tone of the book seems depressing because of the critical perspective on life. This short video by The Bible Project highlights three main themes in Ecclesiastes that I think are worth pointing out here.

 

Themes in Ecclesiastes

  1. The March of Time
  2. We Are All Going to Die
  3. Life’s Random Nature

That’s a dark picture. However, the end of the book offers hope from King Solomon: Life is meaningless. Despite your best efforts, things may not work out well. You can’t control life so stop trying and just enjoy life while fearing the Lord and following Him.

 

 

 

Video Transcript

0:00
We’re exploring three books in the Bible known as the wisdom literature
0:05
Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Job
0:07
and they’re all asking the question what does it mean to live well in this world
0:11
So we looked at proverbs who you could think of as a bright young teacher
0:16
She’s all about pursuing wisdom an attribute of God that’s woven into reality
0:21
and she’s optimistic that if you use wisdom you will build a successful life
0:25
but then we come to Ecclesiastes who’s more like the sharp middle-aged critic and he says
0:32
You think using wisdom will bring you success
0:36
You’d better think again because life here under the sun is meaningless
0:41
and that’s a phrase you use a lot in this book
0:43
but to understand this book we have to realize first that we’re hearing two voices
0:48
So first there’s the teacher and we’ve been calling him the critic
0:51
He’s the main voice in the book
0:53
but he is introduced to us by another figure the author
0:57
and he’s the one who’s collected the critics words
1:00
and then at the end of the book summarizes everything and gets the final word
1:04
So why does the author wants to hear from the critic?
1:07
He wants to turn your view of the world upside down
1:10
and he’s gonna let the critic explore three really disturbing things about the world
1:16
and we should warn you these are pretty intense
1:19
Yeah! So the first is the march of time
1:23
whereas the critic says
1:24
Generations come and generations go
1:28
but the earth it’s been here long before us and we’ll be long after
1:34
No one remembers people from long ago and all the people yet to come
1:38
They too will be forgotten by those who come after them
1:42
and so on a cosmic scale, you and I, we are just ibilik
1:47
stars are born and then they die and form planets with orbit new stars
1:53
and those planets they change over time and eventually burnt up
1:57
And admits this cosmic backdrop, my entire existence is like a blink in time
2:02
which leads to the critic’s second disturbing observation
2:05
that we are all going to die
2:08
Humans face the same fate as the animals
2:11
Death, all people, the righteous and the wicked
2:15
The good and the bad
2:17
Those who offer sacrifices to God and those who do not
2:20
They all share the same destiny
2:23
all this activity and madness then we all join the dead
2:29
Man! This book is depressing
2:30
and so is the final disturbing thing for the critic
2:33
and that is life’s random nature
2:36
So in Proverbs, life isn’t random
2:39
There’s a clear cause-and-effect relationship between doing the right thing and being rewarded
2:43
But the fact is that life doesn’t always work that way
2:46
The critic has observed a glitch in the system
2:50
He calls it, Chance, or in his words
2:52
The race doesn’t always go to the Swift
2:56
nor the battle to the strong
2:57
nor does food always come to the wise
2:59
or wealth to the brilliant
3:01
or favor to the educated
3:03
time and chance happen to them all
3:07
So his point is that you can’t really control anything in life
3:11
It’s just way too unpredictable
3:14
so if i want to master life
3:16
then you’re setting yourself up for a fall
3:19
Now throughout the book, the Critic uses a metaphor to tie together all of these disturbing ideas
3:24
Nearly 40 times he says that everything in life is “Hevel”
3:29
it’s a Hebrew word that means smoke or vapor
3:32
Like smoke, life is beautiful and mysterious
3:36
It takes one shape and before you know it
3:37
It takes a new shape
3:39
and smoke look solid but try and grab it it will slip right through your fingers
3:44
and when you’re stuck in the thick of it like fog, it’s impossible to see clearly
3:48
Now our modern translations have lost the metaphor
3:51
and they usually translate “Hevel” as meaningless
3:54
but if you read closely the critic isn’t saying that life has no meaning
3:58
but rather that its meaning is never clear
4:01
Like smoke, life is confusing
4:04
It’s disorienting and uncontrollable
4:06
So what are we supposed to do with all of this?
4:09
Well! Surprisingly, the critic first of all acknowledges the perspective of Proverbs
4:14
He says it’s a really good idea to learn wisdom and to live in the fear of the Lord
4:18
Really?! I mean he just said that doesn’t guarantee success
4:21
but he knows it’s the right thing to do
4:24
but secondly and more often he says that since you can’t control your life
4:29
You should stop trying
4:31
Learn to hold things with an open hand because you really only have control over one thing
4:36
and that’s your attitude towards the present moment
4:39
Stop worrying he says and choose to enjoy a good conversation with a friend
4:45
or the Sun on your face
4:47
or a good meal with people that you care about
4:49
The simple things in life
4:51
Yes and both the good things and the bad because both are rich gifts from God
4:57
and that’s the surprising wisdom of ecclesiasticus
5:01
Listening to the critic is painful
5:05
and can lead you into some dark places
5:07
and that’s why the author speaks up at the end of the book
5:10
He doesn’t want you to lose hope
5:12
He wants to make you humble
5:14
Into someone who trusts that life has meaning even when you can’t make sense of it
5:19
that one day God will clear the Hevel and bring his justice on all that we’ve done
5:24
and so he tells us that the proper response to all of this is to fear the lord
5:29
and keep his Commandments
5:30
and that’s the book of Ecclesiastes
5:33
Now there’s one more voice in the Bible’s wisdom literature
5:35
and that’s the book of Job
5:37
and he will bring us the final much-needed perspective on our journey into wisdom
5:44
Hey! Thanks for watching this video
5:45
We make a lot more videos like this one here on our youtube channel
5:49
so check them out
5:50
We believe the Bible is a unified story that leads to Jesus
5:54
and has wisdom to offer the modern world
5:56
so we’re making videos that explore all the books of the Bible
6:00
Their main ideas and their unique design
6:02
We’re also making videos about key themes that run through hole biblical story
6:06
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6:09
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6:13
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6:18
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6:24
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6:28
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6:33
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