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Ecclesiastes - Analysis

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"Utterly meaningless," exclaims the author of Ecclesiastes, a supposed descendent of David, as he jumps to his pessimistic philosophy regarding life on Earth. It can be inferred from these opening lines of text that the subject matter of the "Teacher" will be on how we can find purpose in our lives. The first chapter serves as an example of how life, at first glance, may be interpreted as mere vanity. Using many illustrations from nature he draws the conclusion that life is empty, repetitive, and ceaseless; nothing is new. Each day the sun rises and falls, just to climb back up the following day to fall again like it did each day previous to it. The monotonous series of natural occurrences produce an incessant, wearisome rhythm. Comparing it to an attempt to grasp the wind, he finds the accumulation of wisdom to generate similar conclusions about the futility of man and life. Because the words of the "Teacher" in this first chapter make no reference to God, it can be speculated that such a purposeless outlook on life develops as a result of a life without the Lord.

To validate and provide support for these observations, Ecclesiastes begins, in the second chapter, a quest in the pursuit of happiness. Guided by (presumably) God-given wisdom, he investigates the realms of pleasure, amusement, frivolity, and prosperity. He attempts to obtain happiness by accumulating houses with lush vineyards and gardens, wealth and treasures, singers, entertainers, and sexual partners as well as a multiplying collection of servants and a large herd. During his exploration, Ecclesiastes does not limit himself. He denies himself nothing, "refused [his] heart no pleasure," and "took delight in all [his] work" (vv 10). However, the delight he finds in his work proves to be unfulfilling. It is merely temporary, perhaps momentary, satisfaction that leaves him longing for something more. He finds, in parallel with his theory, that these worldly means of happiness are simply "meaningless, a chasing after the wind" (vv 17). Ecclesiastes determines that the things he gains from hard work and skill soon have nothing to show for themselves. When he dies, he is forced to leave his hard-earned possessions to one who might not be worthy. It is in this regard that he determines all work in life to be futile. He finds it deplorable that through wisdom "he poured [his] effort and skill under the sun" and must give it up to "someone who has not worked for it" (vv 19-21). Ecclesiastes finds it equally as unfulfilling that, though wisdom has proven to surpass folly, both are doomed to an equal fate; both eventually die. Further, because each dies without his belongings, it is pointless for one to work to accumulate such. The second chapter concludes with his thoughts on the general results of one's labor: painful days and restless nights.

In the following chapter Ecclesiastes reflects on his pursuit. He reasons that there is a time for everything. Ecclesiastes gives a long list of examples including: "a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to laugh" (vv 3-4). He says, "There will be a time for every activity, a time for every deed," because in the end God will bring every person to the stand for judgment (vv 17). Before reading this, I had never considered such a thought. Ecclesiastes view of time greatly differs from mine. While Ecclesiastes feels that

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