I met a young man a couple of weeks ago who had read, for the first time, the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes.
He admitted that he was confused at what he had read. He said that Ecclesiastes didn’t seem much like the words of Jesus in the New Testament and he asked me how to make sense of it.
I said that he would have to work backwards in the book, paying particular attention to the writer’s concluding thoughts in order to fully comprehend the previous 12 chapters. My suggestion was that he read it at least once more and to watch carefully, because the author does not state his thesis until the very end.
Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes, spent the bulk of his time describing the lives and activities of man as being vain, futile, empty, meaningless, temporary, transitory and fleeting. He added, in a seemingly fatalistic tone, that this is true for both the wise and the foolish; their lives both end in death.
For that reason, many have concluded that the theme of the book is the meaninglessness of life. However, the theme like the thesis is found in the conclusion.
At the end of the book, we find a summary statement that puts all of what has been written into proper perspective. It says, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter.
Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13, 14)
The conclusion of Ecclesiastes is as powerful as it is pivotal. It not only dismisses all thoughts that life might be futile and meaningless. It also disseminates a universal pattern for all people and strong motivation for following the pattern.
The text encompasses reverential respect for God, recognition of His commands and solid persuasion to comply with them. It goes on to address personal accountability and responsibility to God for all deeds, public and private, good or bad.
In the musical, “Man of La Mancha,” Don Quixote said, “I have been a soldier and seen my comrades fall in battle … or die more slowly under the lash in Africa … I do not think they asked why they were dying, but why they had lived.”
Serious contemplation and personal application of Solomon’s conclusion will provide an affirmative answer to the question of, “Why did we live?”
Incidentally, these verses sound quite a bit like the words of Jesus in the New Testament. “For the time is coming when everything that is covered will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all.” (Matthew 10:26)
Pastor Ross Helgeton is senior pastor at Erskine Evangelical Free Church.