Everything is meaningless! – Overview of Ecclesiastes

On holiday a few weeks ago I decided I was going to take a break from my normal bible study and delve into a new book of the bible – ideally one I could get through in a week! Honestly, it must have been God who prompted me to read Ecclesiastes, as I am not sure I would have chosen those morbid, pessimistic words to brighten my holiday! Yet I spent my lazy mornings in Devon reading this book with an open mind and curiosity. I learned so much and felt such a significant shift in mindset that I felt like I had to share…

I would love us to journey through this book together over the next few weeks and see what God is saying. So let’s start with some context:

Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Job make up the Wisdom Literature in the Old Testament, all seeking to answer the question: ‘how do we live well?’ The book of Proverbs promotes pursuing wisdom and using it to build a successful life. In contrast, Ecclesiastes challenges these optimistic claims, observing that life is hard and unpredictable so how do we live in that tension and still strive for wisdom?

The book of Ecclesiastes

Date written: Probably around 935 BC

Author: Most likely Solomon, or another descendant of King David

Themes: Time, death and chance

Quick note: there are two characters we are hearing from in this book. Firstly, the teacher and secondly, the author who aims to gather the teacher’s thoughts. We hear the teachers voice for most of the book, yet it is the author who introduces us to the teacher during the first sentence (1:1) and concludes the book by summarising and evaluating (12:9-14). The author wants us to hear all the teacher has to say and help us process it and form our own conclusions.

(All verses quoted are from the NIV translation, but feel free to follow using other versions.)

You may be familiar with the verse ‘everything is meaningless’ (1:2).  This is definitely the book’s core theme. The word ‘meaningless’ is actually used 38 times, which is taken from the Hebrew word ‘hevel,’ which means smoke or vapour. So the teacher is not offering that our lives are meaningless, but that our lives are but a whisper of smoke, they are beautiful, mysterious, yet fleeting and short. Smoke is an enigma, it can appear solid yet if you try to grab hold of it, there is nothing there. The teacher is communicating that life is changing, confusing and uncontrollable. Life isn’t without meaning, but often the meaning is not clear at all. The teacher is helping us to come to terms with the march of time, the reality that all humans will die one day and that our lives are often left up to chance.

This is supposed to help us (haha!) because it helps us realise that…
a) Often our lives don’t make much sense so don’t try too hard to make sense of them.
b) Life is short and unpredictable, so make the most of every moment.
c) We don’t know what is around the corner, so don’t get upset when it doesn’t turn out the way you wanted it.

These are definitely lessons I need to learn! How about you?


  • Read Ecclesiastes this week (two chapters a day).
  • Note down any thoughts, questions, and verses that stand out.
  • Join us for the next installment on 22/8/19
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