The book of Ecclesiastes presents the wisdom teachings of an individual identified as Qoheleth (1:1). Qoheleth examines various areas of life as he attempts to determine what has lasting value for humanity. He begins with his decision that “all is hevel (הֶבֶל, hevel)” (1:2)—a term often translated as “vanity” that Qoheleth uses to indicate the senselessness or absurdity of life “under the sun” . . . Out of profound disillusionment over humanity’s limitation, the author points to the need to be satisfied with “our portion.” The book concludes with the admonition to “fear God and keep his commands” (12:13).
—The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Lexham Press
Best Commentaries on Ecclesiastes
Tremper Longman III, New International Commentary on the Old Testament (NICOT), Eerdmans, 1998, 322 pp.
Longman first provides an extensive introduction to Ecclesiastes, exploring such background matters as authorship, language, genre, structure, literary style, and the book’s theological message. He argues that the author of Ecclesiastes is not Solomon, as has been traditionally thought, but a writer who adopts a Solomonic persona. In the verse-by-verse commentary that follows, Longman helps clarify the confusing, sometimes contradictory message of Ecclesiastes by showing that the book should be divided into three sections—a prologue (1:1–11), Qohelet’s autobiographical speech (1:12–12:7), and an epilogue (12:8–14)—and that the frame narrative provided by prologue and epilogue is the key to understanding the message of the book as a whole.
- Level: Intermediate
- Type: Expository
Choon-Leong Seow, Anchor Yale Bible (AYB), Yale University Press, 1997, 448 pp.
In Ecclesiastes, Bible scholar Choon-Leong Seow creatively translates and carefully interprets one of the world’s most profound, most enduring collections of ancient wisdom. Sometimes joyful and exultant, other times cynical and fatalistic, the ancient author Qohelet (“Teacher”) wrestles with the ups and downs of real life. Even today, we recognize and repeat the sayings of this treasure-trove of apt advice. The book begins and ends with the infamous claim, “‘Vanity of vanities,’ says Qohelet, ‘vanity of vanities! All is vanity!’” In between, the sage leaves no stone unturned in the search for meaning.
- Level: Advanced
- Type: Technical
Iain W. Provan, NIV Application Commentary (NIVAC), Zondervan, 2001, 400 pp.
Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs don’t easily fit our preconceptions as Christians. How do we reconcile Ecclesiastes’ seemingly hedonistic passages and its broodings on life’s futility with Christ’s call to self-denial and his revelation of God’s profound purpose for our lives? Is the Song of Songs a frank-to-the-point-of-disturbing depiction of erotic love, or is it rather a loose-fitting spiritual allegory for Christ’s relationship with the Church? Must we choose between the one interpretation and the other?
- Level: Intermediate
- Type: Devotional
Roland E. Murphy, Word Biblical Commentary (WBC), Thomas Nelson, 1992, 170 pp.
Delve into the perplexing book of Ecclesiastes with Roland Murphy and study its textual history, historical context, and place in Israel’s wisdom tradition. Revealing vast knowledge of past and present studies on Ecclesiastes, Murphy surveys the broad range of conflicting ideas about this book in historical and contemporary scholarship, dissecting all the major theories of authorship, dating, sociological setting, and linguistic analysis.
- Level: Advanced
- Type: Technical
Derek Kidner, Bible Speaks Today (BST), InterVarsity Press, 1984, 110 pp.
Derek Kidner introduces this book of Ecclesiastes, which speaks so powerfully, to our generation. His love of Hebrew poetry and his understanding of biblical mind shine through in this book.
- Level: Basic
- Type: Devotional
Best Books on Ecclesiastes
The End of the Matter: Understanding the Epilogue of Ecclesiastes brings a fresh perspective to the epilogue of Ecclesiastes. In it, author Miles Custis puts forth the theory that Ecclesiastes was written by one man who used two distinct voices: the voice of Qohelet and the voice of the epilogist. Regarding this theory, Custis examines the criticism surrounding the relationship between the body of Ecclesiastes and the epilogue. He shows how the message of the epilogue fits with the body of Ecclesiastes, and as a result, brings readers a deeper understanding of the meaning, structure, and purpose of Ecclesiastes’ last verses.Learn more
Is the author of Ecclesiastes a determinist? Many readers, from the Targumist and Ibn Ezra up to the present day, have thought so. But there has been no systematic investigation of Qoheleth's determinism, its nature and extent, its relationship to free will and its philosophical background.Learn more
Biblical scholar Michael V. Fox seeks to address the complexities and so-called “absurdities” of Ecclesiastes, or “Qohelet,” the Hebrew word for the preacher. He focuses not on resolving the contradictions but on seeing them as part of the overall structure and meaning of the book. Fox gives an in-depth introduction to the historical exegetical studies of Ecclesiastes and explains his own position.Learn more
Finding Favour in the Sight of God: A Theology of Wisdom Literature (New Studies in Biblical Theology)
There has been an explosion of interest in Wisdom Literature, and many studies are now available. There is every opportunity for people to “get wisdom, get insight” (Prov. 4:5). However, in today’s world it seems the practical sensibilities that come from wisdom are found in few places. Wisdom Literature is needed now more than ever. By walking in the way of wisdom, we will “find favor and good success in the sight of God and man” (Prov. 3:4).Learn more
Scholars often view the apparent skepticism of Ecclesiastes in terms of a reaction against the more confident assertions found in works like Proverbs, and the book does indeed seem to deny the possibility of humans shaping their future or changing their fate through informed action. This study seeks to understand both the roots and the implications of this empiricism, comparing the monologue with other biblical and ancient literature, and suggesting that, although it has points of contact with other texts, its skepticism is largely distinctive, and unlikely to represent some broader tradition.Learn more
Best Courses on Ecclesiastes
Join David W. Baker on a whirlwind tour to explore the Old Testament from many different angles and how it relates to ancient Near Eastern literature. From creation accounts and stories of destruction to Wisdom Literature, discover different biblical literary genres that have parallels in ancient Near Eastern literature. Explore extrabiblical historical texts that mention key events and figures from the Old Testament. Understand how Israel fits into and is impacted by its ancient Near Eastern environment but also how it is separate and unique, mainly on a theological level, but also by its distinct worldview.Learn more
This course provides a practical foundation for reading the poetry and prophecy of the Old Testament. Dr. David Baker begins by discussing poetic writing in general, then the elements specific to both Hebrew and English poetry. Applying these elements to the text, he examines the content, structure, and themes of the Psalms, Proverbs, Lamentations, Job, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. Dr. Baker then turns to the prophetic books, providing historical background, theological motifs, and the structure and content of specific books. He shows that these ancient messages remain relevant in modern life.Learn more
Mobile Ed: BI205 Old Testament Exegesis: Understanding and Applying the Old Testament (15 hour course)
Embark on a journey of Old Testament Hebrew exegesis with Jason DeRouchie. The books of the Old Testament were the only Scriptures Jesus had. It was books like Genesis, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, and Psalms that shaped Jesus’ upbringing and that guided his life in ministry as the Jewish Messiah. It was these Scriptures that Jesus identified as God’s Word and that he considered to be authoritative; it was these Scriptures he believed called people to know and believe in God and guarded them against doctrinal error and hell. This course will give you the tools you need to access meaning in the Old Testament, then apply it to your life. It will help you to grow in reading God’s living Word for depth and not just distance.Learn more
In an age of international travel and migration, we’re familiar with people who look, sound, eat, and believe differently than we do. To become friends, it’s helpful to understand where they come from and how they do things differently, or the same, as we do. In the same way it is necessary to understand someone who comes from a different place than we do, how much more necessary is it to understand someone who is from not only a different geographical place but also a different time than we are? The Old Testament starts at the beginning of the world. This course will undertake the task of crossing the bridges of geography, climate, time, and a landscape unknown to us: ancient Israel. Throughout the course, David W. Baker will address aspects of life from our own culture and time, as well as family structure and societal systems from ancient Israelite life. As you learn more about the social world of the Old Testament, you will be struck not only by our differences but also our common humanity and that we share the same dreams, hopes, and fears as they did.Learn more