A Quick Glimpse at a Difficult Book

Our church, as well as other Southern Baptist Churches who follow the Bible Studies for Life Curriculum from Lifeway, will begin studying the book of Ecclesiastes this Sunday. I think by anyone’s measurement, Ecclesiastes is a difficult book. We get confused at what we assume is the author’s rather pessimistic view of life. But, is that a fair assessment?

Ecclesiastes is part of a body of the Old Testament that we refer to as wisdom literature. My Old Testament professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Rick Byargeon, taught me this about the relationship between three of those wisdom books—Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes. Maybe you will find it helpful.

Proverbs, as the orientation to life, shows us how life ought to be. We learn in this wisdom book a sense of knowing where we are going. This book outlines rules to follow that ought to bring us success.

Job’s story and book, however, balances Proverbs by reminding us that sometimes we can do everything right, but nothing goes right. We might learn in the disorientation to life more about faith than we do in the orientation to life. How will we respond to this sometimes disorienting life?

We find our answer to the disorientation to life in the book of Ecclesiastes. In this book we find our reorientation. In Ecclesiastes, we find a rebuilt and retooled faith. The preacher in the book of Ecclesiastes finds faith again after becoming disillusioned by his own experiences in life. Where does he find such a reorientation? He finds that reorientation in a life fully surrendered to God.

Ecclesiastes is one of those books where it is helpful to go to the end before the beginning. Here’s the end:

12 But beyond these, my son, be warned: there is no end to the making of many books, and much study wearies the body. 13 When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: fear God and keep his commands, because this is for all humanity. 14 For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil.