Notes on Ecclesiastes
Part One

What Elohim has Given to the Sons of Humanity

by Dean H. Hough

WE might well suppose that the theme of Ecclesiastes is the vanity, or transitoriness, of life, the world and its affairs.  This is indeed one of the most obvious issues of the book, a very apparent point of interest.  But this is no dissertation on resignation or despair.  Rather it is an honest recognition of these evils viewed in the light of, and with firm attachment to, the existence of God.

There is all the difference in the world between the secular, sophisticated cynic or scholarly epicurean, who may soberly and calmly observe this vanity of things, recording it as boldly and grandly as the Assembler himself, and the writer of Ecclesiastes. The Assembler sees and states what we all see and feel but may not often state.  But he observes and speaks always with God in view.  And he never views the transitoriness and the seeming unfairness of things as they appear without relating them to God. God is the Creator.  He is the First Cause. He has the ultimate responsibility.

Thus the book becomes a source of hope and praise.  We are thankful that the scriptural sense of vanity is not eternal meaninglessness, but rather transitoriness. In recognizing God as the One responsible, we begin to realize that there is power and purpose behind the vanity.  This means that the vanity finally is not in vain.  We are caught up by the Assembler's frank recognition of vanity and stirring description of disorder, but if we listen carefully to the writer's contextual connection of this evil with the existence of God Who is wholly involved with all His creation and its sad situation, we will not despair.  Instead indeed we will say with exultation and thankfulness, "All is well."

The theme of Ecclesiastes is vanity and struggle and hurt in relation to God Who knows what He is doing with His creation and where He is going with it.


Elohim, the One Who subjects all through His chosen channels and means is the Protagonist of this book.  Since this is so, we are assured that our own experiences of weariness and being cast down are not meaningless or matters of absolute vanity, but are part of God's operations within the province of His purpose.  They enlighten us concerning Elohim, or as the Assembler often designates Him, the Elohim.  The Concordant Version renders this divine title which is preceded by the definite article, the One, Elohim.  The word "One" in lightface type is not intended in the sense of "singular," but is used as a pronoun (so as to say, "that One, Elohim") in order to indicate the emphasis which the definite article suggests. The One being spoken of is Elohim, the Supreme Subjector.

It may be helpful to separate certain references to God in this book, stringing them together apart from the details concerning human experience and observation which occupy so much space. This may aid us in keeping this necessary aspect of Ecclesiastes in view later when we look more closely at the various details. The writer never loses sight of God or of His operations as he writes. Neither should we as we read and meditate on his writings.

Elohim has given us our experience of evil (1:13). He gives wisdom, knowledge and rejoicing (2:26). He gives experience (3:10) and makes everything and does His work (3:11). To eat and drink and see good is a gift of Elohim (3:13). What Elohim is doing shall be for the eon and cannot be added to or subtracted from by others; He does it (3:14). The One, Elohim, shall seek out (3:15) and judge (3:17). He manifests and shows (3:18). The One, Elohim, is in the heavens (5:2), and He gives us the number of our days (5:18). He gives riches and substance and good (5:19) and keeps our hearts occupied (5:20). With His giving of riches He may not give power to enjoy them (6:2). He is mighty (6:10). He has overturned (7:13). He makes all kinds of days (7:14). The One, Elohim, made humanity upright (7:29) and gives us toil (8:15). The righteous and the wise are in the hand of the One, Elohim (9:1). He gives us the days of our transitory lives (9:9). The One, Elohim, made everything (11:5) and shall bring us into judgment (11:9; 12:14). The spirit will return to the One, Elohim, Who gave it (12:7).

Remember your Creator (12:1).

These are not words for discouragement. They are full of promise and hope, assurance and expectation. God is our Creator. Remember Him in all situations and at all times.


In contemplating the experience of evil he has seen, the Assembler is not caught up in a feeling of hopelessness or selfish cynicism because he begins with the premise that God has given the experience of evil to us. The vanity and the apparent unfairness of our lives and the ways of the world "is an experience of evil Elohim has given to the sons of humanity to humble them by it" (Ecc.1:13; cp 3:10). There are two major revelations here that we must keep in view as we go through this book. First of all, this vanity and apparent injustice is given to us by God. And then: What is given to us by God is given to us for a purpose.

The particular evil that has captured the mind of the Assembler is the experience of not getting anywhere despite toil and honesty in our deeds and reverence in service to God. But this is only apparent. It cannot be eternal if God does exist and He has a goal. To be humbled is a goal, and even if we cannot appreciate its goodness, at least it speaks of an end which God has in view. In time we will become thankful for this humbling, and so we will become prepared for the further glories God has for us, all of which will be realized with joy because of the background of evil that we experience during the brief years of the present.


For us today the revelation of God is far more glorious than the Assembler could have discovered. In the evangel we are given "the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor.4:6).

This does not mean that we will not observe or experience hurts and pressures and perplexities. In our transitory days there will be apparent injustices and real discouragements. When we see the foolish exalted and the wicked applauded, as we will, it will dishearten us. Death is all around and within us. But we have the awareness of the treasure of the love of Christ, Who died for the sake of all (2 Cor.5:14).

Having this treasure, the apostle Paul penned his own "Ecclesiastes" from time to time. "In everything, being afflicted, but not distressed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down but not perishing" (2 Cor.4:9). "For what is being observed is temporary, yet what is not being observed is eonian" (2 Cor.4;18). "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, being rich, because of you He became poor, that you, by His poverty, should be rich" (2 Cor.8:9). As we experience the vanity to which God has subjected the entire creation (Rom.8:20-25), we are aware that He is working all together for good (8:28), for He spares not His own Son, but gives Him up for us all (8:32).

Dean H. Hough

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