The book of Ecclesiastes is one of the most misunderstood books in the Hebrew Bible. The author of the book, called Qohelet, who many believe is King Solomon, appears to contradict many of the teachings of the other books of the Bible. Ecclesiastes is placed, in the Christian Old Testament, in the wisdom literature section, just after the book of Proverbs. But Qohelet appears to dismiss the teachings of Proverbs and the overall pursuit of wisdom as meaningless!
How can this be, since many believe that Solomon also wrote the book of Proverbs? Did he change his mind?
I don’t think so. A careful reading of Ecclesiastes gives us some clues as to its basic message. The first clue is a phrase that is repeated several times in the book: “That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God.” This phrase, or something close to it, is repeated five times in the book of Ecclesiastes. In Hebrew literature, repetition is a sure clue that the author wants you to focus on this phrase. It is like a signal flare saying, “Look at me!!” The message seems to be that we should enjoy the pleasures God has given us in this life.
A second clue is the closing of the book in chapter 12. Here is what it says: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” I think this ending speaks for itself.
The rest of Ecclesiastes chronicles the attempts of Qohelet to find the meaning of life in various pursuits, all of which fail him.
When you put it all together, according to Dr. Tom Howe, Professor of Bible and Biblical Languages:
Although the tone of the book as a whole seems to be pessimistic, Qohelet is not a pessimist. Rather, his goal is to demonstrate that life is meaningless, unless one lives it in the fear of God, keeping His commandments and enjoying life as a gift from Him. Ultimately, Qohelet is urging the reader not to trust in anything in this life to provide meaning and value. Rather, one should trust only and always in God, and live life before Him.