The women's Bibly study at our church this fall is going through Ecclesiastes, which really excited me! Most of the Bible studies of which I've been a part have studied the New Testament, which I love :), but it's interesting to delve into an Old Testament book as a group, and I think it's important to study the whole counsel of scripture. In my past readings of Ecclesiastes I've always found the book rather interesting and a mixture of depression and hope.
Ecclesiastes is Solomon's musings on life, and the drudgery of it all. He questions the meaning or purpose of the endless cycle of toil that man is doomed to live "under the sun." It's interesting to read, as Solomon searches for meaning in accomplishments, possessions, women, wisdom, etc., but continually realizes that even these things are fruitless of themselves. He brings back the perspective to one "above the sun," as he looks at God's perspective, and how God brings joy and meaning to those who are His children.
Ch. 2, v. 25: For apart from him [God] who can eat or who can have enjoyment?
The beginning of chapter 3 is the pretty well-known "for everything there is a season" passage: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted . . . It is so neat to read that passage, as it reminds me that everything in our lives has an appointed time. There is a time to weep and a time to laugh, it says. A time to be born, and a time to die. A time to embrace, and a time to refrain. It reminds me of another verse that says, weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. The beginning of chapter 3 is a reminder that each season in our lives is part of God's plan for us and is appointed for a time. It won't last forever, but will someday make way for a new season.
Often as Christians we're impatient (I know I can be!) to be serving the Lord the way we think would be best, in some "bigger" way (missions, etc.), or in some way that would suit our purposes and desires, but primarily we are called to just serve God in our daily lives, where he has already placed us. We are usually called to serve God not by changing what we are currently doing day-to-day, but by doing those day-to-day tasks for Him, for His glory. It reminds me of I Corinthians 10:31, Whether then you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. This is the overarching lesson that the Lord has been teaching me over the past year and a half, since I graduated college.
What a different perspective is the one "above the sun" than the perspective below! Below, our toil seems fruitless, but above, everything we do is to God's glory. Wow. That really helps me put things in perspective, because right now I want to serve God by nurturing my own children and instructing them of God's love, but that's not where He's placed me right now! But that doesn't mean I can't glorify Him as I teach, tutor, babysit, or even as I iron clothes or scrub dishes - more so, in fact, since those are the tasks He has currently given for me to do. Ch. 9, v. 10 of Ecclesiastes says, Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might. If only I could faithfully carry out this verse always! That is the challenge to every Christian.
Also, I love verse 11 of Chapter 3. There are two important truths here. First, He has made everything beautiful in its time. Wow. That doesn't mean all things are beautiful now, but that God is working to make all things beautiful. Even the hurtful things in my life right now are working to make me beautiful! - that is, the beauty that comes not from outward adornment, but adorning from the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious.
A point in verse 11, He has put eternity into man's heart. I love that! Man is made for another world, and God has placed eternity in our hearts! Christians are to be content in this world, but at the same time we are not to be fully satisfied with life here on earth. The desires of our hearts should be in eternity with our Lord, for that is our ultimate destiny. If we are fully comfortable here on earth, then we have lost sight of the glories of heaven, the eternal pleasures that we will enjoy at Christ's right hand. In the "Hall of Faith" in Hebrews 11, the writer of Hebrews tells us that the faithful admitted they were aliens and strangers on earth. Many of the promises they held were not fully granted here on earth, though they saw them from a distance. Likewise, our ultimate fulfillment only comes when we see our Savior face-to-face.
Solomon ends Ecclesiastes with this summary: The end of the matter: all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. He begins the book with a perspective that life has no purpose, but comes full circle as he realizes that man does have a purpose, and that life has meaning and joy for those that fear God! We can have joy under the sun, because we have life through the Son.
. . . And that is the beautiful message of Ecclesiastes. I've realized recently that Ecclesiastes is not a book that many Christians have read, so consider the above a sales pitch convincing you to read it! It's only 12 chapters, and it can easily be read in one sitting. I'd highly suggest it.