Sunday School Bible Survey:      ECCLESIASTES

Theme: The emptiness of life without God.

Key word: Vanity

Key verse: "For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow? for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?" (Eccl. 6:12).

From the Scofield Study Bible:
"This is the book of man 'under the sun,' reasoning about life; it is the best man can do, with the knowledge that there is a holy God, and that He will bring every-thing into judgment. The key phrases are 'under the sun'; 'I perceived'; 'I said in my heart.' Inspiration sets down accurately what passes, but the conclusions and reasonings are, after all, man's."

OUTLINE (from Merrill F. Unger):

  1. The theme — "All is vanity" (1:1-3).
  2. The theme proved (1:4—3:22).
  1. By the transitory nature of things (1:4-11).
  2. By the presence of evil (1:12-18).
  3. By the emptiness of pleasure, wealth and work (2:1-26).
  4. By the certainty of death (3:1-22).
  1. The theme expanded (4:1—12:8).
  1. In view of the inequalities of life (4:1-16).
  2. In view of wealth (5:1-20).
  3. In view of man's end (6:1-12).
  4. In view of man's wickedness (7:1-29).
  5. In view of God's inscrutable providences (8:1—9:18).
  6. In view of the disorders of life (10:1-20).
  7. In view of the vanity of youth and old age (11:1—12:8)
  1. The conclusion — Fear God and keep His commandments (12:9-14).


  1. The book of Ecclesiastes was written by King Solomon (cf. 1:1, 12). Some liberals and skeptics teach that King Solomon did not write the book of Ecclesiastes but they are wrong (as usual).
  2. The Jews always believed Solomon to be the "Preacher" (1:1, 2, 12). And so did all Christians up until about 100 years ago when unbelieving liberals started questioning the authorship of Ecclesiastes.
  3. According to I Kings 4:30, King "Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt."
  4. The Bible says, "he was wiser than all men...and his fame was in all nations round about" (I Kings 4:31).
  5. "And he spake three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five" (I Kings 4:32).
  6. The book was apparently written in Solomon's old age (cf. 1:12; 11:9).
  7. King Solomon was a great king but he was also a terrible backslider. He started out right but then he started marrying heathen wives, which led to his downfall (cf. I Kings 11:1-12; Nehemiah 13:25, 26).

  1. THE PHRASE "UNDER THE SUN" (1:3, 9, 14).
  1. The phrase "under the sun" appears 34 times in the book of Ecclesiastes. It is one of the keys to understanding the book. It means that man's search for truth is often limited to this world and to this life.
  2. When reading the book of Ecclesiastes, this key phrase, "under the sun," should be constantly kept in mind. Otherwise, some verses in the book of Ecclesiastes will seem to contradict the rest of Scripture.
  3. If the phrase, "under the sun," is not properly understood, the book of Ecclesiastes will seem to advocate strange teachings. False religious cults are adept in twisting Scripture out of context.
  4. For example, they pull out verses, which deal with death and the afterlife, to deny the doctrine of the eternal damnation of the wicked (cf. 9:10).
  5. Scofield's notes (p. 702):
    Ecclesiastes 9:10 is no more a divine revelation concerning the state of the dead than any other conclusion of "the Preacher" (1:1) is such a revelation. Reasoning from the standpoint of man "under the sun" the natural man can see no difference between a dead man and a dead lion (9:4). A living dog is better than either. No one would quote Ecclesiastes 9:2 as a divine revelation. These reasonings of man apart from divine revelation are set down by inspiration just as the words of Satan (Genesis 3:4; Job 2:4, 5) are so set down. But that life and consciousness continue between death and resurrection is directly affirmed in Scripture (Isaiah 14:9-11; Matthew 22:32; Mark 9:43-48; Luke 16:19-31; John 11:26; II Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:21-23; Revelation 6:9-11).
  6. But one of the great themes of the book of Ecclesiastes is that at an appointed time every man will have to stand before God and give an account.
  7. The book of Ecclesiastes teaches that God will judge both the righteous and the wicked (Eccl. 3:17; 11:9; 12:13, 14). In their efforts to deny the doctrine of hell, the cults ignore these verses.
  8. Advocates of the false doctrine of "soul sleep" use Ecclesiastes 9:5 as one of their proof texts. But what this Scripture means is that once a man leaves this world for the next world, his opportunities are gone. It does not mean he is unconscious. The rich man and Lazarus were not unconscious (Luke 16:19-31).
  9. King Solomon understood that there was a veil between men living in this world — "under the sun" — "and God as the ultimate wisdom in the heavens above" (Louis Goldberg, Ecclesiastes).
  10. King Solomon understood that God is in control and that God has a plan for mankind. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, "He hath made every thing beautiful in his time."
  11. Since God has a plan we must look to Him for direction. But we will never have all the answers while we are here "under the sun."
  12. We should study carefully the entire book of Ecclesiastes. Picking a verse here and there out of context will lead to the wrong conclusions. We must carefully compare Scripture with Scripture.
  1. Since "All scripture is given by inspiration of God" (II Tim. 3:16), and the book of Ecclesiastes is one of the 66 books in our Bible, the book of Ecclesiastes must be the inspired Word of God.
  2. Hermeneutics is the science of Bible interpretation. A basic rule of hermeneutics: We are to interpret Scripture in harmony with other Scripture because the Bible does not contradict itself.
  3. Therefore, we must never interpret Scripture in such a way that it clearly contradicts other Scriptures. Because some verses in the book of Ecclesiastes seem to contradict other Scriptures, some have questioned its inspiration, and some have misinterpreted it.
  4. Scofield touched upon this problem when he wrote, "Inspiration sets down accurately what passes, but the conclusions and reasonings are, after all, man's" (Scofield Bible, p. 696).
  5. "These reasonings of man apart from divine revelation are set down by inspiration just as the words of Satan; Genesis 3:4; Job 2:4, 5 are so set down" (Scofield Bible, p. 702).
  6. In Genesis 3:4, the serpent said to Eve, "Ye shall not surely die." This was not true, but these words are inspired because they are an accurate record of what the devil said.
  7. In Job 2:4, the devil said, "Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life." That statement is not true of all men but it is what Satan said and so therefore it is inspired.
  8. Ecclesiastes is a book that contains man's wisdom "under the sun." There are statements that seem to contradict Scripture, but not if they are studied in their proper context.
  9. For example, Ecclesiastes 1:4 says, "The earth abideth for ever." But we know from other Scriptures that this earth will some day be destroyed (cf. Psalm 102:25, 26; II Peter 3:7, 10; Rev. 21:1).
  10. On the basis of Ecclesiastes 1:4, the Jehovah's Witness cult teaches that this world will never be destroyed. But they are misinterpreting the verse.
  11. King Solomon is referring to all the hard work and labor which a man toils "under the sun" (1:3). Is it worthwhile if he lives his life without God? No, it is "vanity" (1:2) and "vexation of spirit" (1:14).
  12. With this in mind, we move on to verse 4. People come and go. Many leave their mark on this world but they soon die, "but the earth abideth for ever" (1:4-7).
  13. The context shows that this Scripture does not contradict other Scriptures. It is teaching that there is more to life than merely getting up and going to work, eating, sleeping, and getting up and going to work, etc.
  14. In other words, without God life is wearisome, repetitious, and "vexation of spirit" (1:14).
  1. In spite of all his wealth and wisdom, King Solomon did not enjoy life. His eyes and his ears were not satisfied (1:8). Everything "under the sun" was "vanity and vexation of spirit" (1:14; cf. Scofield notes, p. 696).
  2. Without God, life does seem meaningless. Education without God brings grief and sorrow (1:18).
  3. Without God, life is meaningless, transitory, fleeting, useless, empty, and futile.
  4. I should point out that although King Solomon was backslidden, he still believed in God. Most backsliders do not become atheists. King Solomon refers to God forty times in the book of Ecclesiastes.
  5. In fact, one of the major emphases in the book of Ecclesiastes is the fear of God (3:14; 5:7; 7:18; 8:12, 13; 12:13).
  6. This corresponds with the other wisdom literature.
  • "Behold, the fear of the LORD, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding" (Job 28:28).
  • "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge" (Proverbs 1:7).
  • "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 9:10).
  • "The fear of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom" (Proverbs 15:33).
  • "The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever" (Psalm 19:9).
  • "Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the LORD" (Psalm 34:11).
  • "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10).
  1. In the Bible, the "fear of God" means a reverential awe of God. One of the characteristics of the wicked is that there is no fear of God before their eyes. "The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes" (Psalm 36:1).
  2. "There is no fear of God before their eyes" (Romans 3:18).
  3. One of the characteristics of the godly is they fear God. In Genesis 22, the angel of the LORD said to Abraham, "Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me" (Gen. 22:12).
  4. Exodus 1:21 says, the Hebrew "midwives feared God."
  5. What about King Solomon? Did he fear God? Wasn't he backslidden? Apparently, a backslider can still fear God. Jonah disobeyed God by boarding a ship to Tarshish. God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, in the opposite direction.
  6. Jonah 1:3 says Jonah fled "from the presence of the LORD." But then the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken.
  7. And Jonah said to the men on the ship, "I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land" (Jonah 1:9).


  1. King Solomon wrote the book of Ecclesiastes — under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit — from the viewpoint of a worldly man.
  2. Solomon had everything this world has to offer. He was a great and powerful king. He had great wealth. He had a thousand wives and concubines.
  3. In Ecclesiastes 2, Solomon tells us that he gave himself over to the pursuit of wine, women and song, as well as materialism. Doesn't that sound like many people today?
  4. And King Solomon's conclusion was that it was all "vanity and vexation of spirit" (2:9-11).
  5. The book of Ecclesiastes drives home the point that death is inescapable. It exposes the vanity and foolishness of materialism and ungodliness.
  6. As a "preacher" (1:1, 2, 12), King Solomon wanted to impart his wisdom to others who might learn from his mistakes.

These are simple Sunday School survey notes. They are not for sale. The author used many outlines from popular Bible teachers such as C.I. Scofield and J. Vernon McGee, and he has tried to give credit when using their material.

—  Pastor James J. Barker  —