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Leader Guide ESV, Unit 12, Session 2
© 2019 LifeWay Christian Resources, Permission granted to reproduce and distribute within the license agreement with purchaser.
Edited by Rev. Lex DeLong, M.A., Oct 2022.
Summary and Goal
Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived (1 Kings 3:12), wrote three Old Testament books of wisdom: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs.
The latter is a celebration of love in marriage, and the former has the feel of a father passing on his collected wisdom to his son.
But Ecclesiastes is different; it feels like a bitter old man expressing regret over a wasted life.
In this session, we will see that while Ecclesiastes seems to have more in common with existentialist philosophy than with Judeo-Christian Scripture, the book absolutely belongs in the Bible.
We will see that more than any other book, Ecclesiastes helps us understand the limits of human wisdom and shows us the futility {fleeting nature] of pursuing the things of the world.
++The Futility of Human Wisdom (Eccl.
++The Futility of Pleasure (Eccl.
++The Futility of Possessions (Eccl.
Session in a Sentence
Wisdom is found in recognizing the futility [the fleeting benefit] of pursuing the things of the world.
Christ Connection
Wisdom is the skill of living faithfully in God’s world, in response to the understanding of the knowledge of God, but all of us have sinned.
Wisdom shows us how to live but it cannot save us.
For this reason, Jesus became God-given wisdom for us (1 Cor.
1:30) so that through His death and resurrection (which appear foolish to the world), we might be saved according to the wise plan of God.
Missional Application
Because God has given us His wisdom in place of our foolishness, we live with purpose as we call on others to turn to Jesus Christ, who became wisdom from God for us.
DDG (p.
In the fourth century, Augustine, age seventeen, set out to find wisdom and fulfillment.
He embraced a hedonistic, dualistic religious philosophy, which ridiculed his mother’s Christian faith in favor of rationalism and permitted his desire for sexual exploits.
But he found no fulfillment.
Instead, he felt enslaved to his passions and struggled for freedom within himself.
One day, Augustine heard a child chanting a playground jingle: “Take and read.”
So Augustine picked up a collection of Paul’s epistles and read:
Romans 13:13-14
Reading these verses at this time changed the course of Augustine’s life, and he became one of the most influential theologians in church history. 1
Voices from Church History
“Thou hast made us for thyself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in thee.” 2
–Augustine (c.
When Augustine set out looking for wisdom and fulfillment, he did not find it because he was looking in the wrong places.
But when God drew him to look to the Lord for the longing of his soul, he found it.
What are some ways people try to find fulfillment apart from God?
(through selfish pursuits of wealth, power, and sex; in false religions; through human-centered philanthropy and good deeds to help others; through good works in the Lord’s name but apart from faith in Jesus)
More than any other book, Ecclesiastes helps us understand the limits of human wisdom and shows us the futility of pursuing the things of the world and how fleeting such pursuits are.
Point 1: The Futility of Human Wisdom (Eccl.
Read: Ask a volunteer to read Ecclesiastes 1:12-18 (DDG p. 104).
12 I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem.
13 And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven.
It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.
14 I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.
15 What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted.
16 I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.”
17 And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly.
I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind.
18 For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.
Pack Item 12: Solomon’s Wisdom:
DDG (p.
104) Everything is vanity [fleeting] under the sun.
· While Solomon is not explicitly named as the author of Ecclesiastes, the first verse of the book identifies the author as “the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.”
Since Ecclesiastes 12:9 speaks of the author as a writer of proverbs, the internal evidence points to Solomon as the author.
Additionally, the accounts of superlative wisdom (1:16), great building projects (2:4-5), and vast wealth (2:8-9) all correspond to descriptions of Solomon (1 Kings 4:29-31; 9:15-19; 10:14-23).
Solomon wanted the reader to understand that everything is like a breath, like a mist that vanishes—everything is “vanity” (see Eccl. 1:2-3).
Nothing lasts, and if nothing lasts, then nothing matters.
Even human life is like a vapor that is fleeting (see Jas. 4:14, …your life is but a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away).
Of course, one’s perspective matters.
All of life is under God’s sovereign rule, but so often we live as if life “under the sun” is all there is.
This is like trying to chase after the wind—vanity.
· In Ecclesiastes 1:2-3, Solomon presented the thesis for the book: “Vanity of vanities!
All is vanity [fleeting].
What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?”
The word translated “vanity” is the Hebrew word hebel, which means, “vapor,” “breath” or “breathing,” “perishableness.”
Hebel is used in Job 7:16 to describe the fleeting nature of life: “My days are a breath.”
How might an “under the sun” focus or priority manifest itself in our lives?
(we choose to sin as if there were no consequences; we forget to pray to God; we ignore opportunities to share the gospel with others; we fail to consider the interests of others in our decision-making)
DDG (p.
Another way to say life “under the sun” is to say life without acknowledging the one true God.
The grand experiment of Ecclesiastes was this wise man taking his God-given wisdom to explore all this world had to offer for its own sake.
But all Solomon’s wisdom did was bury him in sadness because his human wisdom had no meaning.
Life and wisdom and even the Book of Ecclesiastes only make sense when they are linked to God in faith.
· There are references to God sprinkled throughout Ecclesiastes and on a number of occasions Solomon spoke directly of fearing God or showing reverence for Him (Eccl.
5:7; 7:18; 8:12-13; 12:13); however, never once did he express praise or rejoice in Him.
· In Solomon’s record in Ecclesiastes, we see that wisdom apart from faith always flounders.
It always disappoints.
It always frustrates.
It always leaves us wanting more.
The reason is simple—because true wisdom is made for more than the things of this world.
It is made to draw us to the One over this world, the One who created this world.
Wisdom is designed to draw us to deeper faith in Christ, but when we remove Him from the equation, wisdom turns into folly.
Essential Doctrine “Illumination of Scripture”: Because of the vast difference between God’s wisdom and ours and because of humanity’s sinful state, human beings are incapable, on our own, of fully grasping spiritual truth without being aided by the Holy Spirit through the process of illumination.
Fill in the blanks: DDG (p.
104) Illumination of Scripture:
When it comes to understanding the meaning of God’s Word, Christians do not rely ultimately upon human reason in the process of interpretation, nor do we rely solely upon an institution or body of scholars.
Instead, a Christian’s ultimate reliance is upon the work of the Spirit of God, who illuminates the Scriptures in the heart and mind (John 14:15-18; 16:7-12).
John 14:15-18 ““If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.
“And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever;that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you.“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
John 16:7–12 ““But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.“And
He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment;concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me;and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me;and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.“I
have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”
Point 2: The Futility of Pleasure (Eccl.
Read Ecclesiastes 2:1-3 (DDG p. 105).
1 I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.”
But behold, this also was vanity. 2 I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?”
3 I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life.
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