1: Ecclesiastes was written by an elderly King Solomon, who reflected on his search for pleasure and meaning before he embraced God. The key to understanding this book is his phrase "under the sun". The context indicates that it's a figure of speech used to describe human wisdom that doesn't look past the material world. He makes many statements that are only true in a world without God. For example, in 9:3 he says "the dead know nothing". Solomon made this statement from the perspective of someone who is searching for answers solely "under the sun".
2-11: Solomon's primary thesis is that life without God is meaningless. The first 6 chapters are a record of his observations and vain attempts to find meaning and pleasure in the secular world. Verses 2-11 poetically illustrate this concept by pointing out the cycles in nature and the lack of anything truly new.
12-18: Solomon decided to pursue pleasure and meaning to its fullest, seeing all that the world has to offer. He was in a unique position to do so considering his wealth and wisdom. He had the resources to live the greatest possible worldly existence and the wisdom to properly evaluate his experience. First he dismisses wisdom itself as a vanity if all we have is life in this world. Increasing our knowledge often increases our sorrow because we become aware of dark truths.
1-11: Solomon tested the limits of self-indulgence only to find emptiness. He indulged alcohol, building projects, material possessions, wealth, sex, and entertainment. He pursued whatever his heart desired. Though he found pleasure in the toil of his pursuits, he realized that even this is meaningless in the end.
12-17: After pursuing pleasure and finding it lacking, Solomon decided to pursue wisdom. He came to the conclusion that wisdom is good in a pragmatic sense, the way light is good for visibility, but in the end it's meaningless because in death the wise have the same fate as the fool. Neither would be remembered in a world without an afterlife or God.
18-2: Solomon's pleasure in labor quickly turned to despair at the realization that he would one day leave all he worked for to the man to come after him.
22-25: We cannot enjoy anything without God's provision. We cannot taste food, do physical activity, or think sanely without God allowing us to. Even those who reject God benefit by being part of His creation.
26: This seems to be a principle about the judgement of God, that the sinner's life is reduced to gathering and collecting. There's no further meaning without Him.
1-13: Solomon observes the cycles of life's activities and poetically lists them. Each positive activity has a negative activity to cancel it out. This naturally causes him to ask the question "what gain comes from the worker's toil?" In verse 13 he arrives at the conclusion that it is a gift from God so we might eat, drink, and take pleasure in our our toil.
14-15: God's eternal endurance is grounds for reverent fear. When people fear God they seek reconciliation. The only way to be reconciled to God is through faith in Jesus Christ; by trusting that His atonement on the cross is sufficient to appease God's wrath on our behalf.
16-21: When we look at the world from a materialistic perspective "under the sun" there is no justice. The wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. Animals and humans both end up in the grave. From a human perspective we can't see if our spirit goes upward for judgement or stays in the ground. If this life is all there is, there's nothing better than rejoicing in our work. But even this is vanity. Life would ultimately be meaningless if God did not exist.
1-3: Continuing on his theme of injustice, Solomon points out the evil of those with power oppressing the weak. It was true in Solomon's day and continues to the present time. He observes that if this life is all we have, the injustice will never be corrected and it is better to have never been born.
4-6: So much of man's work is to outdo his neighbor, have more money, a better job, or more fame. This too is a vain pursuit because it's relative and means nothing when we die. In contrast, the lazy fool doesn't have much because he doesn't have the motivation to compete. Although he is poor and doesn't have the satisfaction of accomplishment, he is better off than those exhausted form the pointless competition of outdoing one another.
7-12: Another vanity is when a single man relentlessly works for more riches, yet can't even stop working to enjoy or share them with another because his greed is so great. Verses 9-12 explain the practical benefits of having a partner, such as help when you fall and protection from enemies.
13-16: Solomon describes a situation he observed in his lifetime of a king who was once a poor prisoner and rose to power. When the king became old, he was no longer wiling to take advice. It would be better to have a poor young man ruling who is willing to take advice rather than be set in his ways. But even this is ultimately striving after the wind because the people still won't be pleased with their ruler.
1-7: We must approach God in reverence, without blurting out empty phrases and promises in order to get something from him. And if you make a vow, keep it. Prayer should be thoughtful, reverent, and precise.
10-12: Those who love money do not have the ability to truly enjoy their riches. They have too many resources to possibly enjoy it themselves.
13-16: Solomon mentions a man who hoards his wealth and the wealth is somehow destroyed, leaving his son with nothing. No one brings anything into the world and no one takes anything with them when they die. This fact should cause us to focus our energy on God and others.
17-19: Not only do we take nothing with us, but our short time on earth is vexed with many problems and struggles. Solomon repeats his statement that the best thing someone can do in a world under the sun is to eat, drink and find satisfaction in work. Yet no one can truly enjoy their wealth and toil unless God gives them the ability to.
1-6: Another "vanity" Solomon mentions is when God gives a man great wealth and a long life but not the power to enjoy it. He says that a stillborn child is better off for not having gone through the meaningless motions and pain. They both go to the grave and neither experience pleasure.
7-9: Man's life is spent working for food yet he is often unsatisfied. He may have more but without satisfaction he isn't much better off than the poor man who doesn't lust for more. The best situation is to be content and thankful for the food we have. This sentiment is also reflected in the New Testament (Timothy 6:6).
10-12: It is vain for a man to dispute with someone stronger (God). Without God's revelation in the Bible, we have no way to know what happens after death. Since Solomon is speaking from a worldly perspective still, he asks the questions as if there's no answer.
1-6: Solomon begins a list of contrasting ideas and points out which is "better" in each comparison. The list seems very negative but makes more sense when we consider his search for meaning and productivity in life. Sorrow, mourning, and rebuke are unpleasant things, but are more productive than feasting, laughing, and singing. They cause us to grow in character through serious reflection, prompting us to take action. People tend to think about life's big questions at a funeral rather than when they're having a care free time at a feast.
10: It is foolish and counter productive to dwell on the past rather than the present.
11-13: Wisdom is important because it protects us and preserves life just as having money does. We cannot keep living if we can't get food. Just the same, without wisdom a foolish act can end our lives.
14: Both prosperity and adversity come from God and have their purpose. Although hard times are undesirable they often cause us to grow. They may also be a form of discipline to draw us back to Him.
16: He must be speaking of self righteousness since elsewhere in Ecclesiastes he tells us to be both wise and righteous.
20: Since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, all are born into sin and freely chose to rebel against God.
21-22: We who are guilty should not strictly hold others to account on the same things.
25-26: Solomon warns against the seductive adulteress that lures in men. Sinners will be taken by her but those who are redeemed and please God resist.
1: People who are wise tend to be distinguished even in their physical appearance through expressions and mannerisms. They're the type of people you go to for advice but aren't quite sure why.
2-5: It is wise to obey those in authority where appropriate because they wield power and are placed in authority by God.
6-9: Verse 5 identifies that there's an appropriate time and just way of doing everything, but man's problem is that we don't always know the right thing to do in a given situation. Part of this is because we are limited in our power and can't look into the future. Neither can we escape the day we die.
10-13: Wicked people often mask their sin with outward religious actions causing others around them to give praise. Jesus spoke a lot about this concerning the Pharisees. We tend to continue in wickedness because judgement is delayed and we think we can get away with it. In death however, God sees our wickedness and we will be judged. Those of us who fear God will seek reconciliation and are better off. In Solomon's day this meant submitting to God by faith and participating in His sacrificial system which pointed to Jesus. For us, it means to expose ourselves as sinners before Him, and receive the pardon offered through Jesus.
14-16: Solomon saw great injustice in the world. Good things happened to bad people and bad things happened to good people. Due to the injustice around him, he concluded that the best thing to do "under the sun" is to eat, drink, and be joyful. This verse doesn't condone excess, just the simple act of enjoying your time and resources on earth. Solomon's view of the injustice was grim because he was only considering what happens "under the sun". Someday God will right all wrongs on the day of judgement as indicated throughout scripture.
1: If we see the world as Solomon did, observing only what's under the sun, there's no way to tell how God feels about the righteous, the wise, and their deeds. Although we can learn general things about God through the creation (Romans 1) we rely on His communication through the prophets and scripture for specific theology.
2-10: Everyone faces death no matter how righteous or wicked they are. We are all destined for the grave and the way we behaved is pointless if there is no God or afterlife. Even the memory of our existence will eventually fade as the living who knew us die off. His antidote is to live for pleasure and enjoyment if there is nothing beyond the grave. However, this is terrible advice if there is a just God and an afterlife.
11-12: No matter how skilled, wise, or strong we are, we cannot control when something bad happens to us. We may spend all of our efforts to be healthy and eat right, but we could still end up dying at a young age through illness or accident. Solomon likens it to a fish randomly caught in a net.
13-18: Solomon points out that wisdom is greater than brute force with a story about a poor, wise man with a plan who delivered the city from an evil king's attack. In the moment he was celebrated but when the threat was removed, no one cared to listen to him.
1: Chapter 10 is a collection of proverb type statements regarding wisdom and things Solomon has observed. Verse 1 is that folly is the fly in the ointment of wisdom. Someone can be incredibly wise but one foolish decision can change them from being seen as a wise person.
2: The right and left are probably associated with hands, that one is dominant and the other clumsy.
3: Foolish people tend to demonstrate their foolishness even when doing a simple task
8-13: The world is full of irony and injustice.
16-17: The king or person who is immature and lacks self control will face trouble. The mature self controlled person is happy.
18: Laziness and neglect of maintenance has obvious consequences
19: This verse cannot be promoting greed and drunkenness since they are both thoroughly condemned throughout the Bible. He may simply be saying that food and wine are good things and money is very useful.
20: Do not speak ill of others because it's wrong and it may get back to them.
1: The first four verses of this chapter use harvesting illustrations to make several points. The first verse is somewhat confusing but seems to be about a successful wheat harvest.
2: We never know when disaster will strike, so it is better to help others while we can rather than storing up everything with the potential of losing it all.
3-4: It is possible to be overly cautious to the point of not getting anything done. If you wait for the perfect day without wind or rain to plant your seeds, it may never happen.
5: Just as it is mysterious how God gives us a soul at conception, we do not know how he specifically works on other matters.
6: In both work and ministry it's wise to pursue multiple avenues because we don't know which will pay off the most. It's a way of not putting our "eggs in one basket".
7-8: The analogy of light and darkness seem to be illustrating good times and bad times. We should enjoy the good times in life but know that bad times will inevitably come. We should have a realistic view of life rather than a idealistic or pessimistic view.
9: I'm not sure exactly what this verse is saying but it could possibly be this: If we spend our youth following the desires of our heart, which is by nature wicked, then we will face judgement.
10: Youth is very short so it should be enjoyed without unnecessary sorrow and trouble.
1-8: We should remember our creator in the days of our youth, while we are physically healthy and our minds are sharp. Solomon poetically elaborates the grim process of a person growing old and falling apart before death. Their body turns to dust and their spirit returns to God.
9-11: The Preacher (Solomon) tried to teach wisdom through writing proverbs. Like a goad, they are used to prod us and point us in the right direction.
12: While study is a good thing that Solomon approves of, he warns of the rabbit trail that can lead to endless books and getting burnt out.
13: Solomon's conclusion after examining life under the sun is to fear God and keep his commandments. He has finally looked "above the sun" and considered the afterlife. None of us have adequately feared God with reverence or kept his commandments. We will all stand before God's throne to give an account for our sins. However, one of God's commands is to repent and put our trust in Jesus to cleanse us from our sins. When Jesus died on the cross he absorbed the wrath of God on behalf of those who trust that His death was an adequate payment. Three days later he rose again, validating this truth. Our life here should not be focused on what's "under the sun" because it is all vanity without God. Instead we should focus on God and obeying His Word.