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You will find an introduction and outline of Ecclesiastes, here.

A prayer of John Calvin to use before reading:
May the Lord grant that we may engage in the heavenly contemplation of the mysteries of God’s heavenly wisdom with ever increasing devotion to God’s glory and our edification. Amen.

An Outline ( after Leong Seow)

1.1 Superscription

1:2-6:9 The First Half

 

5:1-7 Attitude before God:  Be humble, be careful. Dreams in the ancient world were believe to sometimes foreshadow the future.

5:8-6.9 Enjoy but do not be Greedy: 5:20 is the center of this section. Notice how the subsections mirror each other, 5:8-12//6:7-9; 5:13-27// 6:3-6; 5:18-16//6:1-2. The phrase “high official” does not actually mean an actual official, but rather refers to am ambitious person who gets ahead at the expense of others. No matter how high they get, there is always someone higher. Verse 20, rather than think about one’s life, one should enjoy the present that God has given one.

6:10-12:14 The Second Half

6:10-7:14 The limits of knowledge: This section begins (6:10-12) and ends  (7:13-14) with similar statements about human ignorance and weakness. God is the one who has named and known (v10).  The “better than sayings” may be offered in mockery, examples of what some people – who think we can know what is good- say. The sayings are in the style of traditional proverbs with items presented as pairs of opposites, birth and death, funeral and wedding.

7:15-29 Righteousness and Wisdom are Elusive: The first part of this section presents extreme behaviors as dangerous (15-22). This includes too much righteousness and wisdom. The second part of the section (v 23-29) are about the difficulty of attaining wisdom.  Verse 26, “the woman who is trap” is an allegory.

8:1-17 The Limits of Power: “to make one’s face shine”  is an idiom meaning “to be gracious” or “to be pleasant”.  Verse 6 “time and way” is literally “time and judgment”. Verse 14 “vanity” here means a situation that cannot be comprehended.  Verse 16 ‘ One’s eyes see sleep neither day nor night” is an idiom for constant effort.

Here are several good sources to aid your reading of the Ecclesiastes

Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, Understanding the Old Testament Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.

Leong Seow, Choon “Ecclesiastes”” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version.Coogan, Michael D.; Brettler, Marc Z.; Perkins, Pheme; Newsom, Carol A. (2010-01-20) Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Leong Seow, Choon “Ecclesiastes” in  HarperCollins Bible Commentary Mays, James L. ed.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.

Silby Towner, W “Ecclesiastes”,in The New Interpreter’s Bible Vol 5, Keck, Leander E. ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press) 1996.

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