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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

6:10-12:14 The Second Half

6:10-7:14 The limits of knowledge

7:15-29 Righteousness and Wisdom are Elusive

8:1-17 The Limits of Power

9:1-10 Enjoy Life: Life is unfair and everyone suffers the same fate-death. Yet while there is life, there is hope. The concept of a life after death is not expressed in these verses and was an idea that gained credibility later.  “let your garments be white” is a way of expressing the idea that clean clothes are an indication of a happy, prosperous life. What do you think about this? Is this something Christians can affirm?

9:11-10:15 The World is Full of Risks: Verses 11-12 express the idea that there is no cause and effect between being good or successful and a happy life. Verses 13-16 are an story about a poor, wise man and his actions. What is the author saying to us?

9:17-10:15 are a series of observations and proverbs about wisdom. While the author does not hold wisdom as an attribute that guarantees safety or security or wealth, it is still preferable to folly.

10:16-11:6 Living with Risks: The observations and proverbial sayings about life and wisdom continue. First political risks (10:16-20), then economic risks (11:2-6) are discussed.  The Hebrew word translated in the NRSV at “servant” can also be translated as “boy”.  The saying about the “house” may have some political overtones.It may be a commentary on poor leadership. “Send out your bread upon the waters” may be about spontaneous good deeds. (A similar Egyptian wisdom text suggests this interpretation.) Or it may be concerning a commercial or business act. In verse 2 the phrase 7 ways or even 8 may be interpreted in multiple ways. It might be read with verse 1 in mind to say give generously. Or it might mean something like the proverb “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”  Verses 3-6 we are not in control of natural events. God’s ways are unknowable, never the less, people need to act.

11:7-12:8 Conclusion: Enjoy Life Before It is Too Late: Still, enjoy your life.But the author can not keep from mentioning “day of darkness” and “vanity”. In 12:1-8 the end of human life is described in terms of the end of the world. Verse 8 echoes the beginning of the book, 1:2.

12:9-14 Epilogue: An assessment or description of the Teacher. Verse 13 is believed by some to be an addition by a editor but they are not inconsistent with the rest of the book.

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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