Ecclesiastes 1:1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem
Who is the author of Ecclesiastes? The text itself would seem to identify Solomon as the Preacher, but some scholars are hesitant to ascribe the book to him, referring to the author generically as "the Preacher." If the phrase, "the son of David" is interpreted to mean a descendant of David rather than a first generation son, then the Preacher could be any one of the subsequent kings of Judah.
Given the position of the book between Proverbs and Song of Solomon-both ascribed to Solomon-we are likely safe in assuming that Solomon is the Preacher. This is a significant identification because one of the themes of Ecclesiastes is the emptiness of riches and honor. Who had more of these than Solomon?
Ecclesiastes 1:2-3 Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity
Without a correct understanding of the perspective of Ecclesiastes, we can easily miss the point. The overriding theme of the entire book is that mortality is full of events, possessions, and problems that are ultimately insignificant and fleeting; they pertain to mortality and have virtually no eternal significance. "All is vanity under the sun" is the main theme of the book. The words vanity or vanities occur 37 times. The phrase "under the sun" occurs 29 times. The phrase "vexation of spirit" occurs 9 times.
"The book of Ecclesiastes seems permeated with a pessimistic flavor, but must be read in the light of one of its key phrases: 'under the sun' (1:9), meaning 'from a wordly point of view.' The term vanity also needs clarification, since as used in Ecclesisastes it means transitory, or fleeting. Thus the Preacher laments that as things appear from the point of view of the world, everything is temporary and soon gone-nothing is permanent. It is in this light also that the reader must understand 9:5 and 9:10, which declare that the dead 'know not any thing,' and there is no knowledge 'in the grave.' These should not be construed as theological pronouncements on the condition of the soul after death; rather, they are observations by the Preacher about how things appear to men on the earth 'under the sun.'" (Bible Dictionary: Ecclesiastes)
[When] I was twenty-three years of age; and in reflecting upon the past, I became sincerely convinced that there was no real peace of mind or true happiness except in the service of God and in doing those things which would meet His approval. As far as my imagination would enable me, I brought before my mind all the honor, glory, and happiness of the whole world. I thought of the gold and the wealth of the rich, of the glory, grandeur, and power of kings, presidents, princes, and rulers. I thought of the military renown of Alexander, Napoleon, and other great generals. I cast my mind over the innumerable paths through which the giddy world travels in search of pleasure and happiness. In summing up the whole matter in the vision of my mind, I had to exclaim with Solomon: "All is vanity of vanities sayeth the preacher."
I could see that within a few years all would end alike in the grave. I was convinced that no man could enjoy true happiness and obtain that which would feed the immortal soul, except God was his friend and Jesus Christ his advocate. I was convinced that man became their friend by doing the will of the Father, and by keeping His commandments. I made a firm resolution that from then I would seek the Lord to know His will, to keep His commandments, and to follow the dictates of His Holy Spirit. (Wilford Woodruff, His Life and Labors, comp. Matthias F. Cowley [Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1916], 27)
Ecclesiastes 1:18 in much wisdom is much grief
Solomon was full of wisdom. With this wisdom came an eternal perspective which made mundane mortality grievous. The Savior carried the same weight of wisdom, "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Isa. 53:3). If "much wisdom" is grievous, then perhaps the saying is correct, "Ignorance is bliss."
Ecclesiastes 2:11 I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do
...for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. (Luke 12:15)
Hugh B. Brown
So many men spend their lifetime accumulating this world's goods, and sometimes they are not particular how they get them; but most men, if they live to old age, get a new sense of values, but too often it is too late.
May I illustrate my point by referring to an experience I had in 1917 as I was returning from my first trip overseas in World War I where I was serving with the Canadian Army. I arrived in New York and while there learned of the presence in the hospital of an aged man whom I had known. As I had some time before the train left for the West, I called on him in the hospital. He was a very wealthy man, had racing stables in Cuba, in the Northwest, and in California, had millions invested in various places, but at the age of eighty he was lying at death's door.
As I stood by his bedside and thought over various parts of his life as I had known it, as I thought of his divorced wife, of his five children, all of whom were estranged, and none of whom cared enough to come to the hospital to see him, as I thought of the things he had lost which money could not buy and noted his tragic situation and the depth of his misery, I asked him what he would do if he had the privilege of living his life over again and could start it with the wisdom which had come through the years, what he considered the real values in life as he stood near the end of it. I asked him what he considered the most important things in life, and if he would tell me as a young man how I could get the greatest riches and enjoy them when I grew old.
This old gentleman, who died a few days later, said to me, "As I think back over life the most important and valuable asset which I might have had but which I lost in the process of accumulating millions, was the simple faith my mother had in God and in the immortality of the soul."
...That was the dying testimony of a man who was born in the Church but had drifted far from it. That was the brokenhearted cry of a lonely man who could have anything that money could buy, but who had lost the most important things of life in order to accumulate this world's goods. He realized as he lay upon his deathbed that he could not take any of it with him. (Continuing the Quest [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1961], 33-34)
Spencer W. Kimball
Wealth ethically acquired and properly used is not evil-it is good. It is the love of it, the coveting of it, the lust for it, the compromises made for it which are evil.
...Perhaps the sin is not in "things" but in our attitude toward and worship of "things." Unless an acquisitive person can positively accumulate and hold wealth while still giving full allegiance to God and his program-unless the rich man can keep the Sabbath, keep his mind and body and spirit uncontaminated, and give unstinted service to his fellowmen through God's appointed way-unless the affluent man has total control and can hold all his possessions in trust, subject to the call of the Lord through his authorized servants, then that man, for the good of his soul, should certainly "go and sell that thou hast and give to the poor, and come and follow me." (Matthew 19:21.)
"For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Matthew 6:21.) (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, edited by Edward L. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982], 358)
Ecclesiastes 3:1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the sun
Thomas S. Monson
Our house is to be a house of order. "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven," advised Ecclesiastes, the Preacher. Such is true in our lives. Let us provide time for family, time for work, time for study, time for service, time for recreation, time for self-but above all, time for Christ.
Then our house will be a house of order. ("Building Your Eternal Home," Ensign, Oct. 1999, 5)
Ecclesiastes 9:2 All things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked
As the Bible says, "All things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean."
The rain, the floods, and the winds beat not only upon the house which had been built upon the sand, but also upon the other, which had been built upon the rock. Both the person who serves the Lord as well as the one who disdains Him live in a world ruled by the same laws of nature. Many are the things that come upon him who is a saint as well as upon him who is a sinner-disease, death, catastrophes, accidents, and so forth.
Neither prosperity nor poverty indicate whether a person is living a Christian life. Physical suffering is not evidence of wickedness, nor is it punishment for sin.
What then are the rewards of serving the Lord? The gospel of Jesus Christ does not promise that we will be free from tribulation. But it does strengthen our spirit so that we can accept adversity and face it when it comes. The house founded upon a rock does not fall with strong winds or rain. ("Serving the Lord," Ensign, Nov. 1999, 28)
Ecclesiastes 9:5 the dead know not any thing... neither have they any more a portion
What happens to the spirit of man at death? This is a crucial theological question. Ecclesiastes says "the spirit shall return unto God who gave it." (Eccl. 12:7) However, the Jehovah Witnesses have misinterpreted another Ecclesiastes passage to claim that there is nothing at death-no spirit, no soul, nothing-not until the resurrection. "The dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten... neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun." To the Jehovah Witnesses it means, there is nothing after death. They have taken the quote out of context. They have missed the crucial perspective of Ecclesiastes that the dead no longer have anything "under the sun" or in the mortal world.
A direct quote from the official website of the Jehovah Witnesses states:
When a person dies, he ceases to exist. Death is the opposite of life. The dead do not see or hear or think. Not even one part of us survives the death of the body. We do not possess an immortal soul or spirit.
After Solomon observed that the living know that they will die, he wrote: "As for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all." He then enlarged on that basic truth by saying that the dead can neither love nor hate and that "there is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in [the grave]." (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6, 10) Similarly, Psalm 146:4 says that when a man dies, "his thoughts do perish." We are mortal and do not survive the death of our body. The life we enjoy is like the flame of a candle. When the flame is put out, it does not go anywhere. It is simply gone. (http://www.watchtower.org/e/bh/article_06.htm)
How terrifying is that doctrine compared to what the Book of Mormon teaches?
The spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life... [the] righteous into a state of happiness, which is called paradise... the wicked, yea, who are evil... shall be cast into outer darkness (Alma 40:11-13)
Ecclesiastes 9:11 the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong
Thomas S. Monson
God, our Father, and Jesus Christ, our Lord, have marked the way to perfection. They beckon us to choose to follow eternal verities and to become perfect as they are perfect. (See Matt. 5:48; 3 Ne. 12:48.) The Apostle Paul likened life to a race with a clearly defined goal. To the Saints at Corinth he urged: "Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain." (1 Cor. 9:24.)
In our zeal, let us not overlook this sage counsel: "The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong." (Eccl. 9:11.) Actually, the prize belongs to him who endures to the end. ("Invitation to Exaltation," Ensign, June 1993, 4)
Endurance is achievement. It is great achievement. And I know that as we go through life-those of us who are getting older every day-that the greatest achievement in life is not the acquisition of money. The greatest achievement to me is coming to the end of one's days, having been true and loyal to one's ideals. I can think of no achievement greater than that. (Matthew Cowley Speaks [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954], 221)
Marvin J. Ashton
What does it take to endure in the race for eternal life, to become a champion?
To become a winner in the race for eternal life requires effort-constant work, striving, and enduring well with God's help. But the key is that we must take it just one step at a time.
The ingredient that is essential in learning to endure is consistent effort. In our race for eternal life, pain and obstacles will confront all of us. We may experience heartaches, sorrow, death, sins, weakness, disasters, physical illness, pain, mental anguish, unjust criticism, loneliness, or rejection. How we handle these challenges determines whether they become stumbling stones or building blocks. To the valiant these challenges make progress and development possible. (Be of Good Cheer [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 19)
Ecclesiastes 11:1 Cast thy bread upon the waters
"Similarly, the Law of the Boomerang teaches us: 'What goes out comes back.' How we treat others generally becomes the way they treat us. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus admonished: 'Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.' (Matt. 7:12.) Commonly called the Golden Rule, this teaching urges us to treat others the way we would like to be treated. It is timely advice for married couples. Usually, a husband or wife will eventually return the loving treatment we consistently give.
"The Law of the Boomerang is taught in at least three other scriptures. Alma chastised his son, Corianton, for questionable conduct, and then noted: 'For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again.' (Alma 41:15.) In Ecclesiastes, we read: 'Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.' (Eccl. 11:1.) Luke noted: 'Give, and it shall be given unto you; good [honest] measure, pressed down, and shaken together [for full compensation], and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.' (Luke 6:38.)" (Brent A. Barlow, "To Build a Better Marriage," Ensign, Sept. 1992, 16)