The book of Ecclesiastes is one of the 24 books that comprise the Hebrew Bible Tanakh. The Latin term “Ecclesiastes” is derived from the Greek interpretation of the Hebrew word Koheleth, which refers to a “Teacher”, “Preacher” or “Gatherer” – of wisdom. In the book, the author Koheleth speaks of himself as the Son of David and the King of Jerusalem. This can imply that the author is none other than King Solomon. However, the work itself is rendered anonymous and scholars are still divided among themselves as to who exactly created this piece of Wisdom literature.
Ecclesiastes documents an autobiographical account of the main character called Koheleth and presented in the form of parables, proverbs and allegories. In the story, a narrator who is referring to Koheleth in third person, speaks of his great wisdom but at the same time also points out that even though striving for it is a good way to live life, wisdom is still filled with its own share of futilities and limitations, and as such is not singularly important.
By speaking about his plans, actions, experiences and thoughts, Koheleth reflects on his life in a somewhat world-weary way, saying that all of man’s actions are inherently “hevel”, and carry a sense of emptiness and meaninglessness. He says life is like a fleeting moment; something that is transitory or temporary, like a mere breathe, since both foolish and wise men meet their ends at the unyielding hands of death. Although wisdom has its importance, Koheleth is unable to connect any eternal significance to it.
Koheleth sighs that as a king, he had the wealth and opportunity to try out everything which he did, but even then he found nothing that is truly everlasting and reliable. Unlike God who is eternal, man lives in a world that is bound by time. This makes man vulnerable to death and decay; something not associated with a heavenly existence. From Ecclesiastes as God and humans belong in different realms, it is not possible for man to achieve true wisdom or understand what is really right or wrong. The only way to live life in a productive way is to focus on the present and take pleasure from the simple activities of daily life, like taking delight in one’s work and consuming food and drinks, both of which are believed to be gifts from God. In fact, our very power to derive enjoyment from such things comes from God.
The narrator further adds in Ecclesiastes that life is inherently difficult. There is unfairness and injustice in this world which can only be resolved by God Himself. Man has to live with plenty of economical and political risks. Even though everyone will meet their final doom at some point or the other, we should all embrace life and live in the best way possible. Koheleth says that men should enjoy themselves until the good times last, but abstain from vices such as greed. At the end of his journey, Koheleth maintains that men should fear God and observe his divine commandments as it is He who has the sole power and authority to judge man’s deeds.