Meaningless! Meaningless! says the teacher, Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.
With that start, Ecclesiastes in the Bible may be as challenging as Proverbs in finding links to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But it will take us in a different direction. Ecclesiastes is similar to Proverbs in that it includes proverbs, lots of them, yet has more cohesion from start to finish as the writer seeks meaning in life and finds it difficult, virtually impossible. So, where is the Gospel in Ecclesiastes?
The Need for Gospel Good News is evident as the writer seeks meaning in every imaginable pursuit, all of them coming up empty, whether it be vineyards, gardens, parks, fruit trees, lakes, herds, flocks, silver, gold, musicians, women… I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. 2:10 The verdict? everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun 2:11. Even the pursuit of wisdom did not satisfy, knowing that whether wise or foolish, it would all end in death. 2:18
One might begin to despair that even God is scarcely found in this book, let alone any hint of the Gospel. But don’t give up yet. A glimmer of an answer is teased out throughout the book, starting in 2:24-26 – A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after wind. Not exactly the positive breakthrough we might desire, but at least the need for God is acknowledged for life to be valued. What else is there?.
Chapter 3 is filled with several important concepts. There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die… 3:1 a total of 14 contrasts of things that are part of our time on earth, followed by the observation, I have seen the burden God has laid on men 3:10. This acknowledges both the absolute sovereignty of God over all things and the consequence of sin, the “burden” that is the extension of God’s judgment on Adam. But he also discovers that while our “time” on earth is a “burden,”, there is more. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men… 3:11 Life in this world isn’t all there is.
But there is also judgment. God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked 3:17, repeated in the last verse of the book, For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or bad.” 12:14
With that ending, it makes you anxious to find something more hopeful. Limited encouragement comes in chapter 12, Remember your Creator in the days of your youth 12:1, followed by a description of aging, in which you lose your physical strength and senses. This is followed by an appeal to Remember him–before the silver cord is severed or the golden bowl is broken…and the dust returns to the ground it came from, 12:6,7; see Genesis 3:19, a picture of death. But that is followed by and the spirit returns to God who gave it, a more hopeful outcome.
Did we find the Gospel in Ecclesiastes? Not overtly. Perhaps the closest we get is that God is our hope for purpose and happiness, though that is not fleshed out in the detail of most other Old Testament books; nothing of a sacrifice for sin or the promise of a coming Messiah. The good news is knowing where not to look, so that you will know you are empty when the Good News found in Jesus Christ is proclaimed. Jesus offers what you won’t find in Ecclesiastes, I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10b