Preaching on Ecclesiastes
On Sunday at The Fellowship, we will begin a new sermon series on Ecclesiastes. We are using “If Only…” as the title of the series. It is a fascinating process to study any book of the Bible and the Wisdom Literature holds its own unique characteristics. Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs are not like preaching from the teaching of the New Testament epistles of the Old Testament historical books. Instead, they are poetical, meandering, and mysterious. Here are a few things I’m keeping in mind as I study for preaching on Ecclesiastes.
It is hard. It is hard to outline; if not impossible. I’ve not yet found two commentaries that agree on how to exactly outline the book. Additionally, there are numerous words and phrases that are rarely used in the rest of scripture. We plan to preach it thematically but it’s hard to land on the right number of defined themes. And then don’t even get me started on what to do about the Proverbs-like chapter seven. The book simply requires one to lean in, pick a sermonic direction, and plow.
It is an apologetic for our day. Looking around the world in which I live, it seems like we’re all still living in the book of Ecclesiastes. But then again, it has been an apologetic for every era. After all, nothing is new under the sun. People will relate to the Teacher’s journey in his search for meaning in the midst of a culture that deifies excess.
I need to stop saying that Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes. Speaking of the Teacher… The best research I’ve found has walked away from the idea that Solomon is the author of the book. Tradition has attributed to authorship to King Solomon. However, linguistic, historical context, and several other variables points to an anonymous author who looks at life through a Solomon-life-like lens.
Translating hebel is odd. In the second verse of the book, it says (according to the HCSB): “Absolute futility,” says the Teacher. “Absolute futility. Everything is futile.” The Hebrew word translated as “futility” is hebel. Of all of its appearances in the Old Testament, about half are found in Ecclesiastes. Various translations use words such as “meaningless” (NIV and NLT) and “vanity” (ESV, NASB, and KJV). The ever-fascinating paraphrase The Message reads, “Smoke, nothing but smoke. [That’s what the Quester says.] There’s nothing to anything—it’s all smoke.” It is an odd word that has a rich meaning (like many Hebrew words). At first I was frustrated with trying to nail down a literal translation I liked. Instead, I’ve embraced how the word dances around in one spot to help me feel its meaning.
Study and teach with eternity in mind. It is the whole point of the book. We live with the next moment in mind. God is drawing us into a life that sees with the lens of eternity. As you teach, lift the eyes and hearts of people off of the monotony of life and into the adventure of God’s grace.