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The Wiersbe Bible Study Series: Ecclesiastes: Looking for the Answer to the Meaning of Life

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Overview

The book of Ecclesiastes tackles one of our biggest questions: What is the meaning of life? Commonly considered the work of King Solomon, Ecclesiastes is a rich collection of profound insights that are at once poetic, philosophical, and practical. This Bible study examines the big ideas in Ecclesiastes, explains challenging concepts, and shares how we can be truly satisfied.  

 

The Wiersbe Bible Studies Series explores timeless wisdom found in God’s word. Based on Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe’s popular “BE” series, each study provides topical, relevant insights from selected books of the Bible. Designed for small groups, this eight-week study features selected commentaries from BE Satisfied, engaging questions, and practical applications, all designed to help you connect God’s word with your life.   

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780781408424
  • Publisher: Cook, David C.
  • Publication date: 11/1/2012
  • Series: Wiersbe Bible Study Series Series
  • Pages: 144
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe is an internationally known Bible teacher and the former pastor of The Moody Church in Chicago. For ten years he was associated with the Back to the Bible radio broadcast, first as Bible teacher and then as general director. Dr. Wiersbe has written more than 160 books, including the popular “BE” series of Bible commentaries, which has sold more than four million copies. He and his wife, Betty, live in Lincoln, Nebraska.

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Read an Excerpt

The Wiersbe BIBLE STUDY SERIES: ECCLESIASTES

Looking for the Answer to the Meaning of Life


By Warren W. Wiersbe

David C. Cook

Copyright © 2012 Warren W. Wiersbe
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4347-0519-8



CHAPTER 1

Lesson 1

Worth Living

(ECCLESIASTES 1)


Before you begin ...

• Pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal truth and wisdom as you go through this lesson.

• Read Ecclesiastes 1. This lesson references chapters 1 and 2 in Be Satisfied. It will be helpful for you to have your Bible and a copy of the commentary available as you work through this lesson.


Getting Started

From the Commentary

"Vanity of vanities," lamented Solomon, "all is vanity!" Solomon liked that word vanity; he used it thirty-eight times in Ecclesiastes as he wrote about life "under the sun." The word means "emptiness, futility, vapor, that which vanishes quickly and leaves nothing behind."

From the human point of view ("under the sun"), life does appear futile; and it is easy for us to get pessimistic. The Jewish writer Sholom Aleichem once described life as "a blister on top of a tumor, and a boil on top of that." You can almost feel that definition!

The American poet Carl Sandburg compared life to "an onion—you peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep." And British playwright George Bernard Shaw said that life was "a series of inspired follies."

What a relief to turn from these pessimistic views and hear Jesus Christ say, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). Or to read Paul's majestic declaration, "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Cor. 15:58 NKJV).

—Be Satisfied, pages 15–16


1. Why do you think Solomon used the word vanity (or meaningless NIV) so often? (Underline all the uses as you go through Ecclesiastes.) How did he use repetition to drive home his point? How is this main point applicable to today's world?

More to Consider: Nowhere in Ecclesiastes did the author give his name, but the descriptions he gave of himself and his experiences indicate that the writer was King Solomon. Read Ecclesiastes 1:1, 12–13; 2:1–11; and 1 Kings 4:20–34; 10:1–20. How do these verses support the idea of Solomon's authorship? Is his authorship critical to the content? Why or why not? How would the value of Ecclesiastes change (if at all) had another author written it?

2. Choose one verse or phrase from Ecclesiastes 1 that stands out to you. This could be something you're intrigued by, something that makes you uncomfortable, something that puzzles you, something that resonates with you, or just something you want to examine further. Write that here.


Going Deeper

From the Commentary

Ecclesiastes appears to be the kind of book a person would write near the close of life, reflecting on life's experiences and the lessons learned. Solomon probably wrote Proverbs (Prov. 1:1; 1 Kings 4:32) and the Song of Solomon (1:1) during the years he faithfully walked with God, and near the end of his life, he wrote Ecclesiastes. There is no record that King Solomon repented and turned to the Lord, but his message in Ecclesiastes suggests that he did.

He wrote Proverbs from the viewpoint of a wise teacher (1:1–6), and Song of Solomon from the viewpoint of a royal lover (3:7–11), but when he wrote Ecclesiastes, he called himself "the Preacher" (1:1, 2, 12; 7:27; 12:8–10). The Hebrew word is koheleth (ko-HAYleth) and is the title given to an official speaker who calls an assembly (see 1 Kings 8:1). The Greek word for "assembly" is ekklesia, and this gives us the English title of the book, Ecclesiastes.

Be Satisfied, pages 17–18


3. What are some of the clues to suggest Solomon wrote this near the end of his life? Why did he refer to himself as "the Preacher" (or "the Teacher" NIV) in Ecclesiastes? What does this say about the audience for his words?


From the Commentary

Solomon has put the key to Ecclesiastes right at the front door: "Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?" (1:2–3). Just in case we missed it, he put the same key at the back door (12:8). In these verses, Solomon introduces some of the key words and phrases that are used repeatedly in Ecclesiastes, so we had better get acquainted with them.

Vanity of vanities. We have already noted that Solomon used the word vanity thirty-eight times in this book. It is the Hebrew word hevel, meaning "emptiness, futility, vapor." The name "Abel" probably comes from this word (Gen. 4:2). Whatever disappears quickly, leaves nothing behind, and does not satisfy is hevel, vanity. One of my language professors at seminary defined hevel as "whatever is left after you break a soap bubble."

Whether he considers his wealth, his works, his wisdom, or his world, Solomon comes to the same sad conclusion: all is "vanity and vexation of spirit" (2:11). However, this is not his final conclusion, nor is it the only message that he has for his readers. We will discover more about that later.

Under the sun. You will find this important phrase twenty-nine times in Ecclesiastes, and with it the phrase "under heaven" (1:13; 2:3; 3:1). It defines the outlook of the writer as he looks at life from a human perspective and not necessarily from heaven's point of view. He applies his own wisdom and experience to the complex human situation and tries to make some sense out of life. Solomon wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (12:10–11; 2 Tim. 3:16), so what he wrote was what God wanted His people to have. But as we study, we must keep Solomon's viewpoint in mind: he is examining life "under the sun."

Be Satisfied, pages 18–19


4. Why is it important to be aware of Solomon's "human perspective" when reading Ecclesiastes? How is this similar to and different from reading Proverbs? Song of Solomon?


From the Commentary

In spite of his painful encounters with the world and its problems, Solomon does not recommend either pessimism or cynicism. Rather, he admonishes us to be realistic about life, accept God's gifts, and enjoy them (2:24; 3:12–15, 22; 5:18–20; 8:15; 9:7–10; 11:9–10). After all, God gives to us "richly all things to enjoy" (1 Tim. 6:17). Words related to joy (enjoy, rejoice, etc.) are used at least seventeen times in Ecclesiastes. Solomon does not say, "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you die!" Instead, he advises us to trust God and enjoy what we do have rather than complain about what we don't have. Life is short and life is difficult, so make the most of it while you can.

Be Satisfied, page 20


5. How did Solomon present the message of "joy" in a book so rife with messages that seem so cynical? Why might some readers of Ecclesiastes have a hard time seeing that message? How do we get from cynicism to joy?


From the Commentary

The message in Ecclesiastes is for today. After all, the society which Solomon investigated a millennium before the birth of Christ was not too different from our world today. Solomon saw injustice to the poor (4:1–3), crooked politics (5:8), incompetent leaders (10:6–7), guilty people allowed to commit more crime (8:11), materialism (5:10), and a desire for "the good old days" (7:10). It sounds up-to-date, doesn't it?

If you have never trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, then this book urges you to do so without delay. Why? Because no matter how much wealth, education, or social prestige you may have, life without God is futile. You are only "chasing after the wind" if you expect to find satisfaction and personal fulfillment in the things of the world. "For what shall it profit a man, if he should gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" asked Jesus (Mark 8:36).

Be Satisfied, page 22


6. What are some of the practical applications of Ecclesiastes for us today? Why is it of particular relevance in modern America?


From the Commentary

"Everything an Indian does is in a circle," said Black Elk, the Sioux religious leader. "Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood."

You would think Black Elk had been studying the first chapter of Ecclesiastes, except for one fact: For centuries, wise men and women in different nations and cultures have been pondering the mysteries of the "circles" of human life. Whenever you use phrases like "life cycle," or "the wheel of fortune," or "come full circle," you are joining Solomon and Black Elk and a host of others in taking a cyclical view of life and nature.

Be Satisfied, page 27


7. Why was the cyclical view of life a burden to Solomon? How did he answer the question "If life is only part of a circle, is it worth living?" (See Eccl. 1:4–18.) Where is this cyclical view of life used in modern society? What makes it appealing to some?


From the Commentary

In Ecclesiastes 1:4–7, Solomon approached the problem as a scientist and examined the "wheel of nature" around him: the earth, the sun, the wind, and the water. (This reminds us of the ancient "elements" of earth, air, fire, and water.) He was struck by the fact that generations of people came and went, while the things of nature remained. There was "change" all around, yet nothing really changed. Everything was only part of the "wheel of nature" and contributed to the monotony of life. So, Solomon asked, "Is life worth living?"

Be Satisfied, page 28


8. What evidence did Solomon present to prove that nothing really changes? Why is this conclusion important to Solomon's greater message to accept and enjoy God's gifts?

More to Consider: God does break into nature to do great and wonderful things! Read the following verses and note how God did this in each example: Joshua 3—4; 10:6–14; Isaiah 38:1–8; Exodus 14; 1 Kings 17; James 5:17–18; Mark 4:35–41.


From the Commentary

If nothing changes, then it is reasonable to conclude that nothing in this world is new. This "logical conclusion" might have satisfied people in Solomon's day, but it startles us today. After all, we are surrounded by, and dependent on, a multitude of marvels that modern science has provided for us—everything from telephones to pacemakers and miracle drugs. How could anybody who watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon agree with Solomon that nothing is new under the sun?

Be Satisfied, page 30


9. Review Ecclesiastes 1:8–11. How did Solomon move from scientist to historian in these verses? How did his perspective affect his message? In what ways is it true that nothing changes in human society from generation to generation?


From the Commentary

In Ecclesiastes 1:12–18, the historian now becomes the philosopher as Solomon tells how he went about searching for the answer to the problem that vexed him. As the king of Israel, he had all the resources necessary for "experimenting" with different solutions to see what it was that made life worth living.

Be Satisfied, page 32


10. What were some of the ways Solomon went searching for the answer to his "Is life all vanity?" questions? How are these similar to the ways people try to find meaning in today's society? Why do these approaches fall short of providing satisfying answers?


Looking Inward

Take a moment to reflect on all that you've explored thus far in this study of Ecclesiastes 1. Review your notes and answers and think about how each of these things matters in your life today.

Tips for Small Groups: To get the most out of this section, form pairs or trios and have group members take turns answering these questions. Be honest and as open as you can in this discussion, but most of all, be encouraging and supportive of others. Be sensitive to those who are going through particularly difficult times and don't press for people to speak if they're uncomfortable doing so.

11. Solomon's reflections seem to come from late in life. What is the value in asking those questions today, no matter how old you are? What are the sorts of questions you hope to be asking as you grow close to the end of your time on earth?

12. What are some things that make you cynical about life? What are some things that give you joy? How can you find joy by reframing the cynicism? What would it look like to live a more joy-focused life?

13. What are some ways you've searched for the answers to Solomon's questions? How has that worked out for you? What have you learned in that process? What does this tell you about the role faith plays in contentment?


Going Forward

14. Think of one or two things that you have learned that you'd like to work on in the coming week. Remember that this is all about quality, not quantity. It's better to work on one specific area of life and do it well than to work on many and do poorly (or to be so overwhelmed that you simply don't try).

Do you want to let go of cynicism about life? Be specific. Go back through Ecclesiastes 1 and put a star next to the phrase or verse that is most encouraging to you. Consider memorizing this verse.

Real-Life Application Ideas: Take a casual survey of friends, coworkers, and even family members, asking, "Where do you find meaning in life?" Don't limit yourself to believers—ask everyone you come in contact with. Share the results with your small group or Sunday school class. Be sure to spend some time talking about how the results might affect your approach to sharing the gospel with others.


Seeking Help

15. Write a prayer below (or simply pray one in silence), inviting God to work on your mind and heart in those areas you've noted in the Going Forward section. Be honest about your desires and fears.


Notes for Small Groups:

• Look for ways to put into practice the things you wrote in the Going Forward section. Talk with other group members about your ideas and commit to being accountable to one another.

• During the coming week, ask the Holy Spirit to continue to reveal truth to you from what you've read and studied.

• Before you start the next lesson, read Ecclesiastes 2. For more in-depth lesson preparation, read chapter 3, "Disgusted with Life?," in Be Satisfied.

CHAPTER 2

Lesson 2

Disgust

(ECCLESIASTES 2)


Before you begin ...

• Pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal truth and wisdom as you go through this lesson.

• Read Ecclesiastes 2. This lesson references chapter 3 in Be Satisfied. It will be helpful for you to have your Bible and a copy of the commentary available as you work through this lesson.


Getting Started

From the Commentary

"There is but one step from the sublime to the ridiculous." Napoleon is supposed to have made that statement after his humiliating retreat from Moscow in the winter of 1812. The combination of stubborn Russian resistance and a severe Russian winter was too much for the French army, and its expected sublime victory was turned into shameful defeat.

As part of his quest for "the good life," King Solomon examined everything from the sublime to the ridiculous. In the great laboratory of life, he experimented with one thing after another, always applying the wisdom that God had given him (Eccl. 2:3, 9).

Be Satisfied, page 39


1. What are some of the ridiculous things Solomon examined in his search for meaning? What are some of the sublime solutions he sought out? Why do you think he tried so many different approaches to find the purpose for existence?

2. Choose one verse or phrase from Ecclesiastes 2 that stands out to you. This could be something you're intrigued by, something that makes you uncomfortable, something that puzzles you, something that resonates with you, or just something you want to examine further. Write that here.


Going Deeper

From the Commentary

Solomon had the means and the authority to do just about anything his heart desired. He decided to test his own heart to see how he would respond to two very common experiences of life: enjoyment (Eccl. 2:1–3) and employment (vv. 4–11).

The Hebrew people rightly believed that God made man to enjoy the blessings of His creation (Ps. 104; and note 1 Tim. 6:17). The harvest season was a joyful time for them as they reaped the blessings of God on their labor. At the conclusion of his book, Solomon admonished his readers to enjoy God's blessings during the years of their youth, before old age arrived and the body began to fall apart (Eccl. 12:1ff.). Eight times in Ecclesiastes, Solomon used the Hebrew word meaning "pleasure," so it is obvious that he did not consider God a celestial spoilsport.

Be Satisfied, pages 39–40


3. How did Solomon respond to his test of enjoyment? Why is it significant that Solomon didn't see God as a "celestial spoilsport"? How does this compare to the way many Christians (and non-Christians) view the Christian faith? In what ways was Solomon on to something in his exploration of enjoyment as a path to meaning?


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Wiersbe BIBLE STUDY SERIES: ECCLESIASTES by Warren W. Wiersbe. Copyright © 2012 Warren W. Wiersbe. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

It Isn't Fair (Ecclesiastes 4-

6111 Lesson 5 Dead End

7711 Lesson 6 Better Off

9111 Lesson 7 Enemie

10711 Lesson 8

12501

Summary and Review 141

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