May 19 – Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

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Main Focus: Human life is fleeting, frustrating, and confounding; the answer is to find refuge in the eternal goodness of the Triune God.

Buckle up mortals, we’re starting the book of Ecclesiastes this week. We’ll spend 8 weeks looking at various themes, seeing how the Teacher of Ecclesiastes calls us to peer through the fog of temporal life and grab ahold of things eternal. Ecclesiastes is no beach read, but it’ll be just as rewarding as it is challenging. To help you and your group in your study we’ve got a couple resources here on the CG site like a post on that one crucial word we’ll encounter: hevel.

These resources will be highly relevant this week as we read what is essentially the introduction to the whole book: Ecclesiastes 1:1-11. There we meet someone called the Teacher or Preacher (depending on your translation). In Hebrew that title is Qoheleth (pronounced ko-HEHL-eth), “the assembler,” someone who collects everyone together to receive a message (check out the Qoheleth post for more). And this Teacher has a message for us, something like a proverb, that he will spend the rest of the book unpacking: “All is hevel.”

Check out our post on how to best understand what hevel means (and feel free to send your CG members the link if it’ll help prep them for discussion). As we said there, different translations render it “vanity,” “futility,” or “meaningless,” but whichever translation you have, when you read verse 2 just remember the combination of fleetingness and brokenness. The Teacher is pointing out both the ephemeral nature of mortal life as well as the frustrating wrongness (i.e. sin) that spoils human existence.

“All is fleeting and broken.” Not exactly the Bible verse you want on your coffee mug in the morning. You’ll see in Ecclesiastes that the Teacher is relentless, pulling no punches. No, there isn’t some silver bullet insight to make your life perfect (1:12-18); no, your soul won’t find what it needs in sex and food and entertainment (2:1-11); yes, you can do everything right and still have terrible things happen to you (5:13-17); yes, death will rob you of everyone and everything you hold dear (12:1-7). Qoheleth will not let us maintain the illusion—this earthly life, with all its seeming delights and empty promises, will only slip through our mortal grasp and leave our souls starved.

But the Teacher isn’t just here to poke holes in our hopes and dreams. He uses this brutal assessment of earthly life to sift out those things that are truly meaningful. He’ll repeat over and over the real significance of taking pleasure in eating and drinking and working (2:24), delighting in your spouse if you have one (9:9), enjoying some sunshine (11:7), and fearing God (8:12). Keep that in mind as we go through the book together; for the first six weeks we’re going to look at various things that the Teacher calls hevel before turning to those things he describes as substantial and valuable.

In discussion this week we’ll read 1:1-11 and start with the Teacher’s more broad assessment of earthly life. He describes the earth as caught in interminable cycles, the river never finishing its work of emptying into the sea, the wind always chasing itself around and around. People and trends come and go; bell bottoms are back again and will return in another 20 years. One generation dies, all their valuables are thrown into an estate sale or the dump, and the earth swallows up their molecules without batting an eye. Paul captures this same idea in Romans 8:20-21 and connects it to the solution to this weariness, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

All this helps us recognize how brief our lives are compared to the natural world (1:4) and how this world speaks of the exhausting march of time, exposing our own vulnerability and fleetingness. In discussion we’ll focus in on this feeling of fleetingness (which the Teacher will come back to again and again; cf. 2:14; 2:16; 3:19, etc.). Most of the time this is an uncomfortable feeling, but God has put the stark facts of our mortality in the scriptures so that we will come face-to-face with our need for his eternality. The answer isn’t to throw ourselves down in despair but to cast the full weight of our lives on a good God, to enjoy the good gifts he gives, and to anticipate his good eternal kingdom.

As we talk about these feelings of fleetingness, we’ll also try to address those things that we turn to for distraction. This could be anything from triathlons to manga to politics—whether by finding a rush or by unplugging from life, we turn to all sorts of things to take our minds off the fact of our mortality, and how our mortality necessitates our doing business with God. This question will help tee up more of the Ecclesiastes series, since the Teacher will turn his attention to learning (1:12-18), pleasure (2:1-11), work (2:18-26), wealth (5:10-17), even the pursuit of justice (3:16-4:3) and pronounce them all hevel. We’ll finish by reading Psalm 90 (fun fact, the only psalm by Moses) which discusses the difficulty of facing our mortality but responds by asking God to use our fleetingness 1. To instruct us—“teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom”—and 2. To place our hope in the power, goodness, and grace of the God of our salvation.

Discussion questions

– Could someone read Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 for us?

– What do you think the Teacher is saying about earthly life?

– How can this help us be honest about earthly life?

– When you think about the fleetingness of life, what does that stir up in you?

– What things do you use to distract yourself from these feelings?

– Could someone read Psalm 90?

– What does this psalm instruct us to do with our feelings of fleetingness?

Resources

A Summer Slow Down Reading List

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Who wrote Ecclesiastes?

Back to all Resources →  Ecclesiastes is easily one of the most enigmatic books of the Bible, and its mystery includes questions about the suspiciously unnamed author (or authors?). We’ll get into the details below but never fear, by the conclusion you’ll see that...

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Vintage Church DNA

Back to all Resources → As community group leaders at Vintage Church, our mission is to create environments in which we can know, live, and advance the gospel together, environments where authentic relationships and spiritual growth can thrive. This mission to know,...

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