The title Ecclesiastes given to this book is the Greek translation of the Hebrew name Qoheleth meaning, perhaps, “one who convokes an assembly.” The book, however, does not consist of public addresses, but is a treatise, more or less logically developed, on the vanity of all things. Reflections in prose and aphorisms in verse are intermingled in Ecclesiastes, which contains, besides, an and an epilogue.
The book is concerned with the purpose and value of human life. While admitting the existence of a divine plan, it considers such a plan to be hidden from man, who seeks happiness without ever finding it here below (⇒ Eccl 3:11; ⇒ 8:7, ⇒ 17). Ecclesiastes applies his “Vanity of vanities” to everything “under the sun,” even to that wisdom which seeks to find at last a semblence of good in the things of the world. Merit does not yield happiness for it is often tried by suffering. Riches and pleasures do not avail. Existence is monotonous, enjoyment fleeting and vain; darkness quickly follows. Life, then, is an enigma beyond human ability to solve.
While Ecclesiastes concedes that there is an advantage for man in the enjoyment of certain legitimate pleasures lest he lapse into pessimism and despair, he nevertheless considers this indulgence also vanity unless man returns due thanks to the Creator who has given him all. Under this aspect, earthly wisdom would rise to the higher level of true spiritual wisdom. This true wisdom is not found “under the sun” but is perceived only by the light of faith, inasmuch as it rests with God, who is the final Judge of the good and the bad, and whose reign endures forever. The Epilogue gives the clue to this thought (⇒ Eccl 12:13, ⇒ 14).
The moral teaching of the book is imperfect, like the Old Testament itself (⇒ Hebrews 7:19), yet it marks an advance in the development of the doctrine of divine retribution. While rejecting the older solution of earthly rewards and punishments, Ecclesiastes looks forward to a more lasting one. The clear answer to the problem was to come with the light of Christ’s teaching concerning future life.
The author of the book was a teacher of popular wisdom (⇒ Eccl 12:9). Qoheleth was obviously only his literary name. Because he is called “David’s son, king in Jerusalem,” it was commonly thought that he was King Solomon. Such personation, however, was but a literary device to lend greater dignity and authority to the book – a circumstance which does not in any way impugn its inspired character. The Epilogue seems to have been written by an editor, probably a disciple of Qoheleth. The entire work differs considerably in language and style from earlier books of the Old Testament. It reflects a late period of Hebrew, and was probably written about three centuries before Christ.
1 The words of David’s son, Qoheleth, king in Jerusalem:
2 Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!
3 What profit has man from all the labor which he toils at under the sun?
One generation passes and another comes, but the world forever stays.
The sun rises and the sun goes down; then it presses on to the place where it rises.
Blowing now toward the south, then toward the north, the wind turns again and again, resuming its rounds.
All rivers go to the sea, yet never does the sea become full. To the place where they go, the rivers keep on going.
4 All speech is labored; there is nothing man can say. The eye is not satisfied with seeing nor is the ear filled with hearing.
What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun.
Even the thing of which we say, “See, this is new!” has already existed in the ages that preceded us.
5 There is no remembrance of the men of old; nor of those to come will there be any remembrance among those who come after them.
I, Qoheleth, was king over Israel in Jerusalem,
and I applied my mind to search and investigate in wisdom all things that are done under the sun. A thankless task God has appointed for men to be busied about.
6 I have seen all things that are done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a chase after wind.
What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is missing cannot be supplied.
Though I said to myself, “Behold, I have become great and stored up wisdom beyond all who were before me in Jerusalem, and my mind has broad experience of wisdom and knowledge”;
yet when I applied my mind to know wisdom and knowledge, madness and folly, I learned that this also is a chase after wind.
For in much wisdom there is much sorrow, and he who stores up knowledge stores up grief.
1  Qoheleth: see .
2  Vanity of vanities: a Hebrew superlative expressing the supreme degree of futility and emptiness.
3  Under the sun: used throughout this book to signify “on the earth.”
4  All speech . . . man can say: or “All things are wearisome beyond man’s power to tell.”
5  Men remember nothing long, God never forgets.
6  Chase after wind: futility, like an attempt to corral the winds. Cf ⇒ Hosea 12:2. The ancient versions understood “affliction of spirit.” These words are used to conclude sections of the discourse, as far as ⇒ Eccl 6:9.