A Teaching Outline for the Book of Ecclesiastes

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Ask any expositor about the book of Ecclesiastes and he will probably tell you it is among the more difficult books to teach. At first glance, much of it appears to be little more than a riddle wrapped in an enigma. Perhaps that is one reason that it is studied so little. On the other hand, perhaps another reason that this book is among the less-studied is that it contains extended descriptions of uncomfortable truths like despair and death. Yet, those very truths are precisely why this book must be studied—and taught.

As one expositor has said,

By and large, parents do not speak to their children about death. If you're under the age of twenty, unless you lost a friend in dramatic circumstances—perhaps in a car crash, or as a result of the onset of illness in their mid-teens—then the average young person has really given no thought to it at all. But one day they will stand at the grave of their mom or their dad or a close friend. And in all places, and of all people, it ought to be Christians who are prepared to do what the secular world is unprepared to do, and that is to look death full in the face and to acknowledge that there is no way to deny it, there is no way to escape it, and therefore, we need to find a way to approach it.[1]

In fact, as King Solomon, the “Preacher,” looked back on a life of cyclical futility and difficult paradoxes, he affirmed that “it is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart” (Ecc. 7:2). Funerals provide us with the soul-searching sobriety that parties never can. Sadly, Solomon had to learn this the hard way. Having wasted his talents over the course of a life of luxury, he finally came to the end of himself, experiencing a divinely-inspired existential crisis of sorts. All of the things that he thought would bring joy only led to despair (cf. Ecc. 1:14, 2:11, 2:17, et. al.). It’s no surprise, then, that the word translated as “vanity” (meaning “empty” or “futile”) begins and ends the book (cf. Ecc. 1:2, 12:8), and is used thirty-eight times throughout.[2] Truly, sin over-promises and under-delivers.

But the book does not merely lament the sad state of a fallen and frustrated world. After describing the despair of his vain pursuits in life, Solomon recognized that truth and meaning are found not in his own plans for his life, but in God’s. True contentment “‘under the sun” is found in knowing that God has a timing for everything, plans judgment for everything, and rules authoritatively over everything. Equipped with that renewed perspective, Solomon wrote of his ability to eat, drink, and do all things to the glory of God (cf. Ecc. 9:7, 1 Cor. 10:31). He was no longer a servant of pleasure, nor a slave to pain (cf. Ecc. 11:9-10), but instead feared the Lord, lived out the rest of his life, and prepared for death.

Most importantly, this transition described by Solomon is precisely the foundation for Gospel ministry today: identify your vain predicament as a sinful man or woman, recognize the truth found in God’s Word, and respond in humble faith. In light of that, it must be recognized that this book terminates upon the Lord Jesus Christ as the solution to sorrow, because if He is not the answer to life’s questions, there is no answer. Victory, contentment, comfort, joy, stability, forgiveness, and reconciliation are found only in Him. All else is vanity.

Sadly, a fast-paced world provides little time for this kind of contemplative reflection. Most do not consider the major questions in life until they are at the very end of it—just like Solomon. But those of us who have God’s Word, particularly as it is recorded in the book of Ecclesiastes, possess an unmatched treasure that makes us wise beyond our years (cf. Psa. 119:99). And as you raise your children verse by verse, you have the distinct privilege and opportunity to help them consider the reality of death at a time when their peers are not. The book of Ecclesiastes will set before them the broad road of futility leading to despair, and the narrow road of faith leading to delight. May God bless your efforts as you deliver the full counsel of His Word to your children.

A Divinely-Inspired Existential Crisis (Ecclesiastes 1:1-11)

The Premise (Ecc. 1:1-3)

The Proof (Ecc. 1:4-7)

The Problem (Ecc. 1:8-11)

Vain Pursuit 1: Worldly Wisdom (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18)

Desire (Ecc. 1:12-13)

Diagnosis (Ecc. 1:14-15)

Despair (Ecc. 1:16-18)

Vain Pursuit 2: Wealth (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11)

Desire (Ecc. 2:1)

Diagnosis (Ecc. 2:2-10)

Despair (Ecc. 2:11)

Vain Pursuit 3: Walking Wisely (Ecclesiastes 2:12-17)

Desire (Ecc. 2:12)

Diagnosis (Ecc. 2:13-16)

Despair (Ecc. 2:17)

Vain Pursuit 4: Work (Ecclesiastes 2:18-26)

Desire (Ecc. 2:18-20)

Diagnosis (Ecc. 2:21-23)

Despair (Ecc. 2:24-26)

Meaning Found in Divine Timing (Ecclesiastes 3:1-15)

A Time for Everything (Ecc. 3:1-8)

The Maker of Everything (Ecc. 3:9-11)

The Answer to Everything (Ecc. 3:12-15)

Meaning Found in Divine Judgment (Ecclesiastes 3:16-22)

It Gives Us Peace (Ecc. 3:16-17)

It Gives us Understanding (Ecc. 3:18-21)

It Gives Us Joy (Ecc. 3:22)

Vain Problems (Ecclesiastes 4:1-16)

Oppression (Ecc. 4:1-3)

Rivalry (Ecc. 4:4-6)

Loneliness (Ecc. 4:7-12)

Popularity (Ecc. 4:13-16)

Vain Piety (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7)

Learn Before Sacrificing (Ecc. 5:1)

Think Before Speaking (Ecc. 5:2)

Carelessness Leads to Vanity (Ecc. 5:3)

Plan Before Vowing (Ecc. 5:4-5)

Think Before Speaking (Ecc. 5:6)

Carelessness Leads to Vanity (Ecc. 5:7)

Vain Prosperity (Ecclesiastes 5:8-6:9)

The Problem Compared (Ecc. 5:8-12)

The Problem Clarified (Ecc. 5:13-17)

The Problem Corrected (Ecc. 5:18-20)

The Problem Clarified (Ecc. 6:1-6)

The Problem Compared (Ecc. 6:7-9)

Meaning Found in Divine Authority (Ecclesiastes 6:10-12)

Acknowledge God’s Preeminence (Ecc. 6:10)

Submit to God’s Power (Ecc. 6:11)

Trust in God’s Plan (Ecc. 6:12)

A Better Life (Ecclesiastes 7:1-14)

Sorrow Is Better (Ecc. 7:1-4)

Rebuke Is Better (Ecc. 7:5-6)

Patience Is Better (Ecc. 7:7-10)

Wisdom Is Better (Ecc. 7:11-12)

Knowledge of God is Best (Ecc. 7:13-14)

The Limitations of Human Wisdom (Ecclesiastes 7:15-29)

It Cannot Preserve Life (Ecc. 7:15-18)

It Cannot Correct Life (Ecc. 7:19-22)

It Cannot Explain Life (Ecc. 7:23-29)

Walk By Faith, Not By Insight (Ecclesiastes 8:1-17)

The Question (Ecc. 8:1)

Recognize God’s Authority (Ecc. 8:2-9)

Rely on God’s Justice (Ecc. 8:10-13)

Rejoice in God’s Grace (Ecc. 8:14-15)

The Answer (Ecc. 8:16-17)

Live While You’re Alive (Ecclesiastes 9:1-10)

The Certainty of Death (Ecc. 9:1-3)

The Advantage of Life (Ecc. 9:4-6)

The Life of Joy on the Way to Death (Ecc. 9:7-10)

Think Wisely About Wisdom (Ecclesiastes 9:11-18)

Wisdom Can Be Overtaken (Ecc. 9:11)

Wisdom Can Be Overridden (Ecc. 9:12)

Wisdom Can Be Overlooked (Ecc. 9:13-18)

Think Fully About Folly (Ecclesiastes 10:1-20)

Folly Is Disastrous (Ecc. 10:1)

Folly Is Directionless (Ecc. 10:2-4)

Folly is Disordered (Ecc. 10:5-7)

Folly Is Destructive (Ecc. 10:8-11)

Folly Is Delusional (Ecc. 10:12-15)

Folly Is Dispersed (Ecc. 10:16-17)

Folly Is Disinterested (Ecc. 10:18-20)

Live for the Lord (Ecclesiastes 11:1-12:8)

Reap (Ecc. 11:1-6)

Rejoice (Ecc. 11:7-10)

Remember (Ecc. 12:1-8)

The Conclusion (Ecclesiastes 12:9-14)

Direction from the Preacher (Ecc. 12:9-11)

Danger for His Son (Ecc. 12:12)

Duty for Every Man (Ecc. 12:13-14)


References:

[1] https://www.truthforlife.org/resources/sermon/on-death-and-dying

[2] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2005), 732.