Troublesome Topic: Why Is Ecclesiastes so Hard to Understand?

Ecclesiastes 1:1


The words of QOHELETH,

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the son


the king

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in JERUSALEM.   (See comments below.)


These words are from the one who calls together the assembly and speaks to the assembly because he has something to tell them that he has carefully studied. He is the son of THE ONE WHO IS LOVED; he is king in THE PLACE OF PEACEFUL FOUNDATIONS.  (See comments below.)

Ecclesiastes is one of the most misunderstood books of the entire Bible. There are several issues that have contributed to the misunderstanding: When was it written? Who wrote it? What is the best way to translate the word “vapor”? Why is this book so dark? Why does it contain such a strong emphasis on death? If it was Solomon, did he repent before writing this book?

I have prepared a study series about the life of Solomon which answers these questions and more. I highly recommend, if you have not done so already, that you read through that study series before you read this translation/paraphrase of Ecclesiastes. In my opinion, understanding the life of Solomon is the key to understanding the book of Ecclesiastes.


The Hebrew rabbis used a teaching style in which they purposefully did not make everything perfectly clear. They wanted their students to engage with the material by digging into the topic, looking into all the possible angles, and debating the nuances of it. Therefore, they left some things unclear. Giving the pupil everything totally cut, cooked, and served would have been considered a disservice and a hindrance to true learning. (See Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus, by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg, pages 36-37.) We find throughout the Hebrew Scriptures many assumptions that are required in order to interpret what was written. Ecclesiastes is full of such assumptions and hints. Solomon was considered an excellent teacher by the ancient Israelites precisely because he employed this veiling technique masterfully.

We assume a good teacher will make things clear, therefore the veiled style of teaching makes many things seem confusing and frustrating to us. In the Bible we see both systems used, the Hebrew language and teaching method make us dig, while the Greek language is much more clear. Solomon was a Hebrew who used the language and teaching style of the Hebrews with great skill. That is part of what makes Ecclesiastes so hard to translate and challenging for us to understand. In fact, the most extreme usages of this teaching method make Solomon sound drunk or high on drugs, but he was neither; he was only being an excellent Hebrew teacher.

The more I study Scripture the more I realize that God’s teaching methods are very much like those of the ancient Jews. He wants us to wrestle with the text; searching and digging are required. Don’t expect Ecclesiastes to be easy to understand; expect to have to dig and search and think.

Our modern society is focused on information, “just give me the information and let me go from there.” Most ancient societies were about community with the focus being on discussion, debate and seeing things through other peoples’ eyes.

However, they also valued going to others for insight and wisdom. I believe God has given me the role of providing insight to people who are looking for answers to questions about the difficult portions of Scripture. I have tried to make it more understandable for you by filling in some of the cultural and contextual gaps. In essence I have done some of your work for you. But you still need to engage with the text; you still need to search and prayerfully consider all the angles.


1: Authorship

“Qoheleth” is the Hebrew word used here and it means “the convener of the assembly,” or “the one who calls together the assembly;” it implies that he is also the one who speaks to the assembly.

2: “the king”

This word is used in connection to, or closely related to, the “Convener of the assembly,” not to David. Yes, David was a king, but this statement is indicating that the Convener of the Assembly, the one who wrote this work, is also a king. This makes it clear which son of David is being referred to; it had to be Solomon.