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My guess was that the author of this book, who I believe was a man of great wealth and power, was trying to say that everything we do that is for our own sake and not for God is meaningless. Working and “toiling” has no purpose and will not “bear fruit” unless God’s purpose is behind it.
I came across your study guide this morning. Lots of great questions about Ecclesiastes. I noticed however that you start with the view that the author wrote to explore “life’s meaninglessness outside of knowing God.” Unfortunately this takes your discussion down a road that leads away from the writer’s intention. Kohelet repeated throughout the book that his quest was much more simple. He wanted to discover “What do we gain from all our labor at which we toil under the sun.” Ecclesiastes is a theology of work and one that is desperately needed in a society that worships work and thinks it will allow us to “get ahead.” When we take his writings as a contrast between being a disciple of Jesus or being an unbeliever we miss his main point. Kohelet is a man of deep faith in God but he wants us to see that the pursuit of anything (wealth, wisdom, pleasure) will end in futility, while the enjoyment of the same on life’s journey is a gift from God. We must accept that our daily work is for our daily bread and enjoy it for what it is or we will end up looking like everyone else who is scrambling over each other to get ahead.
Ecclesiastes is the lost book of the Bible for its message is buried under centuries of traditions and incorrect translation (meaningless is not even in the book). It very hard to dig past all that.
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