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If Solomon claimed that all is vanity in this earth in the Book of Ecclesiastes, what’s the purpose of living our lives on this earth?


There are many times that I walk around my house saying, “Stupid, Stupid, its all so stupid”. My wife may think I am depressed until she hears the real quest I am pursuing – “Where have I put my car keys?”

For a thousand years or so we have misunderstood Kohelet (the writer of Ecclesiastes) for although he opens with “Futile, completely futile, all (that we do) is futile” he then states his theme question (which he repeats throughout the text) – “What lasting benefit can we gain from all our hard work upon this earth?” This is his one and only purpose for writing his book. Kohelet has given us a theology of work that is framed within the context of a world that God has twisted and broken to drive humans back to Himself. God said “by the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread” but mankind refused to accept God’s design and said “No, by the sweat of my brow I will get ahead!” Mankind pursues wealth, education, politics, justice and even wisdom in an effort to get ahead. Kohelet explores all those avenues and comes back to tell us that all of those pursuits is truly as futile as chasing after the wind for God has ordained that none of these human activities can provide any lasting gain.

Strangely enough, these exact same things can be a great blessing in our day to day enjoyment of God’s creation. This is why Kohelet will tells us that when he pursued wisdom he discovered there was always more to know, that wisdom brought sorrow and ultimately that even the wise die – “when I made it my goal to be wise, wisdom eluded me.” He points out that the pursuit of wisdom cannot provide a lasting gain but goes on to tell us that as a gift on our journey, “the wise can see where they are going” and “wisdom preserves the lives of those who possess it.”

It is this contrast between pursuing something as an end in itself and enjoying it as a daily gift that we often miss in Kohelet. It is a very eastern view of like, like Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” where “this hand” is contrasted with “on the other hand”.

Kohelet has a great deal to teach us about living in God’s creation and his conclusions are full of joy. Unfortunately, many centuries of incorrect interpretation and flawed traditions have all but buried his work. Ecclesiastes truly has become the “lost book of the Bible.”

I have been studying Kohelet for the past 30 years and have recently finished a new translation, memorized it and now travel to perform wherever there are those who want to understand the incredible wisdom of Kohelet. People are finding that for a book that is over 2000 years old, what he wrote is still “honest and true.”

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