The Bible Teaching Commentary
The Meaning of Life in a Meaningless World
Bible Study Questions
Paul J. Bucknell
Purpose: Bible Study Questions on the Book of Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 titled 'The Meaning of Life in a Meaningless World.'
A Brief Introduction to the Book of Ecclesiastes
King Solomon wrote the Book of Ecclesiastes in his later years comparing his early and later life. In his early life he passionately sought the Lord. Many of us have been stirred by his prayer in 2 Chronicles 7:14. Later in his life, though, he had drifted away from God. He had a lot of wisdom but made some foolish mistakes. The Book of Ecclesiastes helps us to see Solomon's regret of having left the Lord and discovered barrenness.
Through this book, perhaps more than any other, we can catch a vision of the world's lostness. Life without the world is vain. As long as things are progressing as people expect, they do not notice this transitory life, but sooner or later it comes and all their life pursuits are seen as vain. Only that which is done for the Lord will persist. Hopefully, through this book we will increase better understand the world's lostness, increase our sympathy for the lost and more aggressively seek to bring the word of life to them.
A) The Theme and Purpose of the Book of Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2)
1 "The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. 2 "Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher, "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity."" (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2, NASB).
- Who wrote Ecclesiastes (1:1)? What was his name? What other Bible books did he write?
- The theme of Ecclesiastes is summarized in 1:2. What would that be?
Use a word picture to describe this word or theme.
- Check out some other Bible versions. How do they translate this word?
- Why do you think someone might start writing a book this way?
- Have you ever felt this way about life? When was that? What else was happening in your life at that time?
B) The Meaningless of Man's Activities (Ecclesiastes 1:3-4)
Solomon illustrates his meaning first by focusing on the meaningless of man's activities.
3 What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun?
4 A generation goes and a generation comes, But the earth remains forever.
- What is the question that Solomon proposes in 1:3? What do you think his answer would be from the tone of the passage?
- What do you think 'under the sun' means? This will be a key clue to understanding this book. The phrase 'under the sun' will be repeated again and again throughout the book.
- How does verse 4 as a backdrop for life reenforce the meaningless of man's activities?
- Solomon speaks about the meaningless of man's life and work. Do you find this true at all? If so, in what situations? Have you ever felt this way about your studies, work or life in general?
C) The Meaningless of Life in General (Ecclesiastes 1:5-11)
Solomon further illustrates the meaningless of life with pictures from nature about us.
5 Also, the sun rises and the sun sets; And hastening to its place it rises there again.
6 Blowing toward the south, Then turning toward the north, The wind continues swirling along; And on its circular courses the wind returns.
7 All the rivers flow into the sea, Yet the sea is not full. To the place where the rivers flow, There they flow again.
8 All things are wearisome; Man is not able to tell it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, Nor is the ear filled with hearing.
- Solomon emphasizes life's meaningless by stressing the repetition found in nature. Look at verses 1:4-7 and point out the illustrations that he uses.
- How do these pictures from nature illustrate his point?
- Verse 1:8 speaks of the insatiability of what parts of the body? There never is enough! How does the desire to watch movies, television or listen to music show this.
- How does verse 8 work go along with the other former illustrations?
D) The Meaningless of Time and Memories (Ecclesiastes 1:9-11)
The writer further defends his statement that all is meaningless in verse 2 by examining time, memories and history itself.
9 That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. So, there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one might say, "See this, it is new"? Already it has existed for ages Which were before us.
11 There is no remembrance of earlier things; And also of the later things which will occur, There will be for them no remembrance Among those who will come later still.
- What view of time and history is portrayed in Ecclesiastes 1:9? Is it more like the creeping, purposelessness of evolutionary development or God's design of the universe?
- Verses 10-11 speak about the emptiness of memories. How is what he says true? How is what he says not true?
E) Summary and Discussion about Meaning in Life
Solomon has written a powerful introduction that challenges our core life perspectives.
- Share how you respond to what Solomon has said in verses 1:1-11. Do you agree or react against it? Why?
- Which does Solomon believe? Do we know? Why does he say these things?
- What is the meaning of life? Where does it come from?
- Is man just another group of cells that have no special significance? How would you answer this from the Bible?
- Read Ephesians 2:10 and share how that verse from another perspective addresses meaning in life.
How would you explain the meaningfulness of life to a somewhat depressed Christian?
- "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:10). (For more reading on Ephesians 2:10)