Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun
Notes to the Leader: Ecclesiastes is a difficult book of the Old Testament to lead because you cannot take the verses literally. Solomon, of Ecclesiastes was documenting his methodical and logical assessment of life. However, Solomon was wrong about much of life. Therefore, the approach to study this Scripture is to search for the error in Solomon’s thought processes by comparing his logic to that found in the New Testament.
How do you rationalized the constant wars, suffering and perversion within the world?
- Losing hope is a terrible thing. In the next two Bible chapters, you will follow the thinking of Solomon to see how he came to accept that life is not fair and has no meaning at all.
- What are some of the day to day things that seem so unfair to you?
This is a good place to use a whiteboard or easel and let your group make a list for you.
- Picking the wrong line at the supermarket
- Leaving my umbrella in the car on the day it rains
- Having the wind blow down my fence
- A leak in the plumbing just before company comes over
Please feel free to make your list as large as you wish
Solomon’s observations on life’s unfairness pushed him toward deeper despair. For us, his thoughts should make us aware of how empty life is apart from God.
Section One: The Oppression in Today’s Society
Have someone in your group read Ecclesiastes 4:1-3.
What do you see in Solomon’s observations of those oppressed?
- Great sadness on Solomon’s part. He sees that no one is on the side of the oppressed. Solomon states that those who are dead are better off than the living.
- Stop for a moment and reflect upon who Solomon was, the power he held, the wealth he had and the pleasures that were his only for the asking.
Are you surprised by the depth of Solomon’s despair?
If you are surprised, then
Why do you think that our society spends so much time and energy trying to get what Solomon had?
- We are in a world that is Satan’s domain. There are many “great lies” that abound from the depths of sin. One of the greatest lies is that “just doing it” or “just having it” will be satisfying.
What makes up the components of Solomon’s great sadness?
- The victims are truly helpless
- No one seems to care
How did the Old Testament Law address these concerns for people?
It forbade the wealthy from taking advantage of the poor. Each person was duty bound to help relieve the suffering of those in need. (Lev. 19:15; 25:23-24, 35-37; Deut. 15:12-14)
What was Solomon concluding in this area?
The Law was ignored. God and man can legislate but human hearts are hard. Therefore, each is left to face this great unfairness alone.
- How could those who exist in our world outside the great Church come to this same conclusion?
When the Church fails to demonstrate its obedience to God, its love and compassion for mankind, it is easy to draw the same conclusion that Solomon came to.
Now have someone read James 5:1-7.
How does James contrast Solomon’s conclusions?
- James states that it is those with wealth, those who have oppressed that will be judged accordingly.
Section Two: The Motivation Behind Achievement
Have someone in your group read Ecclesiastes 4:4-6.
What are the interesting conclusions that you draw from these verses?
- Hard work brings success.
- Most who focus on achievement have, at best, mixed motives.
- Society fosters this competitive spirit.
- Achievement can only be measured in relation to the achievement of others, hence, the bad motives.
What are Solomon’s conclusions concerning achievements?
- We find goals only through observation and, even when the motives are pure, all achievement is illusionary.
Is Solomon saying that it is better to settle for mediocrity than to chase for success and excellence?
- Yes, he is. Remember, however, that Solomon viewed excellence, worth, and value in surpassing others as a deeply ingrained sinful human trait.
Let us look to the New Testament to see with broader perspective this same issue.
What are the attributes of the way of life noted in these verses?
Romans 12:3 – Do not think of yourself too highly. Use your gifts in service to others.
- 1 Corinthians 4:6 – Do not be prideful.
- Philippians 2:3-4 – Maintain an attitude of unity and spirit. Do not be motivated with selfish ambition. Consider the interests of others.
- Galatians 6:4 – Test our own actions. Beware of comparisons with others.
We are to strive to serve not surpass. Is this so different than the Old Testament?
- No. However, we have Christ as our new model of service. Could the Old Testament model have worked without a Savior such as Christ to show us this new model of serving?
- No. God, again, knew just what to do. He is the Master Builder.
Section Three: The Fate of Mankind
Have someone in your group read Ecclesiastes 4:7-12.
- Solomon points out the isolation of the “man all alone.” Yet he also describes several benefits of community. Where has Solomon fallen short on his assessment of people working together?
- Solomon points only to the external advantages of association. There was no inner bonding of the individuals, no real change in their isolation despite the agreement to work together.
Have someone in your group read Ecclesiastes 4:13:16.
Can you find the point of Solomon’s example here?
- Isolation occurs regardless of one’s position in life, according to Solomon. There is no permanence in the social bonds created by status. Every king is displace by his successor. Every generation displaced by the next generation.
Have someone in your group read Ephesians 3:14-19.
What is the great gift of community that God has given us today?
Are we as individuals ever alone as Solomon saw the human isolation?
- Never, because we have Christ. We always must remember that Christ is alive and with us. He is not just a historical Savior.
Section Four: The Mystery Of God
Have someone in your group read Ecclesiastes 5:1-7.
Solomon stood in awe of God. He saw people making so many mistakes. What were those mistakes?
- People rushed to sacrifice before God, unaware of their own sinfulness. (5.1)
- Some hurry to make long prayers, unaware of the great gulf between God in heaven and man on earth. (5.2)
- Solomon was critical of those making rash promises to God, only to later try to take them back. (5:4-6) Such action was disrespectful to a God who could wipe out everything. (5:6)
- Keep your vows/promises to God. Before you make them, think carefully and then rush to fill them.
While Solomon’s observations and advice reflect his own uncertainty about God’s relationship with human beings, he did stand in awe of God. Where did Solomon go wrong?
- He simply stood there, unwilling to chance any kind of approach to God.
- Have someone in your group read Hebrews 4:15-16.
What type of confidence should we have in Christ and why?
- He has been there and done that. Christ can relate to us. He has been granted the authority. We are to go with certainty.
Section Five: The Value Of Wealth
Have someone in your group read Ecclesiastes 5:8-17.
What does Solomon see wrong with wealth?
- The workers earnings are appropriated by the government (vv. 8-9)
- The love of riches can never be satisfied however much a person has (v. 10)
- Expenses increase with income and consume accrued wealth (v. 11)
- The wealthy have more to be anxious about than the ordinary man (v. 12)
Bible Truth Being Taught
The basic error was that Solomon believed through knowledge, observation or experimentation, all things in God’s world could be understood. When this logical strategy did not yield the answers and satisfaction he was searching for, Solomon became depressed and gave up hope.
To understand that true joy comes only through a loving relationship with our God, not our knowledge of the world.