Ecclesiastes 1

1 These are the words of the Teacher, a son of David, kingin Jerusalem.
2 The Teacher says, "Useless! Useless! Completely useless! Everything is useless."
3 What do people really gain from all the hard work they do here on earth?
4 People live, and people die, but the earth continues forever.
5 The sun rises, the sun sets, and then it hurries back to where it rises again.
6 The wind blows to the south; it blows to the north. It blows from one direction and then another. Then it turns around and repeats the same pattern, going nowhere.
7 All the rivers flow to the sea, but the sea never becomes full.
8 Everything is boring, so boring that you don't even want to talk about it. Words come again and again to our ears, but we never hear enough, nor can we ever really see all we want to see.
9 All things continue the way they have been since the beginning. What has happened will happen again; there is nothing new here on earth.
10 Someone might say, "Look, this is new," but really it has always been here. It was here before we were.
11 People don't remember what happened long ago, and in the future people will not remember what happens now. Even later, other people will not remember what was done before them.
12 I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem.
13 I decided to use my wisdom to learn about everything that happens on earth. I learned that God has given us terrible things to face.
14 I looked at everything done on earth and saw that it is all useless, like chasing the wind.
15 If something is crooked, you can't make it straight. If something is missing, you can't say it is there.
16 I said to myself, "I have become very wise and am now wiser than anyone who ruled Jerusalem before me. I know what wisdom and knowledge really are."
17 So I decided to find out about wisdom and knowledge and also about foolish thinking, but this turned out to be like chasing the wind.
18 With much wisdom comes much disappointment; the person who gains more knowledge also gains more sorrow.

Ecclesiastes 1 Commentary

Chapter 1

The name of this book signifies "The Preacher." The wisdom of God here preaches to us, speaking by Solomon, who it is evident was the author. At the close of his life, being made sensible of his sin and folly, he recorded here his experience for the benefit of others, as the book of his repentance; and he pronounced all earthly good to be "vanity and vexation of spirit." It convinces us of the vanity of the world, and that it cannot make us happy; of the vileness of sin, and its certain tendency to make us miserable. It shows that no created good can satisfy the soul, and that happiness is to be found in God alone; and this doctrine must, under the blessed Spirit's teaching, lead the heart to Christ Jesus.

Solomon shows that all human things are vain. (1-3) Man's toil and want of satisfaction. (4-8) There is nothing new. (9-11) The vexation in pursuit of knowledge. (12-18)

Verses 1-3 Much is to be learned by comparing one part of Scripture with another. We here behold Solomon returning from the broken and empty cisterns of the world, to the Fountain of living water; recording his own folly and shame, the bitterness of his disappointment, and the lessons he had learned. Those that have taken warning to turn and live, should warn others not to go on and die. He does not merely say all things are vain, but that they are vanity. VANITY OF VANITIES, ALL IS VANITY. This is the text of the preacher's sermon, of which in this book he never loses sight. If this world, in its present state, were all, it would not be worth living for; and the wealth and pleasure of this world, if we had ever so much, are not enough to make us happy. What profit has a man of all his labour? All he gets by it will not supply the wants of the soul, nor satisfy its desires; will not atone for the sins of the soul, nor hinder the loss of it: what profit will the wealth of the world be to the soul in death, in judgment, or in the everlasting state?

Verses 4-8 All things change, and never rest. Man, after all his labour, is no nearer finding rest than the sun, the wind, or the current of the river. His soul will find no rest, if he has it not from God. The senses are soon tired, yet still craving what is untried.

Verses 9-11 Men's hearts and their corruptions are the same now as in former times; their desires, and pursuits, and complaints, still the same. This should take us from expecting happiness in the creature, and quicken us to seek eternal blessings. How many things and persons in Solomon's day were thought very great, yet there is no remembrance of them now!

Verses 12-18 Solomon tried all things, and found them vanity. He found his searches after knowledge weariness, not only to the flesh, but to the mind. The more he saw of the works done under the sun, the more he saw their vanity; and the sight often vexed his spirit. He could neither gain that satisfaction to himself, nor do that good to others, which he expected. Even the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom discovered man's wickedness and misery; so that the more he knew, the more he saw cause to lament and mourn. Let us learn to hate and fear sin, the cause of all this vanity and misery; to value Christ; to seek rest in the knowledge, love, and service of the Saviour.

Chapter Summary


This book has been universally received into the canon of the Scriptures, by Jews and Christians. The former, indeed, had once some controversy {a} about it; and they thought to have hid it, or put it among the apocryphal books; because, at first sight, some things seemed contradictory to each other {b}, and to incline to heresy {c}, atheism, and epicurism, and to assert the eternity of the world {d}: but they better considered of it; and when they observed those passages were capable of a good sense, and that the whole agreed with the law of God, they changed their minds {e}. And so likewise it has been rejected by some heretical persons, of the Christian name, as Theodore and Mopsuest, and others; and by deists, and some deistically inclined. But it carries in it such internal evidences of a divine original, as cannot well be denied; it delivers out and inculcates such divine instructions, concerning the duties of men to God, and one another; concerning the contempt of the world, and the carnal pleasures of it; the fear and worship of God, and a future judgment; as none but the wisdom of God could suggest. There are various things in it which seem to be referred to by Christ and his apostles; at least there is an entire agreement between them: among the many things that might be observed, compare Ec 11:5, 12:11 with Joh 3:8, 10:16; and Ec 11:9, 12:14 with 2Co 5:10, 1Co 4:5; and Ec 7:20 with 1Jo 1:8. As to the author of it, there are evident marks of its being written by Solomon; yet, by some Jewish writers, it is ascribed to Isaiah {f}, which seems exceeding strange; for though he was a great prophet, and an evangelical preacher, yet no king in Jerusalem; whatever may be said for his being of the house of David, and of the royal family, as some have thought: and, besides, there is no agreement in style between this book and the writings of Isaiah. Others of them ascribe it to Hezekiah and his men {g}: Hezekiah was indeed the son of David, and David in expressly called his father; and he was a prince of great character, both with respect to religion, and to wealth and grandeur; see \2Ch 29:2 32:27-29 2Ki 18:5\; which might induce them to such a conceit; though it seems to take its rise from Hezekiah's men being the copiers of some of Solomon's proverbs, Pr 25:1; but the proof from thence must be exceeding weak; that because they were the transcribers of some of his proverbs, therefore were the writers of this book; and especially King Hezekiah; for, whatever may be said of his character, it falls greatly short of Solomon's wisdom or riches; and such things are said, with for respect to both, in this book, as cannot agree with him: and, on the other hand, it does not appear that he was addicted to wine and women, and gave himself a loose to carnal pleasures, as the writer of this book had formerly done. Grotius thinks it was written by some persons in the times of Zerubbabel, and published under the name of Solomon, as a penitent; which is quite shocking, that an inspired writing should have a false title put to it, and be imposed upon the church of God under a wrong name: besides, the name of Solomon is never mentioned in it; though this, by the way, betrays a conviction that he is intended in the title of it: nor are many persons concerned in it; it appears throughout the whole to be the work of a single person, who often speaks as such in it. That Zerubbabel should be meant by the one shepherd, Ec 12:11, is a mere fancy; it is better interpreted, as by many, of Jesus Christ: his chief argument for this conjecture is, because there are three or four Chaldee words in it, as he supposes; which yet does not appear, and are nowhere to be found but in Daniel, Ezra, and the Chaldee interpreter: and so there are in the book of Proverbs, Pr 31:2,3; but it does not follow, that because these words, or others, are but once used in Scripture, that they are not originally Hebrew; since the language was more extensive and better understood in Solomon's time than now, when we have only the copy of the Old Testament in which it is preserved. In short, what is said of the descent and dignity of the writer of this book, of his wisdom, wealth, riches, and grandeur, of his virtues and of his vices, agrees with none as with Solomon; to which may be added, that there is one passage in it, the same he used in his prayer at the dedication of the temple, Ec 7:20; compared with 1Ki 8:46. As to the time in which it was written by him, it seems to have been in his old age, as the Jewish writers observe {h}; after his sin and fall, and recovery out of it, and when he was brought to true repentance for it: it was after he had made him great works, and built houses, his own house and the house of God, which were twenty years in building; it was after he had acquired not only vast riches and treasures, which must require time, but had gotten knowledge of all things in nature; and had seen all the works that are done under the sun, and had made trial of all pleasures that were to be enjoyed; see Ec 1:1-2:26; it was after he had been ensnared by women, which he confesses and laments, Ec 7:26; and his description of old age seems to be made, not merely upon the theory of it, but from a feeling experience of the evils and infirmities of it, Ec 12:1-6. The general scope and design of it is to expose the vanity of all worldly enjoyments; to show that a man's happiness does not lie in natural wisdom and knowledge; nor in worldly wealth; nor in civil honour, power, and authority; nor in the mere externals of religion; but in the fear of God, and the worship of him. It encourages men to a free use of the good things of life in a moderate way, with thankfulness to God; to submit with cheerfulness to adverse dispensations of Providence; to fear God and honour the king; to be dutiful to civil magistrates, and kind to the poor; to expect a future state, and an awful judgment; with many other useful things.

{a} Misn. Yadaim, c. 3. s. 5. T. Bab. Megilia, fol. 7. 1. {b} T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 30. 2. {c} Midrash Kohelet, fol. 60. 4. Vajikra Rabba, s. 28. "in principio", fol. 168. 4. {d} Maimon. Moreh Nevochim, c. 28. p. 262. {e} T. Bab. Sabbat, ut supra. (fol. 30. 2.) {f} R. Gedaliah in Shalshelt. Hakabala, fol. 55. 1. R. Moses Kimchi & alii. {g} T. Bab. Bava Bathra, fol. 15. 1. {h} Peskita Rabbati apud Yalkut in Kohelet, l. 1. Shirhashirim Rabba, fol. 2. 3. Seder Olam Rabba, c. 15. p. 41. R. Gedaliah in Shalshelet Hakabala, fol. 8. 2.


After the title of the book, which describes the author of it, by his office, as a preacher; by his descent, as the son of David; and by his dignity, king in Jerusalem, Ec 1:1; the principal doctrine insisted on in it is laid down, that the world, and all things in it, are most vain things, Ec 1:2. Which is proved in general, by the unprofitableness of all labour to attain them, be they what they will, wisdom, knowledge, riches, honours, and pleasures, Ec 1:3; by the short continuance of men on earth, though that abides, Ec 1:4; by the constant revolution, going and returning, of the most useful creatures, the sun, winds, and water, Ec 1:5-7; by the unfruitful and unsatisfactory labour all things are full of, Ec 1:8; by the continual repetition of the same things, and the oblivion of them, Ec 1:9-11; and by Solomon's own experience in one particular thing; his search after, and acquisition of, knowledge and wisdom, which he attained a large share of; and which he found attended with labour, difficulty, and little satisfaction; nay, was vanity and vexation of spirit; for, as his knowledge increased, so did his grief and sorrow, Ec 1:12-18.

Ecclesiastes 1 Commentaries

Scripture taken from the New Century Version. Copyright © 1987, 1988, 1991 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.