For those of you who are interested in reading through the book of Ecclesiastes, but are not sure what the author is saying or how to apply it, here is a quick guide through the book. Sometimes we simply don’t have the time or resources to look up verses and passages in a commentary. And therefore, with the busy reader in mind, the following guide provides a sentence or two on each section of the book pointing you to the main idea of that section and/or verse. May God bless your reading of Ecclesiastes! 

Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 

 “Let’s Be Realistic!”

Main Point: The Preacher introduces the content of the book of Ecclesiastes by warning us not to overestimate ourselves or this fallen creation. Both it and us were designed for glory, but neither it nor we can ever accomplish that end. Something new must happen under the sun. 

Ecclesiastes 1:12-18

“Humanity’s Quest”

Main Point: All the sons of Adam were given a quest, or a task. But the Preacher is here stressing that because of sin this task has become impossible for us. If we think otherwise, all of our striving will only increase our sorrow. Rather, we must trust in David’s greater son who has fulfilled this task on our behalf. 

Ecclesiastes 2:1-11

“The Limitations of Pleasure & Toil”

Main Point:  The Preacher begins an experiment to consider whether pleasure will provide the key to a truly blessed life on earth. But in the end he concludes that while there is a degree of pleasure to be had in these things—and in the fruit of one’s accomplishments—this pleasure is not the key to the blessed life.

Ecclesiastes 2:12-26

“The Blessing of Sanctified Wisdom”

Main Point: Through the use of paradox, the preacher of Ecclesiastes teaches us not to view our labor, works, or accomplishments under the sun as the basis of God’s favor, for both the wise and fool die alike, but rather that we learn to wait upon God to work effectually on our behalf, securing His favor and blessing. Only then can we truly take pleasure in the limited good of the fruit of one’s accomplishments under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 2:26

“I Believe, therefore I Understand”

Main Point: In v.26, the Preacher presents to us the outcome of two different worldviews; one which seeks to understand before it can believe, and the other which seeks to believe in order to understand; one which leads to despair, “this also is vanity and grasping for the wind,” and the other which leads to true wisdom, knowledge, and joy.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-15

“God’s Sovereignty & Our Responsibility”

Main Point: In chapter 3:1-15, the preacher is exhorting us to fear God, and trust in him to determine the right time for everything under the sun. We are not in control, and there is nothing that we can do to bring about His singular, ultimate, and consummate purpose. But by faith, we trust in God to determine how all these events in life will work together for his singular, ultimate, and consummate purpose. Thus our meaning and purpose lies not with what we do, but with what God in Christ is doing on our behalf.

Ecclesiastes 3:16-22

“Walking Straight in a Crooked World”

Main Point: After having confessed that the Lord has appointed a time for everything under the sun, the preacher observes that there are some things, such as justice and righteous, that never get enough time. And so the preacher challenges us to trust in a just God in an unjust world; to trust in God’s timing for justice, even if our appointed time to die comes first.

Ecclesiastes 4:1-3, 9-12

“The Mask of God”

Main Point: Each one of is has been called and gifted to be God’s Mask to those around us, particularly to the family of God.

Ecclesiastes 4:4-8, 13-16

“Gospel Friends”

Main Point: Ecclesiastes 4 brings us “down to earth” to cause us to face the foolishness of our sin, in order to raise our hearts to heaven through the wisdom of the Gospel.

Ecclesiastes 5:1-7

“Preventing Worship from Becoming a Burden”

Main Point: Without the fear of God, even corporate worship becomes a vain and unprofitable toil under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 5:8-20

“God & Mammon”

Main Point: The preacher warns us that we cannot serve two masters, you cannot serve God and Mammon, with the emphasis upon God clearly being the better master.

Ecclesiastes 5:20-6:12

“Providence: Who Knows What is Good for a Man?”

Main Point: The preacher would have us to know that the God of Providence is wiser than you, and so the believer may be confident that whatever befalls him is for his greatest good.

Ecclesiastes 6:10-12

“God’s Smiling Face”

Main Point: The assurance of the believer is that behind every frowning providence hides a Smiling face.

Ecclesiastes 6:12-7:14

“The End of Wisdom, The Beginning of Hope” (Part 1)

Main Point: The preacher warns us against expecting too much from wisdom (good advise). On the other hand, he affirms the advantage of wisdom (good advice) to cope with the realities of today, and the uncertainties of tomorrow, provided we do not expect too much from it. If we expect too much from it, it will not help us cope, but add to our frustration and affliction under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 6:12-7:14

“The End of Wisdom, The Beginning of Hope” (Part 2)

Main Point:The preacher affirms the limited advantage of wisdom (good advice), but ultimately concludes that our hope is not rooted in good advice, but rather, good news (the gospel). 

Ecclesiastes 7:15-7:29

“Simultaneously Saint & Sinner”

Main Point: The Preacher is teaching us that true wisdom begins with a proper estimation of who we are––always sinners, and who God is, and who we are in relation to God.

Ecclesiastes 7:15-8:1

“Simultaneously Trusting & Trembling”

Main Point: The Fear of God implies that we both tremble at his warnings and trust in his promises. 

Ecclesiastes 8:1-5

“Honor the King”

Main Point: The preacher tells us that the truly wise man learns to fear God as though He were the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

Ecclesiastes 8:6-17

“Judgment: Delaying the Inevitable”

Main Point: The preacher desires for us to be able to sleep well at night, knowing that there is a day wherein we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and he will set all things right––this is his burden and his prerogative, not ours.

Ecclesiastes 9:1-12

“Sober, but not Somber”

Main Point: The preacher is reminding us that we do not live and labor in order to gain confidence of God’s favor, but rather, it is only when we already have confidence of his favor in Christ that we can truly live and joyfully labor.

Ecclesiastes 9:13-10:4

“Choose Wisdom”

Main Point: The preacher is instructing us to prefer wisdom, even when others do not, and to recognize the foul odor of foolishness, even when others do not.

Ecclesiastes 10:4-20

“Keeping the End in Sight”

Main Point: The preacher is telling us that all people live their lives on one of two paths, but the only path to blessing is the path which Christ has walked. 

Ecclesiastes 11:1-6

“Take a Risk!”

Main Point: Our passage says that life is full of risk and the Preacher is telling us to “go for it,” trusting God to work all things together for our good. 

Ecclesiastes 11:7-10

“Enjoy Life While You Can!”

Main Point: Therefore, the preacher commands us to stop waiting and to enjoy our portion in life.

Ecclesiastes 12:1-8

“Finding Hope Beyond the Sun!”

Main Point: The preacher has told us to live well, and now he exhorts us to prepare to die well, looking to God to give us a new life free from everything that is crooked under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 12:8-14

“A Profoundly Simple Conclusion”

Main Point: The preacher ends the book of Ecclesiastes with a profoundly simple conclusion: “Fear God and keep His commandments.”