The first chapter of Ecclesiastes introduces Solomon and his unique capacity to explore the meaning of life through human reason and experience. Even so, he is frustrated by his limitations, which leads to one of the most assertive statements in Scripture: “All is vanity.” Solomon then dives into the great question mankind must consider: What is the meaning of life and how does one constructively participate in it?

After establishing his authority and setting his thesis, Solomon sets out on an exploration of purpose. He wastes no time getting to the heart of the matter—that everything we do and experience on earth is an enigma, a paradox, a vapor that cannot be fully grasped or understood.

A poem highlights God’s creation compared to man’s labors—God is the Creator of purpose and meaning, but man cannot partner with God through reason and experience alone. All of Solomon’s efforts, including his greatest asset, wisdom, prove insufficient by themselves. He wrestles with the reality that God has made the world and the human life so mysterious. Even wisdom cannot resolve the mystery. Solomon’s circumstantial experience (and his reason), great as they are, are still insufficient.

Ecclesiastes 1:1

Solomon describes himself using three titles that uniquely qualify him to tackle the questions found in Ecclesiastes.

Ecclesiastes 1:2

Solomon uses an enigmatic metaphor to introduce the intention of the book: attempting to reconcile man’s search for meaning with the practical limitations around him.

Ecclesiastes 1:3-7

Solomon describes God’s creation as productive, reliable, and cyclical. He contrasts this with the limited and confused life of a man, questioning the value of man’s effort when patterns are destined to repeat themselves.

Ecclesiastes 1:8-11

Solomon asserts that it is futile to determine our purpose in life from observation or reason. He looks into how events in Time are cyclical and therefore are insufficient avenues for completing his search for meaning.

Ecclesiastes 1:12-15

God created mankind with a longing to study, explore, and see—but even an exhaustive search by a capable person ends with futility if we only rely upon reason and experience.

Ecclesiastes 1:16-18

Solomon discovers that more wisdom means a greater awareness of the futility of seeking knowledge.