The author of the book called "Ecclesiastes" was King Solomon, son of David, and he presents himself as an organizer, speaker, discussant, spokesperson or preacher, these being the meanings of the Hebrew word translated into Greek as "Ecclesiastes". So, this is the name given to his book.
The book describes research that Solomon made of the activities of men on Earth "under the sun". Solomon was privileged to have combined more wisdom, wealth, influence and connections than most men known until his time (1 Kings 4:29,30). One would expect that such investigations would result in information to guide others in a productive, successful and happy life, avoiding toils and useless waste of time that end in despair.
By "under the sun" we understand that the theme of this book is limited to the knowledge of the material reality of “earthly” things. This is the prospect that is given to us today by the so called "modern science", in which there is a complete denial of God, of creation and of the existence of immaterial things. The foolish man is so limited (Psalm 14: 1), but Solomon was a wise man and mentioned God many times in this book.
Instead of having to follow all the experiences and discoveries described in the book, the reader is right at the beginning informed by Solomon of the conclusions reached, as follows:
Human life has no meaning because it is transitory, fleeting, useless, empty and futile: this is the meaning of the word "vanity" in this book. Nothing on this Earth provides a valid goal for the existence of the human being.
Would that be true? Yes, it is absolutely true! If our existence is limited to this life, if death closes a final curtain on human existence, so the life of each one of us is nothing but a steam — without substance and evanescent. The Apostle Paul reminds us that all creation was subjected to vanity or futility as a result of the entrance of sin (Romans 8:20). And it is not insignificant that our first parents named their second son Abel, which translates as "vanity" or "empty". Solomon got it right. Under the sun all is vanity.
Human life is so short, that mobile lifeless things around us seem to be eternal: the Sun, the wind, the water of the rivers. Their constant motion awakens the curiosity of man, but is repeated time after time, seemingly forever (when mentioning that the sun sets on the horizon to appear again on the other side the next day, Solomon does not show ignorance of the movement of the Earth, but just uses the usual language based on appearance, as we still do today). What was before, is still now and so will be forever: everything is unutterably tiring and does not sufficiently satisfy our eyes and ears ... (Verses 5-9).
This is similar to the philosophy of evolutionary atheists, trying to calculate in billions of years the change of "original particles”, atoms and molecules, based on measurements of the speed at which current particles change, in order to explain the universe, our planet, life around us and in us. The future they predict is destruction and extinction of all life. If it were not for divine revelation, we could also think that the current Earth will continue forever the way it is. But Peter informs us that the Earth and the works that are on it are going to be burned on the Day of the Lord (2 Peter 3:10).
He has no recollection of the doings of his ancestors before him, nor do his descendants inherit his own consciousness. When he dies, his own memory dies with him (verse 11).
What we do know about the past was learned from records left behind by people who lived at that time and from evidence still existing to confirm what they said. But the single record in which we can fully trust is in the Word of God, which was entirely inspired by the spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit. God tells us that one day each one of us will give account of himself to Him (Romans 14:12).
So having Solomon committed himself to this, he concluded that it was a boring activity. Gifted by God of great wisdom, Solomon wrote this and many other books, of which we also have Proverbs and a Song in the Bible. Later in this book Solomon declares that "of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh.” (Chapter 12:12).
From God also comes wisdom to all the believers because "... in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." (Colossians 2:2.3). In James we find a separation between the wisdom that comes from God and the wisdom which is "earthly, sensual, demonic" (Chapter 3:15). That which comes from God "is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy". The believer, therefore, should not despise the wisdom and knowledge that come from God, and it is profitable to study the creation and God's laws (called "natural" by the atheists, because although they know the laws, they incongruously refuse to recognize that there is a Legislator). But studying only what's "under the Sun" without knowing the dimension that we are taught by the creator is certainly a boring, tiresome and pointless task – in short, another vanity.
In his situation, Solomon had the best education available in Israel at that time, to make his investigations; once completed, he could truly say that he had seen everything (within his reach) that is done under the Sun. He certainly learned and experienced the sciences, philosophy, history, fine arts, social sciences, literature, religion, psychology, ethics, languages and other fields of human learning. But that did not give him what he was looking for. On the contrary, he concluded that it was all vanity and useless ambition. .
Man is never satisfied: no matter how much he sees and experiences, he is always looking for more and never gets all he wants, concluding finally that nothing in the world can bring him lasting happiness. But he should not despair because of this: he needs only to raise his eyes and thoughts "above the Sun" to the One that "satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness" (Psalm 107:9).
Solomon felt frustrated to see at last that science does not solve all the riddles of life. He finds paradoxes and anomalies that cannot be solved by human knowledge, and no one here can give them their meaning and value. What we lack in knowledge is so much that it cannot be measured. The more we know, the more aware we are of our ignorance.
Paul explains: "...the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, `He catches the wise in their own craftiness`; and again, `the LORD knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile`" (Job 5:13, 1 Corinthians 3:19,20).
Great scholars become great mourners after they realise how much they still need to learn. In other words, Solomon studied both extremes of human behaviour, and did not find the true meaning of life in any of them. He was sad because everything is in vain.
This is the wisdom and knowledge under heaven, deprived of the comprehensive vision that comes from heaven. The wisdom that comes from God, found in His word, is not vanity. King Solomon himself, when writing the book of Proverbs, exclaimed "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge ... the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding ... Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding” (1:7, 2:6, 3:13).
The Prophet Isaiah, who lived a few centuries later, prophesied that God "will again do a marvellous work among this people, a marvellous work and a wonder; for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden." (chapter 29:14).
Paul stated that "to those who are called, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God... not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called... but Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption; that, as it is written, 'he who glories, let him glory in the Lord.'” (1 Corinthians 1:24 -31).
Let us know to distinguish and separate ourselves from the science and wisdom "under the Sun", which is just folly, vanity, sadness and useless work, and learn the wisdom that comes from heaven, "from above", which is given by God liberally to us in the person of His son, Jesus Christ. Creation, life itself (which atheists cannot explain), and the universe speak to us of the magnificent existence of the living God in Whom we believe. With this assurance, we can apply ourselves with the wisdom that comes from our Creator to real science and thus achieve the goal of a productive, successful and happy life.