Already in the opening passages, Kohelet despairs over what he sees as the futility of life’s labors: Therefore I hated life, because the deeds that are done under the sun were depressing to me, for all is vanity and grasping for the wind. Whereas all the great emperors and kings of old strove to achieve eternal life by erecting grand monuments to themselves, Kohelet understands that such attempts are illusory.
Then I hated all my work, which I work at under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who will come after me—and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? He is therefore forced to pose the elementary question: f I die anyway, why does anything matter? For there are numerous passages in Ecclesiastes that move in the opposite direction.
Throughout much of the ancient world, rulers built monumental structures to establish their immortality.
The pyramids of ancient Egypt, which aimed to project the “star” of Pharaoh into the eternal sphere of the heavens, are evidence of this.
Rather, Kohelet sets out on his inquiry from the perspective of a life replete with fortune and opportunity.
He takes as his starting point not revelation, but man’s personal need for meaning.
In other words, Ecclesiastes is not about what God wants of us, but about what we want for ourselves.
This approach may resonate especially strongly with Western readers of today, since few Westerners appreciate doing things simply because they are told, regardless of who does the telling.
We moderns are thus in a unique position to identify with Kohelet’s quest.
To all appearances, however, it would seem that this search is doomed from the start. Kohelet is disillusioned with life because he believes it is all in vain; he abhors the idea of leaving his life’s work behind for someone else to enjoy or to squander.