Detailed outline of the Book of Ecclesiastes - two discourses on life and death

  1. Author (1:1)
  2. Theme: The meaninglessness of human efforts on earth apart from God (1:2)
  3. Introduction: The profitlessness of human toil to accumulate things in order to achieve happiness (1:3–11)
  4. Discourse, Part 1: In spite of life’s apparent enigmas and meaninglessness, it is to be enjoyed as a gift from God (1:12—11:6)
    1. Since human wisdom and endeavors are meaningless, people should enjoy their life and work and its fruits as gifts from God (1:12—6:9)
      1. Introduction (1:12–18)
        1. Human endeavors are meaningless (1:12–15)
        2. Pursuing human wisdom is meaningless (1:16–18)
      2. Seeking pleasure is meaningless (2:1–11)
      3. Human wisdom is meaningless (2:12–17)
      4. Toiling to accumulate things is meaningless (2:18—6:9)
        1. Because people must leave the fruits of their labor to others (2:18–26)
        2. Because all human efforts remain under the government of God’s sovereign appointments, which people cannot fully know and which all their toil cannot change (3:1—4:3)
        3. Because there are things better for people than the envy, greed and ambition that motivate such toil (4:4–16)
        4. Because the fruits of human labor can be lost, resulting in frustration (5:1—6:9)
    2. Since people cannot fully know what is best to do or what the future holds for them, they should enjoy now the life and work God has given them (6:10—11:6)
      1. Introduction: What is predetermined by God is inalterable, and people cannot fully know what is best or what the future holds (6:10–12)
      2. People cannot fully know what is best to do (chs. 7–8)
      3. People cannot fully know what the future holds (9:1—11:6)
  5. Discourse, Part 2: Since old age and death will soon come, people should enjoy life in their youth, remembering that God will judge (11:7—12:7)
    1. People should enjoy their life on earth because their future after death is mysterious, and in that sense is meaningless for their present life (11:7–8)
    2. People should enjoy the fleeting joys of youth, but remember that God will judge (11:9–10)
    3. People should remember their Creator (and his gifts) in their youth, before the deteriorations of old age and the dissolution of the body come (12:1–7)
  6. Theme Repeated (12:8)
  7. Conclusion: Reverently trust in and obey God (12:9–14)
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