Lesson 115: Ecclesiastes; Song of Solomon
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“Lesson 115: Ecclesiastes; Song of Solomon,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2014)

“Lesson 115,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual

Lesson 115

Ecclesiastes; Song of Solomon


The book of Ecclesiastes was written by an individual who called himself “the Preacher” (Ecclesiastes 1:1). The Preacher taught that the conditions of our mortal life are temporary and that God will bring all our works into judgment. The Song of Solomon is poetry that celebrates the love between a man and a woman. The Joseph Smith Translation manuscript contains the note that “the Songs of Solomon are not inspired writings” (Bible Dictionary, “Song of Solomon”).

Suggestions for Teaching

Ecclesiastes 1–10

The Preacher teaches that the conditions of our mortal life are temporary

Before class, write the following phrase on the board: The purpose of life is …

Ask students how they think people without an understanding of the plan of salvation might finish this statement.

  • How do you think your attitude about life and your choices might be different if you did not understand the plan of salvation?

Invite students to look for truths in their study of Ecclesiastes that can deepen their understanding of Heavenly Father’s plan and the purpose of their life on earth.

Explain that Ecclesiastes means preacher, which is the self-imposed title of the person who wrote this book. Invite a student to read Ecclesiastes 1:1–3 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Preacher taught about life.

  • What are some things the Preacher taught about life? (All is vanity. There is no profit to labor under the sun.)

Write the following on the board: “All is vanity” and “under the sun” = …

Explain that the phrase “under the sun” is another way of saying “during mortality.” Then complete the phrase on the board to read, “All is vanity” and “under the sun” = everything is empty, temporary, or meaningless during mortality.

Explain that this message is a theme throughout the book of Ecclesiastes. The writer of Ecclesiastes often wrote from the perspective of someone who had little to no understanding of the plan of salvation. This perspective can help us recognize that people waste much of their life focusing on pursuits that end when they die.

Explain that in Ecclesiastes 2, the Preacher describes several different ways he sought to find purpose in life. Invite a student to read Ecclesiastes 2:1–3 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for how the Preacher sought purpose in life. You may need to explain that mirth means amusement.

  • According to these verses, how did the Preacher seek purpose? (He pursued amusement, pleasure, and laughter. Write students’ answers on the board.)

Divide students into groups of two or three. Invite half of the groups to read Ecclesiastes 2:4–7 and the other half to read Ecclesiastes 2:8–10. Ask them to look for what other things the Preacher did to seek purpose in life.

  • What were some other things the Preacher did to seek purpose in life? (Add their answers to the list on the board.)

  • How do people today seek purpose in this mortal life in similar ways?

Invite a student to read Ecclesiastes 2:11 aloud. Ask the class to look for what the Preacher discovered about his labors.

  • What did the author say about all of the works of his hands? (You may want to explain that the phrase “vexation of spirit” means the Preacher was discouraged with the results of his labors, realizing that they would bring no real profit.)

  • Do you agree or disagree with the Preacher’s conclusion? Why?

Summarize Ecclesiastes 3–10 by explaining that the Preacher wrote that even though good and bad things happen to all of us and even though one day we will all die, we can do many things to make our mortal life better before it ends.

Provide students with the following activity on a handout. Invite students to work with a partner and match the scripture references to the appropriate phrase.

1. Ecclesiastes 4:9–10

a. Whatever you do, work hard and do your best.

2. Ecclesiastes 5:10–11

b. Even though at times the wicked seem to prosper, in the end it will not be well with them.

3. Ecclesiastes 7:9

c. Do not set your heart on money, for it will never satisfy.

4. Ecclesiastes 7:10

d. Avoid idleness, for it can cause us to lose things we care about.

5. Ecclesiastes 8:11–13

e. Do not spend the present day longing for the past to return.

6. Ecclesiastes 9:10

f. Good friends will help us through difficult times.

7. Ecclesiastes 10:18

g. Learn to control your temper.

When students finish, invite them to give their answers to the matching activity. (Answers: 1-f; 2-c; 3-g; 4-e; 5-b; 6-a; 7-d.) Invite a few students to explain what counsel stood out to them and why.

Ecclesiastes 11–12

The Preacher teaches that we should prepare now for the Final Judgment

Invite a student to read Ecclesiastes 11:9 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for what the writer wanted young people to understand about life.

  • What did the Preacher want young people to understand about their choices in life?

Summarize Ecclesiastes 12:1–7 by explaining that the writer reiterated that everyone will one day die. Invite a student to read Ecclesiastes 12:7 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for what will happen when we die.

  • What do you think it means that “then shall the dust return to the earth as it was”? (Ecclesiastes 12:7). (At the time of our death, our physical bodies will decay and return to the earth.)

  • What truth do we learn from Ecclesiastes 12:7 about the condition of our spirits after we die? (Students may use different words, but make sure they identify the following truth: Although we experience physical death, our spirits continue to live and will return to God. You may want to suggest that students mark the phrase that teaches this doctrine in verse 7.)

Explain that other scriptures help us understand that at death our spirits do not immediately return to the presence of God but rather go to the spirit world (see D&C 138:11–24). Invite a student to read aloud the following statement concerning the condition of our spirits after we die:

“Death does not change our personality or our desires for good or evil. Those who chose to obey God in this life live in a state of happiness, peace, and rest from troubles and care. Those who chose not to obey in this life and did not repent live in a state of unhappiness. In the spirit world the gospel is preached to those who did not obey the gospel or have the opportunity to hear it while on earth. We remain in the spirit world until we are resurrected” (Preach My Gospel [2004], 52).

Extend a piece of string across the classroom, and explain that it represents eternity. (You may want to invite students to imagine that both ends of the string extend infinitely in either direction.)

  • How long is our mortal life when compared to eternity? (After students respond, you may want to place a small mark on the string or hang a paper clip on it to represent that our mortal lives are only one small part of our eternal existence.)

  • If our mortal life is so short compared to eternity, why do you think the way we choose to spend our time and energy during mortality is so important?

To help students identify the main principle in Ecclesiastes, refer to the definition on the board, reminding them that “everything is empty, temporary, or meaningless during mortality” when life is lived without an understanding of the plan of salvation.

Invite a student to read Ecclesiastes 12:13–14 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for the Preacher’s main conclusion.

  • What principle can we learn from our study of Ecclesiastes? (Students may use different words, but make sure they identify the following principle: If we choose to focus on God and keeping His commandments rather than on worldly pursuits, we will find purpose in mortality and be prepared for the judgment of God.)

Provide students with a copy of the following statement by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Ask a student to read the statement aloud, and invite the class to follow along, looking for how understanding the doctrines they have identified can influence the decisions they make now.

Wirthlin, Joseph B.

“We understand that we will live a postmortal life of infinite duration and that we determine the kind of life it will be by our thoughts and actions in mortality. Mortality is very brief but immeasurably important. …

“That understanding helps us to make wise decisions in the many choices of our daily lives. Seeing life from an eternal perspective helps us focus our limited mortal energies on the things that matter most. …

“… By virtue of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice, we all will be resurrected. Each of us will stand before the judgment bar of the great Jehovah and be rewarded according to our deeds in mortality.

“If we make every earthly decision with this judgment in mind, we will have used our mortal probation wisely and its days will give us peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come” (“The Time to Prepare,” Ensign, May 1998, 14, 16–17).

Testify that because mortality is temporary, we must take great care with how we choose to use our time and energy. By focusing our time and efforts on the Lord and His work, we will find the greatest amount of purpose and joy in this life and be prepared for life after death.

Invite students to ponder and reflect on their own life and consider what changes they could make. Encourage them to act on the promptings they receive. Remind them that the Lord can help us know what changes we may need to make and can give us strength to change as we seek His help.

The Song of Solomon

Solomon rejoices in the love of a man and a woman

Summarize the Song of Solomon by explaining that this book is a collection of poetry and songs of love and affection. The Joseph Smith Translation manuscript contains the note that “the Songs of Solomon are not inspired writings” (Bible Dictionary, “Song of Solomon”; see also the note found above Song of Solomon 1:1, footnote a).

Commentary and Background Information

Ecclesiastes 8:11–13. Delayed punishment for the wicked

At times, someone who is striving to obey God’s commandments may feel frustrated when others flagrantly disobey the commandments and do not seem to suffer consequences for it. President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency taught:

“If we choose the right, we will find happiness—in time. If we choose evil, there comes sorrow and regret—in time. Those effects are sure. Yet they are often delayed for a purpose. If the blessings were immediate, choosing the right would not build faith. And since sorrow is also sometimes greatly delayed, it takes faith to feel the need to seek forgiveness for sin early rather than after we feel its sorrowful and painful effects” (“A Priceless Heritage of Hope,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2014, 24–25).

Ecclesiastes 9:5–6, 10. “There is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave”

It is important to remember that the author of Ecclesiastes, the Preacher, wrote as if there is no life after death. These statements are made with that thought in mind and fail to account for truths about life after death taught elsewhere in the scriptures (see Alma 34:34; D&C 138:30). Therefore, the writer of Ecclesiastes was not making a doctrinal declaration that nobody thinks, feels, or works after they die; he was simply illustrating the perspective on life after death for someone living “under the sun” with no understanding of life beyond mortality.

Ecclesiastes 12:7. After death, “the spirit shall return unto God who gave it”

The Preacher is not necessarily saying that we will immediately return to God’s presence. Alma similarly declared that after death, “the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life” (Alma 40:11). President Joseph Fielding Smith clarified Alma’s statement. His explanation is equally applicable to this verse in Ecclesiastes. According to President Smith, this phrase, or others like it, “simply means that their mortal existence has come to an end, and they have returned to the world of spirits, where they are assigned to a place according to their works with the just or with the unjust, there to await the resurrection. ‘Back to God’ is a phrase which finds an equivalent in many other well known conditions” (Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., 5 vols. [1957–66], 2:85).