“Unit 23: Day 4, Ecclesiastes; Song of Solomon,” Old Testament Study Guide for Home-Study Seminary Students (2014)
“Unit 23: Day 4,” Old Testament Study Guide
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 implied that God will bring every work 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”).
In the space provided, write how you think someone without an understanding of the plan of salvation might finish the following statement:
The purpose of life is .
Consider how your attitude about life and your choices might be different if you did not understand the plan of salvation. How might you see the world and the people who live in it differently?
As you study Ecclesiastes, look for truths that can deepen your understanding of Heavenly Father’s plan and the purpose of your life on earth.
The word ecclesiastes means preacher, which is the self-given title of the person who wrote this book. Read Ecclesiastes 1:1–3, looking for what the Preacher taught about life.
The word vanity is taken from the word vain, which means empty, fleeting (temporary), or unsubstantial (meaningless) (see Ecclesiastes 1:2, footnote b). The phrase “under the sun” in verse 3 is another way of saying “on earth” or “during mortality.” In other words, Ecclesiastes 1:2–3 teaches that without God, His plan of salvation, and His guidance, everything is empty, temporary, or meaningless during mortality.
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. By using this perspective, he sought to illustrate how people waste much of their lives focusing on pursuits that end when they die.
In Ecclesiastes 2 we read about several different ways the Preacher sought to find purpose in life. Read Ecclesiastes 2:1–3, and notice how the writer sought purpose through amusement, pleasure, and laughter.
Read Ecclesiastes 2:4–10, looking for other ways the writer sought purpose in life. Consider marking what stands out to you.
How do people today seek purpose in this mortal life in similar ways?
Read Ecclesiastes 2:11, looking for what the author discovered about his labors.
- Answer the following questions in your scripture study journal:
What did the author realize about all of the works of his hands?
Do you agree or disagree with the Preacher’s conclusion? Why?
Read Ecclesiastes 3:1, looking for what the writer wanted us to understand about mortality.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained the significance of this verse. Read the following statement, and mark what he taught about timing: “In all the important decisions in our lives, what is most important is to do the right thing. Second, and only slightly behind the first, is to do the right thing at the right time. People who do the right thing at the wrong time can be frustrated and ineffective. They can even be confused about whether they made the right choice when what was wrong was not their choice but their timing” (“Timing,” Ensign, Oct. 2003, 10, 12).
In Ecclesiastes 4–10 the author 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. Read the scriptures referenced in the following chart, and match them with the appropriate phrase. (The correct answers are found at the end of this lesson.)
- Answer the following questions in your scripture study journal: Which of these proverbs do you feel is most helpful to you? Why?
Read Ecclesiastes 11:9, looking for what the writer wanted young people to understand about life.
In Ecclesiastes 12:1–7 the Preacher reiterated that everyone will one day die. Read Ecclesiastes 12:7, looking for what will happen when we die. In this verse, the phrase “then shall the dust return to the earth as it was” is another way of saying that after we die, our physical bodies will decay and return to the earth.
We learn from Ecclesiastes 12:7 that although we experience physical death, our spirits continue to live and will return to God. The phrase “return unto God” in this verse also affirms that we lived with God before we were born.
Other scriptures help us understand that at death our spirits do not immediately return to the presence of God; they go to the postmortal spirit world. In the spirit world we can continue to learn, grow, repent, and prepare for the time of the resurrection (see D&C 138:11–24).
As you read the following statement, underline what it teaches 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 , 52).
Take a sheet of paper and draw a line extending from one side to the other. Imagine that the line represents eternity and extends infinitely in both directions. How much of the line do you think could represent our mortal life? Make a mark on the line, and reflect on how short our mortal life is compared to eternity.
- Answer the following question in your scripture study journal: Why is the way we choose to spend our time and energy during mortality so important if our mortal life is so short compared to eternity?
Remember that the Preacher wanted us to understand in Ecclesiastes 1–10 that everything is empty, temporary, or meaningless in mortality when life is lived without an understanding of the plan of salvation.
Read Ecclesiastes 12:13–14, looking for what the author said is our duty or purpose in this life.
From these verses we learn that 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.
Read the following statement by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and mark phrases that teach us how understanding the preceding truth can influence the decisions we make now:
“As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have a special understanding of the eternal nature of our souls. We know that we had a premortal existence. …
“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. …
“Right now, this very moment, is part of our eternal progression towards returning with our families to the presence of our Father in Heaven. …
“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. …
“We know that death is a necessary transition. It will come sooner or later to each of us. Our mortal bodies will return to earth, and our spirits will return to the spirit world. 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).
- Answer the following question in your scripture study journal: How has focusing your time and efforts on the Lord and His work brought you purpose and joy in this life?
Ponder on your own life, and consider what you could do to focus more on God rather than on worldly pursuits. Be sure to act on the promptings you may receive as you ponder the changes you could make. Remember that the Lord can help you know what changes you may need to make and can give you strength to change as you seek His help.
The Song of Solomon is a collection of poetry and songs of love and affection. The Joseph Smith Translation manuscript states 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). You do not need to read the Song of Solomon.
- Write the following at the bottom of today’s assignments in your scripture study journal:
I have studied Ecclesiastes and completed this lesson on (date).
Additional questions, thoughts, and insights I would like to share with my teacher: