It took days and days of concentrated study to be able to work out a good outline of Ecclesiastes. I copied every outline from my six commentaries and was unsatisfied with any of them. I tried to get a fairly accurate outline before my in-depth study just as a beginning and then revised this outline continually during the study. I thought I had a fairly good outline until I had studied past the first six chapters and then realized it didn’t fit just right for the second half of the book. And so, it has been real “labor” to get this outline finished!
What makes a satisfactory outline? To my mind, it must not merely state some of the concepts in the book, but must correctly get at the overall ideas and purposes of the development of the book. The outline should not merely tell the “trees in the forest” but should reveal the main areas of the forest: it should be the “map” which stops a person from getting lost in the new terrain. It must, in short, aid to make the book clear.
The outline I now have has done that for me. It seems to me that this outline accurately summarizes the book’s divisions and makes the main thoughts of each new section clear and easier to understand as well as remember.
Basically, the book of Ecclesiastes has two main divisions. Each division is exactly half of the book, six chapters. Ecclesiastes 1-6 try to find meaning in life APART FROM GOD, but conclude that this is futile, that meaning in life is to be found only in God. The Ecclesiastes 7-12 start with this conclusion from the first six chapters and approach the problems of life from the opposite viewpoint, seeking to see how GOD’S WISDOM can be seen in the apparently vain and troubling situations of life. So the twelve chapters have six chapters dealing with life as seen apart from God and six dealing with life as seen in submission to God…or, stated another way, six analyzing THE UNBRLIEVER’S ATTEMPTS TO FIND WISDOM and six analyzing THE WISDOM OF FAITH IN GOD.
Within these two distinct halves, each half has three distinct parts. The first half of the book has one chapter which is INTRODUCTION, two chapters which recount PERSONAL EXPERIENCES, and three chapters which REFUTE AGNOSTIC ERRORS. The second half of the book has three chapters which teach the basic PRINCIPLES OF GODLY WISDOM and then two chapters which APPLY GODLY WISDOM to certain situations in life and finally one chapter of CONCLUSION.
Notice how easy the divisions are to remember 1-2-3-3-2-1! If you can remember the titles of the main divisions along with this 1-2-3-3-2-1 chapter division, then this should help you remember which chapters go with each division of the book.
In outline form, then, here is Ecclesiastes.
“THE PREACHER’S SERMON”
Theme: “The Search for Meaning in Labor and Life”
CHAPTER 1: Introduction
PART I: Vanity in labor/life apart from God
CHAPTERS 2, 3: Personal Experiences
CHAPTERS 4-6: Refuting Agnostic Errors
PART II: Meaning in Labor/Life Found in God
CHAPTERS 7-9: Principles of Godly Wisdom
CHAPTERS 10-11: Applications of Godly Wisdom
CHAPTER 12: Conclusion
So, think through the book a minute with your eyes closed…and repeat this once a week (or so) as we go on in this study. Just think:
1 chapter = Introduction
2 chapters = Personal Experiences
3 chapters = Refuting Agnostic Errors
3 chapters = Principles of Godly Wisdom
2 chapters = Applications of Godly Wisdom
1 chapter = Conclusion
That’s not really so difficult, is it? I had no idea when I first started trying that the book would divide up so well for easy memory…until it actually did!
A good outline is not our primary goal in this study, of course. Rather, a good outline is a good aid towards reaching our goal. May our goal continually be to understand correctly God’s message to us, putting His Word into our hearts so that we may walk in wisdom before Him.
1. What is the usefulness of a good outline?
2. What are the two main divisions of Ecclesiastes?
3. What are the sub-points of each half?
4. How can you easily think through Ecclesiastes?