6. A certain order and accurate method is hardly able to be discovered in this book. The parts of the book are three: I. The Thesis of the whole book (Ecclesiastes 1:1, 2). II. Demonstration of the Thesis, with various arguments and specimens of the vanity of those things that the commonality and human flesh place in their reckoning of true goods; with useful proverbs sprinkled here and there (Ecclesiastes 1:3-12:7). III. The Conclusion of the book (Ecclesiastes 12:8-14). A Synoptic Table of the book, and its Interpreters, ancient, Reformed, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Hebrew.
Some otherwise very learned Men have attempted to elicit the order of the book in a certain continuous Analysis. Still others frankly admit that they are not able to find a precise layout agreeable to the rules of Logic in this book, either because Solomon did not attend to a method of this sort, so common among us, and according to the manner of the multiple vanities occurring to his mind put the same to paper: or because our humble abilities are not able to follow that most subtle acumen of so great a King. Yet it is not at all doubtful, that, in the first place, the statement or thesis of all is fixed (Ecclesiastes 1:1, 2); in the second place, the same is various demonstrated (Ecclesiastes 1:3-12:7); and finally, in the third place, the book is concluded with a brief declaration of that in which, as the only blessedness, all the study of man ought to be placed (Ecclesiastes 12:8-14). Whence a tripartite division of the book, namely, into a thesis, the demonstration of the thesis, and an Epilogue, does not displease.
I. The Thesis of the whole book, Chapter 1:1-2: That all things (with the exception of the fear of God) are vain, indeed, altogether vain.
II. The demonstration of the thesis, with the introduction of various arguments and specimens of the vanity of those things that common people and human flesh reckon among true goods, with useful proverbs also sprinkled here and there, Chapters 1:3-12:7. See:
1. The vanities observed in the private experience of Solomon: chapters 1; 2. In which upon the labor of man, from which he looks for profit, he pronounces the sentence of vanity:
a. From the unchangeable course of all visible things, and also the unspeakable difficulty of all things (verses 3-11): chapter 1:3-11.
b. From the kinds of human works, which are nothing other than vanity and wearying of spirit, of which sort are:
α. The Height of Wisdom, which he argues to be of vanity, as the kindling of disgust and anxiety (verses 12-18): chapter 1:12-18.
β. Joy and laughter (verses 1-3); various magnificent works, palaces, vineyards, gardens, etc. (verses 4-6); household and private holdings (verse 7); treasures and various delights (verse 8); power, wisdom, etc. (verse 9-11); wisdom compared with foolishness, in which he argues that on earth the recompense of both is the same (verses 12-24); and, finally, pleasure in eating and drinking (verses 25, 26): chapter 2.
2. Shared vanities, of which sort are:
a. The alterations of all things, except the making of troubles (verses 1-9); the toil of man concerning the Divine works, which toild he convicts of infirmity (verses 10-15); human judgments, exceedingly perverse, and to be corrected by the Divine judgment (verses 16, 17); the accidents and ends of the external man, like those of brute animals (verses 18-22): chapter 3.
b. Joy and εὐθυμία/cheerfulness (expressed in Ecclesiastes 3:22), which he teaches to be variously reversed, both by the violence of oppressors (verses 1-3), and by personal passion, emulation, and hatred among diverse, and avarice among the solitary (verses 4-8), where the social life is preferred to the solitary (verses 9-12); and also Royal dignity conjoined with stupidity (verses 13-16), where the study of the Divine word is commended (Ecclesiastes 5:1): chapters 4:1-5:1.
3. Various proverbs, as:
a. Concerning rash vows (verses 2-7), the oppression of the poor, which God regards (verse 8), the utility of agriculture (verse 9), the vanity of riches (verses 10-17), and their appropriate use (verses 18-20): chapter 5:2-20.
b. Concerning the vanity of those same riches, which some do not have a mind to enjoy, while others are not able to be filled with them (verses 1-9), and also the vanity of the pursuit of a good reputation (verses 10, 11): chapter 6:1-11.
c. Concerning the vanity of human life (Ecclesiastes 6:12), the proper pursuit of a good reputation (verse 1), the banishing of carnal security and joy (verses 2-6), the shunning of injustice (verse 7), longsuffering and patience (verses 8-10), the pursuit of wisdom (verses 11, 12), equanimity in prosperity and adversity (verses 13, 14), observing the mean between excessive righteousness and excessive impiety (verses 15-18), esteeming wisdom (verses 19, 20), not excessively taking note of curses (verses 21, 22), the imperfection of wisdom in this life (verses 23-29): chapters 6:12-7:29.
d. Concerning obedience towards superiors (verses 1-5), observing opportunities (verses 6-8), the veneration of the Divine government and providence (verses 9-15), the unsearchableness of God’s works (verses 16, 17): chapter 8.
e. The φαινομένῃ/apparent equality of the ends of the righteous and the wicked (verses 1-3), the dreadfulness of death (verses 4-6), the pleasant enjoyment of goods and the resignation of the outcome of matters to God (verses 7-12), the dignity of wisdom (verses 13-18): chapter 9.
f. Concerning the injury of folly in general (verses 1-3), and in particular in the anger and honor of superiors (verses 4-7), in labors (verses 8-10), in speech (verses 11-14), in exertions (verse 15), in Magistracy (verses 16-20): chapter 10.
g. Concerning the giving of Alms (verses 1-6), and the right use of this present life (verses 7-10): chapter 11.
h. Concerning the early instruction of youth unto piety (verses 1-7): chapter 12:1-7.
III. The conclusion of the book, Chapter 12:8-14: wherein Solomon,
1. Concludes the thesis posited from the beginning concerning the vanity of all things (verse 8): chapter 12:8.
2. Relates the use of the thesis, and the scope of the whole book, in which, with attention solicitously seized, he solemnly confirms the precept concerning the fear of God, and the keeping of His precepts (verses 9-14): chapter 12:9-14.