Poetry – Ecclesiastes 1-2

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:
“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”
What do people gain from all their labors
    at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
    but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
    and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
    and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
    ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
    yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
    there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
    more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
    nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say,
    “Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
    it was here before our time.
No one remembers the former generations,
    and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
    by those who follow them.
I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
What is crooked cannot be straightened;
    what is lacking cannot be counted.
I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.
For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
    the more knowledge, the more grief.

  • Ecclesiastes 1:1-18

I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.
I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
    I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
    and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
    and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
    nothing was gained under the sun.
Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom,
    and also madness and folly.
What more can the king’s successor do
    than what has already been done?
I saw that wisdom is better than folly,
    just as light is better than darkness.
The wise have eyes in their heads,
    while the fool walks in the darkness;
but I came to realize
    that the same fate overtakes them both.
Then I said to myself,
“The fate of the fool will overtake me also.
    What then do I gain by being wise?”
I said to myself,
    “This too is meaningless.”
For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered;
    the days have already come when both have been forgotten.
Like the fool, the wise too must die!
So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.
A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

  • Ecclesiastes 2:1-26

Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments

Ecclesiastes 1:1-2 ‘A journey like how Glen Campbell described in Gentle on my Mind’: “There once lived a man who had the time, the money, and the energy to take such a journey. Not just a mind trip, but in actuality. Not across the imaginary back roads of his memory by simply following the blue lines on a map, but into life itself. Because he was ‘free to walk’ and because no one was able to restrain him, he held nothing back. Thankfully, he kept an accurate journal of his journey, which is available for all to read.
“The man’s name was Solomon. The journal he kept is a book in the Bible named Ecclesiastes. Sounds like a strange name for the book, doesn’t it? It means ‘preacher,’ or ‘one who addresses an assembly.’ If you prefer, ‘speaker of the house’—and the house is symbolic of life itself. In the book, Solomon speaks to all of us about all of life.
“I should tell you ahead of time that the journey this man took, while mind-boggling, left him deflated, depressed, and disillusioned. The best word is empty … his favorite and most often repeated description of how he felt. In fact, Solomon’s motto appears on the frontispiece of his journal:
“Vanity of vanities …
“Vanity of vanities! All is vanity (1:2).
“Being interpreted in today’s terms, it is ‘a wisp of a vapor … a puff of wind … a hollow, empty ring … zero … ZILCH!’ That is the way Solomon described how he felt before he took his journey, while he endured his journey, and after the journey was over. Nothing satisfied. There was nothing that he saw, discovered, attempted, produced, initiated, or concluded as a result of his lengthy search that resulted in lasting significance or personal satisfaction.
“But wait. Before we allow ourselves to accept his desperate, sweeping admission, we must ask why. Why was it such a pointless, empty treadmill? Why wouldn’t the man who was king, who had such an endless supply of financial resources, find something—anything-—-that would have purpose?”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge

Ecclesiastes 1:3, 4-7 ‘profit’: “Meaning advantage to or gain from one’s labor, this is a very important and repeated word for Solomon (cf. 3:19; 5:9, 11, 16; 6:7, 11; 7:11, 12; 10:10). Solomon looks at the fleeting moments of life and the seemingly small gain for man’s activity under the sun. The key to understanding this seeming pessimistic view of life is to understand that the only lasting human efforts are those designed to accomplish God’s purposes for eternity. Without an eternal perspective and purpose, then all of life, viewed in a multigenerational sense, is futile and without purpose. labor. Labor is not just one’s livelihood, but all of man’s activity in life. Under the sun. The phrase appears about thirty times in the book to describe daily life.
[And then in Ecclesiastes 1:4-7] “These pictures from God’s creation illustrate and underscore the futile repetition of human activity.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Ecclesiastes 1:11 ‘no one remembers’: “Allow me a few minutes to set the stage by offering a bird’s-eye view of Solomon’s journal. A quick survey will reveal how hard the man tried to find meaning and satisfaction in life.
“In the first half of his journal, the monarch recorded much of what he encountered during his mid-life crisis. He really went for it! With unrestrained determination he set out on a pursuit to find a purpose in existence. With painful honesty he recorded how boring and how monotonous his search became. Right out of the chute, he said, ‘There’s no advantage … there will be no remembrance.’ ”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge

Ecclesiastes 1:13 ‘wisdom’: “Solomon’s use of the term, in typical Hebrew fashion, is more practical than philosophical and implies more than knowledge. It carries notions of ability for proper behavior, success, common sense, and wit. … Wisdom, wise appear at least fifty-one times in contrast to fool, foolish (at least seventeen times). burdensome task. Man’s search to understand is at times difficult, yet God-given (cf. 2:26; 3:10; 5:16-19; 6:2; 8:11, 15; 9:9; 12:11).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Ecclesiastes 1:18 ‘wisdom … much grief’: “The expected outcome of wisdom is success. Success, in turn, should bring happiness. But Solomon concluded that there were no guarantees, only multiple failures. This grieves the person who places his hope in human achievement alone.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Ecclesiastes 1 ‘Reflections’: “It has been suggested here before that life, for all its apparent complexities, is at bottom very simple indeed if we could only realize it. Thank God, only a few things matter. The rest are incidental and unimportant.
“Nothing that matters is new. ‘There is no new thing under the sun,’ said Solomon, and he could hardly have meant that there had been no mechanical development or social or political changes under the sun, for he observed elsewhere that man has ’sought out many inventions,’ and he had himself instituted quite a number of changes in the royal routine. The city of Jerusalem he left behind him when he died was quite another city from the one he took over from his father David. External changes were numerous even in those days, but in nature and in man nothing was new; and it was of these that Solomon wrote.
“Nothing is new that matters and nothing that matters can be modernized. One way to evaluate anything in the world around us is to check for possible modernization. If it can be modernized you may safely put it far down in the scale of human values. Only the unchanged and the unchanging should be accounted worthy of lasting consideration by beings made in the image of God.”

  • A. W. Tozer, Born after Midnight

Ecclesiastes 2:11, 17-18 ‘let’s try everything to find purpose?’: “Yet, in spite of this up-front admission, he was off on a search … determined to find something under the sun that would satisfy. What did he try? Hedonism—pleasure at all cost—was his first stop off. Laughter, comedy routines, booze, sex, entertainment, ego-building projects, art collections, fun trips, serious work, singing troupes, and a half dozen other attempts at happiness blew up in his face. Everything he tried, everywhere he turned … zero.”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge

Ecclesiastes 2:1-2 ‘becoming dead to this world’: “When l was a boy on the farm, we ‘butchered’ every year in the early fall. It was my job to coax the fattened hogs into the barn. l would throw them some corn, and they were pleased as they came grunting in with that corn still grinding in their mouths.
“But in minutes they were dead. My father would then bleed them and dress them out. That is how we got our supply of pork for the winter.
“The gullible pigs have never learned. Wherever they are, they are still being led to the slaughter generation after generation. All it takes is a supply of shelled corn!
“You may not like the illustration, but there are plenty of gullible people who have never recognized why they are being kept so busy and so well entertained with the things that are amusing and fun. Paul said that he had caught on—and he reckoned himself dead to this world and this world dead to him.”

  • A. W. Tozer, Jesus, Author of our Faith

Ecclesiastes 2:8 ‘musical instruments’: “This Hebrew word occurs only here in the OT. The meaning is indicated in an early Egyptian letter that used a similar Canaanite word for concubines. This fits Solomon’s 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kin. 11:3). Most likely this should be translated ‘harem,’ which would refer to Solomon’s many women (cf. 1 Kin. 11:3).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Ecclesiastes 2:11 ‘no profit’: “Vanity is defined in this context. The futility of the labor process is that Solomon had nothing of enduring and satisfying substance to show for it. Wisdom is no guarantee that a person will achieve satisfaction, even in accomplishments comparable to Solomon’s. To expend God-given resources for human accomplishment alone is empty and short-lived.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Ecclesiastes 2:14 ‘fool walks in darkness’: “The fool is not a person who is mentally deficient, but is morally bankrupt. It is not that he cannot learn wisdom, but that he won’t. He refuses to know, fear, and obey God.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Ecclesiastes 2:24 ‘Nothing is better.’: “Even with the limitations of this present life (cf. 3:12, 13, 22; 5:18, 19; 8:15; 9:7), humanity should rejoice in its temporal goodness. from the hand of God. Solomon’s strong view of God’s sovereignty brings comfort after an honest critique of what life in a cursed world involves.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

 

My Thoughts

I have written a few times about this precise topic.  It filters into a lot of the Philosophy essays – philosopher searches for meaning and purpose in life, but never looks toward God…

We must come to the realization that we live in a fallen world.  If we seek anything that is bound within this world, it will slip through our fingers.  Jesus taught that we should store treasures in Heaven and not here on earth where moth and rust can destroy them, or other references to nothing being permanent (Matthew 6:19-20).

But although I read the entire Bible from cover to cover many times over, I still fell prey to this power of this quest, to find my way in this world.  When you get a job, you work extra hard to impress the boss.  You do not feel fulfilled unless your efforts are recognized by promotions and pay raises.  But that is not a God-like motivation.  Sure, you want better things for your family.  Your children are constantly whining for more stuff.  “Dad, you are not keeping up!!  The game you bought me on Friday (saying this on Sunday) has already been mastered.  It is boring.  But there are so many more games you can buy.  Here is our shopping list.”  And the madness continues.  Both of our boys try to keep up with the latest gaming systems and games – but they are wasting their own money rather than mine.  When I visited our younger son recently, I told him that I had a few games on my tablet, but they were all free, and I mute the ads when they come on.  He rolled his eyes.

In playing video games, it is the perfect example of pleasure being meaningless.  But you gain treasures and bonuses and other stuff.  But those things can only be redeemed within the game so that you are even more addicted to the game.  I had a very simple game that I had to play for about twenty minutes every day in order to get the daily bonus.  But the bonus was boosters for the game or more daily free playing time.  I quit playing it.  When I realized the silliness, it became meaningless.

I have written volumes on toil being meaningless, even a few paragraphs ago.  You work hard to impress, but when I did that, two or three times over, the boss realized that I worked hard without being paid well, so my pay was freezed, or nearly freezed.    One of those employers had the audacity to admit that was why they were giving me poor pay increases.  Then they added, “And if you slow down, we will fire you, because we know the volume and quality you are capable of producing.”  Evil? Absolutely, but most definitely, meaningless.  Another of those employers talked about how the customers would give the contract to another company if I got a meaningful pay increase.  Again, evil and meaningless.

And wisdom?  I have written over one hundred essays in the Philosophy category.  There are two things that are significant in those articles.  Most of those philosophers were looking for wisdom, meaning, purpose in life, something – without looking toward God, the source of all those things.  And that is the reason for writing them.  I do not write them to blindly help people to learn how to think – a skill that is rapidly disappearing in this modern “information” age.  Really the “lack of information” age, at least truthful information – which is always there in the Bible.  No, I truly believe that the more people get beyond the “because I said so or think so” barrier – when they truly start thinking – they will find that Jesus has all the answers to their questions.  Not all will be answered in this life, but I do not need to know what God is not ready to reveal.  My point is that God has revealed enough, but those who do not believe are blind to the evidence.

We recently visited someone who bragged a lot.  As the stories got more and more extravagant and wild, my son asked me later, “Don’t you need to have a special research grant to even be in that part of the world?  Are any of his stories true?  But they sure make you want to do that and jealous that you can’t afford to do it.”  Ah, the true reason for the brag, for others to be jealous of his “accomplishments” which are all meaningless, if they are even true.

And as the scholars pointed out, Solomon’s request to God was for wisdom.  He had what most of us would dream to one day obtain, but Solomon found it meaningless.  And anything that we cannot take with us is meaningless.

But I truly feel that when we devote our time to becoming more like Jesus, that will bring forth value in the next life – the only thing that we can take with us upon leaving this world (and universe) is our love of God and specifically Jesus.

Some Serendipitous Reflections

Ecclesiastes 1 Everything: 1. What areas of life do you take too seriously?
“2.What parallel do you see between this passage and Christ’s saying, ‘What does it profit a man…’ (Mk 8:36)’?
“3. For what have you spent your life laboring? What do you have to show for it?
“4. For what would you like to be remembered after you are long gone?
Ecclesiastes 1 Wisdom: 1. Where ‘under heaven’ have you searched for meaning? Where have you found it?
“2. In what instances has knowledge caused you sorrow?
Ecclesiastes 2 Pleasures: 1. What is the most important project you have undertaken in the last year? How do you measure your success in that?
“2. Do you see yourself as more led by your heart, or by your head? In what areas to you find yourself controlled more by your desires than by wisdom?
“3. Do you regard death as the final tragedy or the final triumph? is the death of the fool different from that of the wise? How can you prepare yourself for death?
“4. How does a passage like this help you focus on the truly important things in life? What are they?

Ecclesiastes 2 Toil: 1. Why do you work? When do you most feel like not working?
“2. Do you see your work as a gift from God, as drudgery, or both? Does that make you grateful, even for the drudgery, or hateful? Why?”

  • Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups

There are two sets of questions for each chapter.

Substitute whatever group for any reference to a small group or ask who could come to your aid.

If you like these Thursday morning Bible studies, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Thursday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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