From Ecclesiastes 1-4
Today we start Ecclesiastes. The Preacher begins on a sober note. The significant motif of the book raises the question about the meaning of life. To a significant extent the answer he comes to is that life is meaningless and vanity. But there is more as we will eventually see in the next few days.
This post is part of my bible in a year series.
Passage and Comments
1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
2 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
3 What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?
4 A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns.
7 All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. (Ec 1:1–7)
The three main Hebrew words translated as vanity are hebel, šāw, and tôhû. Figuratively heḇel conveys the idea of unsubstantial and worthless. With šāw’ the idea of ‘foul’, ‘unseemly’, ‘evil’ is introduced. Tōhû, lit. ‘a waste’ (cf. Gn. 1:1; Dt. 32:10, etc.), then figuratively ‘emptiness’, and ‘uselessness’. (McDonald, H. D. (1996). ‘Vanity, Vain’. In (D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, & D. J. Wiseman, Eds. New Bible dictionary. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.)
The Preacher asks ‘What does man gain by all the toil?’ What is the point of life? Of our work? The Preacher sees endless repetition in creation, nothing changes. People and generations come and go. When will it end? When will things be different?
8 All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
9 What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us.
11 There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after. (Ec 1:8-11)
Life is wearisome. Full of toil. So what’s the point? ‘There is nothing new under the sun’. The expression is biblical. Nothing changes. If someone thinks they have seen something new, they have only forgotten the past.
12 I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 14 I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.
15 What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted. (Ec 1:12–15)
The Preacher has turned and applied himself to gaining wisdom and understanding. But even this has turned to ashes. He cannot correct the evils of the world. He cannot makeup for every wrongdoing.
16 I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” 17 And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind.
18 For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow. (Ec 1:16–18)
The Preacher has a serious pessimistic streak in his perspective don’t you think?
Story of Jesus
The desire for purpose runs deep in our lives. The Preacher questions the point of life. What is the point of work, pleasure and wisdom? We will all die eventually. But if we know our place in life and where we fit in God’s plans we have purpose and hope.
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Rom 8.28-30)
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Pet 2.9-12)
Why has God put you where you are? Where are you going? What things can you do that will last beyond your life now?
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