Ecclesiastes 1:  A Sad Song

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. Ecclesiastes 1:2


Apart from God, the Preacher is Right

 

Summary:  Chapter 1-2

The Teacher/Preacher launches his treatise with a cry:  “Meaningless!” (1:1-2).  He has examined history and nature and discovered only repeated cycles, with no progress toward any goal (vv. 3-11).  The initial pessimistic affirmation is followed by a carefully reasoned presentation of proof.  From 1:12 through 6:12 the Teacher explains how he reached his gloomy conclusion.  He has looked at those things in which men suppose they find meaning and found each empty and vain.  No ultimate value can be found in philosophy, in pleasure or wealth (2:1-11), in wisdom, or in personal accomplishments.  In the last analysis, man has no control over his situation in life.

Personal application.  If you look for meaning in the things this world has to offer, you are doomed to disappointment.

All Is Vanity

1 1  The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. 2  Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. 3  What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?

“Meaningless” (1:2).  The Heb. Word, hebel, means brief and insubstantial, empty and futile.  The sense of life’s emptiness is echoed some 30 times in this brief book.  His conviction is that no earthly experience itself, apart from any link with God, can satisfy.

4  One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. 5  The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth [1] to his place where he arose. 6  The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits. 7  All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return [2] again. 8  All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.

9  The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. 10  Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us. 11  There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.

“No remembrance” (1:11).  How can life have meaning when the individual not only loses his self-awareness in death, but his existence is not even remembered as Earth evolves on through its endless, weary cycles?  We believe that we are unique and important.  But how can our lives have meaning if we are not even remembered?

What an answer the rest of Scripture gives.  That unique self is not lost, but will exist throughout eternity.  We are not forgotten, for each of us is remembered by God.

The Experience of the Preacher

12  I the Preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13  And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith.

“Wisdom” (1:13).  Here “wisdom” has the meaning of “skillful thought.”  Man’s rational capacities may guide in this life but cannot solve its mysteries.

14  I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit. 15  That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting [3] cannot be numbered. 16  I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge. 17  And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit. 18  For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.


** It is scary to contemplate on darkness and our ultimate demise.  But I think it’s important to think about it.  No other creation wonders and worries about it.  Only we do.  What is the point of laboring and struggling all the days of our lives if everything passes away, we lose self-awareness, and will quickly be forgotten afterward?  Solomon asked this important question for us.  The wise king with great wealth declares that all of his accomplishments are worthless.  Then, he scales the steep wall of reasoning to see the morning star in chapter 12.  A hope!   Perhaps it was God’s intention for us humans to take this scary mental journey that starts with bad news and ends with good news.  From being dust in the wind to becoming God’s own children living happily ever after with Him.


Vanity

This word basically means “vapor” or “breath,” such as the rapidly vanishing vapor of one’s warm breath in cool, crisp air.  With this word, the Preacher described worldly pursuits – such as wealth, honor, fame, and various pleasures – as similar to desperately grasping at air.  It is absurd and useless.  Jeremiah used the same word to denounce idolatry as “worthless” and Job used it to bemoan the brevity of human life.  But the Preacher of Ecclesiastes used the word more than any other OT author.  According to him, all of life is vanity unless one recognizes that everything is from the hand of God (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26).