For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.
1 John 2:16 - 2:17
What profit has a man from all his labour in which he toils under the sun?
How much money do you need to make you happy? As it transpires you need about 10% more than you have, irrespective how rich you are. The trouble is, if you succeed in gaining that 10%, you actually need another 10%. If you work hard and actually accumulate wealth, do you have any control over it once you die? King Solomon asks this question and the answer really bothers him. He also asked: “how much pleasure (or money) do you need?” If you never worked but had pleasure all the days of your life would you be any happier. As it transpires, work actually prolongs life and working is good for your mental health.
The book of Ecclesiastes is in one way like a pastor guiding his flock rather than a sergeant major commanding a pontoon. On the other hand the word of Ecclesiastes appears to be that of a debater (qoheleth i.e. ko-heh’ leth meaning “to assemble”), which the KJV and most other versions translate as “preacher”. It is actually impossible to translate the meaning into English. A better rendition may be “Confessions of the heart of King Solomon, the Son of David”. Today I will use the term “King Solomon” or “Preacher”, which is acceptable given the writer was the Son of David (verse 1) and the king over Israel in Jerusalem (verse 12).
In another way the book is written like a student defending his thesis. It is a debater speaking before an assembly or group of people. This is where the name of the book comes from: “ecclesia” meaning to assembly or congregate. This word is used by Solomon, and is rendered “preacher” in most bibles, being used seven times in Ecclesiastes.
The Preacher debates the hypothesis that all we do under the sun is vanity (or is meaningless, if you are reading from the NIV). Indeed 28 times the word vanity or vanities is mentioned. The Preacher is debating a thesis or a point – and it is this fact that we need to understand. The point being debated only gives one side of the story: or nearly so, for a careful reader will find some allusion to the other side, but it is further elaborated on by the other great wise man – Jesus Christ. In essence this book cannot be read without the gospel of Christ, which is why the Bible consists of more than one book, all bound together into one – the Debater raises the issue – why do we labour so hard, when we all will die? The gospel of Christ answers this question which is found in the New Testament.
The question being answered is given in verse 3 (Ecc. 3:1): If a man labours all day and every day, and gains or loses much, what is the point? It appears it does not matter how hard he labours, he is never completely satisfied. Note that this labour may not just be work – Solomon expands this into other activities such as pleasure, which we will explore in a minute. The dilemma for a Christian is the book appears to be very negative – it appears that one cannot even labour for God and have it profit anything. But the key to this is the phrase “under the sun” which Solomon uses 27 times.
Look at the following chapter & verses:
1:3 “toils under the sun” was meaningless – working long and hard is vanity.
1:14 Solomon had seen all the “works under the sun” – all was a grasping for the wind. This is another phrase the Preacher uses often: “grasping for the wind” to indicate that it matters not how much we work, how much we eat, enjoy friendship including endless sex, or having pleasure; we will never quite get there. A puff of wind comes and our sense of purpose disappears – can you grasp it and hold it – no! Our life under the sun can never quite be grasped because death will come.
3:16 The meaninglessness extends to civil activities – the places of judgement and righteousness – the parliaments and councils and courts which are all corruptible.
4:1 Furthermore, Solomon realises the entire world is bordering on being meaningless – he looks around and sees great oppression, all of which is meaningless.
9:3 Solomon observes that the world is full of men whose heart is evil and deceitful.
The conclusion by verse 11 (Ecc 1:11) is one of hopelessness and despair, one of difficulty and disappointment. Indeed, some may see a sign of fatalism in the book, yet this is not the case. The book however is a contrast – the matching pair is the New Testament – Solomon speaks of things “under the sun” while Jesus speaks of things “under heaven”. For example, the New Testament examines the purpose of:
And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Colossians 3:23 (KJV)
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 15:58
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. John 6:47 (KJV)
Solomon himself contrasts that which is under the sun with that which is heavenward (that which pleases God). He found the former pleases solely the heart, which is like grasping for the wind - empty. The later pleases God. Therefore, the book does not stand alone, and it is available for study like any other book in the Bible: the right view point however must be taken. The book is the viewpoint of the natural man searching out the things on this planet.
The other phrase the Preachers uses to indicate the futility of the action is “wind”. The wind is first mentioned in verse 6 (Ecc 1:6) as an example if the cyclic nature of life – this is taken up in chapter 3, which we will not get into today. It is a contrast – God has a purpose and everything He has created has a purpose. Man has a purpose, but his heart is set against God and whose outcome is a “grasping for the wind” or “chasing after the wind” (NIV) as in verses 14 & 17 in chapter 1 and 11, 17 & 26 in chapter 2. This phrase is mentioned a total of nine (9) times and gives the essence of uselessness in purpose; an emptiness.
Solomon did not just observe the world idly and make a few comments. He was a diligent researcher of his topic: he threw his whole mind, body and soul into the tasks. Just note the number of times the word “I” is used in the book (65 times). Verse 13 (Ecc 1:13) he set his heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven. Furthermore, this was not of his own volition. We see in verse 13 that it was a task God set for him to do – so that we might know that our labour on earth is vanity – meaningless, unless it is done for the Lord. We might however note that he succumbed to sin and pride of his intellect (for he was the most wise of all men, but certainly not the most humble) and he “gave his heart” to seek the pleasures of his heart. As Henry M Morris points out:
“Research on the systems and processes of God’s creation is legitimate, even commanded under God’s primeval dominion mandate (Gen 1:26-28), but not is the motivation is to explain all things without God, as out modern scientists have done”. He goes on to explain that our labour needs to honour God.
The Preacher sets his whole heart in understanding the matter. Charles Swindoll writes “He investigated the roots of the matter, he explored, he examined all sides, he experimented”.
The first conclusion the Preacher comes up with is found in verse 18:
For in much wisdom is much grief, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow. Ecclesiastes 1:18
In chapter 2 we find a range of experiences which all end in his conclusion – these activities were meaningless – vanity.
He finds that the great wisdom he has attained is a striving after the wind - meaningless.
Solomon moves on. He uses wisdom (Ecc 1:12-18) and finds that is comes to nothing – indeed he finds emptiness (Ecc 1:14). In today’s world we can equate this to philosophy – empty and deceitful (Col 2:8) because it is merely after the tradition of men, thus limited to the experiences of the sinful nature.
He also tries personal experience; he turns to pleasure and tries laughter – look at chapter 2 and verses 1 & 2 (Ecc 2:1, 2). “Be Happy” and Solomon finds it does not satisfy. He tries lust (1-3), alcohol (4) which we all know will always fail. He tries satisfying the lust of the eyes (4-6), then his pride (7-8) and concludes “I was great (9)” and yet all was vanity.
He then moves from objects to philosophy (12-14) – and becomes a Camus or Nietzsche or Dostoyevsky or Pascal or a nihilist and finds none can satisfy. The philosophy of man cannot possibly satisfy the hunger of the soul – only God can fill this.
The problem Solomon could not solve – he could not answer the basic question – why live? Because whether rich or poor, fool or wise, happy or sad you all die. Furthermore, no-one will remember you (Ecc. 2:16). We could stop at this point and drive our car into a tree as the philosophy Camus did: but chapter 12 gives a stark contrast “Remember now your creator” and in verse 13 of the chapter 12 “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is man’s all”.
Chapter 12 is the climactic chapter of the book. Verse 1 of this chapter reminds us that we are not just objects without beginning or end. Chapter 3 tells us there is a time to be born and a time die – each have a specific purpose. Chapter 12 tells us we can create and for this reason we have meaning, which rests in the character of God himself. Therefore, the way to understanding life is vested with God because He is our creator. What better person to understand the intricacies of a complex object than its creator! Indeed as His created being we have an obligation to serve and worship him. Isaiah explains the relationship of the creator and created using the analogy of the potter and his pot.
Surely you have things turned around! Shall the potter be regarded [esteemed] as the clay; for shall the thing made say of him who made it, "He did not make me"? Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it, "He has no understanding"? Isaiah 29:16
This is what the world has forgotten as it thumbs its nose at God – He is the creator and will restore all things.
Our purpose in life however cannot be accomplished while we are distant or separated from Him due to our sin. We must first have our sins judged and forgiven by that same Creator. This same creator defeated death at the cross and now offers salvation to all who accept it. Therefore, without God in our life, life is meaningless – we are merely a bag of chemicals whose life is a puff of wind. Without Him we are destine to die in our sins. This does not mean a godless person will not find happiness or even contentment, but if that person attempts to think beyond the reason of their existence, they come to same conclusion as Solomon. And of course their soul will perish in hell. Thus for a godless person, it is as good as it will get, for a Christian, the best yet is still to come and today, is as worse as it can get.
The answer to the problem of death, which is what Ecclesiastes is really about, lies in the resurrection. The problem of death is, if we have no resurrection, life is meaningless – indeed we are no different than the tree or animals. This Solomon acknowledges in chapter 3. The Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians shows that we will be extremely miserable if this fact is not true. 1 Corinthians 15: 12-19 argues eloquently that if there is no resurrection, then Jesus Christ could not have possibly risen, and if this is the case, our sins cannot not have been forgiven, therefore we will all die. And it is beyond doubt that if we die in our sins we will end in hell, which is prepared for Satan and his angels, because the wages [or payment] of sin is death. And therefore if this was the case we are putting our hope in something meaningless and therefore we are of “all men the most pitiable”.
However, as this chapter shows (1 Corinthians 15), which is by far one of the most important chapters in the New Testament, there is a resurrection. Paul knew it as did the many eye-witnesses:
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 1 Corinthians 15:20-21
Jesus Christ died for our sins. He defeated death and has returned to heaven – the first amongst the dead. For this reason he is call the “first-fruits”, a term used in the Old Testament in relation to various sacrifices that involved the first of the harvest (e.g. Exodus 23:19). Jesus, who overcame death, because he rose from the dead, now is “the resurrection of the dead”. This means that since Christ rose, so will we. Therefore, Paul was move to write:
Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 15:54 - 58
And therefore we have answered the question of Solomon. Our labour, our strivings, our friendships, possessions and things we do are not in vain. But only if do all for the glory of God –– it has a purpose. We may not always understand this purpose especially when bad things happen, but as Paul also tells us in Romans;
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28
How do we undertake God’s purpose? Solomon writes in the last chapter:
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” Ecclesiasts 12:13
John gives us the New Testament perspective: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His Commandments: and His commandments are not grievous (1 John 5:3). This means we need to keep God’s commandments. The Psalmist writes:
“Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight”. Psalm 119:35.
The one who has his sins forgiven, who shares the love of Christ with others are able to “delight” in the commandments of the Lord. In this we give our life meaning.
The final word of Solomon is that God will bring every “work” into judgement including every secret thing, whether good and evil. This is a clear reminder that we cannot hide anything from God. Perhaps the hardest thing we have to control is our mind – and as Jesus reminded us, the heart attitude is as important, if not more important than the action itself. We need to take control – capture those evil thoughts - of the mind; take control of the heart and lead it into godliness – this is done with the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Those without Christ will be judged and cast into hell. Christians:
... must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 2 Corinthians 5:10
All our secret sins will be revealed for all to see (nothing covered will not be revealed; Luke 12:2) and we surely shall be ashamed. That which is not silver and gold will be destroyed by fire. Of course, sin can be done away with – if we confess them to God, He is just and able to forgive them (1 John 1:9). If this is the case, the judgement seat, becomes one of rewards – we are judged and rewarded accordingly.
Life is considered meaningless if we merely lived and died. But because we can live and die and rise again to be with Christ life has all meaning. We live for the creator – the Lord God Most High - to do the purpose of the creator; merely pleasing Him gives us purpose. The meaning in our life comes about as we do the commands of God, love him, love others as he loved us and go about telling others of that love. We will have eternal purpose when we tell the gospel of Christ.
In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. John 7:37, 38
 There is of course much rubbish written about alternative authors, that do not accept that a wise man (See 1 Kings 4:29-34, 1 Kings 10:23 etc.) could have written this book with two “bookends” or with a “frame” (1:1-11 and 12:9-14) with a central portion, without requiring two separate authors. Furthermore, just as the wise today will take some verse or prose or quote in an alternative language than the one being written, we see that Solomon was capable of the same thing; so to have Aramaic words in a Hebrew text cannot be surprising. Luther may have started the debate about alternate authors, overthrowing hundreds of years of understanding by Jewish scholars, but these had a far boarder and deeper understanding of its place in the Canon then he. Solomon wrote the piece as indicated – there is no need to question this fact any further.
 Morris, Henry M (2001) The Remarkable Wisdom of Solomon. Ancient insights from the Song of Solomon, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, Master Books, USA, pp186.
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