Summary: In today's lesson we are warned that apart from God, we will not gain anything from all our toil.
People today want to live meaningful lives. They have questions such as:
• What is the meaning of life?
• Why am I so unhappy?
• Does God really care?
• Why is there so much suffering in the world?
• Why is there so much injustice in the world?
• Is life really worth living?
• Is this life all there is?
The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes answers these questions. The book of Ecclesiastes teaches us how to live a meaningful life. And so last week I started a series of sermons on the book of Ecclesiastes that I have titled, “Living a Meaningful Life.”
So, with that in mind, let me read Ecclesiastes 1:1-11:
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.
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. (Ecclesiastes 1:1-11)
Taxi drivers like to boast about the famous people they carry in their cabs. A story is told about one such taxi driver who said, “I had the philosopher, Bertrand Russell, in my cab the other day. I said to him, ‘Bertie! What’s it all about then?’ Do you know, he couldn’t tell me!”
From time to time everyone pauses and asks, “What is the meaning of life?” For some, it is only a momentary question—and they soon turn their attention to other matters.
But others want to probe the question more deeply. Probing the meaning of life can be an uncomfortable pursuit as it brings us face to face with reality and eternity.
When things are going well, we may easily avoid the question, busying ourselves in our day-to-day activities—filling the gaps with entertaining diversions—making the most of the time we have allocated to us.
On occasions of sickness, national disaster, or bereavement, however, the question comes back to us and we pause a little longer—trying to make sense of the seeming futility that lies before us—before getting back on track and avoiding the issue until the next time it is thrust upon us!
The writer of Ecclesiastes, however, does not run away from the problem—he faces it boldly—devoting much time to its study. His conclusions strike a chord in the heart of modern people and point us to the true meaning of life.
In this introductory section the author identified himself (1:1), stated his theme (1:2), and defended his theme in general terms (1:3-11). In today’s lesson we are warned that apart from God, we will not gain anything from all our toil.
I. The Author of Ecclesiastes (1:1)
First, notice the author of Ecclesiastes.
The author of Ecclesiastes simply identifies himself in verse 1 as follows, “The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.”
The Hebrew translation of “the Preacher” is Qoheleth (1:1-2; cf. 1:12; 7:27; 12:8-10). Qoheleth is a title and not a name. In the Greek translation of this book Qoheleth is translated as Ekklesiastes, which is where the English name of this book comes from. Both Qoheleth and Ecclesiastes mean, “one who calls an assembly.” And that is why various Bibles translate the word as “the Preacher” (ESV, KJV), “the Teacher” (NIV), or “the Leader of the Assembly” (NIV margin). As I said last week, I shall refer to the author either as “the Preacher” or as “Qoheleth.”
Scholars are divided on the question as to whether or not Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes. I am not so sure that he did (for reasons that I mentioned in my previous message on Ecclesiastes).
Most likely, Ecclesiastes was “written many centuries after Solomon, most probably in the third century BC.” (Again, see my previous message about the reasons for the dating of Ecclesiastes.)