Summary: We can live a meaningful life4 in a world filled with vain pursuits.
Title: Chasing After the Wind
Text: Ecclesiastes 1:12-18
Thesis: We can live a meaningful life in a world filled with vain pursuits.
The Book of Ecclesiastes is one of my favorite bible books… despite its reputation as somewhat of a downer, I find it to be filled with wit and wisdom and a rather healthy perspective for approaching life.
We traditionally ascribe the authorship of three Old Testament Books to King Solomon… scholars say
• The Song of Songs was written by Solomon in his youth; (reckless and madly in love)
• Proverbs was written by King Solomon in his midlife;(older and wiser… I wish I knew then what I know now stage in life) and
• Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon in his old age – hence the ccynicism.
The tone of the book of Ecclesiastes is that of a person who has lived long and has grown what one might call, “world-weary.” It is the writing of a man who has observed a world in constant change and yet never really changing. In retrospect he sees life as cyclical (i.e., in the fashion world, if you wait long enough it will become popular again and in life, history tends to repeat itself) he struggles with the harsh realities of human existence. So he begins his book with the famous lines, Vanity of vanities,” says the preacher, “all is vanity.”
The Hebrews word is from which the word “vanity” is translated is “hevel.” When something is said to be “hevel” it is understood to be insubstantial or fleeting or worthless or pointless or futile. So when the author says “vanity of vanities” he is saying not only are life’s pursuits vane, they are the vainest of vanities. The NIV puts it, “”Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless.”
If in fact wisdom and knowledge and understanding are meaningless,
I. So much for being informed
I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men! I have seen the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. What is twisted cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted.” Ecclesiastes 1:13-15
Solomon was not always cynical about accumulation of knowledge.
A. Wisdom and understanding, i.e., a discerning heart, was important to Solomon.
The writer described himself as a person who was dedicated to gaining wisdom and understanding. In some versions translators say he calls himself “the Teacher” and in others, “the Preacher.” In The Message, Eugene Peterson says Solomon calls himself, ‘the Quester,” which is probably the most pertinent word in this context. Solomon was a man on a journey to seek out and investigate and explore life. His approach to understanding the ways of the world was to launch an investigation.
In the book of I Kings there is a story about how God came to Solomon in a dream and said, “Ask for whatever you want and I will give it to you.” Solomon thought about it for a bit and then he replied to God, “You have made me king in place of my father David. But I am only a child and do not know how to carry out my duties… so give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between good and evil.” God was pleased with Solomon’s request and gave him this blessing, “Since you have asked for this and not for a long life or for wealth for yourself, nor have you wished for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administrating justice, I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for, both riches and honor and a long life.” I Kings 3:9-14
Shortly thereafter Solomon had an interesting opportunity to demonstrate that wisdom in settling a dispute between two women who lived in the same house.
They came to see Solomon in attempt to resolve a dispute. One woman told Solomon that they both lived in the same house. She said, “I had a baby… and then the third day after my baby was born, she had a baby. We were alone; there was no one in the house but the two of us.” She went on to say that during the night the other woman had laid on and suffocated her own son and then switched her dead baby with her living baby. When she woke up to nurse her baby she saw that the dead baby at her side was not her baby.
Of course the other woman objected and claimed the story was not true… and so the argument ensued, “The living baby is mine and the dead baby is yours.” And then “No, the living baby is mine and the dead baby is yours.”