Summary: This is a verse by verse look at the first chapter of Ecclesiastes - verse by verse.
Ecclesiastes Chapter One
Ecclesiastes 1:1 (NASB) The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
Verse one identifies the author as Solomon. The Hebrew word that is translated preacher is a word that means a collector of sentences. It can mean a preacher, a lecturer, a public speaker, or a debater. Thus the verse could read - "The words of the Debater, the son of David, the king of Jerusalem." This word is used seven times in the Old Testament - all of them in the book of Ecclesiastes.
Ecclesiastes 1:2 (NASB) "Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher, "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity."
This verse strikes the key-note of the whole book of Ecclesiastes. In using this expression, "Vanity of vanities!" the author indicates the unity of the book. If you look at the world from a view that there is no God - then all will be vanity. Life without God makes no sense - it has no purpose. The word translated “vanity” in its primary meaning denotes breath or vapor. The word vanity literally means that which vanishes. It's nothing. You go to get it and it vanishes. It's not there. It's an emptiness. It occurs thirty-seven times in this book.
Ecclesiastes 1:3 (NASB) What advantage does man have in all his work Which he does under the sun?
If there is no God - if there is no future reward or punishment - if there is no heaven or hell what difference does it make? He is toiling in vain.
Ellicott has said: "Man is perpetually toiling, yet of all his toil there remains no abiding result. The natural world exhibits a spectacle of unceasing activity, with no real progress. The sun, the winds, the waters, are all in motion, yet they do but run a round, and nothing comes of it."
The phrase "under the sun" refers to the natural world.
Ecclesiastes 1:4 (NASB) A generation goes and a generation comes, But the earth remains forever.
What is the life of a man upon the earth compared to the age of the earth? Many people come and go and the memory of them is soon passed. If I were to mention the name "Xerxes" (519–465 BC) I venture to say that most in this generation would not know it. Yet he was ruler of most of the known world in his lifetime. Trapp has said:
"Xerxes, looking upon his huge army, wept to think that, within less than a hundred years, not one of those many should be left alive. Mortality is the stage of mutability; mere man is but the dream of a dream, but the generation of a fancy, but an empty vanity, but the curious picture of nothing, a poor feeble, unable, dying flash. How then can he here work out unto himself a happiness worth having? Why should he lay up and "load himself with thick clay," as if his life were riveted upon eternity?"
Ecclesiastes 1:5 (NASB) Also, the sun rises and the sun sets; And hastening to its place it rises there again.
The things in nature are always in motion - yet they never change. The sun rises and the sun sets only to rise again. Over and over again this happens and does not end.
Ecclesiastes 1:6 (NASB) Blowing toward the south, Then turning toward the north, The wind continues swirling along; And on its circular courses the wind returns.
The wind continues to blow - coming out of the south heading toward the north and then turning around and headed to the south. Then it will be calm - but don't worry it will blow again. That is what it does - it never stops.
Ecclesiastes 1:7 (NASB) All the rivers flow into the sea, Yet the sea is not full. To the place where the rivers flow, There they flow again.
All the rivers will flow into the oceans - yet the ocean does not overflow. It is never full. But the rivers never stop flowing and they do it day in and day out. It does not cease.
Ecclesiastes 1:8 (NASB) All things are wearisome; Man is not able to tell it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, Nor is the ear filled with hearing.
All things wear us out. The eye sees - yet wants to see more. The ear hears - yet wants to hear more.
Clarke has said, "It is; impossible to calculate how much anxiety, pain, labor, and fatigue are necessary in order to carry on the common operations of life. But an endless desire of gain, and an endless curiosity to unfitness a variety of results, cause men to, labor on. The eye sees much, but wishes to, see more. The ear hears of many things; but is curious to have the actual knowledge of them. So desire and curiosity carry men, under the Divine providence, through all the labors and pains of life."