Summary: 2nd in a series from Ecclesiastes. Even though life "under the sun" is fleeting, we can still enjoy the journey.
Over the years, many of people have come up with metaphors to try and describe what life is like. Perhaps you are familiar with a few of these.
Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.
• Forrest Gump
Life is like a taxi. The meter just keeps a-ticking whether you are getting somewhere or just standing still.
• Lou Erickso
Life is a grindstone. Whether it grinds us down or polishes us up depends on us.
• Thomas L. Holdcroft
Life is like riding a bicycle. You don’t fall off unless you plan to stop peddling.
• Claude Pepper
Life... is like a grapefruit. It’s orange and squishy, and has a few pips in it, and some folks have half a one for breakfast.
• Douglas Adams
Life is like a box of crayons. Most people are the 8-color boxes, but what you’re really looking for are the 64-color boxes with the sharpeners on the back.
• John Mayer
Life is rather like a tin of sardines - we’re all of us looking for the key.
• Alan Bennett
Life is like an onion: You peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.
• Carl Sandburg
If the author of Ecclesiastes was to boil the book down into a metaphor, perhaps he would have described life like this:
Life is like a sandcastle.
At least that’s a pretty good summary of the passage that we’ll be looking at this morning. If you’ve ever been to the beach and built a sandcastle you know what I mean. You spend hours building the perfect sandcastle – maybe not quite as exquisite as some of the ones you seen on the screen [pictures of sandcastles on PowerPoint] – but a masterpiece nonetheless. But eventually the tide comes in and the waves destroy your sandcastle. And if you go back the next day there is absolutely no evidence that your sandcastle ever even existed.
Let’s go ahead and read our passage for this morning:
2 "Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher; "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." 3 What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun? 4 One generation passes away, and another generation comes; But the earth abides forever. 5 The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, And hastens to the place where it arose. 6 The wind goes toward the south, And turns around to the north; The wind whirls about continually, And comes again on its circuit. 7 All the rivers run into the sea, Yet the sea is not full; To the place from which the rivers come, There they return again. 8 All things are full of labor; Man cannot express it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, Nor the ear filled with hearing. 9 That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there anything of which it may be said, "See, this is new"? It has already been in ancient times before us. 11 There is no remembrance of former things, Nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come By those who will come after.
Ecclesiastes 1:2-11 (NKJV)
This passage will give us an opportunity to review several of the important principles that we looked at briefly last week as well as to move a little deeper in our understanding of Ecclesiastes.
WHY LIFE IS LIKE A SANDCASTLE
1. Life “under the sun” is vapor
In verses 2 and 3, we find two of the key principles that we talked about last week. The first this is that we’re reminded of the perspective from which Qoheleth is writing – “under the sun”. As we saw last week, that is a reference to the visible world in which we live.
We’re also reminded that life, when viewed from that perspective, is “vanity”. As we saw last week, that is the translation of the Hebrew word “hebel”, which literally means “vapor” or “breath”. It is not, as we saw, “meaningless” as the NIV translates that word, but rather temporary and fleeting.
This is such an important principle that Qoheleth repeats the word five times here in verse 2 and then brings his book to a close by repeating this verse almost word for word in chapter 12:
"Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher, "All is vanity."
Ecclesiastes 12:8 (NKJV)
You’ll notice the phrase “vanity of vanities” is used in both those verses. This is the Hebrew way of giving emphasis to the concept, in much the same way that the most holy place in the Tabernacle and Temple was called the “holy of holies”. That phrase is even translated “the most holy place” in some translations. So we could very accurately translate the phrase “vanity of vanities” like this: “the merest of vapors”.