Summary: Life apart from God is a death of fathomless despair. Life in Christ is an inextinguishable hope.
Nothing New Under the Sun?
The “Preacher” has just examined the course of “nature” and has come up with a pessimistic conclusion that everything is useless or meaningless. We as Christians who can see above the horizon of the sun to God who has made everything according to His eternal purpose. The rhythms of nature are God’s gift of grace for the sustenance of life on this planet. But instead of praising God for the gift of life itself, the Preacher concludes that everything is vanity and a chasing after the wind. Verses 5 through 7 show that even scientific observation of the universe will ultimately end in futility when God is removed from the thinking of men, in particular the God who is revealed as creator of all in Scripture. The world is building all kinds of particle colliders and spending astronomical amounts of money exploring the universe. But even one of their own, Stephen Hawken sees the universe as eternally expanding into nothingness. The other great thinkers of the world have come up with the same dismal conclusion.
The preacher picks up on his rant in verse 8. The rant began in verse two when the teaching of the Preacher is summed up that everything is useless and that everything one does is profitless and useless because death consumes him and rust his legacy. He only saw “nature” itself going one in wearying circles. What he saw reflected the emptiness that was within his own heart. He had a bad case of what we would call “going around in circles” or “stuck in a rut”. Others would call the preacher seriously depressed.
He does sound tired. In verse 8, he says that all work is nothing but weary labor. It almost sounds like the modern person who spends all of his life working to acquire stuff to enjoy without having any time or energy to enjoy that which he has accumulated. What makes the book of Ecclesiastes so valuable to study is that there is a timelessness about it. All of the new fads in thought or fashion have already happened, and everything we do will be repeated by a future generation.
This desire for individual significance is a universal one which has been affected by the fall of Adam and Eve. It is called by many names: “autonomy”, “self-respect”, “self-esteem”, “the ‘me’ generation”, “seeking for fifteen minutes of fame” and other such definitions. We all want to be original, that in some way we have contributed something unique to society. This desire for individual significance and purpose is expressed in many ways. The Preacher in Ecclesiastes had the means and leisure to try most of these means. But he is not a man who is very close to the heart of God. He only addresses God by the generic name Elohim in Hebrew and never by the covenant name of Yahweh (Jehovah). The God he presents is distant, arbitrary, and uncaring for the most part. This view is similar to that of a group of people who called themselves “Deists” who thought God created the universe and its laws, but was not providentially and personally involved in it.