Summary: Life will be empty and meaningless under the sun until we come to faith in the Son.
Searching For Significance
Rev. Brian Bill
I want you to know that I took a lot of grief last week for skipping around, or should I say selectively skimming, through the Song of Songs. I know of at least one small group that had a lot of laughter at my expense as I tiptoed through the tulips. That alone should be reason enough for you to join a group if you’re not in one.
Just as some wonder why the Song of Songs is in the Bible, so too many have questioned why Ecclesiastes is included because of its melancholy mood. If you’re still in the Song of Songs (some of you have been reading this all week), just go back one book to find Ecclesiastes, another book written by Solomon. Actually, it’s more like a journal with entries that summarize his various adventures and exploits in his search for significance.
Solomon was an amazing man. His reputation is known not just in the Bible -- even secular historians are impressed with his unusual wisdom. He was a man who had all the money, all the power, all the time, and all the energy to make his dreams come true. He could literally have and do anything he wanted. But, he was also restless. He wanted to figure out what life was all about. So he launched out on a no-holds barred, existential safari that cost him millions of dollars and many years of his life. He was on a search for his purpose in life. I’m going to give you the Reader’s Digest version today but I hope you’ll read the whole book for yourself because it addresses the big questions of life like: Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?
I should tell you ahead of time that the journey he took, while mind-boggling, left him deflated, depressed and disillusioned. The best word to describe how he felt is empty. In fact, his motto appears right at the beginning of the book in 1:2: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” Says the Teacher, Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” This word is used 35 different times. In this type of literature, when the same word is repeated even once, it’s for the purpose of emphasis. It’s like our exclamation point. It’s as if he was saying, “Super empty. No substance. There’s nothing to it. Everything is blah!” In the Hebrew it’s the little word “hovel,” which sounds like someone clearing their throat. We could make the sound “phhtt” to capture the meaning. Let’s say that together: phhtt.
Freddie Mercury, former lead singer for Queen, died shortly after he wrote these words to his last song: “Does anybody know what we’re living for?” Tennis champion Boris Becker, who won three Wimbledon titles once said, “I had all the material possessions I needed: money, cars, women, everything…I had no inner peace because I was a puppet on a string, but I still don’t know who was manipulating the strings.” I’m told that a baseball player who made it the Hall of Fame said this: “I wish someone had told me that when you get to the top…there’s nothing there.” That’s exactly the conclusion that Solomon reached.
The word for “Teacher” in this verse is the Hebrew word Qoheleth, which literally means, “The one who gathers, assembles, or collects things.” We can translate this word into English and call him “the Searcher.” The Greek translation of the Hebrew title “Ecclesiastes” is from the word “ecclesia,” which means assembly or gathering. As God’s assembly here in Livingston County let’s pay attention to what the Searcher has to say to us today.
Let me clarify something. When Solomon wanted to experiment with the different things that life had to offer, there was nothing to hold him back. As king, no one could question him. As one of the richest individuals in the world, money was not a problem. He was convinced that he could find something that would ultimately satisfy him -- if he just looked hard enough.
In verse 3, the Searcher asks a question, “What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?” The word, “gain” literally means, “That which is left over.” He had sucked the delight, joy, and pleasure out of everything. And now he wanted to know what would be left over, what would he have to show for himself when it was all said and done? The phrase “under the sun” is used 29 times to show that life on the earthly level is ultimately empty.
[Start Countdown Clock] Let me demonstrate by using this countdown timer. I’ll set it for 35 minutes. When it stops I’ll have to stop. Some of you are thinking, “Yeah, right! I’ll stay awake just to see that!”