Summary: Ecclesiastes 1
THE CHIEF PURPOSE OF LIFE (ECCLESIASTES 1)
When I told my wife I would be preaching from the book of Ecclesiastes she revealed to me for the first time that she attempted to do a study guide for the book but gave up after trying! The book is definitely not for easy digging, decoding or digesting. Three days ago she started working on the study guide.
There is a book with the title, “Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life, They Change it.”
Ecclesiastes is a universal book and masterwork with primal themes. God is Elohim (v 13) not Israel’s Yahweh. It is meant for Adam (v 3), generation before and after (v 4) and the sons of Adam (v 11), everyone. The word “all” occurs nine times in chapter one.
Augustine referred to Ecclesiastes as, "Setting forth the vanity of this life, only that we may desire that life wherein, instead of vanity beneath the sun, there is truth (and eternal joy) under Him who made the sun!"
The purpose of Ecclesiastes, according to biblehub.com, is “to spare future generations the suffering and misery of seeking after foolish, meaningless, materialistic emptiness, and to offer wisdom by discovering truth in seeking after God.”
Kenneth D. Boa says, “The purpose of Ecclesiastes is to reveal the bankruptcy of human wisdom and the need for God's revelation.”
The introductory phrase “the words of” is authoritative in the grand tradition of prophets Nehemiah (1:10), Jeremiah (1:1) and Hosea (1:1). The author introduces himself as a preacher, the son of David and king in Jerusalem (Eccl 1:1). The writer is a poet, a philosopher and a preacher. The book title in Hebrew means preacher, convener or host. In chapter one he measured man from the biological, historical and philosophical viewpoint– three subjects of which I am not an expert.
The vital questions in life are simple and basic:
Who am I?
Why am I here?
Why do I exist?
What is truth?
What do I believe?
What is my purpose in life?
Where are we heading?
Life is As Pessimistic As it is Positive
1 The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: 2 Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” 3 What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? 4 Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. 5 The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. 6 The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. 7 All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. 8 All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.
Charlie Brown once asked himself sitting on the ground in a vast field at night, “Life sure is strange. And they say we only come this way once. What did I come this way for?”
The noun “vanity” breaks a lot of records in verse 2, repeating as many as five times in one verse – one of the most repeated word in a verse, and the longer phrase and theme “vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (v 2) is found in two places only and nowhere else, in the introductory chapter and the last chapter of the book (12:8),. Vanity does not mean nothing, as in Hinduism and Buddhism; it is “is not” rather than “nothing”:
V 7 the sea “is not” full
V 9 there “is no” new thing under the sun.
V 11 There “is no” remembrance of former things;
Vanity of vanities means utterly most vanity. The fivefold repetition of “vanity” (v 2) conveys extremely vain, excessively and emphatically vain. Vain does not mean that life is disappointing, demanding and defeating, but it is not dependable, definite or dreamlike. Depending on oneself, others and anything other than God is like grasping at straws, running on empty and skating on thin ice. It is slipping, sliding, skidding, sinking, spinning away from us. You did not create life, so you cannot count on life, cheat on life, or calculate your life. You can only do that with Jesus, the Source of life, our Savior in life and Sovereign in all.
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
Toil (v 3) is not the regular word for work. Labor (amal) and toil (amal) as the noun and verb form of the same word, the noun followed by the verb. The verb form first appears unsurprisingly in Solomon’s Psalm 127 for laboring to build a house, where heat, dust, injuries, posture and stress take their toll and take victims down. Without God life is a toil and trouble; he is finite, fragile and flawed, with no fullness, future or forever.