• johned@aibi.ph

Ecclesiastes Chapter One

Everything Is Meaningless - Or Is It?

By John Edmiston

(Ecclesiastes 1:1-3 NIV) The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: {2} "Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless." {3} What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?

The feeling of utter futility is one of the startling perceptions of life. One day we wonder "Why am I doing all this? I am just going in circles. Is life really just like that bumper sticker "He who dies with the most toys wins". Why work? Why bother? Its all for nothing anyway!

The book of Ecclesiastes is a polemic against empty materialism and hedonism. It shows it to be utterly vain and empty and that even the best lived life without God is utterly empty. Its logic is relentless and compelling. If we just consider "life under the sun", the observable world minus God, then death, injustice and misfortune make a mockery of our hopes. The fool and the wise man, rich and poor all end up in the grave. By demolishing all the worldling trusts in it attempts to point him or her to God. Its final exhortation is to consider God before it is too late and to obey the commandments of Him who is Judge.

(Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 NKJV) Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man's all. {14} For God will bring every work into judgment, Including every secret thing, Whether good or evil.

God's judgment is a good thing because without it our life has no value. Unless we are judged and rewarded in the after-life then all we do is for nothing. From dust we come and to dust we return. Without God's judgment our life would just be like a hand splashing in a bucket - making a big disturbance but when it is withdrawn nothing is any different. Its meaningless. Even history gives no reward for most of us are soon forgotten and this world is not going to last forever. However God's judgment gives our life an eternal value. If we are Christians we can look forward to the judgment seat of Christ where we shall receive the reward for our faithfulness and our stewardship of God's grace in and through our lives will be evaluated.

(2 Corinthians 5:10-11 NKJV) For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. {11} Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.

There Is Nothing New Under The Sun

(Ecclesiastes 1:9-14 NIV) What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. {10} Is there anything of which one can say, "Look! This is something new"? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. {11} There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow. {12} I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. {13} I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men! {14} I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Previously we saw the futility of the "under the sun" perspective on life that lives for this world only and ignores God and Heaven. We saw that ultimate value in life can only come if some eternal value is given to our actions by a just and fair God. The judgment of God gives value to an otherwise meaningless life. We saw that the Preacher in Ecclesiastes (probably Solomon) was demolishing all pretensions and paving the way for God.

Ecclesiastes has given us the expression "there is nothing new under the sun". And when you read history you see how true that is. The "New Age" is the old idolatry and witchcraft resurging. The Jehovah's Witnesses are just like the disciples of Arius, and the youth of today sound just like the youth in Socrates time. From cults to politics there is nothing really new. That also includes technology. While a certain invention or discovery can be classed as new we often find it in nature much earlier. Arctic fish used anti-freeze in their bloodstreams long before people put it in their cars. There are aeroplanes, but birds flew much earlier, there are satellites, but the moon was there earlier. Whales are better than submarines and as for nuclear fusion the sun and stars had that worked out long before we did. Man mimics God but never outdoes Him.

Solomon points out that a lot of the inventions and achievements that we may come up with are soon forgotten by those who follow. many things, like the helicopter, are invented numerous times and soon forgotten. Books are written pointing out a certain truth and the knowledge is enthusiastically received for a short while but soon it is lost too. There is much in the past that can help us today but it is buried there and ignored by a generation in love with the latest fads. And we in our turn will be forgotten by those that follow.

This gives us a healthy perspective on our careers. They are not all important. The world does not hinge on them. Its who we become as a result of them and how we bless others through them that will last. Our bridges built, our discoveries, this devotional, will soon pass into obscurity and crumble away. Who I become as a result of writing this and how I encourage you in Christ - that will last long after you have deleted me from your inboxes and forgotten my name.

What A Mess!

(Ecclesiastes 1:12-18 NIV) I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. {13} I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men! {14} I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. {15} What is twisted cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted. {16} I thought to myself, "Look, I have grown and increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge." {17} Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. {18} For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.

When I first read these verses years ago the impact of verse 15 was stunning. "What is twisted cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted." If you look at human lives and look at all the people who have been "twisted" by hurt, sin, and dark choices it is truly astonishing. Humanly speaking "what is twisted cannot be straightened" as soon as you fix one person another is damaged somewhere else. It seems hopeless. What is lacking cannot be counted. Who can count the lack of food, clean water, unpolluted air, basic finance, education, in the world today - or the lack of love, kindness, co-operation and civility? Or the greatest lack of all - people to take the good news to those who have not heard so that they may be saved.

This was a piercing observation and it threw me into despair just like it did to Solomon. However it is an "under the Sun" perspective. It leaves God out. There is a Redeemer, Jesus God's own Son. He can straighten out what is twisted. He can make up what is lacking. He will not be frustrated by the mess the world is in. The world will achieve all that God has set out for it and then He will return and all things will be made new and the Fall and all its power to twist and to cause lack will be undone. God is not defeated by an untidy room. He does not see an untidy mess of a planet as hopeless. He will decisively intervene to create a new heavens and a new earth where righteousness dwells and where there is no more sickness or death or crying or pain.

In verse 18 Solomon notes "For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief." Wisdom can be a burden. There are times when it brings the sense of knowing too much. The illusions of life at times make it bearable and to be wise means to have set many of those illusions aside. The innocent joy of childhood cannot be captured by most "wise" adults. On a human level therefore wisdom is an unhappy thing and philosophers traditionally have been gloomy. In Christ however Christ is our wisdom and sanctification and redemption. In Him we have a wisdom greater than all the wisdom of this world. A wisdom of God unto salvation. Einstein cannot get you to Heaven, neither can Marx, Engels or Nietzsche. Whatever wisdom they have is good but it is as nothing compared to the foolishness of God in Christ. The wisdom that is in Christ is a happy wisdom. It brings us love and joy and peace. It is a wisdom better than the 'under the Sun' wisdom of Solomon. (see also 1 Corinthians 1:18-31)

This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.