Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 Comments by Stephen Ricker
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Utterly Meaningless
Comments for Study 1

Ecclesiastes 1:1-11
Memory Verse: 3


I. Theme: Everything is Meaningless (1:1-3)

Ecclesiastes Headpiece

* See a drawing by Le Maistre de Sacy. (1700) The Headpiece was in the Vulgate, an ancient Latin translation of the Bible. Outside the still-crumbling ruins of buildings, a few cornucopias of coin spill across a ground laden with debris, including a crown, pearl ornaments, and an unlocked chest. Above the desolate scene, a hand emerges from a cloud, displaying a ribbon emblazoned with scripture (Ecclesiastes 1:2): "VanitÚ des VanitÚs, et tout est vanitÚ" (French for "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity"). Dutch engraver Jacobus Harrewijn (1660-1727), has placed his signature left of center. Courtesy of the Digital Image Archive, Pitts Theology Library, Candler School of Theology, Emory University:

>1. Who wrote this book? (1)

* Ecclesiastes 1:1 "The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:"

* Ecclesiastes 1:12 "I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem."

* "the Teacher" -The Hebrew word could be translated, teacher, preacher, or spokesman. The NIV has it capitalized because the author was given the title Teacher. He was THE Teacher. His knowledge and wisdom far surpassed his peers. This fact only points to Solomon.

* "son of David" -A term not only meaning direct descendant, but any descendant. Jesus was called the son of David.

* "king in Jerusalem" -Verse 12 adds he was king over Israel, meaning all 12 tribes for the name Israel that formed after the split did not have Jerusalem as its capital. This points only to Solomon.

The end of the book, 12:9-12 also give a clue that the author was Solomon.

* The book of Ecclesiastes is written to teach us about life in this world. The title "Ecclesiastes" is taken from the Greek word in the ancient Greek translation of the Bible called the Septuagint. Ecclesiastes in English is translated as teacher, preacher, and spokesman.

The author is the son of David and a king in Jerusalem in his later years of life. Most believe it is Solomon though the author's name does not appear in the text. Solomon surely is the most likely person to have been able to make the claims found in the book.

A synopsis is stated at the beginning of the treatises.

>How did he come about having wisdom? (1 Kings 3:10-14)

* 1 Kings 3:10-14 "The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, "Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for--both riches and honor--so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life."

* Solomon's wisdom was a gift of God. The Lord offered him anything. He asked for wisdom so that he could lead Israel. This request was when he was a young lad. (1 Kings 3:1-15; 2 Chronicles 2:1-17)

>What was Israel like during his reign? (1 Kings 2:46b, 3:28, 4:20-21)

* 1 Kings 2:46b "The kingdom was now firmly established in Solomon's hands."

* 1 Kings 3:28 "When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice."

* 1 Kings 4:20-21 "The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy. And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. These countries brought tribute and were Solomon's subjects all his life."

* Israel was very prosperous, the most powerful country on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, extending from the Euphrates in the north, Egypt in the south, and the desert to the east.

>2. What does Solomon declare at the beginning of this book? (2)

* Ecclesiastes 1:2 "Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless."

* "Meaningless! Meaningless!" -When the Bible or a book of the Bible repeats something it is an important statement. The fact that it is repeated four times in the beginning greatly stresses the point. 35 times "meaningless" is repeated in the book. The original Hebew for it originally meant "breath". (Psalm 39:5,11; 62:9; 144:4) The basic thrust of Ecclesiastes is that all of life is meaningless.

* "says the Teacher" -Solomon's personal conclusion is that life under the sun is meaningless. All our actions apart from God and his will has no meaning or purpose that is good, righteous, and wise.

* "Utterly meaningless! -Complete and absolute meaningless. It is useless, hollow, futile, and vain if it is not rightly related to God. Only when based on God and his word is life worthwile.

* "Everything is meaningless" -Whatever man undertakes apart from God.

* 35 times "meaningless" is repeated in the book. Life "under the sun" meaning "with ourselves as the center instead of God" is worthless, absurd, empty, futile, vanity, and pointless. A godless life is inconsequential and insignificant. Between physical birth and death, our existence is full of enigmas, the greatest of which is how we choose to live.

The author goes into detail as to how he arrived at this conclusion in the rest of the book. He logically reasons to help us understand and accept. His desire is for those who are able will accept his conclusion, "Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil." (12:13-14)

Is his conclusion and advice correct? His book holds the answer.

>What is the answer to the question in verse 3?

* Ecclesiastes 1:3 "What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?"

* "What does man gain" -Human effort appears to be without benefit or purpose. Another way to state this is, "What is the point?" "Wny do people do what they do?"

* "labor" -Our actions, our efforts, our work

* "at which he toils" -One of the results of Adam and Eve's sin is that everyone's life will contain hard and fustrating work. Thorns and thistles will grow amongst our efforts to not only exist, but trying to thrive.

* "under the sun" -A key phrase in the book repeated 29 times. "Under the sun" means this present world within the limits of physical existance. Although Solomon expands mostly upon living a life ignoring and/or marginalizing God in day to day life, he examines anyone and everyone's life in detail. Solomon also used "under heaven" to describe this life (13; 2:3; 3:1).

* Jesus expands on this question in Matthew 16:24-27 (also in Mark 8:36-38 and Luke 9:25-27). See question below.

* Death awaits all. Solomon practically and personally examined life between birth and death as if God does not exist or at the most does exist but is not concerned with the welfare of mankind. Many mythologies teach this. So Solomon examined the belief of other religions and belief systems to see what life was like for those who believed and lived with this belief. The question here is asked after Solomon personally lived with the polytheism, agnostic, and atheist philosophies.

>How did Jesus teach something similar in Matthew 16:24-27?

* Matthew 16:24-27 "Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done."

* Also in Mark 8:34-38 and Luke 9:23-27.

* Jesus clearly taught that we do not cease to exist after our physical body dies. He also teaches how we are to conduct our life with the belief, hope, and faith in him and his promises.

God's Faithfulness Using Nature Metaphors

* See a drawing by Radziwill, Mikolaj Krzysztof, ksiaze (1549-1616). Six verses in Latin are each on a banner with nautical-themed objects in the background. Psalms 103, Nahum 1, Ecclesiastes 1, Jeremiah 10, Ecclesiastes 16, and Isaiah 43. Courtesy of the Digital Image Archive, Pitts Theology Library, Candler School of Theology, Emory University:

II. Nothing New (1:4-10)

>3. How does verse 4 point out the length of our life?

* Ecclesiastes 1:4 "Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever."

* "Generations" -Human life as a whole is fleeting. Everyone we know will die and be replace by another.

* "the earth remains forever" -Earth he picks up on the term "under the sun" and "under heaven". Rocks, minerals, air, water, and all base materials remain. We think we are better then the elements. Yet, we die and they remain on.

* The author points out that physical life on earth is very short. We live a limited life.

* "Under the sun" means a life without a relationship with God, a life with a heart and mind set on this world, a life with selfish priorities, a life where love for God is kept at a distance and love for others is second to love of self. "Under the sun" is full of excuses for making wrong decisions.

What is gained from all our labors from which we toil when living "under the sun"? Time is relentless. No one who has ever lived nor will live can control time. We cannot stop time, slow it down, reverse time, nor go back in time. Time has one destiny for all; death. After death there is judgement for which time has no control or power.

The sun rises and sets paying no attention to us. Who can stop the world from spinning? Time moves on paying no attention to us.

The air moves here and there. Winds come. Winds go. Who can stop the atmosphere from spinning? Time moves on paying no attention to us.

Water moves here and there. Rain and snow comes then goes. Who can stop the hydro cycle? Time moves on paying no attention to us.

All things are wearisome. If you disagree then why do you still age? We do not want to admit that life in general and specific makes us weary till we look in the mirror and say, "Where did that wrinkle come from? Why do marks appear?" Weary, worry, anxiety, and concern is everywhere. All things are wearisome more than we want to say.

"More, more, more. I need more. Just one more. Just a little longer. One more time. Next time. Then I will be satisfied." We live in this dilemma and enigma. That which I aquire and experience is not enough under the sun. I need more. I always want more. What I gain is not enough under the sun. What is gained from all labors of toil under the sun? Not enough.

Thus is life under the sun.

>What is sure to happen after death? (Hebrews 9:27)

* Hebrews 9:27 "Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,"

* 2 Corinthians 5:10 "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad."

* Everyone must give an account to the holy, righteous, powerful, and just God.

>4. Can we stop or change the speed of time? (5)

* Ecclesiastes 1:5 "The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises."

* Some think that if they apply themselves enough they can control anything. But no one can control time.

>Can we change weather patterns? (6)

* Ecclesiastes 1:6 "The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course."

* Just as no one can control time we also cannot control atmospheric conditions.

>Who set up and controls the hydraulic cycle? (7)

* Ecclesiastes 1:7 "All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again."

* They hydro cycle was not known before Solomon taught it. His writings are the first known explanation of the continual flow of water on earth.

The Words of the Teacher

* See a drawing in a book by Luther, Martin (1483-1546). The words of the teacher, the son of David, the King in Jerusalem, are given. This is Solomon. Engraving by Martin Bernigeroth (1670-1733) after the design of Samuel Bottschild (1641-1707). Courtesy of the Digital Image Archive, Pitts Theology Library, Candler School of Theology, Emory University:

>5. If you try to see all there is to see in the world will it be enough to satisfy your soul?

* Ecclesiastes 1:8 "All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing."

* "All things are wearisome" -Weary here is physical and mental. No matter what we do, at the end of the day we are tired and need sleep. Added to this any project undertaken eventually wears us out. We become tired of doing it, even enjoyable things.

* "more than one can say" -We do not like to admit the truth to others and seldom admit it to ourselves.

* "The eye never has enough of seeing" -The eye is one of two senses mentioned. Human's in general seek to aquire through our senses so as to stimilate our brain. The natural impulse to feed the brain until it can no longer process is a common trait of mankind.

* "never has enough" -To much of anything becomes a burden, an addiction, and harmful. To overcome the dullness repetition brings we need more of the same thing to bring us to the point that only a little brought us in the past. The common uncontrollable impulse to feed the brain via our senses continues to esculate until we shut down meaning the senses are unable to deliver what our brains demand.

* More, more, and more until we are utterly sick of it or die from it. What was new and exiting soon become old and boring.

>If you try to hear all the sounds and music in the world will it be enough to satisfy your soul?

* "the ear its fill of hearing" -The ear is the second sense mentioned. The seven senses are sight (vision), hearing (auditory), touch (tactile), taste (gustatory), smell (olfactory), and vestibular (movement and balance, information about where our head and body are in space).

* No. Just like sight and the other senses the brain demands of the ear more and more input.

* The brain (our thoughts) is part of our physical existance. The human soul consists of our thoughts, our emotions, and our will. The soul is very demanding. It requires more than the senses can supply. The brain demands more than it can receive in a life under the sun. A soul under the sun is looking for something that is missing, but does not know what it is. It tries everything more and more and more with everything that can supply it, that is our senses. Still, the human soul under heaven does not find what it is missing and desperately needs. Eventually the soul drives our body to disfunction. The one part of human existance that is missing is our spirit. We are born with a dead spirit. The soul senses this and yet does not comprehend it beause how can it know that which is not? Thus, life under the sun is meaningless, unable to obtain what the soul so desperately tries to find. The human soul is utterly impossible to give life to our spirit, that is the part of us that is dead.

>Can setting a high goal, working hard for it, and then obtaining it be satisfying years later?

* Perhaps it may for a little while. But anything and everything becomes old and boring.

>6. What does "under the sun" mean?

* Ecclesiastes 1:9 "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."

* "under the sun" -Under the sun means a life without a relationship with God, a life with a heart and mind set on this world, a life with selfish priorities, a life where love for God is kept at a distance and love for others is second to love of self. "Under the sun" is full of excuses for making wrong decisions.

* Under to sun means the realm of mankind, here on earth. Elsewhere in the book Solomon uses the term "under heaven".

>How is verse 9 a true statement?

* "What has been will be again" -Every generation of man tries the same things to satisfy the soul.

* "what has been done will be done again" -Everything we try to satisfy the soul will be tried in generations to come.

* "there is nothing new under the sun" -Many things seem to be new simply because the past is easily and quickly forgotten. The old ways reappear in new guises.

* We can say that technology is new and never been done; i.e. automobiles and computers. Yet, this is just a different form of the same thing. Automobiles are merely a new way to get to new places. Computers are just another form of technology processing.

* Considering all that is now to its base form. What is it and why do we have it? It can be determined that it is not new.

>7. Considering all that you've done in your life is any of it completely new?

* Ecclesiastes 1:10 "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."

* "It was here already, long ago" -Human history is mostly forgotten. Even what we know is tainted by those who recorded it.

* "it was here before our time" -Archaeology is a scientific attempt to discover what human life was like in the past. Archaeology is also tainted by those who discover it. Much interpretation is used in archaeology which skews the facts. One thousand archaelogies in the same room will have a multitude of explainations for what is found.

* Modern human's who call themselves objective scientists are far from objective. The say that facts speak for themselves. This is a lie. Facts are interpreted. With this truth it can be concluded that we really don't know what life was like in the past. We really don't know what people did. This passage says that nothing is new.

>Isn't all that man has achieved based on work of others before us?

* Our generation does not live isolated from the past. The basic soul of humanity is the same from generations past long forgotten. Therefore, what we do today has already been done before.

III. Men Are Forgotten (1:11)

Books of Solomon

* See a drawing in a book by Klauber, Joseph Sebastian (1700-1768). This image depicts the biblical books traditionally ascribed to King Solomon: Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and Proverbs. In the center Solomon sits behind a spider web, and at the bottom is Christ, the pope wearing the papal triple tiara, and Solomon. Courtesy of the Digital Image Archive, Pitts Theology Library, Candler School of Theology, Emory University:

>8. What happens whenever a person seeks to know their ancestors?

* Ecclesiastes 1:11 "There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow."

* "There is no remembrance of men of old" -We know a few names of people in the past. The farther back in time we go, the less people's names we know. We know their name, however we really don't know what kind of a person they were. We may know the names of some of the places they lived in but we do not know all them and even the names of the places they lived in have either changed or no longer exist. Even if we know the names of people and the places they lived we do not know and probably would have a hard time understanding their society.

* Today many societies exist. To really know and understand a society we need to live in it. Now, take that into the past. Even though a person may be our ancestor they lived in a different society. The mixture of people in their family, in their neighborhood, in their city, and country are different than our own. Therefore, it is really impossible to truely know a person who lived in the past.

* Anyone conducting a genealogical (ancetral) study soon finds out how hard it is to find out even the basic information of their ancestors. Knowing their names, where they lived, when they were born, when they died, who where their parents, and sibilings takes much effort.

>What eventually happens to our records and are they always accurate?

* Search your family tree and you will begin to learn that some of the information you find will contradict others. Things that people say about themselves and others are often unreliable. Even a crime reported by witnesses contradict each other. The more time added brings even more contradiction. Sometimes archaeologist find cities and battlefield where books say they are. Other times they do not. The Bible has proven to be very accurate in the reporting of facts about people and places compared to all other writing.

>9. Considering this study what can be said of fallen man's existence without God?

* What is left for a person who decides, "There is no God," or "If God exists he, she, or it doesn't or cannot care about me?" That person needs to find a way to improve their existence and keep things and people from taking away that which was obtained. A godless life seeks contentment, peace, happiness, and meaning from that which can be obtain.

People have been seeking a way to exist contently without fear or love of God for longer than history records. Mankind has developed means for godless living to the point that whatever a person may try someone already tried it (9,10). We may not be able to research their unique attempt at godless living, yet we can be sure any way to live godlessly has already been tried. They lived godlessly and died. They and their attempt at godless living were forgotten (11).

God gave Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes more wisdom than anyone before or since him (12,13). He examined and applied life pursuits of those who neither love nor fear God. His conclusion is, "What a heavy burden God has laid on men!"

Is laying a heavy burden on mankind righteous? Why would a loving God make the pursuit of contentment, peace, security, and joy without him a heavy burden?

Does love compel a person to remain idle as another pursues that which is obtainable through means that will not obtain it and only keep oneself from it? If you had all the wisdom, power, and means to make it easy for someone to obtain contentment, peace, security, and joy wouldn't you find a way to present it to them? Then if they reject it and seek to find it themselves in ways that will not provide it wouldn't you make it a heavy burden for them to seek such foolishness?

Life pursuits that reject God have no meaning or purpose in the end for the ultimate pursuit is never obtained. When it appears to have been obtained it is not kept for long. For that which can only be straightened by only one means will not be kept straightened without that one means (15). That which is not there cannot be counted. If it is always missing how can we know what it is and how much it weighs?

A relationship with God is the only means to the ultimate pursuit. If he is not there, then we can never figure a way to obtain what only he can bring. He is the only way to straighten life. Love and fear of God are the only means. All other pursuits are heavy burdens. If there is only one path to a city, then taking any other path is meaningless.

>Is there any hope for mankind? (Romans 8:22-25; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14)

* 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 "Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him."

* Romans 8:22-25 "We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently."