Last post I wrote about the changing of seasons and what that means for us as Christians. We read from Ecclesiastes 3 and talked about the beginning of summer and how we can glorify God in these unique days that he is giving us.
I wanted to continue studying Ecclesiastes because it’s a book that’s very unique in the Bible. It’s kind of cynical and the tone can be very defeatist or negative. The writer starts the book by saying Ecclesiastes 1:2 Everything is Meaningless! Some translations say Vanity.
The idea is that things have no worth, no meaning, no significance. It’s You don’t have to look far to sense this hopelessness, it’s right there in the very beginning of the book. Chapter 1 verse 2. then a few verses later. Verse 3. What do you gain from your work? You toil under the sun, and what happens? It’s meaningless. Verse 8 All things are wearisome.. Really? Is that an exaggeration? What about the new experiences or major breakthroughs? His answer in verse 9 is “There’s nothing new under the sun.”
Basically he’s saying It’s all been done. Throughout the first 2 chapters of Ecclesiastes the writer goes through a laundry list of various activities. He talks about all sorts of motivators and drivers of the human spirit. It might be good to mention here who the writer is. It’s believed to be Solomon, who was one of the richest men in the history of the Bible. Why mention that here, why is that important? It’s important because Solomon was wealthy enough to experience all things that the world made available to him. Since he was that wealthy and powerful and could do anything, that means he knows a lot about the ultimate meaninglessness of everything. And the other thing we know about Solomon, we know he was wise, so what does he think about wisdom? Certainly the wisest man in the world thinks that wisdom is worth something? In Verse 12 says that wisdom is meaningless, like chasing the wind. The idea of chasing wind teaches us about futility. Or a lot of work for no purpose or point.
So let’s talk about some of the things we read and see in Ecclesiastes. First, we see that the teacher keeps mentioning all of this stuff that happens “under the sun” what is that? He’s talking about our earthly condition. When he talks about everything happening “under the sun” it’s kind of like saying, everything that happens on this planet. Like I talked about last post, we are creatures. We were created to live in this environment, this habitat. We are a product of this habitat. We are influenced by this habitat. But if this is all there is- if all that there is to your existence is found under this sun, and on this rock that orbits this sun, then Solomon is right. it’s all meaningless. And there are plenty of people that believe that. Existentialists. Atheists. To them, there is nothing more than our existence. To them, our time on this planet is all that matters and all that there is. Sometimes it’s easier to believe that. It’s easier to not worry about consequences if you can stay a few steps ahead of them. It’s easier to think you can get away with something as long as the consequences don’t show up before your death. And if we believe what the writer of Ecclesiastes says, then it’s all meaningless! He’s saying that everything that happens here on Earth, everything in this lifetime is without meaning. There’s no meaning to any of it. Wait? Is that Biblical? Your life is meaningless??? It is, but only IF our existence is confined to this “under the sun” condition, then yes. If all that there is for your existence is the world you see before you, and this earth under this sun, then it’s all meaningless. Let’s move to chapter 2.
Many Psychologists believe that all human behavior can be boiled down to two motivators. They say that we do everything in order to seek pleasure or avoid pain. From Wikipedia:
It has been suggested as early as 4th century BC that pain and pleasure occurs on a continuum. Aristotle claims this antagonistic relationship in his Rhetoric:
“We may lay it down that Pleasure is a movement, a movement by which the soul as a whole is consciously brought into its normal state of being; and that Pain is the opposite.”
He describes pain and pleasure very much like a push-pull concept; human beings will move towards things that cause pleasure and will move away from things that causes pain. Proponents of Aristotle’s theory say that everything we do is done to either avoid pain, or seek pleasure. Even when we do things that cause temporary pain, it’s motivated by a longer term pleasure or reward. Psychologists love to set up experiments where they test this by setting up reinforcements for behavior, causing pain with punishment or causing pleasure with reward. Even St Augustine noted the Pleasure/Pain principle.
Back to Ecclesiastes 2. The writer, believed to be Solomon, says he spent a portion of his life testing out pleasure. It was kind of like a Psychologist’s experiment, except with a much more hedonistic bent. He denied himself no want whatsoever. He did everything. He ate, drank, he built wealth and gardens, he bought people as slaves, he took on multiple wives. As a pastor, regardless of how cynical I am, I need to give a little disclaimer: Don’t try this at home!! There will be consequences. Excessive eating leads to obesity, heart disease. Excessive drinking leads to liver diseases and weight gain, excessive building of things and hiring of people leads to indebtedness. Hiring slaves. Well, that’s illegal. Multiple “wives” or partners leads to a host of other potential diseases of a different variety. I don’t recommend any of it. Not because I know this stuff from experience, but because I’ve learned secondhand from Solomon’s experiences, and also there has been a large number of “scientific studies” that illustrate the concept of causality. So how did Solomon’s experiments go? Verse 10 says his heart was delighted in the labor, but in verse 11, the conclusion was that it was all meaningless, whether accomplishment, or pleasure or anything that drives you.. All meaningless. He isn’t saying that accomplishment in and of itself is bad, or pleasure is BAD. This isn’t a question about what’s bad or good. He’s just saying that it’s meaningless. It has no worthwhile quality or significance. It becomes clear later in Verse 2 that he believes that some things are better than others, In Ecclesiastes 2:13 he discusses that Wisdom is better than Folly. But he concludes that both are meaningless.
He discusses work and accomplishment deeper in chapter 17. Accomplishing things is better than not accomplishing anything, but he concludes that both are meaningless. If you gain great wealth, it won’t prevent you from dying, which is something we learned from Proverbs, and I wrote about it here.
And when you die, you have to give that wealth to someone else. Chapter 2 verse 18-21. Whether they are wise or foolish, the person who didn’t toil for your work gets the fruit of your labor after you die.
18 I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. 19 And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. 20 So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. 21 For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune.
Has anyone ever heard this saying? Those who die with the most toys wins. The writer of Ecclesiastes understands that those who die with the most toys, are still dead. They are as dead as those who don’t die with any toys whatsoever. And something about that seriously bothers the writer. Reread Verse 21.
21 For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune.
The dead man with all the toys may have accumulated those toys using wisdom, knowledge, skill and to get those toys, they definitely toiled for them.. That corpse worked hard while he was alive.. But when he dies he leaves everything to someone else, who may or may not appreciate the toys. Whether the recipients of the inheritance appreciate the stuff or not, they didn’t work for those toys. That selfishness about the fate of his stuff bothers the author enough to call it not just meaningless, but a great misfortune..
24 A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25 for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? 26 To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
The writer sees that having satisfaction in one’s work, enjoying what you have, being wise and knowledge and content are gifts from God. Sinners store up wealth and give it away, and either way, it’s all meaningless. It’s chasing after wind. Running towards something you can never catch.
Then he goes into verse 3. This verse starts with the time and season thing we read last month. It’s that part of the Bible that sounds just like that 60’s song. There is a time and season for everything. A time to be born, a time to die. A time to plant, a time to uproot. A time to weep and a time to laugh. A time for war a time for peace, a time to scatter stones a time to gather them.. We discussed that during my last post, so I won’t discuss that part anymore. But where does the writer end or conclude of all that?
9 What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.
Something’s strange. The writer stops thinking about meaninglessness. He starts seeing beauty in how God works. There are times and seasons for everything. God is working and makes everything beautiful in its time. From beginning to end. Remember from 2:26 “To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness,” Those things that were a gift from God? The wisdom, knowledge, happiness? There’s nothing better than to be happy and satisfied in your toil. And all this meaningless stuff that’s going on under the sun? That MIGHT not all that there is. Chapter 3 verse 11. “God made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.” Solomon understands that we all have this concept of eternity in our hearts. We all have the wonder in our hearts about this concept of eternity or infinite time. God placed that, or set that in our hearts. Verse 14. Everything that God does will endure forever. All of a sudden, there’s more here than just what’s happening under the sun. Where are these words coming from? Eternity? Forever? Lets read on.
18 I also said to myself, “As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. 19 Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. 20 All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?”
So now, we’re here again talking about our existence. It’s meaningless if all that happens is we come from dust and go to dust.
If we are just a bunch of animals, then it’s all meaningless. Comparing ourselves to animals is something that God does to test us. God humbles us and makes us see that we are just like a bunch of animals in this aspect of our being known as mortality. We die just like animals. This is a result of things that happened LONG before. Back in the Garden, Eve and Adam ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. As a result of that, God banished them from the garden so they could not eat from the tree of life. We became mortal beings. We became like the animals. That was a righteous punishment from God. But even though we are mortal and die like the animals, that doesn’t mean we have to live like animals. When we assume that we are nothing but mammals, usually that’s just an excuse act like animals because we want to act that way. But just because we have similarities to animals doesn’t mean that we are animals. God set eternity in our hearts. And we could be something more than animals. That would mean that our lives and our existence might not be meaningless. Let’s switch gears for a bit here. Let’s just suppose in Solomon’s writings that everything that’s “under the sun” isn’t EVERYTHING. Everything under the sun isn’t everything there is. Let’s go an extra step and look BEYOND the sun. Let’s look past the sun and towards the heavens.. Psalm 19:1 – The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Now everything looks a little different. The sun is just a speck of dust in a universe of stars. Sure, there are things in Ecclesiastes that are true, but only if the sun is where we stop looking. Under the sun everything’s meaningless, but let’s look beyond the sun. Let’s look to God, the creator of the Heavens and the earth… Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith like Hebrews 12:2 states. Now how does it look? Ecclesiastes says Everything under the Sun is meaningless. But in Romans 8:28, under God, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Is everything meaningless? Under the sun it is. Under GOD All things are working for the good of those who love him. Under God we don’t see meaninglessness. We see purpose.
Ecclesiastes says that there’s nothing new under the sun. What does God say? In Isaiah 43:18-19
18 “Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
God has plans to do new things. The prophets predict a new Heaven and a new Earth. New Wine and a New covenant. New hearts and a new Birth. When Jesus comes, he tells people that he is the new wine and he is the New Covenant that was promised. He is the fulfillment of the predictions throughout the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Haggai, and Zechariah. According to Lamentations 3:22-23
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Is there nothing new under the sun?? Maybe not, but UNDER GOD, His mercies are new every morning. Even though Jesus has been saving sinners for almost 2000 years now, there are still people experiencing it for the first time on this Earth. As Christians, we are continually being made new in Jesus, and our minds are being renewed by the Holy Spirit. Salvation makes us new. And we are all experiencing it.
Titus 3:5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,
Back in Ecclesiastes, The writer was very distraught about the idea of a rich man dying and leaving his fortune to someone who is underserving. Remember? He said it was not just meaningless, but great misfortune. Ecclesiastes 2:26
26 To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
God gives Righteousness and wickedness different results. But is it all meaningless like Solomon thinks? Who pleases God? None of us please God. It is impossible for us to please God. Only Jesus was able to please God. And how about the sinner? Who gathered up and stored up wealth just to hand it over to somebody else?? This great misfortune that Solomon described actually happened. It happened when Jesus took on our sins and became sin for us. Jesus lived a life of perfection. His whole life was lived storing up a wealth of fellowship with God and Heavenly favor. He died as a sinner, and handed his wealth over to someone who pleases God. He handed over his wealth to you and to me. He handed his wealth over to the redeemed. He handed over his wealth to his bride. A bride who was unfaithful, who didn’t earn any of that inheritance and who couldn’t please God. And yet, that righteousness and that pleasing towards God was given to us. The righteousness was imputed to us. Our sin was taken on by him. And what was this Great Misfortune in Solomon’s eyes? This was the divine injustice of the cross. That we received grace and mercy, and Jesus died the sinner’s death. It was the most meaningful gift that could be given to anybody. God gave his Son so we could be made whole. This is the Gospel which changes lives. This is the good news that is more valuable than life itself.
Now our lives on this Earth are short. But God set the idea of eternity in our hearts. Someday we will all breathe our last breath. Our hearts will beat their last times. We will die like animals. But are we just animals? We can live like animals, or we can live like something so much more. We can look at ourselves as something that lives under the sun, or we can look beyond the sun to God. I wanted to finish by reading a quotation from John Piper’s book “When I Don’t Desire God; How to Fight for Joy”. Piper quotes Clyde Kilby about his resolutions for living in a way that honors God, and defeats the cynicism found in Ecclesiastes.
“At the end of his life my teacher, Clyde Kilby, came to Minneapolis and gave a lecture on how he intended to do just this. It was the last time I heard him, and the message that bequeathed to us who listened was the same legacy he had left to me when I was in his college classes. He summed up his talk with eleven resolutions. I commend them to you as one way of overcoming our bent toward blindness for the wonders of the ordinary.
1. At least once every day I shall look steadily up at the sky and remember that I, a consciousness with a conscience, am on a planet traveling in space with wonderfully mysterious things above me and about me.
2. Instead of the accustomed idea of a mindless and endless evolutionary change to which we can neither add nor subtract, I shall suppose the universe guided by an Intelligence which, as Aristotle said of Greek drama, requires a beginning, a middle and an end. I think this will save me from the cynicism expressed by Bertrand Russell before his death, when he said: “There is darkness without and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendor, no vastness anywhere, only triviality for a moment, and then nothing.”
3. I shall not fall into the falsehood that this day, or any day, is merely another ambiguous and plodding twenty-four hours, but rather a unique event filled, if I so wish, with worthy potentialities. I shall not be fool enough to suppose that trouble and pain are wholly evil parentheses in my existence but just as likely ladders to be climbed toward moral and spiritual manhood.
4. I shall not turn my life into a thin straight line which prefers abstractions to reality. I shall know what I am doing when I abstract, which of course I shall often have to do.
5. I shall not demean my own uniqueness by envy of others. I shall stop boring into myself to discover what psychological or social categories I might belong to. Mostly I shall simply forget about myself and do my work.
6. I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what [C. S.] Lewis calls their “divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic” existence.
7. I shall sometimes look back at the freshness of vision I had in childhood and try, at least for a little while, to be, in the words of Lewis Carroll, the “child of the pure unclouded brow, and dreaming eyes of wonder.”
8. I shall follow Darwin’s advice and turn frequently to imaginative things such as good literature and good music, preferably, as Lewis suggests, an old book and timeless music.
9. I shall not allow the devilish onrush of this century to usurp all my energies but will instead, as Charles Williams suggested, “fulfill the moment as the moment.” I shall try to live well just now because the only time that exists is just now.
10. If for nothing more than the sake of a change of view, I shall assume my ancestry to be from the heavens rather than from the caves.
11. Even if I turn out to be wrong, I shall bet my life in the assumption that this world is not idiotic, neither run by an absentee landlord, but that today, this very day, some stroke is being added to the cosmic canvas that in due course I shall understand with joy as a stroke made by the architect who calls Himself Alpha and Omega.