THE EXPERIENCE AND PERSPECTIVE OF SOLOMON TESTIFY TO THE EMPTINESS OF LIFE AND THE LACK OF ANY SATISFYING ANSWERS TO THE HUMAN CYCLE OF FUTILITY
The world claims to be searching for answers. What is the meaning of life? How can I find fulfillment and significance? Why do I hide from the boredom of reality and seek escape in the world of entertainment and sports, the world of education and Philosophy, the world of career success and achievements, the world of materialism and possessions, the world of sex and sensual pleasures, etc? Most of our unsaved friends refuse to face the emptiness of their pitiful worldview. They do not want to be reminded of the death that awaits and the unknown eternity that follows. They do not want to consider their accountability before their Creator. They deny that they are bankrupt and lost and blind in this meaningless existence of life on this earth apart from God. They are boastful about their satisfaction with the life they have chosen for themselves. “I’m living the way I want to live.” But what will be their destiny? They need a heavy dose of THE REALITY OF THEIR FUTILITY before they will respond to the good news of the free gift of salvation and meaningful life through the Lord Jesus Christ.
Surprising that the suicide rate is not higher than it is.
Fairchild: Many in our day are looking for a purpose to exist. A purpose profound enough, big enough, consuming enough, that it grabs us by the shirt collar and demands our attention. Many are looking for a reason for living that will plumb the depths of our passions and sustain us until we breathe our last.
That’s why this book of Ecclesiastes is such a helpful pre-evangelism tool to use with our unsaved friends. I encourage you to seek out someone with whom you can share a copy of this book (and Swindoll’s helpful guide) and discuss its perspective. But I find that too often Solomon’s perspective of futility mirrors my own thinking as a believer .. how can that be? We all need to be reminded of the vast difference between the worldview of humanism vs one who is united to Jesus Christ and living for eternity.
Solomon’s Technique: literary pessimism. It’s a negative argument to demonstrate a profound truth. To learn the true meaning of life … first view life apart from God – see it in all of its futility … then the layer of God-connectiveness can be added and it will mean something
Stedman: Ecclesiastes is a collection of what man is able to discern under the sun, i.e., in the visible world. The book does not take into consideration revelation that comes from beyond man’s powers of observation and reason. It is an inspired, an accurate book. It guarantees that what it reports is what people actually believe. but it is an examination of those beliefs.
I. (:1) THE PERSONA OF THE PREACHER: EMINENTLY QUALIFIED TO SPEAK WITH AUTHORITY
A. An Authoritative Blog (Public Journal)
We are fortunate to have such a record;
Still everyone refuses to listen but stubbornly chases the wind on their own.
What if someone were to come back from the dead and give personal testimony?
B. A Supremely Credible Author – Identified with 3 Majestic Descriptions
1. The Preacher = title of the Book – Ecclesiastes
The Hebrew word designates a leader who speaks before an assembly of people;
Our culture: the preacher is someone TV makes fun of and portrays as weak and out of touch with reality; positive not negative connotations here
2. Son of David – need to spend some time here and get some background
Stedman: Many of the critical commentators of our day question that view, and very few of them accept it. They try to date the book after the Babylonian exile, some 500 years after Solomon lived. That is the habitual stance of critics of the Old Testament.
(Try to make an argument based on the type of vocabulary and literary devices used …)
Who is this man Solomon: name means “peace” – contrast to the wars pursued under his father King David (just finished studying 2 Samuel) – chosen to build the Temple; associated with wisdom and wealth; set up for success
2 Chron. 9:5-8; 22-28
1 Kings 4:21-34
1 Kings 11:1-11 we see God’s displeasure with Solomon later in his reign
Racer: He had the largest geographic parcel of any Israelite king; plenty of wealth; these were happy times in Israel; he was a philosopher, scientist, thinker, diplomat;
He kept a journal of his life; he was more blessed by God than anyone; Still, he was not satisfied!
Don’t try to duplicate his pursuit of meaning in life — Instead, learn by his mistakes.
Fairchild: Solomon is King David’s son. He was born of Bathsheba, the woman David committed adultery with and had her husband murdered at the front lines of a battle. Though David loved God greatly, he was still a sinner that needed God’s grace. If you ever want to read a Psalm written by someone who has committed a great sin, read Psalm 51. It is the Psalm David wrote after he had sinned against God with Bathsheba.
3. King in Jerusalem
In control of the pursuit of this special knowledge
No limitations; no restraints – we need to listen to this authoritative message from Solomon
II. (:2-11) THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE PREACHER: MONOTONOUSLY BORED BY THE CYCLE OF EARTHBOUND FUTILITY
A. (:2) Simple Thesis – No Satisfaction in this life – just emptiness and futility
“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”
Cry of Despair
Hebrew literary device for emphasis – like calling Christ King of Kings and Lord of Lords
This insight for living comes from the same man who wrote much of the Book of Proverbs – what a different orientation
Certainly not the mindset of Christ: John 4:34 My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work
Certainly not the mindset of the Apostle Paul: Phil. 1:21-22 For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me
B. (:3) Fundamental Question – Why do we do what we do?? What is the point??
“What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun?”
Solomon is very analytical – trying to figure life out
He tried every type of pursuit imaginable – pushed the envelope to the limit
Using work here in a very general sense – all of life’s pursuits and activities and
endeavors; he will look at work and careers very specifically later
Stedman: After he has sucked dry all the immediate delight, joy or pleasure out of something, what is left over, what endures, what will remain to continually feed the hunger of his life for satisfaction?
C. (:4-7) Universal Illustration of the Meaningless Cycle of Nature
1. (:4) Generations don’t make a Difference
“A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.”
– Baby Boomers – who cares
– Generation X – who cares
2. (:5) Each Day is a Meaningless Repetition
“Also, the sun rises and the sun sets; And hastening to its place it rises there again.”
Course of the sun: Thing of beauty to some – but to Solomon, just another reminder visually of the meaningless repetition of life —
What is accomplished?? Nothing
3. (:6) The Wind Cycles Around – Accomplishing Nothing
“Blowing toward the south, Then turning toward the north, The wind continues swirling along; And on its circular courses the wind returns.”
Sort of like the futility of watching NASCAR race
What is the point of it all:
– Life is like a Beltway – lots of cars and activities – looks like they are just going around in a big circle
– Life is like a Treadmill – you work hard and sweat; but go nowhere
Constant repetitive motion – that is what the movement of the wind symbolizes
Fairchild: We often mistake movement with progress. We think we are making progress but in reality we are driving around a cul-de-sac and wondering why the neighborhoods all look the same.
4. (:7) The Cycle of Rivers Flowing into the Sea Makes no Sense
“All the rivers flow into the sea, Yet the sea is not full. To the place where the rivers flow, there they flow again.”
Cf. little children asking the question “Why?” repeatedly;
The sea is a bottomless pit; never satisfied; can never be filled up;
All of this impressive activity seems to accomplish nothing;
Probably reminds the housewives of their daily tedious chores ….
The dirty clothes and the dirty dishes just keep coming
Nothing is ever Done.
For business executives, why do you think they call it a rat race?
Wiersbe: In this section, Solomon approached the problem as a scientist and examined the “wheel of nature” around him: the earth, the sun, the wind, and the water. (This reminds us of the ancient “elements” of earth, air, fire, and water.) He was struck by the fact that generations of people came and went while the things of nature remained. There was “change” all around, yet nothing really changed. Everything was only part of the “wheel of nature” and contributed to the monotony of life. So, Solomon asked, “Is life worth living?”
D. (:8-11) Frustrating Conclusion – One Man Cannot Make a Difference, an Impact –
We are a meaningless dot on the timeline of unchanging existence
There is nothing new under the sun
1. (:8) No Satisfaction or Fulfillment for Man
“All things are wearisome; Man is not able to tell it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, Nor is the ear filled with hearing.”
Our glass is always half-filled; some people you describe that way; really applies to all of us; no matter how upbeat and optimistic we appear
Human desire is never satisfied; restlessness
2. (:9-10) Nothing new under the sun
“That which has been is that which will be,
And that which has been done is that which will be done.
So there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one might say, See this, it is new?
Already it has existed for ages which were before us.”
3. (:11) No Legacy or Memorials
“There is no remembrance of earlier things;
And also of the later things which will occur.
There will be for them no remembrance among those who will come later still.”
Man tries to build monuments and name roads after people – but don’t kid yourself; you are soon forgotten;
Mantra of business: no one is indispensable; you are replaceable;
Ask your friends tomorrow about the legacy of Solomon … what does his life mean to them?
III. (:12-18) THE PURSUIT OF THE PREACHER: DISCOURAGED AS HE DISCOVERS THE FUTILITY OF HUMAN EXISTENCE – EXAMINING BOTH WORKS AND WISDOM
(1:12 – 2:23 Solomon examining works and then wisdom – repeated cycles … looking for a way to break out of the monotony and meaninglessness of life)
A. (:12-15) Examination of Works
1. (:12) Supremely Qualified Detective
a. Preeminent Insight
“I the Preacher”
Penned the words of the book of Proverbs earlier 12:9-12
b. Preeminent Dominion
“have been king over Israel”
c. Preeminent Location
2. (:13) Mission Impossible – Discover the Secret of Life
a. Supremely Focused Pursuit
(1). Analytical and Logical Pursuit
“And I set my mind”
Not getting some subjective, emotional reaction
This will be well thought out; enlightened; reasonable
(2). Comprehensive Pursuit — Swindoll
(a) “to seek” – investigate the roots of a matter
Do serious research
(b) “and explore” – examine all sides
It’s a practical word for experimentation
Stedman: the Searcher – he is the ultimate investigative reporter
Here is a searching mind which has looked over all of life and seen what is behind the actions of people
(3). Gifted Pursuit – “by wisdom”
Who better than Solomon to investigate
(4). Unconstrained Pursuit
“concerning all that has been done under heaven”
Our grand juries are limited; focusing just on investigating one issue;
Can be very frustrating; can’t ask certain questions; can’t go there
b. Supremely Frustrating Mission
“It is a grievous task which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with.”
Wiersbe: Solomon mentions God forty times and always uses “Elohim” and never “Jehovah.” Elohim (“God” in the English Bible) is the Mighty God, the glorious God of creation who exercises sovereign power. Jehovah (“LORD” in the English Bible) is the God of the covenant, the God of revelation who is eternally self-existent and yet graciously relates Himself to sinful man. Since Solomon is dealing exclusively with what he sees “under the sun,” he uses Elohim.
Eaton: God has appointed an unhappy task for the sons of men to do. The verb “give” sometimes has the force of “appoint” (e.g. Je. 1:5). People may live secularly in the earthly realm, but the problems they meet are ordained by the God who occupies the heavenly realm. Mankind cannot be indifferent to or detached from the futility which besets him; it is an “inescapable fact of one’s humanity” (Rylaarsdam). Business, denoting mankind’s restlessness and vigour in the quest for meaning, derives from anah, “to engage in something”, to be active in doing something”. It points to the sense of compulsion behind the quest. Mankind thinks and plans. This he can scarcely avoid, for he want to understand where his life is going. This is the burden which, by God’s decree, every man bears; the problem of life is no optional hobby.
3. (:14-15) Theory of Futility Substantiated
Cf. Einstein and his theory of Relativity – Solomon known for his more fundamental human theory = The theory of futility
a. Comprehensive Investigation
“I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun”
b. Consistent Conclusion = Thesis of the Book Repeated
“all is vanity and striving after wind”
Wiersbe: Both the workaholic and the alcoholic are running away from reality and living on substitutes, and one day the bubble of illusion will burst. We only make life harder when we try to escape. Instead of running away from life, we should run to God and let Him make life worth living.
c. Confirmed Inevitability
“What is crooked cannot be straightened
And what is lacking cannot be counted.”
Wouldn’t you like to be part of the solution; wouldn’t you like to make a difference; cf all of the politicians each election promising CHANGE – they are going to step into office and enact policies and sponsor legislation that will cure our ills; take just one for example: cutting back on big govt spending … what are the results?
How about trying to make changes in our own lives; all of the self help books; all of the inspirational speakers who try to get us all enthused about mind over matter; all of the positive thinking gurus; reality: you can’t change the spots on a leopard!
Only God can transform people’s lives from the inside out
B. (:16-18) Examination of Wisdom
1. Supremely Qualified Detective
“I said to myself, Behold, I have magnified and increased wisdom more than all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has observed a wealth of wisdom and knowledge”
I stopped at nothing; I gave it my best shot
2. Mission Impossible
“And I set my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly;”
3. Theory of Futility Substantiated
“I realized that this also is striving after wind. Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.”
T. S. Eliot in Choruses from “The Rock”: All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance.
Racer: Why is there so much grief in Education?
1) Obsolescence — there is always something more and newer to be learned (cf. computer software releases)
2) Hitting the wall of our own educational and mental capabilities (you can never know it all)
Zeisler: Why is this? we wonder. Why should an increase in knowledge and understanding bring grief and pain? I think most of us suffer from a ‘cockeyed optimist’ syndrome. We feel that if we could just understand reality, that some semblance of coherence would emerge; that there is something beautiful awaiting us at the end of the ‘yellow brick road’; that although to all outward appearances, the world seems topsy-turvy, at its core everything is good and rational. But no. If all we have to go on is life “under the sun,” if heaven does not break through somewhere along the line, then the farther we penetrate in our search the more we will discover that there is no good center awaiting us at the end of our quest.