October 29, 2015.
Daily Reading: Ecclesiastes 1-2.
Background: The book of Ecclesiastes is one of the most interesting and different books found in scripture. The words of the preacher, or teacher (or even gatherer- Hebrew “Qoheleth”) are traditionally ascribed to Solomon, though modern scholarship doesn’t take too well to this idea. The author never names himself explicitly in the text, though he does call himself the son of David, king in Jerusalem. Ecclesiastes is included in the wisdom literature as there is ample wisdom and beautiful poetry found inside. The theme of the book is the vanity of life under the sun, highlighting the futility of this life which is meaningless without God. Many see the book of Ecclesiastes as deeply pessimistic and even depressive, however, great insight and even joy can be found from the wisdom given here. The book itself takes on a daunting question, “what is the meaning of life?” and tackles it in the end, which is perhaps the thesis of the work: “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13) As we read though these pages, let us consider the vanity of life ‘under the sun’ and find the true meaning behind this life, looking towards our Creator.
Concepts and Connections.
1. The cycles of life: The words of the preacher start with the meaningless of life under the sun- vanity of vanities! We will see this phrase ‘under the sun’ many times throughout the book, noting the life that we see here without reference to the life beyond what is physical. To open his discussion on the meaning of life, he focuses on the cycles of life, showing that there really isn’t anything new that happens but rather what has already happened before. Generations come and go, and only the earth remains. The sun rises and falls, and then rises again where it did before. Even the circuits of the wind and the water cycle are described here, which are great insights to our natural world that would not be made again for many years (note the wisdom and knowledge of scripture). The preacher then introduces the problem of life: the lack of satisfaction. The eye of man is never satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing. Nothing is new under the sun.
2. Ignorance is bliss: The preacher then presents his methods to seek the meaning of life, by setting his heart to find wisdom to search out all that is done under heaven. But in this task, vexation has come, for he has found that everything under the sun is meaningless. The more he learns, the more he sees vanity, and with knowledge comes sorrow. It seems that the preacher would agree with the phrase ‘ignorance is bliss’ when it comes to life under the sun, for even when he learns about the problems in life, he doesn’t see an adequate way of fixing them through physical means. Both wisdom and folly are vanity, though for different reasons, as we will see in the following chapters.
1. Searching for satisfaction: The preacher set out to find satisfaction under the sun by seeking out pleasure. He presents a case study here of his life, as he looked everywhere for satisfaction and meaning. Whatever he wanted he did not withhold from himself- and he tried it all. He tried pleasure, laughter, alcohol, building projects, gardening, pools, orchards, servants, entertainment, riches, singers, food, sex… you name it, he tried it. He surpassed all that came before him in riches and possessions, not withholding anything that his eyes desired. However, in the end, he found that it was all vanity. He had searched for satisfaction under the sun, but found none. He had searched for the meaning of life, and found that life is meaningless- under the sun that is. He was searching for something that he would never find in this life. He had tried everything under the sun, yet the satisfaction that he so desperately craved was beyond this life. The meaning of life would be to look beyond this life to find meaning.
2. Vanity of wisdom and toil: The preacher then turned to consider wisdom and folly. He does note that it is better to be wise than to be a fool, but even this alone is meaningless. For just as the fool dies, so does the wise. The same fate happens to them all. Whereas wisdom may help you in this life, in the end we will all still die. When you are focused on this life instead of the life to come, this certainly is a very depressing realization. The preacher said that he hated life when he understood the vanity of life. There was even vanity in toil, as when we die, we must give the fruit of our labor to another, for we cannot take it with us. He notes that we could work hard all our life and wisely gain the toil of our labors, only to die and leave it to a fool who would come after us. Then we find one of the first insights to joy that the preacher gives to us- we should eat, drink and find enjoyment in our labor. Instead of trying to satisfy ourselves with the fruit of our labor, which we cannot take with us, we should instead find satisfaction in the labor we do. This is the gift of God. The preacher will have more to say about this later.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Jonah 1-4.
Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.