Ecclesiastes does not exactly seem like the perfect book for uplifting and encouraging one another but let us take a look at it anyway.
We can assume from the titles the author gives himself and other clues that Solomon wrote this book. The wisest man, excluding Jesus, to walk the earth and he begins by saying that “everything is meaningless!” What is meaningless? From the third verse of chapter one and a number of arguments made throughout the book, we can understand Solomon to mean that all human endeavors are meaningless. With the number of times he repeats the word meaningless several translations/versions read as “utterly meaningless”. Our labors are totally and completely useless. So he asks the question, “What does man gain from all his labor?” It is almost like he is daring us to give a positive answer to that question.
He argues in broad strokes that our efforts can have no permanent value. “Generations come and generations go” speaks of how short life is and the insignificance of our efforts. He contrasts our efforts with the earth which will remain and yet even the things that happen on earth are without meaning. Solomon gives examples of the sun, wind, and water to illustrate his point. Each of these cycling around in ceaseless activity. But what does the sun, wind, or water gain from their activities? Nothing! It is all monotonous and wearisome without effecting any progress or reaching some goal.
“But there are so many advances every day. In technology, medicine, industry, you name it. With everything we have and what is coming, Solomon obviously had no idea what he was talking about when he said there is nothing new under the sun.”
Cell phones – just an update on old technology which in turn is just two people talking only over greater distances. The computer – just a dumbed down version of our own brains. If you know me you will find it difficult to believe that a computer is a dumbed down version of my brain but it is true. Computers only mimic the pathways and impulses of our brains. Space travel – it is still just traveling from one place to another, adventuring into the unknown. So Solomon is correct, there really is nothing new under the sun.
Let’s not forget either that Solomon was not only incredibly wise but he was insanely rich and powerful. With all of that he tried to discover something, anything that had not been done before. He even sunk into madness and folly. The conundrum to this endeavor however is that he did so under the guidance of wisdom. He did not indulge blindly or in uncontrolled excess. He denied himself nothing and undoubtedly gained some measure of satisfaction from his experiences but he discovered that it was all fleeting, gone in an instant. Nothing was truly gained from any of it.
Solomon’s verdict on all of this is that wisdom enabled him to enjoy both pleasure and the fruits of his labor sensibly, to cherish them rather than to pass numbly through them. So there is an advantage to wisdom over foolishness. Yet both the wise and foolish share the same fate. So what does wisdom gain us? What is the point?
Paraphrasing Proverbs 2:1-8, “my son, if you accept my words, turning your ear to wisdom, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom, He holds victory in store for the upright, He is a shield, He guards and protects the way of His faithful ones.”
There is a glorious purpose; Trust in Him and His plan, His power. We can gain knowledge and understanding from God’s Word but it only becomes wisdom when we apply it to our lives. When we live out what we have learned from Scripture we will be able to enjoy this life and all of our “meaningless” endeavors. Without God, everything is meaningless.
To be continued…