It shouldn’t but it does. Most people think it is a depressed Old Man Solomon sitting down at the end of his life saying “EVERYTHING IS MEANINGLESS.” Therefore, most of the book is about how everything is meaningless, life is not valuable, and it would be better to be dead.
But that’s a bad interpretation.
First, let’s look at 1:2. This is the key phrase of the book. Everything hinges on understanding this phrase correctly. And most of our translations do a poor job. That may seem arrogant, but let’s look at the word in Hebrew. The word, (transliterated) is “havel” or “habel”. Literally, it means “mist” or “vapor.” Very rarely is it used in this sense. Many more times it is used of idols, which are “mists” as opposed to God’s “concreteness.” In its more poetic context, which the passage warrants, it means “temporary”, “fleeting”, “transitory”. The author is declaring “Passing! Fleeting! Un-lasting! Everything changes and nothing remains!” See how VASTLY different that sounds from the usual “eVeRyThInG iS mEaNiNgLeSs!” we normally read?
We need to understand that the central call of the book is about how nothing lasts because it makes the question in 1:3 make SO MUCH MORE SENSE! The author (Qohelet, the teacher, most likely meant to be Solomon, but not for sure) is not simply lamenting that work is hard and not much can be gained. Instead, the author is asking a very pointed question : “In everything I do, WHAT DO I HAVE THAT LASTS? What remains? What is not ‘havel’, not a temporary, fleeting, striving after the wind?”
Now THAT is a question we want an answer to!
This isn’t a depressed teacher moaning about how everything is terrible and nothing matters and that all the stuff we do is unimportant. He is asking (and implicitly promising to answer), “What will be the thing that will last when all the other futilities of life fade?”
He goes on in these first 6 chapters and tells us that it’s not wisdom (1:12-18)[though it is better than folly (2:12-17)], it’s not pleasure (2:1-3) or possessions (2:4-11), it’s not labor (2:18-23) [though labor is a good thing (2:24-26, 3:12-15)]. The justice and oppression of men is havel, those who seek after money will realize it is havel.
Look at what the author says in 3:14 “I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it.” The eternal, so far as we know now, the thing that is not havel, temporary, fleeting or futile, is the work of God.
We leave this section of Ecclesiastes without the answer. There are some depressing things the author says, but once we have the answer for “what does a man gain? what LASTS?” we can reevaluate those passages in light of the answer.
Today’s reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ecclesiastes+1-6&version=NIV
Tomorrow we will finish the book of Ecclesiastes to find yet another wise answer to the questions of life on our walk through God’s powerful word – 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan