Ecclesiastes 1&2: The Futility of Life

Do you ever just sit around thinking about the meaning of life? Does it get depressing when you realize that no matter what we do, we're all expected to experience a physical death? Solomon thought about these things too and recorded his thoughts in Ecclesiastes.

Introduction

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Ecclesiastes starts off identifying the author as the son of David whom people called preacher. Most people agree that this refers to Solomon, though it's not explicitly stated. The KJV text places a "the son of David" between two commas, as a clause implying Ecclesiastes 1:1 could read "The words of the Preacher, king in Jerusalem." However, commas were added to the text much later. It's just as possible that "king of Jerusalem" refers to David not the son. Ecclesiastes 1:12 clears up the confusion by clarifying that the author was king at one point. Add the fact that Solomon was very wise and is confirmed to have written some texts, and most people are sure he penned this book.

Ecclesiastes has a darker tone than many of the other Books of Wisdom. In the text, the author is trying to answer the question of the meaning of life. It's quite the heavy topic, so the chapters of the book are equally heavy.
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What Is Your Purpose in Life?

Solomon asks us what we gain from our labor. We work most of our adult lives, but when we die, what happens? You have certain people who are etched in history forever; from Biblical heroes (and villains) to historical figures, these people will be discussed for all of humanity. The average Joe, however, will cease to exist once his or her family and friends die. Solomon likens this to the rivers running into the sea, but the sea never overflows. It's as though nothing is happening.

Except, a lot is happening. We just can't see it. The reason seas and lakes don't overflow (unless there's a flood) is due to the hydrological cycle. Water evaporates into the sky then rains back on the Earth, creating a cyclical pattern. Just as the drops of water in the sea change due to the flow of the river, the people in the world change due to our presence. Our eyes can see the evaporation process, just like we can't always see the effect we have on those around us. We may not touch enough people to go down in secular history books, but as long as we're spreading God's love and message to those we do come in contact with, we're making enough of a difference for God.

Nothing New?

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.Ecclesiastes 1:9 KJV
We all know the saying that there is nothing new under the sun. History, fashion, and ideas all tend to repeat themselves. My parents and teachers used to use the phrase to remind us they'd already been in our seats and we wouldn't be able to get over on them. I don't think that was quite the intent of the verse, though. If you study the Bible, you will see that much of the history parallels the history the was and is to come. Not only do individual events double as allegories for future events, prophecy explicitly references previous events. We are told that the end of days will be like the days of Noah. The wisdom Solomon gives here is not just to tell us that the hairdo we wore in the 90s might be popular again by the time we have kids, but to remind us to pay close attention to what happened in the Bible (and in post-Biblical history) because it will happen again.

How Do We Fix Wrong?

As we try to navigate our way forward after yet another series of hate-filled events, the question of how to fix the things that are wrong in this world is a very important question. If we could just say or do something to fix everything, wouldn't we do it in a heartbeat? Solomon tells us that crooked things cannot be made straight. Wrong can't be made right and right can't be made wrong. When I first read this verse, I thought it was referencing those who do wrong. I thought Solomon was telling us it was hopeless to try to save people, which made no sense because we are all sinners. As I lingered on that thought, I realized that Solomon was talking about the acts themselves not the people performing those acts.

Murder will always be murder and hate will always be hate. Nothing can justify them and they are wrong. As a nation, we really need to understand the absolutes of wrong. There is nothing good about hate, there never was, and there never will be.

Ignorance is Bliss

In 1984, by George Orwell, the government promoted the saying "ignorance is bliss." The idea in the novel was to keep the people in control through ignorance. Solomon agrees with this idea, but from a different angle. With wisdom, comes grief. The more we know about the world, about life, about God, and about ourselves, the better prepared we are to stand for God, but the more we hurt. Our eyes become aware of the evil in the world and we see our own part in that evil. The government from 1984 used the phrase to promote ignorance; they encouraged their citizens to take the easy way out. In return, those people lost their freedom and became trapped in an oppressive society. Solomon is telling us that even though wisdom will make our hearts heavy, it is the safest path to take.

Money & Wealth

Some people work their whole lives trying to become rich. Solomon wasn't jut rich, he was wealthy. He was the type of person that could make a few bad investments and still be rich. Everything he could image, he could buy. Yet, Solomon admits that it didn't give him any pleasure. I know for a fact, many celebrities of our time can relate to this sentiment; just listen to their lyrics and observe their meltdowns. Money doesn't buy happiness. Sure, we need money for food and shelter. Our lives become stressful when we barely have enough to make ends meet, but sometimes what we think we need is more than what we actually need. Our goal in life shouldn't be to be so rich we can live extravagant lives, but simply to have just enough. Solomon tells us that much money is vanity because, as my grandmother used to say, "you can't take it with you when you go."

Consequence of Death

One of the things that makes Ecclesiastes so heavy is that it deals with death. Solomon is reminding us that despite our actions, our beliefs, and our allegiances, we all die a physical death. The foolish and the wise both die. Jesus lived a perfect existence on Earth and people still debate whether He's real or not, so you can rest assured that no matter how you live your life, mankind is not guaranteed to remember you fondly.

Solomon tells us that the work we put it might get attributed to someone who didn't put in any work. I'm sure the Native Americans can sympathize with this feeling every time someone brings up Columbus...

Solomon isn't trying to convince us to live however we please, but is reminding us of the futility of worrying about such things. We should act according to wisdom and according to God because we want to. not to gain something. If we do everything for recognition or wealth, we'll always come up short. Instead, we have to live to the best of our abilities and take pleasure in the simple things of life.

References

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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