Ecclesiastes and Vanity of Life, Part 3
As I’ve stated already in this series, Ecclesiastes is an oft-misunderstood book. I think people shy away from it because it sounds like the ravings of a guy who is thoroughly depressed and has absolutely no joy in life. To think that is, in my opinion, a huge mistake. As we’ll see, Ecclesiastes is a book of hope and truly sets the record straight about life as we should live it.
Solomon is using all of his wisdom to understand why people do what they do. Why do we waste so much time and effort striving for things? Why is so much of what we strive for ultimately vanity? In our first two articles, we covered up to verse 8 of chapter one. If you’re picking this up with this article, I would suggest you go back and start at the beginning, which can be found here.
For this article, we want to continue on with verses 9 through 11 of chapter one.
9 What exists now is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing truly new on earth.
10 Is there anything about which someone can say, “Look at this! It is new!”?
It was already done long ago, before our time.
11 No one remembers the former events,
nor will anyone remember the events that are yet to happen;
they will not be remembered by the future generations.
Let’s recall that verse 2 highlights Solomon’s thesis statement, that is, the everything is vanity. Various translations state that everything is futile (NET), vanity (KJV, NASB), or something similar. His statement, “Absolutely futile! Everything is futile!” is designed to grab our attention. Solomon – as the teacher (or preacher), has taken his position at the podium and makes this statement to ensure that you are listening. He wants to grab his readers/listeners and he pulls no punches. You can almost hear him shouting because his desire is to focus your thoughts on the truths he is about to reveal.
The natural question to his opening statements (his thesis) would be, “How can you say that, King Solomon?” This is exactly what he hopes the response would be because he is going to take us on a carefully crafted journey so that we will have no recourse but to realize that he speaks the absolute truth!
Verse 3 gets right into by asking “What benefit do people get from all the effort which they expend on earth?”
The point of this question is to force us to realize that people expend tremendous amounts of energy and for what? He’ll answer that question eventually, but right now, he wants us to think. Why do you use the energy you use in your life? What are you chasing after so that when you find it, you will consider your life complete. But will it be complete? There’s probably something else that you will start to chase after at that point.
He takes the time to show how various aspects of nature all repeat themselves. They understand the role they play in life and are simply content to do what they do even though they do so repetitively since the Creation.
In verse 8, he states that all of this repetitive action is monotony. That might seem negative and depressing, but what he is stating is actually true. To human beings, it would seem that part of the curse associated with the fall is our inability to be content with what we have. We find it difficult to be happy with what we have, the repetitive nature of the four seasons, the normal ebb and flow of life itself. We are constantly striving for this, that, or the other thing and when we reach our goals, we’re still not satisfied!
Let’s see where Solomon is leading us with verses 9-11.
9 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.
10 Is there anything of which one might say,
“See this, it is new”?
Already it has existed for ages
Which were before us.
11 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. (NASB)
In the above three verses, Solomon reminds us that there really is nothing new under the sun. Oh sure, technology has given us new and faster ways to communicate and we can now get around using cars, trucks, motorcycles, and planes, things that were not available during Solomon’s time. However, in the end, we are still doing the same things that Solomon and his contemporaries are doing; traveling or moving from one place to another. People then communicated through the written or spoken word. So do we now. We simply use different forms of technology to do so.
If we stop to consider it, the things we have today that make life easier are things made possible because of previous generations’ experiments and discoveries. This is especially true of music and how it has changed over the years. It changed because some musician took what someone else had done and simply modified it, essentially building on what had come before.
Just as interesting is what Solomon refers to in verse 11 when he says that no one remembers the “earlier things.” It’s true. Each generation of people believe that what they are known for makes them “all that.” It’s as if they think inventions, discoveries, and methods were new to each new generation. The people of the newest generation forget (or never knew) that what they have, they have because of what past generations created or discovered.
I’m getting close to 60-years old. I can still remember bell bottom pants, long hair styles on men and boys, the type of shoes I wore as a kid, the “loud” clothing we wore as well. I can also remember the sayings we had like, “far out” or “right on” or “far out and solid” or similar things. It’s a bit ironic to see bell bottom pants coming and going, men’s ties getting thinner than wider, going from solid colors, to stripes, and back again. Hairstyles are the same. People “forget” (through a lack of knowledge) what was considered peculiar to the past generation.
I recall the onset of computers. I remember the very first cell phone that we could afford. I remember the beginnings of the Internet (which was actually used by Army scientists as early as the 1940s and 50s). My kids cannot recall life without computers because they grew up with them. Their kids – should the Lord tarry – will have something even more elaborate.
But the truth is that the basic things that define one generation also define every generation. This is Solomon’s point. It is a good idea for us to understand that all of our technological wonders do not make a particular generation better. It only means there are more discoveries or inventions that might move things along faster, but in the end, has it really helped make society a better place or as Solomon is asking, do those inventions and discoveries mean that the basic necessities of life including the fact that people continue to communicate are different from one generation to the next? Solomon’s answer is a solid no.
Solomon almost seems desperate to make us aware of this fact. Again, he has set out to prove his thesis that all is vanity. He is, in these three verses, helping us understand that the basic needs do not change from one generation to another. While the way things are done might change, the fact that they continue to be done proves his statement that life is completely cyclical in nature. What should this tell us about life in general and the way people should react to it or enjoy it?
We’ll work on the last few verses of chapter one in our next article.
Entry filed under: israel, Judaism, Religious - Christian - End Times, Religious - Christian - Prophecy, Religious - Christian - Theology, salvation. Tags: all is vanity, ecclesiastes, king solomon, solomon, solomon wisest man, solomon's wisdom, utter futility.