Ecclesiastes: From Meaninglessness to Meaningfulness
(1:1-18, 12:13-14) Pastor Heo
1 The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: 2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” 3 What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? 4 Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. 5 The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. 6 The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. 7 All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. 8 All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. 9 What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. 11 No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them. 12 I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! 14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. 15 What is crooked cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted. 16 I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” 17 Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. 18 For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.
13 Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.
Another one to memorize & meditate on.
Ecclesiastes – this book is very profound and problematic (theological, philosophical, meditative, yet practical).
- Chp 3:19 “Man’s fate is like that of animals. As animals die, so man dies. Both have the same breath. Both come from dust and will return to dust. So man has no advantage over animals. Naked he came from his mother’s womb and naked he will depart.”
- Chp 5:15 “The dead are happier than the living. The one who is not born is much better than both.” But do not kill yourself. (It doesn’t say, the one who commits suicide is happier.)
What is the condition? Outside/without/against God. If a man is not saved until his death because he did not accept Christ as Savior and Lord, for him/her it would be much better to not have been born. Jesus said to Judas, if he had not been born, it would be better.
- Yes, this book can be very hard and difficult to accept for some.
- Yet, it can also be easy to understand and accept for others.
It depends on your viewpoint. If you misunderstand the key point, you may be pessimistic. But if you understand the key point, we can be hopeful and have a meaningful life.
This is a book of HOPE not hopelessness.
I pray that the Holy Spirit will help us all to understand this book and help us to apply it practically to our lives.
Ecclesiastes = Greek ‘eck-le-say-as-tehs’ – “philosopher, teacher” – it came from ‘ecclesia’ = meaning ‘church, congregation, people’.
Actually, “church” is NOT a building, but it is God’s people called OUT of the world to meet him and then sent back INTO the world to preach his message.
Are we a church? Yes. Then we have a privilege and responsibility to understand this message and preach it to this world.
Who is the author? Solomon. (Though no writer’s name is mentioned, but several passages strongly suggest it is Solomon.)
- Chp 1:1 “The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem…”
- Chp 1:12 “king of Israel”
- Chp 1:16 “wisest man”
- Chp 2 “richer and greater by far than anyone else in Jerusalem”
- Chp 12:6 “a woman who is a snare is more bitter than death” (he realized through personal experience)
- Chp 12:9 “wrote many passages”
Thus, it is strongly suggested that the writer is Solomon.
After introducing himself in Chp 1:1, he begins shouting preaching in verse 2 “Meaningless!” is repeated 4 times.
- KJV = “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” –
- another version “Useless, useless.”
Is your life “meaningless”? This book (in the Bible) says “Yes” ALL is meaningless.
This book has 12 chapters with 222 verses. In these 222 verses, this word “meaningless” appears 35 times. This means, 1 out of every 6 verses, this word “meaningless” appears. This is the thesis/premise/proposition of this book.
Then, the author PROVES through his own personal experience and observation the TRUTH of this.
Knowledge, wisdom, toil, many children, great achievements, reputation, fame, honor, glory, ALL is meaningless.
And why is it Solomon who said this? “Everything is meaningless.”
Actually, since the Creation of the world, Solomon is the BEST one to say this. He is the MOST qualified. For example, if a poor man says this, his word may be “meaningless.” But if the RICHEST, WISEST, most POWERFUL man in human history says this, his word can be meaningful. (I can say this because I have a PhD, but it’s a high school diploma.)
Solomon had all the wisdom, riches, women (1000), all the mental, political, social resources possible. He had ALL that other men DREAM of and he says, “Meaningless.”
Another key phrase: “under the sun.”
Everybody is currently living “under the sun” – this is a key phrase to help UNDERSTAND “meaningless.” Meaningless = repeated 35 times. This phrase “under the sun” is also repeated about 30 times.
Yes, “under the sun” everything is “meaningless” and there is nothing new. What has been in the past, will be in the future (like the return of 80s/90s fashion).
There is NOTHING NEW “under the sun” – everything is “meaningless.”
What is the meaning/symbol of “under the sun”?
Without the sun, we cannot live/move/breath. Yet, that sun is MATERIAL. Under the sun, all things are MATERIAL and temporary. All things will perish and pass away. Under the sun, all are limited and bound by time.
- “There is a time for everything under the sun…” (Ecclesiastes 3)
Everything is shortened by the reality of death. So, no matter how meaningful something may look at that time (iPhone), the end is meaningless.
Your life is meaningless? I hope not.
Yes, we are living in time – it is very important. But our time is limited between the time of BIRTH and the time of DEATH. Yes, we have many MOMENTS (much time) between those two Moments, but our time is LIMITED between those times. We cannot go beyond our time of birth, and we cannot go beyond our time of death. We are bound and limited “under the sun” by time. This is ALL temporary – “under the sun.”
But we, humans, are created in the Image and Likeness of God. We are made to LONG FOR eternity. We are created to never be satisfied, but to long for eternity.
- Chp 3:11 “God has placed eternity in the hearts of man.”
We are created to look for eternity, but IN TIME, there is no eternity. In eternity, there is no time.
You are created in the Image of God (like Father, like son).
- Even though our bodies are material, we are spirit as God is spirit.
- God is eternal, as are our spirits.
- God exists in three elements (Father, Son, Spirit) in one essence. We also are three elements in one essence (body, mind, spirit).
Our body can be filled and satisfied with MATERIAL because our body is from dirt, from dust. So, we are satisfied with the things from dust as well.
Our minds can be filled and satisfied with something MENTAL – social, relationships, study, language, learning.
Our spirits can be filled and satisfied with only GOD – he is eternal, life, a person.
So, “under the sun” = “outside/against God” – so the key question is “is our life WITH / IN God or OUTSIDE / AGAINST God”?
Remember outside God, all is meaningless.
But, this book is the Book of Hope. Therefore, all things we are doing IN/WITH God, ALL things are meaningFUL.
God is a person, incarnate. Without God, means, without Jesus (the incarnate God). “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”
What does this mean?
- A Jesus-less life is repression –
- Jesus-less toil is a hateful work,
- Jesus-less money is trouble,
- Jesus-less satisfaction is self-satisfaction,
- Jesus-less knowledge is doubt,
- Jesus-less greatness is sorrow,
- Jesus-less philosophy is emptiness,
- Jesus-less religion is dread, illusion, idolatry,
- Jesus-less existence is frustration,
- Jesus-less eternity is hell. Everlasting torment in hell.
The life NOT centered in God is meaningless.
- James 1:17 “Every good and perfect gift is from above (the sun).”
So, even though we are living “under the sun” we must be able to see “beyond the sun, above the sun.” This is a spiritual paradox.
If we realize that everything under the sun is meaningless, then we can still live a meaningful life when connected to God above the sun. We can experience satisfaction with God in eternity when we are connected with him, even though we remain “under the sun.”
The Teacher is a philosopher, actually, we all are. Everyone is a kind of philosopher. Philosophy is the HIGHEST level among the human sciences. This word also comes from Greek “philia” (love, friendly love) and “sophia” (wisdom). = it means “love of knowledge” or the study of the fundamental questions. HOW, WHY, WHERE?
- Who am I?
- What am I here for?
These are the fundamental questions in philosophy. Actually, there is no answer to be found in philosophy. But, ALL the answers can be found in Theology “theos” – “study of God”.
God is the creator and sustainer of all things. ALL questions that are present in philosophy must be found in theology. Philosophy is a servant of theology. ALL answers must be found in God.
So, what is the conclusion of this matter?
12:13 Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.
Memorize these and keep them deep in your heart and mind.
Last week, we studied Proverbs. Actually, the two books do not contradict each other but complement each other. “Fear of God” is the foundation and fountain of life, the beginning of wisdom and knowledge.
Solomon is a symbol/type of Jesus Christ.
That’s why in Matt 12, “Jesus is much greater than Solomon – uncomparably.”
- Solomon came into the world to show how meaningless our lives are “under the sun.” But Jesus showed us how meaningful our lives could be when connected “above the sun.”
- Solomon came to show us not to waste our time with idolatry. Jesus came to give us an example to follow “Jesus suffered for us, leaving us an example to follow.” “He is our wisdom, knowledge, holiness, sanctification, life.”
- UNDER THE SUN, nothing is New.
- IN CHRIST, everything is New.(2 Cor 5:17 “If anyone is in Christ, he is a New Creation, the old has gone, the New has come.”)
- Solomon came to teach us how short and empty and temporary our lives “under the sun” are. But Christ came to give us “abundant, full life.”
- “This is the testimony, God has given us eternal life and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life, but he who does not have the Son does not have life.” (1 John 5:11-12?)
Four Points to Remember:
(Do you want to live a meaningful life in this meaningless world?)
#1 Commit your life to Jesus Christ – because he gave you already eternal life. If he already gave you eternal life, it’s natural to commit our short, temporary life to him.
#2 Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, strength – because God so loved you that he sent his Son to die on the cross to give us eternal life.
#3 Enjoy your daily life as a GIFT FROM GOD. Enjoy your life, big or small. Do whatever you want to do.
#4 Remember, God will bring all actions into judgment. This can have a negative or positive meaning – it depends on our actions and our attitudes toward God.
“Nothing is hidden before the eyes of God – everything is laid bare before him to whom we must give account.”
- Commit to God
- Love God
- Enjoy life
- Remember, God will judge your deeds, actions, thoughts, motivations.
A sermon is a kind of communication with God – we have HEARD. NOW, it is the time for us to SPEAK.
Remember the 4 points, and let us give our response to God.