Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, January 13, 2020 0 comments

by Katie Erickson

Last week, I introduced the book of Ecclesiastes, giving some background information on the author, the themes, and the purpose of the book. Today, it’s time to dig right into the text!

As I explained last week, Ecclesiastes is written by the Teacher, who is likely King Solomon, son of King David (verse 1). He gives the theme of the book in verse 2: “‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’” Sounds nice and encouraging, right?

The word translated in the NIV as “meaningless” is hevel in Hebrew. It can also be translated as vanity (as in the NASB), vapor, or a breath. Essentially, this word has the idea of stuff that may matter for a very short amount of time but then really has no purpose. The Hebrew language likes repetition, and this verse is full of it. Of the 8 words in this verse, 5 of them are forms of the word hevel.

But what exactly does that mean that everything is meaningless? The Teacher begins to explain that further in verse 3: “What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?” Mankind is continually frustrated in their laboring. When sin entered the world in Genesis 3, mankind chose the path of disobeying God. This meant that all of creation fell into sin, and in Genesis 3:17-19 we see that even the ground became cursed because of mankind’s sinfulness. God tells Adam that work will now be difficult for him, and for every human being to come.

The phrase “under the sun” here in Ecclesiastes 1:3 is also significant. This particular phrase is used 29 times in Ecclesiastes, and nowhere else in the Bible. This phrase could refer to how mankind will sweat at his work, as under the heat of the sun. As we generally think of God being up in the heavens, “under the sun” refers to things of this earth, not heavenly things. This phrase also shows us that the content of this book is not limited to just the Teacher’s people, Israel, but all of the nations on earth, as all people are under the same sun.

So if all is meaningless, what is the point of this book? The Teacher begins his search for meaning starting in verse 4, and the Teacher looks specifically to nature for meaning in verses 4-7. He looks at the longevity of the earth, the continual rising and setting of the sun and moon, how the winds blow, and how water works. All of these things just keep on going with no intervention from humans. It’s the way God set up the earth to function, all by itself, with all of its systems and processes. These things by themselves do not give life any meaning, and anyone who doesn’t believe in God will not see them as pointing to God, but merely as scientific information on how the world functions.

However, to a person who believes in God, all of these elements of nature point to the one Creator God! Psalm 19 and Romans 1:20 also indicate this to us, that the natural world points us to the one who created all of it. But, the Teacher is looking for some kind of concrete meaning to life. If all of these things just keep going forever, if they have been going on long before we lived, and if they will continue to go on long after we die, they don’t provide any meaning to our individual lives. Is there meaning to be found in nature?

The Teacher elaborates on this idea of things just continuing on and on in verses 8-10. “There is nothing new under the sun” (verse 9b). He emphasizes that no one can ever find something that is truly new; everything is just another version of something that has already been in existence. There is nothing that can truly be new in the sense of giving true meaning to our lives as humans on this earth.

Finally, verse 11 ends on this depressing note: No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.” All people want to be remembered; it’s part of how we’re wired. We may not all strive to be famous for the whole world to remember us, but we all want to be remembered at least by those closest to us. But this verse implies that no one will ever be remembered at all! The idea behind this verse, however, is that we won’t be remembered because none of us will ever truly find meaning in the things of this world, in the things under the sun.

It has been said that the only way to know true joy is to experience true sorrow, and that’s kind of what Ecclesiastes does. It goes through all the bad and meaningless things of this earth in order to find the true joy of who God is and what He has done for us as His people.

God made this world perfect, and it was us humans who messed it up. We look for life to have meaning in all the wrong places. Maybe you are one who looks to science and the things of the natural world to find meaning, as the Teacher did in today’s verses. While the routine and consistency of many things in nature can be a comfort to us, we don’t find true meaning there. The natural processes all just keep going, no matter if any particular individual is alive or not. While we can and should always appreciate the beauty and rhythm of nature, true meaning is not found there.

I know the book of Ecclesiastes doesn’t sound like a very uplifting book so far, but stick with me. We’ll continue to go through all the places where we can’t find meaning, and as we rule out each one, they’ll bring us closer to where we really can find true meaning.

This forum is meant to foster discussion and allow for differing viewpoints to be explored with equal and respectful consideration.  All comments are moderated and any foul language or threatening/abusive comments will not be approved.  Users who engage in threatening or abusive comments which are physically harmful in nature will be reported to the authorities.