Wisdom of Marion Vol 1.25 (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2:26)

by | Apr 30, 2011 | Study of Ecclesiastes, Wisdom From Kammbia Column | 0 comments

2nd Study: Ecclesiastes 1:1-2:26

Ecclesiastes 1 begins with a poem:

Vanity[Vapor] of Vanities[Vapors], says the Preacher,

vanity of vanities! All is Vanity.

What does man gain by all the toil

at which he toils under the sun?

A generation goes, and a generation comes,

but the earth remains forever.

The sun rises, and the sun goes down,

and hastens to the place where it rises.

The wind blows to the south

and goes around to the north;

around and around goes the wind,

and on its circuits the wind returns.

All streams run to the sea,

but the sea is not full;

to the place where the streams flow,

there they flow again.

{Ecclesiastes 1:2-7 ESV}

This beginning part of the poem shows us that Solomon realizes the futility of man’s efforts over a world that does not yield to his influence.  Nature keeps going on and on, without any regard for man’s work.  Also, this really gives us a sense of man’s place in the scheme of life.

Even though, man is (and has been) creative throughout time. Our overall effect on nature is still minute at best. If you don’t think so, look at what happened this week with the tornadoes going through several states in the South and the devastation they caused.

In the next three verses of chapter 1, Solomon finishes the poem:

All things are full of weariness;

a man cannot utter it;

the eye is not satisfied with seeing,

nor the ear filled with hearing.

What has been is what will be

and what has been done is what will be done

and there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there a thing of which it is said,

“See, this is new”?

It has been already

in the ages before us.

There is no remembrance of former things,

nor will there be any remembrance

of later things yet to be

among those who come after.

{Ecclesiastes 1:8-11 ESV}

Pastor Meyers describes the latter part of Solomon’s poem this way:

The unending march of nature, which Solomon has described so vividly, gives way to the significance of the unending succession of generations. Solomon does not merely describe the boredom of humanity, but also points out how utterly limited man is. Human beings can only do what they have been given to do by God. Everything man achieves falls into certain categories which really do not change.

That there is nothing new under the sun does not mean that man does not invent, that he does not genuinely reflect his Creator by building and making wonderful new things. But after all, what is really new? Man does what he’s done since the dawn of time. He works, builds, eats, drinks, walks, sleeps, and dies, What leverage do these activities give mankind?  {pp. 47-48}

I must admit after reading the poem it can make you feel insignificant. Is there anything man can do to really affect the world? Well, by the end of chapter one, Solomon addresses that question.

He talks of being the King of Jerusalem and how he applied his heart to seeking out and searching for wisdom. But, ultimately realizing that acquiring wisdom [and knowledge] is like striving after the wind and causes sorrow.

After reading the first chapter, I can see why many people would feel that Solomon has given into despair and seemed to be lacking in faith.

Now in Chapter 2, Solomon decides to seek pleasure to the fullest. He made great works, built houses, gardens, and parks, drank wine and had concubines. He did everything under the sun as verses ten and eleven describe:

“And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity [vapor] and striving after the wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” [ESV]

We are pleasure seekers and to escape the rigors of life (like Solomon did), we will turn to pleasure as a way to seek some kind of meaning or value to living. However, we see that Solomon who has pursued both wisdom and folly equally realizes in verse thirteen:

“Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness.” [ESV]

Solomon confesses a statement of faith in that verse because if you read the next verse, he realizes the same fate (death) awaits both the seeker of wisdom and folly. This is one of the first clues I feel that the Book of Ecclesiastes is more a book about faith than a book about wisdom.

In verses 18-23, Solomon returns to his despair about life after seeking both wisdom and folly. And I think Pastor Meyers describes this section of chapter quite well:

Solomon is not being impious when he declares “I hated life” and “I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun.” Solomon is being pious to hate life. After all, loving life for the sake of the power of his toil would demonstrate that he lacked faith and was embracing idolatrous delusions rather than trusting God.

People develop idolatrous expectations of life by ignoring or discounting death. Death is an inescapable message from God, and it is not good news. While this seems obvious, it is resisted.

Solomon is appalled at life as a whole, the existence of man under the sun. He pours out deep feelings of revulsion at this situation. It is hebel [vapor], enigmatic and elusive. Death robs man of any leverage or surplus in this life. God has ordained frustration for man’s work. This frustration is epitomized in the discovery that everything you work for will be passed on to another–and you cannot control whether he will be a wise man or a fool. There is nothing to guarantee the wisdom of your successors. {pp. 60-61}

It seems on first glance that Solomon is a defeated, pessimistic man.  However, Chapter 2 ends with him being upbeat:

“There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind. {Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 ESV}

Pastor Meyers finishes this part of the study with these words:

In spite of life’s vaporous nature, God can be trusted and life can be enjoyed despite the fact it can’t be mastered, leveraged, or ever fully comprehended by man. Faith recognizes this and, in the face of it, moves forward to claim and enjoy the life and work and happiness that God apportions as gifts to man.

Realizing this can help you deal with life in a way that honors God. For example, do not be surprised to find yourself in a frustrating situation from which you cannot escape be means of controlling it. Not everything can be fixed! Not everything is a problem to be solved. Some things must be borne, must be suffered and endured. Wisdom does not teach us how to master the world. It does not give us techniques for programming life such that life becomes orderly and predictable.

Rejoice in what God has given you to do and trust in Him. This is the perspective of faith. {pp.63}

What I’ve learned from these first two chapters of Ecclesiastes is that when Solomon asked God for wisdom (1 Kings 3:1-15) he was put through the fire in order to educate his contemporaries and future generations about what is true wisdom. We should be ever thankful that God gave him wisdom and we can experience it by learning from Solomon instead of going through what he did ourselves.

I will end with a couple questions for you to think about this week.  I would love to receive some comments on the answers these questions.

1) Does Solomon’s testing of life from both ends (pursuing wisdom and folly) give you a better understanding on how we should live life and our place in it?

2) Are you surprised that Ecclesiastes is really more a book about faith than a book of wisdom?


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