I. Nothing New under the Sun (Ecclesiastes 1:1-18)
I. Nothing New under the Sun (1:1-18)
1:1 In the following words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem, Solomon is going to tell you plainly how life is to be viewed and understood—not based on a theoretical view but based on his experiences. Solomon can truly say, “Been there, done that.”
What’s the framework for understanding his thinking? At Solomon’s request, God had granted him incredible wisdom (see 1 Kgs 3). But fast forward many years, and we find that he took seven hundred foreign wives and three hundred concubines who “turned his heart away” from God (1 Kgs 11:3). Importantly, in Ecclesiastes, we’re reading about Solomon’s perspective on his life experiences after he had returned to the Lord.
Solomon is highly qualified to be the author of this book because he had it all and tried it all. He experienced everything life could offer, yet he’s going to say that a life perspective that’s disconnected from God is not truly living. It’s a saccharin existence, a sugary substitute for the real deal. Without God, life is empty. It’s nothing more than the temporary things you use to fill it up.
1:2-3 Solomon begins with a summary of the book: Absolute futility. Everything is futile (1:2). In other words, he opens by telling you he doesn’t have anything to talk about! Everything is empty and meaningless, at least from a merely human perspective. The phrase under the sun (1:3) is a reference to living life from an earthly perspective because “under the sun” is where people live, work, play, and raise their families. What does a person gain for all his efforts . . . under the sun? (1:3) is the same as asking, What’s the lasting benefit of what I do? Am I just spinning my wheels?
1:4-10 Generations come and go; the sun rises and sets; the wind blows here and there; rivers flow to the sea (1:4-7). As sure as the world works in set ways, so it seems that life is predictable. And thus, all things are wearisome (1:8).
What has been is what will be . . . there is nothing new under the sun (1:9). This brings to mind fashion trends. Styles will come back. Just give them time. And because that tends to be the way of things, can anyone truly say, Look, this is new? (1:10). Alhough advertisers may claim something is “new and improved,” they are really just working with the same raw materials—just reconfigured.
1:11 No one wants to be forgotten, which is why a popular fundraising strategy is to invite people to donate to a project so it can be named after them. But the cold reality is this: everyone is forgotten eventually. There is no remembrance of anyone.
1:12-16 When Solomon says, I applied my mind . . . I have seen all the things that are done under the sun . . . I have amassed wisdom far beyond all those . . . before me (1:13, 14, 16), he draws attention to the fact that he’s tried it all. He’s studied it all. But what did he conclude from those amazing experiences? Everything is futile, a pursuit of the wind (1:14). Try grabbing a breeze when it blows by; try to grasp a gust. As soon as you think you have it, it has slipped through your fingers. Men at their best are striving after something they can’t obtain.
1:17-18 Solomon studied wisdom and knowledge, madness and folly (1:17). He knew what it was to be smart and to be stupid, leading him to conclude that with much wisdom is much sorrow; as knowledge increases, grief increases (1:18). Indeed, most of us find that there are some things in life we wish we didn’t know. Sometimes, as knowledge increases, pain increases.