Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

Everything Is Meaningless

1 The words of the Teacher,[a] 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.

Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 Meaning and Commentary


This book has been universally received into the canon of the Scriptures, by Jews and Christians. The former, indeed, had once some controversy {a} about it; and they thought to have hid it, or put it among the apocryphal books; because, at first sight, some things seemed contradictory to each other {b}, and to incline to heresy {c}, atheism, and epicurism, and to assert the eternity of the world {d}: but they better considered of it; and when they observed those passages were capable of a good sense, and that the whole agreed with the law of God, they changed their minds {e}. And so likewise it has been rejected by some heretical persons, of the Christian name, as Theodore and Mopsuest, and others; and by deists, and some deistically inclined. But it carries in it such internal evidences of a divine original, as cannot well be denied; it delivers out and inculcates such divine instructions, concerning the duties of men to God, and one another; concerning the contempt of the world, and the carnal pleasures of it; the fear and worship of God, and a future judgment; as none but the wisdom of God could suggest. There are various things in it which seem to be referred to by Christ and his apostles; at least there is an entire agreement between them: among the many things that might be observed, compare Ec 11:5, 12:11 with Joh 3:8, 10:16; and Ec 11:9, 12:14 with 2Co 5:10, 1Co 4:5; and Ec 7:20 with 1Jo 1:8. As to the author of it, there are evident marks of its being written by Solomon; yet, by some Jewish writers, it is ascribed to Isaiah {f}, which seems exceeding strange; for though he was a great prophet, and an evangelical preacher, yet no king in Jerusalem; whatever may be said for his being of the house of David, and of the royal family, as some have thought: and, besides, there is no agreement in style between this book and the writings of Isaiah. Others of them ascribe it to Hezekiah and his men {g}: Hezekiah was indeed the son of David, and David in expressly called his father; and he was a prince of great character, both with respect to religion, and to wealth and grandeur; see \2Ch 29:2 32:27-29 2Ki 18:5\; which might induce them to such a conceit; though it seems to take its rise from Hezekiah's men being the copiers of some of Solomon's proverbs, Pr 25:1; but the proof from thence must be exceeding weak; that because they were the transcribers of some of his proverbs, therefore were the writers of this book; and especially King Hezekiah; for, whatever may be said of his character, it falls greatly short of Solomon's wisdom or riches; and such things are said, with for respect to both, in this book, as cannot agree with him: and, on the other hand, it does not appear that he was addicted to wine and women, and gave himself a loose to carnal pleasures, as the writer of this book had formerly done. Grotius thinks it was written by some persons in the times of Zerubbabel, and published under the name of Solomon, as a penitent; which is quite shocking, that an inspired writing should have a false title put to it, and be imposed upon the church of God under a wrong name: besides, the name of Solomon is never mentioned in it; though this, by the way, betrays a conviction that he is intended in the title of it: nor are many persons concerned in it; it appears throughout the whole to be the work of a single person, who often speaks as such in it. That Zerubbabel should be meant by the one shepherd, Ec 12:11, is a mere fancy; it is better interpreted, as by many, of Jesus Christ: his chief argument for this conjecture is, because there are three or four Chaldee words in it, as he supposes; which yet does not appear, and are nowhere to be found but in Daniel, Ezra, and the Chaldee interpreter: and so there are in the book of Proverbs, Pr 31:2,3; but it does not follow, that because these words, or others, are but once used in Scripture, that they are not originally Hebrew; since the language was more extensive and better understood in Solomon's time than now, when we have only the copy of the Old Testament in which it is preserved. In short, what is said of the descent and dignity of the writer of this book, of his wisdom, wealth, riches, and grandeur, of his virtues and of his vices, agrees with none as with Solomon; to which may be added, that there is one passage in it, the same he used in his prayer at the dedication of the temple, Ec 7:20; compared with 1Ki 8:46. As to the time in which it was written by him, it seems to have been in his old age, as the Jewish writers observe {h}; after his sin and fall, and recovery out of it, and when he was brought to true repentance for it: it was after he had made him great works, and built houses, his own house and the house of God, which were twenty years in building; it was after he had acquired not only vast riches and treasures, which must require time, but had gotten knowledge of all things in nature; and had seen all the works that are done under the sun, and had made trial of all pleasures that were to be enjoyed; see Ec 1:1-2:26; it was after he had been ensnared by women, which he confesses and laments, Ec 7:26; and his description of old age seems to be made, not merely upon the theory of it, but from a feeling experience of the evils and infirmities of it, Ec 12:1-6. The general scope and design of it is to expose the vanity of all worldly enjoyments; to show that a man's happiness does not lie in natural wisdom and knowledge; nor in worldly wealth; nor in civil honour, power, and authority; nor in the mere externals of religion; but in the fear of God, and the worship of him. It encourages men to a free use of the good things of life in a moderate way, with thankfulness to God; to submit with cheerfulness to adverse dispensations of Providence; to fear God and honour the king; to be dutiful to civil magistrates, and kind to the poor; to expect a future state, and an awful judgment; with many other useful things.

{a} Misn. Yadaim, c. 3. s. 5. T. Bab. Megilia, fol. 7. 1. {b} T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 30. 2. {c} Midrash Kohelet, fol. 60. 4. Vajikra Rabba, s. 28. "in principio", fol. 168. 4. {d} Maimon. Moreh Nevochim, c. 28. p. 262. {e} T. Bab. Sabbat, ut supra. (fol. 30. 2.) {f} R. Gedaliah in Shalshelt. Hakabala, fol. 55. 1. R. Moses Kimchi & alii. {g} T. Bab. Bava Bathra, fol. 15. 1. {h} Peskita Rabbati apud Yalkut in Kohelet, l. 1. Shirhashirim Rabba, fol. 2. 3. Seder Olam Rabba, c. 15. p. 41. R. Gedaliah in Shalshelet Hakabala, fol. 8. 2.


After the title of the book, which describes the author of it, by his office, as a preacher; by his descent, as the son of David; and by his dignity, king in Jerusalem, Ec 1:1; the principal doctrine insisted on in it is laid down, that the world, and all things in it, are most vain things, Ec 1:2. Which is proved in general, by the unprofitableness of all labour to attain them, be they what they will, wisdom, knowledge, riches, honours, and pleasures, Ec 1:3; by the short continuance of men on earth, though that abides, Ec 1:4; by the constant revolution, going and returning, of the most useful creatures, the sun, winds, and water, Ec 1:5-7; by the unfruitful and unsatisfactory labour all things are full of, Ec 1:8; by the continual repetition of the same things, and the oblivion of them, Ec 1:9-11; and by Solomon's own experience in one particular thing; his search after, and acquisition of, knowledge and wisdom, which he attained a large share of; and which he found attended with labour, difficulty, and little satisfaction; nay, was vanity and vexation of spirit; for, as his knowledge increased, so did his grief and sorrow, Ec 1:12-18.

Cross References 11

  • 1. ver 12; Ecclesiastes 7:27; Ecclesiastes 12:10
  • 2. S Proverbs 1:1
  • 3. Psalms 39:5-6; Psalms 62:9; Psalms 144:4; Ecclesiastes 12:8; Romans 8:20-21
  • 4. Ecclesiastes 2:11,22; Ecclesiastes 3:9; Ecclesiastes 5:15-16
  • 5. S Job 8:19; Psalms 104:5; Psalms 119:90
  • 6. Psalms 19:5-6
  • 7. Job 36:28
  • 8. Proverbs 27:20
  • 9. Ecclesiastes 2:12; Ecclesiastes 3:15
  • 10. Genesis 40:23; Ecclesiastes 9:15
  • 11. Psalms 88:12; Ecclesiastes 2:16; Ecclesiastes 8:10; Ecclesiastes 9:5

Footnotes 1

  • [a]. Or "the leader of the assembly" ; also in verses 2 and 12
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