February 12, 2024

What Does Vanity Mean in Ecclesiastes?

Ecclesiastes 1

Ben Murphy
Monday's Devo

February 12, 2024

Monday's Devo

February 12, 2024

Big Book Idea

God defines where true meaning is found.

Key Verse | Ecclesiastes 1:14, 16-17

I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. . . . I said in my heart, "I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge." And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind.

Ecclesiastes 1

All Is Vanity

The words of the Preacher, 1 1:1 Or Convener, or Collector; Hebrew Qoheleth (so throughout Ecclesiastes) the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

Vanity 2 1:2 The Hebrew term hebel, translated vanity or vain, refers concretely to a mist, vapor, or mere breath, and metaphorically to something that is fleeting or elusive (with different nuances depending on the context). It appears five times in this verse and in 29 other verses in Ecclesiastes of vanities, 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 3 1:5 Or and returns panting 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.
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.
10  Is there a thing of which it is said,
    “See, this is new”?
It has been already
    in the ages before us.
11  There is no remembrance of former things, 4 1:11 Or former people
    nor will there be any remembrance
of later things 5 1:11 Or later people yet to be
    among those who come after.

The Vanity of Wisdom

12 I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 And I applied my heart 6 1:13 The Hebrew term denotes the center of one's inner life, including mind, will, and emotions to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 14 I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity 7 1:14 The Hebrew term hebel can refer to a vapor or mere breath (see note on 1:2) and a striving after wind. 8 1:14 Or a feeding on wind; compare Hosea 12:1 (also in Ecclesiastes 1:17; 2:11, 17, 26; 4:4, 6, 16; 6:9)

15  What is crooked cannot be made straight,
    and what is lacking cannot be counted.

16 I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” 17 And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind.

18  For in much wisdom is much vexation,
    and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.

Footnotes

[1] 1:1 Or Convener, or Collector; Hebrew Qoheleth (so throughout Ecclesiastes)
[2] 1:2 The Hebrew term hebel, translated vanity or vain, refers concretely to a “mist,” “vapor,” or “mere breath,” and metaphorically to something that is fleeting or elusive (with different nuances depending on the context). It appears five times in this verse and in 29 other verses in Ecclesiastes
[3] 1:5 Or and returns panting
[4] 1:11 Or former people
[5] 1:11 Or later people
[6] 1:13 The Hebrew term denotes the center of one's inner life, including mind, will, and emotions
[7] 1:14 The Hebrew term hebel can refer to a “vapor” or “mere breath” (see note on 1:2)
[8] 1:14 Or a feeding on wind; compare Hosea 12:1 (also in Ecclesiastes 1:17; 2:11, 17, 26; 4:4, 6, 16; 6:9)
Table of Contents
Introduction to Ecclesiastes

Introduction to Ecclesiastes

Timeline

Author

The author of Ecclesiastes calls himself “the Preacher” (1:1). Some interpreters have concluded that this was Solomon, while others think he was a role-playing writer later than Solomon. Either way, the book claims that its wisdom comes from the “one Shepherd” (12:11), the Lord himself.

Theme and Interpretation of Ecclesiastes

The theme of Ecclesiastes is the necessity of fearing God in this fallen, confusing world. Each human being wants to understand all the ways God is acting in the world, but he cannot, because he is not God. And yet the faithful do not despair but cling to God, even when they cannot see what God is doing. The Lord deserves his people’s trust. They can leave everything to him while they seek to understand what it means to “fear God and keep his commandments” (12:13). This is true wisdom.

Key Themes

  1. The tragic reality of the fall. The Preacher is painfully aware that the creation has been damaged by sin (7:29; Rom. 8:20, 22). He speaks as one who eagerly awaits the resurrection age (Rom. 8:23).
  2. The “vanity” of life. The book begins and ends with the exclamation, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (Eccles. 1:2; 12:8). The phrase pictures something fleeting and elusive. All the endeavors and pleasures of earthly life are only temporary. When one sees the consequences of sin in this fallen world, one is left in utter frustration, anger, and sorrow. The more one tries to understand life, the more mysterious it becomes (1:12–18).
  3. Sin and death. By sinning, human beings forfeited the righteousness they originally had before God (7:29), and thus all people are sinners (7:20). Death was a result of the fall. The Preacher is only too aware of this dreadful reality that affects everyone (e.g., 2:14–17; 3:18–21; 6:6).
  4. The joy and the frustration of work. God gave Adam work to accomplish prior to the fall, but part of the punishment of his sin was that his work would become difficult (Gen. 2:15; 3:17–19). Both realities are seen in the Preacher’s experience, as he finds his work to be both satisfying (Eccles. 2:10, 24; 3:22; 5:18–20; 9:9–10) and aggravating (2:18–23; 4:4–8).
  5. The grateful enjoyment of God’s good gifts. The Preacher spends a great deal of time commenting on the twisted realities of a fallen world, but this does not blind him to the beauty of God’s world (3:11). Nor does it cause him to despise God’s good gifts of human relationships, food, drink, and satisfying labor (5:18–20; 8:15; 9:7, 9). These are to be received humbly and enjoyed fully as blessings from God.
  6. The fear of God. The fact that “all is vanity” should drive people to take refuge in God, fearing and revering him (7:18; 8:12–13; 12:13–14).

Outline

  1. Introduction and Theme (1:1–3)
  2. First Catalog of “Vanities” (1:4–2:26)
  3. Poem: A Time for Everything (3:1–8)
  4. Fear God, the Sovereign One (3:9–15)
  5. Second Catalog of “Vanities” (3:16–4:16)
  6. Fear God, the Holy and Righteous One (5:1–7)
  7. Life “Under the Sun” (5:8–7:24)
  8. The Heart of the Problem: Sin (7:25–29)
  9. More on Life “Under the Sun” (8:1–12:7)
  10. Final Conclusion and Epilogue (12:8–14)
The Global Message of Ecclesiastes

The Global Message of Ecclesiastes

Life in a Broken World

The book of Ecclesiastes explains the world in all its complexity, confusion, and frustration with striking honesty. “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity,” declares the Preacher, echoing the cries of many who have seen, experienced, and recognized the dreadful fallenness of our world (Eccles. 1:2). The global reality both then and now is that our broken world is filled with oppression of the powerless (4:1), oppression of the poor (5:8), and violation of justice and righteousness (5:8). There is nothing new under the sun (1:9), no lasting earthly glory (1:11), no ultimately fulfilling pleasure (2:1–11), and no certainty in life except that it will end in death and judgment (2:14–16; 3:18–20; 6:6; 12:14).

In a fallen world there are many painful and complicated questions, but the message of Ecclesiastes is that there is an answer. That answer is not an easy one, but it is simple: fear the Lord (Eccles. 3:14; 5:7; 12:13–14). Though this world is filled with oppression and injustice, ultimately it will be well for those who fear God (8:12) and it will not be well for the wicked (8:13).

This world is filled with both blessings and challenges, neither of which provides ultimate answers or clarity about the meaning of life. If this world is all there is, then all is vanity. But when we trust the Lord in the face of circumstances that discourage us from doing so, we have a sure hope that we will one day be restored to him. Indeed, from a whole-Bible perspective, there is one who is the way (John 14:6), who is the comforter (2 Cor. 1:3), who is wisdom itself (1 Cor. 1:24). We will not easily figure God out, nor can we fathom all that he does (Eccles. 3:11). He is not a subject to be scrutinized or solved, nor are his ways easily comprehended (8:17). But God has spoken to us in his Son, who gives us the words of eternal life (John 6:68).

Purpose in Life and the Purpose of Life

The message of Ecclesiastes is that however difficult things may be because of the curse upon mankind in this fallen world, there is purpose and grace for all. There is enduring hope and satisfying life as we walk with God. The very gifts of God that, apart from God, prove hollow and disappointing, can be enjoyed truly and satisfyingly—not as the main purpose of life but as a means to know God in a deeper way. Our message to the world is that there is purpose in life regarding the blessings we receive from God such as food, drink, and work, but that these blessings are not the purpose of life.

Purpose in life. There is a proper place, time, and perspective for each season in life and for each blessing from God (Eccles. 3:1–8). The blessings of common grace are to be recognized as coming from the very hand of God. Work and its enjoyment are blessings from God (2:24; 3:22; 5:18–20). There is purpose in life for work, but neither work itself nor the hoarding of possessions are the purpose of life. When work becomes the governing purpose of life, when envy is our driving force, or when we seek satisfaction in wealth, we are left disappointed (2:18–23; 4:4). There is purpose in life for other gifts of common grace such as food, drink, and relationships (2:24–26; 3:12–13; 5:18–20; 8:15; 9:7, 9). The proper enjoyment of such gifts comes from God, who alone satisfies (3:13; 5:19).

The purpose of life. This then is the purpose of life: to fear God, who is sovereign (Eccles. 3:11, 14), holy in heaven (5:2, 7), and judge of all (12:13–14). He is the Giver of gifts and the one who grants even the ability to enjoy these gifts (5:19). In receiving such gifts of life we are to find our greatest joy in him (5:20).

The Global Church’s Mission to a Broken World

The book of Ecclesiastes provides a brutally honest and refreshing message for the global church to proclaim to the world. In one sense the Christian message is other-worldly, yet it also addresses the sober realities that face each society and every individual in every generation. The message of the gospel not only affirms the disappointments of life, it also offers the only true hope for meaningful living.

The Giver and the gifts. There is a Creator to be worshiped (Eccles. 12:1). He has made all things. Life is to be enjoyed as being from him and to him. The world must recognize the blessed common grace they have received in creation, life, work, and possessions. They should enjoy such blessings, but not as the purpose of life. The global church has a message of hope for a world that is “striving after wind” (1:14). Clinging to the gift rather than worshiping the Giver is meaningless. The wealthy are not to be envied, for they find neither ultimate satisfaction nor eternal security in their wealth (5:10–17). It is far better to enjoy fellowship with the Giver rather than simply enjoying his gifts, however good they may be.

The ultimate gift. Enjoyment of God is available ultimately because he sent his Son to die on behalf of sinners. There is none who is righteous before God (Eccles. 7:20). No one can escape death (2:16; 9:3, 12). God’s ways cannot be easily or fully fathomed (3:11), but he has indeed revealed himself clearly and gloriously in the person of his Son Jesus Christ (John 14:9). In the Son we have seen the one who both demonstrates and also empowers what it means to truly fear and enjoy God. There is grace abundant for all who recognize the vanity of their selfish living and remember and fear their Creator (Eccles. 12:1) and Redeemer (Isa. 54:5).

A sure hope. While Ecclesiastes sobers us with the reminder that this fallen world is filled with injustice, it also offers hope. Christians are to be active in seeking justice and encouraging the oppressed within society (Isa. 1:17). But we need not despair at the imperfect justice of this world because God will bring final and perfect justice one day (Eccles. 3:17). For the oppressed and the victims of injustice this is indeed good news. It is not vanity to fear and follow God (8:10–13). To those in the global church who suffer under persecution for the sake of the gospel there is the comfort that God does indeed see them, take care of them, and remember them.

A sovereign Lord. There is one who is in control. God is in control when times are good and when times are bad (Eccles. 7:14). We are not in control—which is a great blessing, despite the ways in which we often seek to control our lives. Our message to the world is to abandon striving after control and to embrace the one who is in control. Every building and work of art will one day turn to dust, but there is one who is eternal and whose works last forever (3:14). Our message to the world is to abandon the quest for self-glory and the accumulation of possessions and to embrace the blessed and wise God-centered life of sober hope.

This is the glorious Christian vision for life that the church must embrace and display for the world to see.

Ecclesiastes Fact #1: Ecclesiastes

Fact: Ecclesiastes

Ecclesiastes encourages God’s people to trust him in a fallen and often confusing world, in which sin and heartache touch every corner of the globe. We are to “fear God and keep his commandments” (12:13), even when we cannot understand everything that is going on around us.

Ecclesiastes Fact #2: Vanity, vanities, and vain

Fact: Vanity, vanities, and vain

The words vanity, vanities, and vain occur nearly 40 times in Ecclesiastes. Their literal meaning is “vapor” or “breath,” so they are used to describe things that can be fleeting or elusive, like the search for meaning and purpose in life.

Ecclesiastes Fact #5: “Eat, drink, and be merry”?

Fact: “Eat, drink, and be merry”?

“Eat, drink, and be merry”? Ecclesiastes advises those who serve God to enjoy his gifts of food, drink, comfort, married life, and honest work (9:7–9; compare 2:24–26; 3:13; 5:19–20).

Introduction to Ecclesiastes

Introduction to Ecclesiastes

Timeline

Author

The author of Ecclesiastes calls himself “the Preacher” (1:1). Some interpreters have concluded that this was Solomon, while others think he was a role-playing writer later than Solomon. Either way, the book claims that its wisdom comes from the “one Shepherd” (12:11), the Lord himself.

Theme and Interpretation of Ecclesiastes

The theme of Ecclesiastes is the necessity of fearing God in this fallen, confusing world. Each human being wants to understand all the ways God is acting in the world, but he cannot, because he is not God. And yet the faithful do not despair but cling to God, even when they cannot see what God is doing. The Lord deserves his people’s trust. They can leave everything to him while they seek to understand what it means to “fear God and keep his commandments” (12:13). This is true wisdom.

Key Themes

  1. The tragic reality of the fall. The Preacher is painfully aware that the creation has been damaged by sin (7:29; Rom. 8:20, 22). He speaks as one who eagerly awaits the resurrection age (Rom. 8:23).
  2. The “vanity” of life. The book begins and ends with the exclamation, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (Eccles. 1:2; 12:8). The phrase pictures something fleeting and elusive. All the endeavors and pleasures of earthly life are only temporary. When one sees the consequences of sin in this fallen world, one is left in utter frustration, anger, and sorrow. The more one tries to understand life, the more mysterious it becomes (1:12–18).
  3. Sin and death. By sinning, human beings forfeited the righteousness they originally had before God (7:29), and thus all people are sinners (7:20). Death was a result of the fall. The Preacher is only too aware of this dreadful reality that affects everyone (e.g., 2:14–17; 3:18–21; 6:6).
  4. The joy and the frustration of work. God gave Adam work to accomplish prior to the fall, but part of the punishment of his sin was that his work would become difficult (Gen. 2:15; 3:17–19). Both realities are seen in the Preacher’s experience, as he finds his work to be both satisfying (Eccles. 2:10, 24; 3:22; 5:18–20; 9:9–10) and aggravating (2:18–23; 4:4–8).
  5. The grateful enjoyment of God’s good gifts. The Preacher spends a great deal of time commenting on the twisted realities of a fallen world, but this does not blind him to the beauty of God’s world (3:11). Nor does it cause him to despise God’s good gifts of human relationships, food, drink, and satisfying labor (5:18–20; 8:15; 9:7, 9). These are to be received humbly and enjoyed fully as blessings from God.
  6. The fear of God. The fact that “all is vanity” should drive people to take refuge in God, fearing and revering him (7:18; 8:12–13; 12:13–14).

Outline

  1. Introduction and Theme (1:1–3)
  2. First Catalog of “Vanities” (1:4–2:26)
  3. Poem: A Time for Everything (3:1–8)
  4. Fear God, the Sovereign One (3:9–15)
  5. Second Catalog of “Vanities” (3:16–4:16)
  6. Fear God, the Holy and Righteous One (5:1–7)
  7. Life “Under the Sun” (5:8–7:24)
  8. The Heart of the Problem: Sin (7:25–29)
  9. More on Life “Under the Sun” (8:1–12:7)
  10. Final Conclusion and Epilogue (12:8–14)
Study Notes

Eccles. 1:2 vanity of vanities! All is vanity. This important thematic word occurs frequently throughout the book. As the book progresses, its meaning becomes clear (see Introduction: Key Themes).

Study Notes

Eccles. 1:1–3 Introduction and Theme. The speaker introduces himself and his theme.

Eccles. 1:3 What does man gain? This repeated question (3:9; 5:15; compare 2:11) comes out of the Preacher’s realization that “all is vanity.” If life frequently makes no sense and pleasures and achievements are fleeting, is there any significance to human existence?

Study Notes

Eccles. 1:11 There is no remembrance of former things, nor . . . of later things. The writer-Preacher believes that few people have any significant impact on the course of world history (see ESV footnote).

Study Notes

Eccles. 1:13 unhappy business. For some reason unknown to the Preacher, God ordains that mankind should endure painful experiences in this present fallen world. The phrase under heaven is interchangeable with “under the sun” (v. 14, etc.).

Study Notes

Eccles. 1:14 The Preacher examined everything under the sun. However, he is unable to understand it all. He concludes that everything is vanity and a striving after wind.

Study Notes

Eccles. 1:15 Crooked here means “unknowable.” There will always be aspects of life in a fallen world that remain mysterious.

Study Notes

Eccles. 1:16 surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me. If anyone possessed the wisdom to grasp the meaning of life, it was the Preacher.

Study Notes

Eccles. 1:17 As part of his quest to know wisdom, the Preacher also seeks to understand madness and folly. Apparently he believes that he can better understand wisdom if he also understands its opposite.

Study Notes

Eccles. 1:18 Wisdom is a mixed blessing. In the process of gaining wisdom one also gains a clearer view into the tragedies of life.

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Dive Deeper | Ecclesiastes 1

This first passage should be read through a Solomonic lens; so, please, humor me:

You're the king of Israel. God has gifted you as the wisest and richest man in the world. You've completed the work of your father, and you have hundreds of wives. After all this, you reflect on your life, and what do you have to say? "All is vanity." (Ecclesiastes 1:2)

"Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher. Now what is this vanity? The Hebrew word is hebel. Hebel actually has theological parallels to Genesis 1, as we learn about the nothingness that existed in the beginning. And yet, all this wealth, fame, and success are likened to the nothingness before creation.

Before creation, the Trinity was dwelling eternally in perfect fellowship. God was not dependent on creation, but He created us freely out of His own self-sufficiency. In light of this, it now seems obvious why hebel parallels nothingness. Whether we are here or not, God is the ultimate, eternal being.

This might leave you feeling hopeless, and it should, as this world will spin whether you're here or not. That certainly makes me feel pretty small! Your first reaction might even be anger toward God for giving you such vain toil. Well, we must find meaning somewhere. If hebel goes all the way back to the beginning of creation, then we must look to what exists apart from hebel: God's glory.

The Puritans had an acute awareness of God's holiness and glory in their lives that almost seems uncanny today. They lived out Ecclesiastes in a way that makes us look spiritually anemic. We can sum up the essence of their lives in the Westminster Shorter Catechism #1, which tells us, "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever."

How do we avoid vain obsession with this fleeting world? We must not forget our chief end! Our time on this earth has meaning, but only when it is found in glorifying God. Anything else is striving after wind. Praise God for this reality!

Soli Deo gloria!

This month's memory verse

Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.

– Exodus 34:6b

Discussion Questions

1. Where in your life are you trying to bring glory to yourself rather than God?

2. What vanity are you striving after? Are you viewing it as hebel, or are you trying to store up treasures on this earth?

3. If everything apart from God's glory is ultimately striving after wind, how is tomorrow going to look different? How are you going to treat your work, school, relationships, money, etc.?

4. How do you define success? If Solomon views fame, wealth, and wisdom as vanity, how should that change our definition of success?

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Hugh Stephenson

Things I think I think- Did Solomon go to Sunday School? These two passages would argue and emphatic YES! 1 Kings 3:1-15 Solomon’s prayer for wisdom 1 Kings 8:22-61 Solomon’s prayer of dedication to the temple and his benediction to the people. HOWEVER…For the title of “wisest man of all time” he has said and done some things that make me not so sure? 1 Kings 9:1-9 The LORD Appears to Solomon 1 Kings 11:1-8 Solomon Turns from the LORD It’s a bit of reading- regardless I would urge you to go back and read each of these 4 passages. The progressions from the first to the last are very edifying- and confusing. How did he do the things he did when he was as wise as he was - AND had a deep knowledge and relationship with the Creator of the universe? How did he get to the “all is vanity” message he expresses in these passages? From the global message of Ecclesiastes (above): “If this world is all there is, then all is vanity.” These notes plus others can be considered a short answer- “But God has spoken to us in his Son, who gives us the words of eternal life (John 6:68).” In high school and college I had enough ability to make the sports teams and play a lot in games- but was never first string or elite. Hanging around those that were gave me a vision of what was possible but not the ability to be able to play at that level. So, I had to learn how to play the games I played by effort and experience, not wisdom and insight. What this means in my context today is that I am completely and totally dependent on repetitive instruction of the same info, knowledge, or skills. Just ask my bow hunting coach and my shotgun coach. It has taken thousands of shots over several years to get to a decent level of proficiency. It’s seems to me Solomon was the opposite. Taking license, it seems His intellect, wisdom, and knowledge were acquired fairly easily but it’s real-life application and benefit DECREASED as his life wore on and how he saw through experience that he didn’t know what he thought he knew.
HS

Hugh Stephenson

The notes convey to me that it may have been this form of reasoning and self-reliance that was the problem-(below is a long collection but I am confident its worth the fairly quick read). From the ESV SB and TC: “To conduct his investigation of human achievements, Solomon had employed the tool of wisdom. Wisdom here does not refer to living life with God in view. It means using human intelligence as an instrument to ferret out truth and significance. However, he discovered that wisdom was inadequate to turn up any truly meaningful activity. Consequently, wisdom was in this respect no better than "insanity and foolishness" (v. 17; i.e., foolish ideas and pleasures).” "The closest analogy to the experiment here described would in our day be an honest attempt to solve all problems and to attain to all knowledge by the processes of rational thinking. It would be the philosopher's attempt to probe into the depth of matters by his unaided and unenlightened reason apart from any disclosures of truth that God has granted to man."[81] “Greater wisdom had only brought the writer "much grief" (mental anguish) and "increasing pain" (emotional sorrow, v. 18).” TC - 1:1 Teaching typically appeals to the mind, and its main purpose is to impart information, whereas preaching typically appeals to the will, and its main purpose is to promote action. TC - 1:2 This is the first hint that Solomon's viewpoint includes "exclusively the world we can observe, and that our observation point is at ground level."[49] "Because it apparently contradicts other portions of Scripture and presents a pessimistic outlook on life, in a mood of existential despair, many have viewed Ecclesiastes as running counter to the rest of Scripture or have concluded that is [sic it] presents only man's reasoning apart from divine revelation."[50] Eccles. 1:4–11 The “Vanity” of the Natural World. The endless repetition of natural seasons and cycles never produces anything “new” (v. 9) and thus appears to be without direction or purpose. TC 1:4 History does not answer the questions of ultimate meaning or purpose. These only come from divine revelation. TC 1:8-11 "That man never finds satisfaction in earthly things, but on the contrary is ever asking for yet more and more, is a sign of their emptiness. Such being their nature they can never fill the heart."[72] “We dream of futuristic utopias partially because we fail to see that man has made no real progress (v. 11b). Future generations will make the same mistake (v. 11c-d). Technology changes, but human nature and human activity remain the same.” “The fact that the name "Yahweh" does not occur in this book also clarifies the writer's perspective. The name "Elohim," however, appears about 37 times. Yahweh was the name God used to describe Himself in His relationships to people. The man "under the sun" in Ecclesiastes is one unaided by a personal relationship with God, not that he was necessarily unsaved. The man in view is every man, including the Israelites. Solomon's analysis simply omitted God's enablement in the human condition. He did assume man's belief in God, however, since it is a perversion of what is self-evident to deny God's existence (Ps. 14:1).” Eccles. 1:11 As the generations come and go (1:4), there are very few people who make any significant impact on the course of world history; the majority of the human race lives and dies in obscurity. The seemingly never-ending march of human generations thus appears to be as purposeless as the repetitive cycles of the natural world. Eccles. 1:13 The Preacher perceives that in this world God has given an unhappy business, i.e., a troubling or burdensome task, to the children of man. The same Hebrew phrase occurs in 4:8 and 5:14 (“bad venture”), where it refers to the burdens and trials experienced by those who live under heaven (this phrase is interchangeable with the expression “under the sun”; cf. 1:14). For some inscrutable reason, God ordains that mankind should endure painful experiences in this present fallen order. Eccles. 1:14 However, he is unable to comprehend it all and draws the conclusion that everything is vanity (see note on v. 2) and a striving after wind. Eccles. 1:15 There will always be aspects of life in a fallen world that remain mysterious because God has chosen not to reveal the answers to all of mankind’s questions. Eccles. 1:16 If anyone possessed the wisdom to comprehend the meaning of life, it was the Preacher.
HS

Hugh Stephenson

On the word “vanity”- "Hebel stands more for human inability to grasp the meaning of God's way than for an ultimate emptiness in life. It speaks of human limitation and frustration caused by the vast gap between God's knowledge and power and our relative ignorance and impotence. The deepest issues of lasting profit, of enlightening wisdom, of ability to change life's workings, of confidence that we have grasped the highest happiness—all these are beyond our reach in Koheleth's view."[45] C. L. Seow described hebel this way: "Something that is hebel cannot be grasped or controlled. It may refer to something that one experiences or encounters for only a moment, but it cannot be grasped—neither physically nor intellectually."[46] The phrase "is futility" is the most popular one in Ecclesiastes (cf. 1:14; 2:1, 11, 15, 17, 19, 21, 23, 26; 3:19; 4:4, 7, 8, 16; 5:7, 10; 6:2, 4, 9, 11, 12; 7:6, 15; 8:10, 14; 9:9; 11:8, 10; 12:8.[47] It forms an inclusio with 12:8, surrounding the evidence that Solomon offered to prove that all is vanity. The phrase "futility of futilities" is a Hebraism for "the utmost futility" (cf. "holy of holies" [Exod. 26:33; et al.] and "servant of servants" [Gen. 9:25]). “And it shows that Solomon was looking at life from the perspective of people on the earth without the aid of special revelation from God.” "All that takes place beneath the sun belongs to the sphere which had its origin in the fall of man, is tainted with sin, and is attended by sin's fell train of suffering and punishment."[58] "The phrase 'under the sun' (1:3, 9) describes life and reality as perceived by mere human observation. It is a world- view devoid of special revelation."[59] "It defines the outlook of the writer as he looks at life from a human perspective and not necessarily from heaven's point of view."[60] "... the little phrase 'under the sun' always says in effect, 'What I claim is true if one deals with purely earthly values.'"[61] "This man [Qohelet] had been living through all these experiences under the sun, concerned with nothing above the sun, on the modern level of experience in the realm of the material, until there came a moment in which he had seen the whole of life. And there was something over the sun. It is only as a man takes account of that which is over the sun as well as that which is under the sun that things under the sun are seen in their true light."[63] A great comment on the rest of the book - It is the burden of the rest of his book to help the assembly of the wise understand how to truly value life because it does indeed pass so very quickly."[65] TC Summary - "The enigmatic character and polarized structure of the book of Qoheleth is not a defective quality but rather a deliberate literary device of Hebrew thought patterns designed to reflect the paradoxical and anomalous nature of this present world. The difficulty of interpreting this book is proportionally related to one's own readiness to adopt Qoheleth's presupposition—that everything about this world is marred by the tyranny of the curse which the Lord God placed upon all creation. If one fails to recognize that this is a foundational presupposition from which Ecclesiastes operates, then one will fail to comprehend the message of the book, and bewilderment will continue."[76]
GJ

greg jones

Great dive this morning. This resonated “This might leave you feeling hopeless, and it should, as this world will spin whether you're here or not. That certainly makes me feel pretty small!” Ecclesiastes, everyone’s perk me up and give me a reason to live go to book… When who and why wrote Ecclesiastes is a long debated question among Bible scholars. When? More and more scholars are leaning toward a post exilic later writing when answering the question of when. There are many reasons one is the Hebrew of Ecclesiastes has a lot Aramaic influence and also uses some borrowed Persian words. Because all languages evolve over time and the Hebrew of Ecclesiastes reads more like Hebrew from known later dates than Hebrew from known earlier dates that evidence points to the later date post exilic date. Who? Not many believe Solomon. Most assume the author wants his reader to hear and see what he is saying through the lens of a Solomon like figure. Why? It’s just my thought but if Ecclesiastes is written to a post exilic people then it is written to a people without a king. It is about a former king who has a horribly pessimistic view of life. When read it I don’t want to end up with that kind of view of life and I can imagine the original reader feeling the same way. We know Solomon and the kings that follow struggle to keep God’s commands. In regard to that struggle one of Hugh’s comments mentions 1 Kings 9:1-9. If you read the parallel Chronicles passage you notice that Kins 9:1-9 gets edited. 2 Chronicles 7:11-22 is the parallel. Verses 14-16 are edited into the Kings passages between verses 3-4. So Chronicles, rewriting 1 Kings for post exilic Hebrews has this message, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” It is Yahweh, God’s covenant name with Israel who speaks to Solomon in Kings and Chronicles. Ecclesiastes never uses the covenant name Yahweh the “Preacher” always uses the generic name Elohim. Ecclesiastes is a view of the consequence of a life lived with a lesser Elohim view or worship of God. And that is the life of vanities of vanities. It is a bit of reverse psychology to inspire a new king-less people to live into the covenant relationship with Yahweh that defines their nationhood. Ecclesiastes is one of the later catalyst books that helps to evolve the Judaism that is seen in the OT into the later Judaism that is seen in the NT.
SB

Sue Bohlin

Super devo, Ben. Thanks for bring up #1 from the Westminster Catechism!! I am thankful to learn from Dr. Constable that Solomon does not invoke the idea of eternal rewards for how we live our lives on the other side of trusting Christ. He was being faithful to his perspective at that time, responding to the light he had--which is much less than what we have now that the Bible is complete. I am grateful for being taught how to understand scripture in the context of when it was written--what a difference that makes!
MS

Michael Scaman

The literature class opens and the teacher explains how saying something 3 times in Hebrew is a way of emphasis. Turning to Eclesistes 1 he gives and example. "vanity of vanities, all is vanity" That is Hebrew for utterly vain. The teacher goes on listening as he explains Solomon has presented his opus on wisdom and in his humanity hits not satisfaction but painful meaninglessness. It's as if Lady Mabeth popped into Lit class and speaking from a podium while runing on a treadmill said: Yo, listen up, as Lady Macbeth I speak, Tomorrow and tomorrow, it's all we seek. In the petty pace of life, we're trapped in a grind, Chasing shadows, with nothing to find. From Ecclesiastes, we learn life's vanity, All our yesterdays lead to dust, it's insanity. We hustle and grind, but what's the gain? Just fleeting pleasures, washed away by the rain. In this endless cycle, we're lost in the fray, No remembrance of former things, they all decay. So let's seize the day, while we still can, Before time's last syllable slips from our hand. Solomon now has the Lit class' attention
MS

Michael Scaman

This is why there are 5 books of wisdom and they give a more complete view of wisdom together Job is proverbally wise but suffers Solomon has a measure of wisdom but experiences but stuggles with satisfaction of life Psalms is wisdom in thinking and feeling in worship Song of Solomon is wisdom is romantic relationships Proverbs has to be take in the light of all aspects of wisdom form these books in ensable.
AL

Amy Lowther

1. I bring glory to myself through bringing glory to God. 2. None because God helps me make good choices and to do my best. 3. People would be ignoring each other and unfriendly. People would be working too hard and extremely frustrated as they receive small, small rewards for their BIG, BIG efforts. I would stay to God’s glory, and I would try to talk with people striving after wind to see if we could discuss and work on what they really wanted to do. 4. Success is when God’s values are respectfully used in achieving and completing daily tasks and goals. We should use God’s values in fame, wealth, and wisdom so we do our best in each area. Ben - Thank you for sharing your ideas. I like your point, “Whether we are here or not, God is the ultimate, eternal being”. God is a rock that supports and loves everyone unconditionally.