Ecclesiastes - Reality & Wisdom in the Midst of the Unrealistic & Foolish
Ecclesiastes 1: 2-18
Vanity 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 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.
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.
I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I applied my heart 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. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.
What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted.
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.
For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.
Content - Context of Chapters 1 - 2
These are the words of Solomon as he comes to the end of his life. Looking back, he concludes, “Everything is meaningless.” The word “meaningless” is from the Hebrew word hébel which can be also translated as breath, vapor, vanity, or meaningless. In contemplating his own life's trouble and temptation he uses the same word (hebel), to describe just how brief and often brutal life really is. Solomon will with pinpoint sarcasm touch all the bases - possessions and power, business and busy-ness, working in vain, family, shallow friendships and so on. Solomon’s father David also used the word (hebel) in his songs and poems that we now know as the biblical book of Psalms. In those songs, David also sang about the completely meaningless aspects of life and its fleeting nature (Psalm 39:5-7; 39:12; 62:9).
In fact, the expression “completely meaningless” is literally translated from Hebrew as “meaninglessness of meaninglessness.” As we consider that expression I think we can logically agree this is not how God wants those who believe and trust in Him to view or understand life - simply not a great outlook on life. So to be clear - we understand that should not be the general life perspective of a hopeful or spiritually healthy follower of Christ. But, how do we avoid it - when it is also very clear that often times folks end up there? Like Solomon sarcastic, regretful, bitter, in the closing moment of one's life contemplating and processing a life in which there has overly characterized by self-focused and poor choices with a clear pattern of compulsive disobedience to God. Wise enough to know the truth but too foolish to have lived in that truth. Solomon's lament/regret is from that place as he confesses doing life “under the sun” filled with the madness and mayhem from the desires, demands and expectations of one thousand wives. How's that for reality TV?
We have biblical knowledge of two separate interactions between God and Solomon. In both instances God clearly communicates to Solomon that His favor and blessing come with conditions and high expectations of continued faithfulness in worship and honorable service. These are found in the passage we read last week in 1 Kings.
…if you will walk in my ways
…if you walk in my statutes, obey my rules, keep all my commandments and walk in them
…if you walk before me as David your father walked
Ironically, Solomon’s path of disobedience began with what was seen as a brilliant military move by marrying the daughter of Pharaoh (1 Kings 3:1). Though the marriage seemed strategically savvy and shrewd from a military perspective, in reality it was a clear act of rebellion against God who commanded the Israelites not to intermarry with pagan (godless) nations. Here is the biblical report of Solomon's marital mayhem.
1 Kings 11:1-2
King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love.
The meaninglessness of meaninglessness that Solomon experienced at the end of his life is the inevitable result for those who rebel against God. It is not the perspective of a Christ-follower who loves and obeys God, with genuine a passion and intent to serve Him wholeheartedly. Solomon of course loved God - but not with his whole heart. He did not love God enough to do the one thing God said would give his life meaning - "walk in my ways - not your own." Solomon kept his most meaningful love for himself, which eventually made his love meaningless. Over and over again Solomon foolishly loved himself more than he loved God. You see, even the wisest man in the world could not truly love a thousand wives more than he loved himself - but a foolish man could truly love himself more than he loved God. That kind of foolishness can only be described as self-love. In the end Solomon’s meaninglessness of meaninglessness was the result of him loving himself more than he loved God - that is the vanity of all vanities, the meaninglessness of meaninglessness.
Meaninglessness always leads to hopelessness. The progression is real. In Solomon’s negative and pessimistic reveal there are warnings and there are trends.
Meaninglessness of Meaninglessness Trending Now
Depression and Suicide
Every 12 minutes someone will commit suicide in America.
Alarmingly, suicide deaths jumped from 10th in 2016, to 8th in 2018.
Over 1.5 million suicide attempts in 2018.
The #1 cause leading to suicide in the US in 2018: Clinical Depression and Anxiety.
The World Health Organization reports: Following current trends by the year 2020, depression will be the second most common cause of premature death worldwide.
The use of antidepressants worldwide has increased by 300% in the last 10 years.
An estimated 16.2 million adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode. This number represented 6.7% of all U.S. adults.
The epidemic of Opioid overdose deaths claimed more than 72,000 lives in U.S. for 2018.
We live in a cultural belief vacuum, a phenomenon of moral and ethical entitlement and expectation - where personal behavior and accountability are no longer tethered to the blessing, favor and reward of God. Influential sectors of our culture and society have cut the cord - in favor of a less intrusive, less demanding, and a lowered expectation belief system. I guess it truly is an amazing grace that is filled with God's complete unconditional love - but empty of God's very imposing and irrelevant commandments and His high and demanding moral expectations. Unfortunately Christianity has trended that way as well. The initial movement was spiritually strategic and brilliant - it made so much sense. We could create more believers by simply messaging and branding the unconditional love of God and the endlessly redemptive grace that He gives with it. God's unconditional love and His saving grace are both biblical truths - beyond comprehension and amazingly mysteries. This strategy for the last thirty years has filled massive auditoriums on sprawling campuses, gathered unprecedented resources and created golden opportunities for ministry and profession. More churches, bigger crowds, better worship, attractive amenities, higher prominence and increased profile. The Franchise - Faith, Family and Friendship. All good right? Maybe, take a closer look. With a sample size now of several generations to evaluate from, we are witnessing a disturbing and heartbreaking trend from the world’s most influential culture. A culture no longer concerned with or intellectually agreeable to being identified as a Christian or faith-based nation. In fact, the opposite. We are a culture no longer tethered to the belief that loving, pleasing or obeying God is meaningfully connected to obtaining the favor or blessing of that God. If that belief is believed (and it is) then that culture no longer sees the need to believe in God. That culture then uses that love for and on itself and not on a God that is no longer believed in. In his foolishness the wisest man who ever lived called it the vanity of all vanities - meaninglessness of meaninglessness, because he knew he had been wrong. So how do we overcome this vanity of all vanities? Start with what is most meaningful:
Meaninglessness to Meaningfulness
Discover/Rediscover Meaningful Faith that Demands the Love of Others (God) Rather than a Narcissistic Love of Self (Man)
Commit Meaningful Time to Teaching Faith Hope and Love
Fully Engage Yourself and Family in a Community of Meaningful Worship and Service
Adopt a Meaningful Creed of Biblical Values and Truths - Live by It