In our study, we look at the purpose of our lives. We all at one time or another have asked ourselves "What is the purpose of life?" This book will help us to see and learn from the mistakes of a king.
The words of the Teacher, son of David, King in Jerusalem:
Ecclesiastes means "philosopher" and is a book of the Bible that was written by King Solomon near the end of his life. Solomon was the son of King David who was the king of God's people (Israel). Near the end of David's life, he wished to build a temple for God in Jerusalem but God would not allow him to do so because he had killed men. But, God promised David that his son would build the temple. Solomon was made king when David died and at this time the Israelites worshiped God at various high places. Solomon went to Gibeon which was the most important high place to worship God. That night, God appeared to him and allowed him to ask for anything that he desired. In humility, Solomon admitted that he could not carry out his duties as king without wisdom from God and so that is what he asked for. Because he asked for wisdom to rule God's people, the Lord also granted him wealth and honor. Solomon built the Temple of the Lord as well as a great palace in Jerusalem. His fame spread because of his great wisdom and many nations came to visit him. Solomon loved many foreign women and married women from nations that God had forbidden. God appeared to him in another dream and informed him that, because of his disobedience in this area, the Kingdom would be taken away in his son's generation. Solomon reigned for forty years (which is the time of trial and proof throughout the Bible). This book tells the story of a man that had it all and yet lost sight of his purpose in life. Where the book of Proverbs demonstrates Solomon's wisdom, this book demonstrates his foolishness. We can learn from his mistakes!
'Meaningless! Meaningless!' says the Teacher. 'Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.'
Solomon sums up his lesson at the start by declaring that everything is meaningless. This was a man who had it all and at the end of his life found that it was all fading away and you can almost hear his plea to the following generations. His plea is to wake up and realize that what we see is not what is important. This timeless lesson is just as important for us today as it was back then.
What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?
The man that built the Temple of God in Jerusalem is asking this question! Solomon is saying that all the efforts we put into material things here on earth are meaningless. All of our work on material things, even building the Temple, are only temporary.
Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return.
He points out the fact that we are all going to die but God's creation continues without our efforts. This wisest of men is showing us his understanding of nature. We must remember that this was before all of our scientific knowledge but Solomon was able to understand and explain these events. We do not have the power to make things continue but we see, through these natural events, the sustaining hand of God.
All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.
Our flesh is never satisfied. We always want more and more as we get easily tired of the old things and seek the new. It seems that Solomon is speaking of the days we live in now as most are chasing after the latest version of everything and the newest gadget.
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. 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.
These verses may be tough for us to understand in our world today as we see all the latest gadgets designed to make our lives easier. But, we have to stop and reflect on one of the names of God which is El Elyon and it means "God Most High". We must realize that He is the one who created all things and, no matter what we do, God designed it even before the earth began. He is the One who is supreme and, without Him, not even the latest iPhone would exist.
There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow.
Wow! Does this fit our culture today or what? It seems that we hear all of the time that we are building up things and going to leave a legacy for generations to come. But, here, the wisest man in the world tells us that there is no legacy apart from God. No matter what we do on our own, people will forget us in time. The only legacy that God called us to build was a legacy of faith in Him and that is why we are to remember and share what God has done in and through us.
I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men!
Solomon reminds us of his position and that, as king, his wisdom is all that mattered in his kingdom. The people obey the king and what he says but he studied and tried to apply his wisdom. Philosophy is the study of fundamental truths and God is truth so without godly wisdom we cannot understand truth. The same can be said of us, as Christians, that we cannot understand the truths of God without His help and wisdom. That help and wisdom is made available to us through the Holy Spirit.
I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. What is twisted cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted.
Solomon demonstrates his wisdom in these sayings and his conclusion about our works. Have you ever tried to chase the wind? Have you ever caught it and kept it? We can either spend our time here on earth "chasing after the wind" and things that will disappear or chasing after everlasting things.
I thought to myself, 'Look, I have grown and increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.' Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.
The wisest man in the world applied himself to what we would call psychology today. This is the understanding of the mind, how it operates normally, and its disorders. He once again realized that, in the end, it does not matter if you understand the inner workings of the mind or not.
For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.
Solomon sums up his study of wisdom by the fact that wisdom alone does not bring joy but instead brings sorrow and grief. We may ask ourselves how this can be true as in our culture today it seems that education in earthly things has been almost elevated to idolatry. With much knowledge, we can see how things should be but we do not have the power to change many things and so can come sorrow and grief. With real wisdom which is from God, we can see how things should be and know that all will be made new and right by the power of God.