My Sunday sermons given at Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR, for those who missed church or just want to see what we're up to. You can also listen to these sermons if you prefer. Just go to our church website and click the "Online Church" tab. Here's the link:

Monday, March 21, 2011

"The Futility of Earthly Values" - (03/20/11)

Ecclesiastes Chapter 2
March 20, 2011 (Message #2 in Ecclesiastes Series)

Last Sunday we launched a new 12-week study of the OT Book of Ecclesiastes.  I explained to you that this is one of the most neglected books of the Bible because it makes believers, including preachers, feel uncomfortable.
For one thing, many Christians today have little appreciation for the OT in general.  They prefer the NT, believing, albeit inaccurately, that since many of the OT prophecies have occurred already and since Christ said that He came to “fulfill the Law,” then there isn’t much point in us studying the OT anymore.  They prefer to hang out in the Gospels and the Epistles of Paul.
Other Christians find that the Book of Ecclesiastes troubles them because it doesn’t make them feel all warm and fuzzy like many of the Psalms.  In fact, it contains some statements that don’t even sound correct.  On top of that, down through the years there have been many Bible scholars, including some famous ones like Martin Luther, who believed [believe] that Ecclesiastes should never have been included in the Canon of Scripture.  They think it somehow got in there by mistake.  Of course, if this were true it would undermine the validity of any portion of the Canon.  If we can simply reject the parts we don’t like or don’t understand then all bets and boundaries are off.  It becomes a big theological free-for-all.

Indeed, rightly understood and interpreted, Ecclesiastes has much to teach us about life and godliness.  But there is one more thing… before we launch into Chapter 2 I need to explain something else that is very important.  The Doctrine of the Inspiration of Scripture does not guarantee that everything in the Bible is correct, holy, honorable, or pleasing to God.  The Doctrine of Inspiration only guarantees that the record of events and the text itself are God-breathed and divinely preserved without errors.  For example, the Bible faithfully records the sin and treason of Judas Iscariot but it puts no stamp of approval on his actions.  What he did was evil, pure and simple, and it was satanically motivated, not God approved.  The Bible faithfully records the sin of Adam and Eve but what they did was clearly sinful.  Jonah’s dirty rotten attitude toward the Ninevites is included in the inspired text but that doesn’t mean that his attitude was righteous.
Here in Ecclesiastes we have an accurate record of Solomon’s foolish search for life’s meaning, but we can readily see that he was looking in all the wrong places.  The inspired text accurately records the thoughts of a man who was walking far from God, doing life on his own terms.  I tell you this because while Solomon here makes many true observations, we must be careful not to absorb everything he says at face value, because some of his conclusions are just plain wrongheaded.
Solomon was a complex character.  Raised in the palace, heir to the throne, given everything his heart could desire, yet he felt empty on the inside.  He even had an encounter with God in which he was told to ask for anything he wanted, so he asked God for wisdom and insight into how to rule over Israel.  The Bible says that God answered that prayer, in spades.  Throughout his reign he was a wise and beloved leader of his people, Israel.  However, his personal life was a mess that whole time.  He seemed unable to apply his wisdom to the realm of human relationships including marriage and family.
In the Book of Proverbs we see the incredible wisdom of Solomon.  Here in the Book of Ecclesiastes we see the boundless stupidity of Solomon.  They form a fascinating contrast, with both coming from the pen of the same man.  In 1:12-14 Solomon lays out for us his thesis.  He says: “I, the Teacher, was king of Israel, and I lived in Jerusalem. 13 I devoted myself to search for understanding and to explore by wisdom everything being done under heaven. I soon discovered that God has dealt a tragic existence to the human race. 14 I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind” (NLT).  In chapter 2 we find Solomon following yet another course to find satisfaction in life.  This route he chooses is also a popular route for modern man who seeks satisfaction in all sorts of pleasures.

Chapter 2 breaks down nicely into two parts;
  • Outline of Chapter 2:
            A. The Futility of Pleasure and Accomplishments – 2:1-11
            B. The Futility of Earthly Success – 2:12-26
  • By the way, I am making some use of Dr. Stan Ellisen’s outline of the Book of Ecclesiastes.  He was one of my OT professors from Western Seminary and he had a wonderful way of partitioning the Scriptures in divisions that make sense to me.


The Preacher searched through a variety of “pleasures” (1-3):
1I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure.  So enjoy yourself.”  And behold, it too was futility.  2I said of laughter, “It is madness,” and of pleasure, “What does it accomplish?”  3I explored with my mind how to stimulate my body with wine while my mind was guiding me wisely, and how to take hold of folly, until I could see what good there is for the sons of men to do under heaven the few years of their lives.
  1. Solomon seems to have tried everything known in the way of pleasure, including all kinds of laughter, mirth, and even substance abuse (v. 3).
    1. “Pleasure” – The implication here is sexual pleasure.  Solomon makes this even clearer down in verse 8.  He explored every form of human sexuality, in the end being left empty and dissatisfied.  Surely this should resonate with our society and generation.
    2. “Laughter” – I can’t help notice the upsurge in the last few years of people wanting to be “stand up comics.”  That phrase didn’t even exist a few years ago.  Now we have thousands of people just trying to make us laugh as though laughter and hilarity were the most important thing in life.  I imagine that Solomon surrounded himself with funny guys to try and take his mind off of his troubles.  It doesn’t work!
    3. “Stimulate my body” – Solomon would have fit right in with my generation—the Woodstock kids, the flower children, the LSD crowd.  Solomon would have loved Timothy Leary.  He was limited to using alcohol to get high but if he had found anything stronger he would have certainly tried it.  He says in verse 3 that he actually “explored with his mind how to stimulate his body with wine”.  He applied the scientific method to the study of how best to get bombed out of his gourd!
  2. Notice that he claims to have done all this, all the while retaining his perception (v. 4).  That is debatable.  The other night on TV I watched two half-hour episodes of a program called “Three Sheets.”  This guy goes all around the world drinking the local brews, wines, and liquors.  He gets drunk regularly yet claims to hold on to his good judgment, etc.  (By the way, I was only interested because the two that I watched were about Brazil and Portugal.)
  3. His conclusion: All these things he found devoid of true meaning and heart satisfaction (cf. verse 12).

Solomon searched for satisfaction in his great achievements (4-7):
4I enlarged my works: I built houses for myself, I planted vineyards for myself; 5I made gardens and parks for myself and I planted in them all kinds of fruit trees; 6I made ponds of water for myself from which to irrigate a forest of growing trees.  7I bought male and female slaves and I had homeborn slaves.  Also I possessed flocks and herds larger than all who preceded me in Jerusalem.
  1. Like a lot of people, he tried to cover up his unhappiness with lots of activity.  He took up carpentry, winemaking, gardening, and horticulture.  These became hobbies for Solomon.  He built great buildings.  He established huge irrigation systems and undertook huge public works projects.  It is now known that snow was brought down from Mt. Hermon so that he could have cold drinks in the summertime.  He obviously was trying to exceed all who had come before him, and claims that he succeeded in this.
  2. He sought satisfaction in “things.” He apparently got into both human and animal husbandry, raising livestock (horses, cattle, sheep, camels) and also breeding slaves. 

He describes his search for satisfaction in wealth and fame (8-10):
8Also, I collected for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces.  I provided for myself male and female singers and the pleasures of men--many concubines.  9Then I became great and increased more than all who preceded me in Jerusalem.  My wisdom also stood by me.  10All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them.  I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart was pleased because of all my labor and this was my reward for all my labor.
  1. He accumulated servants, possessions, and riches.  He figured that these material things would satisfy him so he went for them in a big way.  Of course the only way he could get all this wealth was through taxation of the people.  In Solomon’s case he also had some huge gold mines.
  2. He even tried the music scene.  He hired the best musicians money could buy.  He surrounded himself with music.  That sounds pretty modern, doesn’t it?
  3. He gave all his energies to a full gratification of the flesh.  He is very forthright about admitting that he gave himself whatever his evil little heart desired.  He had the money, he had the power.  Who could tell him, “NO”?
  4. The last part of verse 9 is a head-scratcher: “My wisdom also stood by me.”  I don’t think so!
  5. In verse 10 he claims that all these goodies were in a sense his right due to his hard work.  They were his rightful wages.  But is that true?  Is that how God would look at this?  I don’t think so.  Kings have always had the idea that they were somehow entitled to their wealth by a divine right.  But did God ever say that?

Solomon sums up the conclusion of all his experimentation (11):
11Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun.
  1. He concludes that life is devoid of ultimate meaning and without real profit, in spite of all his material possessions and accomplishments.  In the end those things meant nothing to him.
  2. He says that in the end, the results of this search were emptiness and chasing after the wind.  There was no profit gained.  He found that even the world’s very best things cannot satisfy the heart.  The sad thing here though is that a lot of people will not take Solomon’s word for it; they will insist on making his same mistakes all over again.  But eventually they will come to the same conclusions.  They will say: “Life is empty and has no meaning.” 

B. THE FUTILITY OF EARTHLY SUCCESS (Materialism) – 2:12-26

The Preacher admits to the advantage of wisdom over folly (12-13):
12So I turned to consider wisdom, madness, and folly; for what will the man do who will come after the king [meaning him] except what has already been done?  13And I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness.
  1. After weighing this subject in his mind he concludes that wisdom far exceeds folly (13).  Then he points out that anyone who comes along wanting to check this out for himself will have to walk in his footsteps because he has already exhausted the search.  He is the expert!
  2. Notice that he certainly gives no merit to ignorance.  He says that wisdom always trumps stupidity, in the same way that light always trumps darkness.  What he means is that when wisdom walks in the door, stupidity has to flee, just like darkness always flees from the light.  Look at verse 14: a wise man uses his head and uses his eyes, while a fool just bumps around in the dark.

The writer observes the universal leveling process of death (14-16):
14The wise man’s eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness.  And yet I know that one fate befalls them both.  15Then I said to myself, “As is the fate of the fool, it will also befall me.  Why then have I been extremely wise?”  So I said to myself, “This too is vanity.”  16For there is no lasting remembrance of the wise man as with the fool, inasmuch as in the coming days all will be forgotten.  And how the wise man and the fool alike die!
  1. So he’s saying that while it is true that it’s better to be a wise man than a fool, an educated man instead of an ignorant man, ironically, all of them end up in the grave—the foolish and the wise, the educated and the ignorant, the righteous and the wicked (14).
  2. Maddeningly, the grave seems to hold no advantages for the wise (16).  The wise man and the fool may end up lying side by side in the cemetery and they both have the same dirt thrown in their faces in the end.  That just doesn’t seem fair, does it?

The Preacher shows the futility and resulting depression of life (17-18a):
17So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind.  18aThus I hated all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun
  1. Notice how much hating is going on in these two verses: “I hated life,” and, “I hated the fruit of my labor.”
  2. Man’s best efforts seemed to him to be without value—again, those same words: “futility” (emptiness, without meaning or purpose) and “striving after wind.”
  3. Thus, the products of his life were reprehensible.  “I hated all the fruit of my labor…”  Those are very strong words!

Solomon comments on the disappointment of his success and successors (18b-23):
18aThus I hated all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun18bfor I must leave it to the man who will come after me.  19And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool?  Yet he will have control over all the fruit of my labor for which I have labored by acting wisely under the sun.  This too is vanity.  20Therefore I completely despaired of all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun.  21When there is a man who has labored with wisdom, knowledge and skill, then he gives his legacy to one who has not labored with them.  This too is vanity and a great evil.  22For what does a man get in all his labor and in his striving with which he labors under the sun?  23Because all his days his task is painful and grievous; even at night his mind does not rest.  This too is vanity.
  1. A person’s success is often exploited by an unworthy successor (21).  How many people have worked all their lives to accumulate a little of this world’s goods, then they leave it to some godless fool of a relative who quickly squanders it all on wine, women, and song.  Or how about the good Christian people today who leave money to so-called Christian organizations, but they have no assurance that the organizations will remain true to the faith.  Think about it.  How many Christian organizations have become apostate and have departed from teaching the Word of God?  We have no guarantees.  We also know that Solomon faced this same kind of problem, and I Kings 12 tells us what happened.  He left the kingdom to his son, and it was his son’s foolish arrogance that resulted in the dividing of the kingdom.  What a tragedy that was!
  2. Success also brings sleepless nights of useless worrying (23).  This reminds me of one of my favorite commercials.  Have you seen this one?  First he takes it out from under his mattress and buries it in the backyard.  Then he digs it up and takes it to the bank and locks it in the vault.  But on his bed he’s worried and can’t sleep so he goes back to the bank, gets his bone and brings it back home and insures it with Traveler’s Insurance.  The background music is a guy singing, “Worry, worry, worry…”

Solomon holds out an alternative based on faith in God (24-26):
24There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good.  This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God.  25For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him?  26For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God’s sight.  This too is vanity and striving after wind.
  1. He says that man’s responsibility is to receive and enjoy life as a gift, coming directly from the hand of God (24).  Moreover, he should remind himself often that God is the Giver of these good things.
  2. Man should trust God for ultimate meaning and live his life as unto Him, rather than for himself.
  3. In verse 26 Solomon clearly divides mankind into two camps: (Group #1) those who are good in God’s sight and have found favor with Him; and (Group #2) sinners, who God has tasked with heaping up good things for group #1.  Then he comments at the end of verse 26 that for them this is just more emptiness and wind-chasing.

            Once again I must remind you that in the Book of Ecclesiastes Solomon is looking at life from the perspective of one who is “under the sun,” i.e. immersed in the world and it’s way of thinking.  It is the view of the man apart from God.  This is not the view of the man in Christ, seated in the heavenly places of Ephesians 2:6.  This view “under the sun” always leads to pessimism and dark thinking.
            Another way to think of this… Ecclesiastes looks at life from the perspective of a carnal Christian, a person who is walking afar off, leaving God out of every equation.  Life sucks, the joy of his salvation is gone, the world looks bleak, and there is no reason for life to go on.
            Or from another angle… We could maybe say that Ecclesiastes looks at life through the eyes of a person who is clinically depressed and off his meds.
            So as Christians, how are we to process all of this?  How much of what Solomon says should we take as Gospel Truth?  Can we hold tightly onto the doctrine of Inspiration and yet disagree with him or are we forced to agree with his findings about life?

            Of the things you’ve seen here today are there points in which you disagree with Solomon?  Why?              Are there things that you agree with him about?  Which ones?

Monday, March 14, 2011

"The Folly of Man Under the Sun" - (03/13/11)

Introduction to Ecclesiastes (Message #1 in Series)
March 13, 2011

How many of you consider yourself to be “reasonably intelligent”?  OK, but have you ever done anything really stupid, that you regretted later?  I certainly have—more times than I want to admit.  Most of you have watched the movie, “Forrest Gump,” starring Tom Hanks.  In that film, Hanks plays the part of a guy who is not very smart but who is good to the core, does kind deeds, and says wise things.  That’s an interesting combination because we expect that a dumb guy would act stupidly and say stupid things.  It just proves that wisdom and intelligence don’t necessarily always go together.
Then, of course, there is Solomon in the Bible—the son of King David, he was heir to the throne of Israel, born into wealth, power, and opulence.  Yet soon after he was crowned king he had one of those “Ah-ha” moments in which he realized that he was not up to the task of ruling over Israel.  This is all explained in I Kings 3:1-14.  Let’s look at that to get the context.

1Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, and married one of his daughters.  He brought her to live in the City of David until he could finish building his palace and the Temple of the Lord and the wall around the city.  2At that time the people of Israel sacrificed their offerings at local places of worship, for a temple honoring the name of the Lord had not yet been built.  3Solomon loved the Lord and followed all the decrees of his father, David, except that Solomon, too, offered sacrifices and burned incense at the local places of worship.  4The most important of these places of worship was at Gibeon, so the king went there and sacrificed 1,000 burnt offerings.  5That night the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream, and God said, “What do you want?  Ask, and I will give it to you!”  6Solomon replied, “You showed faithful love to Your servant my father, David, because he was honest and true and faithful to You.  And You have continued Your faithful love to him today by giving him a son to sit on his throne.  7“Now, O Lord my God, You have made me king instead of my father, David, but I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around.  8And here I am in the midst of Your own chosen people, a nation so great and numerous they cannot be counted!  9Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern Your people well and know the difference between right and wrong.  For who by himself is able to govern this great people of Yours?”  10The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for wisdom.  11So God replied, “Because you have asked for wisdom in governing My people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies—12I will give you what you asked for!  I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have!  13And I will also give you what you did not ask for—riches and fame!  No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life!  14And if you follow Me and obey My decrees and My commands as your father, David, did, I will give you a long life.” (NLT)
So far, so good, but Solomon is well known to us, not only for his great wisdom, but also for exercising incredibly bad judgment in his personal life.  Oh sure, we all remember his wisdom in deciding the case between the two women who both claimed to be the mother of the same little baby.  But this is the same Solomon who according to I Kings 11:1-8 ended up with 700 wives and 300 concubines!  Any married man will tell you that was a serious lapse in good judgment!  No wisdom there!  Let’s look at that passage:

1Now King Solomon loved many foreign women.  Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites.  2The Lord had clearly instructed the people of Israel, ‘You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.’  Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway.  3He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines.  And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the Lord.  4In Solomon’s old age, they turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the Lord his God, as his father, David, had been.  5Solomon worshiped Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites.  6In this way, Solomon did what was evil in the Lord’s sight; he refused to follow the Lord completely, as his father, David, had done.  7On the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, he even built a pagan shrine for Chemosh, the detestable god of Moab, and another for Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites. 8Solomon built such shrines for all his foreign wives to use for burning incense and sacrificing to their gods.

So how are we to take Solomon?  The Bible says he was the wisest man who ever lived (at least in some areas).  But that same Bible paints a picture of him as a total moron in regard to spending money, and in marital and family relationships.  Yet through it all he seems to have learned some important life lessons through his experiences.  That, in and of itself, is admirable.  Too many of us go bumbling through life without learning a blessed thing worth passing on to the next generations.

In spite of his lapses in judgment and his outright screw-ups, God thought enough of Solomon to use him to write three books in our Bible: Canticles (Song of Solomon), Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes.  When looked at together these three books serve as a rough outline of Solomon’s life.  The ancient Jewish scholars tell us that he first wrote the Song of Solomon at the very beginning of his reign, while he was still very young and still very much in love with his first wife and lover, identified as “the Shulamite maiden” in that book.  It is a tender and intimate love story from the perspective of a man who was crazy-in-love with his wife.  Next, in mid-life he wrote the Book of Proverbs, a collection of observations on life interspersed with one-liner wise sayings that sum up his views on all kinds of subjects and situations.
However, toward the end of his life, Solomon penned the Book of Ecclesiastes.  It is very different from his first two books.  It is dark and depressing, filled with bitterness and cynicism.  It is hard to read.  It is hard to preach and teach.  In fact, most of you have never heard a sermon from the Book of Ecclesiastes because most preachers bypass it in favor of more uplifting texts.  But you know me—“boldly going where no man has gone before”!  I believe that if it is in the Bible then God must mean for us to study it, understand it, and apply it’s truths to our lives.  So starting today, we are going to study the Book of Ecclesiastes together.  But I warn you; it will not be an easy read.  There is much in this book that will serve as a mirror for our own follies and foolishness.  Moreover, you will discover that this book is amazingly up-to-date in terms of the worldviews in which we are constantly “stewing and simmering.”  Jesus said that we are “in this world” but should not be “of this world.”  The Book of Ecclesiastes will help us better understand why He made that statement.
I plan to have us take a plane ride over the book.  It has 12 chapters and I plan to cover the book in 12 messages.  Obviously, we will miss a lot of stuff.  At this pace I won’t be able to hit all the fine points.  But I figure that it’s about all we’ll be able to handle, but hopefully, will serve to whet our appetites and give us an appreciation for this ancient portion of Scripture.

The book gets its English name from the Greek version of the Bible, which has the title, “Ekklesiastes” from the word meaning “assembly.”  By the way, it is from this word that we get the word “church” (ekklesia).  The Hebrew name of the book is, “Kohelet,” which signifies, “one who assembles, or addresses an assembly.”  This has been taken to mean either (1) “one who collects” wise sayings (cf. 12:9-10), or (2) “one who addresses an assembly,” that is, a preacher or speaker, the logical implication being that one assembles a group for the purpose of addressing it.
Solomon’s purpose in writing the book seems to be to show from his personal experience that all earthly goals and blessings, when pursued as ends in themselves, lead to dissatisfaction and emptiness.  He concludes that the highest good in life lies in knowing, reverencing, and obeying God, and enjoying life while one still can.  In this book we will see Solomon as a man of faith; he was skeptical only of human wisdom, wealth, and endeavor, because he had, “Been there – Done that – Bought the T-shirt!” and still came up empty.
This first chapter divides nicely into two sections.  My outline of the chapter looks like this…
OUTLINE of Chapter 1:
A. The Transitory Nature of Things (Verses 1-11)
B. The Futility of Wisdom (Verses 12-18)

The chapter starts out with “the Preacher” being identified in verse 1: 1The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.  Until the 19th Century it was generally believed that Solomon wrote the book in its entirety.  Luther was actually one of the first to throw doubt on this fact.  However, I’m just gullible enough to believe the text itself, as well as the untold centuries of ancient witness to the Solomonic authorship of this book.
Verse 2 lays out for us the Preacher’s thesis: 2“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, “Vanity of vanities!  All is vanity.”  This word, vanity, in Hebrew literally just means “air.”  In Isa. 57:13 it is translated as “breath.”  In Proverbs 21:6 it is “vapor,” like the condensed breath that one breathes on a cold day.  Solomon is saying that everything in this life is transitory, and therefore, futile to be pursued.  He had discovered that life has no final meaning apart for God and His revelation.  Apart from that, life is all just “hot air.”  We’ll discover later that he’s not a complete pessimist; he is merely pessimistic about human existence bringing satisfaction apart from God. 
In verse 3 Solomon expands the sphere of our consideration by introducing a phrase that we will see over and over again in this book.  He poses a question: 3What advantage does man have in all his work, which he does under the sun?  The phrase “under the sun” simply means life as we know it, human existence with all its joys and sorrows, ups and downs, toils and pleasures.  He asks, “What advantage does a man gain in this life for all his efforts?”  His conclusion is, “NONE”!
This phrase, “under the sun,” or some variation of it, is going to show up 34 times in this book.  In fact, I would advise you to take some time this afternoon and read through all 12 chapters at one sitting with a highlighter pen in your hand.  Every time you come across the phrase, “under the sun,” or “under heaven,” or “on the earth,” highlight it.  You will be surprised how many times it appears.  (Note: I’m using the NASB.  Your Bible may have a little bit different phase but you will recognize it when you see it.)
Starting in verse 4 Solomon begins to develop his thesis.  He starts out by pointing out the transitory nature of things.  4A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.  5Also, the sun rises and the sun sets; and hastening to its place it rises there again.  6Blowing toward the south, then turning toward the north, the wind continues swirling along; and on its circular courses the wind returns.  7All the rivers flow into the sea, yet the sea is not full.  To the place where the rivers flow, there they flow again.  He says that life is like a merry-go-round.  To illustrate this truth he points to the continual cycles of the sun, wind, oceans and rivers.
We can hear in his words as they come sliding off his pen that he is a frustrated man.  In verse 8 he says that these continual, monotonous cycles in nature are futile and seem to have no meaning and give no satisfaction whatsoever.  Wherever Solomon looks in nature he finds the same tiresome, ceaseless round of meaningless activity.  8All things are wearisome; man is not able to tell it.  The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear filled with hearing.  He means that it is impossible to put into words the futility of it all.  Solomon seems to be disturbed by his own conclusions.  These are the words of an angry, disillusioned old man, but one who on the other hand, knows what he is talking about.  He spent his life “chasing after the wind,” only to find out that it means nothing and cannot satisfy the longings of the human heart.
In verses 9-10 the Preacher goes on to say that the future will just be a repeat of the past.  9That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done.  So there is nothing new under the sun.  10Is there anything of which one might say, “See this, it is new”?  Already it has existed for ages which were before us.  He says, don’t look for things to change, to be different tomorrow.  It’s just the same-old same-old.  Thus, he concludes, life is futile; neither what we call “success” nor “failure” has any real value in the light of the future.
Solomon goes on to say in verse 11 that the past will inevitably be forgotten.  11There is no remembrance of earlier things; and also of the later things which will occur, there will be for them no remembrance among those who will come later still.  He says that not only will the past inevitably be forgotten, likewise, the future will also someday forget us!  On our recent trip to the Southwest we stopped for a night and a day in Delta, Colorado where my family came from.  Ramel and I went up to the old cemetery and wandered around until we found the graves of some of my ancestors, including my great-grandparents and other relatives.  I know that they were real people when they were alive, with personalities and sense of humor and hopes and dreams.  But now, for me, they are just names on gravestones.  They are in the past, long-gone and forgotten.  Moreover, if the Lord tarries, someday some of my descendents may stand in a graveyard reading my name on a headstone and feeling the same disconnectedness from me.
Verse 12 begins the second section of the chapter, which deals with The Futility of Wisdom.  First of all, the writer identifies himself again.  12I, the Preacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem.  This is basically a repeat of verse 1.  Then he goes on in verse 13 to describe his diligent search through the labyrinths of human wisdom looking for the meaning of life.  He says, 13And I set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven.  It is a grievous task, which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with. 
It is obvious that the futility was not due to a lack of resolve on his part.  He threw himself wholeheartedly into the task but came up empty-handed.  Look at verse 14:  14I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind.  15What is crooked cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted.  16I said to myself, “Behold, I have magnified and increased wisdom more than all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has observed a wealth of wisdom and knowledge.”  So after this carful search he declares the inability of wisdom.  Even with his great wisdom, true meaning in life still escaped him. 
The chapter ends with verses 17-18 in which the Preacher declares the frustration of great wisdom.  He says: 17And I set my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly; I realized that this also is striving after wind.  18Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.  Solomon says that, in a sense, “ignorance is bliss” because with greater knowledge and wisdom one clearly discerns the futility of life “under the sun.”  In fact, he says that not only does the search for life’s meaning prove frustrating and its goal unattainable, but it actually also brings mental and spiritual pain.
What a depressing conclusion!  It’s not what we want to hear.  It rubs us the wrong way because we all secretly hope that if we just keep looking long enough through the things this world offers, sooner or later we will find the magic key that will unlock all human happiness and ultimate meaning.  Solomon, the wisest man in history, one of the wealthiest men in history, one of the most intelligent men in history, one of the most powerful men in history, one of the most sexually satisfied men in history… says it just ain’t so!  None of these things holds the key.

            We humans are wired up in such a way that we think, “If I can just do this, or have that, then I will be truly satisfied and happy.  If I just had a little more money so that I could buy that thing I’ve been craving, then I know that my life would be truly complete.”  The thing about Solomon—he had all the money, power, sex, good looks, fame, and toys that anyone could ever want.  He tried it all.  He had it all.  He did it all.  But at the end, he concluded, “It’s all vanity—smoke, mirrors, hot air, a waste of time.  It doesn’t satisfy.  It doesn’t fill the hole in the soul of an individual.  It doesn’t bring real happiness.”
            The danger for us is to think to ourselves, “Yeah, but maybe he just didn’t find the right thing.  Surely he was mistaken.  Otherwise it would mean that the things I’ve been chasing all my life aren’t going to satisfy me either, and that is unthinkable.”
            May we have the courage to stop the crazy race long enough to consider whether we too are, as Solomon puts it, “striving after the wind.”

            What thoughts come to your mind?  What are you hoping to gain through this study of the Book of Ecclesiastes?

About Me

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Since 1994 I have been the pastor of Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR. Before that I was a missionary in South Brazil for many years. Until just recently I have also served as a police chaplain with the Portland Police Bureau. Now, however, God has a new assignment for us. My wife and I have been appointed with WorldVenture and are preparing to move to Ireland to help plant a new church in Sligo, a small city in NW Ireland. I'm married to Ramel, a crazy, beautiful redhead that I love more than life itself. We have three great kids, Jonathan, Chris, and Simoni who have given us ten wonderful grandchildren. We are truly blessed.

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