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Ecclesiastes - Chapters 1 - 2

A verse by verse study of the book of Ecclesiastes

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Ecclesiastes — Chapter 1

Hello everyone. If you will get your Bible and follow along. We’re going to start a series of Bible Studies through various books in the Bible. We’re going to go through them verse by verse and so you’ll need your Bible to follow along if you’re going to get the most out of this series.

Today, we’re going to start in the book of Ecclesiastes. First, I want to get a little background and go into some of the background of this book. The book of Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon around 1,000 B.C., maybe more like 980 B.C., but probably around 1,000 B.C. and it was inspired by God. He was the son of King David and was the most powerful king on earth in his day—King Solomon was. He was famous for wisdom and understanding. This is what he asked God for above all else and God told him He would give him understanding and He would also give him untold riches because of his attitude of putting first things first.

To get a little bit of background regarding why he was blessed so much. Let’s turn over here to 1 Kings 3:5. Here is the time that Solomon, in a dream, had an exchange, if I can put it that way, with the Eternal.

It says here in 1 Kings 3:5:

5 In Gibeon the Eternal appeared to Solomon in a dream by night: and God said, Ask what I shall give you.

Now can you imagine God saying that to anyone? If He said that to you or to me, what would be our response? And, of course, He can do whatever He wants to do, God can. And so He said to him —

5 — Ask what I shall give you.

6 And Solomon said, You have showed unto your servant David my father great mercy, according as he walked before you in truth, and in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with you; and you have kept for him this great kindness, that you have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day.

7 And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in.

Now he was not a little child actually, but he was saying “I’m as a little child here. I don’t know how to handle this job. I’m way in over my head.”

8 And your servant is in the midst of your people which you have chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude.

9 Give therefore your servant an understanding heart to judge your people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this your so great a people?

10 And the speech pleased the Eternal, that Solomon had asked this thing.

You see, he didn’t ask for great riches and great honor and great power. He didn’t ask for any of that. He asked for wisdom and understanding so he could serve the nation of Israel. He wanted to be able to please God and take care of His people and he knew he couldn’t do that on his own. So he asked God to help him, and that’s what he wanted, that’s what he asked first, that’s what he asked for and nothing else.

Well, look at God’s reaction here.

10 And the speech pleased the Eternal, that Solomon had asked this thing.

11 And God said unto him, Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked for yourself long life; neither have asked riches for yourself, nor have you asked the life of your enemies; but you have asked for yourself understanding to discern judgment;

Or a better translation: Justice.

12 Behold, I have done according to your words: lo, I have given you a wise and understanding heart; so that there was none like you before you, neither after you shall any arise like unto you.

But also, look what else God said in verse 13.

13 And I have also given you that which you have not asked, both riches, and honor: so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto you all your days.

14 And if you will walk in my ways, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as your father David did walk, then I will lengthen your days.

What an amazing prayer and what an amazing answer between Solomon and Almighty God. And so that pleased God so much that God made Solomon one of the wealthiest people on earth. But more important than that, He gave him wisdom and understanding like no one had before him nor after him. So that’s the man that we are talking about here. And he wrote the book that we’re going to be going through. This is one of three books that Solomon wrote. He also wrote Proverbs and Song of Solomon.

Today, we’re going to go or we’re going to start through the book of Ecclesiastes. We’re not going to do an excavation per se and just dwell on one verse or one passage and cross reference and give all kinds of other material that will tie in with that. We’ll do a little bit of that. But we’re not going to just rush along either. We’re going to try to be balanced and do kind of an overview of each book of the Bible that we go through. And that’s what we’ll try to do here today in the book of Ecclesiastes.

So let’s all get our Bibles and turn to Ecclesiastes 1:1.

I want to give a little background in terms of the content of this book. What he does here is: Solomon talks about the cycles of life without God in the picture. He’s writing this from man’s point of view. What he does here is describe life without God in that life. And that’s why he ends up talking about it’s nothing more than vanity, vanity, and more vanity. So just keep that in mind or you cannot understand the book of Ecclesiastes. But if you will keep that point in mind, then it begins to be plain what he’s talking about. And he’s heading toward the main bottom line point at the end of the book, which we’ll get to later on in this series.

Now let’s start here in Chapter 1 in verse 1.

1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

Keep in mind the most powerful king on earth in his day, was this man, King Solomon.

2 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.

Not part, but all is vanity. Now does that mean when you pray to God it’s vanity? Does that mean when you honor and respect your wife that’s vanity? Does that mean when your children honor you that’s vanity? Is it vanity to help somebody else? When you do good things, is that all vanity? No, it is not.

But when you leave God out of the picture and you live life without Him being a part of it, then EVERYTHING is vanity. That’s what he’s talking about here.

2 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.

He’s taking a look at everything from man’s point of view without God being a part of it. And trying to figure out what it’s all about. And he ends up over and over again saying, “It’s just passing time. It’s just like grabbing a handful of wind.”

3 What profit has a man of all his labor which he takes under the sun?

4 One generation passes away, and another generation comes: but the earth abides forever.

Do you remember anyone who lived 200 years ago? Do you know anything about anybody who lived 200 years ago? You go back 200 years ago, there was vibrant life all over this earth, important things were going on, great achievements were being done. People would put their lives on the line for noble causes, but they’re all gone now. And so therefore they’ve gone just like a passing breeze. Nobody remembers them, nobody recalls them, nobody talks about them, nobody thinks about them. Oh, there might be one or two historical figures that get brought up from time to time. But life has made the cycle for that generation, and now we’re living in this generation.

4 — but the earth abides forever.

That’s what he’s saying.

5 The sun also arises, and the sun goes down, and hasteth to his place where he rose.

It rises again, over and over again.

6 The wind goes toward the south, and turns about unto the north; it whirls about continually, the wind returns again according to his circuits.

And here comes another storm and here comes another breeze and here comes the sun coming up and there it goes going down. Cycle after cycle after cycle, circle after circle after circle, life and life and then death and death, and then life and life and then death some more. And what’s it all about? What’s the purpose? What’s the reason? What’s it tied into? What’s supposed to be achieved here? Vanity of vanities, it’s all vanity.

See that’s what Solomon was saying as he looked at it just from man’s point of view and nothing else.

7 All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, there they return again.

8 All things are full of labor; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.

Have you ever heard beautiful music to the point to where you say, “Okay, that’s all I ever need to hear and I’ve heard all the beautiful music I ever need to hear. I’m satisfied.” No, you’re going to want to go back and hear some more beautiful music. Have you ever seen a gorgeous, breathtaking sunset? And said, “Okay, I’ve seen it all now. I don’t need to see any of that anymore.” No, you’re going to want to go back and see some more beautiful sunrises and sunsets.

9 The thing that has been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

Of course, he’s talking about: man’s nature is still the same. He’s talking about the outlook, the attitude, the problems, the accomplishments, the achievements. That approach that mankind has always had is the same. There’s nothing new under the sun in that respect. He’s not talking about, you know, Mach 3 bombers and computers and all the technology that we have today. They didn’t have that back then. I won’t take much time on this but we could sometime talk quite a lot about this. The basic idea in the minds of so many people is: man started at a lower life and has now graduated to this high level of life that we have today. When in fact, it was the opposite.

When you go back to the Garden of Eden and God created Adam and Eve, they were perfect in health and perfect in terms of their abilities and capabilities. And then they began having children. And so, they were brilliant, they were talented and they were healthy. If you just check up, you’ll see that they lived over 900 years, people back there did, 950 and more, some people did. But as time went along and laws were broken and man went his own way, then that began to exact penalties on the health, on the talent, the ability, the intelligence. So that heredity and broken laws have contributed to 6,000 years later—if we lived 70, 80 years, that’s a long time. And yes, there are intelligent people. But a lot of the knowledge we have is accumulated knowledge.

In other words, what I’m trying to say is: Yes, we can do a lot of things today. But in terms of intelligence and talent and ability, you go back to the days of Solomon or you go back even further than that, you’re not talking about a bunch of incompetent, bumbling, stumbling idiots, dummies. No, they were brilliant and smart and they were able to do a lot of things. You study archeology and you study what historians and experts in the field of things in the past and you will see they’re discovering more and more incredible things that were done in Egypt for instance, and other places, by mankind thousands of years ago. So don’t misunderstand what it says here in verse 9 when it says:

9 — and there is no new thing under the sun.

It’s talking about the attitude, the approach, the desires, the actions of man. Human nature is still the same.

10 Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it has been already of old time, which was before us.

11 There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.

12 I the Preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem.

13 And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail has God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith.

“I’m going to set out and find out just what life has to offer. I’m going to drink deeply of the cup of life. I’m not going to spare myself anything. Whatever I want, wherever I want to go, whatever I want to be, I’m going to set out and do it. I’m going to find out what life is really all about. I’m going to find out where I can go and what I can do that will at last fill this void inside me and really satisfy me. I’m going to find the fountain of youth, proverbially speaking.” That’s the attitude that he set out with in this quest, and he lays it out in this book of Ecclesiastes.

13 — I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail has God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith.

14 I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and —

Striving after wind.

14 — vexation of spirit.

15 That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.

16 I communed with my own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yes, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.

17 — I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.

Okay, I want to be smart, so now I’m smart. Okay, I want to be funny, so now I’m funny. Okay, I want to have a big good time, so now I had a big good time. Okay, I’ll try to just be kind of half crazy. Okay, I did that, and it all adds up to this. It’s just all vanity.

You might remember the song many years ago. I think it was number one. Peggy Lee sang it and it was entitled, “Is That All There Is?” And she would go through what life has to offer and she would experience it and it was fun. Go to the circus with her Dad and it was all great. And then the circus began to pack up and leave, and she sat there saying, “Is that all there is? You mean that’s it. Is that all there is? If that’s all there is, then let’s keep dancing, let’s break out the booze and have a ball, if that’s all there is.”

Well, a lot of people have that question. They want to get somewhere and do something. When they get there and do that, it may be fun, it may give pleasure, but then you look around and say, “What’s next?” You see, that’s what Solomon is talking about here. That’s what he experienced when he set out on this journey to dig right into life and to extract as much as he could out of it in the hopes that that would satisfy everything that he wanted satisfied, the five senses and the rest—the purpose in life. And he keeps coming back and saying, “I perceived that this is just a grasping after wind. This is just vanity.”

18 For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increases knowledge increases sorrow.

In other words, the more you know, the sadder it gets. The more expansive your range is regarding information and regarding experience, yes, there’s some happiness there, yes, there’s some interesting things that you’ll discover. But you’ll also discover a lot of things that are sad, a lot of things that are painful, a lot of things that are frustrating because God is not in the picture.

Ecclesiastes — Chapter 2

Now let’s go to Ecclesiastes 2:1.

Chapter 2, verse 1, Solomon said this:

1 I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove you with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity.

2 I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it?

3 I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom; and to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life.

4 I made me great works; —

Notice how often he says “me” here.

4 I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards:

He was finding that the further into this journey he got, the more self–absorbed he became. Now Solomon was in this position. Whatever was available at that time in his life he could have. Picture yourself in that position at this time. Suppose, whatever you thought of that you wanted, you could get. Wherever you thought of you wanted to go, you could go there. Whatever you thought you wanted to be, you could be that, and people would look up to you and you’d be the center of attention. And you could have as many cars as you wanted and as many houses as you wanted, as many yachts as you wanted and as many airplanes as you wanted and as much money as you wanted. And wherever you go, you would be a celebrity and you would be put on a pedestal. And your slightest utterance would be carried out, and your fondest, or even casual, desires would be given to you. Do you think that that would satisfy? Do you think that that would be the answer? Do you really believe that that would give happiness and peace?

Well, let’s find out as we go through this book of Ecclesiastes. Because that’s what Solomon did. He did it over and over and over again. And every time he did it, when it all played out, he said “It’s just a pile of vanity. It’s just passing. There’s nothing to it. It’s grasping after wind.”

4 I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards:

5 I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits:

6 I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that brings forth trees:

In other words, he already had viaducts and the practice of irrigation in place.

7 I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me:

8 I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I got me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts.

And you know, everything he mentions here, it’s wonderful really, if it’s tied into something bigger and better. But if it’s nothing but a means of and by itself, it’s going to end up not satisfying. I mean, it’s nice to have beautiful music. It’s nice to have a nice garden, a beautiful garden. It’s wonderful to have friends. It’s great to travel if it’s tied into something bigger. But if that’s all there is, then it doesn’t satisfy. Then it doesn’t answer the questions that men need answered and that humanity wants answered.

In other words, that’s not it. What he’s talking about here is about the five senses. And what he’s talking about here offers only temporary satisfaction and only temporary interesting experiences. But as far as the bottom line, lasting and complete fulfillment that he was looking for, none of these things separately and none of these things all put together gave that fulfillment. He still ended up coming back to this point: Vanity of vanities. It’s all vanity of and by itself.

9 So I was great, —

He says. Verse 9. That’s interesting.

9 So I was great, —

Does that satisfy? Well, he’ll say and show it didn’t.

9 — and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me.

Not only did I get all these things, but I still had my wisdom and understanding, which was greater than other human that existed before me or after.

10 And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labor: and this was my portion of all my labor.

11 Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labor that I had labored to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.

Is that all there is? You mean, that’s it.

12 And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what can the man do that comes after the king? —

The king has it all. So who’s going to come after the king and have more?

12 — even that which had been already done.

13 Then I saw that wisdom excel folly, as far as light excels darkness.

So if you’re going to make some choices between darkness and light and between folly and wisdom. Take wisdom, take light. But even that by itself and of and by itself is not going to satisfy the quest for fulfillment.

14 The wise man's eyes are in his head; but the fool walks in darkness: and I myself perceived also that one event happened to them all.

Both of them died. Both of them ended up just standing on a foundation of vanity.

15 Then I said in my heart, As it happened to the fool, so it happened even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity.

What good is all this wisdom I have if that’s all there is.

16 For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dies the wise man? —

Well, he dies just like —

16 — as the fool.

And they both were put in the grave and covered up, and then a few months later and a few years later and a lot of years later, one is not remembered anymore than the other.

17 Therefore —

Look at his conclusion here in verse 17, and a lot of people have said this and gotten cynical and bitter. People who have everything and then they look around and say, “Well, if this is it, who needs it?”

17 Therefore I hated life; —

After trying everything, this is what he thought of it.

17 Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.

18 Yea, I hated all my labor which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me.

Now, I’ve worked with lots of different people in lots of different situations and some of them have been very well off, and I can tell you right now, until they adjust and settle on and focus on the things that really count, one of the biggest worries is protecting all that they have and a worry that’s even bigger than that is, whose going to get it when they’re gone, because they can’t take it with them. And that’s what he’s saying here.

18 Yea, I hated all my labor which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me.

And that man might hate him, and that man might squander all that he’s so carefully acquired.

19 And who knows whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labor wherein I have labored, and wherein I have showed myself wise under the sun. This is also vanity.

20 Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labor which I took under the sun.

It just seemed hopeless. It just seemed so frustrating, so depressing.

21 For there is a man whose labor is in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity; yet to a man that has not labored therein shall he leave it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil.

Here’s this man who’s worked hard all his life, been diligent, been careful, been upstanding and upright, and he’s acquired all these things and then he dies, and this bum over here that’s a lazy, no good scoundrel ends up getting all that that good man had acquired all his life. How can that be? Why is life like that?

The conclusion that he reached: this is also vanity. Not fair. And he began to get very jaded and very cynical about life because he’s simply viewed life from man’s vantage point. And if you do that, life can seem very unfair. It can seem very cruel. It can seem very hopeless. It really can and it does. And frankly, if you leave God out of the picture, life is all those things.

Oh, you may have some pleasures, some fleeting fun. You may have some good times here or there and then when those good times end, what is next? Is that all there is?

Notice Ecclesiastes 2:22.

22 For what has man of all his labor, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he has labored under the sun?

23 For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart takes not rest in the night. This is also vanity.

If it’s all physical, it’s nothing. Look what verse 23 is saying. Work all day and worry about it all night. That’s what it’s saying. Work all day and worry about it all night.

23 For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart takes not rest in the night. This is also vanity.

24 There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.

Is that all there is? So let’s eat and drink and be merry, and let’s enjoy whatever we can because when it’s over, it’s over. And you know, if we have that attitude and that approach and our understanding doesn’t go any deeper than that, even the eating and drinking and having fun is empty and hollow. He tried it and he said that was what it was.

25 For who can eat, or who else can hasten hereunto, more than I?

I’ve got this available to me more than anyone, and yet when I take advantage of what’s available to me as, the most powerful king on earth, my conclusion is: Vanity and vexation of spirit.

25 For who can eat, or who else can hasten hereunto, more than I?

26 For God gives to a man that is good in his sight wisdom, and knowledge, and joy: but to the sinner he gives travail, to gather and to heap up, that he may give to him that is good before God. This also is vanity and vexation of spirit.

So now we’ve come to Chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes, and as we go through this book, you’re going to see that Solomon developed this theme more and more and he gets more specific. He lays out more and more logical ideas and more and more consistent thinking on this matter of “here’s what life has to offer when you enter into it just as a human being, leaving God out of the picture.” You’re going to do it your way. You’re going to manage everything the way you think it ought to be managed. You’re going to end up in this spot if you think about it and if you face the truth, and if you are a realistic individual that will absolutely face the truth, not block things out, not spin things, but face the truth. Having done all of that, as Solomon did, you’re going to end up right where he did and you’re going to say this if you’re honest, “It’s all vanity and vexation of spirit of and by itself without God in the picture.”

So we’ll pick it up there in Chapter 3 next time. Hope you’ll join us.

This is Charles Bryce with the Enduring Church of God.