All is Vanity – Ecclesiastes1

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Today we’ll be reading from the book of Ecclesiastes. This is a book of Solomon, the son of King David and third ruler over the unified nation of Israel. Known for his wisdom, Solomon still did many apparently unwise things in his life, from marrying 300 wives to bringing their idols into his home. This book contains the record of a man bouncing from philosophy to philosophy in the quest for meaning and happiness in life.

Reading: Ecclesiastes 1

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

While it doesn’t say directly that this was Solomon, there can be no other assumption. David only had one son to sit on the throne in Jerusalem, and it was the same son he conceived with Bathsheba (wife of Uriah the Hittite).

Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.

As we know, “vanity” is pride lacking in substance. To say that all is vanity is to say there is no substance in which to take pride, nothing lasting. What on earth could one of the richest and wisest kings in history mean by this?

What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?

One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.

The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.

The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.

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

The preacher here is musing on the longevity of nature. We live for a time, accomplish what works we will, and die. So, too, do our children and their children. But the earth continues to turn, the rivers continue to flow, the winds continue to blow, and the sun continues to rise every morning. What is the life of a man in the face of such?

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

It is true that we can glut ourselves on many things. We can eat a thousand turkey dinners, and in so doing lose our taste for turkey. We can spend every day at the botanical gardens, and in so doing lose the majesty of the plants therein. But go to a different garden, and all is once again new. Or eat a different dish, and once again you can find pleasure in the food.

There is so much more in this universe than we can ever fully experience or appreciate in life.

The thing that hath 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.

10 Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath 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.

I hear it said that Jesus would not understand modern society, because he grew up millenia ago. But how true is that, really?

The Babylonians and Greeks had openly homosexual men and women, and their empires encompassed a vast array of peoples and languages. So clearly there is nothing new about diversity.

The Romans had ways to convey news that, while not so fast as the Internet, were still appreciable. So that’s not new, either.

Plays and music have been in existence for the duration of mankind’s experience, so that’s not new.

We don’t even have any new philosophies, or social movements, or anything. No, there is nothing new under the sun.

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 hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith.

Solomon, among the first of the Philosopher Kings of old, wrote this book to make record of his journeys through the realms of thought. Indeed, all men engage in such study to one degree or another, but only the truly wise and intelligent get so far as he.

14 I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.

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

How many times have I heard the slogan, “We can end X in our lifetime!”? Yet, no matter how much kindhearted people slave to accomplish this seemingly achievable goal, it slips away. In theory, there is no reason for a single person on the earth to starve or thirst (given the resources globally available), but even with billions of dollars in aid many African nations still starve and thirst. In the same way, the UN and similar organizations are founded to prevent wars, but wars have continued to rage unabated (and the organization itself causes its own share of conflicts).

Such is the nature of our fallen world, inhabited by sinful men.

16 I communed with mine 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: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.

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

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

When I was young, all things were possible to me. We could cure cancer, find ways to obtain free energy from the cosmos, and develop faster, better computers in perpetuity. Yet, as I continued to learn and study wisdom literature, I became sad. For we understand the human mind less now than we did when Freud broke onto the scene; we are reaching some absolute physical limits to how small we can make computer chips; we have absolutely no idea how to get at the useless energy of the universe.

Worse,  still, I was soon disabused of the notion that people are rational creatures capable of improving themselves through study and reflection. We are rhetorical creatures, driven largely by our emotions and instincts, and prone to all kinds of evil. Few are seriously capable of determining their own rational self interests, or those of their brethren. So all the effort I put into knowing thousands of truths proved foolish, as I could not make it matter.

Solomon is right again.

Yet, do not lose hope, for this is merely the first chapter of a book of journeys. Hope and truth lie further to the back.

Let us Pray

I lift up mine eyes to the hills; from whence cometh my help? My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.

Mighty father, Lord of Hosts, we thank you that you are our God. We have seen the despair of those who think there is no god, and those whose gods are evil, and we thank you that you are that you are.

Lord, we seek after wisdom as You have instructed us, but we are filled with doubts. We see the same things as Solomon, and we are troubled in our spirits. Teach us the follies that render us troubled, and give us your peace, so that we may be a beacon of wisdom and hope in a world of madness and despair.

Blessed be the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns. We worship not a dead god, but a living Lord.

And blessed be the Holy Spirit, one God with the Father and the Son.

Amen.

 

Let not your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in our Lord Jesus Christ.