The Book of Ecclesiastes
Pr Edi Giudetti
We are now in the second last of the five wisdom books of the Old testament, located in the heart of the Old testament between the 17 historical books and the 17 prophetic.
We were introduced to the wisdom books by the book of Job.
We discovered that the most righteous man in the world also had to come to his knees before the living God and repent in dust and ashes before he could truly Praise the Lord in Psalms.
And this is the beauty of the Psalms, they reflect as a whole the repentant and humble heart of the one who has given up on himself and submitted his complete life unto the Lord God almighty.
And dear brethren, it truly is this giving up of self life that gives us the utmost in freedom, it is this humble heart that sees all that God has given for him.
Then we came to the book of the Proverbs, truly this can be considered the School of God where we seek after and learn Wisdom. This seeking must be the highest priority for the Christian babe, for only the seeking after wisdom and that in accord with the words of God, can keep the child of God upon the narrow path and away from that broad road which deceives so many.
And now we come to Ecclesiastes, a book which reflects the turning of the Child of God back into the world. This book reflects something we are all too familiar with when we turn from that narrow way into the broad road yet again, thinking that perhaps we missed something, thinking that it may be possible that there actually was something of value back in the world that could make us happy, satisfied, fulfilled.
But Solomon was there before us and he preaches otherwise.
And that is what this strangely titled book refers to itself, Ecclesiastes refers to the preaching of a Called out one. It goes back to the Greek word for Chruch, ‘Ecclesia’, but more it refers to The Preacher as we see penned for us in the first verse “The words of The Preacher…”. And we are confident it was Solomon because he is “The son of David, king in Jerusalem”. Our confidence that he is the author continues to grow as we read of his accounts, all of which match so perfectly what we already know of King Solomon in the books of Chronicles, Kings and Proverbs.
So now we come to our first point, the first of six short points to consider. The most consistent word used in this book I am sure you all know.
VANITY; and it is that form of life that the Preacher reflects upon that attempts to find value and purpose without God.
Our points this morning are as follows;
The Vanity of Pleasure Without God
The Vanity of Prudence Without God
The Vanity of Principles Without God
The Vanity of Prosperity Without God
The Vanity of Purpose Without God
A Time Appointed to Every Man
The Vanity of Pleasure Without God
I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity.
The word pleasure is often associated closely to happiness, it is the commonly held belief that all things that are pleasurable will make us happy. Happiness is believed to be the pursuit of all men, if you would please suffer me to some repetition I would like to show this to be the case.
In the Declaration of Independence drafted by Thomas Jefferson, July 4, 1776 is written;
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”
Blaise Pascal, a mathematician, scientist and philosopher also in the 17th century said
“All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end.” “The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves”
Mortimer Adler, the Chief Editor of The Encyclopaedia Britannica Great Books of the Western World said
“When men say that what they want is happiness, they imply that, having it, they would ask for nothing more”
Finally we could turn our pages of history as far back as the fifth century BC to note the words of the wisest man of the secular world. Aristotle came to show in his book Ethics that all men tend to one end and there is not any move or motivation of man but to that which is his end desire. This is what he refers to as the “Chief Good”;
Therefore if there is one final end this will be what we are seeking…we call final without qualification that which is desirable in itself and never for the sale of something else.
Now such a thing happiness, above all else, is held to be, for this we choose always for itself and never for the sake of something else”
This is what Solomon had determined to discover experientially and to see if indeed he could gain the pleasure he sought, the happiness he so desired. Certain also it is that, above all people, he alone had the complete qualifications to attain to this end in the absolute fullest of measures, saying in 2:25
For who can eat, or who else can hasten hereunto, more than I?
So lets consider what he says of his efforts in chapter 2:3-11
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; 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 bringeth forth trees: 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 gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts.
9 So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me. 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 labour: and this was my portion of all my labour. 11 Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.
When it comes to the attainment of pleasure in the hope that this might gain for him the happiness he sought he found it unbearably lacking. Is that where you are at? Perhaps you don’t have the resources to make you great works, or build you houses or plant vineyards and gardens and orchards or pools of water. Perhaps you don’t have the money to gain your servants and gain great possessions or have your own personal ‘women singers or men singers’.
But maybe you do have a large collection of music through which you hope to gain pleasure, maybe your search for women singers and men singers is more readily available for your entertainment through a hand held device. Perhaps the servants you take pleasure in are whatever things tend to make life easier for you, a vehicle to take you everywhere you desire with as much enjoyment as you can gain from it. Perhaps the games you play also serve your leisure, your coffee machine serves your cravings, your internet connection serves your curiosity, your phone or television serves your amusements. Maybe your tools serve your building projects, projects that you will not be ultimately happy until they are complete. The renovation of a bathroom or kitchen or…the building of a garage or a garden.
Friends it is all relative to capacity but the motive is the same
Whatever it is; if you will not be happy until these items are completed I am afraid you will be disappointed just as Solomon was.
Turn back to Eccl 1:8
All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
No sooner have you expressed satisfaction with one project completed that you would quickly begin the next and the next and the next. Please do not get me wrong, it is not that these things are bad in and of themselves, the same scriptures in Ecclesiastes 2:24 tell us
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 labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.
But if the purpose of these things is for the attainment of happiness or fulfilment or satisfaction in life, you will be sorely disappointed and will discover with King Solomon that they are all;
Vanity and vexation of spirit, and there is no profit under the sun.
The Vanity of Prudence Without God
Here we think of the value of Wisdom
12 And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what can the man do that cometh after the king? even that which hath been already done. 13 Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness. 14 The wise man’s eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness: and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all.
15 Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity. 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 dieth the wise man? as the fool. 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.
What is certain is that wisdom and prudence have no value at all without God. For if all end in the same place and if there is no reward nor benefit for either the wise nor the fool, then we may as well be fools and enjoy our madness and folly.
For Solomon notes in 1:18
For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.
We have all heard the phrase ‘ignorance is bliss’ and until the violence comes upon us being so ignorant of that for which we should be circumspect, this seems true. Unless there was going to be some other ultimate value in wisdom that goes beyond this life and world than please help me to understand what difference it is to be wise or a fool? If happiness and bliss is our end goal then why not be an ignorant happy fool rather than an informed, sorrowful wise man?
Turn to Eccl 9:11
11 I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. 12 For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.
When it comes to an existence that does not contain God in all the mind, then that which Solomon has discovered is true. If the race is not to the swift, nor that battle to the strong etc, if ‘time and chance happeneth to them all’, then we need to think of what the point of it all is, is it not all then vanity?
Prudence or wisdom without God is vanity, it can have no ultimate value.
The Vanity of Principles Without God
2 All things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not: as is the good, so is the sinner; and he that sweareth, as he that feareth an oath. 3 This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event unto all: yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead.
Turn also to Eccl 8:14
14 There is a vanity which is done upon the earth; that there be just men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there be wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous: I said that this also is vanity.
Now it must be understood that we are speaking of both realities with God as well as the understanding of purpose without God.
We know that scripture teaches that Good men shall see their days prolonged and that the wicked shall be cut short. But we fail to recognise that we don’t have a time reference for either. We are not told that the righteous shall live to a hundred years whereas the wicked won’t see fifty years of age.
It is in reference to “the lengthening of thy days”.
Job notes that he sees the wicked indeed grow old and seem to prosper;
Wherefore do the wicked live,
Become old, yea, are mighty in power?
8 Their seed is established in their sight with them,
And their offspring before their eyes.
9 Their houses are safe from fear,
Neither is the rod of God upon them.
Asaph seemed to lament for a time when he recalls in Psalm 73
But as for me, my feet were almost gone;
My steps had well nigh slipped.
For I was envious at the foolish,
When I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4 For there are no bands in their death:
But their strength is firm.
5 They are not in trouble as other men;
Neither are they plagued like other men.
He too was lacking an eternal perspective for a while.
So understand that there is no encouragement to live wickedly, the frame from which Solomon draws is one that is understood as a life lived without God.
You see there are no principals, no true ethics or absolute morals if God does not exist. Without a foundation for what is good or what is bad, what is right or what is wrong, we can only then come to the point where nothing really matters, the world is then without meaning, it is nothing but “Vanity and vexation of spirit”. But to some people this is their true desire, they don’t actually want meaning.
“I had motive for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently I assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. … For myself, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political.”
In fact this is the fundamental motivation that drives every atheist, every fool that says in his heart their there is no God are motivated by their desire to do wickedly. Notice that when they speak of “Freedom” or “Liberation” they are NEVER REFERING to doing good, they are ALLWAYS REFERING to doing evil.
Because there are no limitations in doing good, but there are for evil, and that is where they speak of “Freedom”, they wish to be as gods KNOWING good and evil. (That knowing refers to an intimate relationship with both states).
Therefore Principals are vanity without God. There is no reference for Good without an absolute standard of Good, and that is God.
The Vanity of Prosperity Without God
10 He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity. 11 When goods increase, they are increased that eat them: and what good is there to the owners thereof, saving the beholding of them with their eyes? 12 The sleep of a labouring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much: but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep. 13 There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt. 14 But those riches perish by evil travail: and he begetteth a son, and there is nothing in his hand. 15 As he came forth of his mother’s womb, naked shall he return to go as he came, and shall take nothing of his labour, which he may carry away in his hand. 16 And this also is a sore evil, that in all points as he came, so shall he go: and what profit hath he that hath laboured for the wind?
If it is prosperity which will satisfy us, if wealth was that which will give us meaning and value and happiness, at which point do we end our labours? How many barns do we fill with plenty so that we can say to our souls Rest and take thine ease?
How incredibly vain it is to discover He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase
What sort of universe is this that something like this can be true? And yet it is true, we know it is true, we have seen so many miserable people who have desired to have so much and attained more than heart could wish and yet REMAIN miserable though they REGAIN THEIR PERSUITS OF ATTAINMENT?
They do actually love the silver and yet simply cannot be satisfied with it? Why?
Our last point shall answer this question.
If their desire is only for wealth then all they do is labour for the wind.
Friends, don’t just think of rich people as having these lusts. In fact the most lustful people in the world are those who don’t have wealth. They are the ones who happily steal from Government, through the dole, through cheating on their taxes just to get a few extra discounts, through claiming things they had no right to claim, through their silence when it’s their turn to shout, through not paying a wager they made with a friend and through shear stinginess.
No, it’s not just the wealthy who have their hope and satisfaction in silver. If our satisfaction is in wealth alone, then all we acquire will also be in vain.
Eccl 2:18-21 speaks of doing all our work and then leaving it to one who has not laboured for that which we had gained. Ultimately the rich will leave all the fruit of their labour to those who have not earned them, how shall this occur?
Turn to Eccl 5:15. This is where we discover the truth of that saying of Death being known as “The Great Equaliser” No matter how large our homes while we live, our bodies all end the same way.
Eccl 5:15 has this noted, as we read;
As he came forth of his mother’s womb, naked shall he return to go as he came, and shall take nothing of his labour, which he may carry away in his hand.
Brethren, enjoying the fruit of our labor is sweet to do, the sleep of a laboring man is sweet, but digging for it as for hidden treasure believing that the purpose of our life is the attainment of it, is what Solomon so clearly referred to as Vanity.
Prosperity without God is Vanity.
The Vanity of Purpose Without God
13 This wisdom have I seen also under the sun, and it seemed great unto me: 14 There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it: 15 Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man. 16 Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength: nevertheless the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard. 17 The words of wise men are heard in quiet more than the cry of him that ruleth among fools. 18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war: but one sinner destroyeth much good.
If all this benefit came to the occupants of the City and yet for all this they did not remember nor regard the wisdom of the poor wise man who delivered the City, to what ultimate end is it that he delivered it if recognition was the end he desired?
But if the purpose for which he desired to deliver the city was for the sake of the lives of those within the city, then his purpose was fulfilled even though he gained no recognition for it.
This we must understand, if there is no God there simply cannot be an ultimate purpose. Sure many who have said in their heart “there is no God” will make claims that they have subjective purpose; such as;
- My children
- To do good for others
- To make a difference to the environment
- To work good for a future people
But subjectivity does not equate to reality, King Solomon lays out the reality in the first chapter saying;
4 One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. 5 The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose. 6 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. 7 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. And so on
There is ultimate purpose and meaning dear brethren, but it is not found subjectively.
Without God all we rationally experience generation after generation is that there is nothing new under the sun and there is no remembrance of former things nor of things to come. The place from where the rivers come there they return again. We are simply dust returning to dust if God is not.
This is understood my many philosophers and even scientists today.
Dr William Provine gave a lecture where he stated;
- There are no gods or purposive forces
- No life after death, no reward for suffering or good behaviour
- No ultimate foundation for ethics
- No ultimate meaning in life
- No free will. (your life and decisions are determined by your make up surroundings)
Richard Dawkins said
““The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”
Philosopher Bertrand Russel said in his book “A Free Mans Worship” 1903
“That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair can the soul’s habitation be safely built.”
It is vain to think that there is purpose without God.
A Time Appointed to Every Man
We come to the conclusion of the matter that is actually hinted to us in Chapter 3 and culminates in chapter 12.
The Preacher, through both experience and wisdom, is come to understand that of all that which man life consists there is a time appointed. These are observable by us all and you may read those ten verses in your leisure, but our consideration will be on that which he gives as the first observable reality that we all must concede;
2 A time to be born, and a time to die;
How we are to live can only be determined by understanding what it is to die.
You see, we cannot even truly understand what life is unless we have the entire picture in view, we must know what death brings for without this knowledge our lives could be continually lived in vain.
Is there anything afterward that should preoccupy our minds?
If God does not exist then the answer is no, all is vanity and vexation of Spirit. Those five points we had come to are all true if all is without God.
Pleasure is vanity Without God
Prudence is vanity Without God
Principles are Vanity Without God
Prosperity is Vain Without God
Purpose has no foundation, no meaning Without God
But if God does exist then nothing is in vain, all things have a purpose.
We go from everything being Vanity without God, to Everything having purpose with God;
In fact dear friends we are now set on course to discover the truth of the Agnostic Author HG Wells who said simply;
“If God does not exist, nothing matters. If God does exist, nothing else matters.”
What an incredible turn around! From all being Vanity to Everything having purpose.
Turn in your Bibles to Ecclesiastes 12.
10 The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth.
13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
Throughout the book we seem to see many contrasting thoughts by the Preacher. He acknowledges God throughout the text and yet seems to prefer examining life apart from God. This seems to be quite the picture of the Christian doesn’t it? We try to live life in the world yet the entire time we acknowledge God.
But no matter the experiments he attempted his conclusion was that which he knew from the beginning and that is to fear God and keep his commandments. Knowing also that God shall indeed try the works of men, together with every secret thing. And this the Christian also knows to be true.
Solomon proves that even the wisest man in the world can fall into folly and temptation. Wisdom is no guard against the flesh. But a heart determined to trust in the Lord can indeed keep him safe that his life be not filled with vanity. I wasted so many of my years chasing earthly vanities and now I despise them. What a waste of decades they were.
This is why, we were created to fulfil an eternal purpose.
If our love is for silver we will not be satisfied with silver, if it is for abundance and goods, we wont be satisfied. Why? Because God is not mocked, the desire for these things serves no eternal purpose. So when we divert that attention for what we are created for to other things, we are not satisfied in them, we cannot be!
But to think that NOW, while I am YET ALIVE I can make a difference in the eternity of even one soul fills me with the greatest level of excitement.
Just imagine, we are not speaking of feeding the hungry tummy, though that is noble, we are not speaking of freeing someone’s slave, also a noble endeavour, we are not even speaking of saving a temporal life, though this might seem the highest virtue, no!
We are speaking of feeding the hungry soul to fit him/her for eternity and duplicate the effort still further. We are speaking of freeing the slave to sin, to give them freedom in Jesus Christ and remove their burdens so they may live abundantly for him and also duplicate the effort.
Brethren, we are speaking not of saving just a life, but saving a soul from the death of a lake of fire to which all who are not born again will be cast. Yes even those souls who say they are Christs but are found not known of him, for they will be many according to Matthew 7.
Ecclesiastes teaches us all that in the world all we see is vanity, but for Christs redeeming love.
When we look out the window to the world we actually see hope, and we can personally instil in every person who walks by that hope in Christ, if we choose to.
OUR PURPOSE IS TO MAKE AN ETERNAL DIFFERENCE TO ONE PERSON TO THE GLORY OF JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD.
Next week we will look to that binding love to Christ as we consider The Song of Songs!