Joly Fahim | 21 April 2020
Joly is a senior studying Biology at the University of Houston. She is sharing a Bible study led by Father Younan William that focused on Ecclesiastes 1.
Introduction to Ecclesiastes: The book of Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon. Throughout the book, Solomon uses the wisdom which was provided to him by God as well his own anecdotal wisdom in which he comes to the conclusion that all is vain. When reading the book of Ecclesiastes, it is important to add the phrase “Without God…” to interpret the verses. All which Solomon comes to the conclusion to be vain is due to the absence of God. The book contains a beautiful philosophy in which we can learn that all which is earthly is vain, and to seek all which is heavenly.
In chapter 1, Solomon gives multiple reasons why he concludes that all is vain. The reasons are:
- The Shortness of Time
Verse 4: “One generation passes away, and another generation comes; but the earth abides forever.”
This point which Solomon brings is intended to portray how our time on earth will end eventually, no matter how long it perseveres. A great analogy to explain this concept is like an individual who is extremely rich in a particular country with a specific currency. However, this individual needs to move to a different country where that currency is not translated. The smart person is the person that is able to do work which will translate to the country he is moving to – not the one he is currently in. Likewise, no matter how long our lives get, we will eventually leave this earth. The smart person is one who is able to do work which translates to him being rich in heaven – not on earth.
- Changing Environment
Verse 5-6: “The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it arose. The wind goes toward the south, and turns around to the north; the wind whirls about continually, and comes again on its circuit.”
Solomon indicates with this point that there is great change around us. These changes may make many of us uncertain, like there is no reliability. This is where it is important to place the phrase “without God…” in front of the concept; there is no reliability without God. It is because our Lord is the only constant.
Verse 7-8: “All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full; to the place from which the rivers come, there they return again. All things are full of labor; man cannot express it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.”
Another reason why Solomon believes that all is vain is because no matter how hard we labor, and no matter what we achieve, we remain hungry. It should be noted that we place the phrase “without God…” in that we will remain hungry without the presence of God to fulfill us.
Analogy: A story which portrays the dissatisfaction of humans is when this one farm worker wanted to feed his family and so he went to this extremely rich and generous man who told him you can have all of the food you would like, all you have to do is run through the field. However, you are only allotted from sunrise to sunset. If you are not back by sunset, you lose all of the food. So the worker took off running into the farm and he thought that he was going to run until the sun was directly above him, so that he would be able to get back by sunset because that would be half the area. However, when the sun was directly above him, he saw the land ahead of him and he continued going forward instead of returning. As sunset drew closer, he exhausted all of his energy to return back to the rich man that by the time he arrived at the rich man, he collapsed and died.
- The Inability to Change Human Nature
Verse 9-10: “That which has been is what will be, that which is done will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which it may be said ‘see this is new?’ It has already been in ancient times before us.
Solomon gives the reason that all is vain because human nature remains the same without the presence of God. When there was war in ancient times, it was often about the possession of land and livestock. Human nature’s instinct was to go to war over these possessions. Likewise, if there was a cure for the Coronavirus and there was one medicine bottle for four individuals. What will the result be? Although the circumstances have changed, human nature is unable to be changed without God’s presence.
- Lack of Remembrance
Verse 11: “There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come by those who will come after”
This reason why all is vain comes from a lack of remembrance. Even if an individual does something good, it is bound to be forgotten eventually…without the presence of God. God is the one who remembers all and He is the one who gives remembrance to individuals.
Some additional reasons why all is vain come from Solomon’s personal experience; he introduces this in Verse 12-14 by saying “I, the preacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven; this burdensome task God has given to the sons of man, by which they may be exercised. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind.”
- What is Broken Cannot be Fixed
Verse 15: “What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be numbered”
This reason why all is vain is because nothing can be fixed. However, it is important to note that nothing can be fixed without the presence of God.
- The Wisdom of the Earth is Vain
Verse 16-17: “I communed with my heart, saying ‘look, I have attained greatness, and have gained more wisdom than all who were before me in Jerusalem. My heart has understood great wisdom and knowledge. And I set my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is grasping for the wind.'”
Solomon’s reason why all is vain is that all earthly wisdom is vain. That which is not vain is the heavenly knowledge.
- Earthly Knowledge is Sorrowful
Verse 18: “For in much wisdom is much grief, and he who increases in knowledge increases in sorrow.”
Solomon gives this reason that earthly knowledge is vain because earthly knowledge produces grief. However, heavenly knowledge, and the knowledge of God, produces joy and peace.