Reading portion for Ecclesiastes part 23

From Life-study of Ecclesiastes, message 1.


Scripture Reading: Eccl. 1:1-11

The contents of Ecclesiastes are a description by Solomon, after his falling away from God and returning back to God, concerning the human life of fallen mankind under the sun, which is in the corrupted world. He set his heart to seek and to search out all that is done under the heavens, and he observed that according to the natural phenomena all the things done in cycle remain the same, generation after generation, all wearisome and nothing new. In his conclusion, this is all vanity of vanities and a chasing after wind to the human life of fallen mankind. Such a conclusion of the wise king by his wisdom may be considered a history of the vain life of a fallen man. His conclusion in this book is like a dirge to a man whose end is in misery.

According to Ecclesiastes, human history, from its beginning to the present, is vanity. Because creation has been made subject to vanity and to the slavery of corruption, everything under the sun is vanity. Paul’s word concerning this in Romans 8:20-21 corresponds to Ecclesiastes. Today everyone is actually not living but dying. We have been born to die; that is, we have been dying since the day of our birth. From this we see that human life under the sun is vanity of vanities.

The Central Thought

Solomon had unequaled wisdom, the supreme position, unsurpassed wealth, and hundreds of wives and concubines, and fell in the indulgence of his lust to an unparalleled extent. Through all the positive and negative experiences of the human life under the sun, his thought was deeply impressed and occupied with the central thought of this book, that is, the vanity of vanities of the human life under the sun in its falling away from God. Man was created by God with the highest and most noble purpose, that is, to express Him in the resemblance of Him in His life, nature, and expression. But God’s enemy, Satan the devil, came in to inject himself as sin into the man created by God for His purpose. Through this fall of man, man and all the created things that had been committed by God to his dominion were brought into the slavery of corruption, made subject to vanity (Rom. 8:20-21). Thus, the human life in the corrupted world also became a vanity, a chasing after wind. The writer Solomon had fully realized this and stressed this to the uttermost in his description. Yet he was not fully disappointed in this, but rather he instructed men that there is a way to get out of this vanity, that is, to come back to God and take God as man’s everything, redemption, life, wealth, enjoyment, pleasure, and satisfaction, that man still may be used by God to fulfill His original purpose in man for the fulfillment of His eternal economy (Eccl. 12:13-14)….

The Writer’s Experiments

Ecclesiastes 1:12—6:12 is a lengthy section concerned with the writer’s experiments.

1. In Wisdom and Knowledge

The first experiment is in wisdom and knowledge (1:12-18). The writer says that it is grievous travail that God has given to the children of men to travail in (v. 13). What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted (v. 15). In much wisdom is much vexation, and the increase of knowledge increases sorrow (v. 18). To know wisdom and to know madness and folly also are a chasing after wind (v. 17).

2. In Pleasure

In 2:1-11 we have the experiment in pleasure, in particular of enjoyment (vv. 1-2), drinking (v. 3), building and planting (vv. 4-6), possessions (v. 7), silver and gold (v. 8a), music (v. 8b), and the delights in concubine after concubine (v. 8c). Solomon’s unparalleled experiences of these pleasures with his wisdom were all found by him to be vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was no advantage under the sun (vv. 9-11).

3. In Being a Wise Man or a Fool

Verses 12 through 26 describe the experiment in being a wise man or a fool….To be a wise man is better than to be a fool, but after death both become a vanity, a chasing after wind. So Solomon hated life under the sun which was grievous to him (vv. 12-17)….

God Having Put Eternity in Man’s Heart

God has made everything beautiful in its own time and has put eternity (an aspiration for the things in eternity) in man’s heart, yet so that man does not find out what God has done from the beginning to the end (v. 11). In His creation of man, God put something into man which Solomon called “eternity.” This means that in man there is a kind of aspiration for God, an aspiration for something eternal. Physical things may be enjoyable, but they are temporal.

Many successful people can testify that when they were endeavoring to advance in their career, they sensed that there was an emptiness within them. They began to realize that they were seeking something eternal. After they gained something they wanted, they felt that it was nothing. This feeling comes from the aspiration in man’s heart for something eternal.

According to our own experience we know that whenever we have a success in our human life, we also have an empty feeling. This indicates that within man there is an aspiration for eternal things. God has put such an aspiration, such a seeking, in man’s heart so that he will seek God. Every person, especially every thoughtful person, has within him this longing and seeking for eternity.

There Being Nothing Better for Man than to Rejoice and Do Good in His Lifetime

Verses 12 and 13 say that there is nothing better for man than to rejoice and do good in his lifetime, eating, drinking, and tasting enjoyment in all his labor; it is the gift of God.

God created man for Himself, but man was seduced by Satan to give God up, and thus man became fallen. Nevertheless, God still blesses man so that he may have a good living and enjoy various material things. By blessing man with material things, God maintains the existence of mankind from generation to generation. God has preserved man in this way for the sake of the redemption of His chosen ones.

Apart from God’s blessing no one could bear to live on earth. On the one hand, everything under the sun is vanity of vanities and is subject to the slavery of corruption. On the other hand, certain things in human life, such as education, work, and marriage, are still very appealing. If we did not strive to gain an education or to succeed in our work or to have a good married life and family life, we might be tempted to commit suicide. God uses man’s striving for these things in order to keep man on earth. If mankind ceased to exist, God could not gain His chosen ones from among the fallen human race. If mankind had been terminated, Christ could not have come, for there would have been no lineage for His incarnation.

Although man is fallen, God continues to bless man, causing the sun to shine and the rain to fall and maintaining a proper order in the universe. As a result, people have the desire to go on living. In this way mankind is preserved for God to fulfill His purpose in choosing us before the foundation of the earth.

We were born at the right time and in the right place. Therefore, we all are here today for God’s purpose. Without God’s sovereign preservation of physical, human life, none of us could exist for His purpose. I believe that this is the correct understanding of Solomon’s thought when he wrote that “every man should eat and drink and taste enjoyment in all his labor; it is the gift of God” (v. 13).