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Bible Commentaries

Mark Dunagan Commentary on the Bible

Ecclesiastes 1

 

 

Verse 1

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

A definite message is in the mind of the writer and these are the words of the Preacher. Therefore I"m not comfortable with the view that Solomon isn"t the real writer, but rather someone is impersonating him and his experiences. These are the words of Solomon, they are not words put into Solomon"s mouth and neither are they a guess concerning what Solomon might have said about all his experiences.


Verse 2

"Vanity of vanities" says the Preacher, "Vanity of vanities!", All is vanity".

"Vanity of vanities"-"Utterly vain, utterly vain, everything is vain!" (Mof); "Emptiness, emptiness…all is empty" (NEB); "Futility of futilities" (Ber). "A wisp of vapour, a puff of wind, a mere breath-nothing you could get your hands on; the nearest thing to zero. That is the "vanity" this book is about…..It will no longer mean simply what is slight and passing, but more ominously, what is pointless" (Kidner p. 22).

Primarily the word "vanity" means "breath", in contrast to that which is firm and enduring. Something which has no support. "transitory, evanescent, frail" (Gesenius p. 214). The phrase "vanity of vanities", means that which is most utterly vain, complete vanity, vanity in the highest degree. "futile, empty, meaninglessness, fleeting, pointless, unfulfilling, striving after wind" (Kidwell p. 10).

"All is vanity"-Early on in the book the writer makes it clear that spiritual realities aren"t vain (). This is reinforced at the end of the book (12:13-14). In fact, in light of God"s searching judgment, everything isn"t vain, rather, everything matters!

Points To Note:

1 "Ecclesiastes is really intended to be a tract for the conversion of the self-sufficient intellectual; it compels him to discard his comfortable, self-flattering illusions and face honestly the instability of all those materialistic props on which he attempts to base his security. At the end of the road for the "hard-headed" materialist lies death and physical dissolution" (Zond. Ency. p. 188). 2. "In other words, it is as if this wise, wealthy, and powerful king had undertaken a trial of Jesus" later challenge: "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" (Matthew ). And so he set about gaining the whole world and the full enjoyment of all the pleasures and satisfaction that this life could give him" (Bible Difficulties, Archer, p. 255).

"All"-the next verse defines what Solomon means by "all". We are told "where" all is vanity.


Verse 3

"What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun?"

"What advantage"-"lasting advantage" (Sept). Carefully note this isn"t a statement issued by a lazy person, a teenager trying to get out of their chores, or someone who is against commercialism, private enterprise or capitalism. The writer is not saying that man"s labor results in no profit. But rather, what "kind" of profit does a man really get from his labors in this life? Whatever profit gained in this life is short-lived at best (Matthew ; 1 Timothy 6:17).

"under the sun"-here is the realm of vanity! It will be used 25 times in this book. Leupold writes, "Each time the phrase occurs it is as though the author had said, "Let us for the sake of argument momentarily rule out the higher things"" (p. 43).

Point To Note:

Often people in this world will say, "It doesn"t get any better than this", or, "You only go around once, so grab all the gusto that you can get!" To all such attitudes Solomon replies, "Well then…if this world is all there is, let us find out by experience whether there is anything ultimately worthwhile in this world---anything that yields real satisfaction. The result of his extensive experiment, carried on under the most favorable conditions possible, was that nothing but meaninglessness and profound disappointment await the…materialist" (Archer p. 255). ""You spend your life working, labouring, and what do you have to show for it?" --so runs a free translation of this verse" (Kidner p. 25)

And Solomon doesn"t merely make the claim---he offers the proof. This is the story of experience, a man who had unlimited earthly resources, and attempted to find meaning in this physical life, and came back empty-handed! He doesn"t merely make the claim, but backs it up with concrete proof and life experience.

The Treadmill

Kidner notes, "Ah, but one hopes to make the world a better place, or at least leave something for those who follow. As though expecting that reply, Qoheleth points to the ceaseless making and unmaking that goes on in human history: the wave after wave of generations with their rise and fall, their coming men who are soon forgotten men" (p. 25).


Verse 4

"A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever."

"One generation enters as another exits, the tragedy manifests itself when men, the highest of God"s creation and made from the earth, continually pass away as the earth remains" (Kidwell p. 20).

"remains forever"-which doesn"t imply an eternal existence for the planet, for the Hebrew word here rendered "forever" simply means a long age or period. The same word is used in reference to other things which are not eternal in duration, the land promise (Genesis ), circumcision (17:13), the Passover feast (Ex. 12:14), the priesthood of Aaron (Ex. 29:9), the Sabbath Day (Ex. 31:16-17). The word "forever" was rightly used of such things, because all these things lasted during the entire age for which they were designed. The earth is the permanent ground or scene on which all generations will come and go. This is the permanent stage for man"s physical history. But one day that stage will be removed (2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 20:11; 21:1). What this tells us is that the earth will last as long as God needs it to last. Another planet won"t be needed for our habitation-prior to the Second Coming. And, man won"t destroy himself or the earth (Genesis 8:22).


Verse 5

"Also, the sun rises and the sun sets; and hastening to its place it rises there again".

"the sun rises"-Even the powerful sun is caught up in this treadmill of vanity. The word "hastening" means to breathe hard, pant, as one in haste. The sun and the wind () are in constant motion but never arrive at any fixed goal or lasting rest.

"Qoholeth picks out three examples of this endless round in nature, starting with the most obvious, that of the sun, which stoops from its great upward curve into its decline; and having done so, hastens to repeat itself day after day" (Kidner p. 25). People will say, "What is freer than nature!" But Solomon responds, even nature, the most powerful forces in nature aren"t free. They are on the same treadmill as you and I. And the point is well made that mere activity in and of itself produces nothing of ultimate value. But how many people feel that accomplishing some physical task will bring them happiness. Or, if they are busy, then they are being useful and productive?


Verse 6

"Blowing toward the south, then turning toward the north, the wind continues swirling along; and on its circular courses the wind returns."

Someone might say, "But what is freer than the wind?" But even the wind finds itself on a monotonous cycle. What Solomon says above is also scientifically true. There are basic patterns of air circulation. Warm air that has been heated at the equator rises, and at high altitudes flows north, cools and drops, only to flow southward. The wind, seemingly the freest of all created things, is also in a rut. Which means that differences in weather patterns aren"t "new" differences, they are really only "old" differences. Even the wind doesn"t really get to do anything "new".


Verse 7

"All the rivers flow into the sea, yet the sea is not full. To the place where the rivers flow, there they flow again."

Job had noted the same truth (). Solomon recognized the basic mechanics of the water-vapor cycle. Aristotle (350 B.C.), long after Solomon is accredited as being the first to comprehend the water-vapor cycle. But his understanding was only of a local cycle. Until 1520 A.D., many thought that the rivers flowing into oceans didn"t cause the oceans to rise because the excess water was running off the edge of the earth. In 1770 A.D. it was understood that clouds can transport moisture away from the area in which they were formed. All this makes you wonder, "How did Solomon discover such truths long before anyone else did?" And if the Bible has proven itself right time and time again in all those areas in which we can verify its truthfulness, then the only logical conclusion is that it is right concerning everything of which it speaks. As man discovered that the Bible had been right all along about the water-vapor-cycle, likewise when Jesus comes man will realize that the Bible was right about God, Jesus, heaven, hell, etc…


Verse 8

"All things are wearisome; man is not able to tell it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear filled with hearing."

"All things are wearisome"-But what is true is nature is also true among mankind. "All things are unspeakably tiresome" (Ber). Without God factored in, nature, is routine, if not boring. "Wearisome"-the idea of labor which is exhausting.

"man is not able to tell it"-Man isn"t able to explain all things. Life is far more wearisome than man can tell. Solomon is saying, "My examples are just the tip of the iceberg, we could never exhaust this subject."

"eye is not satisfied with seeing"-"Like the ocean our senses are fed and fed, but never filled" (Kidner pp. 25-26).

"Nor is the ear filled with hearing"-the mind is also constantly searching and never finding rest.

Points To Note:

1 While man can see and learn many things, apart from God, his quest for knowledge will always be incomplete. Look at the years that people waste dedicating their lives to the defense and study of some false theory, like Evolution. 2. No matter how much you see or hear---you still won"t be satisfied. There is no ultimate experience in this life that will fill you up, so you will be content and satisfied. 3. Here is a warning to all addicts, whether drug, sexual, etc…., you are only setting yourself up for extreme disappointment and frustration. Nothing in this life offers the ultimate "high". 4. The filling of your senses cannot be accomplished!

But Wait A Minute----There Is Something New On The Market!

Someone might respond, "Well other generations couldn"t find happiness in things, but they didn"t have…….." Each generation seems to think that they have really found the ultimate. The ultimate car, toy, house, gadget, thrill, adventure, etc….How many times do you hear people expressing the sentiment, "How could people in the past be happy without one of our modern conveniences?"


Verse 9

"That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So, there is nothing new under the sun."

Points to Note:

Solomon isn"t denying advances in technology or human creativity. But basically, nothing is new. "For example, man"s journey to the moon and the discovery of America, though different, were both explorations of distant places, involving adventure and risk" (Bible Knowledge Comm. p. 980). Which means those who walked on the moon probably didn"t experience a bigger thrill than Columbus or other explorers. We have "new" medicines, but the process, the work, toil, adventure and thrill of discovery isn"t new.


Verse 10

"Is there anything of which one might say, "See this, it is new"? Already it has existed for ages which were before us."

"See this, it is new"-Such a statement only proves the point being made in . Our memories are short-lived. What we think is new is only new to us. And it is very easy to see the above truth once you have lived for some time. Fashions, trends, hairstyles, kids names, music, etc….all end up coming back. Things go out of style and then they come back in style. And what one generation was tired of, another generation greedily exclaims, "this is the greatest!" The same thing is seen in the religious world. What some denomination discards, another group will pick up and think it has just found the ultimate key to church growth or instant spirituality. Unfortunately, many of our liberal brethren are caught up in the above web of thinking that some practice or belief that is new to them is what the church can"t survive without.


Verse 11

"There is no remembrance of earlier things; and also of the later things which will occur, there will be for them no remembrance among those who will come later still."

"no remembrance of earlier things"-But some people pin their hopes on posterity. They say, "But we will live on through our children and grandchildren". Or, "I will erect a lasting monument to my existence, I will do something that will guarantee that I will not be forgotten!" "our history is always turning back on itself, failing of its promise. The journey goes on; we never arrive. Under the sun there is nowhere to make for, nothing finally satisfying or really new. As for pinning our hopes on posterity, in the end posterity will have lost the faintest memory of us" (Kidner p. 26). Some say, "But we live in the information age". Actually, a more honest assessment might be---- the loss of information age.

The Credentials Of The Writer

But someone could ask, "What does the writer know about life? What are his qualifications?" In the next verse we are given the credentials of the seeker.


Verse 12

"I, the Preacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem."

The word "have been", is also rendered by some, "I have been king thus far, and am one still". "Over Israel", the whole of Israel, and points to a period before the division of the kingdom. "He has been King over a great, peaceful united people; king in Jerusalem, the celebrated, populous, highly-cultivated city, and thus placed on an elevation having the widest survey, and having at his disposal whatever can make a man happy" (Keil, Del., p. 226). Solomon, better than any other man, even modern billionaires, was in a position to test the theory as to whether any lasting satisfaction can be found in this life. "Armed with such advantages, our search will be no circumscribed or tentative affair, but royal, exploring whatever the world can offer to a man of unlimited genius and wealth" (Kidner p. 28).

Points to Note:

"Solomon was the tenth son of King David and the second son of Bathsheba. Whereas David and Saul had been born among the common people and grew up among them in village and countryside Solomon was born in the palace at Jerusalem and grew up among men of power. He had seen the heights of royal glory and the chaos of rebellion. He was well educated and never knew poverty or hunger. But he did know the consequences of intrigue, jealousy, and murderous hate. Before he grew to maturity several of his older half-brothers had met violent deaths and one half-sister had been raped. In addition a half-brother Adonijah tired to steal the throne from Solomon before David died" (Zond. Ency. p. 470).

Besides tremendous wealth (1 Kings ; 10:14), incredible wisdom and mental power (1 Kings 3:12; 3:16-28; 4:29-34; 10:1-10), he also had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). "So King Solomon exceeded all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom" (1 Kings 11:23). This is why we are justified in saying that compared to Solomon, our modern billionaires are small time players.


Verse 13

"And I set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven. It is a grievous task which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with."

"set my mind"-This will be no half-hearted attempt. Solomon is determined, he has mentally prepared himself.

"to seek and explore"-to seek with care, to explore with careful examination. Solomon isn"t going to leave a stone unturned. This will be a thorough study, an in depth investigation. "Explore"-"to explore the subject on all sides" (Leupold p. 52).

"by wisdom"-Solomon isn"t naïve or stupid. He is shrewd and clever, he is attempting to find the ideal balance between such things as pleasure and self-control. He realizes like many sharp people today that too much pleasure can spoil finding pleasure in this life. Like so many famous people today he is attempting to find the ideal amount. He wants to avoid the pitfalls of becoming an alcoholic, drug addict, or individual with a sexually transmitted disease. Solomon is Mr. Black Tie, a James Bond type of individual, in which anything which is done, is done right. Down to the smallest detail, everything from buildings, furnishings, the presentation of a meal, etc….is done right!

"It is a grievous task"-implying a distracting business, engrossing occupation, one which results in little profit. "an ill business hard and difficult to toil at, an undertaking which is enough to drive almost any man to despair" (Kidwell p. 53). "it is an unhappy business" (RSV).

"which God has given to the sons of men"-If such a task is so grievous, then why has God given it to men? God has given it to men in the sense that of all God"s creation on this earth, only man contemplates such questions, mankind is the only creature who asks, "Am I happy", "why", "where did I come from", "does my life have any meaning?" "Am I fulfilled?" "Man, however, is restless until he discovers the why. This quest for God in all the things around us is a futile pursuit. The reason it is unfulfilling is that it is directed toward God"s creation, and not toward the mind of God which interprets God"s creation" (Kidwell p. 32-33). It is a grievous task to try to find happiness in physical things.


Verse 14

"I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind."

"I have seen"-This book will mention many of the things which Solomon had observed in life. And be impressed, this isn"t the language of some country bumpkin, this is the language of a man who had seen much of what the ancient world could offer mankind. This was by no means a limited or superficial seeing

"striving after wind"-"futile business" (Mof); "frustration and lost labor" (Knox) (Hosea ).

The Reality Of Human Limitations


Verse 15

"What is crooked cannot be straightened, and what is lacking cannot be counted."

"What is crooked cannot be straightened"-(). We already know that man isn"t born crooked, so Solomon isn"t talking about some sort of human sinful nature. But many "crooked" circumstances and situations exist in life. With all his resources, and with an extremely prosperous economy, Solomon realized that his administration couldn"t fix everything.

Point To Note:

No government can create the ideal society, the great society or an earthly utopia. Even the wealthiest of men stand powerless in the face of all sorts of problems. We cannot eliminate crime, poverty, prejudice or corruption in government or the business community. "human achievements leave much to be desired. Human effort and action cannot remedy all the irregularities or counteract all the deficiencies observable in the nature of things" (Bible Knowledge Comm. p. 981).

"what is lacking cannot be counted"-"nor can wants be numbered" (Sept); "nor can you count up the defects in life" (Mof). Far from solving the problems of life, man is met with more problems than he can number. So much for the idea that man can solve all his problems, right all wrongs, wipe out poverty and disease and bring about a golden age upon this earth. Man can"t save himself.


Verse 16

"I said to myself, "Behold, I have magnified and increased wisdom more than all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has observed a wealth of wisdom and knowledge."

It appears that here we find a sober reflection, almost a frustration. Here is a man who had outstripped all his forerunners and contemporaries in wisdom, and he knew it. And yet with all his wisdom and vast experience---he was failing to find meaning and happiness in this life. Kidner notes concerning the wisdom in this verse, " But he says nothing of its first principle, the fear of the Lord (Prov. ). And we can assume that the wisdom he speaks of is the best thinking that man can do on his own….So Qoheleth is taking wisdom with proper seriousness, as a discipline concerned with ultimate questions, not simply a tool for getting things done" (p. 31).


Verse 17

"And I set my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly; I realized that this also is striving after wind."

"to know wisdom"-Like many people, Solomon first tried to find meaning in intellectual pursuits. Will stimulation of the mind, learning, acquiring knowledge bring happiness? And when Solomon says, "I set my mind", he is saying, "I threw myself into this endeavor".

"madness and folly"-Solomon then explored the world of the irrational. I think many of us tried this during some period in our life. We thought, "Maybe the real truth is found in contradictions or irrational statements. Maybe the truth isn"t supposed to make any sense!" "It is a deliberate flight from rationality, to get al some secret of life to which reason (or conventional thinking) may be blocking the way…..Here we are brought very near to our own times with their cult of the irrational in its various forms, from romanticism down to the addict"s craving for strange states of consciousness; and down still further into the nihilism which cultivates the ugly, the obscene and the absurd" (Kidner p. 31).

"I realized also"-at least Solomon was honest. The world is filled with people that never wake up and realize that their pursuit has failed and they have reached the end of the line. Some people stubbornly cling to things which have never really brought them any enjoyment. Solomon was honest enough to realize, "This isn"t it".


Verse 18

"Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain."

"Because"-this is one reason why intellectual stimulation, academic pursuits fail to bring lasting happiness. There is a small amount of truth in the statement that ignorance is bliss. The more Solomon learned, the greater his pain and grief. The more you learn about the world, the more injustices you will find. Even though he is a wise man, in fact more capable than all before him, he still stands completely helpless in the sight of so many of the problems among his own people. Mere bible knowledge can also greatly increase our pain when we realize that the vast majority of the people that we will meet are lost! (Matthew ). Hence, happiness, meaning and purpose require something more than mere knowledge of the facts.

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 1:4". "Mark Dunagan Commentaries on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/dun/ecclesiastes-1.html. 1999-2014.

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