The Small Scrolls
The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
2 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
3 What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
4 A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
7 All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.
8 All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
9 What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already
in the ages before us.
11 There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be
among those who come after.
(Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 ESV)
Presently as we listen to God’s word together, we are going through the Bible book by book. Each time we see how the book contributes to God’s message, which is the true story of his glory in Jesus Christ through salvation and judgment. In the Old Testament Scriptures, we are using the Hebrew arrangement of the books: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. Today, we begin the section of the Writings that is called the Small Scrolls. These are the books of Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, and Esther.
Structure of Ecclesiastes: Unlike Job, there is no consensus about how this book is put together. What follows is based on the analysis by Barry Webb in Five Festal Garments.
- Introduction (1:1)
- Motto (1:2)
- Four observation groups (1:3-4:16; 5:10-6:9; 7:23-29; 8:9-9:12)
- Four instruction groups (5:1-9; 6:10-7:22; 8:1-8; 9:13-12:7)
- Motto (12:8)
- Epilogue (12:9-14)
Ideas and features of Ecclesiastes
- The writer says that he is the son of David and king in Jerusalem. This points to Solomon, and this is the best view. He calls himself “Qohelet”, which comes from the root “to assemble” and roughly means something like, “leader of the assembly”. From this through Greek we derive the name of the book Ecclesiastes, since ecclesia means “assembly”.
- The key word of the book is the Hebrew word hebel. It occurs 37 or 38 times. This is a difficult word to translate exactly. The NIV and NLT translate it as “meaningless”, the ESV and NASV as “vanity”, and the HCSB as “futility”. However, hebel has other meanings, like “breath, vapor, mist, what is transient, ephemeral, profitless.” It is wise to keep all these words in mind as you think about the point that is being made. A phrase often joined with it is “a chasing after the wind”
- An important phrase is “under the sun”; it occurs about 26 times, and the similar phrase “under heaven” 3 times—more on this later; also the words “wisdom” and “wise” and their opposites “folly” and “fool”
- The book is a mixture of prose and poetry; three of the well-known poems are 1:3-11; 3:1-8; and 11:7-12:7
- In the book Solomon mentions a number of attempts to find meaning in this life: wisdom, pleasure, folly, hard work, etc. He bluntly wants everyone to ask, “What is the point of anything, since everyone eventually dies?” However, he does this for a good purpose. Through telling us his story and observations, he points us to God our Creator.
I. An example of the search for meaning in this world – can wisdom find out how people ought to live
A.His thorough search (1:13a)
1.He devoted himself to wisdom. Two facts characterized his devotion:
a.It was from the core of his being, his heart—his mind, emotions, and will. He harnessed all his considerable mental powers for the quest. He was one smart dude and he put everything into it.
b.It was exhaustive. He studied or searched deeply and explored all possibilities.
2.He conducted his search “under heaven”. This speaks of the limits of what mankind can explore apart from revelation. As we saw in Job, there is much going on in the heavenly realm that is inaccessible to us. Solomon’s search for meaning through wisdom shows us why people need God’s word in order to live (Mt 4:4).
B. His conclusions after his search (1:13b-15)
1.God has given mankind this miserable task. Usually in the Bible, we hear of the consequences of human sin being guilt, condemnation, alienation from God, twistedness of character and relationships, death, etc. But here Solomon points out another consequence. Since humanity rejects God the Creator and suppresses the knowledge of the truth (Rm 1:18), they reap unhappy task of trying to find meaning apart from God under heaven. It is like trying to put a thousand piece jigsaw puzzle together with many of the pieces missing, especially all the important ones, and all the pieces are turned upside down.
2.This leads to his second conclusion. It is futile or pointless. If you knew that a jigsaw puzzle had many pieces missing, you wouldn’t even make the attempt to put it together. It is thrown in the trash. The problem is that mankind in its thinking has said that without God, there are not any missing pieces! And so they search for meaning, but everything is meaningless if you dismiss God the Creator, Ruler, Savior and Judge! Solomon tells us that if you only look at life “under the sun”, at the world as a closed system without God to act, everything is meaningless. You are chasing the wind.
3.What mankind sees is twisted and so people can’t calculate what is missing. To use our example again, under the sun we cannot figure out how many pieces are actually in the puzzle, and we do not comprehend that what we’re trying to put together is twisted or deformed on account of our sin. For example, people long to love and to be loved. Why? And why do people hate those they love and who love them? And we could multiply such questions.
C.The anguish in wisdom’s quest
1.Philosophers can pride themselves on their attainments and measure themselves by others less than them. “Oh look, we know so much more than anyone who lived before us! We are the people!” But when you come to grips with what you really know, you realize that you haven’t achieved exhaustive wisdom and knowledge. And if you’re wise, don’t you have to consider all options, in this case perhaps “madness and folly” have a better answer. But if you turn to folly, what has happened to your supposed wisdom?
You see, you can’t simply speculate about atoms and stars and processes of evolution and how life could possibly arise from non-life and make transitions between life forms. Ah no, that is to be extremely naïve and foolish. You also have to understand terrorism, physical and mental disabilities, the madness of people who would rather die than receive help, hospitals and nursing homes, treachery, the waste of life through many kinds of addictions, and one could go on and on and on. You must take in all of life!
2.And that brings you to what wisdom and knowledge under the sun yields: sorrow and grief. If you could fully comprehend all the misery and tragedy of life under the sun, it would rip every shred of happiness, peace, and pleasure out of your soul.
II. The purpose of and remedy for futility (Rm 8:18-25)
A.God’s purpose for the present futility we experience
1.The present condition is God’s choice, not the choice of creation or any part of creation. God acted decisively to bring about the pointless existence of life “under the sun”. What we presently see is a world that has been altered by the one who made it. The question is why.
2.The apostle has already explained earlier in Romans what happened. Mankind sinned. Mankind rejected God as God, refused to love God, and rebelled against God in many ways. Therefore, God acted in wrath to bring judgment on humanity. Our present situation is the consequence of our sin (Rm 1:18-32). And everyone sins (Rm 3:9-20).
B.The remedy is through the great act of God that is called salvation or redemption.
1.Giving mankind frustration was part of a larger plan to give real hope or confident expectation. This hope rests on the action of God who can liberate creations from its present bondage. God is able to set us free from this frustration.
2.This freedom is the possessions of the children of God—those who turn from their sin to trust in Jesus Christ to be right with God and who have received the Holy Spirit. There is still groaning in our present condition. But we have hope because we know that the day of full redemption is coming!
Pastor Dave Frampton
The faithful and spiritually profitable labors of Dave Frampton are featured here at CMC. As a Bible teacher he excels. Teacher and student alike will profit much from his labor in God’s Word. Visit Newtown Square Baptist Church.