Ecclesiastes: Futility and Folly

Have you been so concerned with a problem that you have felt the tension in your arms, legs or chest? Have you been so stressed out that you lost sleep over it? Solomon is telling us he has seen the futility of life under the sun. In this section (Ecclesiastes 1:17-2:26) his futility gives way to frustration. He is leaving “no stone unturned” in his search for the meaning of life.

William D. Barrick refers to the first two chapters of Ecclesiastes as Solomon’s honest confession. He can’t solve life’s most important issues without God. It is highly unusual for a king of this era to admit to “failure, frustration and folly.” But God uses failure, frustration and folly to draw wandering prodigals back to Himself.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Colossians 3:1-2

In chapter one, verse thirteen a new prospective is identified, “under heaven;” the abode of God, the all-supreme Creator. However, Solomon’s search under heaven does not include the eternal, only the temporal.   His search includes:

Wisdom – The more we know, the less it seems we know.

Wm. Barrick – “What is crooked cannot be straightened” (a proverb). In essence, mankind cannot change all that is done under heaven. C’est la vie (that’s life).  “With wisdom comes much grief” (another proverb). In essence the more wisdom obtained the greater the grief. Solomon keeps reaching the same conclusion that man cannot save himself.

Josh McDowell – If education were the key to life, “universities would be the most moral, ethical and spiritual centers of any nation.”

W. Wiersbe – “The Christian won’t be able to explain everything that happens in life but life is not built on explanations, it’s built on promises.”

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Pleasure – Solomon denies himself no pleasure. He enjoys it. Today we talk ourselves into believing that pleasure is something we have earned, or deserve; like the advertising jingle, “Work hard, play hard.”

Why does pleasure lead to disappointment (under the sun)? We seek the ultimate meaning out of that which is temporary and perishable.

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Work – alone is not the key to happiness. The more we work the more unbalanced the rest of life becomes. For many, work is an attempt to keep them busy from facing how empty their lives really are (under the sun)

Work is not evil. God put Adam in the Garden and gave him work to do. We are wired to work. Unfortunately, for some accomplishments in their work give them the feeling that they are captains of their souls, masters of their destiny.

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Wealth – wealth cannot be taken with us when we die. Where is the advantage of wealth? “The more we have the more we want what we don’t have.” (Dr. D. Jeremiah).

“Money is the universal passport to everywhere except heaven, and the universal provider of everything except happiness.” Wall Street Journal

More about work – Solomon struggles with the realization that labor doesn’t produce anything that will endure for eternity. Futility of labor is equivalent to a hamster on an exercise wheel.   Additionally, there is a realization that death levels the playing field. It comes for everyone; both the lazy and hard-working, the wealthy and poor, the renowned and anonymous. Work done under the sun is not lasting in the light of eternity.

Why did Solomon use the word “hate” referencing his toil? He couldn’t keep the fruits of his labor (his toil ultimately is handed to others). Secondly, he couldn’t protect its fruits (those who receive it won’t have the same appreciation as the person who produced it). Finally, wealth can’t be enjoyed as it should (a lifetime of toil leaves relatively little time to enjoy it).

Solomon’s Conclusions:

Remember Solomon is attempting to find the meaning of life under the sun (striving apart from God). He mentions the sinner, which means one who falls short or misses the mark. This person ultimately gathers resources only hand down to someone else when they die.  Life apart from God (without reconciling with God) leaves the sinner no means of accessing the eternity of heaven.  For them “all is vanity.”

Everything we have is a gift from God.   The believer in God whose prospective is above the sun (under heaven) can find enjoyment under the sun.  In the words of Jesus, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21

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