TO CHEW ON: "What profit has a man from all his labor
In which he toils under the sun?" Ecclesiastes 1:3
'What's the point" Solomon seems to be saying as he begins the little book of Ecclesiastes. This collection of only twelve chapters discusses the purpose of human endeavor. Scholars believe that Solomon wrote it at the end of his life, when he may have returned to God from the state that is described in 1 Kings 11.
Our reading today seems like the ruminations of an old man, or if not old, surely jaded:
- What's the purpose of all one's work, he asks. The next generation comes along and it's all forgotten anyway. (Ecclesiastes 1:4)
- Nature carries on in it its cycles uninterrupted (Ecclesiastes 1:5-7).
- Work is never done (Ecclesiastes 1:8a).
- Desire is never satisfied (Ecclesiastes 1:8b).
- Mankind really has no control over anything; what will be, will be (Ecclesiastes 1:9a).
- Everything supposedly new is really a rehash of something old (Ecclesiastes 1:9b-10).
- We forget the past, refusing to learn from or be changed by it (Ecclesiastes 1:11).
- Even what I (Solomon) learned in the quest for wisdom didn't satisfy (Ecclesiastes 1:17-18).
He seems, in all this, to be driving toward the conclusion that there is no point to anything.
I must admit, especially as I've grown older, that I have had some of the same thoughts. Witnessing loved ones die and seeing how quickly their memory and influence fade from this earth underlines the truth of what the preacher is implying. Does the perspective of increasing age doom one to adopt such a pessimistic outlook? Not at all.
As the writer of the Introduction to Ecclesiastes in my Bible says:
"The Preacher's constant probing of all existence for meaning shows him to be an optimist, not a pessimist, and his failure to discover any absolute, abiding value in this life ("under the sun") does not mean his quest is a failure. Instead, he finds himself compelled (by his observation that God placed order in the universe at the time of its creation, Ecclesiastes 3:1-14) to seek the value he seeks in the world to come (not "under the sun" but "above the sun" so to speak)....
The Preacher's failure to find real value in earthly things and comfortable lifestyles challenges the Christian who lives in this age of greed and materialism to concentrate on the things that are above (Colossians 3:1-2) and not to glorify greed and possessions." William C. Williams, "Introduction to Ecclesiastes," New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p, 844.
Before we succumb to the Preacher's negativity, let's remind ourselves, there is a point. But it's not to be found in this world.
PRAYER: Dear God, please help me not to view this life and human endeavor as ends in themselves. Help me, instead, to view all of life within the context of eternity. Amen.
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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