VBV, Ecclesiastes Pt. 3, 1:9-18
In verses one through three, Solomon laid out the foundation for Ecclesiastes with his problem, ‘what is the point of life?’ In verses four through seven, he revealed the repetitious nature of the earth, and in verse eight, Solomon summarized these last four verses by paralleling the earth’s monotony to our own. Now, in verse nine, ten, and eleven, Solomon will show us that there is “nothing new under the sun.”
So Solomon, supposedly the wisest person that ever lived, said there is nothing new in this life. But things change, right? After all, we acquire new technologies, innovations, and ideas, so how can this be true? Granted, these things seem to be new, but they really aren’t. There is one creator, His name is Yahweh, and at the end of time, He will create “a new heaven and a new earth” when He “make[s] all things new.” The only thing that mankind can do is uncover nature’s secrets and recombine old things to make something that seems to be new. Ultimately, there is a set amount of matter and energy in the world, both of which can only be created or destroyed by God.
Verses nine and ten can also refer to people. Apart from when Jesus Christ transformed us into new creatures, people don’t change. Obviously, people are born every day, but they are basically the same and act no differently than their predecessors. Human nature has not changed since the beginning of time; that is precisely why this 3000 year-old book, and the other ones found throughout the Bible, is still so applicable to us today. Humans today try, and do, the same things as humans in Solomon’s time did; adultery, murder, evil, homosexuality, marriage, debate, family trouble, etc.: they have all “been in ancient times before us.” Jesus, in The Gospel of Luke, tells us that right before his second coming, things will be as they were in Lot’s and Noah’s days. Human nature doesn’t change; evil will persist until Jesus reigns again.
Verse eleven, though it seems to be false, is actually very simple. We have bad memories: we don’t research enough to see that what we’ve come up with is just novelty, not originality. Solomon says this multiple times (2:16, 4:16, 9:5). We should really pay attention to this since it shows up four times in one book! Yet, we won’t: “there is no remembrance of former things.” As you go through life, this will become more apparent. There have been multiple occasions where I think I’ve come up with a great idea only to find out, with a quick Internet search, that someone else has already done it. As the philosopher, Marcus Aurelius wrote, “They that come after us will see nothing new, and they who went before us saw nothing more than we have seen.” Next, in verses twelve through eighteen, Solomon will show us that wisdom and knowledge, along with life, is grievous and pointless.
Starting with verse thirteen, Solomon goes on to show that wisdom and knowledge don’t make life worth living. Firstly, he shows us mankind’s perpetual desire for wisdom and knowledge. We all enjoy learning amazing things about the universe and about things we are interested in, we all love to read wise quotes from favorite authors or philosophers, and we all have an integrated desire for wisdom that has been placed there by God. Who hasn’t thought, at least once in their life, “what is the meaning of life, why am I here, is there a God, or what created the universe?” Our hearts ache to learn these things, and everyone needs to know the purpose. God has given us this “burdensome task…by which [we] may be exercised.” The word exercised here is the Hebrew word anah. It literally means ‘to afflict,’ and The Law of First Mention, confirms this in Genesis 15:13.
Solomon comments on these works in verse fourteen by saying, as he does often, they are “vanity and grasping for the wind.” Psalm 39:5-6 sums this up nicely. Keep in mind that this view is ‘under the sun,’ and finding wisdom is not without profit when done with God and with the right motivation. Furthermore, verse fifteen shows us important insight into God’s workings. In fact, this verse, which seems to be off-topic, is actually very important. Often, when searching for the meaning of life, wisdom, and knowledge, as Solomon will tell us in verse eighteen, you will become distressed and angry because of all the terrible things that are in the world. If you begin to experience these feelings, it is important to remember that God is in control, his ways are higher than yours, and “what is crooked cannot be made straight.” Verse fifteen means that you cant fix what God has done−all his ways are absolute and just. In Psalm 19, David tells us that we cannot understand God’s supposed errors−the things we think are crooked. Compared to God, our knowledge and wisdom is infinitely small; thus, we cannot make things straight that are seemingly crooked. Likewise, the second half of fifteen tells us that we cannot fix ourselves; we were born flesh, and require Jesus to be made new.
Through these last few verses, Solomon tells us he was the wisest person, besides Jesus of course, that Jerusalem ever held or would hold within her borders. Using this wisdom, Solomon sought to truly know madness and folly. Through his years of experience, he tells us his conclusion in seven words: “this also is grasping for the wind.” All the madness and folly were worthless; doing what the world did didn’t give him any more joy. In fact, Solomon became more distressed. Solomon tells us that these excavations into wisdom, madness, and folly are vanity, because “in much wisdom is much grief, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.” I’m sure we can all see why madness and folly are vanity, but wisdom and knowledge? This seems to be an odd statement. Doesn’t Proverbs, the majority of which Solomon wrote, tell us to seek wisdom and value it more than gold? Well, both statements are true at the same time.
Notice how Solomon separates wisdom from knowledge; they are not the same thing, and the avid pursuit of each one yields different outcomes. If we go through life trying to find a solid explanation for everything that happens, we are going to come to the same conclusion that Solomon had: “he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.” There are a lot of things that God expects us to take by faith. Remember when Jesus told Thomas, “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed”? I know that’s a problem with a lot of people, because we, as Solomon said, are “not satisfied with seeing” or with “hearing.” Always seeking knowledge will bring us into further sorrow, because we will realize just how incredibly ignorant and insignificant we really are. T.S. Eliot even wrote, “All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,” in Choruses from ‘The Rock.’” Besides, if God actually decided to show us an explanation for everything, we wouldn’t be able to even comprehend it!
Furthermore, with great wisdom comes great grief, and not everything can be solved with wisdom and experience. Look, Solomon doesn’t say that wisdom is useless. On the contrary, as we saw in Proverbs, Solomon gives praise to the search for wisdom, but as you get wiser, you start to see the world how it really is. The world is ugly; it’s filled with sinful vanity apart from God, and it’s rather depressing, to say the least. Think of it this way: children are innocent and naïve, and people who never ponder the problems of life or the mysteries of God never feel the “grief” of wrestling with these things. I can remember being in middle school, naïve to the perversions of life. Other kids would use words that I hadn’t the slightest clue of their meaning, and I was content with that. Then high school came along and I would inadvertently learn the meanings of those words. My ignorance to those worldly perversions was broken, and it brought me more grief.
Next: Pt. 4: Pleasure is Vanity
Ecclesiastes commentary/study links
So now we know what the first chapter of Ecclesiastes means. God has given us understanding, and we need to apply it to our lives. If we don’t, we have just wasted time: there is no point in reading the Bible if we aren’t going to use it in our lives. With that said, Ecclesiastes 1:9-18 tells us five important truths.
1. There is nothing new ‘under the sun.’
2. There is no remembrance of former things.
3. Seeking wisdom, madness, and folly are grasping for the wind.
4. The excessive increasing of knowledge brings sorrow.
5. Much wisdom brings much grief.
Just because there is nothing genuinely new under the sun does not mean we should not strive for creating “new” things. Inventions and innovations help the world, and can be used to further glorify God, so we should strive to create “new” things for that purpose-keeping in mind that everything we have comes from God and God alone. Likewise, the fact that most of what we do will be forgotten in the future may very well deter us from doing anything. This is not what Solomon, or God, wants. We are instructed to be proactive and responsible with the things that God has entrusted to us. Now, realizing that nothing will be remembered by man, we should realize that God remembers what we do for the heavenly kingdom and will reward us accordingly. We should live for God’s praise, not man’s. Moreover, wisdom and knowledge are not without profit. In fact, we are encouraged to seek out wisdom and knowledge. They are extremely important tools in our walk with God. However, we need to realize that some things are just too complicated for us, some things are to be taken by faith, an obsession with gathering knowledge will bring sorrow, and an obsession with attaining wisdom will bring us grief. Instead, we should take Solomon’s word for it. He was a real person, who actually experienced these things so we wouldn’t have to! Let’s learn from Solomon (the wisest person that ever lived) and be ignorant of evil and not flirt with madness or folly. Please note that God hasn’t put theses things in here to restrict us from trying new things or to hinder us from searching Him out. God has nothing to hide. That is extremely important to realize. You can experience madness and folly if you wish, but keep in mind-you have been warned.