- (a)Futility of life without God.
- (b)Philosophical/existential/nihilistic struggles/questions with life.
- (c)Fullness of life with God.
(a), (b) We can see that the Teacher (traditionally Solomon) has had a life of extreme pleasure that ultimately lead to emptiness:
“I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. 2 I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” 3 I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. 4 I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. 5 I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. 6 I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. 8 I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the children of man.9 So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. 10 And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. 11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”
After the Teacher realizes how worthless temporary pleasures are, he turns to the study of wisdom, only to come to the same nihilistic conclusion:
Ecc. 2: 16-17
16 “For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! 17 So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.”
He quickly comes to the same conclusion about toil:
18 “I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, 19 and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20 So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun…”
Obviously the questions asked here are the same asked today; “Why do anything? Does anything matter? I’m going to die anyways, so who cares?” These are real questions, and the beauty of Ecclesiastes is the unashamed tone used to ask them. The Teacher is not interested in feel-good philosophy; this man wants answers, and he can’t find them by his own reasoning.
It is only after 2 more chapters of nihilistic philosophizing over all aspects of life that the theme of the book changes and becomes a call to stand in awe of God, though the somber tone of the book still hasn’t changed. It isn’t until chapter 7 that the book takes on the proverbial style Solomon was known for, which is followed by another command to obey the king or authority of the land. Then, almost as if in a flash of insight, there is this note:
16”When I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done on earth, how neither day nor night do one’s eyes see sleep, 17 then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out.”
It is after this insight, that man cannot ever fully comprehend what God does or thinks, that the tone of the book changes. Suddenly, the Teacher realizes that God is in complete control, and begins to exhort his son to remember the Creator as well as expounding on the greatness of wisdom when a few chapters book, wisdom was just as meaningless as folly. Also interesting to note is the command to respect earthly authority directly after this revelation; the Teacher really had a full 180 degree turn in his thinking here.
(c) – Fullness of Life with God.
The conclusion the teacher reaches, though not at first blush, is that without a right relationship with God, everything is literally folly, worthless and ultimately meaningless. Pleasure, toil, wisdom all amount to nothing more than a waste of time without God; however, when the relationship with God is right and when it’s seen that God is ultimately in control, the world is seen completely differently as evidenced by the teachers remarkable insight at the end of chapter 8.