The Book of Ecclesiastes
James J. Barker


Lesson 2
LIFE WITHOUT GOD IS VANITY

Text: ECCLESIASTES 1:1-18



INTRODUCTION:

  1. Last week we started our new series in the book of Ecclesiastes.  The book of Ecclesiastes was written by King Solomon (cf. 1:1, 12).
  2. We noted that the phrase “under the sun” is one of the keys to understanding the book.   It appears 34 times in the book of Ecclesiastes. It means that man’s search for truth is often limited to this world and to this life, i.e., to what is “under the sun.”
  3. It is similar to the phrase “under heaven” (1:13).
  4. When reading the book of Ecclesiastes, this key phrase, “under the sun,” should be constantly kept in mind.  Otherwise, some verses in the book of Ecclesiastes will seem to contradict the rest of Scripture.
  5. The message of Ecclesiastes is: life without God is vanity.  From a worldly perspective, Solomon had it all – wealth, power, prestige, popularity, women, education – everything that people associate with happiness and success.
  6. And yet he states, “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity” (1:2).
  7. “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit” (1:14).

 

I. LIFE WITHOUT GOD IS VANITY (1:1, 2, 14; 12:8).

  1. King Solomon uses the word “vanity” 38 times in the book of Ecclesiastes. The word means “emptiness or futility.”
  2. From a worldly or secular viewpoint, life does appear empty.  George Bernard Shaw has his worldly Mr. Higgins say, “What is life but a series of inspired follies?”
  3. Shakespeare has Macbeth say, “Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
  4. To a man who has lived his life without God, life might seem like “a series of inspired follies” or “a tale told by an idiot.”
  5. But consider the words of the apostle Paul, a man who spent his life serving God: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (I Cor. 15:58).
  6. “Not in vain” (I Cor. 15:58). But the preacher said, “Vanity of vanities…vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?” (Eccl. 1:2, 3).
  7. Concerning this phrase, “under the sun” (1:3, 9, 14, etc.), G. Campbell Morgan wrote, “This man had been living through all these experiences under the sun, concerned with nothing above the sun… until there came a moment in which he had seen the whole of life. And there was something over the sun. It is only as man takes account of that which is over the sun as well as that which is under the sun that things under the sun are seen in their true light” (Unfolding Message of the Bible).
  8. The message of Ecclesiastes is the message of the NT – “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.  And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (I John 2:16, 17).
  9. “The world passeth away.” Life without God is vanity. Our Lord said, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36; cf. Eccl. 1:3).

 

II. LIFE WITHOUT GOD SEEMS RATHER TEDIOUS (1:3-9, 14).

  1. Another key word in the book of Ecclesiastes is “labour” (1:3, 8; 2:10, 11, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 24, etc.).
  2. The word “labour” appears 23 times and the word “laboured” 5 times in the book of Ecclesiastes.
  3. Here, the word “labour” means, “to toil to the point of exhaustion and yet experience little or no fulfillment in your work. It carries with it the ideas of grief, misery, frustration, and weariness” (Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary).
  4. Moses put it this way in Psalm 90:10, “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”
  5. Once again we must remember the great promise of I Corinthians 15:58, “forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”
  6. For Paul, the key words are “in the Lord.”  In Ecclesiastes, they are “under the sun.”  That is the difference.
  7. Without God, life does seem meaningless (Eccl. 1:3-9).  The book of Ecclesiastes teaches us that there is more to life than merely getting up and going to work, eating, sleeping, and getting up and going to work, etc. In other words, without God life is wearisome, monotonous, repetitious, and “vexation of spirit” (1:14).
  8. Life without God can be tedious and monotonous.  This monotony is described vividly in Eccl. 1:4-8.
  9. Last week I commented on verse 4 and someone asked me if the new heaven and new earth referred to in Revelation 21:1 and Isaiah 65:17 could mean a “renovated” heaven and earth.
  10. Personally, I do not think there will be a “renovated” heaven and earth, but rather a literal “new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1; cf. II Peter 3:7, 10).
  • Referring to Revelation 21:5, William Newell wrote, “The words, ‘Behold, I make all things new’ must be taken literally. It is not that things are ‘changed’ or ‘purified.’
  • Newell also wrote, “The definite and repeated statements that the old earth and heaven ‘flee away,’ ‘pass away with a great noise,’ and are ‘burned up,’ together with the statement that ‘there was found no place for them,’ compel the conclusion that those who argue that these words indicate only a ‘cleansing by fire’ and not actual eternal dissolution and disappearance, shrink from the searching realities of this subject. The word “create” is a solemn word to modify or trifle with!” (Revelation).
  • John Walvoord wrote, “The new heaven and new earth presented here are evidently not simply the old heaven and earth renovated, but an act of new creation.”
  • And referring to Revelation 20:11 – “from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them” – Dr. Walvoord wrote, “Frequent references in the Bible seem to anticipate this future time when the present world will be destroyed (Matt. 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 16:17; 21:33; II Peter 3:10)…Further, it would be most natural that the present earth and heaven, the scene of the struggle with Satan and sin, should be displaced by an entirely new order suited for eternity” (The Revelation of Jesus Christ).

 

III. LIFE WITHOUT GOD SEEMS HARD TO UNDERSTAND (1:12-18).

  1. King Solomon was a very wise man.  In fact, the Bible says Solomon was the wisest man on earth.
  2. First Kings 3:28 says, “And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do judgment.
  3. First Kings 4:29 says, “And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much.”
  4. First Kings 4:31 says King Solomon “was wiser than all men… and his fame was in all nations round about.”
  5. First Kings 4:34 says, “And there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom.”
  6. In Ecclesiastes 1:13, Solomon wrote, “And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven.”
  7. Solomon says in Eccl. 1:16, “I…have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.”
  8. King Solomon was the wisest man on earth, and he book of Ecclesiastes is one of the OT “Wisdom Books.”   There are 54 references to “wisdom” and “wise” and 32 references to “fools” and “folly.”
  9. When studying the Book of Ecclesiastes, it is good to remember that even the wisest man on the earth (“under the sun”) was frustrated and vexed in his search for truth (1:13, 14, 18).

 

CONCLUSION:

  1. We have seen these past two weeks man’s problem – he is looking at life “under the sun.”
  2. If all we see is “under the sun” then life can seem vain, and tedious, and frustrating.  This is why so many people are caught up in materialism, and drugs, and alcohol, and promiscuity.
  3. This is why people seek help from weird religious cults like the JW’s, Mormons, Scientology, the Moonies, etc.
  4. This is why so many even commit suicide. This is why so many people go to psychiatrists.
  5. I heard about a man who was depressed and suicidal, and he went to see a psychiatrist.  The psychiatrist told him, “Man, you need a good laugh!  Lighten up!  The circus is in town. Why don’t you go down there?  I hear they have a clown that is very funny.  I hear he is hilarious!”
  6. The man said to the psychiatrist, “I’m that clown!”
  7. Going to the circus will not work.
  8. Going to the psychiatrist will not work.
  9. And looking at life “under the sun” will not work.
  10. We need the right perspective. The apostle Paul wrote, “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:2).


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