The words of the Teacher, son of David, king of Jerusalem:
says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless.’
What do people gain from all their labours(Eccl. 1:1-11 NIV)
at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains for ever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say,
‘Look! This is something new’?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.
Christians and non-Christians alike live life ‘under the sun’. The Christian lives life ‘under the sun’ with God and the non-Christian lives life ‘under the sun’ without God. The question is asked of everybody:
What do people gain from all their labours at which they toil under the sun?
The answer to that question is given throughout the book, but the implied answer to v3 is nothing, we gain nothing for all our labour. This is true for every single person. This is not the ramblings of an old backslidden Solomon, or the speculative musings of a hypothetical picture of a secularist living life under the sun without God. The Christian should be the first to recognise that this is the reality of life. This is what it means to live life in a world that God made and called good, yet which has gone so very wrong, often in catastrophic ways.
All people come and go on this earth. I will die and the place that once knew me will know me no more. What legacy will I leave? The people I have influenced (maybe, maybe not), my children. But soon their generation will be no more, and they too will be forgotten. We pretend this is not so. The teacher wants to convince us that this is the reality ‘under the sun’. Christians die, their generation passes and the generation that succeeds them will die. Being a Christian doesn’t stop this being true.
‘Under the sun’ focuses attention on this world over against both the realm of the dead and the heavenly realm, which is God’s domain. Of course, ‘under the sun’ is not all there is. The teacher will build this case. David Gibson argues that the teacher ‘is carefully laying the foundations for the main argument of his book: only by preparing to die will teach us how to live.’
‘In these days, under the sun, it is unavoidably true that we live in a world where we will soon be dead.’ That seems a very depressing message! I thought long and hard about whether Ecc was a suitable book for lock down during the Pandemic. I concluded that it was most appropriate because Covid 19 is a significant reminder that our life is like a vapour (hebel) and goes as quickly as it appears. That is the reality. ‘This side of eternity, life is a breath. We do the same things over and over again in a world repeating itself over and over again, and then we die. The big message of the book of Ecc. is in the light of this truth, how then should we live? It is important to note that the teacher is teaching us not about death, but how to live. However, we will need to be patient as the teachers builds his case slowly. First, he has got to get us to accept the reality around us.
We spend a good part of our lives trying to escape the constraints of our created condition. Every human is a creature and to be a creature is to be finite. God is God and we are not. We are not in control and we will not live forever.
Lord Your word teaches us that we have no enduring city here in this life, that we are to live like strangers and pilgrims. But Lord we have latched hold of careers, we have invested heavily in education and we have adored pleasure. Lord as we study Ecc help us to have a loser grip on these many things under the sun that threaten to absorb our time and talent, because we pray in Jesus name. Amen.