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.
Today was just the same old, same old. Babies were born, people died. Generations come and generations go. We’re all caught up in that relentless cycle. The sun rose this morning and it set in late afternoon, early evening and it will do the same tomorrow. The wind blows south and then turns North, round and round on the same course. The streams flow into the sea but the sea never gets full. In the grand cycle of water, it returns again to the streams. During lockdown you can lose track of what day it is. The endless repetitiveness is more wearisome than any of us can describe. We long for some change to break the monotony. That desire comes upon us gradually as we grow up and get older. Notice the behaviour of a young child. They don’t need change, because everything is joy to them. Our daughter-in-law is not feeling well at the moment and we have been looking after the grandchildren some weekends. When they arrive on Friday night they want the same thing. They want to eat jelly while Granda reads them a chapter from Winnie the Pooh. They then want to set the wildlife camera on the tree in the back garden of the manse so that they can see a recording of the fox coming out of the foxhole that it has dug under the hedge. They like to go to the park and jump in the puddles, the more mud the better. Every day becomes the best day of their lives as they pack in as much joy as they can. As we get older there seems to be fewer opportunities for every day becoming the best day of our lives. We try to exercise control over our world which cannot be controlled. The cyclical nature of the sun, the wind and the water should teach us that it is the same for us. We are relentlessly moving towards the end of our generation. We strive to make that not so. We strive and labour to make believe that that will not be the case for us. We are not meant to try and escape our inevitable death, so it is pointless pretending that we can. As we search for something new under the sun, the teacher tells us that it does not exist. When we think we have made a significant change, the novelty factor soon disappears like a vapour (hebel). Part of learning to live is learning to accept this reality. The teacher wants to show us what we can expect out of life and what we should not expect. He is laying the building blocks by using very sober arguments to waken us up out of our make-believe. The teacher doesn’t want us to arrive at the solution to this dilemma, he wants the dilemma to be faced. Walter Kaiser in his commentary on Ecc divides the book into four sections, each section ending with a positive statement. He suggests that when we are preaching the book we should start at the end of each section to show people where the teacher is going, so that people are not confused or troubled by what appears to be negative rhetoric. I think we would be better following the lead of the Holy Spirit inspired teacher, because there is a reason that he wants to take us on this journey. (I don’t mean to be too critical of Kaiser – I understand his approach. I have and treasure many of the books he has written.)
The original question was
What do people gain from all their labours at which they toil under the sun?Eccl. 1:3 (NIV)
The answer is there is no gain. The eye never has enough seeing or the ear enough hearing. If this is all hebel, then why do we continue to do it? That is exactly where the teacher is taking us. I think the Pandemic is like an illustration of what the teacher is saying to us. We are not in control. Each year the flu takes many lives in January and February in this country, but it isn’t news. We walked around unafraid of the flu. Then came the Covid 19 virus and very quickly we rightly take precautions. I don’t know anyone who has died with the flu, but some people I knew have died of Covid 19. We can’t control the sun, the wind or the rain. We endeavour to make a difference but it is hebel, like a chasing after the wind. The teacher wants us to stop chasing after the wind.
Lord God this part of Your word seems so different to anything we read in the rest of the Bible. Help us to hear what You are saying through the teacher. Guide us as we explore this part of Your word and to learn that we cannot control our world and teach us how we can stop trying to control our world. Teach us Your way and we will walk in it because we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.