Today we begin our 25 ventures into the book of Ecclesiastes. I chose the title “Life Under the Sun” because this phrase is used so frequently in the 12 chapters to describe the human experience on planet Earth – a total of 29 times.
Though the name of Solomon is not specifically used at any point in Ecclesiastes, it has been generally believed over the years that he is the author. The writer is said in 1:1 to be the son of David, king in Jerusalem. It does not take long to call the roll of those who fit that description, especially when adding some specific descriptions from chapter two about the expansive way he lived. Even so, some writers – even conservative scholars – say that this book is written by someone later who gave voice to the historic teachings of Solomon. The argument is that the style of Hebrew would reflect a later period. In that this is a devotional blog and not an academic one, I’ll not go into those details with you. I continue to believe that the actual writer is Solomon himself, penning these words at a time late in his life.
Solomon writes about the highs and lows of life, doing so in a way that almost sounds schizophrenic …
As an example of a dark and low moment … Eccl 4:2-3 – And I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive. But better than both is the one who has never been born, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun.
For an example of a joyously high moment … Ecclesiastes 8:15 – So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.
There is a popular, political talk-show commentator who, when discussing the realities of a current subject in a way that is stark and uncolored by the way one would want to see it, he’ll say, “Hey, I’m the mayor of Realville.” Well, if he’s the mayor of Realville, we would have to say that Solomon is the King.
Solomon jumps right into his main theme: calling life meaningless. This is the Hebrew word “hebel,” translated as “vanity” in the KJV… also as “futility” in some other versions. Literally, the word means “breath” or “vapor.” Imagine standing up close to and looking out the glass door of your home in the winter. You exhale upon the glass and there is a condensation – lasting for just a few seconds, and then it is gone.
That is the figurative idea of the use of this word about life, that it is transitory – quickly coming, quickly going. We need to remember the picturesque nature of this word throughout this series in order to understand what Solomon is communicating. He uses it 35 times.
Solomon, particularly in the first half of the book of Ecclesiastes, goes on a number of extended rants about the futility of life – that feeling of meaninglessness, colorfully talking about the transitory nature of life. He is seeking to engender a “Realville” feeling of disillusionment … of frustration. And as we will later discover, all of this talk is a set-up to lead to the promotion of a desire for something bigger, something eternal. A want – the want to be a part of a bigger picture – to know God and be connected rightly to the eternal in a way that even impacts daily life.
So come along with us over these five weeks. You are going to often discover that you relate to Solomon’s observations, and I think you will also be encouraged by his exhortations and advice about how to live well “under the sun.”
Ecclesiastes 1:1-2 – The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”