The longer you live, the faster the years seem to go by. I remember older people saying this to me, and now that I’ve put in six decades under the sun I can affirm that it is true. For example, today it is difficult to believe that I have been a father for exactly 36 years – our oldest son being born on a rather cold April the 24th in Dallas in 1982.
Along with the multiplication of years, we also note the repetitive nature of so many things in life. Living as we do in Maryland with four very distinct seasons, I feel like I’m constantly switching back and forth between cutting grass and dealing with firewood … only to have to repeat the process over again. So much of our lives feel like “wash, rinse, repeat.”
Solomon, here in verses 3-11 of chapter 1, noted the constant cycles of life with three categories of illustration. The first is an exasperation that would ultimately lead to the development of Ancestry.com!
- The Cycles of Generations (1:3-4, 11)
Ecclesiastes 1:3 – What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? 4 Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. … 11 No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.
I have several times asked the congregation during a sermon to think back over their ancestors, asking how many could give names and at least one fact about their grandfather … then their great-grandfather … then the great-great-grandfather, etc. With each generation, fewer hands remained raised. By about five generations, not a hand in the room was still raised. The digital age has helped us to learn and retain more of family lineage information.
I know generational information on one part of my family back into the 1600s – learning that Diana is not just my wife, but also my 7th cousin! Yes, when German and Swiss immigrants settled in the same rural area of Eastern Pennsylvania, it was inevitable that there would be some cross-over.
And guess what? You’re likely to get forgotten in just a few generations. People don’t tend to have much interest in ancestors they did not personally know. So the same will happen to you. You’ll be forgotten, not just by the history books, but also by your own flesh and blood. (Again, think of it as the condensation upon a cold glass!)
- The Cycles of Nature (1:5-7)
So many features of the natural world function on a continuous cycle.
Ecclesiastes 1:5 – The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.
I have become amazed at how quickly the days pass by and cycle over and over. When going to bed, it often feels like it was shorter than 24 hours when I last did the same thing. The days turn over so quickly that I found myself not remembering if I took my single medication that day or not. To keep myself straight, I got one of those containers with seven sections in order to remain organized.
Ecclesiastes 1:6 – The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.
Where does the wind come from? And where is it going? It appears to randomly come from various directions, but it never seems to actually arrive at any goal. (From my cycling, the only thing I know about wind direction is that it is always blowing in your face, even when you turn around!)
Ecclesiastes 1:7 – All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.
Sure enough the streams flow and flow, but do they ever arrive somewhere and stop flowing? They just keep doing their thing, never running out and never arriving.
- The Cycles of Human Endeavor (1:8-10)
Ecclesiastes 1:8 – All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. 9 What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. 10 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.
When in college, I had a very dry and oft-boring history professor. The only thing I remember from his classes is that he would make some point about the nature of people in history, pointing out how the nature of man remains the same. And then he would conclude his thought by quoting verse 9, “And so we see there is nothing new under the sun.”
The reason we can study biblical characters, even such as the patriarchs in Genesis and learn from them, is that the nature of man remains the same. The soul has not changed.
Military people are constantly studying wars and battles of the past, even into antiquity, because the principles about handling troops in crisis is timeless. Technology does not change this.
Even new discoveries in the field of science are not truly New. When DNA was uncovered, it was not something new that never existed, rather, it was just unknown. When we get to Mars, it will not be a new discovery. It will rather be a greater knowledge of what we already knew about the red planet. So it is not new – just seeing what was always there.
So do you feel this way about elements of your life? Do you have a sense of just living life in an endless cycle of working to just pay off the bills? Dealing with the mundane nature of life is as timeless as mankind’s presence on the planet.
If you can say “amen” to the reality of these thoughts, you are being set up by Solomon to best receive the positive side of his message about life under the sun. You just have to stick with it and read on a bit further.