Category Archives: The Search for Meaning

Introduction

Introduction

The Book of Ecclesiastes is the record of one man’s search for meaning. By studying his search, you’ll avoid many of life’s dead ends and be better prepared to live a meaningful life.

Since Ecclesiastes contains several recurring themes that thread through its twelve chapters, we’re going to study the book topically, not expositorily.

Bible Reading


Ecc 1:1-2 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. (2) Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.


Ecc 1:12 I the Preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem. (13) And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith. (14) I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.

Author

The name of the human writer of Ecclesiastes never appears in the book. It’s not hard, though, to figure out who the author was. He describes himself as:

  • The Preacher
  • The son of David
  • King (over Israel) in Jerusalem

The writer was a descendant of David who ruled as king in Jerusalem. After Solomon’s reign, the nation of Israel split into northern and southern kingdoms. Judah and Benjamin, the Southern kingdom, had Jerusalem as their capitol. So, Solomon is the only person who ruled over (all) Israel in Jerusalem, after David.

Quest

Solomon set out to discover the meaning of life. He wanted to understand “all things that are done under heaven. As he says later in the book:


Ecc 7:25 I applied mine heart to know, and to search, and to seek out wisdom, and the reason of things, and to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness:

David’s use of the words vain and vainity show that he was seeking meaning, but found meaninglessness and emptiness.

What About You?

  • Are you searching for meaning in life, or have you found it?
  • If you’ve found it, are you living a meaningful life?

Solomon's Qualifications

Introduction

The world has many ideas about what makes life worth living. Fame, money, power, intellect – these are considered the keys to meaning in life. Solomon was better qualified than anyone in history to try each of these things first hand. Today, we’ll look at his resume.

Bible Reading


(Ecc 1:16) I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge. (17) And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.


(Ecc 2:9) So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me.


(1Ki 3:11-13) And God said unto him, Because thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life; neither hast asked riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of thine enemies; but hast asked for thyself understanding to discern judgment; (12) Behold, I have done according to thy words: lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart; so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee. (13) And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches, and honour: so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto thee all thy days.

Study

Solomon was unique in history. As you’ve read today, he had come to great estate. He was the wisest man on Earth. He was a powerful ruler. Consider these items from his resume in 1 Kings 4, 10 and 11:

  • King over all Israel (1Ki 4:1)
  • Lived in an unparalled time of peace (1Ki 4:24-25)
  • God-given wisdom, understanding and a big heart (1Ki 4:29-32)
  • He was world-famous and popular for his wisdom (1Ki 4:34, 10:24)
  • His lifestyle impressed great people (1Ki 10:6-7)
  • He reigned in splendor (1Ki 10:18-21)
  • He had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1Ki 11:3)

His great estate was an answer to prayer. Well, sort of. Solomon’s wisdom was an answer to prayer. The rest was God’s bonus gift to Solomon for choosing wisely. So, Solomon was better qualified than any person in history to put every philosophy of life to the test.

In His goodness to us, God allowed one man to explore our dreams and fantasies. He recorded his experiences to save us the pain and suffering of a life wasted running down dead end roads. Tomorrow, we’ll look at the theology of Ecclesiastes.

Solomon's Method for Seeking Truth

Introduction

Yesterday, we saw Solomon’s qualifications for persuing his quest. Today, we’ll consider how he went about completing that quest.

Ecc 1:14 I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.

Ecc 8:9 All this have I seen, and applied my heart unto every work that is done under the sun: there is a time wherein one man ruleth over another to his own hurt.

Ecc 9:11 I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Methodology

How did Solomon pursue his goal? He did it the same way many people in our day do – by experience and contemplation. Solomon experienced everything life had to offer. He didn’t just try to think through it, he lived it, pondered it and recorded his observations. You can see the experiential nature of his question in phrases like:

  • Under the sun (29 x)
  • I saw / I have seen / have I seen / I beheld (16 x)
  • I made / I got / I gat / I gathered (6 x)

What Solomon doesn’t mention is almost as telling as what he does mention. Here are some missing ingredients in his search for meaning:

  • He doesn’t quote scripture. Solomon had at least the first five books of the Bible. In fact, he was required by law to write out a copy of it (Deu. 17:18-20). Even so, he never mentions anything that God says about the questions he is contemplating. H
  • Solomon doesn’t mention the writings of other wise men, not even his father, David.
  • Solomon didn’t discuss his observations and conclusions with others. He simply communed with his own heart (1:16). It’s all first hand, personal experience and observation. (The word used most often in Ecclesiastes is “I,” which appears 87 times.)

Our Approach

Solomon collected data and drew conclusions without counsel, or insight from God. His findings are, therefore, limited, as any person’s research would be. As a result, some of his observations and conclusions are wrong. (The Bible accurately records his incorrect conclusions.) In this sense, Ecclesiastes is like the book of Job. (See Job 42:7)

We are going to compare his findings with the rest of the Bible to determine where his observations are right, and where they are wrong.

What About You?

  • Are you leaning on your own understand as you search for meaning in life?
  • Do you seek to make sense of life from wise counsel and God’s Word?

Existentialism and Despair

Introduction

Solomon used his personal experience, observations about the experiences of others, and his intellect to investigate the mystery of life. He tried to make sense of life apart from divine revelation. Today, we’ll see where this approach leads.

Bible Reading


Ecc 1:12-14 I the Preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem. (13) And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith. (14) I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.


Ecc 1:14 I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.


Ecc 2:9-11 So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me. (10) And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour. (11) Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.


Ecc 2:17 Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.

Existential Despair

According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition © 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company, existentialism is:

“A philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual experience in a hostile or indifferent universe, regards human existence as unexplainable, and stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of one’s acts.”

The approach and core beliefs of existentialism often lead to despair and a sense of emptiness, somtimes called nihilism. According to The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, nihilism flows naturally from existentialism:


“Existential nihilism begins with the notion that the world is without meaning or purpose. Given this circumstance, existence itself–all action, suffering, and feeling–is ultimately senseless and empty.”

Solomon’s Despair

As you’ve seen from today’s Bible reading, even though Solomon was religious, his existential quest lead him to the same conclusions and the same despair. He said that everything was vain, that is, empty or meaningless. He ended up hating life.

What About You?

Are you trusting your intellect and experience to help you make sense of life? If so, can you see from Solomon’s example, where that approach leads?

The Theology of Ecclesiastes (1)

Introduction

This week, we’re going to take a look at the theoloy of Ecclesiasted. It will be helpful for us to understand Solomon’s view of God as we interpret the rest of the book.

Bible Reading

(Ecc 3:14) I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him.

(Ecc 7:13) Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked?

(Ecc 8:17) Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea further; though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it.

(Ecc 11:5) As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.

(Ecc 3:18) I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts.

The Creator’s Works are Enduring and Unsearchable.

Even though Solomon was searching for meaning using only experience, observation and contemplation, he still talked about God in his writings. Solomon spoke of God as the Creator. He mentions God’s works. An honest person who observes the creation will admit the existence of God:

Psa 19:1-3 The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. (2) Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. (3) There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.

Rom 1:19-20 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. (20) For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

God Wants Men to Know They Are Beasts.

Not only did Solomon admit God’s existence, he also acknowledged that God’s works were beyond man’s ability to fully understand or to change. Compred to the Creator, men are beasts – ignorant and impotent. Solomon was humbled as he considered God’s creation.

What About You?

  • Are you honest enough to consider creation and admit that God exists?
  • Does it humble you to think of what God has done when you compare it to what you can do? Do you see yourself as a beast before God?

The Theology of Ecclesiastes (2)

Introduction

We saw yesterday that Solomon acknowledged the Creator’s existence and saw himself as a beast before God. Today, we’ll consider what Solomon though of God’s purpose for man.

Bible Reading

(Ecc 7:29) Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.

(Ecc 12:7) Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

(Ecc 1:13) And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith.

(Ecc 3:10) I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it. (Ecc 3:11) He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.

(Ecc 7:14) In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him.

God Made Man Upright

Solomon didn’t blame God for man’s corruption. He believed that God made man upright. It was man who sought out many inventions. Inventions isn’t speaking of the clever creation of useful tools. The word is usually used in a bad sense in the Bible. It speaks of man’s creative persuit of evil (Psa 99:8; Psa 106:29,39).

The Spirit Shall Return to God – or Not?

Solomon said that God made man a spiritual being. In today’s reading, you saw the passage where Solomon claimed that man’s spirit returned to God after death. He made that statement at the end of his quest, but I think he questioned that claim earlier. He asks, skeptically “Who knows if man’s spirit goes up?”:

Ecc 3:19-21 For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. (20) All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. (21) Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?

Note: If you search the commentaries, you’ll find that many writers put a positive spin on this passage. They claim that Solomon was actualy saying that man’s spirit does go up. I agree with Keil & Delitzsch’s Commentary on the Old Testament, though, that:

“…thus rendered the question does not accord with the connection, which requires a sceptical question…”

For the child of God, death results in the spirit going into the immediate presence of God:

2Co 5:8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.

This Sore Travail

Solomon describes life as a sore travail, a burdensome journey that man trudges through until the happy day of death arrives to end his toil. This certainly doesn’t line up with the New Testament description of life in Christ.

Joh 10:10 The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.

Rom 8:35-39 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (36) As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. (37) Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. (38) For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, (39) Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So, while the Bible does tell us we will have struggles in this life, it also tells us we can rise above life’s trials and live as joyful winners in this world.

What About You?

  • Do you see yourself as a sinner, who has fallen short of what God created you to be?
  • Do you understand that you can be victorious in life and rise above the emptiness and burdens through faith in Christ?

The Theology of Ecclesiastes (3)

Introduction

We saw yesterday that God made man an upright, spiritual being, but man turned from God plan. We also saw that life doesn’t have to be empty and burdensome if we put our trust in Christ. Today, we’ll look at how God wants man to view labor and leisure.

Bible Reading


(Ecc 2:24) There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.


(Ecc 3:13) And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God.


(Ecc 5:18-20) Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion. 19 Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God. 20 For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answereth him in the joy of his heart.


(Ecc 8:15) Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.

Eat, Drink and Be Merry

Solomon put in writing the philosophy of many people, “to eat, and to drink, and to be merry.” He saw this as God’s gift to humanity. Work hard and enjoy the fruit of your labors. Is this right thinking? Well, God’s does want us to enjoy what He has provided for us:


1Ti 6:17 Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy;

God isn’t against pleasure. But it is easy for the pursuit of pleasure and wealth to hinder us spiritually. An individual, a church, or a nation can get lulled into a false sense of spiritual security because they’re well off materially. Then pleasure becomes our enemy:


Luk 12:19-21 And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. (20) But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? (21) So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.


Rev 3:16-17 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. (17) Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:


Deu 6:10-12 And it shall be, when the LORD thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not, (11) And houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not; when thou shalt have eaten and be full; (12) Then beware lest thou forget the LORD, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.

What About You?

  • Are you enjoying the blessings God has given you?
  • Have your blessings become a spiritual distraction?

The Theology of Ecclesiastes (4)

Introduction

Yesterday, we saw the importance of a balanced approach to enjoying the material blessings God gives us. Today, we’re going to see that God’s holds us accountable for our sins.

Bible Reading


(Ecc 2:26) For God giveth to a man that is good in his sight wisdom, and knowledge, and joy: but to the sinner he giveth travail, to gather and to heap up, that he may give to him that is good before God. This also is vanity and vexation of spirit.


(Ecc 3:15) That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past. (Ecc 3:16) And moreover I saw under the sun the place of judgment, that wickedness was there; and the place of righteousness, that iniquity was there. (Ecc 3:17) I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.


(Ecc 7:18) It is good that thou shouldest take hold of this; yea, also from this withdraw not thine hand: for he that feareth God shall come forth of them all.


(Ecc 8:12) Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before him: (Ecc 8:13) But it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong his days, which are as a shadow; because he feareth not before God.


(Ecc 9:1) For all this I considered in my heart even to declare all this, that the righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God: no man knoweth either love or hatred by all that is before them.


(Ecc 11:9) Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.

God Rewards the Good and Punishes the Evil.

Solomon saw God as the ultimate Judge – rewarding the good and punishing the evil. These are certainly common ideas, in the Bible and in the world. He rewards the good man with wisdom, knowledge and joy. He gives the sinner travail. The sinner gathers to give to the saint.

Solomon also acknowledged that God’s judgment didn’t fall immediately upon the guilty. God has a time for judgment and a purpose in His delays. Even though God might allow sinners to abound in their sin and live long lives, in the end it will be better to be a saint than a sinner.

Ecclesiastes 9:1 may be one of the most important verses in the book. It presents an idea that many Christians miss. Solomon said that you can’t discern the love of God, or His displeasure, by what is before you. A godly man might lose his job and it doesn’t mean that God hates him. A wicked man might get rich, but it doesn’t mean that God is pleased with his lifestyle. God has declared His love for His children. Our circumstances say nothing about God’s love for us. (See Romans 8:28-39)

What About You?

  • Do you believe that God will ultimately judge the good and the evil?
  • Do you live with the judgment of God in mind?
  • Do you understand that you can’t decide from your circumstances whether or not God loves you?

The Theology of Ecclesiastes (5)

Introduction

Yesterday, we saw that Ecclesiastes presents God as the Great Judge. Today, we’ll see how we should respond to that truth.

Bible Reading


(Ecc 3:14) I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him.


(Ecc 12:1) Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;


(Ecc 12:13) Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. (Ecc 12:14) For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.


(Ecc 5:1-7) Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil. 2 Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few. 3 For a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool’s voice is known by multitude of words. 4 When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. 5 Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay. 6 Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands? 7 For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God.

God to be feared and obeyed

Solomon’s theology emphasized the fear of God. We should live in the fear of our Creator and Judge. We must be careful not to forget Him. If we fear Him, and we don’t forget Him, we will obey Him.

God expects us to keep our vows to Him

One area about which Solomon gave a stern warning was in the matter of vows. When we come before God, he said, we should not be quick to make God promises. If we promise God something, He expects us to keep our promise.

What About You?

  • Do you fear God?
  • Are you careful about making promises to God and about keeping them?

The Missing Theology of Ecclesiastes (1)

Introduction

Last week, we considered the theology of Ecclesiastes. This week, we’ll look at the theology that is missing from the the book. This will help us understand Solomon’s approach to finding the meaning of life. What he left out was especially significant.

We’re going to look at some of the Psalms that Solomon’s father, David, wrote to contrast their views of God.

Bible Reading

Psa 27:8 When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek.

Psa 63:1-4 O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; (2) To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary. (3) Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. (4) Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name.

Psa 15:1-2 LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? (2) He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart.

Psa 24:3-6 Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? (4) He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. (5) He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. (6) This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob. Selah.

God’s Desire for a Personal Relationship

One of the glaring omissions from Solomon’s search is God’s desire for a relationship with the people He created. Solomon presents God as the Creator and Judge, but not as Father or Friend.

David heard God’s call to seek His face and responded with a commitment to seek God’s face. David called God, his God and promised to seek Him early. David thirsted after God like a parched man in the desert. To David, God’s lovingkindness was better than life.

There is no hint of that kind of realtionship between Solomon on Jehovah. Solomon sought a purpose, not a person. He didn’t realize that our purpose is found in our relationship to a Person.

Righteousness for the Sake of Relationship

Solomon recommended righteous living to avoid punishment at God’s hand. For David, though, the goal of righteousness was to enable him to abide with God. He wanted an abiding relationship. He wanted to do right to maintain his friendship with the Lord.

What About You?

Do you avoid sin and do right to avoid punishment, or to enjoy God’s friendship?