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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Smith :: Portraits of Christ

Don Smith :: Ecc 1; Nothing New Under the Sun

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Portraits of Christ
“Nothing New Under the Sun” Ecclesiastes 1:3-18

In today’s vernacular, Solomon’s epitaph might read like the following:

  • The itch for things, the lust for more—so brilliantly injected by those who peddle them—is a virus draining our souls of happy contentment. Satisfaction comes when we stop off the ‘escalator of desire’ and say, “This is enough. What I have will do. What I make of it is up to me and my vital union with the living God.”
  • The “escalator of desire” promises a lofty vista from the penthouse of delight and contentment, yet it ultimately arrives at the basement of futility.
  • The man who made this observation was well qualified to draw this painful conclusion.
  • He was conceived in sin, yet he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.
  • His father was King David, one of the most talented and gifted men who ever lived.
  • His mother, Bathsheba, was a woman of renowned beauty.
  • In his youth he was deeply devoted to the Lord.
  • That is why he was named by the prophet Nathan as “Jedidiah” or “Beloved of God.”
  • Solomon grew up in the lap of luxury enjoying all the rights and privileges of royalty.
  • He inherited a vast kingdom with wealth and peace.
  • He ruled over Israel for forty years without going to war.
  • Therefore, rather than pouring his vast resources into a war machine like his father, he set off to pursue a better, more pleasurable and prosperous life.
  • His administration came to power with uncompromising goals.
  • He was determined to build Jerusalem into a world-class city.
  • He built the Temple of Jerusalem, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, envisioned by his father.
  • He was unrivaled in wisdom.
  • The Bible says of him, “All the earth was seeking the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom which God had put in his heart.”
  • As king, he ruled with justice.
  • He led Israel into an age of art and science.
  • To reach his lofty aspirations, he built and rode upon the escalator of desire.
  • Promising national prosperity, he sought to expand the power of government.
  • He levied his people with a burdensome income tax.
  • His unbridled thirst for life and prosperity also required developing a thriving industry.
  • He developed copper, silver and gold mines and exported these metals to the world.
  • His insatiable desire for things was renowned.
  • He enjoyed the world’s finest stables of horses and chariots.
  • His fascination with agriculture led him to plant luxuriant gardens, like those that once adorned the City of Babylon.
  • To water these gardens in an arid climate, Solomon constructed an elaborate system of pools and aqueducts.
  • With exports ready to be sold on the world markets and prestigious ambassadors parading into Jerusalem with extravagant gifts to gain his favor, Solomon quickly entered the arena of international politics.
  • To secure peace without any military distractions, he made alliances with godless kings and nations.
  • As a clever politician, he negotiated trade agreements and peace treaties by taking the daughters of kings into his growing household of wives.

All seemed idyllic until success began to slowly erode his faith.

  • What once peaked his excitement, no longer satisfied him.
  • As the all time classic example of a mid-life crisis, His insatiable appetite for pleasure and prominence eventually outgrew his God-given wisdom.
  • He gradually conceded to worldly pressures to get ahead and stay ahead.
  • To accommodate the desires of his foreign wives, he constructed pagan temples so they could worship their gods without having to leave the country.
  • Eventually, their influence upon him caused his heart to grow cold and distant to the Lord.
  • Runaway lust consumed this man twenty-four seven.
  • His mind could not stop dreaming and scheming the possibilities… “If only.”
  • “If only I could have this; If only I could learn that; If only I could find the secret to….”
  • One day, Solomon looked in the mirror and saw an old wrinkled man exhausted by an insatiable desire.
  • Sensing his mortality, he started looking back at his life in the rear view mirror.
  • He began to write his memoirs in a journal intended to promote debate and discussion.
  • He was a man on a mission.
  • With blunt honesty he explored the inscrutable and pondered the imponderable.
  • Nothing eluded his pursuit of self-examination.
  • His conclusions are recorded for us in the book of Ecclesiastes.
  • Those who crave simple self-help formulas and frivolous meanderings will be deeply disappointed.
  • Solomon speaks to our generation in “bottom-line” language.
  • He is the explorer who has ridden the escalator to the penthouse and was left with basement despair.

So if you are searching for a pony in a dung heap, a golden thread in a confusing tapestry or a silver lining to your worn-out ways, consider Solomon’s wisdom as he takes us back through his unique life to explore the meaning of life under the sun.

  • You may accuse him of being the ultimate pessimist.
  • He would argue…he is the honest realist.
  • But lest you think, “Who needs another reason to despair?”…pay close attention to his theology.
  • The genus of his journal is that he offers only a few strategically placed nails of hope upon which to hang our desperate lives.
  • He will not rush to give answers, but they are there; it is found in desiring God.
  • His introduction is powerful and shocking.
  • After identifying himself as “the Preacher” or “Church Spokesman,” he started his journal where he ended up—in the basement! “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”
  • This thrill-rider on the escalator of desire concluded that when he got off on every floor in his castle, he found an abandoned room.
  • It was “empty, futile, transitory and evasive.”
  • His begins his memoirs explaining how he arrived at this conclusion.
  • Here is his first installment of harsh realities in his journal on life under the Sun.

There is nothing new about toiling under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:3-8)

  1. He asked this probing question to any workaholics, success-driven professionals and American optimists that say, “You can be whatever you set your mind to become. What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun?”
    • He asks a similar question later in Ecclesiastes 3:9, “What profit has the worker from that in which he labors? I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied.”
    • Solomon is painfully aware of toil and labor under the sun.
    • What he questions is what are we left with when the sun goes down?
    • Adam’s curse has fallen upon all his children.
    • The Lord said to Adam, “Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19)
    • The curse is not that we must work hard for our living.
    • Rather the curse is the effects of sin upon our heart.
    • Driven by the unbridled restless desire to acquire and secure, men will risk everything, even their destiny.
    • Work under the sun without faith in God will leave us in the dust of despair and death.
    • It is this same question Jesus, who was also a son of David, asked His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.” (Matthew 16:24-27)
    • Jesus was also poking at the bubble of worldly success.
    • In essence He was asking, “What price are we willing to pay for earthly gain?”
    • For diligent hard working fathers, this question is relevant today.
    • “At what price are we willing to loose our marriages, families, health, friends and even our souls, to gain the world.”
    • Solomon paid a high price for success—a collapsed economy, a decadent society, an ungodly progeny and an empty life in the convalescent home wondering where his youthful zeal and strength had left him.
    • All that remained at the end of his life were old dusty relics in a museum and they brought him no consolation or comfort.
    • But how did Solomon learn about Adam’s curse on the world?
  2. He made these problematic observations about creation: “Life under the sun is tireless.”
    • He realized we are just actors on a stage.
    • With every new scene the actors changed, but the play went on.
    • While a young idealist, he was too busy getting ahead and having a family to give thought to death and the grave.
    • But now he viewed the cemetery markers and concluded, “Generations come and go.” (Ecclesiastes 1:4)
    • This was a harsh reality that should be considered earlier in life.
    • Death puts into perspective life.
    • The eternal gives meaning to the temporal
    • When he looked at creation, he saw the same repetitive cycle.
    • “The sun rises and sets…just as man is born and dies.” (Ecclesiastes 1:5)
    • There are days of bright warm sunshine then comes the cold dark days of adversity.
    • He noticed the endless, tireless pursuits of men were like the wind whirling around the earth seemingly without a purpose. (Ecclesiastes 1:6)
    • The rivers also spilled into the sea and were never filled. (Ecclesiastes 1:7)
    • The sea water evaporates and returns to the earth as rain.
    • It reminded him of the forty years he spent exercising his powers as the king, only to see his works evaporate in old age and rain on the next generation.
    • His theses: “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity,” he observed in creation.
    • Adam’s curse had not only left creation in toil and futility, but Solomon began to see in himself and all humanity this same wearisome cycle.
    • I share in Solomon’s perspective.
    • In these last few days I officiated at a funeral, attended a wedding, discussed with a family the prospect of putting a failing parent in an assisted care facility, and on Father’s day I will pray with parents to dedicate their children to the Lord.
  3. Then Solomon saw in himself man’s insatiable desire. (Ecclesiastes 1:8)
    • The eyes of man are never satisfied with seeing.
    • Man never rests long enough to enjoy the beauty around him that stares him in the face.
    • Instead, he is always pursuing new dreams and distant horizons.
    • Solomon had an eye for beauty.
    • He painted pictures and was never content with the finished picture.
    • He collected beautiful things, but stayed up late at night re-arranging the furniture.
    • He built beautiful homes, but was always making new plans to redecorate them.
    • He planted lush gardens, but could only see the thorns and thistles springing up in them.
    • The ears of man are also never filled with hearing.
    • We can hear a bird sing amongst the trees if we stop to listen, but we turn up the volume on our stereos to drown out the messages of silence.
    • Solomon could also go to a symphony of the world’s greatest musicians, only to hear the one note of discord that spoiled his night.
    • He could hear wisdom preached, but never tired of hearing the latest gossip about other world leaders.
    • We share this same propensity.
    • Our spouse doesn’t look or sound the same as in our first year of marriage.
    • The cute three-bedroom house we worked so hard for when we started our family no longer holds its attraction, since there is a new housing tract south of town.
    • The car we used to enjoy now has scratches on it and static interrupts our radio listening.
    • Our eyes and ears are never satisfied because our hearts are restless without God.
    • This led Solomon to another harsh reality.
    • When we think new is better, he realized it too will not satisfy for long.

Solomon concluded there is nothing new about living under the Sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9-11)

  1. His problematic conclusion was, “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
    • Generations come and go, and so do their ideas, values, plans and dreams.
    • Wait long enough and retro-orange with olive-green will decorate our homes once again.
    • Bell-bottom pants have been making a brief come back.
    • Men’s mullet hair cuts, bushy sideburn chops and leisure suits may reappear in next year’s style.
  2. Then he asks a rhetorical question as if he were reading a news clipping or hearing a commercial. “See…this is new?” (Ecclesiastes 1:10-11)
    • But is it really new?
    • Solomon suggests what goes around comes around.
    • Things may be advertised as new, but they are new titles on warn-out ideas, fresh faces on old philosophies, and new words for old rhetoric.
    • Because generations come and go, the next generation quickly forgets the painful lessons of the past.
    • Ears itch and eyes lust—so the beat goes on.

There are some nails upon which to hang our lives in this chaotic world.

  1. The Bible teaches God is sovereign over all things.
    • Amidst the emptiness and weariness of man’s labor, God rules and reigns.
    • It is something we must know or else we will only see the futility of life under the sun.
    • A well worn yet essential Scripture is Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
  2. The Scriptures also teach God’s providential care for His own.
    • Believing God provides for his beloved should reduce our anxiety on the treadmill of toil and labor.
    • Jesus said in Matthew 6:25-30, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow:they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”
    • Jesus was explaining that all Solomon had, came from the benevolent hand of God.
    • If God could provide for the birds and the lilies of the field as well as a king like Solomon, can’t we trust Him to provide for us today in the midst of our need?
    • Are you not of more value than they?
  3. The Bible also reminds us of God’s faithfulness to reward His people.
    • Hebrews 6:10 says, “For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.”
    • So amidst the tireless activity of our daily grind, God is working all things together for our good and His; He is faithful to provide for His own and He will reward those who labor in love.
    • If we believed these truths, there would be less anxiety, tireless activity and emptiness in our lives and more focus on the things that really matter, like serving the Lord and nurturing relationships.
    • Why do we toil and spin in breathless exhaustion of activity when Jesus tell us to seek His kingdom first and then these things shall be added unto us?

Dads, let me speak candidly with you today.

  • Solomon’s wisdom awakens us to the possibilities in our lives.
  • We can strive and toil on the treadmill of success and leave behind a trail of heartache and sorrow in our family.
  • We can be wise in our own estimation and end up an old fool.
  • We can acquire many expensive things and yet be empty and bankrupt.
  • “The itch for things, the lust for more—so brilliantly injected by those who peddle them—is a virus draining our souls of happy contentment. Satisfaction comes when we stop off the ‘escalator of desire’ and say, “This is enough. What I have will do. What I make of it is up to me and my vital union with the living God.”
  • The “escalator of desire” promises a lofty vista from the penthouse of delight and contentment, yet it ultimately arrives at the basement of futility.
  • Then Solomon spoke about his life ambitions.

There is nothing new about wisdom under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18)

  1. He had set his heart as a young man on finding wisdom all done under heaven.
    • The Lord granted his desire.
    • He was blessed with unequaled wisdom. (1 Kings 3:5-28)
    • But even with such great wisdom he realized seeing the works done under the sun is like grasping for the wind. (Ecclesiastes 1:14)
  2. Solomon realized the futility of trying to alter the course of good and evil.
    • “What is crooked cannot be made straight and what is lacking cannot be numbered.” (Ecclesiastes 1:15)
  3. He knew there were other great men and women in Jerusalem with wisdom, but he had surpassed their wisdom.
  4. He set his heart to know madness and folly, but this too was like grasping for the wind.
    • As great as his wisdom he sought to explore the unknown realms of pleasure.
    • This led to much grief. “For in much wisdom is much grief and he who increases in knowledge increases sorrow.”

The wise seek the pleasures of God, rather than the pleasures of sin.

  • We were made to find our joy in glorifying God.
  • Any other pursuit is vanity, vanity.

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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