Wisdom of Marion Vol 1.25 (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2:26)

2nd Study: Ecclesiastes 1:1-2:26

Ecclesiastes 1 begins with a poem:

Vanity[Vapor] of Vanities[Vapors], says the Preacher,

vanity of vanities! All is Vanity.

What does man gain by all the toil

at which he toils under the sun?

A generation goes, and a generation comes,

but the earth remains forever.

The sun rises, and the sun goes down,

and hastens to the place where it rises.

The wind blows to the south

and goes around to the north;

around and around goes the wind,

and on its circuits the wind returns.

All streams run to the sea,

but the sea is not full;

to the place where the streams flow,

there they flow again.

{Ecclesiastes 1:2-7 ESV}

This beginning part of the poem shows us that Solomon realizes the futility of man’s efforts over a world that does not yield to his influence.  Nature keeps going on and on, without any regard for man’s work.  Also, this really gives us a sense of man’s place in the scheme of life.

Even though, man is (and has been) creative throughout time. Our overall effect on nature is still minute at best. If you don’t think so, look at what happened this week with the tornadoes going through several states in the South and the devastation they caused.

In the next three verses of chapter 1, Solomon finishes the poem:

All things are full of weariness;

a man cannot utter it;

the eye is not satisfied with seeing,

nor the ear filled with hearing.

What has been is what will be

and what has been done is what will be done

and there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there a thing of which it is said,

“See, this is new”?

It has been already

in the ages before us.

There is no remembrance of former things,

nor will there be any remembrance

of later things yet to be

among those who come after.

{Ecclesiastes 1:8-11 ESV}

Pastor Meyers describes the latter part of Solomon’s poem this way:

The unending march of nature, which Solomon has described so vividly, gives way to the significance of the unending succession of generations. Solomon does not merely describe the boredom of humanity, but also points out how utterly limited man is. Human beings can only do what they have been given to do by God. Everything man achieves falls into certain categories which really do not change.

That there is nothing new under the sun does not mean that man does not invent, that he does not genuinely reflect his Creator by building and making wonderful new things. But after all, what is really new? Man does what he’s done since the dawn of time. He works, builds, eats, drinks, walks, sleeps, and dies, What leverage do these activities give mankind?  {pp. 47-48}

I must admit after reading the poem it can make you feel insignificant. Is there anything man can do to really affect the world? Well, by the end of chapter one, Solomon addresses that question.

He talks of being the King of Jerusalem and how he applied his heart to seeking out and searching for wisdom. But, ultimately realizing that acquiring wisdom [and knowledge] is like striving after the wind and causes sorrow.

After reading the first chapter, I can see why many people would feel that Solomon has given into despair and seemed to be lacking in faith.

Now in Chapter 2, Solomon decides to seek pleasure to the fullest. He made great works, built houses, gardens, and parks, drank wine and had concubines. He did everything under the sun as verses ten and eleven describe:

“And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity [vapor] and striving after the wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” [ESV]

We are pleasure seekers and to escape the rigors of life (like Solomon did), we will turn to pleasure as a way to seek some kind of meaning or value to living. However, we see that Solomon who has pursued both wisdom and folly equally realizes in verse thirteen:

“Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness.” [ESV]

Solomon confesses a statement of faith in that verse because if you read the next verse, he realizes the same fate (death) awaits both the seeker of wisdom and folly. This is one of the first clues I feel that the Book of Ecclesiastes is more a book about faith than a book about wisdom.

In verses 18-23, Solomon returns to his despair about life after seeking both wisdom and folly. And I think Pastor Meyers describes this section of chapter quite well:

Solomon is not being impious when he declares “I hated life” and “I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun.” Solomon is being pious to hate life. After all, loving life for the sake of the power of his toil would demonstrate that he lacked faith and was embracing idolatrous delusions rather than trusting God.

People develop idolatrous expectations of life by ignoring or discounting death. Death is an inescapable message from God, and it is not good news. While this seems obvious, it is resisted.

Solomon is appalled at life as a whole, the existence of man under the sun. He pours out deep feelings of revulsion at this situation. It is hebel [vapor], enigmatic and elusive. Death robs man of any leverage or surplus in this life. God has ordained frustration for man’s work. This frustration is epitomized in the discovery that everything you work for will be passed on to another–and you cannot control whether he will be a wise man or a fool. There is nothing to guarantee the wisdom of your successors. {pp. 60-61}

It seems on first glance that Solomon is a defeated, pessimistic man.  However, Chapter 2 ends with him being upbeat:

“There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind. {Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 ESV}

Pastor Meyers finishes this part of the study with these words:

In spite of life’s vaporous nature, God can be trusted and life can be enjoyed despite the fact it can’t be mastered, leveraged, or ever fully comprehended by man. Faith recognizes this and, in the face of it, moves forward to claim and enjoy the life and work and happiness that God apportions as gifts to man.

Realizing this can help you deal with life in a way that honors God. For example, do not be surprised to find yourself in a frustrating situation from which you cannot escape be means of controlling it. Not everything can be fixed! Not everything is a problem to be solved. Some things must be borne, must be suffered and endured. Wisdom does not teach us how to master the world. It does not give us techniques for programming life such that life becomes orderly and predictable.

Rejoice in what God has given you to do and trust in Him. This is the perspective of faith. {pp.63}

What I’ve learned from these first two chapters of Ecclesiastes is that when Solomon asked God for wisdom (1 Kings 3:1-15) he was put through the fire in order to educate his contemporaries and future generations about what is true wisdom. We should be ever thankful that God gave him wisdom and we can experience it by learning from Solomon instead of going through what he did ourselves.

I will end with a couple questions for you to think about this week.  I would love to receive some comments on the answers these questions.

1) Does Solomon’s testing of life from both ends (pursuing wisdom and folly) give you a better understanding on how we should live life and our place in it?

2) Are you surprised that Ecclesiastes is really more a book about faith than a book of wisdom?

Wisdom of Marion Vol 1.24

1st Study: Intrepretation of Wisdom Literature

As we begin this bible study on the Book of Ecclesiastes, we will have to address one of the biggest misconceptions about the book. What does Solomon actually when he says that life is All of Vanity and everything has been done Under the Sun?

We know that the book of Ecclesiastes is a book of wisdom literature and like its cousins (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, & Song of Songs), the meaning of the words in this section can’t be taken just at face value. The meaning lies beneath the surface and has an enigmatic quality to it.

Pastor Meyers writes this in his book about how Wisdom Literature is misinterpreted:

“This means that the dominant literary mode of expressing the reflections of wisdom teachers requires more than a superficial reading. Riddles take time and effort to solve. Unfortunately, some who comment on Ecclesiastes don’t move beyond a superficial reading and conclude that Solomon has become despondent and given up on life, or that he has written what amounts to an expose of the unbeliever’s perspective on the world. This is a failure of the imagination. Such an interpretation may also say more more about the interpreter than the text. A wise man will resonate to Solomon’s frustration with the ephemeral character of life under the sun. The superficially pious man calls for positive attitudes and cheery one dimensional slogans about life and the world, but the wise man knows.”  pp.35-36

Those were strong words about the misinterpretation of Wisdom Literature like Ecclesiastes and the last sentence of that paragraph really stood out as the most reflected in our modern life.

Whether pious or not, our culture thinks wisdom is someone or something that is always cheerful and has a catch phrase or slogan for every situation in life.  Well, Ecclesiastes is definitely counter-cultural to the culture’s view of wisdom.

Ecclesiastes begins with a couple of phrases that Solomon writes quite a bit throughout the book.  In 1:2, he mentions, “Vanity of Vanities, All is Vanity.” and in 1:3, he mentions, “Under the Sun.” Understanding the true meaning of what Solomon is trying to say with both of those phrases are key into unlocking the real wisdom of Ecclesiastes.

When Solomon says, All is Vanity, he is not using our modern definition of vanity which means conceited, vain, or vacuous. But the word in Hebrew for Vanity is hebel. It actually means a vapor, a puff of air that disappears, or a mere breath. And when he also says, Vanity of Vanities, is the superlative expression that reminds us life is the supreme vapor. It will always elude your grasp when you try to catch it. It will always escape from your efforts when you try to attain it.

Also, in some Bible Translations the word “meaningless” has been used instead of “vanity.” Life is not meaningless and that’s the last thing Solomon wants to convey.

Moreover, when Solomon says, “Under the Sun” he is declaring our perspective as man from which everything is only vapor.  Our viewpoint of life comes from the ground-level and is actually under the sun and trying to gain leverage from that viewpoint the wise man understands he will never have any control over that. But, if man believes in God and trusts Him to help us navigate through vaporous nature of life.

I believe that is a sobering thought for modern man.  Because we are control freaks by nature.  I like the way Pastor Meyers writes it:

“We think that life can be programmed like a computer—that all we need is the right technique. If we just find the proper method we will have control. This is true in government, science, and social work. It is the quest we pursue in our families and other relationships. The search for the power—the hunt for control over our destinies–never ends.  At root, this is pagan. It is a pagan drive to find the secret (or right technique) that will allow man to manipulate reality to his advantage. Unfortunately, the unlocking of this secret is inappropriately described as “wisdom.”  pp.40

Well, I thought before we get into the actual chapters of Ecclesiastes, I wanted to address the unique nature of reading Wisdom Literature.

I will end with a couple questions for you to think about this week.  I would love to receive some comments on the answers these questions.

1) Do you think life is a vapor? Or is life something to be controlled and navigated?

2) Have you ever read a book (fiction or non-fiction) where you thought the meaning of it was one thing and you found out later it actually meant something else?  Did your view of the book changed because of that?

God Bless!

Wisdom of Marion Vol 1.23

Ecclesiastes is my favorite book in the Bible.

I recently wrote that sentence on another blog site and one of the bloggers wrote me saying she had never heard that Ecclesiastes would be anyone’s favorite book in the Bible.

From that comment, I realized that Ecclesiastes has been the most misunderstood, overlooked, and underappreciated book in the Bible.

So I have decided to do an Ecclesiastes Bible Study for the next 6 weeks  (Saturdays) on this blog. All you need is your Bible and a notepad to take some notes for your own study.

I will be using the book, A Table in the Mist by Jeffrey Meyers, as my guide for the Ecclesiastes Bible Study.  Mr. Meyers’ book is considered to be one of the best resources on the book of Ecclesiastes.

You will not have to buy the book for this study.  However, if you like this study and decided to go deeper with Ecclesiastes…it is a excellent book to start with.

Here’s the set-up for the Study:

1) 4/23: Interpretation of Wisdom Literature

2) 4/30: Ecclesiastes 1:1-2:26

3) 5/7: Ecclesiastes 3:1-15

4) 5/14: Ecclesiastes 3:16-5:20

5) 5/21: Ecclesiastes 6:1-8:17

6) 5/28: Ecclesiastes 9-12

I will post each week’s column with a summary of the chapters and have a few questions for the readers to think about (and have some self-study)until the next week’s entry. I hope to receive as many comments as possible and truly have an interactive online Bible Study.

I will finish this column with some things I hope we all learn from this study.

–Ecclesiastes is the book about faith in the Old Testament.

–Wisdom Literature [Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Job, Psalms, and Song of Songs] needs to be read carefully and in context to God’s overall plan for humanity.

–Real Biblical Wisdom is founded on the honest assessment that life is enigmatic and a lot of times out of our control and we can’t leverage or manipulate God to suit our purposes.

–That God wants us to enjoy life by fearing Him and keeping his Commandments, using the gifts he gave us with joy and gratefulness, to eat, drink, and work for his purposes and love our husbands and wives as well.

I’m really looking forward to these next few weeks and I hope we all draw closer to God and strengthen our Faith from this study.

God Bless!