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CHAPTER TWO
Ecclesiastes 1:4
"Everything an Indian does is in a circle," said Black Elk, the Sioux religious leader. "Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood...."
You would think Black Elk had been studying the first chapter of Ecclesiastes, except for one fact: for centuries, wise men and women in different nations and cultures have been pondering the mysteries of the "circles" of human life. Whenever you use phrases like "life cycle," or "the wheel of fortune," or "come full circle," you are joining Solomon and Black Elk and a host of others in taking a cyclical view of life and nature.
Ecclesiastes 1:6

You would think Black Elk had been studying the first chapter of Ecclesiastes, except for one fact: for centuries, wise men and women in different nations and cultures have been pondering the mysteries of the "circles" of human life. Whenever you use phrases like "life cycle," or "the wheel of fortune," or "come full circle," you are joining Solomon and Black Elk and a host of others in taking a cyclical view of life and nature.
(from The Bible Exposition Commentary: Old Testament © 2001-2004 by Warren W. Wiersbe. All rights reserved.)
But this "cyclical" view of life was a burden to Solomon. For if life is only part of a great cycle over which we have no control, is life worth living? If this cycle is repeated season after season, century after century, why are we unable to understand it and explain it? Solomon pondered these questions as he looked at the cycle of life "under the sun," and he came to three bleak conclusions: nothing is changed (1:4-7), nothing is new (1:8-11), and nothing is understood (1:12-18).
In this section, Solomon approached the problem as a scientist and examined the "wheel of nature" around him: the earth, the sun, the wind, and the water. (This reminds us of the ancient "elements" of earth, air, fire, and water.) He was struck by the fact that generations of people came and went while the things of nature remained. There was "change" all around, yet nothing really changed. Everything was only part of the "wheel of nature" and contributed to the monotony of life. So, Solomon asked, "Is life worth living?"

Solomon presented four pieces of evidence to prove that nothing really changes.

The earth (v. 4). From the human point of view, nothing seems more permanent and durable than the planet on which we live. When we say that something is "as sure as the world," we are echoing Solomon's confidence in the permanence of planet Earth. With all of its diversity, nature is uniform enough in its operation that we can discover its "laws" and put them to work for us. In fact, it is this "dependability" that is the basis for modern science.
Ecclesiastes 1:4; Ecclesiastes 1:5; Ecclesiastes 1:6

Nature is permanent, but man is transient, a mere pilgrim on earth. His pilgrimage is a brief one, for death finally claims him. At the very beginning of his book, Solomon introduced a topic frequently mentioned in Ecclesiastes: the brevity of life and the certainty of death.

Individuals and families come and go, nations and empires rise and fall, but nothing changes, for the world remains the same. Thomas Carlyle called history "a mighty drama, enacted upon the theater of time, with suns for lamps and eternity for a background." Solomon would add that the costumes and sets may occasionally change, but the actors and the script remain pretty much the same; and that's as sure as the world.

The sun (v. 5). We move now from the cycle of birth and death on earth to the cycle of day and night in the heavens. "As sure as the world!" is replaced by "As certain as night follows day!" Solomon pictures the sun rising in the east and "panting" (literal translation) its way across the sky in pursuit of the western horizon. But what does it accomplish by this daily journey? To what purpose is all this motion and heat? As far as the heavens are concerned, one day is just like another, and the heavens remain the same.

(from The Bible Exposition Commentary: Old Testament © 2001-2004 by Warren W. Wiersbe. All rights reserved.)

Ecclesiastes 1:4; Ecclesiastes 1:5; Ecclesiastes 1:6

Nature is permanent, but man is transient, a mere pilgrim on earth. His pilgrimage is a brief one, for death finally claims him. At the very beginning of his book, Solomon introduced a topic frequently mentioned in Ecclesiastes: the brevity of life and the certainty of death.

Individuals and families come and go, nations and empires rise and fall, but nothing changes, for the world remains the same. Thomas Carlyle called history "a mighty drama, enacted upon the theater of time, with suns for lamps and eternity for a background." Solomon would add that the costumes and sets may occasionally change, but the actors and the script remain pretty much the same; and that's as sure as the world.

The sun (v. 5). We move now from the cycle of birth and death on earth to the cycle of day and night in the heavens. "As sure as the world!" is replaced by "As certain as night follows day!" Solomon pictures the sun rising in the east and "panting" (literal translation) its way across the sky in pursuit of the western horizon. But what does it accomplish by this daily journey? To what purpose is all this motion and heat? As far as the heavens are concerned, one day is just like another, and the heavens remain the same.

(from The Bible Exposition Commentary: Old Testament © 2001-2004 by Warren W. Wiersbe. All rights reserved.)

Ecclesiastes 1:6; Ecclesiastes 1:7

The wind (v. 6). From the visible east-west movement of the sun, Solomon turned to the invisible north-south movement of the wind. He was not giving a lecture on the physics of wind. Rather, he was stating that the wind is in constant motion, following "circuits" that man cannot fully understand or chart. "The wind blows where it wishes," our Lord said to Nicodemus, "and you ... cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes" (John 3:8, NKJV).

Solomon's point is this: the wind is constantly moving and changing directions, and yet it is still — the wind! We hear it and feel it, and we see what it does, but over the centuries, the wind has not changed its cycles or circuits. Man comes and goes, but the changeless wind goes on forever.

The sea (v. 7). Solomon described here the "water cycle" that helps to sustain life on our planet. Scientists tell us that, at any given time, 97 percent of all the water on earth is in the oceans, and only .0001 percent is in the atmosphere, available for rain. (That's enough for about ten days of rain.) The cooperation of the sun and the wind makes possible the evaporation and movement of moisture, and this keeps the water "circulating." But the sea never changes! The rivers and the rains pour water into the seas, but the seas remain the same.
The wind (v. 6). From the visible east-west movement of the sun, Solomon turned to the invisible north-south movement of the wind. He was not giving a lecture on the physics of wind. Rather, he was stating that the wind is in constant motion, following "circuits" that man cannot fully understand or chart. "The wind blows where it wishes," our Lord said to Nicodemus, "and you ... cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes" (John 3:8, NKJV).

Solomon's point is this: the wind is constantly moving and changing directions, and yet it is still — the wind! We hear it and feel it, and we see what it does, but over the centuries, the wind has not changed its cycles or circuits. Man comes and goes, but the changeless wind goes on forever.

The sea (v. 7). Solomon described here the "water cycle" that helps to sustain life on our planet. Scientists tell us that, at any given time, 97 percent of all the water on earth is in the oceans, and only .0001 percent is in the atmosphere, available for rain. (That's enough for about ten days of rain.) The cooperation of the sun and the wind makes possible the evaporation and movement of moisture, and this keeps the water "circulating." But the sea never changes! The rivers and the rains pour water into Ecclesiastes 1:6; Ecclesiastes 1:7

The wind (v. 6). From the visible east-west movement of the sun, Solomon turned to the invisible north-south movement of the wind. He was not giving a lecture on the physics of wind. Rather, he was stating that the wind is in constant motion, following "circuits" that man cannot fully understand or chart. "The wind blows where it wishes," our Lord said to Nicodemus, "and you ... cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes" (John 3:8, NKJV).

Solomon's point is this: the wind is constantly moving and changing directions, and yet it is still — the wind! We hear it and feel it, and we see what it does, but over the centuries, the wind has not changed its cycles or circuits. Man comes and goes, but the changeless wind goes on forever.

The sea (v. 7). Solomon described here the "water cycle" that helps to sustain life on our planet. Scientists tell us that, at any given time, 97 percent of all the water on earth is in the oceans, and only .0001 percent is in the atmosphere, available for rain. (That's enough for about ten days of rain.) The cooperation of the sun and the wind makes possible the evaporation and movement of moisture, and this keeps the water "circulating." But the sea never changes! The rivers and the rains pour water into the seas, but the seas remain the same.
Ecclesiastes 1:7

So, whether we look at the earth or the heavens, the winds or the waters, we come to the same conclusion: nature does not change. There is motion but not promotion. No wonder Solomon cites the monotony of life as his first argument to prove that life is not worth living (1:4-11).

All of this is true only if you look at life "under the sun" and leave God out of the picture. Then the world becomes a closed system that is uniform, predictable, unchangeable. It becomes a world where there are no answers to prayer and no miracles, for nothing can interrupt the cycle of nature. If there is a God in this kind of a world, He cannot act on our behalf because He is imprisoned within the "laws of nature" that cannot be suspended.
However, God does break into nature to do great and wonderful things! He does hear and answer prayer and work on behalf of His people. He held the sun in place so Joshua could finish an important battle (Josh 10:6-14), and He moved the sun back as a sign to King Hezekiah (Isa 38:1-8). He opened the Red Sea and the Jordan River for Israel (Ex 14; Josh 3:1-4:24). He "turned off" the rain for Elijah (1 Kings 17) and then "turned it on" again (James 5:17-18). He calmed the wind and the waves for the disciples (Mark 4:35-41), and in the future, will use the forces of nature to bring terror and judgment to people on the earth (see Rev 6 ff).
Ecclesiastes 1:7; Ecclesiastes 1:8-11; Ecclesiastes 1:8

When, by faith, you receive Jesus Christ as your Savior, and God becomes your Heavenly Father, you no longer live in a "closed system" of endless monotonous cycles. You can gladly sing, "This is my Father's world!" and know that He will meet your every need as you trust Him (Matt 6:25-34). Christians live in this world as pilgrims, not prisoners, and therefore they are joyful and confident.

2. Nothing Is New (Eccl 1:8-11)

If nothing changes, then it is reasonable to conclude that nothing in this world is new. This "logical conclusion" might have satisfied people in Solomon's day, but it startles us today. After all, we are surrounded by, and dependent on, a multitude of marvels that modern science has provided for us — everything from telephones to pace-makers and miracle drugs. How could anybody who watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon agree with Solomon that nothing is new under the sun?
In this discussion, Solomon stopped being a scientist and became a historian. Let's follow the steps in his reasoningEcclesiastes 1:7; Ecclesiastes 1:8-11; Ecclesiastes 1:8

When, by faith, you receive Jesus Christ as your Savior, and God becomes your Heavenly Father, you no longer live in a "closed system" of endless monotonous cycles. You can gladly sing, "This is my Father's world!" and know that He will meet your every need as you trust Him (Matt 6:25-34). Christians live in this world as pilgrims, not prisoners, and therefore they are joyful and confident.

2. Nothing Is New (Eccl 1:8-11)

If nothing changes, then it is reasonable to conclude that nothing in this world is new. This "logical conclusion" might have satisfied people in Solomon's day, but it startles us today. After all, we are surrounded by, and dependent on, a multitude of marvels that modern science has provided for us — everything from telephones to pace-makers and miracle drugs. How could anybody who watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon agree with Solomon that nothing is new under the sun?

In this discussion, Solomon stopped being a scientist and became a historian. Let's follow the steps in his reasoning.

Ecclesiastes 1:8; Ecclesiastes 1:9-10Man wants something new (v. 8). Why? Because everything in this world ultimately brings weariness, and people long for something to distract them or deliver them. They are like the Athenians in Paul's day, spending their time "in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing" (Acts 17:21). But even while they are speaking, seeing, and hearing these "new things," they are still dissatisfied with life and will do almost anything to find some escape. Of course, the entertainment industry is grateful for this human hunger for novelty and takes advantage of it at great profit.
In Eccl 3:11, Solomon explains why men and women are not satisfied with life: God has put "eternity in their heart" (NIV, NASB, NKJV) and nobody can find peace and satisfaction apart from Him. "Thou hast made us for Thyself," prayed St. Augustine , "and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee." The eye cannot be satisfied until it sees the hand of God, and the ear cannot be satisfied until it hears the voice of God. We must respond by faith to our Lord's invitation, "Come unto me...and I will give you rest"
The world provides nothing new (vv. 9-10). Dr. H.A. Ironside, longtime pastor of Chicago's Moody church, used to say, "If it's new, it's not true; and if it's true, it's not new." Whatever is new is simply a recombination of the old. Man cannot "create" anything new because man is the creature, not the Creator. "That which hath been is now, and that which is to be hath already been" (3:15). Thomas Alva Edison, one of the world's greatest inventors, said that his inventions were only "bringing out the secrets of nature and applying them for the happiness of mankind."

Only God can create new things, and he begins by making sinners "new creatures" when they trust Jesus Christ to save them (2 Cor 5:17). Then they can walk "in newness of life" (Rom 6:4), sing a "new song" (Ps 40:3), and enter into God's presence by a "new and living way" (Heb 10:20). One day, they will enjoy "a new heaven and a new earth"' (Rev 21:1) when God says, "Behold, I make all things new" (Rev 21:5).
Ecclesiastes 1:11

Why we think things are new (v. 11). The answer is simple: we have bad memories and we don't read the minutes of the previous meeting. (See 2:16; 4:16, and 9:5.) It has well been said that the ancients have stolen all of our best ideas, and this is painfully true.

A young man approached me at a conference and asked if he could share some new ideas for youth ministry. He was very enthusiastic as he outlined his program, but the longer I listened, the more familiar his ideas became. I encouraged him to put his ideas into practice, but then told him that we had done all of those things in Youth for Christ before he was born, and that YFC workers were still doing them. He was a bit stunned to discover that there was indeed nothing new under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 1:11; Ecclesiastes 1:12-18

Solomon wrote, of course, about the basic principles of life and not about methods. As the familiar couplet puts it: Methods are many, principles are few / methods always change, principles never do. The ancient thinkers knew this. The Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote, "They that come after us will see nothing new, and they who went before us saw nothing more than we have seen." The only people who really think they have seen something new are those whose experience is limited or whose vision can't penetrate beneath the surface of things. Because something is recent, they think it is new; they mistake novelty for originality.

3. Nothing Is Understood (Eccl 1:12-18)

The historian now becomes the philosopher as Solomon tells how he went about searching for the answer to the problem that vexed him. As the king of Israel, he had all the resources necessary for "experimenting" with different solutions to see what it was that made life worth living. In the laboratory of life, he experimented with enjoying various physical pleasures (2:1-3), accomplishing great and costly works (2:4-6), and accumulating great possessions (2:7-10) only to discover that all of it was only "vanity and grasping for the wind" (v. 14, NKJV).

But before launching into his experiments, Solomon took time to try to think the matter through. He was the wisest of all men and he applied that God-given wisdom to the problem. He devoted his mind wholly to the matter to get to the root of it ("seek") and to explore it from all sides ("search"). Dorothy Sayers wrote in one of her mystery novels, "There is nothing you cannot prove if only your outlook is narrow enough." Solomon did not take that approach.

(from The Bible Exposition Commentary: Old Testament © 2001-2004 by Warren W. Wiersbe. All rights reserved.)

Ecclesiastes 1:12-18; Ecclesiastes 1:13

Here are some of his tentative conclusions:

Life is tough, but it is the gift of God (v. 13). He described life as a "sore travail" ("grievous task," NKJV) that only fatigues you ("may be exercised", NKJV). Of course, when God first gave life to man, the world had not been cursed because of sin (Gen 3:14 ff). Since the fall of man, "the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs" (Rom 8:22, NKJV); this is one reason why life is so difficult. One day, when our Lord returns, creation will be delivered from this bondage.
Ecclesiastes 1:12-18; Ecclesiastes 1:13

Here are some of his tentative conclusions:

Life is tough, but it is the gift of God (v. 13). He described life as a "sore travail" ("grievous task," NKJV) that only fatigues you ("may be exercised", NKJV). Of course, when God first gave life to man, the world had not been cursed because of sin (Gen 3:14 ff). Since the fall of man, "the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs" (Rom 8:22, NKJV); this is one reason why life is so difficult. One day, when our Lord returns, creation will be delivered from this bondage.
While sitting in my backyard one evening, I heard a robin singing merrily from atop a TV aerial. As I listened to him sing, I preached myself a sermon:
Ecclesiastes 1:13; Ecclesiastes 1:14

Since early dawn, that bird has done nothing but try to survive. He's been wearing himself out hiding from enemies and looking for food for himself and his little ones. And yet, when he gets to the end of the day, he sings about it!

Here I am, created in the image of God and saved by the grace of God, and I complain about even the little annoyances of life. One day, I will be like the Lord Jesus Christ; for that reason alone, I should be singing God's praises just like that robin.

Life doesn't get easier if you try to run away from it (v. 14). All the works that are done "under the sun" never truly satisfy the heart. They are but "vanity and grasping for the wind" (v. 14, NKJV). Both the workaholic and the alcoholic are running away from reality and living on substitutes, and one day the bubble of illusion will burst. We only make life harder when we try to escape. Instead of running away from life, we should run to God and let Him make life worth living.
Ecclesiastes 1:14; Ecclesiastes 1:15

The ultimate door of escape is suicide, and Solomon will have something to say about man's desire for death. Some specialists claim that 40,000 persons commit suicide in the United States annually, and an estimated 400,000 make the attempt. But once you have chosen to live and have rightly rejected suicide as an option, then you must choose how you are going to live. Will it be by faith in yourself and what you can do, or by faith in the Lord?

Not everything can be changed (v. 15). It is likely that Solomon, who was an expert on proverbs (1 Kings 4:32), quoted a popular saying here in order to make his point. He makes a similar statement in 7:13. If we spend all our time and energy trying to straighten out everything that is twisted, we will have nothing left with which to live our lives! And if we try to spend what we don't have, we will end up in bankruptcy.

In short, Solomon is saying, "The past can't always be changed, and it is foolish to fret over what you might have done." Ken Taylor paraphrases verse 15, "What is wrong cannot be righted; it is water over the dam; and there is no use thinking of what might have been" (TLB).
Ecclesiastes 1:15

In short, Solomon is saying, "The past can't always be changed, and it is foolish to fret over what you might have done." Ken Taylor paraphrases verse 15, "What is wrong cannot be righted; it is water over the dam; and there is no use thinking of what might have been" (TLB).

We must remind ourselves, however, that God has the power to straighten out what is twisted and supply what is lacking. He will not change the past, but He can change the way that the past affects us. For the lost sinner, the past is a heavy anchor that drags him down; but for the child of God, the past — even with its sins and mistakes — is a rudder that guides him forward. Faith makes the difference.
Ecclesiastes 1:15; Ecclesiastes 1:16-18
When He was ministering here on earth, our Lord often straightened out that which was twisted and provided that which was lacking (Luke 13:11-17; Matt 12:10-13; 15:29-39; John 6:1-13). Man can-not do this by his own wisdom or power, but "with God nothing shall be impossible" (Luke 1:37). Solomon was looking at these problems from a vantage point "under the sun," and that's why they seemed insoluble.
Wisdom and experience will not solve every problem (vv. 16-18). Those who go through life living on explanations will always be unhappy for at least two reason.
Ecclesiastes 1:16-18

First, this side of heaven, there are no explanations for some things that happen, and God is not obligated to explain them anyway. (In fact, if He did, we might not understand them!)

Second, God has ordained that His people live by promises and not by explanations, by faith and not by sight. "Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed" (John 20:29).
Ecclesiastes 1:16-18

If anybody was equipped to solve the difficult problems of life and tell us what life was all about, Solomon was that person. He was the wisest of men, and people came from all over to hear his wisdom (1 Kings 4:29-34). His wealth was beyond calculation so that he had the resources available to do just about anything he wanted to do. He even experienced "madness and folly" (the absurd, the opposite of wisdom) in his quest for the right answers. Nothing was too hard for him.

(from The Bible Exposition Commentary: Old Testament © 2001-2004 by Warren W. Wiersbe. All rights reserved.) Ecclesiastes 1:16-18

If anybody was equipped to solve the difficult problems of life and tell us what life was all about, Solomon was that person. He was the wisest of men, and people came from all over to hear his wisdom (1 Kings 4:29-34). His wealth was beyond calculation so that he had the resources available to do just about anything he wanted to do. He even experienced "madness and folly" (the absurd, the opposite of wisdom) in his quest for the right answers. Nothing was too hard for him.
Ecclesiastes 1:16-18
But these advantages didn't enable Solomon to find all the answers he was seeking. In fact, his great wisdom only added to his difficulties, for wisdom and knowledge increase sorrow and grief. People who never ponder the problems of life, who live innocently day after day, never feel the pain of wrestling with God in seeking to understand His ways. The more we seek knowledge and wisdom, the more ignorant we know we are. This only adds to the burden. "All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance," wrote T. S. Eliot in "Choruses From The Rock."' An old proverb says, "A wise man is never happy."
Ecclesiastes 1:16-18

All of this goes back to the Garden of Eden and Satan's offer to Eve that, if she ate of the fruit, she would have the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 3). When Adam and Eve sinned, they did get an experiential knowledge of good and evil; but since they were alienated from God, this knowledge only added to their sorrows. It has been that way with man ever since. Whether it be jet planes, insecticides, or television, each advance in human knowledge and achievement only creates a new set of problems for society.

Ecclesiastes 1:15; Ecclesiastes 1:16-18

When He was ministering here on earth, our Lord often straightened out that which was twisted and provided that which was lacking (Luke 13:11-17; Matt 12:10-13; 15:29-39; John 6:1-13). Man can-not do this by his own wisdom or power, but "with God nothing shall be impossible" (Luke 1:37). Solomon was looking at these problems from a vantage point "under the sun," and that's why they seemed insoluble.
Wisdom and experience will not solve every problem (vv. 16-18). Those who go through life living on explanations will always be unhappy for at least two reason.
First, this side of heaven, there are no explanations for some things that happen, and God is not obligated to explain them anyway. (In fact, if He did, we might not understand them!) second, God has ordained that His people live by promises and not by explanations, by faith and not by sight. "Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed" (John 20:29).
If anybody was equipped to solve the difficult problems of life and tell us what life was all about, Solomon was that person. He was the wisest of men, and people came from all over to hear his wisdom (1 Kings 4:29-34). His wealth was beyond calculation so that he had the resources available to do just about anything he wanted to do. He even experienced "madness and folly" (the absurd, the opposite of wisdom) in his quest for the right answers. Nothing was too hard for him.

But these advantages didn't enable Solomon to find all the answers he was seeking. In fact, his great wisdom only added to his difficulties, for wisdom and knowledge increase sorrow and grief. People who never ponder the problems of life, who live innocently day after day, never feel the pain of wrestling with God in seeking to understand His ways. The more we seek knowledge and wisdom, the more ignorant we know we are. This only adds to the burden. "All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance," wrote T. S. Eliot in "Choruses From The Rock."' An old proverb says, "A wise man is never happy."
Ecclesiastes 1:16-18

All of this goes back to the Garden of Eden and Satan's offer to Eve that, if she ate of the fruit, she would have the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 3). When Adam and Eve sinned, they did get an experiential knowledge of good and evil; but since they were alienated from God, this knowledge only added to their sorrows. It has been that way with man ever since. Whether it be jet planes, insecticides, or television, each advance in human knowledge and achievement only creates a new set of problems for society.

For some people, life may be monotonous and meaningless, but it doesn't have to be. For the Christian believer, life is an open door, not a closed circle; there are daily experiences of new blessings from the Lord. True, we can't explain every-thing; but life is not built on explanations: it's built on promises — and we have plenty of promises in God's Word!

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