Wisdom of Ecclesiastes – Part 1

Hershey’s Chocolate World, located in Pennsylvania, USA, offers a free Chocolate Tour ride that navigates through the entire chocolate making process in their factory. It begins with replicas of the cocoa trees to the harvest and production of cocoa beans, and finally ends with the finished product – a Hershey chocolate bar. You are rewarded with a free piece of chocolate after the 5-minute ride (Tour 1), but will you really appreciate how the chocolate was made? Or will you have a deeper appreciation after experiencing every step of the process firsthand for a year and a half (Tour 2)?

Reading through Ecclesiastes is akin to going on Tour 2.

The writer, Solomon is going on an intellectual journey of wisdom though Ecclesiastes. We are going through every step with him to understand the conclusion at the end of Ecclesiastes, which is to fear God and keep His Commandments – the whole duty of man, in other words.

The Journey

  • Types of wisdom in the Bible
  • Practical wisdom (Proverbs)
  • Speculative wisdom (Ecclesiastes)
  • Similar to a “wet blanket journey”, the book of Ecclesiastes puts out the fire (aka enthusiasm) in life. On a serious note, it illustrates the fact that life is a complicated and difficult journey.

Theme of the Journey

  • First theme: Vanity

“Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3)

Vanity conveys an idea of a passing breath, a puzzle, or an enigma (something that is confusing). For example: Idols are vanity because there is no divinity in the idol – it’s made out of just wood. When we are looking for meaning in life, we end up disappointed because it pops like a bubble when we try to grab it.

  • Second theme: Toil

For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 2:22)

Toil means work, but it means more than a 9-5 job. God created Adam and Eve to tend the Garden of Eden; hence, God created work. When Adam and Eve sinned in Genesis 3, thorns grew from the ground and toil (sin distortion of work) was then introduced. Life is full of toil. Why are we putting in all these efforts and where is this going to?

Recurrent Futility in the Journey

  • First illustration: The sun

“The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.” (Ecclesiastes 1:5)

Every morning, the sun works its way up to the top and then back down, when it can rest during sunset. The same process is then repeated by the sun every day. Just like the sun, we work, eat, and sleep for most of our daily lives– doing the same thing over and over again.

  • Second illustration: The wind

“The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.” (Ecclesiastes 1:6)

Where is the wind heading to? Likewise, is there a meaning and purpose behind all the energy and toil in our day-to-day lives? Life is a lot like the wind.

  • Third illustration: The stream

“All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.” (Ecclesiastes 1:7)

A stream flows from the mountain, moves through the river, and finally makes it way to the sea. When the sun comes out, the water evaporates and forms the cloud that floats back to inland, and rains on the mountain back to right where it started. Life appears cyclical – a lot of toil and work is being done by us, but nothing is really accomplished.

Static Futility in the Journey

“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us. There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.” (Ecclesiastes 1: 9-11)

Human history shows very little change, despite the significant progress in technology, infrastructure, and the likes. If we just look at life for what it is, there is nothing new under the sun – we still need shelter, food, work, etc. We desire wealth to buy things that waste away, which we then compensate by buying newer and shinier things that eventually waste away too; the same goes with food – it never ends! We think we might be able to find meaning in life through our jobs (be it a doctor, teacher, lawyer, or pastor), but it will pop like a bubble because nothing lasts here on earth.

We Christians look at the world through rose-colored glasses sometimes and assume that we should understand and get life. However, we don’t actually get it until we get on the full journey, aka the complete Chocolate Tour 2. If we are not sober about life, we will get trapped in finding meaning in life without God.

Solomon’s Conclusions

  • First Conclusion: Enjoy life
  • Second Conclusion: God’s Sovereignty
  • Third Conclusion: The fear of God

The more we know about life, the more painful it appears – death, wickedness, dissatisfaction, oppression, envy, and folly. Hence, life is not as simple as we think and we have to be careful to not look for meaning in our wealth, accomplishments, and prominence. More importantly, we have to recognize that the answer lies in God by trusting, resting in Him, and tearing down our false perceptions.