This is Episode #205 and today we’ll read Ecclesiastes 1-4 together. Absolute futility,” says the Teacher. “Absolute futility. Everything is futile.”
Joy: You’re listening to Season 2 of the Lifting Her Voice podcast. This is Episode #205 and today we’ll read Ecclesiastes 1-4 together. Absolute futility,” says the Teacher. “Absolute futility. Everything is futile.”
Welcome to the Lifting Her Voice podcast, Season 2! I’m your host, Joy Miller, and I invite you to grab your Bible and join me – from the beginning – simply reading God’s word together. We built some spiritual muscles in 2020 with just the New Testament. But this year we’re going all out, cover-to-cover, Old Testament and New. So, whether with your first cup in the morning, your commute to work, or as the last thing on your mind before sleep, God’s Word will equip you for every good work. I’m really glad you’re here!
Intro to Ecclesiastes
Today, we begin the Book of Ecclesiastes. Although there is some argument – gee, what a surprise – it is largely believed that Solomon, or the Teacher, as he calls himself in the CSB, wrote this book. I have told you many times that I am no scholar and if you have some scholarly hunger (which is great!) for this book, by all means pursue that. But in this intro, I give you my personal impressions.
Here we have the man proposed to be the wisest man who ever lived. Whether or not that is true, we do know that the immense wisdom that he did have came directly from God. He had wealth untold…he could literally buy anything he wanted. He denied himself nothing. But here’s the punchline: it all meant nothing in the big scheme of things. Most commentaries tell us that Solomon wrote this in his latter years, when he was old. But any of us with more than fifty or sixty candles on our birthday cakes don’t have to be told that, do we?
We recognize with collective surprise that all the things we thought would make us happy when we were young, don’t. The things we chased after didn’t end up satisfying us the way we thought. We realize now that there is no substitute for time…time spent with loved ones, time to read a book, to take a nap, to travel. Solomon also realized that, despite his great riches and superior wisdom, he would die and return to dust just like the wicked or someone considered much lower on the societal totem pole. The older we get, the more we realized the very same thing.
Eat, Drink and Be Merry
Solomon concludes his ranting about our pursuits being more or less a chasing after the wind with this basic advice: Fear God and take time to enjoy the blessings that He has given you. Simple wisdom in a crazy world. I pray you enjoy this book and return to it over and over.
Everything Is Futile
The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem.
“Absolute futility,” says the Teacher.
“Absolute futility. Everything is futile.”
What does a person gain for all his efforts
that he labors at under the sun?
A generation goes and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets;
panting, it hurries back to the place
where it rises.
Gusting to the south,
turning to the north,
turning, turning, goes the wind,
and the wind returns in its cycles.
All the streams flow to the sea,
yet the sea is never full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.
All things are wearisome,
more than anyone can say.
The eye is not satisfied by seeing
or the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Can one say about anything,
“Look, this is new”?
It has already existed in the ages before us.
There is no remembrance of those who came before;
and of those who will come after
there will also be no remembrance
by those who follow them.
The Limitations of Wisdom
I, the Teacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. I applied my mind to examine and explore through wisdom all that is done under heaven. God has given people this miserable task to keep them occupied. I have seen all the things that are done under the sun and have found everything to be futile, a pursuit of the wind.
What is crooked cannot be straightened;
what is lacking cannot be counted.
I said to myself, “See, I have amassed wisdom far beyond all those who were over Jerusalem before me, and my mind has thoroughly grasped wisdom and knowledge.” I applied my mind to know wisdom and knowledge, madness and folly; I learned that this too is a pursuit of the wind.
For with much wisdom is much sorrow;
as knowledge increases, grief increases.
The Emptiness of Pleasure
I said to myself, “Go ahead, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy what is good.” But it turned out to be futile. I said about laughter, “It is madness,” and about pleasure, “What does this accomplish?” I explored with my mind the pull of wine on my body — my mind still guiding me with wisdom — and how to grasp folly, until I could see what is good for people to do under heaven during the few days of their lives.
The Emptiness of Possessions
I increased my achievements. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made gardens and parks for myself and planted every kind of fruit tree in them. I constructed reservoirs for myself from which to irrigate a grove of flourishing trees. I acquired male and female servants and had slaves who were born in my house. I also owned livestock — large herds and flocks — more than all who were before me in Jerusalem. I also amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I gathered male and female singers for myself, and many concubines, the delights of men.
So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem; my wisdom also remained with me. All that my eyes desired, I did not deny them. I did not refuse myself any pleasure, for I took pleasure in all my struggles. This was my reward for all my struggles. When I considered all that I had accomplished and what I had labored to achieve, I found everything to be futile and a pursuit of the wind. There was nothing to be gained under the sun.
The Relative Value of Wisdom
Then I turned to consider wisdom, madness, and folly, for what will the king’s successor be like? He will do what has already been done. And I realized that there is an advantage to wisdom over folly, like the advantage of light over darkness.
The wise person has eyes in his head,
but the fool walks in darkness.
Yet I also knew that one fate comes to them both. So I said to myself, “What happens to the fool will also happen to me. Why then have I been overly wise?” And I said to myself that this is also futile. For, just like the fool, there is no lasting remembrance of the wise, since in the days to come both will be forgotten. How is it that the wise person dies just like the fool? Therefore, I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me. For everything is futile and a pursuit of the wind.
The Emptiness of Work
I hated all my work that I labored at under the sun because I must leave it to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will take over all my work that I labored at skillfully under the sun. This too is futile. So I began to give myself over to despair concerning all my work that I had labored at under the sun.
When there is a person whose work was done with wisdom, knowledge, and skill, and he must give his portion to a person who has not worked for it, this too is futile and a great wrong. For what does a person get with all his work and all his efforts that he labors at under the sun? For all his days are filled with grief, and his occupation is sorrowful; even at night, his mind does not rest. This too is futile.
There is nothing better for a person than to eat, drink, and enjoy his work. I have seen that even this is from God’s hand, because who can eat and who can enjoy life apart from him? For to the person who is pleasing in his sight, he gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy; but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and accumulating in order to give to the one who is pleasing in God’s sight. This too is futile and a pursuit of the wind.
The Mystery of Time
There is an occasion for everything,
and a time for every activity under heaven:
a time to give birth and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to uproot;
a time to kill and a time to heal;
a time to tear down and a time to build;
a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance;
a time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
a time to embrace and a time to avoid embracing;
a time to search and a time to count as lost;
a time to keep and a time to throw away;
a time to tear and a time to sew;
a time to be silent and a time to speak;
a time to love and a time to hate;
a time for war and a time for peace.
What does the worker gain from his struggles? I have seen the task that God has given the children of Adam to keep them occupied. He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also put eternity in their hearts, but no one can discover the work God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and enjoy the good life. It is also the gift of God whenever anyone eats, drinks, and enjoys all his efforts. I know that everything God does will last forever; there is no adding to it or taking from it. God works so that people will be in awe of him. Whatever is, has already been, and whatever will be, already is. However, God seeks justice for the persecuted.
The Mystery of Injustice and Death
I also observed under the sun: there is wickedness at the place of judgment and there is wickedness at the place of righteousness. I said to myself, “God will judge the righteous and the wicked, since there is a time for every activity and every work.” I said to myself, “This happens so that God may test the children of Adam and they may see for themselves that they are like animals.” For the fate of the children of Adam and the fate of animals is the same. As one dies, so dies the other; they all have the same breath.
People have no advantage over animals since everything is futile. All are going to the same place; all come from dust, and all return to dust. Who knows if the spirits of the children of Adam go upward and the spirits of animals go downward to the earth? I have seen that there is nothing better than for a person to enjoy his activities because that is his reward. For who can enable him to see what will happen after he dies?
Again, I observed all the acts of oppression being done under the sun. Look at the tears of those who are oppressed; they have no one to comfort them. Power is with those who oppress them; they have no one to comfort them. So I commended the dead, who have already died, more than the living, who are still alive. But better than either of them is the one who has not yet existed, who has not seen the evil activity that is done under the sun.
The Loneliness of Wealth
I saw that all labor and all skillful work is due to one person’s jealousy of another. This too is futile and a pursuit of the wind.
The fool folds his arms
and consumes his own flesh.
Better one handful with rest
than two handfuls with effort and a pursuit of the wind.
Again, I saw futility under the sun: There is a person without a companion, without even a son or brother, and though there is no end to all his struggles, his eyes are still not content with riches. “Who am I struggling for,” he asks, “and depriving myself of good things?” This too is futile and a miserable task.
Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up. Also, if two lie down together, they can keep warm; but how can one person alone keep warm? And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.
Better is a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer pays attention to warnings. For he came from prison to be king, even though he was born poor in his kingdom. I saw all the living, who move about under the sun, follow a second youth who succeeds him. There is no limit to all the people who were before them, yet those who come later will not rejoice in him. This too is futile and a pursuit of the wind.
I have the oddest reaction when I read Chapter 1. First, a little depression and no small amount of panic. I think, “Well, if it’s this hopeless, what exactly are we supposed to do?! But on a deeper level, there is a confirmation to what Solomon is writing here. Life is routine. With few exceptions, everyday is pretty much like the day before. It’s a simple, no, radical acknowledgement. And anyone who has worked a job, served at church, raised kids, worked at your marriage, and tried desperately to keep an orderly house, carries a weariness and also realizes the sameness of our days. We ask ourselves, “Is it worth it?” Or worse, “Is this it?” This is one of those times I really appreciate the CSB and it’s simple heading at the beginning of Chapter 3…The Mystery of Time.
And it’s no wonder we love Chapter 3 so much. Okay, for some of us, it’s because the Byrds used it as a lyric for their song, Turn, Turn, Turn in the ‘60s (LOL! Of course, I put a link in the Show Notes!). It is the quintessential “I didn’t know that came from the Bible!” But when we just take the words at face value, we are forced to agree that multi-tasking is over-rated. We intuitively know at that moment that we can only truly do one thing at a time and that is God’s way. It also shows us that we will experience different seasons in our lives. Just because something used to be one way doesn’t mean things have gone bad for being different today. The mystery of time. The mystery of God Himself.
See You Tomorrow!
Thank you for joining me here today. I pray that by spending time in His Word every day, you will by changed. Visit me at Lifting Her Voice.com with your comments and questions. And don’t forget to visit the Blog page while you’re there. If you like the podcast, it would be great if you’d give it a five-star review and share it with everyone you know. Don’t forget to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. See you tomorrow!
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Christian Standard Bible(r), Copyright (c) 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible(r) and CSB(r) are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
- Music Video: Turn! Turn! Turn! by The Byrds
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