1 The words of the Preacher [Divrei Kohelet], the son of David [Ben Dovid], king in Jerusalem [Melech in Yerushalayim].
The book of Ecclesiastes is a book for deep study and meditation. It is concerned with the age-old search for happiness and satisfaction. What is good? What is real? What is worthwhile? What is the great purpose and meaning of life?
Every verse is a well of knowledge -- a well of living waters. As we read them let us remember that they are the words of life to the Ecclesia of God -- Ecclesiastes -- a message to called-out ones. *
Mere human writers paint life in gay colours, and deck human nature in tinsel-partly as the result of the theory that man is immortal and full of latent excellence, and partly as the result of the limited view of existence that is visible from the standpoint of mere human sensation.
Solomon writing by the Holy Spirit in his opening sentence dashes all complacent views of human life to the ground. He strikes a bold key-note, which sounds harshly but not discordantly, through all his piece: "Vanity of vanities," saith the Preacher,
"vanity of vanities, all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labours which he taketh under the sun?"
...Human life, in its completeness, is not the good thing it is pictured, either by the writers of this world, or the ardent imagination of our own breasts in youth. Its efforts, its aspirations, its enjoyments, end in weariness, decay, and death. Its programme is an abortion at the end. It is well to know it. Life pursued with false expectations becomes a bitter disappointment at last.
Most men, coming on the scene with eager hope, retire at last baffled and spirit-spent. If they knew life at its reality, the result would be different. This reality is made known in the Scriptures and nowhere else. The knowledge of it is a key to problems that otherwise vex and overwhelm.
Such, for example, is the puzzle pointed out by Solomon-that there be just men to whom it happens according to the work of the wicked, and that there be wicked men to whom it happens according to the lot of the righteous. Just men suffer equally with the wicked, and the wicked prosper equally with those whom God has blessed. On the face of things, there seems an absence of what men call "moral government" in the world.
"Time and chance happeneth to all"
with an apparent disregard to justice as man conceives it. This is one of the heaviest stumbling-blocks to men of thought, leading, in many cases, to the unhappy conclusion that there is no God at all, and that the world is a fortuitous evolution of blind inscrutable forces.
Bible revelation comes as a solution...The revelation is that God and man are not friends; that human life is consequently in an abnormal state upon the earth at present which nothing but vanity and vexation of spirit can attend. Man disobey d God at the start and has disobeyed him ever since.
God having left man to shift for himself, man the noblest creature upon earth, for the time being, the greatest failure. The vanity is inevitable. Man was made for God, and by his constitution, cannot be satisfied without Him. Two things cannot be denied, not even by unbelievers: first that man is seen at his best when controlled by the fear and love of God, and animated by hope of promised goodness to come, and second that few men upon earth are now to be found in that state.
The Christadelphian, June 1886
2 Vanity of vanities [Hevel havalim], saith the Preacher [Kohelet], vanity of vanities [Hevel havalim]; all is vanity [hevel].
3 What profit hath a man of all his labour [amal] which he taketh [hath toiled] under the sun [shemesh]?
Where does it all lead to? What does it accomplish? What is the basic purpose of life? We are reminded of Jesus' words--
"What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own life?"
5 The sun [shemesh] also ariseth, and the [shemesh] goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose [there to arise again].
Facts about the Sun and the Bible.-First fact: There is a sun. Second fact: There is to our earth but one sun. Third fact: Without the sun there would be no light to speak of. Fourth fact: We cannot understand the nature of the sun, its origin, or the mode of its existence: but this does not interfere with its reality or its usefulness to us. All these facts about the sun are facts about the Bible. It is to man what the sun is to the earth - the light of the world and the means of life; and its difficulties do not interfere with its power.
There are spots in the sun. There are difficulties in the Bible. It would be strange if it contained no difficulties. It has been written for the infancy, the youth, and the manhood of mankind. It is the great school-book of the world. And as such, it is always ahead of the foremost thinkers; presenting problems intellectual and moral for solution.
How it quickens the energies of man, may be seen in the immense amount of literature it has called into existence. Is the Bible a dull book? It certainly is to dull people, but to none besides. And the dullest of mortals, if he will read it patiently and perseveringly, will find that it will act like a whetstone upon his faculties, making him not only thoughtful, but intelligent. -Selected and Amended.
The Christadelphian, April 1887.
11 There is no zichron (remembrance) of former things; neither shall there be with those who come after any zikaron (recollection) of things that are to come.
The Sun, the wind, the rivers,--an endless cycle, over and over, generations come and go, and are forgotten--millions upon millions--there is nothing new. In our brief hour of existence, we are but a tiny speck in the endless, apparently meaningless stream. *
17 And I gave my heart [applied my lev] to know wisdom [da'as of chochmah], and to know madness [have da'as of holelot] and folly [sichlut]: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit [striving after ruach (wind)].
Books and men of all sorts glorify human nature and paint human life in bright colours. Men take more naturally to the words of men than to the words of God. Consequently, they all indulge the most pleasing views and ideals, and go forth hopefully to find good. But one after another, they all come to experience the truth of the Word of God, that as human life now is, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
The pleasing views dissolve as life advances and the grim nature of current facts is slowly realized, though never finally discerned or clearly understood by those who receive not the teaching of Bible wisdom. Illusion more or less prevails to the last, for if a man find not good in his own case, he at least imagines his neighbour has found it - his neighbour all the while thinking perhaps the same of him.
The personal experience of Solomon is made use of by the Spirit of God as the divine limner in the case. What can the man do that cometh after the King? A man requires to see all to form a correct judgment. Men in a small sphere have always a higher sphere above them on which their imagination acts illusively.
They find not good in their own sphere, but they fancy it exists in those others which become to them an object of desire and effort, in the very exercise of which they find a certain satisfaction. In this case, those who have the most happiness are the lowest down, and who have the most contracted knowledge of human life.
In this sense Solomons words are true: In much wisdom is much grief, and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow. The men of the largest experience are the least sanguine in all human matters. There would seem in this to be a denial of the other utterance of wisdom: Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom, and with all thy getting, get understanding.
But seeming and reality are not always the same. It does not follow because increased knowledge of this evil state brings increased sorrow, that therefore, in ultimate and future relations, wisdom is not a tree of life to them that lay hold on her; and that unhappy is every one that retaineth her.
It still remains true that in higher application, wisdoms ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. But, one thing at a time. Human life divorced from God, as it now is upon the earth, is the unhappy thing depicted in this book, and not the beautiful and noble thing represented in all sorts of human philosophies. Therefore, enlarged knowledge is enlarged sadness. This was Solomons case; and it is written that we may learn the truth of the matter, and verify it in our actual experience.
18 For in much wisdom [chochmah] is much grief [ka'as]: and he that increaseth knowledge [da'as] increaseth sorrow [mach'ov].
He considers knowledge and wisdom, the study of all things that exist, the endless marvels and beauties of creation. Is that the answer? -- the purpose of our life? No, not of itself. Fascinating as such study is -- still of itself it has no purpose or final satisfaction,
This is a very important point -- that we do not get side-tracked into the mere pursuit and esteeming of knowledge for its own sake:
"Knowledge puffeth up, but love edifieth" (1 Cor. 8:1).
Knowledge of itself and for itself is sterile, and caters only to pride.
Truly creation is marvellous, and natural curiosity is continually delighted with its infinite variety, but such knowledge of itself--though fascinating -- is lifeless and vain.
Even the knowledge of the Scriptures--though this is the only important knowledge--pursued simply as knowledge, is empty and dead if it does not transform the character and purify the heart.
"For in much wisdom is much grief, and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow" (v. 18).
Knowledge and wisdom of themselves just open up the heart to a greater experience and discernment of grief and sorrow and the utter vanity of all earthly things. *
* This Is The Whole Man - Brother Growcott