The Word Made Fresh
1These are the words of the Preacher, son of David, King in Jerusalem:
2“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Preacher. “Meaningless! It’s all meaningless! 3What do people get for the struggles at which they toil day to day? 4One generation goes and another comes but the world doesn’t change. The sun rises and goes down again, and hurries back to the place where it rises. The wind blows south and then north, round and round, completes its circuit and comes around again. 7All the streams flow toward the sea, but do not fill it. They flow to the place where they began and keep flowing. 8Everything is wearisome and can scarcely be expressed. The eye can’t see enough. The ear can’t hear enough. 9What will be done has already been done. What has been done will be done again. There is nothing new under the sun. 10Can you think of anything of which it is said, ‘See, this is new?’ But it has already been in the times before us. 11People who lived long ago have already been forgotten, and people yet to come won’t be remembered, either, by those who come after.”
12“And so I, the preacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, 13applied all my learning to seek through wisdom all that is done under heaven. I found that it is an unhappy business with which to be busy that God has given us humans. 14I saw everything being done under the sun, and I saw that it was all vain, and nothing but chasing the wind.
15What is crooked can’t be made straight, and what is missing can’t be counted.
16Then I said to myself, “I have gotten a great deal of wisdom, more than all who ruled Jerusalem before me. I have gained great wisdom and experience.” 17So, I trained my mind to recognize wisdom and folly; but I realized this, too, is but chasing the wind. 18I learned that in much wisdom there is much confusion, and those who increase their knowledge also increase their sorrow.
Ecclesiastes is perhaps the most enigmatic book in the Bible. The title is a Greek word that translates the Hebrew word “Qohelet.” The word means “one who leads an assembly.” “Preacher” is a common way of referring to the author. There was much disagreement in ancient times as to whether Ecclesiastes should be included in the scriptures. It is cynical. It is disturbing. It is, perhaps, a bit too honest.
1: The identity of the author is problematic, calling himself a king here, but elsewhere speaking as a member of the court (see 12:9, for example) or as “the Teacher.” The introduction is in third person singular. Most of the book is in first person but returns to third person near the end.
2-11: The book opens with a cynical description of life on earth. The sun comes up, the sun goes down. The more things change the more they stay the same. No one controls the wind, water runs downhill, and these things happen over and over to no discernible purpose. People live, people die, and are forgotten. What’s the point of it all?
12-18: The setting for the book is given: a king in Jerusalem determines to search for wisdom and discovers that such a quest is in vain. Many have imagined that King Solomon is the Preacher. If so, the work is a fictional account of his search for wisdom, for the language used is 700-800 years later than the time of Solomon.
Ecclesiastes is a philosophical search for the meaning of life. When we reach the end, we’ll take a look to see if it was found.