A group of guys and I have been going through the book of Ecclesiastes together. I wanted to compile my notes and complete some thoughts and put them somewhere I can access. So, here are some of my notes and thoughts on Ecclesiastes chapter one.
Vanity of vanities, all is vanity
One of the main themes of the book of Ecclesiastes is introduced to us in the first couple verses. The concept of vanity. Vanity basically means empty, fruit-less. I've also heard it described as trying to capture air in our hand, it's useless. The rest of this book will play off of vanity. Whenever that word shows up, we need to remember that it is basically saying that thing is pointless.
What is the point of work?
Verses 3 helps frame verses 4-7 for us. It asks the question, what does a man gain by his work and struggle in this world? And then it goes into verses 4-7. These verses describe natural things that will take place. We will eventually die and be forgotten, the sun will continue to rise and set, the wind will blow as it always has, and the rivers will run as they always have.
Here, the author of the book (the Preacher), is showing us that our work is going to eventually be forgotten. When we die, the world will go on and we will be forgotten and our work will be as if it never happened. What can we learn from this sad news? What we can take away, and we will see this in many other places in Ecclesiastes, is that we don't have to take work so seriously. When we work because we want to build a legacy or a name for ourselves, that will all fade away. Even if we work to make this world a better place, when we are gone, our work will be forgotten eventually. But thankfully God has given us an alternative that adds more meaning to work in, and ultimately more enjoyment (Ecclesiastes 2:24).
There is nothing new under the sun
Another lesson that we come across in this first chapter resides in verses 9 and 10. And when you grasp the reality of this lesson "there is nothing new under the sun", it can seem pretty grim. But what it is saying is that everything that we invent: computers, electric cars, solar power, etc... These things may seem knew, but they their purpose is not new. They are just different forms of computation, transportation, energy generation, and so on. We can create amazing super computers, but at the end of the day, they are still computers.
What is the application of this? I don't know. I'm still working through that myself. I believe I still have to come to a more full understanding of these verses and scripture as a whole before I can truly give any application to these verses. For now, I will ponder them and understand them in light of God's word and the world we live in.
The vanity of wisdom
The last bit of notes I have touches on verse 18.
"For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow."
Why is it that the Preacher tells us that in much wisdom is much vexation? Because, as the Preacher has gone about gaining this knowledge and wisdom, he has begun to see all the folly and vanity in this life. A man can work hard, but when he dies his work will be given to someone who may change it or get rid of it completely. It is vanity to think that anyone can fix the broken world. Verse 15 says that was is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted. People can come along and try to make this world a better place, and they may succeed in their lifetime. But, there will come a time when even those amazing advancements will be undone and forgotten. We shouldn't try to become wise for the sake of being wise. That selfish endeavour would not lend our wisdom to the aid of others. If we just want to be seen as wise, we are in turn being foolish.
We have looked at a few things in the first chapter of Ecclesiastes. The vanity of toil, their is nothing new under the sun, the vanity of gaining wisdom for the sake of having wisdom... all these things the Preacher has labeled as pointless. What are we supposed to take away from this? I think these are very freeing truths. The biggest thing I want you to see is that we don't have to be overcome by the stress of trying to build a legacy! We know that when we die, we will go on to be forgotten eventually. So we can do our work here, not to make a name for ourselves, but to just enjoy the work. And we will be able to enjoy the work because we don't feel a heavy weight of pressure to succeed and build a legacy.Now, I don't think having a legacy is a bad thing at all. I just don't think we should make it our goal. Our goal should be to enjoy our work as we do it, and work hard.