Monday, May 15, 2006

Emptiness & Eternity

Why is life empty? Why so monotonous?
What is the point? What is success?
Why are comedians depressed? Why are the rich unhappy?
Why is the search for meaning so fruitless?
Is there any hope? Why are even Christians miserable?
Why are we dissatisfied? Why...

1. ENJOYMENT was EMPTY? (v1-11)
God tells us that our pursuit of pleasure wont ultimately satisfy... however much we gain. The Teacher ate, drank, built and shopped... and still saw his pleasure as unsatisfactory and empty.
...what hope for our materialistic culture?
...are the adverts that we're constantly exposed to just wrong?

I said in my heart, "Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself." But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, "It is mad," and of pleasure, "What use is it?" I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine--my heart still guiding me with wisdom--and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the children of man. So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.

2. ENLIGHTENMENT was EMPTY? (v12-16)
God tells us that wisdom is better than folly... The Teacher was wise and so could see, which is better than walking blind... and yet:
(i) everyone dies, wise or foolish
(ii) everyone is forgotten (e.g. Ozymandias)
...half of 18-21 year old are being herded into University... to what end?
... we meet to pursue wisdom from God... to what end?

So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly. For what can the man do who comes after the king? Only what has already been done. Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness. The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them. Then I said in my heart, "What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?" And I said in my heart that this also is vanity. For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool!

3. ENRICHMENT was EMPTY? (v17--23)
God teaches us that work seems vain and grievous
As the Teacher observes,
(i) the fruit of his labour is left to those who haven't worked for it, (Heiress Paris Hilton?)
you can't take it with you (...all that you can't leave behind.. no U-Hauls..)
(ii) work is hard and ultimately fruitless
...vast amounts of life is spent at work... why?
...collecting money and possession, to what end?

So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind. I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.

4. ETERNITY need not be EMPTY! (v24-26)
God's way as observed by the Teacher is
to make the most of this life's pleasures

it is still empty... and only those who please God gain eternally
so: pursue joy, knowledge and treasure in Jesus Christ.
what will it look like to live in the emptiness whilst pleasing God?
There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.

--Ecclesiastes 2, The Bible, ESV
...with my first thoughts, as I begin to prepare to preach this later this month.


  1. at Duke Street last night, we had a
    sermon on this very passage (which can be downloaded here)

    There is a sense in which ecclesiasties presents the problem,
    but not the solution.

    For the final point We had to go to the gospels to find where satisfaction (purpose) is found.

  2. Thanks Dave, those notes were helpful. I heard it suggested that the final few verses (12.9-14) are a father addressing his son, to whom he has been recounting what Qoheleth said, with a 'teacher's commentary' in which he lifts his son's gaze from the vanity Qoheleth found, to the eternal solution of seeking God. It seems possible looking at the text that this is the case: that it's an 'editor's comment' at the end.

  3. Have been looking forward to hearing some quality stuff on Ecc. - we had a bit of a depressing lecture on it (I shouldn't be surprised...). One guy reckons its an author presenting Qoheleth as the hero/protagonist - so 2 voices within.
    'What is the meaning of life?' (1.3) is apparently followed by the constant repetitive motion of the world. He establishes his experience (1.12-14) before going on to turn to wisdom itself to answer the question (2.12).
    Our lecturer pointed to our ignorance of how the world works and what God wants maintains our fear of God, 'maintaining the gap'. It was portrayed as a problematic book as it apparently tells us to fear God, tells us we will be judged, yet shows no way for us to know the divine will, thus it's impossible to prepare ourselves.

    I look forward to reading more - its definitely a book that we need to get our heads round! It's all scripture!

  4. Its great to get off the beaten track.... today I'm testing the truth that "ALL" scripture is useful truth by starting some work on Esther...

    Help, anyone?

  5. Yeah, i've a couple of commentaries on Esther if you want to borrow...

    On line stuff: I always find The Text This Week a superb resource.