The great king carries out a vast experiment. He is the Dean of the University of Life. He has near infinite resources at his disposal. This is how the son of David considers the world. Welcome to the royal observatory. His study considers four areas. He looks at Geography and History, at Wisdom and Pleasure. The verdict in each case is very similar. He writes up his report in the language of wisdom literature, words to ponder, parallelisms to chew upon.
- Geography tells him that the world is desperately cyclical. Things go no-where. The sun rises and sets, again and again. Like the sea, even eyes and ears never get filled up. Repetitive. Monotonous. Some of us hear it as refreshing honesty, some of us don't want to admit that the world is like that.
- History is much the same. Things don't go anywhere. We love to believe in innovation and progress but what is new really? Even 3000 years ago, innovation wasn't innovative. We love to believe we're the best to have lived but we're no more than the latest. Some will hate this, but heard humbly this is liberating stuff.
- Even the pusuit of wisdom seems futile. Increased knowledge increases sorrow. The more we know the more we see we can't fix things, we may know some things but we see more problems. Ignorance can be bliss and "Education, Education, Education" didn't fix the world...
- And as for pleasure, the son of David, limits himself in nothing. Everything is on offer in this hedonist heaven, and whilst there is some joy, like all the rest this pursuit is ultimately disappointing too. The man who had it all has tested the limits of life. He says: it's wind-chasing like everything else.
Ecclesiastes isn't just some great thought experiment. It's an application of the heart to life. He gives his everything to the chase. What does his heart find?
Some of us will hear this and argue with the Preacher, Qoheleth, Solomon, we say - it can't be like this. We wont agree with him. Others hear it and say - yes, this Scripture explains my frustration and my boredom. I ask - how come things are like this? Why do we desire progress if there is none? Why do we thirst if there is no satisfaction? Does not the presence of the desire tell us there should be more?
And what of Solomon? Some say of him - these are the ravings of an atheist because if you believe in Jesus you'd never say this stuff. That's convenient but I'm far from convinced.
Solomon's verdict on things is "Vanity" (ESV) or "Meaninglessness" (NIV) or "Smoke" (The Message). It's the Hebrew word "hebel". This is the name of Adam & Eve's son - Abel. Not the serpent seed Cain, but the other son. The one who was a true worshipper. The one who could have been the promised seed until his brother struck him down. Solomon looks back and says - Hebel, it didn't have to be like this, yet it is. Solomon cries out in anguish for the coming of the promised seed, for freedom from the frustration that seems hard-wired into this world.
Reading Ecclesiastes 1:1-2:11 I feel the breeze of the gospel in my heart, the warm breeze that makes me long for the life of summer. It's a call to honesty and humilty about how life is for everyone on earth. And it's a call to join the cry of the son of David, the greatest king history had seen, who knew himself not to be the promised seed. Not Abel. Not Seth. Not anyone else in the line through to Solomon, but great David's greater son.
He looked forward to the coming of The Promised Seed, and we're drawn back to his coming as we live now in the frustration. And we look further ahead to the day when the world will finally find its liberation crying from the heart "Come Lord Jesus" - joining the groans of God's world for that day.