“That’s got to me the most depressing book of the Bible. Just read it: ‘Meaningless, meaningless . . . utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless’ And that’s just the first two verses!”
My friend was talking about Ecclesiastes of course.
But Ecclesiastes was not intended to be depressing. It was intended to be a sobering look at life. Listening to the radio one morning I heard a news segment on how much banks charge in fees. A young girl complained that she over-drew her account by $5 and the bank charged her $25. She said: “It’s as if they are sucking the money from our accounts.” I thought: “You knew that going in young lady. You are the one over-drawing your account. You only have yourself to blame.”
Not very compassionate of me, right? (Actually, I do feel for her. The charges are excessive. But the charges are not compulsory. You don’t have to overdraw your account. It was still her own fault.)
Life is not always compassionate (though I am grateful for the compassion that is there). There are hard lessons that must be learned. Don’t balance your checkbook? You have only yourself to blame for overdrafts. Too much junk food and couch time? Only yourself to blame for poor health. Don’t like school and won’t go or study? Only yourself to blame for the meager job opportunities available to you. Too lazy or uncaring to tend to your appearance or practice personal hygiene? No wonder you don’t have friends – only yourself to blame.
These are just some of the stark realities of life. You can learn them the hard way, or you can learn them from others who learned them the hard way and passed along lessons learned. In Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, Solomon candidly passes on the wisdom of life – wisdom he says he personally made it his aim to discover by experience (ie. the hard way).
While Proverbs passes on nuggets of wisdom, Ecclesiastes does that and looks at the big picture. As you read it, underline the recurring phrase “under the sun” (27 times in 12 chapters). It means “in this life.”. What should be our main focus in this life?
The book flows as follows:
I) A statement: None of life’s normal pursuits are of lasting significance 1:1-11
II) Solomon’s experiments to see if that statement is true. He tries to find fulfillment in knowledge, fun, escape, work, personal purity, and philanthropy. None of these work.1:12 – 2:26.
III) On the other hand, he says, there is a time for everything in life. Live and find enjoyment in whatever moment God has given you, keeping in mind that one of those moments is an appointment with God to give an account for how you lived your life. 3:1 – 6:12
IV) Life is full of harsh realities. Face them wisely in full view of God 7:1- 11:10.
V) Because old age (and the inability to make changes) and death is coming for us all, and then the judgment of God. 12:1- 14.
Nothing we do, that stays here, “under the sun” is of lasting significance. What is of lasting significance is how we live in preparation for the time when we are no longer “under the sun,” but in the presence of God.