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Ecclesiastes 1:1-11: Letter 5 – What Profit Has Labor Without God?

Chapter 1 of ECCLESIASTES forms the introduction to the book.  This introduction has two main parts.  We will study the first part of this introduction, verses 1-11 today.  Next time, we will study the second half of the chapter, from verse 12 to the end.

Solomon’s introduction, as I said, has two parts.  In Chapter 1:1-11, he tells us who he, the author, is, and then gives us the basic theme of his sermon “What profit hath a man of all his labour…?”  In Chapter 1:12-18, he then gives us the reasons why he chose to preach this sermon:  basically, because he had the ability and the calling as well as the strong desire to preach this sermon.

Now look at verses 1-11.

A.  First, he introduces himself, verse 1.

“The words of the Preacher, the Son of David, king of Jerusalem.”

It is rather obvious who he is, isn’t it?  Although he never mentions his name, this is because his authority rests not in himself, but in the fact that he is the son of David, possessing the promises of David, and on that basis also he is able to be a Preacher.  As Solomon, he is nothing.  But God gave him wisdom and called him to preach that wisdom!  And this wisdom is centrally found only in Christ, the seed of David.  He speaks in Christ!

B.  He introduces his theme, verses 2 and 3.

“Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh, under the sun?”

Solomon kind of turns backwards the way things are usually done here.  He first gives the answer and then asks the question!

Look first at his question and pay special attention to the last three words, “under the sun.”  These words are key words throughout the book.  Always Solomon is asking the question, “What profit is there APART FROM GOD? and he expresses this idea by those words “under the sun.”  Whenever we hear him saying he is looking at things as they are done under the sun, we know he is looking at things as men see them who forgot God.  This is crucial to understanding the book as we read it.

So, the question the book addresses is, “What profit or value or meaning is there to life apart from God?”

And, the answer to that question, repeatedly throughout the book, is his theme as stated here: “None!”  Apart from God, all is vanity.  Apart from God labor is meaningless, like a puff of vapour that blows away in the wind and is forever gone.

C.  He presents his main supportive argument, verses 4-11.

He has said that all things are meaningless apart from God.  How is he going to prove this?  He will show this by observing that all things on this earth and repeated over and over and over, monotonously, without future generations ever recalling the former things and realizing that things are being repeated.

Things are repeatedly repeated?  Already by way of introduction, he gives four examples of this:

1.  PEOPLE repetitiously live and then die.  This happens over and over without end!

2.  THE SUN repetitiously rises and then sets.  How boring!  Why never a variation?

3.  THE WIND whirls and whirls and whirls on the same circuits, over and over, tiresomely.

4.  THE WATER goes over and over through its cycle “river-sea-air-rain.”  “River-sea-air-rain.”

And all these things, he points out, are laborious.  They are busy-busy-busy, work-work-work, go-go-go, on and on, over and over…and to what avail?  It is the same things over and over and, furthermore, no one remembers them once they are finished.  No profit!

That is the theme of the book.  That is life apart from God.  Is there any profit in our work?  Is there any meaning to life?  Why repeat what has already been done before and, just as surely, forgotten before?

Thank God, the book will not end there!  Thank God that the Preacher will bring us to God!  If we will find meaning and value in life, we must reject all life apart from God and join the Preacher in seeking God, “whom to know is eternal life.”

But thank God also for the warning.  As we read the book, we will be recognizing ourselves in many of the godless outlooks of life presented here.  By nature, we, too, seek the pleasures and treasures of this life.  God must call us, by His grace, out of this darkness and into the marvelous light of Christ.  He must remove from us the love of these things and draw us into a love of Himself, into service of Himself.

All study of God’s Word has that as its goal:  to draw us away from sin and unto service of God in purity.  May God bless this study also to the strengthening of our service of Him in faith.

 

Questions:

1.  How does Solomon identify himself?

Why doesn’t he give his own name?

2.  Solomon’s theme has a negative aspect and a positive aspect.

a. Negatively, state his theme.

b. Positively, state his theme.

3.  What do the words “under the sun” imply?

4.  What four-fold proof does Solomon give of the meaningless of activity (labor) without     God?