TEXT : Ecclesiastes 1:1-11
THEME : A Disappointing Discovery!
DATE : The Lord's Day 17/06/2012
I wish to begin with a word of perspective. The God inspired text which we are considering here may be considered pessimistic when it is divorced from the rest of Solomon’s sermon. However, if we want to benefit from the wisdom of Solomon’s sermon we are going to have to learn to face the sometimes ugly realities about life under the sun, in order that we may really appreciate the life that is above the sun . Peter Leithart says that “… within this world under the sun there is a Word from the world beyond the world under the sun, and that Word stands forever.” 
I want you to remember that the gospel of a wounded , broken , bleeding, dying and then resurrected Jesus becomes only real when we see first the world for what it really is. It is a broken world! It is this world that crucified the Lord Jesus Christ, that purest , gentlest and loving of all men. The reason why so many are not attracted to the gospel of Christ today is because they see this life under the sun as more attractive and more desirable than Life in the Son!
Solomon , the writer of this text is introduced to us in the first verse. You know that he is a very imperfect sinful man like you and I. But he is the inspired preacher, the son of David, and king in Jerusalem now speaking to us by the Holy Spirit. Incidentally, is it not significant that all three of Solomon’s titles can be applied to Jesus Christ? The Lord Jesus is the Preacher par excellence. He also is the Son of David. And He is the King who came weeping over the state of this earthly Jerusalem , but it is also He who shall reign forever in the New Jerusalem!
Solomon is prefiguring the greater Son of David , and in this inspired sermon he will cure us of any unhelpful attachment to all created things under the sun. He will show us the fleetingness, the emptiness and the meaninglessness of fixing our hearts on created things, rather than on the Creator who is forever to be praised (Rom 1:25). If ever there was a man in history who has had the means and the resources to explore life under the sun, and to give himself to the pursuit of every conceivable pleasure under the sun, and experience the results of the pursuit of these things – it was this man. You shall see this in chapter 2. This man has seen and done it all. He has got the T-shirt! I am afraid to say that this pursuit has not left him without deep spiritual scars! He did not die as a happy, God fearing man, even though he knew the truth. His epitaph in 1 Kings 11:1-9 is a very sad one ! No wonder that his testimony leaves many sincere believers confused and uncertain about his destiny.
What did Solomon discover in his extravagant pursuit of life and pleasure? He discovered this: nothing material , nothing created under the sun can ultimately satisfy the longing of the human soul! And so we find this thought expressed in v.2 : Vanity of vanities! All is vanity. This statement becomes the envelope for the whole sermon. He will explain how he has come to this conclusion from v. 3 onwards. Vanity of vanities! All is vanity . What we need to see in this is that this is the truth! It is perhaps not what we want to hear, but it is what we need to hear. It will drive to ask ultimate questions like “ … if not under the sun and on this earth … then where shall we find real meaningfulness and escape this vanity?“
Now there is a danger in all this, because far too many people have seen what Solomon has seen as they were observing life under the sun, and they have simply ended with this thought: “All is vanity!” , and resultantly they have pulled the trigger, or they have taken an overdose of pills, or drugs, seeking to escape this meaningless life.
In 1844 a child was born near Leipzig in Germany. His parents called him Friedrich. Friedrich Nietzsche! He eventually became a noted philosopher . He was very disillusioned with the God of the Judaeo - Christian faith. His philosophical views greatly influenced Adolf Hitler. Nietzsche’s most famous phrase is, “God is dead! ”. In some ways he is the father of modern atheism. He also expounded the philosophy of ‘nihilism’ (from the Latin – nihil – nothing). The philosophy of nihilism basically says that life is without meaning or purpose. That, you can imagine , is a soul destroying conclusion! Guess how he died? He became insane and died at the age of 55. That is what I mean about the danger of stopping short at saying, “ Vanity ! All is vanity!” It is true, of course! But it is not the final truth, and the good news is that Solomon actually does not stop here. He will take us to God , the Father of real truth ! Solomon will force us to look to the world beyond this world – time and again !
So the paradox is this : We shall find our ultimate happiness, fulfillment and meaning by discovering that there is no permanent happiness or fulfillment or meaning in this fallen life. If you hold only on to this life, you will die a disappointed , disillusioned man. So, from this position we need to discover that ultimate happiness can only found when our souls are connected through Christ to God, our Creator and our Heavenly Father. That is Solomon’s counsel and therefore God is the conclusion of the book ( 12:13,14). He is our soul’s anchor .
You won’t see that here yet in the passage that we are considering . That is why I needed to keep the ultimate perspective for us in view.
Now let us pursue Solomon’s primary observation: “Vanity of vanities , says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity .” When you want to emphasize something in Hebrew thought, you repeat it. Jesus did this when He said :"truly, truly"( lit. amen , amen) ). By saying "vanity of vanities", Solomon makes his point emphatically. This strong statement becomes , as I have observed earlier the envelope for the whole book. From this observation he pursues his argument :  What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?
Having made the summary statement in v.2 , the Preacher now asks the question. What does man gain from anything he does in this life? What's the use? What is the value and meaning of our work under the sun ? Here is the key to the Preacher’s current perspective. This is life under the sun. This is life at face value on this earth as it is observed by any human being without taking ‘life above the sun’( God) into consideration. Life only viewed from an earthly perspective can make you terribly cynical. Is this monotonous existence all that there is to life? You are born in hospital , and you die in hospital , and in between you try to stay out of hospital! Life at face value can be a terrible disillusion. What do we ultimately work for? Money helps , but it brings no ultimate satisfaction (5:10). In 6:7 a man works to eat – but he finds that this does not really satisfy him . In Ch 6:2 there is a man has wealth , possessions and honour- and yet ultimately somebody else takes it from him and enjoys what he has worked for. If life is only viewed from this perspective then there isn't much to live for .
Next, Solomon takes to task the monotonous routine of life :  A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.
We start life by thinking that we are the generation that is going to change the world. And the world is obsessed with the dynamism of youth for that reason. Midlife crisis happens because we have finally seen the meaningless of the pursuit of things. And it leaves us feeling empty and burnt out. Soon ,the youth will discover the same thing . The history of the fashionable and the new teaches us that today's novelty is the material of tomorrow's garbage heap. There is a dreary sameness to each generation and it goes on endlessly – or so it seems . No wonder the cynics have said that the only thing that we learn from past generations is that we learn nothing from them! I speak of course from Solomon’s present viewpoint , and not from his ultimate viewpoint.
The monotony of life is now illustrated in the way we observe the endless cycles of the well- known elements :
 The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises.
 The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind,and on its circuits the wind returns. There are regular weather patterns which are repeated again and again. They remind us of the continuing "sameness" of life.
 All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. Water runs endlessly from river to ocean. In the ocean it evaporates, condenses and rains on the earth and flows back into the rivers into the ocean where repeats its monotonous cycle .
Solomon looks at this unending, ever repeating , monotonous cycle and applies it to our daily experience.  All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.
Three common activities of mankind are mentioned here: uttering (saying) ; seeing and hearing .
The point is that our restless hearts cannot cope with the sameness of things . We always want more to be said. We always want to see more and to hear more. An entire industry is built around this culture of dissatisfaction. But after you have told of , seen and heard of one thing , you want the next . Your children are the most eloquent exponents of this frustration : “ I’m bored !” They want more ! So there is this lack of satisfaction . Life under the sun leaves us feeling empty. There must be more. Little do we realize that our hearts contentment is not found in chasing novelty . Augustine of Hippo ( 4th Century Church father) hit the nail on the head : “ O Lord , our hearts are restless until they are found in you!” .
So, there is this lack of novelty. Solomon says :  Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us. We live in an age of novelty. We have seen things in our day of which our ancestors did not even dream about . Only two hundred years ago it took at least a three month journey from Cape Town to Windhoek by ox wagon by the early missionaries. It now take less than a 24 hour day to cover that distance on a tar road. We fly men to the moon and space-probes to Mars and Venus. We have computers with storage capacities that make the head dizzy! But modern kids area already bored with space-probes on Mars and the amazing 1 Megabyte computer of 1996 is laughed at . We are so easily bored with the advance of technology . The new quickly becomes old . And yet, with regard to human nature, nothing has really changed. We still struggle with the same monotony – because we still struggle with the same soul emptiness of a life under the sun apart from God !
And then there is the lack of remembrance. Solomon says :  There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after. The sad thing is that even when you accomplish something significant under the sun, it is eventually forgotten. Everything you have and everything you are will one day be forgotten. I do not know my grandfather’s history, and I made sure that before my own father died , that he wrote down everything he remembered . But apart from that we will forget !
That’s life "under the sun." That is the message of Ecclesiastes. And at face value this portrays a rather depressing picture. BUT REMEMBER ! It is depressing because life without God is always depressing.
The good news is that God has not left us "under the sun." For Christians, life is not simply "under the sun" but rather “under the Son!” Everything under the sun is vanity apart from God. Everything in this world, everything in this earthly sphere is incapable of satisfying the deepest part of our soul apart from God.
This first section ( verses 1-11) then contains the introduction to the whole book. His thesis is found in v.2 , and verses 3-11 are an amplification of his thesis : Life lived by the routines of what we see and hear and talk about leads to despair .
But if you put God into all this, the light dawns , and you can really see, hear and talk ! You can see with new eyes that see the glory of the Creator. You can see and hear with new ears and eyes that hear and see the message that the sun and the wind and the streams and the ocean shout at you ! “I am your God , and I am He who faithfully sustains you each day with faithfulness” . And your mouth can sing and tell : From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same , the LORD’S name is to be praised ! Amen