“The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:” (Ecc 1:1)
Solomon identifies himself in the first verse. His being the "son of David, king in Jerusalem" is not a mere biological and geopolitical fact. At the typological level, David's kingship was fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham. The king and kingdom came. Though both the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants find their fulfillment in Christ, the Seed, on the typological level God's promise to David was fulfilled when his son Solomon became king and built the temple. But he is not THE King and his is not THE Kingdom. He speaks as the wise teacher (qoheleth, or preacher) to instruct the Old Covenant community how to be wise in a world subject to God's common curse.
Solomon's purpose is not to be negative or cynical, but to call the people of God to wisdom, to keep the Old Covenant in hope of the eschatological fulfillment in Christ. He starts with the stark reality that faces every person. He proclaims the current state of affairs,
“'Vanity of vanities!' (Hebrew, hebel)
says the teacher,
“Vanity of vanities!
All is vanity” (Ecc 1:2)
Those are not the words that would be expected to come from the king. The king of the kingdom of God just said, “It’s all transient vapor!” (hebel) After the opening statement, he drives the sword deeper with the question,
“What profit does a man have from all his labor in which he toils under the sun?” (1:3)
What is the profit for all the work? People are like the creation, going round and round and not getting anywhere. He then intertwines the two chiastically to show the parallel.
A The generations come and go (vs. 4)
B The sun rises and sets (vs. 5)
B' The wind goes round (vs. 6)
A' The streams go and come (vs. 7)
The earth remains (vs. 4), never progressing; man works and never progresses. It wears you out! The worker’s eye never plans enough or his ears hear enough to have sufficient wisdom to produce the sabbath he was made for. Paul would later say the same thing when he says the creation “groans” in its current state (Rom 8:18).
God created the world for infinitely more than this! But there is nothing new, truly eschatologically new, under the sun. The teacher says,
“What has been is what will be,
what has been done will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
‘Look! This is new’?
It was already in ancient times
which were before us” (vss. 9-10)
Nothing really changes. We don’t even remember those who have gone before (1:11). Even those who are remembered are faded like black and white photos in the memory.
The teacher examines the totality of a man's contribution, all that he does and all that he thinks, his wisdom and power. What lasting thing does it yield?
The king attests,
“I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my heart to study and to explore by wisdom concerning all that is done under the heavens. It is a burdensome task God has given the sons of Adam (הָאָדָ֖ם; ha adam) to be occupied with!"
A King (vs. 12)
B Research (vs. 13)
C Findings (vs. 13-14)
D Proverb (vs. 15)
He inspects the fruit that comes from the labors of man. He assures the listener that wisdom guided his inspection. He concludes that the curse God placed on Adam’s sons is heavy! He continues,
“I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity, a chasing after the wind” (1:14).
For all his work, man is unable to escape the curse common to all men. All their work produces nothing; it is like trying to catch the wind. None of man's labors build the glorified sabbath Kingdom of God. All they build are subject to "moths and vermin" (Matt 6:20). Solomon concludes his observations about man’s labor with a proverb,
“What is crooked cannot be made straight;
what is lacking cannot be counted.” (vs. 15)
Man’s labor cannot succeed. Because of Adam’s sin and the common curse, everything is messed up, twisted and incomplete. It’s like the machine that arrives in the mail that has been damaged in transport. Bent and missing parts it is incapable of doing what it was designed to do!
More ominous than labor's failure to profit are the words “under the sun” (1:3, 14; cf. “under the heavens” vs. 13). This is the language that portends coming judgment (the Flood Gen 6:17; Amalekites Exod 17:14; Canaanite kings Deut 7:24). It is not only that man is unable to build the Kingdom of God and enter the sabbath; he is on death row awaiting the final judgment. There is no longer a cultural mandate to build the Kingdom of God. Adam’s sin has bent everything. All bear a common curse (Gen 3:19). Marriage does not produce generations to fill the earth with the everlasting family of the King of Heaven as Adam was commanded. Generations are erased by death. Man labors and dies; women give birth to those who die. The sons of Adam are not subduing the earth. They are subdued by creation. Man awaits his funeral, his labors not producing his sabbath. His only hope is beyond “under the sun.”
Solomon moves the second part, man’s wisdom. Parallel to the observations regarding man’s work are the same four parts.
A Wisest Man (vs. 16)
B Research (vs. 17)
C Findings (vs. 17)
D Proverb (vs. 18)
The wise man says,
“I said with my heart, 'Look, I have increased and gained wisdom more than all who were before me over Jerusalem, and my heart has seen much of wisdom and knowledge.' 17 Then I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. 18 For in much wisdom is much vexation, and the more knowledge, the more grief” (1:16-18).
Solomon is the wisest of men, and he applied that true godly wisdom to inspect true wisdom and folly among men. Perhaps true wisdom breaks the cursed box. But even true wisdom is no different than man’s work. It is like chasing wind to think even true wisdom enables man to remove the curse common to man. Actually, wisdom brings with it much sorrow. To know things are not as they should be and to know that even wisdom is insufficient to remove the burden causes more grief. There is a vexation in the heart of the wise because the world is broken. In fact, the more the wise are able to see what should have been and what is, the greater the sorrow. It is so broken!
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Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are from NASB. Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. www.lockman.org
trans. indicates my translation
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