Online Bible Commentary
Life Under the Sun
Ecclesiastes 1:1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. 2 "Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher; "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." 3 What profit has a man from all his labor In which he toils under the sun? 4 One generation passes away, and another generation comes; But the earth abides forever. 5 The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, And hastens to the place where it arose. 6The wind goes toward the south, And turns around to the north; The wind whirls about continually, And comes again on its circuit. 7 All the rivers run into the sea, Yet the sea is not full; To the place from which the rivers come, There they return again. 8 All things are full of labor; Man cannot express it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, Nor the ear filled with hearing. 9 That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there anything of which it may be said, "See, this is new"? It has already been in ancient times before us. 11 There is no remembrance of former things, Nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come By those who will come after. (NKJV)
According to Judeo-Christian tradition the book of Ecclesiastes was written by King Solomon, son of David, about the year 935 B.C. The Greek word for church is “ekklesia.” The word “ecclesiastes”, in the Greek, means “one who convenes an assembly.” The Hebrew equivalent is “Qoheleth which means “assembly leader”. It is translated here as “preacher.”
The book of Ecclesiastes, more than any other book in the Bible, proves that scripture is to be interpreted in the context of the entirety of the Bible. Some verses in Ecclesiastes taken at face value can be misinterpreted. Therefore, if the reader does not have a good grasp of the Bible they should read this book with a good commentary handy.
The book of Ecclesiastes is concerned with life in this world. The phrase “under the sun” is used twenty-nine times in this book. Solomon, considered the wisest man in the history of the world, was thought to have written this later in life as he reflected on his life. His life was not always one of honoring God. There were times when he sought satisfaction through the things of the world, only to be greatly disappointed. Some of that disappointment, and frustration, was voiced in this writing.
After identifying himself in verse one, Solomon begins with the futility of life on this earth (v. 2). The word translated “vanity” is the Hebrew word “hevel” which means “vapor” or “breath”. It refers to the transitory, vain, or futile nature of life “under the sun” (v.3).
“One generation passes away, and another generation comes”, routinely forgetting the deeds of the generation before (v. 4a). The earth is the only thing that “abides forever”, according to Solomon (v. 4b). However, the Bible tells us in the book of Revelation that even the earth is destroyed in the end.
Everything in nature, including the Sun, the wind patterns, and the waters, all have their cycles, their routines, to the extent of boredom (vv. 5-7). The phrase translated from the Hebrew “All things are full of labor” could also be translated “all words are weary” (v. 8a). The world cannot be adequately explained by sight and words alone (v. 8b).
Solomon writes that “there is nothing new under the Sun” (v. 9). Nothing in life happens that has not happened before, generally speaking (v. 10). Not only that, nothing has any lasting significance (v. 11).
So Solomon introduces us to his writing with the statement that all in this life is futile, vain, and insignificant. Power and fame, which he had more of than anyone else, is fleeting. It does not last. Our lives are forgotten, or never known, if not by our children, by our grandchildren or their children.
Our life is like a vapor, here now but vanished in an instant. We are here today, gone tomorrow. The only lasting value to our lives on earth is what we have done for God. When we invest our lives in people, those whom He loves, our work has eternal value. God rewards us in Heaven, eternally, for the good we do “under the Sun.”