● Ecc 1:1 . .The words of Koheleth son of David, king in Jerusalem.
Koheleth is apparently a transliteration rather than a translation. The Hebrew word is qoheleth (ko-heh'-leth) which means: an assembly gatherer (i.e. a lecturer). A qoheleth assembler isn't a mechanic on a factory assembly line, but rather, someone who assembles a group together for a speech, a seminar, or classroom situation.
Christ was a koheleth. Just about everywhere he went, Jesus set up a soap box and drew crowds.
The lecturer obviously isn't female because Koheleth was a son of David and a king in Jerusalem. Sons and kings are eo ipso male.
Tradition accredits Ecclesiastes to David's son Solomon, the brightest intellectual of his day because of the abundance of his God-given wisdom. None of the other descendants of David ever matched Solomon's intellect. He may not have been much of a soldier, but Solomon had no equals in matters of scholarship.
"Yhvh endowed Solomon with wisdom and discernment in great measure, with understanding as vast as the sands on the seashore. Solomon's wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the Kedemites and than all the wisdom of the Egyptians. He was the wisest of all men: [wiser] than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Chalkol, and Darda the sons of Mahol. His fame spread among all the surrounding nations.
. . . He composed three thousand proverbs, and his songs numbered one thousand and five. He discoursed about trees, from the cedar in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall; and he discoursed about beasts, birds, creeping things, and fishes. Men of all peoples came to hear Solomon's wisdom, [sent] by all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom." (1Kgs 5:9-14)
Solomon's education would most likely be categorized as Liberal Arts in our day; which is a pretty broad field of study consisting of a variety of subjects.
● Ecc 1:2-3 . . Utter futility! said Koheleth Utter futility! All is futile! What real value is there for a man in all the gains he makes beneath the sun?
He has a point. What does it benefit people "beneath the sun" to amass a fortune, build an empire, accumulate knowledge, possessions, education, accolades, achievements, and experience when they're only going to die and lose every single bit of it? Here's a humorous epitaph that quite says it all:
Here lies John Racket,
In his wooden jacket.
He kept neither horses
He lived like a hog,
And died like a dog;
And left his money to fools.
● Ecc 1:4 . . One generation goes, another comes, but the earth remains the same forever.
Solomon didn't intend for anyone to take his comment to mean that the earth is eternal. No, within context, he only meant that the earth outlasts everybody; viz: compared to human life the earth is permanent while all of us are transient.
It's quite humiliating to realize that a mindless lump of granite with an IQ of zero, and whose personal accomplishments amount to absolutely nothing, will easily outlive the finest minds and the most energetic movers and shakers who ever existed. The rock of Gibraltar, for example, was here before Plato, Alexander the Great, Darwin, Beethoven, Einstein, Eli Whitney, Edwin Hubble, Jonas Salk, and Steve Jobs; and the rock of Gibraltar was still here after they all died. It will still be here after you are dead too. Shakespeare once said: All the world's a stage. He was so right. Actors come and go, but the stage is always there; ready for a new cast.
It's just not fair. People are much smarter, more sophisticated, and far more valuable than anything on the planet. But the planet itself— mute, ignorant, and impersonal —endures forever; while its superiors die and drop off all the time. In the grand scheme of things, Man's tenure on the planet is but for a fleeting moment; then he's gone and forgotten; washed away. For the vast majority of people, it will be as though they were never here at all. The planet was doing just fine before they got here, and it will go on doing just fine after they're gone. In point of fact the Earth would do better if everyone were gone so that nature could be given time to rectify all the damages that man has inflicted upon it.
● Ecc 1:5 . .The sun rises, and the sun sets— and glides back to where it rises.
Sounds like Orphan Annie— "The Sun-ull come owwwwt too-maw-row. Betcher bottum doll-ler that too-maw-rohhhhh, thair-ull be Sun." (chuckle) Annie has it pegged. Maybe clouds block the Sun from view now and then, but the clouds can never stop the Sun from coming up; nor stop it from going down either. The Sun always comes up, and it always goes down— there's always day, and there's always night
● Ecc 1:6 . . Southward blowing, turning northward, ever turning blows the wind; on its rounds the wind returns.
Solomon perceived that winds are cyclonic; and he's right. The Earth's air currents don't move straight ahead like waves roaring in on the beach. No, they circulate. High pressure areas move air into low pressure areas. And the winds never blow just once. They keep coming back to blow all over again.
● Ecc 1:7 . . All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full; to the place [from] which they flow the streams flow back again.
Solomon was pretty doggone savvy about hydrology. It's true. All streams flow towards the sea (duh! gravity makes water flow downhill, and most landmasses are above the level of the sea), but the water doesn't stay there. It returns to the land masses again via evaporation and snow, and rain, and hail, in a perpetual cycle.
● Ecc 1:8 . . All such things are wearisome: no man can ever state them; the eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear enough of hearing.
Science is fun. But there is just too much for one man to learn in his lifetime. Even those who specialize in only one branch, like astronomy, or biology, or chemistry, never really get it all. They are ever grasping for more knowledge, but it eludes them. Then they die and someone else comes along to pick up where they left off and continue the search.
A new 8.7 billion-dollar space telescope, said to be many times more powerful than the Hubble, dubbed the James Webb Space Telescope (a.k.a. JWSP) is on track for launch in 2018. What for? Only because Man's eyes never have enough seeing, and his ears never have enough hearing. He presses on for more and more knowledge because he just has to know. The quest for knowledge becomes the entire reason and motivation for missions like the JWSP. It's being built and launched simply for the purpose of discovery.
Nobel Prize winner, author of several best-selling books, and recipient of at least a dozen honorary degrees, Physicist Steven Weinberg (who views religion as an enemy of science), in his book, The First Three Minutes, wrote: "The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems pointless. But if there is no solace in the fruits of our research, there is at least some consolation in the research itself . . The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of a farce and gives it some of the grace of tragedy."
What a dismal appraisal. To a brilliant, secular man like Mr. Weinberg, the human experience is an exercise in futility. The quest for knowledge seems the only thing that gives humanity any purpose to exist at all.
● Ecc 1:9 . . Only that shall happen which has happened, only that occur which has occurred; there is nothing new beneath the sun!
Solomon noticed that nature has yet to reinvent itself; and yet to break it's own habits. The tide always comes in, and it always goes out. The sun always rises and it always sets— there's always a day followed by a night. The wind blows past us, and eventually returns to do it again. In the Spring, leaves appear on trees, and in Autumn, they die and drop off— every year. In the Winter it's cold, in the Summer it's hot— always. It rains one day, it clears; and another day the rains return to do it all over again. Every year in the woods, little frogs lay eggs in vernal pools. Their pollywogs grow into more frogs who in turn will lay their own eggs in the very same vernal pools the following year. Birds fly south for the Winter, and birds fly north for the Summer
Every 27.3217 Earth days the moon completes one of its own sidereal days, and every 29.5307 Earth days it completes one of its own lunar months; the meanwhile always showing us the very same face; never the other side. For twelve months, the Sun appears to travel along the ecliptic through each of the constellations of the Zodiac. When it gets back to the Vernal Equinox, does it then change course and take a new path? No. It will go right back through every one of those very same twelve signs all over again.
While my wife and I were gazing at a planetary alignment of Jupiter, Saturn, Venus, Mars, and Mercury some time ago, it occurred to me that I was looking up at a universe virtually the same as the one that the Egyptians looked up at during construction of the Pyramids. They saw the very same stars, and the very same five naked-eye planets more than 4,000 years ago. Political climates, wars, disease, economic ups and downs, death and life— none of that has influenced the circuits of those five planets. They methodically, silently, and religiously go about their business indifferent to Man's problems; constantly circling the sun and haven't changed their behavior one single bit since the day their creator hung them out there.
Through our Nikon FieldScope, we saw four of Jupiter's largest moons: Io, Callisto, Europa, and Ganymede. Those very same four moons were circling Jupiter on the night that Galileo discovered them with his crude 20x telescope in 1609 AD. Can you guess what those moons were doing 400 years ago back in Galileo's day? The very same thing they are doing now: orbiting Jupiter. And can you guess what Jupiter was doing in Galileo's day? That’s right; the very same thing it does now: orbiting the sun. Nature is truly in a rut.
● Ecc 1:10-11 . . Sometimes there is a phenomenon of which they say, "Look, this one is new!" it occurred long since, in ages that went by before us. The earlier ones are not remembered; so too those that will occur later will no more be remembered than those that will occur at the very end.
When Man discovers something new in nature, it’s best to keep in mind that the new thing he discovered didn't come into existence the day he found out about it. No, it was there all the time. He just didn't know about it yet. Like coal and uranium. Did Man invent those? No. Did he invent petroleum? Did he invent tectonic plates? Did he invent galaxies? Did he invent quasars? Did he invent genes? Did he invent DNA? Did he invent electromagnetic waves? No. Did he invent electricity? No. Did he invent gravity? Did he invent magnetism? Did he invent molecules? No, No, No, No. All those things are discoveries, not inventions.
It’s true that Man often manipulates nature to create things like super sweet corn, lasers, penicillin, plastic, cardboard, aluminum foil, gasoline, and nitroglycerine. But left to itself, nature rarely produces anything new because if there’s one thing nature dearly loves; it's routine.
● Ecc 1:12-13a . . I, Koheleth, was king in Jerusalem over Israel. I set my mind to study and to probe with wisdom all that happens under the sun.
The phrase "all that happens under the sun" is limited to exactly that. Ecclesiastes is an accumulation of worldly observations; viz: one man's philosophy of life.
Your philosophy of life may not be on a par with Solomon's in eloquence; but then it doesn't have to because one's philosophy of life is their own outlook derived from their own personal impressions, experiences, and observations. What I'm saying is: there is no one correct interpretation of a book like Ecclesiastes. Though I offer mine for your intellectual enjoyment; you could probably write an interpretation of Solomon's composition of your own that's just as useful.
● Ecc 1:13b-15 . . An unhappy business, that, which God gave men to be concerned with! I observed all the happenings beneath the sun, and I found that all is futile and chasing the wind: a twisted thing that cannot be made straight, a lack that cannot be made good.
From a practical point of view; it's futile to attempt to assign any real meaning to life— just as there are some things that simply cannot be remedied; such as a tree twisted and gnarled so badly that it's lumber is beyond hope for use in a new home, or a five-foot man trying to meet a six-foot height requirement.
Well; that's Mr. Koheleth's preface to Ecclesiastes; and from here on, he will elucidate his reasons for being so negative about all that goes on under the sun.
● Ecc 1:16 . . I said to myself: Here I have grown richer and wiser than any that ruled before me over Jerusalem, and my mind has zealously absorbed wisdom and learning.
Solomon wasn't what might be called a warrior king like Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan. He was more like Jacob (who had far less concern for outdoor adventure than his brother Esau). Solomon enjoyed a peace-time economy and generally good relations with his political neighbors. War was rare during his tenure on the throne, the state-of-the-union was tolerable, he was financially independent, comfortable, and had plenty of opportunity to devote himself to self improvement in the study of liberal arts; which are defined as: the studies (such as language, philosophy, history, literature, abstract science) in a college or university intended to provide chiefly general knowledge and to develop the general intellectual capacities (reason and judgment) as opposed to specific professional or vocational skills.
Webster's defines "wisdom" as: sagacity, insight, sagaciousness, sageness, sapience, shrewdness, sound judgment, and good sense.
"Learning" is defined as: knowledge, information, education, scholarship, erudition, science, and facts.
Obviously, learning does not eo ipso make one wise or we wouldn't have so many educated people doing so many dumb things.
Solomon's desire to improve his mind isn't uncommon among the idle rich; after all, who better can afford higher education than they? They say a mind is a terrible thing to waste. Well, plenty of poor and middle class minds are going to waste simply for lack of funds. Some have managed to break the chains of ignorance through scholarships or great personal sacrifice on the part of themselves and of their families.
But not Solomon. No, he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and inherited all the money one could ever possibly need, and then some. Finding the money for an education was the least of Solomon's concerns; and so, having nothing better to do with his time, he went to school; but anon discovered there is no guarantee education will bring people things like peace of mind and less stress. Solomon realized that he had expected too much from the pursuit of knowledge; in other words: education made him neither happier nor better off than before.
Many a privileged youngster has thrown away four perfectly good years of their life in college. They typically enroll in a liberal arts program, not really knowing what they want in life, often change their major, and come out of school four years older than when they first enrolled with no marketable skills, and no idea on earth how they will support themselves. All those tuition dollars, and all that time out of their life— puff! . . up in smoke, frittered away; gone.
Adults seem obsessed with telling young people not to worry too much about things like career, marriage, family, and retirement because they have their whole life ahead of them yet. No. They don't have their whole life ahead of them. By the time a youngster is out of four-year college, at least twenty-two of the best years of their life are gone forever and they are in a third decade; rapidly approaching an age when they will be old enough to die of natural causes.
Time and tide wait for no man; with time being the one asset men can least afford to liquidate at bargain prices. You can always catch another tide, but no one yet has caught another youth.
● Ecc 1:17-18 . . And so I set my mind to appraise wisdom and to appraise madness and folly. And I learned that this too was to pursue the wind: For as wisdom increases, vexation increases; to increase learning is to increase aggravation.
Knowledge can be likened to the pieces of a very large, very complicated jig saw puzzle. In order to see the big picture, it's necessary to assemble the pieces in their correct location in respect to the other pieces. Well; it seems that the more someone knows, the harder it is to fit all the information together in a coherent unity, i.e. the more we know, the more burdened we become with the difficulty of fitting it all together; and there's probably little more frustrating than a jig saw puzzle with a number of its pieces missing; which of course we don't find out till we've already assembled large portions of the puzzle.
Sometimes it just doesn't pay to be too smart. People who never ponder the mysteries of life— existing in obscurity day to day —seem far more content than sages and philosophers who vex themselves trying to justify the human existence. Live and let die is the motto of the simple person. But the philosopher just can't let it go that easily. He agonizes, he ponders the mysteries of life over and over again for the Nth time, and sometimes can't sleep because of it.
There's really nothing intrinsically wrong with searching for a meaning to life. But when people limit their search parameters to the natural world of personal experience and empirical evidence —then they end up perplexed; and life seems futile and makes no sense.
In my opinion; leaving a supreme being out of one's quest for the meaning of
life leaves a key piece out of the puzzle. In mathematical formulas, there is
usually at least one constant from which a solution can be derived. Well; to me
anyway, the existence of a supreme being is just as valid a constant in the
meaning of life as the values of pi and the speed of light; and I think it's an
oversight to look for a meaning without it; but hey; that's just me— others may
be just as content with a philosophy of life that's minus a supreme being as I
am with a world view that includes one. Suum Cuique.
for Psalm 38