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IN SEARCH OF THE MEANING OF LIFE

Ecclesiastes 1:1-1:18
Key Verse: 1:15

Thank God for helping us to study the Book of Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes is wisdom book. Therefore, if we study this book, we will be wiser than before. We can reduce our mistakes and prevent our failures so that we can live a victorious life in God. May God help us to get to the end of the study of this book so that our life may be more blessed and wiser and meaningful through this study.

What is the meaning of our life? Is life worth living? This is the question raised throughout this book. This is also the question raised by many people, and many tried to find answer down through the history, only to find that there are more questions. In his grace God included this book in the Bible to help us to find the answer. There is the answer for everything in the Bible, including the meaning of life. As we study this book, may God bless us to find a clear answer about the meaning of our life and truly live a meaningful life in him.

Look at verse1. “The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:” Here, “the Teacher” is Kohelet in Hebrew. “Kohelet” has the meaning of “collect or gather.” Therefore, the author of this book is the Teacher who collects a great amount of wisdom work, and gather the assembly for public presentation. The author introduce himself as the son of David, king in Jerusalem. There is only one person who became a king in Jerusalem among the sons of David. It is Solomon. Solomon is also the wisest man in history who can be the rightful author of this book.

Solomon wrote three books in the Bible – Song of songs, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. It is said that he wrote Song of songs when he was a passionate young prince, and wrote Proverbs when he established his kingdom as a powerful king, and wrote Ecclesiastes as he was reflecting his life in his old age.

Solomon mentioned his authorship in Song of songs and Proverb, but why did he hide his identity in this book? He only introduce himself as the Teacher. The meaning of his name Solomon is “peace (Shalom).” Despite the reverent fear of God and great wisdom he showed in the early period of his life, he was gradually turned away from God as he grew old, and loved his wives. They are foreign women with whom Solomon intermarried, and who brought foreign gods with them. Eventually, Solomon’s heart was led astray by these foreign gods, and he became unfaithful to God. God was angry with him, and raised many adversaries against him. His relationship with God was broken, and his kingdom lost peace which she enjoyed long time. Obviously he repented through these troubles, and this book he wrote shows evidence of his repentance and restoration in God. So he could not use his name, which means ‘peace’. Therefore, we can understand this book better as we study with his life in mind.

Look at verse 2."Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless." In this verse, Solomon presents the theme of this book. Here, “meaningless” is ‘hebel’ in Hebrew, which means ‘breath or vapor’. In the original Hebrew Bible, ‘habel’ is repeated 5 times. Many Christians, especially young Christians are troubled by this statement. Some wonder why this book is in the Bible. If this is said by a beggar on the street, we would not pay much attention. But this is uttered by Solomon a man of great wisdom and wealth and power who had everything a man could have in this world. When he said this, he really meant it.

From verse 3 to 18, Solomon presents the reasons of the claim he made in verse 2. He approaches life in three different ways – scientifically, historically, and philosophically.

Look at verse 3 and 4. “What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.” Each generation is like an actor in the stage. We live in our own generation. Our generation elected president in each country, and each one works hard to make difference in life, and family, and the world. But one generation quickly passes away from the stage, and another generation takes over. When the new government takes over, everything goes back, no matter how hard the previous government tried to make difference. In the mean time, what happens to the stage, which is the earth? Look at verse 5-7. “5The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. 6The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. 7All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.”

Here the author focused his observation on the most important elements of the earth – the sun, the wind, and the water. Sunrise and Sunset repeats every day. The wind seems to blow wherever it pleases, but eventually, returns on its course. Water flows into the sea, but the sea is never full. Water flows from Mount Hermon through the sea of Galilee into the Dead Sea, but it evaporates and return again to the place it started. We find meaning when there is direction, purpose and accomplishment. But all of natures, including men is in constant motion, going round and round and going no where.

Look at verse 8 “All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.” When the Teacher saw what is happening, all things are wearisome, more than one can say. People are not satisfied and feel bored when they see everything going round and round.

Look at verse 9. “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. 10Is there anything of which one can say, "Look! This is something new"? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.” Now the Teacher approached the meaning of life from historical view point. There is nothing new because history is also repeating itself. People like history movie or drama because what happened in the past is still happening at the present. But some people may not agree with this statement because we see many new things due to the benefit of technological development. Why is it so? Look at verse 11. “There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow.” The only reason we feel something is new is because we tend to forget what happened in the old time. In fact, it was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. We want something new and fresh that breaks into the cycle of life and give meaning and value in life.

Where can we find something new that breaks this meaningless cycle of life? The Teacher said, “There is nothing like that under the sun.” But we know something new that can break this meaningless cycle above the sun. It is Jesus Christ because in Christ we become a new creation(1 Cor 5:17). Jesus makes everything new. We have new life, new covenant, and new hope in Christ. When we live a new life in Christ, we can be truly satisfied and find real meaning in our life. That is the reason the Teacher help us to face the meaninglessness of life under the sun.

Finally, the Teacher approaches the meaning of life from philosophical view point. Look at verse 12 and 13. “I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem.13I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men!” As we know, Solomon is the great man of wisdom, and his wisdom came from God.1Kings 4:30-31 says “ 30 Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. 31 He was wiser than anyone else, including Ethan the Ezrahite—wiser than Heman, Kalkol and Darda, the sons of Mahol. And his fame spread to all the surrounding nations.” With his wisdom he studied and explored all that is done under heaven. He studied science, history, politics and philosophy of all ages to find the meaning of life. It was a heavy burden for him. It was a challenging for me to study and deliver message on this book because it is so profound from the beginning in chapter 1. So I felt heavy burden placed on me. But I realize that it is the great blessing that God placed this heavenly treasures of wisdom and knowledge on this jar of clay. Then my burden turned into joy and excitement! When I heard that Sara was studying about Kant and Niche, I said to myself, “What a heavy burden placed on her!” but it is in fact a great blessing from God. She may take this heavy burden from God not only for himself but also for God and others who are still searching for the meaning of life.

Look at verse 14 and 15. “14I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.15What is twisted cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted.” Solomon’s great learning could not help him. Again he reached the same conclusion. All of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Here, he used a new expression, “a chasing after the wind.” Chasing after the wind is worthless because it does not have essence. We gain nothing by chasing the wind.

There is a story of an old man went to the sea for fishing. But after many days he could not catch even one. But after 48 days, he caught a giant fish. He had to follow the strong fish wherever it leads until it became exhausted. Then he killed it and tied it to his boat and came all the way back. But on the way, he had to fight with sharks who try to eat the fish. When he arrived at the shore, there is nothing left except skeleton. The old man was discouraged and went to deep sleep. What a beautiful but meaningless story! This is the great novel, “The old man and the sea” written by Ernest Hemingway who won great award such as Pulitzer and Novel prize because of this work. He also enjoyed fame and wealth. But as you know, he ended his life in tragedy when he did not find the meaning of life in God.

Look at verse 16 to 18. “I thought to myself, "Look, I have grown and increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge." 17Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.18For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.” Now the Teacher became old, and he also have grown and increased in wisdom more than anyone else before him. Then he never stopped to understand wisdom as well as madness and folly. But he said in verse 18. “For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.” he saw the great limitation of wisdom in understanding the meaning of life. His great wisdom could not help him in finding the meaning of life.

In this passage, the Teacher had intense search of the meaning of life. He approached the meaning of life through science, history, politics and philosophy. But his conclusion is that everything is meaningless under the sun. It is because he searched the meaning of life under the sun. There is no meaning of life under the sun, that is, without God. But with God, our life is full of meaning. We can find meaning in whatever we see, and whatever we do, because God himself is our meaning of life. Our labor in God is not in vain, but full of meaning in God when we live a life of mission. Our heavy burden of life turns into God’s great blessing with excitement and joy. He created us, he gave us life, and he loves us, and he guides our life in his perfect goodness.

In conclusion, let’s read Jeremiah 2:13. “ “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” We must return to God who is the spring of living water. Why should we keep digging our own broken cisterns that cannot hold water? We must return to God and meet our Creator God personally when we are young. All the meaninglessness and elements of meaninglessness will disappear, and we begin to see all things full of meaning and purpose in God. Then we can read verse 2 like this. “Meaningful! Meaningful! Utterly meaningful! Everything is meaningful!”

May God lead us onto the higher ground above the sun through the study of Ecclesiastes. May God bless us find the meaning of life in God.

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