Life Under the Sun

Ecclesiastes is one of my favorite books in the Bible. It’s a challenging book to process, and if you want to make sense of any one part of Ecclesiastes, you have to read that part in light of the entire book. What I mean is, you can’t make sense of the early parts of Ecclesiastes if you haven’t read all the way to the end of Ecclesiastes. Likewise, you can’t really make sense of the end of Ecclesiastes if you haven’t read through the early chapters of Ecclesiastes.

The opening verses set the tone for the book. After introducing himself as “the Preacher,” the author poses a question in Ecclesiastes 1:3, “What can man gain for all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” The word “toil” refers to anything and everything we do in life, and “gain” is an economic term found only in Ecclesiastes. Essentially the Preacher wants to know how he might come out ahead at the end of his life. The phrase “under the sun” is important, and it refers more to a time than to a place. We mark time with the sun, and the Preacher is telling us that the moment we arrive on this earth we are “on the clock.” Life is racing by, and the Preacher wants to know how we might come out ahead when our time is up.

His answer is found in Ecclesiastes 1:2 with the word “vanity.” Some translations use the word “meaningless,” but both of those English words miss the heart of the Hebrew word used here. The word is hebel, and it literally means smoke, mist, or vapor. The Preacher wants us to know that our lives are exceedingly short. If we aren’t careful, we will come to the end of our short lives and realize that we spent our time under the sun “striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:17).

To prevent us from such a tragic life and such a horrible end, the Preacher offers us wisdom for our journey. He warns us that nothing in this world can truly satisfy. He reminds us that life is a gift from God, a gift meant to be enjoyed. He assures us that while wisdom will make our lives better, it will not prevent suffering or death. He encourages us with the sovereignty of God, reminding us that God is sovereign over all of our days.

In the end, the Preacher calls us to fear God and keep his commandments because a day of judgment is coming (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). At this point, it’s worth noting that Ecclesiastes is not the first book of the Bible, nor is it the last. If you haven’t read the previous Old Testament books, Ecclesiastes will remain a mystery. More importantly, if you haven’t read the New Testament and the full revelation of the good news about Jesus Christ crucified for sinners, Ecclesiastes ends on a somber note of judgment.

If God really is going to bring my evil deeds into judgment, I’m a dead man walking under the sun. Left to myself, I will find no gain for all my toil. But, thanks be to God that Jesus Christ laid down his life for sinners like me so that when my time under the sun is over I might have eternal life. The good news about Jesus Christ builds on and reframes the message of Ecclesiastes so that sinners can joyfully say, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) The good news about Jesus Christ fills out the message of Ecclesiastes so that Christians can rest in the truth that, “In the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

If you’d like to listen to a sermon series through the book of Ecclesiastes, check out this page on the Immanuel Podbean site …

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