By Mike Dawson
Pastor Emeritus, First Baptist Church, Columbia
Focal Passage: Ecclesiastes 1:12-15; 2:18-26
Remember your (or your child’s) first chocolate ‘Easter’ bunny? Maybe it was huge, and you could hardly wait to enjoy its chocolaty sweetness. So you took a big bite into one of those long ears, only to find the bunny rabbit was — hollow. Many people around us have been disappointed like that. That’s why the book of Ecclesiastes, although written nearly 3,000 years ago by King Solomon, is so relevant; it speaks of an emptiness, hollowness and void which multitudes these days are feeling.
The Old Testament contains three main divisions: the Historical books (Genesis through Esther), the Poetical books (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon), and Prophetical books (Isaiah through Malachi). Our study this quarter involves two of the five Poetical books; we completed Job last week; we begin today in Ecclesiastes.
‘Ecclesiastes’ refers to someone who speaks to the assembly (ecclesia) — ‘a preacher’ or ‘a philosopher.’ Dr. J. Vernon McGee says that he prefers ‘philosopher’ because it’s less likely to be misunderstood. Solomon had come to a different point in his life than when he wrote Proverbs. Earlier he wrote under the Spirit, now he’s writing “under the sun” — a phrase he puts in his book 29 times. He had used his God-given (heavenly) wisdom at first, now he’s using man-made (earthly) wisdom. Solomon was walking with God in Proverbs; here in Ecclesiastes he has walked away from God. Yes, one of the wisest of men has become one of the biggest fools!
Remember that the Bible is without error. It makes no mistakes in narrating the words spoken; but sometimes — as with Elihu in the book of Job — the spokesman may make grave mistakes. (As a Gospel song says: when the enemies of the cross put Jesus in the tomb, thinking He was finished, they made a ‘grave’ mistake!) Solomon speaks the truth when describing life ‘under the sun’ being in vain, but it was a grave mistake for him to search for God in all the wrong places.
I often wonder if Solomon had entered a period of depression when he wrote Ecclesiastes. Many of his words sound like a man suffering from deep depression. We’ll see more of that as we study his book over the next few weeks.
Our focal text today is 1:12-15; 2:18-26. I suggest a two-point outline:
1. Exclamation, 1:12-15.
Solomon began his book by exclaiming “Vanity!” (1:2) That word means absurdity, frustration, futility, or nonsense. He will go on to use ’vanity’ 37 times throughout Ecclesiastes. In search for something real he tries human wisdom and works (verses 12-15), which result in this kind of exclamation.
2. Experience, 2:18-26.
Solomon recounts his experiences that do not satisfy: wit, wild-life and wine (2:1-3), and works, ‘women’ and wealth (2:4-17). The king then concludes that he hates his life and labors (verses 18-19), and it is all vanity (verses 20-26). So here is a man who tried it all and despaired of it all. Later he’ll become like the hymn writer who said, “All is vain unless the Spirit of the Holy One comes down;” but right now he concludes, “All is vain” — period. B&R — Dawson is pastor emeritus at First Baptist Church, Columbia, and also serves as transitional interim around the state.