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Book of Ecclesiastes begins,
The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem ( Ecclesiastes 1:1 ).
So that identifies the author as Solomon. The Hebrew word that is translated preacher is a word that can mean one of the assembly or a debater. And it is determined that the translation preacher is not necessarily a good translation of this Hebrew qoheleth, that it might be better translated the debater. "The words of the Debater, the son of David, the king of Jerusalem." He refers to this, and in Ecclesiastes is the only time this Hebrew word is used, and it is in the feminine form. And it is used seven times here as Solomon is referring to himself. And really a debater or one who is searching, the searcher. The son of David, the king of Jerusalem. And the book of Ecclesiastes is indeed a search.
Vanity of vanities, saith the Searcher [or the Debater], vanity of vanities; all is vanity ( Ecclesiastes 1:2 ).
Now he starts out with the conclusion of his search. After searching through everything, this is his conclusion of life. Now it is important that we note that the book of Ecclesiastes is a book that deals with the natural man searching for meaning in life. The word Jehovah is not used in this book. He does refer to God, the Elohim. But not unto Jehovah God in the personal sense that a person can know God. But God as a worldly man speaks of God, just a force, a power, a title--the Elohim.
Those who truly know God in a personal way know God as Yahweh or as Jesus Christ. But this is that worldly, impersonal concept of God. As he is searching for the meaning of life, he searches through all kinds of natural experiences. But there is throughout the book the denial of the spiritual. It is putting man on the level of animals. It is looking at man as an animal. And it is trying to find the reason or the purpose for life on the animal plane and it must follow that life on the animal plane is totally empty. It is totally frustrating. Looking at life on the animal plane sees man as an animal possessing a consciousness and a body, but the spirit is not related to God. So man as an animal is aware and conscious of his body needs. And he is living to seek to satisfy his body needs. And a person who lives on the body level seeking to only satisfy his body needs, denying the spiritual aspect of his nature, is going to end up ultimately with this feeling of emptiness and frustration.
The word vanity literally means that which vanishes. It's nothing. You go to get it and it vanishes. It's not there. It's an emptiness. The vexation of spirit is that frustration of the spirit. Now, man is a three-fold being, and one of the problems of our whole educational system today is the denial of the spiritual nature of man. Our whole humanistic evolutional, our whole humanistic educational system embracing the Evolutionary theory sees man as a highly-developed form of animal existence. So it sees man as a highly-developed animal living in a body, possessing a consciousness. And the denial of the spirit is the basic flaw in the educational system. For unless you see man as a three-fold being, unless you see man with his spiritual nature, then you are going to only have life on the human level, a life that is filled with emptiness and frustration.
So we have today men who make excellent livelihoods trying to help people deal with their frustrations. Because people feel that life is worthless. Life is not worthwhile. Life is empty. Life is meaningless. And they just feel despairing and discouraged and despondent. They go to someone who just talks to them about life. And they pay money to try to understand why it is that I feel like life is just not worth living and all, you know. Well, that's because you haven't come into the third dimension of life--life on the spiritual plane. There is where life takes meaning. It all comes back to the three-fold nature of man.
Living in a body I have certain body needs. God created the body. Marvelous instrument. Fantastically designed. With my little hypothalamus and my pituitary, the various glands that are excreting the different chemicals into my system that give me my different feelings, numbing my pains or telling me that I'm thirsty as it is monitoring my blood system. Telling me that I need oxygen and all of these functions that are going on in the body. Keeping the balance, the homeostasis. For the body balance is important. Important that I have enough sugar. It's important that I have enough oxygen. It's important that I have all of these things within the body, so this body balance. My body drives. My air drive. My thirst drive. My hunger drive. My bowel and bladder drive. My sex drive. All of these have been created by God, a part of the body in which I live.
But I also have a consciousness. And in the area of my consciousness, there are also needs, drives. I have a need for security. I have a need for love. I have a need to be needed. These sociological drives. Now that's about as far as your psychologist and sociologist take you. But what they are denying in the denial of the spiritual nature of man, they're denying the fact that there is deep down inside of me, in my spirit, in this part of my nature, a drive that also exists and this drive in my spirit is for God. "My spirit thirsts after Thee, O God," David said. "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God" ( Psalms 42:1 ).
There is within man that desire to know God. That desire to have fellowship with God. There is within man a vacuum that only God can fill. And if you deny the spiritual nature of man, then man can never be satisfied because this deep-down spiritual thirst will always be haunting him, telling him there's something more. There's something more. There's something more. And I feel this dissatisfaction with life. I have a thirst that I can't define. I know it's there. I know that life hasn't yet brought me fulfillment. I know there's got to be more than to life than what I've yet experienced. And I have this frustration and this is what Solomon went through. That's what he is describing. "Emptiness, emptiness, all is empty and frustrating." He's talking and the phrase is used some nine times, "Life under the sun, it is a frustrating existence."
Now according to the psychologist, frustration leads to inferiority complex, which is the rationale by which I explain to myself why I still feel unfulfilled and empty. Why is it that I'm not satisfied? Why is it that I'm not been able to achieve and attain that which I feel? There must be. And I say, "Well, if I only had a better education, then. If I only had more money. If I only were better looking. If I only had hair." And I am explaining to myself why I haven't been able to achieve this some intangible something that I know must be there in life, that somehow it's passing me by and I can't quite grasp. And so I feel this emptiness because I can't quite get hold of it. And I am explaining to myself in the inferiority complex the shortcoming that causes me not to be able to grasp that which I know must be there.
Now, this in turn leads to escapes. I feel the emptiness. I feel this dissatisfaction. I feel that there must be more to life than what I've yet experienced. I can't seem to find it, and so I'm going to escape. And I can escape overtly or invertly. In the inverted escapes I escape within myself. I start building walls around myself. I get to where I don't want to open up to people. I start closing off myself from people. I don't want them to know the truth about me that I know about myself. So I make this facade and I project this image and they see this out here but they don't know the real me. I'm not going to let them get through to know the real me. And more and more I get within myself. More and more I begin to disassociate myself from people. In its final form, it's manifested as a hermit, a man who just goes out and lives in the desert by himself so he doesn't have to see people, talk to people. Nothing to do with people. That's the extreme form of escapism in the inverted way.
Or if I go to overt escape mechanisms, I may go to compulsive eating behavior patterns. Start eating all the time and escaping. Or I might become a compulsive gambler. Or I might turn to drinking. Or I might turn to drugs. Or I might look to a variety of sex experiences. All escaping. Or Nomadism, start moving from job to job or from place to place. "Oh, if I were just in San Francisco, that's where I'd be happy. Oh, if I just lived in Hawaii." It's interesting, more suicides in Hawaii than almost any place else, because you get over there and where can you go? You know, this is it. This is paradise. This is heaven on earth. But the problem is, you had to take yourself. And the same emptinesses that you feel here you'll feel there. And you find out that Hawaii didn't do it. It didn't satisfy. It didn't meet that deep cry that is within you. If it's not here, it's nowhere. Emptiness. Emptiness.
Now when a person gets into these escape patterns, it develops a guilt complex, because I know I shouldn't be eating like this. Why do I eat like this? I hate myself looking so fat. Why do I eat these chocolates? You know, I can't stop. But yet, I'm escaping and I get guilty. I start feeling guilty over the things that I'm doing. I know it's not right. I know it's not helping. I know it's destroying me. I know it's destroying my family or my relationships, but I can't seem to quit. It has a hold on me. And so I'm feeling guilty. And the guilt complex then leads to a subconscious desire for punishment. It goes inward then and underground. And I can't follow it at this point from the conscious level, but subconsciously I get a desire for punishment and I start a neurotic behavior pattern that will bring punishment to me.
And neurotic behavior patterns usually stem from a subconscious desire for punishment. I'm feeling guilty over what I've been doing. I want someone to punish me so that I can feel like I'm not guilty anymore. Now, when you were a child, your parents took care of your neurotic behavior patterns. And they took you in and spanked you, the healthiest thing in the world for you psychologically, because it made you feel free of your guilt. I've been punished. There's something about the guilt that I desire punishment in order that I might be freed from that feeling of guilt. Once I've been punished, then I feel, "Oh, I'm innocent now." I'm free from the guilt feelings because I've been punished. I'm free to go back to my frustration and start the cycle over again. To my inferiority complex. To my escape. To my guilt. To my punishment. To my frustration. And so life moves in a cycle, and Solomon will point out here in a little bit the cycles.
As we get in the first part of the chapter here, they're just... life seems to move in cycles, and this, according to psychologists, is the cycle of life. And you think, "My God, is this all there is? Stop this crazy merry-go-round. I want off. I'm tired of it." And that's what Solomon came to. "Vanity, vanity; all is vanity." And frustrating. And it all comes from the denial of the spiritual nature of man. It is living life on the human plane apart from God. For the gospel of Jesus Christ comes into this cycle. And the gospel of Jesus Christ comes to me. Now, when I'm in the neurotic behavior pattern it is so often that people say, "Hey, man, you better go see a shrink. You're crazy. You're doing nutty things. You better get some help."
And so I go to a head shrink and he sits me on the couch and he gives me a series of tests and he seeks to determine what I'm feeling guilty about. And then he starts to talk to me. "Now, when you were a little boy, did your mother tell you that you shouldn't tell lies? And did she teach you that it was wrong to cheat? Well, you see, these are a part of the old Puritan ethic. They're part of the old Victorian system and everything is really relative. You've got to face the fact that there are certain situations in which it is perfectly proper to tell a lie. You shouldn't feel guilty about this, you see." And he tries to remove your guilt by telling you that it's not wrong. It's not guilty. Everybody's doing it so you've just got to join the crowd and realize that the part of that old Puritan ethic by which you were trained is the thing that's your hang-up today.
But Jesus Christ comes to me and says, "Hey man, you are guilty. That's bad news. That's wrong. But I love you. And I took your guilt and bore your guilt when I died on the cross. I took all of your sins, all of your guilt, and I paid the penalty for it. Now, if you'll just believe in Me and trust in Me, I'll forgive you." Hey, that's something no psychologist can do, is totally erase that guilt feeling. Take away this haunting feeling of guilt. But Jesus Christ and the gospel does. It's the greatest thing in the world for removing the guilt complex. If that's all the gospel did, it would be fantastic. But it does much more than that.
It comes back to the very beginning. Frustration, where it all started. And we hear Jesus on the last day of the great day of the feast as He is standing there on the Temple Mount crying to the crowds, "If any man thirsts, let him come unto Me, and drink. For he who drinks of the water that I give, out of his innermost being there will flow rivers of living water. And John said, 'This spake He of the Spirit'" ( John 7:37-43.7.39 ). That third dimension of man that man in his educational processes today is seeking to deny, and by his denial has created all of this confusion in our society today.
All of the frustration that people experience results from the denial of the Spirit. And Jesus is saying, "You have a thirst for God in your spirit. Come to Me, come to Me and drink." And so this frustration where the whole thing started, Jesus comes to me and not only does He fill my life, does He fill that spiritual void, but He keeps pouring in until it begins to pour out from me. And my life is no longer just a sponge, thirsty, seeking to grasp for the draw, but my life now begins to flow out with that love and that grace of God's goodness that He has bestowed upon me. And now as David said, "My cup runneth over" ( Psalms 23:5 ). My life is an overflowing cup. No longer going around with this cry and thirst and frustration within, but now the fulfillment and the fullness of God within my life as my life overflows God's goodness and grace.
So you look at life on just the human level as Solomon is looking at it, you look at man like an animal as Solomon does, you deny the spiritual dimension of man, that which places him apart from animals and above the animal kingdom, and you're opening Pandora's box to all kinds of psychological ills. You're opening to a life that can never be filled, a life of vanity and vexation of spirit. And so we are looking now through the eyes of Solomon at the world under the sun, apart from God. Man on the animal plane. And man at the highest on the animal plane is hopeless. It is not until you interject the spiritual plane and bring man into the divine plane that man can have any hope for a fulfilling, enriching, complete life.
So, verse Ecclesiastes 1:3 :
What profit hath a man ( Ecclesiastes 1:3 )
And I promise we won't take so much time on the rest of the verses.
What profit hath a man in all of the labor which he taketh under the sun? ( Ecclesiastes 1:3 )
Looking at a man and all of the things he's doing, all of the pursuits, all of the labor, what profit is there? And now he turns into the cycles of life. It seems that life just moves in cycles, monotonous cycles. You can't escape it. You're in the cycle and someday you're just going to pass out of the cycle.
One generation passes away, another generation comes: but the earth abides for ever. The sun rises, the sun goes down, and it comes back around to the place where it rose from. The wind goes toward the south, turns about, comes to the north; it whirls about continually, the wind returns again in its circuits. All of the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again. All things are full of labor; man cannot [understand it or] utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear with hearing. The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: there is no new thing under the sun ( Ecclesiastes 1:4-21.1.9 ).
Life just moves in cycles. History repeats itself and the cycles of life go on. The cycle of one generation following another. The sun or the earth actually in its orbit and spinning on its axis, and its relationship to the sun. The wind, the rivers, life just moves in monotonous cycles.
Is there any thing whereof it may be said, Look, this is new? Hey, it's already been from old time, which was before us ( Ecclesiastes 1:10 ).
There's nothing really more discouraging than to think that you've got some new inspiration and revelation from God. "Oh, this is great. No one's ever seen this before. Oh, what an understanding." And then you pick up some old commentary written by one of the saints back in 1849 and he says the same thing that you just discovered. There's nothing new. Life moves in cycles.
There is no remembrance of the former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of the things that shall come with those that shall come after ( Ecclesiastes 1:11 ).
Life just moves in cycles.
Now I the Preacher [the Debater] was king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I gave my heart to seek out and to search out by wisdom concerning all of the things that were done under heaven: and this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith. And I have seen all the works that are done under the sun ( Ecclesiastes 1:12-21.1.14 );
That's one of your key phrases now. Life on the human plane, not on the divine, on the human plane under the sun.
and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit. That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered ( Ecclesiastes 1:14-21.1.15 ).
Now, this is life on the human plane. If it's crooked, if a man's life is crooked, it can't be made straight. It is interesting that the Greek philosophers concluded that redemption of man was impossible. That once a man had gone wrong, gone bad, that there was no way of changing him. That which is crooked cannot be made straight.
It is also very interesting to read of Jesus Christ in Luke's gospel, chapter 3, as He is proclaiming the new kingdom, or actually it is the words of the prophet proclaiming the things of the kingdom as Simeon or as John the Baptist was declaring concerning the ministry of Jesus that was to come, he said, "Every valley shall be filled, every mountain and every hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough made smooth." The redemption through Jesus Christ, Luke 3:5 . But on the human level, no. On the divine level, you bet.
I communed with my own heart ( Ecclesiastes 1:16 ),
I wasn't communing with God. I wasn't seeking God. I was communing with my own heart. I was using now and exercising now earthly wisdom. He was in TM.
saying, Lo, I am come to a great estate, I have gotten more wisdom than all of they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yes, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge. And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is [frustrating or] vexation of spirit. For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increases knowledge increases sorrow ( Ecclesiastes 1:16-21.1.18 ).
Now, it is very interesting to me today as we study the evolutionary processes of the philosophical systems of man, a history of philosophy is an interesting course to take, because as you follow the history of philosophy and see the development of the philosophical thought, we come finally to this present state of the philosophical thought expressed in existentialism. That there is no universal base of good or evil. Every man must experience truth for himself, but there is no universal truth. The philosophers have concluded with all of their study that in reality is only despair. And reality will lead you to despair. Thus, the philosophers, being brought to despair by their philosophy, declare that it is necessary for each man to take his own leap of faith into unreality in order to escape the despair that only exists in reality.
So you have to take a leap of faith hoping to have some kind of an experience that there is no way of rationalizing or explaining. That's why TM is so popular today. It's the leap of faith into a non-reasoned religious experience. That's why your eastern religions are so popular today and gaining popularity, because they are a leap of faith into non-reason religious experience which philosophy has taught us is necessary because with much knowledge is much sorrow. They've come to the same conclusion that Solomon came to years ago. Years ago before the whole history of philosophy ever began, Solomon had gone through the whole system of thought that has brought philosophy through its whole history to this final conclusion that Solomon reached thousands, three thousand years ago: that in much wisdom is much grief, and he that increases knowledge increases sorrow.
Now as kids we used to understand a certain aspect of the futility of education. We used to write in our textbooks, "The more you study, the more you learn. The more you learn, the more you forget. The more you forget, the less you know. So what's the use of studying?" But Solomon said, "Hey, with much understanding, increasing your knowledge is only going to increase your sorrow."
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 1". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent