Same Old, Same Old
1 The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: 2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” 3 What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun? 4 Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. 5 The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. 6 The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. 7 All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. 8 All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. 9 What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. 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.
Last week we began our study in this book of Ecclesiastes.
This is a wisdom literature book, and was written by Solomon as he looked back on his life, and saw the vanity of so much that takes place under the sun.
Verse 2, which we looked at last week, speaks about how everything under the sun, all that goes on is vanity.
And so Solomon will continue to present this thesis, all through his teaching.
As we come to this text today we look at Solomon’s focus on the toil and labour of man being vanity.
As we consider this text, let me begin by asking this question: “Have you ever thought to yourself, ‘if only I could have a little bit more, then I’d be happy?’”
If I could just reach this pay grade;
If I could just achieve this position in the workplace;
If I could just make enough to buy this house, or that car;
If I could just have enough to be able to do the things I like to do;
If I could just make enough money to retire at 35…??
I would suggest to you that our day is a day of rampant materialism.
Of course, it is all coined in the phrases of progress, making profit, getting more and better for the benefit of society.
But I want to suggest to you that more and more people are falling prey to the trap of materialism.
Keeping up with the Jones’...
But as we will see today, through our great teacher who had it all, this is ultimately vanity.
This morning we will be focusing our attention on verses 3 to 11, where Solomon speaks concerning the toil of man, the labour of man under the sun.
In verse 3 he asks...
3 What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?
And this is a valid question, and a question that we should be asking ourselves, particularly as Christians.
Because we too can so quickly lose perspective, and forget what our chief aim and goal in life is.
And our own lives can so quickly become this meaningless repetitive cycle, and we become despondent.
1. No Advance in Much Activity (vv.4-7)
1. No Advance in Much Activity (vv.4-7)
As we begin our look at what Solomon says concerning this toiling under the sun being meaningless, the first point of consideration as Solomon shows it is that there is no advance in much activity (vv.4-7)
In these verses, he uses poetic language about various examples in nature to indicate ongoing motion in life, without there being much achieved through that motion.
He begins in verse 4 by saying:
4 Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.
As Solomon ponders his own life, and looks back on how things have unfolded, it strikes him that generations are always coming and going.
An older generation is dying away, and younger generations are coming through.
This emphasizes the probability of Solomon being older as he writes this, and looks back on life.
I must admit, this is something that I’ve thought a little more about since I’ve gotten “older”!
When I was young I gave little thought to other generations, particularly older generations.
My mind was wrapped up in wanting to grow and experience the world.
I was busy about my own business and things that needed to be done.
My first thought of how quickly life passes by came when Cindy and I had our first child, and suddenly I was the parent.
I certainly didn’t see myself qualified…
But it really struck me just how quickly ones years in youth go by.
I had always seen my parents as super-wise and mature.
But here I was as a new parent, thinking surely I couldn’t be parenting material?!
That was the first time I really started thinking about how quickly life passed by.
I look back on my years even in Malelane - Cindy and I been here for close to 14 years.
I remember arriving here and many of the younger people who have now gone off to University or College were only 4, 5 or 6 years old...
Suddenly they’re leaving home.
I’ve also had in the past 2-3 years, the first 3 deaths of people who were close to me.
My dad’s mom, followed by my mom’s father, and then more recently my own mom.
There’s nothing like the passing of a loved one to slow you down to really consider just how brief this life is, and how a generation comes and goes.
The fact is that our lives here are over in a mere moment. They are but a breath.
The earth continues it’s course, with everything in the natural realm carrying on as it always has.
But a person's life is so short and brief.
Psalm 90 speaks well of the brevity our lives.
3 You turn men back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, O sons of men.” 4 For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. 5 You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning— 6 though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered.
And so, as Solomon observes the labour and toil of man in this world, he is struck by the fact that these labouring souls are merely going to pass away as did previous generations.
There never really is any progress.
Jerome said, “What is more vain than this vanity: that the earth, which was made for humans, stays — but humans themselves, the lords of the earth, suddenly dissolve into the dust?”
With that in the mind of Solomon, he goes on to explain the futility of the labours of man under the sun by using three further examples from nature.
In verse 5, 6 and 7, he uses these examples to explain the monotonous routine of the created world, and how it all seems to actually be so pointless.
He begins in verse 5 by saying:
5 The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.
The point here is simply that the sun goes up and down, over and over again.
But it just keeps on doing the same thing, with no apparent final goal being achieved.
There is certainly movement, but there is no progression.
Now we need to recognise that Solomon is not saying that there is absolutely no meaning to the sun being in the sky.
In Psalm 19:1, Solomon’s own father David had proclaimed...
1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
But the question of Solomon here is one of the long term meaning and goal for things.
Is there something that ultimatley is achieved as an end goal.
The sun rises and the sun sets.
Over and over it does this..
Same old, same old.
In verse 6, Solomon turns his attention to the blowing of the wind.
6 The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.
In this case, he looks at the wind blowing around him, and wonders, what is the meaning of it all.
Simply carrying on it its cycle of blowing.
He refers here poetically of the wind blowing to the south and then turning to the north.
In this poetic piece, this would simply be to work in tandem with the rising and setting of the sun, which is an east / west direction.
Again, the emphasis is how this all just continues round and round in cycles.
The third picture from nature that he gives is from verse 7.
7 All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.
This is actually not a very good translation in the NIV.
A better translation can be found in the New Revised Standard Version...
7 All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they continue to flow.
He beholds the rivers flowing into the sea, and yet the sea never becomes full.
In the minds of the Israelites, a great example for them (and perhaps a picture they would have had in their minds) would have been the Dead Sea.
The Dead Sea has the Jordan River and other rivers and streams flowing continuously into it.
The sea itself is surrounded by mountains - it’s actually a Lake.
But there are no waters that flow out of the Dead Sea, only waters that flow into it.
In fact, the Dead Sea is well below Sea Level, so there would be no way for water to flow out… it’s at it’s lowest point that it’s going to reach in-land!!
The point that Solomon makes here is clear - the water just keep on running their course, and they never seem to really make a difference.
There is no real change taking place in the Sea Level.
In all three of these examples from nature, Solomon expresses the fact that there is no real meaningful difference taking place.
As it was in years gone by, so in current times, and so it will be in times to come!
The point he brings across is that there is much activity, but no real advancement or achievement.
A great example of this is work around the house.
What do you have to show for all the work you do around the house? There are always more meals to prepare, more floors to scrub, and more clothes to wash.
But the same is true of our day to day work in the workplace.
2. The Conclusion: All Things are Wearisome
2. The Conclusion: All Things are Wearisome
With Solomon having presented his thoughts on this continuous motion in the world, without actually achieving much at all, he brings his conclusion in the first line of verse 8:
“All things are wearisome...”
That really is the summary as Solomon beholds
the generations coming and going,
the sun in the sky, running its course
The wind blowing around
The rivers all flowing into the seas.
This is wearisome...
All work, and no profit!!
Having summarized in these words, Solomon goes on to make three statements, in terms of his observations
These statements are parallel statements in the Hebrew…
In summary, what he says is this...
A man --- is not able --- to speak
An eye --- is not satisfied --- with seeing
An ear --- is not filled --- with hearing
In terms of the first line - “A man is not able to speak” we should understand Solomon to be saying that humans, confronted by the monotony and aimlessness of the situation in which they have been placed, have nothing to say.
Not even the wise can say anything in the face of the purposeless enigma that is the world.
No one can speak meaningfully to or about the world; that is, no one can explain, influence, or control it.
Humanity, for all its intellectual investigations, must accept life and death and the coming and going of generations in this world as an unexplained and inexplicable given.
Before this riddle, humans are silenced in ignorance.
Parts 2 and 3 of those three sentences carry this idea further.
Part of the “vanity” of this world is that it does not satisfy.
The eyes cannot be satisfied, not even by wealth.
The ear also cannot be filled; no amount of learning can answer people’s needs.
I was reminded of Paul’s description of the false teachers as he warned Timothy, where he said of these false teachers that they are....
7 always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.
Learning doesn’t necessarily bring wisdom.
In the case of Solomon’s teaching here, he is saying that the eye can never truly be filled here when considering what takes place under the sun.
The ear can never receive sufficient information to make sense of the wearisome nature of the world around us.
3. Restatement of the Thesis (vv.9-10)
3. Restatement of the Thesis (vv.9-10)
This leads Solomon to essentially restate his thesis, which he does in verse 9-10…
9 What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.
Nothing in life, as Solomon sees it, is new.
And indeed, as life has gone on in Solomon’s day, so it goes on today.
We must not think here that Solomon is speaking about basic advances in society!
For example, today, we have many advances in science / medicine / technology?
Certainly these are not the focus and point of the author.
The reality is that life itself in this world continues... it comes and goes....
The rivers keep on flowing their course through the generations.
The wind keeps on blowing...
There is birth, marriage, work, death etc... all these just keep on repeating themselves.
4. All People will be Forgotten (v.11)
4. All People will be Forgotten (v.11)
Finally in verse 11, Solomon closes off this section on the “toil on man” being “wearisome” by stating that there is no remembrance of men of old.
People come into this world and they labour and toil.
They strive to make a difference.
But as their lives pass on, there is no remembrance of them by the generations that follow.
There is no lasting fame for people.
Certainly there may be a handful out of the billions that are remembered, but for the most part, life carries on as if these other people didn’t even exist.
When last did you think of your great, great, great grandfather and the wonderful contribution he made to your life?
He is gone, forgotten, he lived his life, seeking to make his place in this world, maybe have an impact on the world, but ultimately, he’s gone and forgotten.
So it is with you.
You are living, doing what’s important and noble, giving you some sense of meaning and satisfaction.
But your life will end… and you will be forgotten.
Maybe not by your children… but certainly by generations to come, they will forget you.
Solomon states very clearly: this is wearisome.
Well, that is the lesson from the teacher for us today.
How can we apply it (apart from going home and weeping?!)
But we must ask ourselves, should that message drive us to despair? Hopelessness?
Certainly it should not.
Rather, it should drive us to the rest of Scripture, so that we may be reminded of where we may find true hope.
This passage is truly a call for us to focus our hearts on the Gospel.
What was it, that drove the labours of man into a meaningless toil?
It was the fall of Adam and Eve into sin in the Garden of Eden.
It was when Adam and Eve sinned against the Holy Creator of the Universe, that the toil of man became cursed.
He would henceforth labour and toil under the sun, not seeking God as he ought to, ultimately only to go to his death.
It was as Adam and Eve sinned against the Holy Creator God that man was told that he would surely die.
And from that time forward, Generations would come, and generations would go.
Death coming to man is a key theme in Genesis 5, where one man lives, and then he died, then it speaks about his son, and then speaks about how that son died. Over and over, generations are shown that come and go.
The sin of man led the world into a state of bondage; and humanity is unable to explain, find satisfaction in, or alter it.
But while there may be this bondage that was brought into the world through sin, leading to this wearisome repetitiveness in the world, that is not the final reality.
Because God, in His great love for mankind, stepped down into the context of this world in order to bring hope.
23 But he continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.
The Word became Flesh, and made his dwelling among us.
This Word was not from the world, but from above… from the place where there is ultimate and true meaning.
This Word that became flesh, this One who stepped down out of His place of glory with his father, spoke about the freedom that can be found from this world that is in bondage.
31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
In a world that is “Same old, same old”, our great God created some distinctly New things which speak to a better future, and a hope for us.
In John 3:3, Jesus says to Nicodemus...
3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
This is the “NEW BIRTH” that comes about - not of the will of a man, but rather by the will of God.
This new birth is a spiritual birth - as God works in our hearts to transform our affections and desires to follow Him and live in obedience to Him.
In Jeremiah 31, we read of the promise of a new covenant coming, and what the implications of that New Covenant are...
31 “The time is coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. 33 “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
What is it that marks out this New Covenant with His people? What is a distinctive hallmark of the New Covenant people of God?
That they would know the Lord - His law would be written on their hearts.
He would in fact dwell within the hearts and lives of His people.
In Luke 22:20, we read that as Christ drank the cup with His disciples at the last supper, he established this New Covenant in His blood.
Christ then went to die on the cross for our sins… He gave His own life up for our sakes.
It was as Christ offered His own life up on that cross, with His blood flowing down His body, that He was taking upon Himself the wrath that was due us.
The wearisome life that was spoken of by Solomon in Ecclesiastes was being injected with great and significant meaning through what was taking place on the cross.
And then, we know that through Christ’s resurrection from the dead, as recorded in Matthew 28:5–6, that death itself was conquered even for us.
Because death has been conquered, there is hope for us.
And so Paul says in...
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
In fact, because of the new age Jesus ushered in, John sees a new heaven and a new earth and hears God’s promise, “See, I am making all things new” (Rev 21:1, 5).
Well what does all of this have to do with Ecclesiastes 1:3-11, and what Solomon has taught us?!!?
I would suggest that it has everything to do with.
In verse 11 of our text, Solomon spoke about the generations coming and going, and not being remembered...
He spoke as if death was a final reality.
And so often, people in this world speak of death as the final reality.
So often, Christians fear the approach of death, thinking that it is the final reality.
And even if they do not acknowledge that with their mouths, they so often live lives as if this is all there is to it.
So often, we live our lives as if there’s nothing more to come.
But in John 11:25-26, we read Jesus words:
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Our lives are never to be lived merely with the perspective of life under the sun, striving to find our meaning and place in our labours in this world.
We need to realise that apart from God, people gain nothing from all their toil in this world.
Are you working hard, gaining your sense of meaning and purpose in your labours?
Let me ask it like this: If you had to have your work taken away from you today, that you could no longer carry on doing what you’re doing (through ill-health; collapse of industry etc.) - how would you respond to that?
How would that impact you?
We must ask ourselves, “Why did the Teacher wish to send this message to Israel? What was his goal?”
The Israelites of that day were “preoccupied with all sorts of social and economic issues—the volatility of the economy, the possibility of wealth, inheritance, social status.”
They lived far from God but close to the marketplace with its concern for “profit.”
This is precisely what happens in our world today.
This happens among those who profess faith in Christ.
I want to suggest to you that this tendency is far more powerful in our own lives than we would care to recognise and admit.
Profit is certainly not a bad thing; watching the economy is not a bad thing.
The trouble is that this becomes to us the main, the driving aspect in our lives.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The goal of the Teacher, then, is to warn Israel that, apart from God, they will not gain anything from all their toil.
And so the Teacher challenges us today, warns us, that apart from God, we will not gain anything from our toil in this life.
In Matthew 16, Jesus spoke to His disciples about the cost of following Him.
These are his words...
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?
Is there any merit to gaining the whole world through our earthly labours, only to lose our souls at the judgment day when Christ returns?
Are we labouring in this world, striving after the temporary pleasures that this labour and toil can bring, but we really have only limited time for God....
In Luke 12, we read of the parable of the rich fool as Jesus warns His disciples about striving after the things of this world.
15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’ 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ 21 “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
Therefore Jesus encourages us with these words,
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! 24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.
I would like to ask you a few Diagnostic Questions that you can give consideration to as you prepare to go into this week:
What priority does a time of spiritual nourishment and growth play in your life, particularly when compared to the priority that work plays in your life?
In what ways does your love for Christ impact the way in which you do your work? Would others in your workplace share your views on this?
How much time and effort do you put in to becoming more competent and effective in your job, and how does that compare to the time and effort you put in to growing in godliness?
In an average week, how many days do you spend at least 20 minutes in Bible reading and prayer?
What do you do to keep your love for God fresh and vital?
How are you using your spiritual gift(s) to serve the Lord?
Do you honor God with your stewardship of the time and money He entrusts to you? What two or three changes in each area (time/money) do you most need to make?