Practical Lessons from Ecclesiastes (Part 1)

In 2013, we presented a series of practical lessons from the Old Testament books of law and history. Starting today, we will present a number of practical lessons from many Old Testament books of wisdom as well as the prophets. Although we enjoy studying the Old Testament and breaking it down verse by verse in an effort to understand its meaning, this series will not focus so much upon the fascinating details as it will the bigger picture; that is, lessons that have practical application for our lives today. We will explore many Old Testament books looking for these timeless ideas. These are truths that we all need to learn and be reminded of periodically (cf. Rom. 15:4).

We will state each principle and then read the Bible passage from which the idea is based. We will then elaborate briefly on each lesson. Admittedly, extracting principles from books that are not primarily narrative is more difficult. Nevertheless, there are riches to be gleaned for those willing to put forth the effort.

Ecclesiastes 1:2 - "'Vanity of vanities,' says the Preacher; 'Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.'"
The wise man Solomon, from the very first verses of the book of Ecclesiastes, introduces his theme. Everything is vain or "vanity." Nothing has redeeming or lasting value. All is futile and useless. A casual reading of Ecclesiastes may leave one feeling discouraged or even depressed. Surely Solomon is wrong, isn't he? Life isn't vain--is it? I believe that this preacher from nearly three thousand years ago is indeed stating a truth about life, but his viewpoint is purely secular. That is, without God in the picture, yes, everything is meaningless! No matter what a person can accomplish or possess, it's all pointless from the physical standpoint (i.e., "under the sun"). But, with God in one's life, there is purpose, as Solomon explains at the end of the book (cf. 12:13,14). One preacher put it this way: Without God, life is reduced to paychecks, weekends, & cheap thrills.

Ecclesiastes 1:8 - "All things are full of labor; man cannot express it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing."
First, he mentions the continual and repetitious cycles of the sun. It hurries across the sky only to rise again and repeat the same cycle. Second, the example of the wind, which continues to blow in its circular path for no apparent reason. Third, the rivers flow to the sea but the sea is not full, and the water returns from where it came. None of these things are ever really completed or finished. All things are wearisome. Although the creation is active in so many diverse ways, nothing is ever really accomplished. Ultimate fulfillment never comes. Mankind, consequently, like the creation in general, will not find satisfaction in physical terms.

Ecclesiastes 1:9 - "That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun."
The cycles of the Earth will continue indefinitely; history will continue to repeat itself. There are no new thoughts; there is no new anything! In his vanity, man thinks that he discovers new things and conceives new ideas, but these things are not really new. For example, what about airplanes? Airplanes are relatively new, right? Not really, for they are just another form of transportation, and we've had many methods of travel from the beginning (not to mention the fact that birds have flown from the beginning!).

Ecclesiastes 1:11 - "There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come by those who will come after."
Not only is man plagued by the simple truth that nothing he does is new, all that man does is overshadowed by the fact that his efforts will soon be forgotten. Other than a few notable exceptions, how many of the multiplied billions who have lived are really remembered from 200 years ago? 500 years ago? 1000 years ago? Of course, whether anything we do is ever remembered by any other human being is irrelevant. Everything we do or think is eternally significant because it is remembered by the Lord (cf. II Cor. 5:10).