I believe Paul Harvey once said that prior the mid-20th century the word bored was seldom used. Adults had little time to simply sit around and wonder what to do next. Instead they worked hard on the job and at home. Children were busy as well. They had chores before and after school, homework, and when they were not doing chores and homework they were outside playing. Now that is not to say that it was impossible to be hit with a bout of boredom. As a matter of fact, it was never very far away; usually just out of sight waiting for its chance to pounce on the unsuspecting.
In this study of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon, who tradition credits with authoring this book, opens his journal with an a-matter-of-fact remark that life has no trouble moving one into the mundane. He, without hesitation, proclaims that life “under the sun” is meaningless (1:2). A stark reminder that nothing humanity does in its own power, the meaning of “under the sun,” will amount to anything that lasts and satisfies.
Following this rather dismal proclamation, the king goes into a long discourse on the predictability that brings tediousness in this thing we call living. “What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?” asks this wise and busy king.
Take that question to the streets and you will encounter a variety of responses. Some agree with Solomon and say they’re really not sure what all the busyness is accomplishing. While others would acknowledge that there are times when the question is legit but if enough things are piled into a day then that day is full. Solomon would respond with another question, “Full of what? Busy, yes; meaning, not if it is life lived under the sun.”
For those who believe they are the movers and shakers of society, Solomon has some things for them to understand. He lists four items that no one can do anything to deter, no matter how powerful that person may believe themselves to be. These are found in verses 4-7 and they are unchangeable.
Number One: People come and go but the earth does not (v.4). Some folks need to hear that one as they bemoan how humanity is going to destroy the world someday.
Number Two: The sun sets every evening and rises every morning (v.5). So the reality is the sun rises and sets on everyone, not just some special one who believes it only happens to them.
Number Three: The wind blows wherever it wants to, whenever it wants to (v.6) - so much for controlling the weather, let alone forecasting it.
Number Four: All the streams flow into the sea but the sea never fills up and the streams never all dry up (v.7). This would seem to be the easiest of the four to change but since God said, “Let there be” the rivers and oceans have played by the rules and humanity’s barely made a dent in the cycles of the rain.
When all is said, Solomon came to understand that though mankind can accomplish much we cannot even begin to be as mighty as we may think. This is life under the sun. Solomon sighs, “All things are wearisome, more than one can say.” (v.8) In other words, life is boring, even frustrating, when lived under the sun.
Yet people try to fill their days with things that never satisfy. Look at the king’s profound yet simple observation, “The eye never has enough seeing, nor the ear enough hearing” (v.8). Wow, does that not capture life lived driven by our own desires? The slightest change in a new model year keeps auto sales alive after decades of building and selling. The resort industry has made a mint on this one as well; there’s always a new place to see. And how many new iPhones does the world really need? Yet every few months folks campout in lines to buy an overpriced toy that they will never figure out how to use all its bells and whistles. Then, six months later they find themselves camping again.
Then there’s the constant flow of new music, new movies, reality (or so they claim) shows, sitcoms, and books, that bank on the fact that our ears, like our eyes, are black holes when it comes to filling and satisfying.
Yet with all the new is there anything that is really new? Or, are things just a bit different from what has come before. King Solomon observed, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. 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.” (vv. 9-10) Did you know that archeologist have dug up toy airplanes that are aerodynamically sound and baby dolls with eyes that open and close that date back to…the days of the Egyptian pharaohs? That would be somewhere between 4-5 thousand years ago. The Chinese have had a functioning computer, the abacus, some 200 years before Christ and the Mesopotamians had it 2300 years before the Chinese; granted ours work better, but they are not new.
Solomon closes this dirge with a sad but true statement: “No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.” (v.11) Thoroughly depressed now? Don’t be, that is not the king’s intent. What he wants you to know is that there is more to life than the things you can do and have. But before you can truly grasp that concept you need to come to the understanding that the answer is found beyond ourselves and our world if you want to find meaning. He will come to that in Ecclesiastes. But you have one advantage this great and wise king never had; you have these words: “I have come to give them life and life abundant”… Jesus Christ. He offers life above the sun.