Ecclesiastes 1: The Worth of Life & Wisdom

Please join me tonight in reading and studying chapter 1 of the book of Ecclesiastes.

Tonight’s reading can be divided into two distinct sections:

  1. Verses 1-11 discuss the vanity and futility of life in the natural world as compared with the efforts of man.
  2. Verses 12-18 are a commentary on the end result of earthly wisdom.

The first eleven verses have Solomon proclaiming that all is vanity – all earthly efforts and time spent in work eventually amount to nothing. As we progress through this book, it is important to remember that the conclusion to make from such proclamations is that all earthly endeavors have no value in comparison to heeding and obeying God. So when Solomon describes the continual labor of the natural world, he is doing so to express the idea that all extant natural processes continue on and on and on despite man’s study of them:

“All things are full of labor; Man cannot express it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, Nor the ear filled with hearing.” Ecclesiastes 1:8

We work all the days of our lives and we seek to fill our hours with satisfying things. Yet nothing earthly can fill the hole in our hearts; only God can do this.

The sentiment in verses 9-11 communicates that our lives are not really all that special or spectacular. They certainly are special to us, but when we zoom out of our singular frame and view humanity as a thriving organism, with generations spanning before and after us, our singular existence loses importance. Solomon is enlightening us to the idea that in the grand scheme of God’s creation, we are so very miniscule. We are led to the inevitable conclusion that preparing for eternity is the best possible use of our time; everything else is futile, is vanity.

The second section of this chapter in verses 12-18 deals with wisdom and its inherent worth. Solomon, inspired by wisdom granted from God, reveals to us that the end of wisdom is grief and sorrow. Notice in the beginning of this passage that after having been blessed by wisdom from God, Solomon set his heart to discern all of the wisdom under heaven. His findings led him to the conclusion that man will seek and find errors and issues and will seek to amend them, but his efforts are of little or no use:

“What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be numbered.” Ecclesiastes 1:15

Solomon is telling us that our time on earth is too limited and the problems that we find are often too great for us to make any real progress towards a lasting solution. After knowing this, along with attaining all of his great wisdom, Solomon rather intellectually concludes that the temporal nature of our reality on earth is ultimately meaningless when compared to the strength and power of God. For God’s strength and power can affect, change and fix all where our meager efforts are pitiful and sad by comparison. We are physical beings that gravitate towards the physical; however, we are spiritual at our core and will be most successful when we favor spiritual increases rather than physical.

Both sections lead us to depressing conclusions: earthly toil is worthless and earthly wisdom leads to sadness. But, as we press on through this peculiar book of wisdom, let us not forget the actual conclusion to make from statements such as these:

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

Because we live in a world filled with pointless toil and useless wisdom, we are best served to seek the wisdom and guidance of God almighty, who is preparing an eternity for those that seek Him in faith and truth.

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