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Lowell Brueckner

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Ecclesiastes 1:8-18


Nothing is new; nothing satisfies

8.  All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. 
9.  What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. 
10.  Is there a thing of which it is said, "See, this is new"? It has been already in the ages before us. 
11.  There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after. 

I wonder if a person can understand the insufficiency of human language, if he has not studied the Bible. Because the Scripture is devoted to an attempt to put spiritual, heavenly thoughts and matters into earthly languages, we continually see in it, the limitations of man's communication. I need not belabor the obvious, but only to clarify, what the preacher means, when he says, “A man cannot utter it”, I offer a few examples. Who can put the love of God into words? Who can express or comprehend eternity or infinity? Of course, above all else, who can describe Almighty God and His uniqueness, the incomprehensible trinity and the endless wonder of omnipresence and omniscience. All this goes far beyond expression.

If we try to approach the things of God with earthly intelligence, we will weary ourselves to the edge of insanity. Because man is created in the image and likeness of God, a living soul, placed within a body made of clay, the eye continually seeks to see beyond its capabilities and the ear listens for the inaudible world of the spirit. Therefore, no matter how much it has seen, the eye is not satisfied, and wants to see more. The ear that has heard the absolute best sounds available, is listening for something better. Progressively, more powerful telescopes and more accurate microscopes will be built; sonar devices will constantly be improved, because the human eye and ear will never be satisfied. There is no satisfaction for them in the realm of cycles, in which they exist. We have to continually remind ourselves that Solomon is limiting his discourse to the mundane, the earthly, the natural life under the sun.

Nothing is new. We can expect nothing in the future that did not exist in history. Nothing will be achieved that has not been achieved. Solomon is using a very basic reasoning in these arguments and not the sophisticated superficialities that have been built upon the foundations. All the complex fusions, which have produced modern synthetics, were made from elements that have been present in the earth since creation. The laws, which were used to form them, were placed in the universe since the beginning of time. The human intelligence, which contrived every invention, has existed always in the human brain. It has only developed these basic abilities. If it appears that man has made progress in his physical world, he has digressed horribly in a moral and spiritual sense.

The essence of Solomon´s argument is simplified in verse 10. Basically, man exists in the present, without the wisdom to learn from the past or plan the future. True, there are memorials to the past, but they are not given the same priority, as current events. National debt is probably one of the greatest evidences of lack of consideration for the future and the misuse of nature is another. Man relegates the past to different circumstances and cultures, which are not relevant today, and the future is filled with uncertainties that cannot be predicted; and so he struggles on in the present tense, doing the best he can to cope with things as they are. As men act today, so they have always acted and so will they continue in future generations.

Solomon gives personal testimony

12.  I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 
13.  And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 
14.  I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. 
15.  What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted. 
16.  I said in my heart, "I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge." 
17.  And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind. 
18.  For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.

Solomon begins to give us his personal testimony. He reveals openly his past thinking and endeavors, then contrasts them with a new mentality and heart. “I used to apply my heart to seek earthly wisdom,” he says, “but now I see that it is an unhappy thing, with which to be busy. I previously sought to view everything under the sun, but now, I see all is vain striving after wind. I acquired great wisdom and knowledge, but I now know that it only increases vexation and sorrow.” Can there be any doubt that King Solomon has been brought to repentance?

He states his position as king in the capital city of Israel, Jerusalem. He speaks in the past tense… “I was king”. He does not mean that he is no longer king, but only that his former mentality and lifestyle have come to an end; he has put it in the past, because he now sees things on a much higher level, as a transformed human being.  

Solomon was no common king, but a mighty ruler from the Euphrates River to the border of Egypt. Read the account in 2 Chronicles, chapter 9. There it states, “King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom” (2 Chr.9:22). Other kings looked to him for counsel: “All the kings of the earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom” (23). The statement of the queen of Sheba is particularly significant: “I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. And behold, half the greatness of your wisdom was not told me; you surpass the report that I heard” (6). As to his wealth, the chapter continues to state: “Solomon had 4,000 stalls for horses and chariots, and 12,000 horsemen… And the king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stone” (25, 27). It reports that he received 666 talents of gold annually… about $17 million. He made shields of pure gold, a throne of ivory, coated with gold, six steps and a footstool of gold, all of his drinking vessels were gold, etc., etc.

God does not choose at random or ever settle for second best. The believer will take into account that every writer of Scripture has been inspired to write by a Person of the trinity, the Holy Spirit. God has chosen and prepared a man, who deserves an audience, regardless of how secular and skeptical that audience may be. His word carries authority on the basis of personal experience, beyond that which a man on the street could give. If he is the one to tell us that the search and accumulation of wisdom and knowledge increases vexation and sorrow, then, at the very least, we ought to hear him out. If he tells us that he has learned that life under our sun, that is, earthly life, is vanity, we ought to seriously consider it. So please, let us be sensible enough to follow him through these twelve chapters.

 An old saying claims, “Ignorance is bliss”, and there is some truth in the statement. For example, a happy-go-lucky, carefree life works great for children. They, in most cases, at least in the Western world, do not have to worry about putting food upon the table or buying clothes. They are not too interested in the news and spend most of their time at play. Also, the savage in the jungle doesn’t concern himself about which country has atomic bomb capabilities or the possibility of World War III. The informed person has a lot more to worry about, than the ignorant; I think that can be established as fact. However, the writer is not lauding ignorance, but is exposing the lust for much wisdom and increasing knowledge. He is saying that it will not bring the satisfaction that it seems to promise, but instead vexation and sorrow. Therefore, to involve oneself passionately in accumulating worldly knowledge, as Solomon did, will have a negative end. He speaks from experience.



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