Understanding The Bible
The Book of Ecclesiastes
NOTES ON ECCLESIASTES: Part 2 - Why All Is Vanity

Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible

Notes on Ecclesiastes: Part 2 - Why All Is Vanity

  1. WHY ALL IS VANITY: 1:4-6:12
    1. Nothing is permanent or complete, 1:4-11
      1. 1:4
        One generation passeth away. In this section the worthlessness and unsatisfying quality of the tings of earth are shown. The earth abideth forever. This is an example of the mistakes men make in their reasonings "under the sun," apart from God's revelation. So far as any man knows (from observation) the earth has always been here and will always remain, so this is a natural mistake to make. This statement is an inspired, and thus true, account of what Solomon thought, but it is wrong because God reveals elsewhere (Rev. 20:11; 2 Peter 3:10-13) that the earth (in its present condition) will not abide forever. See Introduction to this book.
      2. 1:8
        Labor = "weariness."
      3. 1:11
        Things = "generations."
    2. Nothing is satisfying 1:12-5:9
      1. Wisdom and philosophy cannot satisfy, 1:12-18
        1. 1:13
          I gave my heart. Solomon set his mind to find out certain things. Nothing less than God and things eternal can satisfy the human heart. No experience nor theory of life which omits this emphasis can possibly satisfy. The attempts of Solomon, and his failure, prove that wisdom and philosophy cannot satisfy.

          By wisdom. Wisdom which does not bow humbly before God and make Him the very center, movement, and goal of His universe is bound to bring heartaches to the searcher.
        2. 1:14
          Vexation of spirit. Throughout the book this expression means "something futile and tiresome." To know more of the misery of this world, without knowing the way out, will increase the mental anguish of any right thinking person (v. 18). Only when God is given His rightful place in our thinking can we obtain wisdom (Prov. 1:7). In Christ "are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col. 2:3). Phrase in New English Bible = "chasing the wind."
      2. Pleasure and riches cannot satisfy, 2:1-11
        1. 2:1
          No one ever had as much money as Solomon (1 Ki. 10:14, 21, 27), and no one ever had the liberty that Solomon had to use his money as he pleased, for since he was an absolute monarch, Solomon could indulge in any pleasure that he desired. If Solomon could not find satisfaction in his unlimited riches, how can anyone else succeed? Solomon's father, David, knew the way to true happiness (Ps. 16:11), and Solomon, after these foolish searchings, also returned to God's way (12:13-14, with Prov. 2:3-5; 3:15).
        2. 2:3
          I sought in mine heart ... with wisdom. "I tried to cheer my flesh with wine, mine heart yet guiding me."
        3. 2:8
          The peculiar treasure of kings = Jewels.
      3. Materialism cannot satisfy, 2:12-26
        1. 2:12
          Materialism ( a word that we often hear today) is that false theory of living which says that only the things that you can en joy with your body are worthwhile. So, "eat, drink, and be merry" is the outlook on life; for those who believe in this, also believe that death ends all. This theory is false and unsatisfying because the spirit of man is the important factor ad takes precedence over all else (Mt. 6:33; 1 Cor. 2:11; Rom. 1:9).
        2. 2:14
          And I myself perceived = "and yet I perceived."
        3. 2:16
          More than = "even as."
        4. 2:21
          In \equity = "with skill."
        5. 2:26
          For God ... in His sight = "to the man that pleases Him, God gives ... "
      4. Fatalism cannot satisfy, 3:1-15
        1. 3:1
          Fatalism is that false theory which says that all of life is planned for us by a chance fate, and we can do nothing to change it. It declares that we walk on to the stage of life to act a part, which is predestined or planned for us; and that we can no more think of changing it than the words of the character of a pay. The theory is proved false by the emphasis of the Word of God upon the value of the individual soul to God, and the constant appeals to decision; for each of us is personally responsible to God.
        2. 3:11
          Set the world in their heart. Nothing in this passing world can satisfy; only things eternal, the things of God, satisfy the human heart.
        3. 3:12
          No good in them, but for a man. The best that a man can do ...
      5. Deism cannot satisfy, 3:16-4:16
        1. 3:16
          Deism is that false theory which says that IF there is a personal God who created the world and us, no one can be sure of it and no one can know Him. In fact, He is not interested in mankind, this theory says, and has left the running of His world and its affairs to impersonal, unchangeable "laws of nature."  Deism is proved to be false by the Scripture's constant emphasis on God's love and concern  for each individual (see 2 Pet. 3:9); and by the fact that God does rule and overrule in the affairs of individuals and nations, judging both in this life and in the life to come (Dan. 4:23-27; 5:24-28; Rom 2:6, 167; Eccl. 12:13-14).
        2. 3:16
          The place of judgment = ""in the place of judgment."
        3. 3:18
          Are beasts - "are but as beasts."
        4. 3:21
          Both phrases "that goeth" should read "whether it goeth."
        5. 3:22
          Bring him back to see.
        6. 4:1
          All the oppressions. The French skeptic, Voltaire, after seeing the extreme wealth of the rich and poverty of the poor in the days just before the French Revolution exclaimed, "The worst of all possible worlds is this ... And if there be a personal creator, He must be a fiend. And as for me, I wish I had never been born." This is a typical reaction of a Deist (see 3:16, note). Voltaire failed to see that SIN (the sin of MEN) and not GOD has brought these woes to the human race; that even in this life those who oppress their fellow men often reap a violent death (or, at least, hatred and loneliness); and that God will even the score in the final judgment.
        7. 4:4
          Right = "skilful."
        8. 4:8
          And there is not a second. This means that he has no one dependent upon him.
        9. 4:12
          Against him = "against him alone."
      6. Religion and religious practices cannot satisfy, 5:1-9
        1. 5:1
          Keep thy foot. Religion in itself, that is, the works of an unsaved heart, done out of a sense of duty or self-preservation, cannot satisfy. However good these teaching which follow (5:1-9) may be in themselves, they will not bring the one who is not born again one inch nearer to God. One must first be saved and be given a renewed heart, before religious practices will be satisfactory and satisfying.
        2. 5:2
          Let thy words be few. The longest public prayer recorded in the Bible (that of Solomon at the dedication of the Temple) requires but four minutes to repeat. One may well "play long" in private prayer, but public prayer is quite different. Take a warning.
        3. 5:4
          When thou vowest. Be careful what you praise God, for if the thing you promise is something right in itself, it will be sin to you not to fulfill it. Mean what you say and say what you mean, and do not be a hypocrite or a liar.
        4. 5:8
          For he that is higher than the highest = ""the one higher than the high" is the king. And "there be higher than they," that is, the Lord who is even higher than kings is regarding iniquity and will judge the offender, even if the king should fail to catch the slips of a minor official.
    3. Philosophical conclusion of all this 5:10-6:12
      1. Disadvantages to riches, 5:10-6:2
        1. 5:10-11
          Man cannot eat them
        2. 5:12
          Man is not improved physically by them
        3. 5:13-17
          Man cannot take anything with him when he die
        4. 5:13
          Kept for = "kept by,"
        5. 5:18-20
          Man should enjoy life while he can
        6. 5:18
          It is good and comely. Compare 5:18-20. This is the philosophical conclusion of all his searchings, six avenues of which turned out to be blind alleys in 1:12-5:9. "Eat, drink and be merry (if you can); this is the best God has for you, this is the sum of life, "was his conclusion. What a low estimate of the goal and privilege of life! How different from the conclusion that he reaches (12:13-14) when he returns to God's revelation.
        7. 6:1-2
          Man must die and leave his riches
        8. 6:1
          Common among men = "heavy upon men."
      2. There is no profit in life, 6:3-12
        1. 6:5
          Hath more rest than = "has rest rather than."
        2. 6:8
          What hath the wise = what advantage has the wise?
        3. 6:11
          What is man the better? See note on 5:18-20.
        4. 6:12
          Who knoweth ... who can tell? Only the Lord Jesus Christ can answer these questions, and He does (Mk. 8:34-38; Lk. 12:15; Jn. 3:18, 36).


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