Ecclesiastes 1:9 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.
I am a big fan of wisdom literature (the books of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon and Psalms). I like their commentary on both the big picture and the little everyday details of life. I also find it interesting that most of these writings were written by Solomon, the son of David. I am certain it’s no accident that the giver of wisdom, The Messiah, is the (big girl word alert) eschatological, or the ultimate, Son of David. Oh, how I adore biblical foreshadowing.
So, looking at the book of Ecclesiastes in particular, one obvious and unique theme is the abundant use of the phrase “under the sun.” This expression appears at least twenty-six times in just 12 chapters (depending on what translation you read). I find it pretty amazing that we still use this terminology today. These words seem to simply mean, “on this earth,” everything literally under the sun, but I figure since they are so greatly and obviously emphasized, there has to be more significance than a literal definition. Solomon must be trying to say something more profound.
In my non-official research on this topic, I learned that “under the sun” is a Hebrew idiom meaning, figuratively, “life without God.” Throughout the book, the voice of Ecclesiastes continually shouts “all is vanity!” or, in other words, “everything is meaningless.” The more I dwell on this topic, the more it all really makes sense to me.
Even when everything in this world is gained, won, given, or achieved, without the Creator, there is emptiness and “striving after wind.” Solomon is proof that there is nothing of the world that will satisfy our heart’s desire in full. The King of Jerusalem was the wisest, richest, most powerful man of his time. His wealth and fame were far beyond imagining. Scripture tells us that Solomon had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. He built a kingdom with an abundance of houses, vineyards, gardens and parks, pools, slaves, herds, flocks, silver, gold, and treasure. Whatever he desired, he indulged. And all of this was greater than any who had come before him. He genuinely had everything under the sun.
And still he said,
Ecclesiastes 2:11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.
The wisdoms of Ecclesiastes are utterly timeless. They transcend generations, culture, context, etc. Think about it, many people throughout history have dedicated their lives to disciplines such as science, philosophy, and theology, in an effort to answer the age-old question, “What is the meaning of life?”. Long has humanity wondered “who are we?” and “why are we here?”. There’s even a Wikipedia page dedicated to exploring these questions.
Of course, Ecclesiastes also tells us that the reason humanity longs for the answers to these questions is because God has put eternity into man’s heart.
Ecclesiastes 3:11-12 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live.
The words of Solomon speak to the beauty of God’s plan for us. He specifically says that not everything is meant to be understood or perceived. However, God does plainly spell out the meaning of this earthly life in the gospel, and in Christ, our lives are far from meaningless. The gospel is Jesus taking the physical form of a man to live and dwell among us. He came to die on our behalf so that we might have the gift of eternal life. And He gives us purpose and meaning by making us disciples and teaching and explaining the Christian life in a practical way. That’s why all is vanity under the sun. True fulfillment and happiness can only be found in the One who is greater. He died so we could experience his righteousness and joy. His saving grace gives meaning to our existence in the here and now and for all of eternity.
It is impossible for any created good to constitute man’s happiness. For happiness is the perfect good, which lulls the appetite altogether; else it would not be the last end, if something yet remained to be desired. Now the object of the will, i.e. of man’s appetite, is the universal good; just as the object of the intellect is the universal true. Hence it is evident that nothing can lull man’s will, save the universal good. This is to be found, not in any creature, but in God alone; because every creature has goodness by participation. Wherefore God alone can satisfy the will of man. – Thomas Aquinas