Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

1To everything there is a season, and a time for every matter.

2A time to be born and a time to die.

A time to plant and a time to pluck up what was planted.

3A time to kill and a time to heal.

A time to break down and a time to build up.

4A time to weep and a time to laugh.

A time to mourn and a time to dance.

5A time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones.

A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.

6A time to search and a time to lose.

A time to keep and a time to throw away.

7A time to tear and a time to sew.

A time to keep silence and a time to speak.

8A time to love and a time to hate.

A time for war and a time for peace.

The Teacher has been writing his observations in prose up until now, but he switches to verse for this section. He is a poet as well as a scribe, then; he knows when to employ prose and when to employ verse. This, ironically, reflects the theme of this reading: life is seasonal, and different behavior is appropriate in different seasons. He takes a holistic view of life, rather than focusing on one side of the ledger or the other. For example, he does not take the view that war is always wrong; rather, he notes that there are appropriate times for war, just as there are appropriate times for peace. Laughter is important, though there is a time and place for it—just as there is also a time and place for mourning.

The liturgical calendar of the church reflects this reality. There is the season of new birth and growth and discipleship reflected in the waning months of winter and the early months of spring. There is the season of contemplation and seriousness that accompanies Lent, followed by the season of unbridled joy and celebration at Easter and Pentecost. There is the season of harvesting, and the season of planting. This calendar reminds us of our lives.

The wise person knows which behavior is appropriate for which season.

Ecclesiastes 2:18-26

18And I hated all my labor with which I labored under the sun, since I must leave it to the man who will come after me. 19Who knows if he will be wise or a fool? Yet he is master of all my labor with which I have labored and used my wisdom under the sun. This, too, is vanity! 20Then I turned to despair in my heart over all the labor with which I labored under the sun, 21because there is a man who toils with wisdom and knowledge and skill, yet must leave his portion to a man who did not labor for it. This, too, is vanity; a great evil! 22Because what will a man get for all his labor and striving of heart with which he toils under the sun? 23Because all his days are full of pain, and his work is a grief. Even in his nights he finds no rest in his heart; this, too is vanity! 24There is nothing better than for a man to eat and drink and find delight in his labor. This, too, I saw, is from the hand of God. 25For who can eat or find enjoyment apart from him? 26For to the man who pleases him, he gives wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he gives the occupation of gathering and collecting in order to give to the one who pleases God. This, too, is vanity, and a chasing after the wind.

The Teacher has tried everything: he’s tried the silly life, the wise life, the hard-working life, the dissipated life. Everything ends the same way. When he works hard and sacrifices and lives wisely, he knows that he will still die and someone else will inherit what he has spent his life accumulating. His heart turns to despair—but mainly because he was always under the illusion that he was in control. He mistakenly thought his disciplined behavior put him in control of his ultimate destiny. He mistakenly believed that his use of wisdom and hard work put him in control of the direction that he was headed in life. But he was never in control; once death comes, all that you are and have pass into a different realm. The Teacher once again has to conclude that this, too, is a big fat vapor trail.

But something changes this time in his observations: he notes in verse 24 that rather than live life under the illusion of control, a man could do no better than to have enough to eat and drink, and to find delight or satisfaction in his work. His provision is ultimately up to God, not him. His destiny is in God’s hands, not his own. The direction he’s headed is guarded by God, not him. The Teacher is observing the wisest fact of all: to be satisfied with what one has and to find delight in one’s work is the ultimate good during this time on the earth.

God gave you a precious gift of life. He meant for you to enjoy it. To find delight in it. Listen to the music loudly. Eat the food that tastes so wonderful. Enjoy this life. To face it with only grim determination is to miss out on what God has given you. Enjoy it and find delight in it today. You have enough; God has seen to that already. Enjoy what he has given you.

Ecclesiastes 2:12-17

12So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly, because what can ma do who comes after kings? Only what has already been done. 13And I perceived that there is more gain to wisdom than folly, as there is more gain to light than darkness. 14The wise walk with his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. But I observed also that the same fate befalls them all. 15And I said in my heart, “As it happens to the fool, so also it befalls me. So why then have I been very wise?” And I said in my heart that this, too, is vanity! 16Because there is no enduring memory of the wise just like the fool, seeing that in the days to come all will be forgotten. How the wise dies like the fool! 17So I hated life, since the works done under the sun were grievous to me, because all is vanity—a chasing after wind!

The Teacher now “turns” to consider meaning in another place (at least, as he sees it): his logic. He observes that wisdom, at first glance, must be better than folly—in the same way that light is better than darkness (13). But then he notes that death is the one common, equalizing factor for both the wise and the foolish—everyone dies, regardless of which label they wear. Talk about a Captain Bringdown! The Teacher has openly stated what the rest of us bury as deeply in our consciousness as we can: death is coming for us all. And then he lands on his logical conclusion: since death takes both the wise and the foolish, what’s the point of being wise? What’s the point of doing good? In fact, what’s the point of being alive (17). It is clear that the Teacher only feels that something is NOT a “vapor” if it has a practical point to it. There must be some gain or profit or advantage to the activity if it is to be considered valid and not vaporous and futile.

Once again, he has searched for meaning in the same place where he’s been searching already: himself. He looks to his own logic, and his logic tells him that if he cannot find a “point” to all of it, then it must be a vapor. But the Bible is also full of stories in which God clearly favors things that don’t necessarily have a “point.” For example, he commanded the Israelites to build a tabernacle in Exodus. There is a “point” to the altar, the doorposts, the columns, the dividing wall, etc. But in his instructions, God commands them to build a glass sea—a project that has absolutely no practical significance whatsoever. There is no point to the glass sea; it’s just a beautiful piece of art that God commands be placed in his house. The beautiful is frequently the enemy of the practical in this way. When Jesus is headed to Jerusalem to submit to his trial and crucifixion, he stops for dinner in Bethany, where a woman pours expensive oil on his head in an act of spontaneous worship. The disciples chastise her because there was no practical “point” to what she did—the money could have been used for a more practical end. But Jesus defends her because what she did was beautiful—not practical. Perhaps the point of life isn’t to find a point; perhaps life itself is the “point.”

The Teacher has so far not been living life; he’s been studying it and finding bogus answers within himself. Once again, any search for meaning or truth that points you to yourself will ultimately end up in a vapor. The Teacher is showing his audience how he is slowly learning this. But you and I can do a couple of things that reflect our growing understanding of our God:

  • We can remember that not everything has a “point.” Sometimes the beauty of the moment IS the point, and your failure to notice it, to experience it, to taste it, to allow it to happen to you—that is the sin.
  • We can remember that there is nothing but vapor within ourselves. Our logic, our understanding, our intelligence, our education, our histories, our wars, our politics—all of it is vanity, because all of it originates from within human appetites. The more your search leads you to “within yourself,” the more worthless you’ll find the results.

Your meaning is found outside yourself—in God alone. And he has given you the gift of life, which is to be experienced and enjoyed for its own end, with or without a practical “point.” The real futility is a life “endured” but not LIVED.

Ecclesiastes 2:1-11

1I said in my heart, “Come now: I will test you with pleasure. Enjoy yourself!” But behold: this, too, was vanity. 2I said of laughter, “This is mad.” And of pleasure: “Of what use is this?” 3I searched my heart to cheer my body with wine—my wisdom still guiding me—in order to lay hold of folly until I could see what good the sons of man could do under the heavens during the few days of their lives. 4I made great works. I build for myself houses, and planted for myself vineyards. 5I made for myself gardens and parks and planted all sorts of fruit trees in them. 6I made for myself pools of water from which to water the flourishing grove of trees. 7I bought male and female slaves, and slaves were born to me in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks—more than all who had been before me in Jerusalem. 8I gathered to myself also silver and gold, and treasure of kings and provinces. I acquitted to myself male and female singers, and many concubines (the delight of the sons of man). 9So I became great and surpassed all who had been before me in Jerusalem. My wisdom remained with me. 10And all that my eyes desired I kept nothing from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure. I rejoiced in all my toils, for this was the reward of all my toils. 11I considered all my works that my hands had done, and the toil that I had spent doing it, and behold: all was vanity—a chasing after wind! And there was nothing to be gained under the sun.

The Teacher continues his quest for meaning in life, and now he turns his attention to the pursuit of pleasure. Of course he began with that first! He tries the silly life first (1-2), but decides that it’s just plain crazy to see only one side of everything. He decides on escapism next—drinking and carousing. I love how he claims that his wisdom is still guiding him (3)! That’s a bit of laughter after all. He then chases after self-testament: that is, he works at things and builds things that are reflections of himself and his own sense of grandiosity. Look how many times the phrase “for myself” or “to myself” occurs in verses 4-8, for example. All of the trappings of wealth and societal reputation and honor are his, and he has chased them and caught them. He chases pleasure itself, for the sake of pure pleasure. But he is astute enough to recognize that all of these pursuits were a waste of time. He got nothing from them that was lasting. It was all an empty vapor (“vanity”).

It’s worth a minute every day to stop and think about what you’re really chasing. Often, we are so caught up in our routine—get dressed, go to work, internet, tv, games, friends, etc.—that we don’t do a quick overview of what direction we’re head overall. Where does your routine get you? What direction is it headed? Underneath all of the stuff you do each and every day is a goal: this is the thing you’re chasing. Well, what is it? Are you chasing pleasure? Are you chasing a legacy? A name for yourself? Wealth? Escape from reality? These things, coincidentally enough, all originate from within ourselves. It’s yet another example of looking for meaning inside of ourselves rather than outside ourselves like we should. The end result is always the same: you’ve gained nothing, and wasted a lot of time chasing after wind.

You are given a few days on the earth as a gift from God. What are you chasing during those days? If it’s not God, get used to wrapping your fist around wind. You’ll catch a big bag of nothing.

Ecclesiastes 1:12-18

12I the Teacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13And 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 sons of man to be busy with. 14I have seen all the works done under the sun, and behold: all is vanity—a striving after wind!  15What is crooked cannot be made straight, and that which is lacking cannot be counted. 16I said in my heart, “I have acquired great estate and have gotten more wisdom than all who were before me in Jerusalem; my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” 17And I applied my heart to know wisdom and knowledge, madness and folly. I perceived that this, too, is a chasing of wind. 18For with much wisdom is much grief, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.

Once again, the Teacher identifies himself as one who has ruling authority in Jerusalem, which causes many observers to believe that this is Solomon. And once again, the Teacher relates his quest: he is seeking meaning. He is seeking to learn the deep meaning of life by searching the works of humanity. He studies the patterns of men and the results aren’t good (13). It turns out that everything people do tends toward meaninglessness and futility. They are unable to make things right, and that which is wrong doesn’t appear to ever get set right. So he says to himself, “Ok, I’ll just learn wisdom and knowledge then. I’ll search for meaning inside myself.” This turns out to be futile, too. Such a quest can make one truly miserable.

When we seek meaning in others, we find only futility and misery. When we think we can trust our own “smarts” to provide meaning for our lives, we find only powerlessness and sorrow. It is all futile. The only true meaning must lie outside of humanity. Though our natural inclination is to search for it in one another and in ourselves, we will always be disappointed when we do. And the Teacher told us that 3000 years ago.

Is your contentment based on someone else today? Is it based on your trust of your intellectual capacities? Do you think you can figure out the meaning of life and be content? These are terrible places to search for something that can only be found in God himself.

Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

1The words of the Teacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem:

2“Vanity of vanities,” says the Teacher, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!”;

3What does man gain by all his labor at which he works under the sun?

4A generation comes, and a generation goes, yet the earth remains forever.

5The sun rises and the sun goes down, and it hurries to the place at which it rises.

6The wind blows to the south, and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns again.

7All streams flow the sea, and yet the sea is not full; to the place where streams flow, there they flow again.

8All things are tiresome; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear filled with hearing.

9What has been will be, and what has been done will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.

10Is there a thing about which it is said, “Look! This is new!”? It has been already in the ages before us.

11There is no remembrance of former things; nor will there be any remembrance of things to come among those who come after.

The Teacher begins a search for meaning, and quickly observes that life and labor are but a vapor. They seem insignificant next to the eternality of the setting. Though we seem to experience new things, there are no real new things. It’s all happened before, and will happen again, and we’ll be just as dumb that time around too and won’t remember it.

Tradition holds that the author of Ecclesiastes is Solomon, known elsewhere in scripture as the “Teacher.” The author here is identified as the “son of David” in verse 1, for example. However, this does not necessarily mean that it’s literally Solomon; signing a Big Shot’s name to your writings was a common occurrence in ancient times. This author further identifies himself as קֹהֶ֣לֶת  (“qoheleth”), which means “speaker in the assembly.” This is why he’s known as “The Teacher,” similar to the author of the Proverbs. This book, which is actually titled “Qoheleth” in Hebrew, is an example of “Wisdom Literature” in the Bible. This a special type of literature that focuses on the writer’s observations of humanity, God, existence, and everyday living. It is not meant to always be a “strict application to your life” type of literature, and should not be read that way. As we make our way through Ecclesiastes together, try to put yourself in the Teacher’s shoes and notice life the way he does. Don’t get hung up on your emotional reaction to his observations, and don’t be in too big a hurry to find a cheap and easy “meaning” that fits nicely in your back pocket to apply to your life that day. Rather, consider what life really is—what human beings are really like, who God really is, how history works. Observe it with the Teacher, and let God enrich your life accordingly as time progresses. Remember that Jesus not only quoted from Jewish Wisdom literature like this—but more importantly, taught in this manner quite a bit. It has been theorized, even, that the rabbi of his village in Nazareth when he was a child must have been an expert in Wisdom literature, given how similar his teaching style is (and that of his brother, James).

In this first section, the Teacher sets out to find meaning in life. He observes that mankind spends an awful lot of time working, and wonders if meaning can be found in that labor. But the Teacher describes it all as “vanity.” The Hebrew word for vanity can literally be translated “vapor or breath.” So the Teacher notices that all of life, including man’s labor, is vaporous. It doesn’t last long at all, particularly in comparison to the setting of the story (the earth). The sun, the streams, the wind—all of nature continues unabated as it always has, and seems to continue eternally from his perspective. But humanity is a breath; life is a vapor. The Teacher further notes that there is nothing new under the sun. Everything is cyclical; all of humanity’s “progress” has been accomplished before, and has proven to be a vapor or a vanity. We think, for example, that pornography is a “new” phenomenon that ancient people didn’t know about. But pornography has been around since ancient times, and it’s not new. The “sexual revolution” of 1965 seemed like a new thing—even like “progress” to its adherents—but the Greeks and Romans had done all of this in ancient times. We invent new toys and gadgets, but mostly they are just for satisfying some strange longing deep within ourselves, rather than any actual “progress.” Everything that is happening now has happened before; the stuff you’re living through now will happen again the future.

When I was a teenager, the threat from the Soviet Union was palpable. We all lived in a dangerous world in which there was a serious enemy who wanted us destroyed, and his favored system of government was communism—where the government is in charge, and takes people’s property and redistributes it as it sees fit. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1991 and communism was finally defeated, most of us observing it thought, “Wow! That’s awesome! Now the world can be safe again!” But much of the American voting public has forgotten what those nuclear bomb drills were like in the 70s and 80s. They’ve forgotten how dangerous it is to place the government in charge of anything. They’ve forgotten the connection between safety and private property. And they are prepared at all times to vote for the same type of government that the Soviet Union championed. It’s disheartening to watch the whole country have to learn the hard way why this was a mistake. Or, as the Teacher puts it in verse 8, it’s “tiresome.” We repeat history. We can’t help it. Our ideas, our lives, our labors—they’re just vapors.

If we look for meaning in ourselves—in our government ideas, our longings, our appetites, our experiences—we will be as disappointed as the Teacher was when he finally observed the vaporous nature of existence. True meaning TRANSCENDS us. It is above us. It is not found IN us, but rather outside of us. As Christians, we would understand that true meaning is found in Christ.

Are you looking for meaning in all the wrong places today? Or are you looking for meaning in the One who predates you, is transcendent and above you? You and all of the rest of humanity will surely disappoint you if you look for meaning there.

Proverbs 22:11-16

11He who loves purity of heart and gracious speech will be a friend to the king.

12The eyes of the LORD keep watch over knowledge, but he overthrows the words of the faithless.

13The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside in the middle of the street; I will be killed!”

14The mouth of the forbidden woman is a deep pit; he with whom the LORD is angry will fall into it.

15Folly is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will drive it out of him.

16He who oppresses the poor to increase to himself, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.

It is lazy to be paralyzed with fear (13). The Teacher literally describes someone that might seem familiar in our current pandemic: the person so afraid to go outside the house that they are pretty much paralyzed in place. They are afraid of something that MIGHT happen (but statistically is not likely), and so they remain in stasis, rather than go and do the things that God has said. This, in the Teacher’s eyes, is a form of sloth—laziness. There is a reason that we are commanded so many times to not fear in scripture: not only is it a major temptation because it is a human tendency… literally gets in the way of God’s will for your life. Don’t be afraid today. He has commanded it, after all.

Proverbs 22:1-10

1A good name is to be chosen more than great riches; favor more than silver or gold.

2The rich and the poor meet together; the LORD is the maker of them both.

3The prudent sees danger and hides himself; the simple go on and are punished.

4The reward for humility and the fear of the LORD is riches, honor, and life.

5Thorns and snares are in the way of the crooked; whoever guards his soul [life] stays far from them.

6Train up a child in the say he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from it.

7The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.

8He who sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of his anger will fail.

9He who has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.

10Drive out the scoffer, and strife will go out, and quarreling and abuse will cease.

Your reputation is more important than money (1). God is the great equalizer between rich and poor, because he has made both (2). Bowling ahead despite warnings is a simple-minded move (3). Those who fear God tend toward financial stability, honor, and life (4). If you guard hour soul, you stay away from the path of the perverse (5). Children have a tendency to make their upbringing permanent (6). Debt is dumb (7). Leadership requires a commitment to justice, or you will fail (8). If your eye is trained on the needs of others instead of just yourself, you’ll be blessed (9). The scoffer is the cause of the all the strife in the room; get rid of him and the room gets better (10).

Today is a good day to remember that debt is dumb. Borrowing money makes you a slave. When God is truly blessing you financially, you are not running up a credit card. Have some discipline.

Proverbs 21:21-31

21He who pursues righteousness and wisdom will find righteousness and life.

22The wise man scales the city of the mighty, and brings down the stronghold in which they trust.

23Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps his soul from troubles.

24“Scoffer” is the name of the proud, haughty man who acts with arrogant pride.

25The desire of the sluggard kills him, because his hands refuse to work.

26All day long, he craves greedily, but the righteous gives and does not hold back.

27The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination; how much more when he brings it with evil intent!

28A false witness will perish, but the word of a man who hears will endure.

29An evil man puts on a bold face, but the upright considers his way.

30No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the LORD.

31The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory belongs to the LORD.

You tend to get what you go looking for; you might as well make it righteousness (21). Real power is found in wisdom (22). Restraint in speech helps you avoid trouble (23). Arrogance and pride are the characteristics of a scoffer, which is not good (24). The lazy person has one desire, and it will end him: the refusal to work (25). The lazy person craves, but the righteous person gives without holding back (26). Religious ritual from the wicked is an abomination and mockery (29). God is more powerful than all of our plans (30). We can prepare diligently, but victory ultimately comes from God (31).

Watch your mouth today. You could avoid a lot of trouble. This includes what you post on social media. Work hard; indolence and inactivity are breeding grounds for trouble. Remember that your ultimate victory comes from God.

Proverbs 21:1-10

1The heart of a king is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.

2Every way of a man seems right in his eyes, but the LORD weighs the hearts.

3To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.

4Haughty eyes and a proud heart—the lamp of wickedness—is sin.

5The plans of the diligent surely lead to abundance, but those who are hasty will surely come to want.

6The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor; a snare of death.

7The violence of the wicked will sweep them away, because they refuse to do what is just.

8The way of a guilty man is crooked, but the conduct of the pure is upright.

9It is better to dwell in the corner of a rooftop than in a shared house with a contentious wife.

10The soul of the wicked desires evil; his neighbor finds no favor in his eyes.

God ordains people in leadership and guides them (1). Man simply doesn’t have the perspective to appropriate judge his own way; only God can do that correctly (2). Religious ritual is meaningless without action (3). Pride is sin (4). The diligent take slow; they don’t get in a hurry (5). Having integrity in your personal finances is very important (6). The wicked tend to get what they deserve over time (7). Guilty people tend to act guilty, and upright people tend to act uprightly (8). A contentious wife can be unbearable (9). Wickedness is selfishness (10).

Being diligent and upright requires patience, deliberation, and an attention to the “other.” The very heart of pride is selfishness, so an upright person will act the direct opposite. In paying attention to the needs of others, we are engaged in proper religion.