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Ecclesiastes 1

 

OBJECTIVES IN STUDYING THIS CHAPTER

1) To consider the author, theme, and underlying question of this book

2) To note the Preacher's observations about the cycles of life, and
   his conclusion regarding the value of human wisdom

SUMMARY

Ecclesiastes opens with a prologue in which the author identifies
himself, declares his theme, and introduces the question addressed in
this book.  He describes himself as "the Preacher, the son of David,
king in Jerusalem" (cf. 1:12).  As he begins his "sermon", he does so
in way that certainly grabs your attention:  declaring all to be vanity
(meaningless).  Having our attention, he asks the question that will be
answered in the course of his sermon:  what profit does a man have from
all his labor in which he toils under the sun (1-3)?

It is a question that is prompted by what he sees in the cycles of
life.  Generations of people come and go.  The sun rises and sets, only
to do the same day after day.  Wind currents and water cycles are 
constantly repeated, and man is never satisfied with what he sees or 
hears.  While we think new things are being done, it is only because we
don't remember the past.  In reality there is nothing new under the sun
(4-11).

With the question introduced, the Preacher describes his own search.
As king over Israel in Jerusalem, he wanted to know what everyone one 
wants to know - what profit is there for all the labor done under the 
sun?  Right up front he tells us what he found:  all is vanity and
grasping for the wind.  Having been blessed with greatness and wisdom
(from God, cf. 1Ki 3:12-13), he began his search exploring wisdom,
madness and folly.  He found that much wisdom and knowledge (i.e.,
human wisdom) was only the source of much grief and sorrow (12-18).

OUTLINE

I. PROLOGUE TO THE BOOK (1:1-3)

   A. AUTHOR IDENTIFIED (1)
      1. The words of the Preacher
      2. The son of David, king in Jerusalem

   B. THEME STATED (2)
      1. "Vanity of vanities...vanity of vanities, all is vanity"
      2. All is futile, useless, meaningless!

   C. QUESTION RAISED (3)
      1. "What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils
         under the sun?"
      2. This is the question the "Preacher" sought to answer

II. FUTILITY OBSERVED IN THE CYCLES OF LIFE (1:4-11)

   A. NOTHING SEEMS TO CHANGE (4-7)
      1. Generations come and go, while the earth abides forever
      2. The sun is constant with its rising and setting 
      3. The winds continue their whirling cycle
      4. The water cycle also, as rivers run into the seas, and then
         through evaporation and rain return to the rivers again

   B. NOTHING SEEMS TO SATISFY (8)
      1. Despite all our labors, man is never truly satisfied
      2. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with
         hearing

   C. NOTHING IS NEW UNDER THE SUN (9-11)
      1. What will be done is that which has been done
      2. If thought to be new, it is has been done in ancient times
      3. We simply don't remember the past, nor will the future
         remember the present

III. THE FUTILITY OF HUMAN WISDOM (1:12-18)

   A. THE PREACHER DESCRIBES HIS SEARCH (12-15)
      1. He was king over Israel in Jerusalem
      2. He determined to use wisdom to seek and search all that has
         been done "under heaven"
      3. A task that he understood God had given to all men, to
         challenge them
      4. He summarizes what he found, having seen all the works done
         "under the sun"
         a. They are vanity and grasping for the wind
         b. For there is little one can do to make significant changes

   B. THE PREACHER APPLIED HIS GOD-GIVEN WISDOM (16-17a)
      1. He acknowledged the greatness and wisdom he had attained
      2. He therefore sought to apply it to understand wisdom, madness,
         and folly

   C. THE PREACHER CONCLUDES (HUMAN) WISDOM IS FUTILE (17b-18)
      1. It was like grasping for wind
      2. More wisdom and knowledge just increases grief and sorrow

REVIEW QUESTIONS FOR THE CHAPTER

1) What are the main points of this chapter?
   - Prologue to the book (1-3)
   - Futility observed in the cycles of life (4-11)
   - Futility of human wisdom (12-18)

2) How does the author describe himself? (1)
   - The Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem

3) What is the theme of this book, as stated in verse 2?
   - "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity"

4) What is the key question that this book seeks to address? (3)
   - "What profit has a man from all in his labor in which he toils
     under the sun?"

5) What illustrations are given to show the futility observed in the
   cycles of life? (4-7)
   - The passing of generations
   - The rising and setting of the sun
   - The whirling cycles of the wind
   - The water cycle, from rain to sea back to rain

6) What is never satisfied? (8)
   - The eye with seeing, the ear with hearing

7) Why is there nothing new under the sun? (9)
   - History simply repeats itself

8) Why do we think something is new? (10-11)
   - We have forgotten what has happened in history

9) What did the Preacher determine to do?  Why? (13)
   - To seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under
     heaven
   - It was something God has given man to do

10) Having seen the works done under the sun, what did he conclude? Why? (14-15)
   - All is vanity and grasping for the wind
   - Because one cannot make any significant changes that are lasting

11) What did he acknowledge he had attained? (16)
   - Great wisdom and understanding

12) What did he set his heart to know? (17)
   - Wisdom, madness, and folly

13) What conclusion did he draw?  Why? (18)
   - It was grasping for the wind
   - For in much wisdom is much grief, and increasing knowledge
     increases sorrow

Ecclesiastes 1

The vanity of life

[Ecc 1:1-18 NKJV] 1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. 2 "Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher; "Vanity of vanities, all [is] vanity." 3 What profit has a man from all his labor In which he toils under the sun? 4 [One] generation passes away, and [another] generation comes; But the earth abides forever. 5 The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, And hastens to the place where it arose. 6 The wind goes toward the south, And turns around to the north; The wind whirls about continually, And comes again on its circuit. 7 All the rivers run into the sea, Yet the sea [is] not full; To the place from which the rivers come, There they return again. 8 All things [are] full of labor; Man cannot express [it]. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, Nor the ear filled with hearing. 9 That which has been [is] what will be, That which [is] done is what will be done, And [there is] nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there anything of which it may be said, "See, this [is] new"? It has already been in ancient times before us. 11 [There is] no remembrance of former [things], Nor will there be any remembrance of [things] that are to come By [those] who will come after.

The grief of wisdom

12 I, the Preacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 And I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven; this burdensome task God has given to the sons of man, by which they may be exercised. 14 I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all [is] vanity and grasping for the wind. 15 [What is] crooked cannot be made straight, And what is lacking cannot be numbered. 16 I communed with my heart, saying, "Look, I have attained greatness, and have gained more wisdom than all who were before me in Jerusalem. My heart has understood great wisdom and knowledge." 17 And I set my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is grasping for the wind. 18 For in much wisdom [is] much grief, And he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.

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