"Koheleth's Warning: Meaningless, Meaningless, All is Meaningless" (Part 6 of 8)
Look with me at Verse 12: "I, Koheleth, was king over Israel and Jerusalem." Now this is one of many allusions in the text to the fact that Solomon was the author of this text. I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men? I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are a vapor, are futile, are meaningless. They're nothing more than a chasing after the wind. Whenever I think of that imagery, chasing after wind, I think of these dogs chasing frisbees. Have you ever been in the park and you will see these guys that will through a frisbee and that dog will go chasing after it and leap up in the air and most of the time, you will catch the frisbee but often he will get nothing but wind. You know, he will just snap and -- nothing. And that is the image I have here with Koheleth says, it’s all a chasing after wind. It's like we're all running around in the park of life and we are leaping for something, grabbing at it and we keep chomping our teeth and never come back with anything. It is all a vapor. It is all futile.
Now this is interesting, this terminology in Hebrew. He says, "I devoted myself." That could be translated as "I applied my mind." I'm engaging my intellect to understand this. I devoted myself to study and to explore. The word to study there is from the word derash from which you get the word Midrash and it means literally "to seek the root of a matter." He says, I am applying my mind to seek out the root of this matter. And then he says further, to explore this matter. The word explore there means, in Hebrew, to investigate a subject on all sides, from every point of view. So he is actively pursuing a understanding of this issue. And then, what does he say? What is the conclusion of it? He says, God has given us a heavy burden. It could be translated as sore travail. Or if we wanted to put it into contemporary English, we would say that God has given us a sorry task. There is also a little hidden suggestion here. The NIV says, what a heavy burden God has laid on men. Who has the authorized version? Does that say on men? What does it say in the King James? What a heavy task God has laid...it says the sons of men...the King James is very literal. Because in the Hebrew, that is exactly what it says. Livne ha adam. The sons of adam, man. And I think that it might be a play on words. What a toilsome chore life is for the sons of Adam. Adam was cursed to toil with the ground and we, the sons, the generations that followed Adam, so it is with us, too. What a heavy burden. What a sorry task this is all about.
Well, finally, verse 14, Koheleth draws an almost brutal conclusion. He says, it's vanity. It's a vapor. It's a chasing after the wind. It's like breathing out your breath on a chilly night and trying to bottle it. Trying to grab hold of it and hold onto it. Go out and breathe and see your vapor, your breath and then try to grasp it. That is life is about under the sun. And if that is the case, why do we toil over it so much, the people of God? There is no profit in it. This chasing after wind. It reminds me of a verse in Jeremiah 2:5, when Jeremiah says to the people of Israel, "You followed worthless idols (this is how the NIV translates it) and you became worthless yourself." And the word worthless idol there is the same word hevel, vanity. I think that the King James says and you followed after vanities and you became vain yourself. If you spend your life trying to grab hold of your breath, you will come up empty-handed.
Now, let me conclude our study by asking you a question. Is this madness? Or is this profound wisdom? Is this guy insane or does he just have a burr under his saddle? Or is he seeing something that God thought was so important that his Holy Spirit inspired to be included in our body. If he is seeing something, what authority does Koheleth have to be saying these things. What are his credential? Why should we listen to him? I mean, if I'm up here saying this to you, you can say, hey, Dwight, maybe your life is that way but mine's not. Let’s look at the credentials of this man.
I just said to you that there are several allusions in the text to Solomonic authorship.
There are a number of them and I don't want to take the time to look right now, but just take my word for it. It’s reasonable and some scholars do argue for Solomon’s authorship of this. But the point that I want to make is that in all probability, this teaching, whether exactly in this form or a similar form, emerged from Solomon near the end of his days. There is fascinating and colorful depiction of old age in Chapter 12 of Ecclesiastes. We'll get to that. I think Solomon there is speaking of his own body. He is an old man now; he has been through the rigors of life and now he is distilling his wisdom and he is commenting on it. And one of the reasons that I think that is because this book has a certain air of repentance and humility about it. Some have suggested, and maybe it is fanciful, but it is interesting that probably early in his life, Solomon wrote Song of Songs, this wonderful praise of sexual vitality and of marital bliss. And, probably in the middle at the fullness of his reign, he wrote his Proverbs. But at the end of his life, he writes Ecclesiastes. After God, if you know the story of Solomon, God has now opposed him. God has raised up adversaries to bring Solomon to repentance, this rod of affliction of discipline has been brought to Solomon. And I think maybe, that feeling is still fresh. That recent turmoil is still fresh in Solomon's mind and that repentance is heavy on his heart, so he utters this final testament to wisdom. And what a testament it is and what a life he lived. Solomon is an extraordinary man, isn't he? What a truly remarkable life he lived. He was such a man of extremes. A man, on the one hand, of great wisdom, vast riches, incomparable achievements, fame, diplomacy, skill and charisma and, on the other hand, a man given to extravagance, to boredom, to disillusionment, to drunkenness and idolatry, to gross immorality and sexual misdeeds and a general malaise of living. What a man of extremes, a man who had so much when he began and so little when he ended his life.
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