From the second lecture in the audio seminar Abounding Emptiness, Abundant Living
We began our study last time in Chapter 1 and pointed out that, according to Koheleth, life itself is wearisome. He cites this repetition of nature. It comes and it goes; it’s endless. The sun arose yesterday morning, went down tonight, and tomorrow will be exactly the same. It was doing that same thing 3,000 years ago with Solomon; it rose in the east and went down in the west, and 3,000 years from now, unless we blow this solar system apart, or it dissolves, it’s going to be doing the same thing. Up and down, up and down. It’s a kind of ceaseless toiling, meaningless, mindless, machinations of nature. Where’s the gain in that? It’s toil and trouble, as Shakespeare says. Ceaseless activity. In fact, even worldly knowledge and wisdom is vanity, is futile. It’s like we’re chasing after worthless things, and in the process, become worthless ourselves.
Who should know better about such things than Solomon? A man who began with so much and ended with so little. A man whose very name Shlomo means peace from shalom - who was also given a name by the prophet on behalf of God, Jedidiah we say in English, beloved of Yahweh. And yet, a man who - in his lust for wealth, glory, power and pleasure - near the end of his life was no longer a man of peace, but one of torment. A man not only at one time beloved by Yahweh, but now literally opposed by Yahweh, afflicted by the Lord, because his heart was turned away from God. The very exhortation that his father David gave him, that he would always serve God with a whole heart, was the very failing. David spoke prophetically when he commissioned Solomon in that way because that’s exactly what happened. Solomon’s heart was turned; he no longer served God with a whole heart. He turned after wealth and power and pleasure. So now he knows no peace, he is opposed by God and even judged by God. And it is now at the end of his days, with what I detect and believe to be a certain spirit of repentance, that this man says: let me share with you the wisdom that God has given me and that I have personally experienced. Who would be better to comment on these things than Solomon? We do well, do we not, to listen to him.
Look at verse 12 of Chapter 1: “I, Koheleth, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem; I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven." Now this statement speaks of a certain kind of intellectual pride. I’ve known of people like this: people who in their intellect, their knowledge and wisdom, feel like they have a certain kind of superiority, even to life itself. And they rather dabble in life; they want to sort of check everything out. And yet, it is not that they totally immerse themselves in things. It’s just that they sort of explore everything and the language here even conveys this. This term here, “I devoted myself to study" is the term in Hebrew which means “to seek the root of a matter.” As we might say in contemporary English, he wanted to get to the bottom of things. And this term “to explore” is interesting because it means to investigate a subject on all sides; it connotes the idea of walking in a circle around something and examining it from every perspective. It’s also a term used in exploring a country. Solomon is saying, “I devoted myself to seek out the root of matters, to explore, to investigate from every angle, what was the truth of life. What was the truth of Wisdom?" There is a certain spirit here of experimentation. He explored and he experimented with all that life had to offer and I think this attitude that inclined to that is an attitude of intellectual pride. But what does he discover?
Well, continuing with verse 13, he says, “What a heavy burden God has laid on men.” What a heavy burden God has laid on men. Or we could say, it could be translated, what a sorry task life is. Or if you wanted to be more colloquial, life is a dirty job. You know, it’s really pretty dirty, gritty kind of stuff. In fact, he says literally, what a heavy burden or sorry task God has laid on the sons of Adam. It’s translated here on men, but the literal rendering is “what a sorry business this life is that God has laid on the sons of Adam.” And I think, in fact, that this is evocative of the fact that in this fallen condition on planet Earth, stemming from this propensity to lust after the knowledge of good and evil, life becomes dirty business, life becomes a sorry task under the sun in the fallen condition. And we share in this cosmological crisis, as it were.
Verse 14 continues, “I’ve seen all the things that are done under the sun. And I’m telling you that all of them are empty, meaningless, vain. They are chasing after the wind.” And then, he makes a rather sober statement: “What is twisted cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted." In other words, in the natural there is no changing this truth. That in reality, all of this is empty. It’s meaningless. It’s a toilsome, striving after nothingness. And try as you might to make something of life in the natural, try as you might running twice as fast to hold your place, try as you might to make more money, enjoy greater pleasure, acquire further possessions, you can’t straighten that which is twisted. You can’t redeem that which is fallen. And so he says in verse 16, “I thought to myself, look, I’ve grown and increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me. And then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom and also of madness and folly but I learned that this too was a chasing after the wind. For with much wisdom comes much sorrow. The more knowledge, the more grief."
* This is an audio transcript, listen to the original message here.