The Words of the Preacher
Ecclesiastes is the words of the preacher. Ecclesiastes 1:1,2 “The words of the Preacher… vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”
It is one of three places in the Old Testament that reveals what the preacher is to say. The other two are Isaiah 61:1,2,3 and Jonah 3:2.
Isaiah 61:1,2,3 tells us that the preacher is to preach good tidings to the meek, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, to open prisons that hold people in bondage, to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD (the 2 advents of Christ), to comfort all that mourn, and to appoint beauty for ashes…
Jonah 3:2 is where Jonah is to preach condemnation to the Ninevites.
Isaiah is looking forward to the arrival of the Messiah. It seems that all the preaching in the Old Testament starts with and focuses on the dark and negative with a forward look to hope and light. Whereas the use of "preach" in the New Testament is hope and light to those who are in darkness. It is a subtle difference, but very real. Acts 14:15 puts it very plainly. “… turn from these vanities unto the living God.” Vanities refers plainly back to the main point that Solomon is making in Ecclesiastes; which is, “vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”
Solomon starts with vanity and ends with “fear God and keep his commandments” in Ecclesiastes 12:13,14. Fear means trust that is afraid to not stay close to God.
I am a preacher. I must preach that this world, all that is under the sun (v.3), is vanity. What is vanity? It is emptiness and meaninglessness. Without God life under the sun (v.3) has no enduring profit or meaning. Life with God is lived above the sun and is lived for the heavenly world.
What is left when you die? What positive difference did you really make? Poke your finger into the still surface of a lake; that is your life. Pull it out and what is left is nothing; not even a hole. What a joy to preach that message!
This is very humbling and we need humbling. Humility is the beginning of wisdom and hope. If there is no God at the end of the book, no God to lift your life above the sun, this will lead to despair and hopelessness.
Ecclesiastes looks at life and puts it in true perspective. Life is dark, if there is no life above the sun; no God, no heaven. And life under the sun can never satisfy without the God who is above this life. Jesus puts it this way. John 6:27 “Labour not for the meat which perishes, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life; which the Son of man shall give unto thee…”
True meaning in life, not vanity, is “given” to us by Jesus Christ. It is a gift. This is why Ecclesiastes uses phrases like “He may give to him that is good before God.” 2:26 and “which God giveth him.” 5:18.
Big moments in life are often followed by feelings of emptiness, of vanity. Those feelings are a warning and a reminder that only what’s done in Christ, with Christ, and for Christ will last and satisfy. We do feel the shadow of emptiness even when God is in the midst of our life. This emptiness is only filled by the presence of God. Psalm 16:11 “Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand are pleasures (that are not vanity) for evermore.”
So Solomon too is constantly feeling the “let downs” of life, the “blues”. He tries everything he can think of under the sun. 1:13 “I gave my heart to seek and search out… all things… under heaven… I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and behold, all is vanity…”
- He concludes that in all that he has tried, it is all vanity and vexation of spirit.
But praise God, all through the book he inserts verses about life above the sun.
- 2:24-26 tells us to enjoy the good, it is the hand of God extended toward you. It is your portion; your distribution of the resources under the sun from God. In fact, he intends for you to richly enjoy it. 1 timothy 6:17 “… trust in the living god, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy.”
- 3:22 Rejoice in the part that God give you under the sun. Its your lot in life; a gift from God. Rejoice whether it seems good or bad. “in everything give thanks…” is not limited to just the good. (1 Thessalonians 5:18) Some people can never get above the sun with the bad. That is they never can see Heaven’s perspective.
- 5:18 Enjoy the good. Be thankful that you can taste the rewards of your work. Not everyone get this gift in this life. (under the sun) some must wait until heaven to taste the rewards of their labor and some will never taste reward. (they will be in Hell.)
- 9:7-10 Live fully, dive in with all your strength. Don’t live halfway. God intends life at its deepest and best.
- 11:9 Rejoice and live so that God’s judgment is not a terror, but a joyous expectation.
- 12:13, 14 Trust God and do what he says. (this makes life full and enduring)
There is a theme repeated here for living above the sun; above the vanity. It is a surprise. You would expect something profoundly theological, religious, and spiritual. Instead it is this; enjoy, rejoice, and trust. We dishonor God when we don’t. We live in vanity when we don’t. It requires all three (enjoy, rejoice, and trust) to live the above the sun life.
Jesus puts the conclusion of Ecclesiastes this way; invest in heaven, in life above the sun. Don’t invest in life under the sun.
Matthew 6:19,20, 33 “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal. (20) But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through and steal. (33) Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.”
Moth, rust, and thieves show us what is vanity. If they can touch it, it is vanity. We are tempted to get things backwards. Love this world first and heaven last. This is vanity. Ecclesiastes makes that very plain. Jesus reverses the order, “love God first, and the world second.”
The words of the preacher (this one in particular – me) are to preach the vanity of living for this world and to preach the joy, fulfillment, and hope of living for the world to come.