The Book of Ecclesiastes
by Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., 1977
Transcribed and Edited by David Sielaff, September 2006
Read the accompanying Newsletter for September 2006
The Book of Ecclesiastes is reputed to have been written by Solomon. I believe it was written by him about 1,000 years before Christ. It is in the Old Testament, but it is a book which most people know little about. Some people do not even like Ecclesiastes. They do not like it because of what it says. I feel there is a reason why God said what He did through Solomon in this Book of Ecclesiastes.
I have referred from time to time to the Book of Ecclesiastes but I have not really gone into it for the meat of the message that Solomon was trying to give us. I think we are all aware that Solomon was classified as the wisest man who ever lived (1 Kings 4:30–31). I would take only one exception to that, and that would be our Lord Jesus Christ. With that exception we will have to look at Solomon as one who viewed nature, and I suppose philosophy, at the highest level.
Some might object to what Solomon said some 3,000 years ago, because it may seem out of date. I do not think that God is out of date, and it is God, someway or somehow, who allowed the Book of Ecclesiastes to appear in the Bible. I do not think that the Bible is out of date. True enough we have certain social principles and things found in the Scripture which might be different in a modern way than in the old days, that is quite true, but when it comes to basic philosophy I do not think it has changed all that much.
When we look at Solomon as the wisest man who ever lived, I think he had some things to give us that could have perennial worth, worth which would last for all ages. If a person would really look at what Solomon said, his philosophy was and is very modern indeed. It agrees with quite a number of philosophical principles being put out by many educated people today. So I think the meaning of Ecclesiastes might be able to help all of us. It certainly has helped me, though it has been denigrated in some circles.
In Ecclesiastes Solomon could see very little difference in the life of a beast and the life of a human here on this earth. He was not quite sure whether the spirit of the beast went down and the spirit of a human went up (Ecclesiastes 3:21). He finally did say the spirit of man returned to God (Ecclesiastes 12:7), he was well aware, but as he was not quite sure how to demonstrate the differences between a human being and a beast.
These statements cause some people to raise their eyebrows because we ought to be able to understand that there is a fundamental difference between the beasts and humans. I firmly believe there are differences, but when a person understands the philosophical principles that Solomon was trying to bring out, if people will be honest with themselves, they must admit that Solomon was correct. If you demonstrate it scientifically, by things that you can observe, things you can see, he hit the nail right on the head.
I feel his work is inspired of the Almighty God, and Solomon has good information for all of us today. It is perennial; it is timeless information if we are willing to really believe it. It is information, I admit, that has its focus primarily from that of a human being. He views life from a human point of view. It is not the focus of God or from God’s point of view. But we are here now as human beings. Though God says we are children of God. In Psalm 82 it says “You are gods,” which is what Christ said to the Pharisees. 1
At the same time though we are humans, and we have to view things, as Solomon does, in a practical sense as humans. This philosophy here in the Book of Ecclesiastes is viewed from that of a human, but it is inspired literature nonetheless, and reflects the wisdom of the ancients. It is a wisdom that is still with us today if we are willing to accept it, and the book is in the Bible. That is the main reason why I accept it.
The Book of Ecclesiastes is called by that title or “The Preacher.” You can see the word ekklesia coming out so the word has to do with assembly or gathering, or someone preaching or teaching to a congregation of some kind. It does not necessarily mean a religious gathering. It can mean that here is a man who is teaching and he wants to talk to various people. “The words of the Preacher, …” or as in the Hebrew, Qoheleth, which means preacher or teacher, “… the son of David, King in Jerusalem” (Ecclesiastes 1:1).
There was only one son of David who was King in Jerusalem and that was Solomon. He was the wisest man who ever lived. He wrote many of the Proverbs that we have, and there are other sections of the Bible that refer to him. His major writings are Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon. Both are beautiful.
In Ecclesiastes Solomon gives a philosophy of life, as the wisest man who ever lived saw life; and it is most profound. What he had to say is as modern today as it was in his day, and it will be so 100 years from now, if the factors that cause us to exist, or in which we live to day will be here in the future. Everything that he says from the point of view of human beings will be in effect. There is hardly any doubt about it.
The book begins: “The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem” (Ecclesiastes 1:1). He starts with this expression that you will find throughout the entirety of the book:
“‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher, ‘vanity of vanities; all is vanity.’”
The word “vanity” here means emptiness, as in a sense of “worthlessness.” He gives this as a first principle, that everything from the human point of view is vain. Without even going into the book you have to admit that that is a true description of life. Of all the things that man has built with his hands on this earth, how many of them last for all ages? Look at yourselves. Look at your parents. Look at your ancestors. Look at the people you know will come in the future if Christ does not come back in a few short years, just look. How many of them will live for the ages in the flesh that they have at the present time? How many of the works that mankind has done to the present will last for all ages?
He starts with the principle that “all is vanity.” By “vanity of vanities” he means extreme vanity. If you look from the focus of mankind, then that is where everything must start. He says:
“… all is vanity. What profit has a man of all his labor which he takes under the sun? One generation passes away, and another generation comes: but the earth abides for ever [Hebrew olam, for the age].”
It says “for ever” in the King James Version, but it means “for the age.” Even the earth is growing old and it can be destroyed and changed. 2 The word “for ever” here is in the Hebrew olam; and really, Solomon did not say the earth would last for all eternity, he was saying that it would last for a long, long time, from generation to generation.
What happens to us and what happens to the works of our hands? They will perish. How many of us have looked at the works of man’s hands? I have in the past. Many people have said to me, “look at the work,” “look at this building,” “look at that building,” “look at what has been accomplished here.” People have said, “godliness is gain” or “gain is godliness,” but all that you gain is nothing. It is like a puff of wind.
It is said that Alexander the Great, after conquering the known world, gave orders knowing he was going to die, that when he was buried, he be placed in a coffin with his hands outstretched outside the coffin, open-palmed. On the side of the coffin was to be written: “I have gained the whole world, but I take none of it with me.”
That is what flesh is all about. That is what humanity is all about. That is what Solomon is really saying here when it comes to the works of men’s hands. If you view things from man’s point of view the result is “vanity of vanities.” That is what he starts out with; and I agree with it. I think that most of us would.
Does that mean that everything in the universe is vain? No. “Vanity of vanities” is true when dealing with the labor of men, but the labor of God, as he goes on to say, can last for a long time. That is different. That is not vain. Ecclesiastes starts out with the principle that when you look at things through man’s viewpoint, you will see that vanity or emptiness or worthlessness in the long run is the result.
He goes on to say that the things around us are all circular as it is shown in the earth:
“The sun also arises, 3 and the sun goes down, and hastens to his place where he arose.”
This is circular. We are all used to the sun going around the earth, or apparently it does. Of course it does not but it looks like it does. Where the sun started this morning it will be back there tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day. He is trying to show that things are circular. The sun is that way. Next he observes the wind. Note the circularity in his thinking. These are very scientific terms, philosophically.
“The wind goes toward the south, and turns about unto the north; it whirls about continually, and the wind returns again according to his circuits.”
Ecclesiastes 1:6 4
Like the sun, though differently, the movement is circular. Solomon here describes a perfectly good low pressure center that causes rainstorms. How he could have known this I do not know. He could have known this only through observation of some kind. Perhaps he had someone out on the plains of Moab east of the River Jordan recording the direction of the wind at a particular time of the day. He would have another person in Jerusalem where he was. He could have someone down in Beersheba. He could have someone up in Galilee. They would come every month and compare notes and at the exact time that the wind is blowing here, it was blowing that way there. He saw that it was circular.
All you need do is look at a weather map to see that everything is circular. It surely is. Solomon knew it. Whether it is the sun or the wind, all is circular. Look at the next verse:
“All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.”
Why does this happen? It is because vapors come up from the sea rise to form the clouds that come over the land. The rain from the clouds falls down and makes the rivers. The rivers flow back to the ocean. This is circular again. Verse 8:
“All things are full of labor; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.”
He means that in a circular sense. Man’s eyes are never full. They are not satisfied, no matter what you do. You could have one hundred million dollars and you would want one hundred million and one dollars, undoubtedly. This is the way it usually goes with man.
“The thing that has been, it is that which shall be [that is circular]; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it has been already of old time, which was before us.”
The whole of the matter is that things are circular. Most all scientific philosophers today following the theories of Einstein suggest that everything in the universe is circular. 5 So, if it is circular then man finds a very difficult time in comprehending circular matters. I ask you, if everything is circular as Solomon is saying, please define for me how this world had its beginning? Where is it going in the future? Something circular is like a ring that you may have on your finger. We have a ring to put on a person’s finger if we are going to marry them. What does the ring signify? It signifies eternity because if you are at any part of the ring you are as far away from the other side as you ever were, and you can keep going around and around; it never stops. This probably the best human description of the word “eternity” that you can imagine. 6
Many people today claim they have the answers to the riddles of the universe. They do not have the answers. You can never, never get them through observation. That is what Solomon will say shortly. He says that to understand God, or to understand how the world came into being, or what the present is all about, or what the end will be, mankind will never be able, of himself, to find out. You must have divine revelation given to you to know such things. Even then with our minds, which are physical, it will be impossible for us to understand the circuitry involved in everything in the universe.
That is why Solomon starts with vanity first. Second, he says that everything is circular, but you cannot understand the circular. That is why I say that this philosophy will be as good for mankind years from now, as it ever will be, because we will have the same difficulty in comprehending it.
This shows you how Solomon was trying to understand things. He was the wisest man who ever lived. He sent ships around the world to find all types of exotic plants and animals. He studied them (1 Kings 4:33, 9:26). He tried to understand everything, but he found himself having just as many problems at the end as before. Indeed, Solomon’s experience of trying to find out everything through the physical mind brought him into difficulty. I am not sure he would advise a person to try to find out what the circular is all about when our minds simply cannot comprehend it. He says in verse 18:
“For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increases knowledge increases sorrow.”
“He that increases knowledge” in the few things he can get, “increases sorrow.” Do you know why this is so? It is because the more knowledge you get, the less you know as time goes on. How true that really is.
Solomon will show next how difficult it is for us to comprehend God. Really, it is. None of you have ever seen God the Father. None of you have ever seen Christ. I know that Christ looked like a human being, obviously, and Christ said “if you have seen me, you have seen the Father,” 7 But no one has seen the form of the Father. And yet the Father exists and Christ exists.
How many of us can describe God? How many of us can show how He came into existence, what will happen in the future from our known observable facts that we can see? It is incomprehensible. Solomon says in chapter 3, verse 11:
“He [God] has made every thing beautiful in his time: also he has set the world [Hebrew: ha-olam, the age] in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God makes from the beginning to the end.”
That is true. The wisest man who ever lived said that no man will ever know “eternity.” He cannot fathom it, though God has placed “the age” in his heart. There is not one of us that does not think of it. We want to know what this life is all about, the past, the present, and the future. But Solomon says that of ourselves we can never, never know. 8 Look at Ecclesiastes 8:17. He repeats this several times about what God is doing:
“Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun …”
Man just cannot do it. He cannot find out the origin of things, and where things are going and all of that. We can see, measure, weigh, and feel all of those things and note their circularity, but to understand philosophically what life is all about:
“… a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun because though a man labor to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea further; though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it.”
Who was the wisest man? Solomon. He admitted he did not know the answers. In the Book of Kings it says the kings of the earth came to Solomon to learn of his wisdom, and they were very impressed. They had never heard anything like what he spoke about (1 Kings 4:30–34). This man had everything that he could possibly want. He had all the money in the world to be able to bring in all the physical things for his scientific analysis, spiritual things, everything. He says in the second chapter of Ecclesiastes:
“I said in my heart, ‘Go to now, I will prove [test] you with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity.’”
He speaks of laughter (verse 2). He speaks of wisdom (verse 3). He says in verse 4, “I made myself great works; I built myself houses; I planted myself vineyards.” I know lots of other people that have tried to build things to last for all eternity so their names would be perpetuated. I just wonder in a few years if they will or not, because Solomon had all of the glory of the world and he built the great Temple of God. He was so rich with gold alone that, if you add up the gold according to the Book of Kings and Chronicles, it would have been able to buy over 100 Empire State Buildings at the 1952 gold price. That is how much gold was in that little building, the Temple, over in Jerusalem.
He had all these things, accomplished great things, and had a glorious existence. I ask you, how many people can find a remnant of Solomon’s presence in Israel at the present time? Everything is gone away. I know, I have worked in archaeology for years and years, and some of you have been there with me. Ask Professor Mazar or some of the other archaeologists there: is this of Solomon’s reign? Is that of Solomon’s reign? Is that? He says, we do not know. It probably is not, but it may be, but I am not sure. That is the way it goes. Solomon had all of the glory of the world and what remained after him? Nothing.
“I made myself great works; I built myself houses; I planted myself vineyards: I made myself gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits: I made myself pools of water, to water therewith the wood that brings forth trees: I got myself servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house.”
I gathered myself also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I got myself men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, …”
What are “the delights of the sons of men”? This is an egregious mistranslation but I am going to give it because we are all adults. What are “the delights … of men”? It says: “… as musical instruments, and that of all sorts.” Do not believe it. That is not what Solomon wrote. That is a King James Version mistranslation of the highest nature. Our dear friends in England around 400 years ago were trying to hide the meaning. What he was saying is, “I have the delights of men, mistresses and mistresses galore.” You know good and well that is what he had. 9 He goes on to say:
“So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me. And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, … I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labor that I had labored to do …”
It all looked good on the surface, but there was one part I left out. He said: “All was vanity” (verse 11). Really, that is what it is. I guess it proved to be that because there is not a remnant of Solomon’s works left in Palestine to this day.
In the time of Christ we have classical records giving the ancient history of the Middle East. There were many historians writing at that time, and a number of those records have come down to us today. In all the classical records, whether they come from Greece, Rome, Egypt, Syria, Persia, or anyplace, and about 200 years before the time of Christ, do you know how many references there are in all of that history about Solomon and his works (outside the Bible and Jewish references) in those Gentile references? There are two. They are from Tyre, the Phoenician area. Both of them say there was a king in Jerusalem who gave riddles, but the King of Tyre was able to best him. That is what it says on two occasions. All other records about Solomon or his kingdom are gone, even in the time of Christ. This was indeed a case of “vanity of vanities,” as described in Psalm 49:16–20.
This Book of Ecclesiastes is still around, and some people say, why is it there? It is there because people, you and I, all of us, have been striving for these very things so we can hold and grasp onto something. Solomon had it all and what he said was “All was vanity.”
We want to know everything in this modern world. Solomon knew as much as anybody could know, and he finally had to say, that he could not find it out one way or another. So chapter 8 verse 17 says, “though a wise man think [seek] to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it.” Solomon lived for 70 years trying to understand it and he could not do it. He finally came to that conclusion and this is reflective of everything you will find in the Book of Ecclesiastes. He shows clearly that we just cannot find out everything, though we want to, his conclusion was, well, let us try to be happy, to be joyful with what we do know, and not take things too seriously. That is what his advice was and is the best advice I can imagine.
Let us look at Ecclesiastes chapter 7, in the midst of this entire philosophical discussion where he says we will not be able to find it out, so let us try to take things in an easy way. Some of us will say, well, if a person would really try to be righteous, holy, and good, then God should reveal His works to him or her. I do not know what our appraisal of Solomon would be, whether he was righteous or holy, but I know this much, the Bible says that God loved him, and loved him very much indeed, above all the kings of Israel in some ways. 10 What he is saying in Ecclesiastes chapter 7 is do not take life too seriously:
“Be not righteous over much; neither make yourself over wise: why should you destroy yourself? Be not over much wicked, neither be you foolish: why should you die before your time?”
By not being over much righteous, some of us might object because we would say, well, let us try to be as righteous as we possibly can. True enough I think that is a goal that we could profitably strive for. But I ask this question, how many of you can be perfectly righteous as you strive and strive and strive to be righteous? I have seen more fools try to be “righteous over much” when they cannot be so. They get frustrated. They get upset. They cannot live a happy life.
I am not saying do not be good. In fact, Solomon also says you better not be wicked too much and you better not be foolish because you will be in trouble. What he is saying is, how about living normally and naturally. He is saying do not take things too seriously. You can take life seriously but not too seriously.
We know from the New Testament revelation that you and I do not have to do that at all because there is someone who has come along who is perfectly righteous and who is not wicked at all. He was not just the middle of the road, he was the highest form of righteousness. That was Christ Jesus. He died for us on the tree of crucifixion, now cleanses us (so the Scripture says) and gives us supernaturally His righteousness. Though we are not righteous, God gives His righteousness to us by imputation (Romans 3:21, 25–26; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Philippians 1:11, 3:9; 2 Peter 1:1).
God the Father looks on us as if we were Jesus Christ Himself. Salvation can only come through a person who is completely and utterly righteous. That righteousness was secured through Jesus Christ. What Solomon is saying (and Paul reflects the same thing) is not to go out and live a life of abandon. He is saying, as Paul would have said, do not try to do it all on your own too much or you will find yourself getting into difficulty. You will be miserable most of the time.
Do not go out and be wicked all the time either, because you will do that whether you like it or not. But do not actively go out and do wickedly or you will get yourself in trouble. He is saying, why not just be a good human being, a normal human being if you can. He is saying do not take things too seriously because you are not going to be able to work life out no matter what. You cannot do it because you only have 70, 80, or 90 years, or shorter than that in some cases. Do you think you can solve the world’s problems? What do you think you are doing? Solomon says not to take things too seriously. That is why he says in Ecclesiastes 2:24, and he continually says this throughout this philosophical discourse 11:
“There is nothing better for a man, than that he should  eat and drink, and that he should  make his soul enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.”
God wants you to eat and drink and be merry within reason. Now if that is all you are going to do and then you go into the grave, then something is lacking somewhere. The apostle Paul said that also. There is, however, something beyond that, we know, but for this life right here eating is not bad. I certainly do not want to starve, do you? Drinking is not bad either, and I do not want to be thirsty and neither do I want any of you to be that way. For a soul to “enjoy good in his labor,” which means to have a form of happiness, is there anything wrong with that? No. In fact Solomon says that is what life is all about.
We cannot work out all problems here on earth. We cannot be completely righteous. Some of us think we can be evil completely, but I wonder if we can. It seems in some cases we might. Maybe when I look at myself in the mirror I might consider that again. The wisest man could not do it. He did not know all the answers, so he says, why not take a happy outlook on life, eat, drink, and enjoy the labor of your hands? Then he says, “This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.” I believe it! God wants us to have that if we can. Later Solomon repeated this same thought.
He went on in chapter 3, verse 11:
“He has made every thing beautiful in his time: also he has set the world [the age] in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God makes from the beginning to the end. I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life. And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labor, it is the gift of God.”
He is saying, as much as you can, enjoy yourself. He is also saying, in doing so do not hurt the other person.
“Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor that he takes under the sun all the days of his life, which God gives him: for it is his portion.”
God wants you to have that portion, as again I believe that Solomon was wise in what he said.
“Then I commended mirth, because a man has no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry [from the point of view of this life]: for that shall abide with him of his labor the days of his life, which God gives him under the sun.”
Then go to chapter 9, verses 7–10. I want to quote verse 10 first because so many in the past have taken this verse out of context. Indeed, I have heard many sermons preached on verse 10 taken completely out of context to make it say what it does not say at all. Many of the sermons may have been well meaning. In fact they may have had a kernel of truth in them so far as an overall principle is concerned. There are a few verses in the Book of Ecclesiastes that some ministers love to quote and build sermons around. This is one of those verses. But in almost all occasions when I have heard verse 10 quoted, they quoted it out of context and have not said it the way Solomon meant it at all.
“Whatsoever your hand finds to do, do it with your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). If you are going to build a house, really get in there and build it “with your might,” then the whole sermon would be on industriousness. Though this principle may be true, that is not what Solomon meant. When he said do something “with your might” he meant something other than most people imagine. Just go to verse 7 through to verse 10 and you will understand what he is talking about. “Go your way, eat your bread with joy,” what have we been talking about so far? Eat, drink, and be merry, in balance of course. It is God’s gift.
“Go your way, eat your bread with joyand drink your wine with a merry heart; for God now accepts your works. [That is all right with God.] Let your garments be always white [if possible]; and let your head lack no ointment [if possible]. Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of the life of your vanity, which he [God] has given you under the sun, …”
When you live with your wife, Solomon says to live joyfully. That could extend to a husband, obviously. Live joyfully, be happy, have a merry heart, look at these things optimistically, that is what he is saying.
“Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of the life of your vanity, which he has given you under the sun, all the days of your vanity: for that is your portion in this life [to live joyfully], … for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither you go.”
Those things are not in the grave, but they are here in life. What is the context? Live joyfully with your wife. Be happy in what you do. Love what you eat. Drink your wine (of course he means in moderation). God has given you all these things. In other words seek joy, seek happiness, and in that context:
“Whatsoever your hand finds to do [to find happiness], do it with your might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither you go.”
He means try to be happy “with your might.” It is difficult in this world, is it not? And Solomon was not one who looked through rose colored glasses. He understood, and even for himself, that he could not have perfect happiness. All you have to do is to read the 12th chapter of Ecclesiastes. He wrote Ecclesiastes when he was an older man. He died when he was 70 years old, much younger than he should have. If you read what he says there, he died a very miserable person. It was very difficult for him. He was saying that while we have life here, try to make it happy and try to make it reasonably so. He realized life was not that way in all occasions.
There is not much justice as far as our physical life here is concerned. Truly, life is just not fair. Solomon analyzed and understood that fact. When I say “justice” I mean for everybody being happy and joyful. Sometimes I am happy and sometimes I am not. Sometimes I have misery, sometimes I do not. Sometimes I am healthy, sometimes I am sick. When I really look at myself, when I look at any of you, how many of us are perfectly well in every way? Not one of you.
How many of us would like to have happiness like Solomon says? All of us would like that. Solomon is saying, try to get it, but he was wise enough to know that we will not attain it on all occasions.
“There is a vanity which is done upon the earth; that there be just men [righteous, good men], unto whom it happens according to the work of the wicked; again, there be wicked men, to whom it happens according to the work of the righteous: I said that this also is vanity.”
You would think a righteous man should have all the blessings given to him, but it does not happen that way. The wicked ought to have all the curses, that is what Solomon said, but it does not happen that way. Christ Himself said that the rain falls on the righteous and also on the wicked. 12 It really does. That is the way it is. Solomon was not looking through rose colored glasses.
“All things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrifices, and to him that sacrifices not: as is the good, so is the sinner; and he that swears, as he that fears an oath. This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event unto all: yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead.”
Most of us would say, why, if you sacrifice an animal to God, and you are doing God’s will, everything will be just rosy from then on. But Solomon says that it happens to the one who sacrifices, and it happens to the one who does not sacrifice. Does it mean it is that way all the time? No, but it happens sometimes.
Let us look at ourselves. I worship God, I love Christ. I love what He has done for me. I think all of you do the same also. But I have not had everything just go the way that I want in this life. I am not in perfect circumstances in every way. Neither are any of you. The apostle Paul said that in Romans chapter 8. He undoubtedly had the Book of Ecclesiastes in mind (which shows it is inspired Scripture).
“For the earnest expectation of the creature [the whole creation] waits for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature [the whole creation] was made subject to vanity …”
Where have you read that before? Where have we been reading about the vanity that is everywhere you look: the vanity of men’s hands, the vanity of this, the vanity of that, wherever you go. We read it in the Book of Ecclesiastes. That is the only place where it is brought out with great precision.
“… the creature [the whole creation] was made subject to vanity, not willingly [not of itself], but by reason of him [God] who has subjected the same [notice the next 2 words:] in hope.”
The whole creation is in vanity — all of it — and we see a just man receiving the desserts of the wicked, sometimes, and we see the wicked man getting the desserts of the righteous, well, that is vanity, but there is still hope, says the apostle Paul. By the way “creature” means “creation,” all of it:
“Because the creature [creation] itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption [that Solomon was talking about] into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now. And not only they [not only the rest of creation], but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
Our redemption will come through our resurrection. Do you know what? The vanity will pass when the redemption of the body takes place. Everything that is made of man’s hands on this earth right now — I do not care what, or how beautiful, or how wonderful it is made — Solomon said it was all vanity.
We could never know with our own minds the beginning or the end, so let us not take things too seriously, he says. Let us just understand that God wants us to be happy, joyful, try with all our might to be happy if we can. You know, if you do that without too much self-gratification or selfishness coming into it, but if you try to be happy and you use the Golden Rule given by our Lord where He says do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and if you are a happy person, do you know what you will want them to be? You will want them to be as happy as you are. 13
In other words if you are miserable and you try to export something to them you will export your misery to them. If you are happy and joyful and, with all the bad circumstances that are around, still try to make your life happy, then you have something that you can export to your neighbor. But if you are miserable, please do not export it, because they will be in as much trouble as you are.
So let us try to be happy. Only with the redemption of the body, when the spiritual part of man becomes a reality, when God changes our flesh into something that is spiritual, will the redemption take place and the vanity pass. That is what Paul says. But God has subjected mankind to vanity at this time for a reason that He knows best. God is showing us that everything in this world that we prize and hold in esteem is really very temporary indeed. Look at Ecclesiastes with its description of Solomon’s glory and wealth (and there is no question it took place), and then go to Palestine now and look for the glory. There is nothing there.
When mankind today tries to mix up the spiritual with the physical too much and say, look here at this building, look here at this edifice, look at this organization, look at this man. Look at the work of man’s hands, and in another 50 years or 100 or 1000, there will not be a trace of it here just as there is no trace of Solomon’s glory in Jerusalem and Palestine at present.
God is trying to show us through the greatest wise man who ever lived that these things are temporary. He is trying to tell us, we have a life here, why not be happy in it? Why do you take things too seriously when you are flesh? Happiness cannot come if you are trying to work out a spiritual task when you do not have the tools to do it. Granted, God’s Holy Spirit works with us and in us, but as long as we are flesh we are going to have difficulty with it.
People have asked me, how do you feel about the Bible these days, or about basic Christianity? I say I love them both. But I will tell you something, I have learned not to take things too seriously. I do not even take the basic teachings of God too seriously. I come back and say that I take them seriously, but not too seriously. The word “too,” the adverb, means that I accept things in life that are beyond my capabilities to deal with, acknowledging that they are beyond my control and are God’s concern. I do not know all of the factors even dealing with matters of salvation concerning our Lord. But I will tell you some things I know:
I believe all those things. But you know what? If I try to explain every one of them to everybody, and get caught up to where I am reach out with my tentacles to explain the beginning or the end, even of the salvation which we have in Christ; I tell you, that is being too serious. I cannot do it.
All I know is that I can see Christ simply. I can see Him in my mind’s eye on the tree of crucifixion. I can also understand His teaching, simply, about love toward God, love toward your neighbor, and you ought to put in love and respect for yourself. I can understand those things very well. I have a deep conviction that things are going to work out for good (Romans 8:28). I read in the Scripture that God loves the world so much that He shall rescue all of it (John 1:29, 3:16–17, 12:47; 2 Corinthians 5:19; Galatians 6:14; 1 Timothy 1:15; 1 John 4:14). That is a conviction I have, but even then I do not take things too seriously. That is why I go to a Dodger’s baseball game once in a while. Even when they lose, it is still all right, because you cannot take things too seriously. I feel that is the way that God wants us to look at things.
That Book of Ecclesiastes was written by the wisest man who ever lived, who accumulated everything that mankind could want. Do you know what he said at the end? He said it was all vanity. But in the midst of it he gave some of the wisest advice you could possibly imagine: do not take things too seriously.
The only thing you should take seriously is Christ. But when you get down to it, you can rest in faith that He has taken care of all of the things that you cannot take care of, that you cannot handle, that you cannot answer, but He has done so, according to the Scripture. You in faith should have comfort and a type of happiness and a type of looking for joy and goodness without going around and feeling that the world has to be rescued by you or me, and that we have to answer all the questions in life.
Solomon summed it up very well as the person who put all of this together by writing the Book of Ecclesiastes when he said at the end. (And though it was written in the Old Testament period, it still applies equally to us today with Christian modification, of course):
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”
“Fear God” is the Old Testament way of saying have respect for God. It does not mean have a terror of Him. It means have a healthy respect for God and His ways. In the Old Testament I know what those commandments were. In the New Testament I know what those commandments are. They are far more spiritual and not physical in the New.
You have to apply it from the point of view of ourselves today and from the teaching given by Christ. As the conclusion of the whole matter: Be respectful to God the Creator. You may not know everything about Him, but be respectful to Him through Christ, and do what Christ would want us to do which is to love God and to love our neighbor and have loving self esteem. That is what He wants.
If we follow Solomon’s suggestion then we will be “the whole man.” (It says “whole duty of man” but the word “duty” is in italics in the King James.) The whole person is one who enjoys life, being happy, yet understands the difficulties, the problems of life. No, we do not like problems, but if you adopt those principles, coping with problems and striving with all your might to be happy and make others happy, what results is “the whole man,” the complete man. 14
“For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”
That is true. But the base of the whole thing is to have respect for God and then do as you feel He would want you to do. Do not take things too seriously. If you do not, you will be happy now. You have a guarantee in the future that one of these days you will understand the circle frontwards and backwards in every way. Until that time, as I say, do not take things too seriously.
Ernest L. Martin, 1977
Edited by David Sielaff, September 2006
“Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when you shall say, I have no pleasure in them.”
What are these “evil days”? Solomon makes it plain in the context, they are the days of old age. But does old age have to be “evil”? No, not at all. The word evil in the Old Testament does not mean sinfulness. It signifies something similar to misery, woe, hurtfulness, or calamity. True, all sin is evil, but not all evil is sin. Even God uses evil to accomplish His purpose (Jeremiah 19:3). What the author of Ecclesiastes is saying is that old age would inevitably bring on misery. But really, does this always have to happen? Old age need not be “evil” if we will but recognize that human “old age” is but a stage of life.
My own mother just turned 84 years of age [in 1977]. She assures me that she is happier now than she ever has been. She is, however, a woman of faith. She has faith in her Bible, in life, and in God! This is not meant to flatter her but all who know her admit it is true. Her faith is certainly no flattery to me, for if I had half the faith she has (and the faith of many other people I know) what a better person I could be. But faith is a gift (Ephesians 2:8) — and many people have it more than others.
One thing for certain, being “old” need not bring “evil days” at all. But Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes, thought they were “evil.” And for Solomon they no doubt were! He reckoned his old age as evil days in which he had “no pleasure in them” (12:1).
To Solomon this was all an “evil. Where will old age finally lead? Solomon said it would bring him:
“… to his long home [the grave], and the mourners go about the streets: … [when] the silver cord be loosed [when he dies], or the golden bowl be broken [another euphemism for death], or the pitcher be broken at the fountain [death], or the wheel broken at the cistern [yet another symbol of death]. Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.”
Solomon’s final opinion was that life was “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, all is vanity” (12:8). He appraised the physical life of man as nothing but misery which finally leads to death. At least that is the way it turned out for Solomon. He advised people to live life to the full while they had the opportunity because it would all end with the grave.
“Go your way, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God now accepts your works. Let your garments be always white; and let your head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of the life of your vanity, which he has given you under the sun, all the days of your vanity: for that is your portion in this life, and in your labor which you take under the sun. Whatsoever your hand finds to do [to find joy], do it with your might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, where you go.”
Solomon’s appraisal could very well be true if there is no redemption in Christ. Or, as the apostle Paul put it: “if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:19). But this life is not the end. It is only a beginning. Though old age may bring on a natural dimness of the eyes, the loss of teeth, a trembling of arms and legs, with the weight of a grasshopper being a burden, and finally even the silver cord itself being loosed (death itself takes place), all of this is only a process to lead one to glories of the future which all have been waiting for in Christ.
Yet during this life, not even God’s people are granted immunity from all “evil”:
“For we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.”
According to my mother, though several of the physical debilities mentioned by Solomon now affect her life, she assures me she is happier now than she has ever been. Though in her life she has lost her husband, her brothers, some sisters, and even some children, she realizes that these separations are only temporary.
To her, life has not been (nor is it) a “vanity of vanities.” True, if in this life only we have hope, then this earthly life is a profound vanity (as Solomon pointed out). But this life is only preparatory for one to come. There is a purpose being worked out in the lives of us all, “According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:11). And further:
“we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
My mother (and many other friends of mine in the December of their physical lives) expressed a real belief in this. That is why she is happy. She is enjoying life and is thankful to God for what she has. Solomon may have thought old age was “evil,” but with my mother (and with many others I know) it really is not that way at all. Whether one is happy or not is an attitude of mind. Life is only miserable when we make it that way. But if one keeps active, has a concern for other people (and is helping them), does not feel sorry for oneself, has overall confidence in the present and future, then old age — or any period of one’s life — can be a happy experience. All does not have to be vanity!
Ernest L Martin, February 1977
Edited by David Sielaff, September 2006
1 Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6 in John 10:33–36 where the discussion with the Pharisees is the Son of God. DWS
2 A new heavens and a new earth will be created in the future (Isaiah 65:17, 22; 2 Peter 3:13; and Revelation 21:1), but from Solomon’s knowledge, understanding, and experience, what he wrote at that time was true, so far as he knew. Jesus expanded on the words of Solomon: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35). DWS
3 Much great literature (even contemporary literature) uses biblical themes and concepts. For example Ernest Hemingway’s novel “The Sun Also Rises” tells the story of the fruitlessness and cyclical nature of life. See the Wikpedia article about the novel at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sun_Also_Rises. DWS
4 Young’s Literal Translation is more in line with the Hebrew, explicitly describing the circularity of the wind: “Going unto the south, and turning round unto the north, turning round, turning round, the wind is going, and by its circuits the wind has returned.” (Ecclesiastes 1:6). DWS
5 That is what Einstein said. No matter which way you look out into the starry space, he felt that you finally, if you went in one direction, putting it in layman’s language, come back to where you started. That is possibly true. ELM
6 Of course, Dr. Martin fully understood that the word and concept of “eternity” does not exist in the Scriptures. See Dr. Martin and Gary Reid’s 1975 article, “The Time Periods of Salvation, Part 1” at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d041101.htm, and “The Time Periods of Salvation, Part 2,” at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d041201.htm. DWS
7 Exodus 33:20; Deuteronomy 4:12, 5:24; Matthew 11:27; Luke 10:22; John 1:18, 5:37, 6:46, 14:7–9; 1 John 4:12–13, 20; 1 Timothy 1:17, 6:16. We shall see God the Father face to face some day as part of the Body of Christ. DWS
8 Most modern translations translate ha-olam, “the age” in this verse as “eternity.” This is just as wrong as the King James Version translation of ha-olam as “the world.” The Greek Old Testament version, the LXX, correctly translates ha-olam into the Greek by using the phrase ton aiona, which means “the age.” The LXX is mostly consistent in translating the Hebrew olam correctly with the Greek aion. DWS
9 Most modern translations render the phrase as “many concubines.” DWS
10 It says in 2 Samuel 12:24–25 that YHWH loved Solomon. Nathan the prophet named him and “called his name Jedidiah, because of the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:25). Jedidiah means “beloved of YAH” or “beloved of the Lord.” Speaking of Solomon “… among many nations was there no king like him, who was beloved of his God …” (Nehemiah 13:26). DWS
11 He states this maxim in different ways in Ecclesiastes 3:13, 5:19, and 6:2 besides 2:24. DWS
12 “He makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). See also Job 25:3; Psalm 145:9; Acts 14:17. DWS
This is what Peter speaks about:
“And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
2 Peter 1:5–8
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