274 - How to Live a Meaningless Life (Ecclesiastes 1)
Human wisdom offers no satisfaction in life and no hope. Solomon, who possessed great wisdom, offers himself as living proof of this, as well as a warning not to follow the path he has taken.
How to Live a Meaningless Life
Some time ago I had lunch with a seasoned fighter pilot. He told me some of the experiences he had during his military career. He shared with me that one of the most challenging experiences was when he flew nighttime missions. He said it was easy to become disoriented while flying in the darkness. In fact, he said, if he had not relied on his instrument panel, there were times he would not have known whether he was right-side up or upside down.
On one rather intense night mission, when he glanced down at his instrument panel, he discovered he was flying nearly straight down. He was able to pull up, just in time.
Flying in the dark can be disastrous. That is true not only in a fighter jet but also on your journey through life. You need God’s inspired instrument panel of truth.
If there was ever a man who knew better than to fly without that instrument panel, it was a man named Solomon. Now you might already know that Solomon’s life nearly ended in a fatal crash. But his life had started out so well.
Back in 1 Kings 3, God appeared to Solomon in a dream and basically told him, “Make a wish, and I’ll grant it.” God was essentially signing over to Solomon a blank check. To his credit, Solomon wrote the word wisdom on that check. And God responded:
“Because you have . . . not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold, I now . . . give you a wise and discerning mind.” (1 Kings 3:11-12)
During the early years of Solomon’s life, it was sunshine and blue skies. He collected and wrote some 3,000 proverbs; he authored a love story called “The Song of Solomon”; he built Israel’s magnificent temple.
But in his later years, the dark clouds of disobedience rolled in, and Solomon took his eyes off the instrument panel of God’s Word. He married 700 wives and collected a harem of 300 concubines—or as one little boy said, “cucumber vines.” And yes, they are going to tangle up his heart and life.
Then in his old age, something happened. We are not sure exactly when or how, but as an old man, his heart was rekindled toward God. He repented late in life, and Ecclesiastes is Solomon’s private journal that gives us the story.
The title of this book is “Ecclesiastes.” That’s a Greek term for someone who gathers an assembly. So, the title is an invitation for everybody to gather around.
Now in order to better understand this book, you need to start at the last page, over in chapter 12. There in verse 1 Solomon tells us why he wrote Ecclesiastes: “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth.” Solomon is effectively saying, “Don’t be like me. I had forgotten God. And let me tell you, without the Lord, life is without meaning.”
With that, let’s open the first page of this journal at chapter 1 and verse 1, where Solomon introduces himself by writing, “The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.”
He is saying, “I am going to preach you a sermon. I am going to use my own life as an illustration of how close you can come to crashing head-on if you don’t follow the instrument panel of God’s Word.”
He begins in verse 2 by telling us what life becomes apart from God: “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” Now this word for “vanity” in the Hebrew does not refer to being vain. It’s not talking about spending time looking in the mirror.
Vanity means “vapor.” The word can be translated “empty” or “meaningless.” “Vanity of vanities” basically says that all of life without God is vanity—every bit of life is meaningless to the highest degree possible, without God. And Solomon has experienced that.
He asks the question in verse 3, “What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” Solomon essentially says that life becomes a treadmill of toiling down here under the sun—it has no meaning or purpose without God.
To illustrate his point, Solomon makes the observation that every new thing we might take credit for is dependent on something God has already created. He writes in verse 9, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
So, there is nothing really new—it’s just the same old thing repackaged. Let me tell you, you are listening to a man who is completely bored with life.
Now that does not mean Solomon is just sitting around the house. He says in verse 13, “I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven.”
Now keep in mind that this word “wisdom” is a broad term that depends on the context for the right interpretation.Solomon is using his own wisdom here, not God’s. You could say that his wisdom is earth-bound; it is stuck down here under the sun.
So, Solomon is searching for meaning down here under the sun. In fact, the word he uses for “search out” is the same word used in Numbers chapter 13 to describe the mission of the twelve Hebrew men sent into the land. There it is translated “spy out.” They spied out the land—they explored the land, and they took a lot of notes.
Solomon is saying here, “I have been exploring the world around me; I spied out everything—all kinds of activities, every branch of learning, all kinds of experiences, both good and bad—and I took a lot of notes.”
And what we have here, beloved, are his notes—his private journal. In it are some of the details of his experiences as he explored life, using his own wisdom, instead of God’s.
He says in verse 13 that it was all “an unhappy business.” It was all “striving after wind” (verse 14)—like children chasing after bubbles blown into the wind, reaching out to grab one, only to see it disappear.
Solomon in essence says, “People are chasing after bubbles, carried along with the wind. They try to grab hold of things the world has to offer, but nothing down here under the sun seems to last.”
What Solomon does next is give us a proverb that summarizes his opening comments. He says here in verse 15: “What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted.”
This word “crooked” is a metaphor for sin. In other words, we are not going to be able to straighten out everything about ourselves and everything about our world apart from God, because sin has made everything crooked.
The words here translated “lacking” and “counted” are financial/accounting terms. Solomon is saying that no matter how we calculate it, we have some serious deficiencies in our lives: insecurities, insufficiencies, sinful tendencies, and spiritual inabilities. We are always lacking something in the ledger of our lives.
And that should point us to the truth that we cannot fly in the dark without God’s instrument panel. If we do, we will become disoriented, and there’s going to be a serious crash up ahead.
My friend, if you have discovered today that you are in a deep descent—that you are living without God—don’t despair. That realization is actually good news! If you are not a Christian, this is the time to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. There is still time to pull up and give your life to Christ.
If you are a Christian and you have gotten off course, it’s time to return and trust the Lord as your Shepherd, your Guide. Go back to His Word—your divinely inspired instrument panel—and start following it again, today.
More info about becoming a Christian: /the-gospel Tell us of your decision to resume using God’s instrument panel: https://www.wisdomonline.org/connect
 Jerry E. Shepherd, “Ecclesiastes,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 6, Revised Edition, ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland (Zondervan, 2008), 256.
 See Numbers 13:2, 16, 17, 25, 32.
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