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Lesson 2: Nothing New Under the Sun *

Introduction: My boss for the last 30 years continues to work even though he is over 80. I am confident he does not work because he loves or needs money. Instead, he works because that is his preference. Have you ever considered what activities in your life give you the most joy? For some time now, I have been giving thought to this and considering whether the choice my boss made is the right choice for me. One of the things that gives me the most joy is making a difference, being meaningful to others. Solomon wants to convince us that nothing in life is meaningful. Is he right or is he depressed? Let's dive into our study and decide!

  1. Meaningless Work

    1. Read Ecclesiastes 1:1-2. Last week we looked at this text as part of our overview of the book of Ecclesiastes. After class, one of my class members came up to me and said that he had a quibble with the way the NIV translated the Hebrew word "hebel." Hebel is translated in most Bibles as "vanity," but is translated as "meaningless" by the NIV in this text. My class member said he thought it had the meaning of blowing dust out of the palm of your hand. Does this sense of hebel better fit the overall teaching of the Bible? (I think so. Breath, vapor, blowing is a widely accepted meaning of the word hebel. We all agree that life here on earth is transitory. It is harder to accept that it is meaningless!)

    2. Read Ecclesiastes 1:3. What is your best answer to this question?

      1. I have heard it said that no successful business person on their deathbed says, "I wish I would have spent more time at the office." Do you agree? Would Solomon agree?

      2. Move the clock backward. How many people facing retirement say, "I wish I would have spent more time at the office (or earning money)?" (What most of us think about gaining from our work is money.)

      3. What, besides money, can you gain from your work? (Supporting your family. Fame. Respect. Making life better for others. A spot in the history books.)

        1. Why is a spot in the history books important? (Because you are dead - which, I think is Solomon's point about our work being meaningless.)

  2. Meaningless World

    1. Read Ecclesiastes 1:4-6. When you look at your life, do things change or remain the same?

      1. What about the place where you grew up? Has it changed or remained the same?

      2. What is Solomon suggesting about change? Do you agree with him? (Solomon says that the cycle of life, the cycle of the universe, and the weather patterns all remain the same. This is true, but this is not where most of us live. Our lives deal with the details, not the general movements of the earth and sky.)

      3. What positive truth can you find in Solomon's remark about the universe remaining the same? (That you and I are not really very important in the overall scheme of things. We come and go, but the earth remains the same.)

      4. Modern society pushes the idea of the importance of the individual. We try to build up self-worth. Is this a good idea? Is this a Biblical idea? (The world is full of self-important toads. At the same time, we have individuals who harm themselves because they think they have no importance. The remedy for both of these errors in thinking is that only our relationship to God gives us true importance. God's creation is much bigger than we are and it is pretty independent of human activities.)

    2. Read Ecclesiastes 1:7. Solomon is making an additional point beyond his argument in Ecclesiastes 1:4-6. What additional point do you see? (When he says that the sea never fills up, even though the rivers are continually dumping more water into it, he is saying that the earth is self- regulating (or God regulates it) without the need for any input from humans.)

      1. Do you agree? If so, what practical point for your life is Solomon making? (This reinforces the point that on the large scale my life is not very important.)

    3. When Solomon writes about the activity of the sun, the wind and the water, what similarity does he find with your work? (There is a lot of activity, but it never produces any change. Thus, Solomon says your work is meaningless and the activity of nature is also meaningless because nothing changes.)

  3. Meaningless, Boring Life

    1. Read Ecclesiastes 1:8. If you never tire of hearing and seeing things, why would you get bored? (Solomon says that we are always interested in hearing and seeing new things, but they all turn out to be boring in the end.)

      1. Do you get bored with "new things?"

    2. Read Ecclesiastes 1:9-10. Is this true today? (I'm a "car guy." I was recently watching an auction of 30 year-old cars and I must admit that they are pretty much like the new cars. Some American car manufacturers specifically try to make their new cars look like cars they made 30 years ago. However, what Solomon says is not true about electronics. We did not have telephones or televisions a 100 years ago. We did not have copiers, scanners, faxes or the Internet 40 years ago. Now I have a telephone I carry around in my pocket which will access the Internet and receive copies of documents and pictures. That is new!)

      1. Are there new ideas today about how to live?

    1. Read Ecclesiastes 1:11. How far back can you trace your family? How much do you know about your grandparents? Your great-grandparents?

    2. How would you summarize Solomon's argument so far in a sentence or two? (Your life makes no difference: you do not change the earth or its cycles, you do not create anything new, and pretty soon people will not even remember that you ever existed, much less did anything of importance.)

      1. Is this true for you?

        1. If so, how does that make you feel?

    3. Read Ecclesiastes 1:12-15. What is the scope of Solomon's study? What is his perspective? (His scope is limited to "under heaven" and "under the sun." This suggests that he is looking at things only from a human point of view.)

      1. If you excluded God from the calculation, would you agree with Solomon that the defective cannot be remedied and all is like chasing after wind?

  1. If You Were Smarter, You Would Be Discouraged

    1. Read Ecclesiastes 1:16. What is the benchmark for Solomon's wisdom? (Other rulers in Jerusalem. He says, "I'm the smartest guy who has ruled this kingdom. I know a lot, so I have an informed basis to tell you that nothing here really matters.)

    2. Read Ecclesiastes 1:17-18. Have you ever read the saying, "the more you know, the less you think you know?" Is that Solomon's point of view?

      1. I live in an area served by the Washington Post newspaper. From time to time the attitude of its reporters towards conservative Christians leaks out onto the printed page: Christians are uneducated, dumb and happy. If Christians knew more they would not be so certain about their politics or their faith. Would Solomon agree? (At least partially. He seems to say, "the more you know, the more problems you see.")

        1. Why would one of the smartest guys agree with the Washington Post? (Because they look at life from the perspective of everything under heaven, and not from the perspective of heaven. Compare what Paul says about this issue in 1 Corinthians 1:20-31.)

    3. Friend, would you prefer to be happy or sad? Would you prefer to think you live a meaningful or a meaningless life? Solomon reminds us that if we want peace, happiness, and a sense of meaning in our life, we must walk in God's way. Otherwise, it is all pretty meaningless.

  2. Next week: "All That My Eyes Desired."

* Copr. 2007, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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