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Chasing the Wind - An Introduction

September 19, 2010 Speaker: Reid S. Monaghan Series: Chasing the Wind - Ecclesiastes

Topic: Exposition Scripture: Ecclesiastes 1:1–1:11

Please see Chasing the Wind - An Introduction to the book of Ecclesiastes for a full treatment of the background and major themes of the book.

Why Ecclesiastes Today?

#1—It communicates to all of humanity

The honesty of the writing caused the renowned agnostic author Herman Melville to call it the “truest of all books” in his novel Moby Dick.

The German monk and reformer Martin Luther apparently encouraged that “this noble little book” should be read every day because it firmly rejected a sentimental religiosity”

Unbeliever and Believer

  • Unbeliever – Frustrated with the World, the Book's honesty can leave us frustrated
  • Believer – The Book Can Lead You To God

#2—It Questions the Secular Assumptions of our Day


#3—It is a Book in Season for our Culture

Our Modern World

Western optimism once held that humanity, through its own arts and sciences, would fix the world and bring about a perfected society.  Nobody thinks this much today, yet it was an almost universal feeling in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The anthem was progress PROGRESS!!!

Through Industry and Technology we would be masters of our own future

  • World War I - War to End All Wars
  • World War II - The most educated and technological advanced cultures
  • Cold War - Fear of out and out global nuclear destruction
  • Our progress led the bloodiest century in history which we have pretty much forgotten already. 
  • Our progress has created the factors which many hold will lead to a feared environmental diaster.

Our Chase in our Culture

  • Bored in its affluence
  • Flooded with its information and entertainment
  • Addicted to trivial things
  • Living without any sort of answer to the meaning of life

We spend BILLIONS on two things

  • Trying to create happiness and amusement

Background of Ecclesiastes


Judging by what the book says, Ecclesiastes may well have been written by Solomon himself; this is the most natural way to read the Biblical text. But even if another author used Solomon to help make his point the words of Ecclesiastes are the very words of God inspired by the Holy Spirit. The end of the book tells us that whatever wisdom we find in the book has been given by “one shepherd” (Ecclesiastes 12:11), meaning God himself.  Furthermore, Solomon’s life is clearly presented as a biblical context for what we read in Ecclesiastes.  The book’s real life background – and we need to see it from this perspective – is the story we read about Solomon in 1 Kings and other places.

Philip Graham Ryken Ecclesiastes - Why Everything Matters Preaching the Word, Edited by R. Kent Hughes. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010, 18

Wisdom Literature

  • Indirect Teaching - Wisdom is always exercised in real life, not simply in abstraction.  So Proverbs is not playing a pithy game when it tells us “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.” and then in the very next verse “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” (Proverbs 26:4,5) The point here is that fools are complicated to deal with and wisdom would require balance.

  • Autobiographical Narrative, Reflections and Proverbs
  • Book Structure - introduction and epilogue with a long sermon making up the majority of the book.
  • Key Words and Phrases - Vanity, Under the Sun, The Fear of God and Gifts from God

Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. 2 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity

One of the words that strike us right away in chapter 1 is the word “vanity” (ESV) or “meaningless” (NIV). It is shocking to read the first few verses and have some guy ranting about the emptiness of everything.  Most people would choose reality TV over such buzz-killing realities.  The word used here is the Hebrew term hebel, and a rather mysterious term it is.  It is used some thirty-five times in the book and it literally means “vapor” or “puff of air” and is used in various ways in the Scriptures depending upon context.  Pastor Mark Dever summarizes the use of the word here by saying that whatever is called hebel “can be easily, quickly and permanently whisked away, like smoke, a cloud, or a desert mirage, leaving behind no remainder.”[1]  It is a similar idea to that which is conveyed in the New Testament book of James where we read: “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14 ESV).  In the Old Testament there are three main ways in which the word hebel is used. In addition to its usage here in Ecclesiastes, it also describes the worship of false and worthless things and thus can be translated “idols.” It also is used to speak of the brevity of certain works or efforts (see Isaiah 49:6; Job 7:16).[2]

The Preacher wants us to hear that everything, and believe me he means everything, is just this: a vain, empty, futile chase without meaning, what he calls a “striving after wind.”


[1] Mark Dever, Promises Made - the Message of the Old Testament (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 529.

[2] Robert Laird Harris R. Laird Harris, Gleason Leonard Archer and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Electronic ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 204.

Philosopher Peter Kreeft says it this way – Life is a like a wild goose chase that has no goose…we are always trying to catch it but we can’t …


3What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?

What does a man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?  A Rhetorical Question. What do we gain by all our toil, labor? What is the bottom line GAIN? At the end of it all, if this is all there that is left?  This is a business term – after all expenses are paid, what profit do we have form all our toiling.

What does he mean by “Toil” – not just working construction all day…efforts extended all the time…

Five Toils

  1. Wisdom – Working to learn – Vanity
  2. Pleasure – Bodily Pleasures – Vanity
  3. Wealth/Power – Vanity
  4. Duty/Doing Good/Being Righteous - Vanity
  5. Religion/Human Effort to find and please God – Vanity

Argument he is making

  1. All “toil” is “under the sun”
  2. All “under the sun” is “vanity”
  3. Therefore all “toil” is “vanity”

Key phrase – “UNDER THE SUN”

If I just look at the life under the sun…as if there is no God, no eternity, no Kingdom of Heaven coming…It is a book that makes its case both directly but more often “indirectly” – it deconstructs what he calls “life under the sun” and leaves us longing for something more…

Deconstructed by the Teacher - To all of us chasing hope, meaning and joy completely apart from God

What does a man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? What do we gain by all our toil, labor? Nothing, you bought nothing…YOU ARE ALL GOING TO DIE

So in the first three verses we get The Preachers Big Idea for the whole book: Everything “Under the Sun” is vanity, a chasing of the wind…

Thank you for coming to Jacob’ s Well, have a nice day…Reid, I think I want one of those TV preachers that smiles all the time and tells me is I send money I’ll be healthy, wealthy wise.

Actually friends, the preachers message is much more glorious that that, much more wonderful, filled with joy and true than that.  The problem is that we don’t yet believe him – that if all there is what is “Under the Sun” it is Vanity – until we believe him, we are not open to the truth about the purpose and meaning of life. 

He will begin to make his case by wrestling with the nature of things under the sun and his own life story.  His story is one not of a person who never had everything this world promises…it is darker than that…he HAD IT ALL and only looked into the mirror and found an emptiness of life.

It has been said that smart people learn from their mistakes and wise people learn from the mistakes of others

Here begins his argument…looking at the natural world and the world of human affairs

4A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. 5 The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. 6The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. 7All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. 8All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it;

  • People live, people die – life goes on
  • The sun goes down, gets ready to do it again life goes on
  • The wind blows round and round – all the time life goes on
  • The water cycle, just goes and goes life goes on

It is the permanent impermanence that wears us down.  It is the constant, inconstancy that weighs heavy on us…it is the constant changing of everything that is always the same that…if you think about it too long it makes you weary.


Here it is guys, the line we do not want…LIFE IS WEARY let me use the word that everyone in our generation fears  - LIFE gets BORING.

8b the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.

The Eye and Ear – iTunes, Netflix, 4000 Cable/Sat TV channels – BORED!!!  Anyone done this, I have – Flip, Flip, Flip


Oh it is FUN for a little bit…but then – BORING - The things that you used to love, used to make life seem jazzed and electric – don’t satisfy any more…vanity.

We have bought into this CRAZY IDEA – that more, or more extreme versions of what I already have is going to make me happy.

College – Get Drunk on Thursday Night that will make my life awesome...I think a new cell phone will make my life better – I do, I really do…


9What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. 10Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us.

The same pattern in human affairs holds

  • One people conquers another
  • One group oppresses another
  • One political group thinks another is the problem
  • Young people think old people are lame and stupid, older people think the young are lazy, pathetic and no good.
  • Some People are Religious, Some are Not
  • Some People are Freaky, Some are Not
  • People treat their boyfriends or girlfriends like crap, or they act like their love is “special” in all of human history!
  • You eat, you go to work, you eat, you go to sleep, you do it again and again and again

He is directly affronting the idea that we think we are doing life for the first time ever!!!

11There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.

  • Jean Parisot La Valette (1494-1568) - Ever heard of him? Here of the world at one time...
  • Don Lippincot (1893 –1963) - Fastest man in the world in 1912...nobodies knows anything about Don Lippincot
  • Do you think anybody is going to know that Lady Gaga wore a meat suit to the MTV VMAs in the next generation? 

Will You Listen to the Preacher?

IF Life is Simply UNDER THE SUN?  If life is only built upon fame, success, money, sex, power, the opinions of the people around us…it that is it – THERE IS NO GAIN.



From his voice the ancient world, The Preacher, wants to say something more


  • Is there a view of life where you look at things like the Water Cycle, Or the Vast Expanses of the Universe and See more than vanity and see the Glory of God?
  • Is there a view of life where you look at wisdom, work, money, pleasure and see wonder and joy and hope and purpose?
  • Is there a BEYOND the SUN that breaks in to life UNDER the SUN?


He is going to work us over for some time…until we are ready to hear…but the good news of Jesus is quite clear that the TRANSCEDENT and ETERNAL, that which is not simply of our world, stepped into our world in space/time/history…


  • Incarnation  - something new
  • Resurrection – something new


If anyone is in Christ, he is a NEW CREATION, the old has gone, behold all things have become NEW!


  • Kingdom – something new

Jesus told us that his Kingdom is not of this world…and he asked us “What does it profit –what GAIN – a man if he gains the whole world but forfeits his soul?

Other than the Empires that March and Conquer, Jesus’ Kingdom is different...a people indwelled by Spirit of God and the Love of God.

  • Communion – each week, God is doing something new

Community Meditation

  • The Preacher gives his main idea to us in Ecclesiastes chapter 1, verse 2: Vanity of Vanities, All is Vanity! Does that sound to you as a bit extreme?
  • In this section of Ecclesiastes we are introduced to two very important concepts for understanding this book. “Hebel” or Vanity and life “Under the Sun.” What do these two things mean? See the introduction paper to Ecclesiastes for further study.
  • Why is our perspective on life so important? Why would it be good to remember that our lives are short and will soon be forgotten? How can this focus us on what is truly important?
  • How does Jesus, who entered history from “beyond the sun” change our perspective on all our “toils” in life “under the sun”?
  • Read Ecclesiastes 1:12-2:26 some time this week.

More in Chasing the Wind - Ecclesiastes

December 26, 2010

Fear God, Follow Jesus

December 19, 2010

Shout out to the Young

December 12, 2010

Don't be Scared