We have a saying when asked what is going on in our lives, “Not much, just the same old, same old.” Solomon, as an old man, says that about almost everything in his life. We believe Solomon to be the author due to several statements. Notice in verse 1 he refers to himself in two ways, the son of David and the king in Jerusalem. We might say from that statement this could be several descendants of David. But there is more evidence. Again in verse 12 he states that he is king over Israel in Jerusalem (It was after Solomon that Israel was a divided kingdom). Verse 16 sets him apart from other sons of David, in that he had wisdom above anyone before him. Solomon was known for his wisdom. In addition, chapter 2 and verse 4 through 11 indicate his great wealth, the many houses he built for himself, the vineyards he planted, the many male and female slaves, the flocks, the herds, silver, and gold he owned, and the many concubines. All of these indicators point to Solomon as the author.
He is called, in verse one, the Preacher. The term refers to the spokesman or teacher for a gathering or company of people. Six times in this book he refers to himself as the Preacher (1:1,12; 7:27; 12:8-10). As the Preacher his message in this book reveals an old man viewing life from failures and expressing the emptiness and regrets from the past. Solomon lived the first half of his reign for the purpose of God. He built himself houses, as well as the temple for the Lord (1 Kings 9:10). It was after that period Solomon began experiencing a divided heart. This involved immorality and idolatry. During the first part of his reign, Solomon wrote most of the Proverbs and perhaps the Song of Songs. Now toward the end of his life he writes Ecclesiastes.
This book serves as a testimonial from one who tried everything in life, while leaving the Lord out of the picture. His hindsight evaluation— “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!” Thirty-three (33) times we find the word “vanity” or “futility” throughout this book.
In some ways verses 1-11 serve as an overview of life, which sets the stage for the individual areas Solomon addresses in the book. Chapters 1-6 show his sense of futility with all he had experienced in life, trying to find a purpose and a sense of contentment. Chapters 7-12 contain various proverbs and words of wisdom which come from a life that could say, “Here is what not to do!”
As we begin verses 1-11 deal with three areas of the same old things. One senses in reading these words the futility of our work, this world, and the ways of man. Because of repetition and redundancy everything is the same old, same old.
I. THE SAME OLD WORK v. 1-3
Solomon poses a question which reflects his sense of futility with working. “What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun?” Having just stated in verse 2, “Vanity of vanities,” it certainly seems a negative answer should follow this question. It is understood that Solomon is saying this with a sense of futility based on verse 2.
If you asked the king about his work in the first 20 years of his reign, he would have answered differently. He would have said then, “I am building a house God wanted in Jerusalem so that He could be present among His people. This is the most important job on earth, because it is what God called me to do.” If you asked him as he writes this book, “I cannot see any advantage to work; it is vanity!
The word “advantage” means “gain, completion, or satisfactorily finished.” Solomon’s idea is that because there is no end to work, then it if futility. I have thought the same thing! I know some of the same old, same old, each week. Sometimes I think, “Here we go again. I never get finished; it is always something else to do.” At times you grow weary of the work, not just weary in the work! So, what can you do? Do you follow Solomon’s philosophy or is there another way to view work?
Remove the Lord from the equation and you have futility. That is what Solomon did in the latter half of his reign. Anytime we think of self, what we need to do, how hard it is or how tired we are, futility can arise. Thus the answer is to look to the Lord. We must remind ourselves that work is God’s place for us. If He gave us a calling for our vocation, then we must see that moment-by-moment. If He wants us to do the same thing each day, then He is big enough to sustain and to handle the monotony.
God has ordained all work. There were some in Paul’s day who did not work. Paul’s statement in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 captures God’s heart, “For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.” It is not the monotony of doing the same old, same old that is our futility. It is our mindset with the Lord which leads to joy and peace in the work, or futility over the work.
II. THE SAME OLD WORLD v. 4-8
Generations pass away, but the earth stands or remains (v. 4). This world seems to never change in many respects. For example, Solomon uses the rising and setting of the sun to bring home this point (v. 5). We have a saying when something bad happens one day, “Well, the sun will still come up tomorrow.” It is predictable and cyclical. It takes place everyday. No matter where you are on the earth the sun rises and falls.
When we see the beauty of the sunset it either brings a sense of awe, wonder and enjoyment, or it gives us a sense of monotony. There have been times when seeing the sun set, I get anxious realizing either what I face the next day, or stressed over a deadline.
In verse 6 the wind and its circular motion also shows the sense of things remaining the same with this world. From google.com: Global wind patterns: Winds are named by the direction from which they blow. The globe is encircled by six major wind belts, three in each hemisphere. From pole to equator, they are the polar easterlies, the westerlies, and the trade winds.
Then in verse 7, Solomon talks about the rivers flowing each day into the seas, but the seas never fill up. The same happens each day with the same result. These recycling events can either be taken as the same old, same old, or be observed as the marvel of God’s sovereignty over His creation. Solomon lost the sense of wonder, because he distanced himself from the Creator.
We must see these words as those of a man who regretted the last twenty years of this life. We must note that if one is right with the Lord, then creation, cycles and monotonous events will be appreciated, not viewed as futility.
III. THE SAME OLD WAYS v. 8-11
Man’s ways are the same from generation to generation. Verse 8 declares, “All things are wearisome; man is not able to tell it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear filled with hearing.” Solomon had seen everything and heard it as well. Yet, he describes being unsatisfied in seeing and hearing. In a sense there is nothing more to see, for he has seen it before, yet he is still empty. Verse 9 further affirms this with the thought that everything in the past will be done again in the future. He concludes, “So there is nothing new under the sun.”
Do we not see this today? The people who have the latest technology, which can do amazing things, will stand in line to get the next new thing. They are never satisfied.
Verse 10 again poses a question, “Is there anything of which one might say, ‘See this, it is new’”? In Solomon’s day advances in different areas were slow and therefore unseen. Today, we see changes almost daily. The phone you got two years ago is already outdated. There is, however, with all the changes a sense in which one begins to feel, this is really not new, but only faster or looks different. All of this is empty and futile.
Finally, Solomon summarizes by stating that the past is not remembered and neither will the future be. Those who come later will not care about the past achievements or accomplishments. The ways of man are the same old, same old.
Some things never change! Man without a vital relationship with the Lord is dissatisfied and living a life of futility. He tries work and it seems monotonous and futile. He looks at the world and it seems to just keep doing the same things each day, like the sun rising and rivers flowing. It seems so meaningless. Man’s ways are even monotonous, because he thinks like this from generation to generation. Only when he trusts in Christ will he find fulfillment and leave futility in the past.