The Puzzle of Significance
Plastic, cardboard, and painted on smiles are the things this world has to offer. We find ourselves striving for these things because, so often, we think we will find happiness and meaning through what the world offers. We believe lies when it comes to happiness and contentment.
The first lie we’re tempted to believe is that lasting happiness can be purchased Our society tells us that happiness comes from the things we buy.
Another lie we believe is that wisdom and knowledge bring lasting meaning to life. Our society believes that its ills can be fixed through education. Education, they say, is the answer to a better society. Education is a good thing and beneficial in many ways, however, like materialism it will never bring our lives meaning. You cannot out smart sin. In fact, all education does is introduce us to more and more evil.
The next lie is that pleasure will produce lasting happiness and meaning. Eat, drink and be merry because tomorrow we die will never bring us meaning to life. Why are we here? What is our purpose? These are questions King Solomon asked and longed to find the answers.
If your own life experiences were not enough to convince you of the meaningless life the world offers, King Solomon shows us in an amazing way just how vain and trivial life can be. He writes the Book of Ecclesiastes for the purpose of showing the world that a life void of the Lord is a life full of nothing. A life without Jesus Christ is a meaningless and futile life.
Solomon writes his book in four parts. I want to trace the flow of his argument so we can understand what he’s getting at. To help us follow God’s logic lets read the conclusion of the first section…
Here, we see Solomon’s Point…
Eccles. 2:24-26 (ESV)
There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God,  for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?  For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
What our preacher is telling us in his truth taught is:
Truth Taught- Only the Lord makes our trivial lives meaningful.
The goods of this life are only profitable if they are seen as coming from God and our joy should be in the fact that God gave them rather than in the thing He gave. If we stockpile stuff and think that in the stockpiling there will be joy we will be very startled to experience the loss of everything when we die and leave it to someone else.
Solomon also wants us to see that there is no good thing within us. Inherent good does not find itself within man.
James 1:17 (ESV)
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
King Solomon gives us examples to prove his point.
1- The Restless Repetition of Life
Eccles. 1:1-11 (ESV)
The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
 What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
 A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
 The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.
 The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
 All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.
 All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
 What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
 Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already
in the ages before us.
 There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be
among those who come after.
According to the Preacher, everything under the sun or with the writer’s intent in mind, earthly activities are vain and empty. It’s the same thing over and over and over again. You get up, go to school or work, come home, and go to bed. You get up, go to school or work, come home, and go to bed… Even when there is a momentary break in the repetition like say the Super Bowl life is meaningless if meaning is sought for in the stuff of life. There have been Super Bowls for 40 some years now and there will probably be one next year and if you live for the Super Bowl you will very quickly find yourself restless and discontent.
The Preacher has established that the created world is an endless restless repetition. People live and die, Sun rises and the sun sets, Wind is always blowing, rivers are always flowing, there is nothing that hasn’t been done before, and when you’re dead you will eventually be forgotten.
That’s enough to bum out even the most upbeat and optimistic person. I think that’s what the Preacher is after. Solomon makes some extremely important observations in the first section and draws some God given conclusions. Now in the second section he shares with us his own experiences of seeking meaning.
Let’s look together at the next section and see all the ways Solomon tried to find happiness and meaning to life…
2- Solomon’s Own Quest for Meaning
Eccles. 1:12-2:11 (ESV)
I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem.  And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.  I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.
 What is crooked cannot be made straight,
and what is lacking cannot be counted.
 I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.”  And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind.
 For in much wisdom is much vexation,
and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.
Eccles. 2:1-11 (ESV)
I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity.  I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?”  I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life.  I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself.  I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees.  I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees.  I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem.  I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the children of man.
 So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me.  And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil.  Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.
Solomon is no ivory tower theologian here who is speaking of things in theory. He had tried everything he knew of to bring happiness and fulfillment to his life only to understand at the end of the day that it was all worthless. We should understand that there is no one more suited to explain this to us than King Solomon.
He is the wisest man to ever live surely his wisdom could gain a fulfilled life. He was one of the richest men on earth when he lived, surely he could find happiness in his material goods. He lavished on himself all the pleasures known to man; surely he could find lasting happiness from pleasure. In the end he said it’s all vanity. It’s all empty and worthless.
King Solomon speaks to us from his personal experiences and concludes that everything he tried came up empty. Solomon’s quest for the answer to the meaning of life remained a failure because he was trying to find meaning in the things of life rather than the One who gave them.
 And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.
Here, Solomon shows us the problem with life. Here, he alludes to the fall and the inherent sin that follows it. The original language has the Hebrew word Adam. What I think Solomon discovered is that because of the fall and the sin that has so penetrated our thinking and considering the fallen world as well, happiness is impossible to find in the things under the sun. Rather than seeking joy in the Creator our twisted logic seeks joy in His creation.
behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.
The bottom line for us is that if Solomon and all his wealth, wives, and means to find happiness failed to do so, is there any hope for the sons of Adam to find fulfillment at all?
Solomon had the means to test every possible opportunity to find a significant meaningful life and all came up empty.
3- Solomon’s Struggle Brought Despair
Eccles. 2:12-26 (ESV)
So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly. For what can the man do who comes after the king? Only what has already been done.  Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness.  The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them.  Then I said in my heart, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” And I said in my heart that this also is vanity.  For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool!  So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.
 I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me,  and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity.  So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun,  because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil.  What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun?  For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.
 There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God,  for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?  For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
In the end Solomon’s quest for the answer brought him to despair. After trying and trying to find fulfillment through creation rather than the Creator grief and depression set in.
I hated life, was grievous to me, I hated all my toil, despair, all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation.,
He realized that whether you’re wise or a fool death overtakes both in the end. Whether you’re a hard worker or lazy, whether you’re rich or poor, no matter your condition, in the end it’s all the same. If you’re poor you leave with nothing, if you’re rich you leave everything to someone else…it’s all striving after wind and vanity.
What makes life worth living?
 There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God,
If my life is to have meaning, I must understand that all the things in life are given to me by the Sovereign Creator. I must not find meaning in the stuff He gives but in God who gives them. When I find joy in the Lord rather than in the stuff, my life will begin to take shape and mean something. This happens because we are now living out the purpose for which we were created. God receives glory from our lives as we see Him as the Great Giver of all things.
Isaiah 43:7 (ESV)
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”
Solomon discovered this truth through trial and error. He tried Power, Money, Wisdom, Sensual Pleasure, Building things, Working, and Honor. In the end experienced emptiness.
I want to thank Solomon because he’s saved us so much trouble and disappointment. God’s Word tells us that all this leads to nothing.
In a similar light, Jesus told a parable about a man who thought meaning and security could be found in material wealth…
Luke 12:13-21 (ESV)
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”  But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?”  And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”  And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully,  and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’  And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’  But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’  So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
God simply calls this man a fool because he thinks he can trust in his wealth and abundance for a good life. He was trusting in his work and his wealth to give him a long and comfortable life. I wish he would have read Ecclesiastes. I wish Solomon could have spoke some sense into his foolish heart before it was too late. I don’t know what happened to this man in Jesus’ parable but I’m so thankful that God has shown grace to us this day by explaining through King Solomon the danger of trusting goods and pleasure over trusting God. I think in the end, Solomon got it right. I pray we get it right before it’s too late for us.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Turn away from the emptiness worldly possessions offer.