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

      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

  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

      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

    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

    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

      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

    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.”