For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4


Ecclesiastes 1

A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2004 James Melough

1:1.  “The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.”


Solomon’s describing himself first as “the Preacher” reminds us  that his position here as the amanuensis of the Holy Spirit was far more important than the fact that he was David’s son, and that he was king in Jerusalem.  No greater honor can be bestowed upon a man than that he be chosen to hear God’s Word, and pass it on to others; nor should we make the mistake of believing that this is a unique honor reserved only for the few.  It is, in fact, a distinction conferred upon every man who has trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, for every believer is responsible to warn others of the need to be saved, and to proclaim the good news of salvation to all who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.


Solomon means peaceableness; David beloved; and Jerusalem,

dual peace shall be taught: lay (set) ye double peace.  These meanings combine to teach the lesson that he who is the son of the true David, i.e., the Lord Jesus Christ, the One of Whom God has declared, “This is my beloved Son,” will not only be himself peaceable, but he will dwell continually in the enjoyment of the peace of God, as it is written, “And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus,” Philippians 4:7.


1:2.  “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”


“Vanity” is also translated without lasting advantage: utterly futile: empty as the wind: meaningless.  This is God’s description of all the earthly things with which men busy themselves in the course of their brief lives here in this poor perishing world, His advice being, “Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat ... or drink, or wherewithal shall we be clothed? .... But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you,” Matthew 6:31-33.


1:3.  “What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun?


“Profit” here means lasting advantage, and the truth being declared is that there is no eternal gain in the things which men pursue with such diligence here on earth.  No matter what riches a man may accumulate, he must leave them here on earth when he departs this earthly scene, “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out,” 1 Timothy 6:7.  The folly of setting our hearts on earthly riches is declared in what is written of the rich man mentioned in Luke 12:20-21, “But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee; then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?  So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”


1:4.  “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth forever.”


The generations succeed one another, each occupying for a brief time a place here on earth, but then passing away, not out of existence, but passing to an eternal experience of joy or torment, depending on whether the individual accepted or rejected the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.


Relative to the eternal endurance of the earth, it is to be remembered that this present earth is to be destroyed, and replaced with a new earth, as it is written, “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.  Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?  Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for a new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness,” 2 Peter 3:10-13.


The believer, however, has an eternal treasure which he will take with him into heaven, for he who has trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior has within him what is priceless: eternal life, relative to which it is written, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels (our bodies), that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us,” 2 Corinthians 4:7. 


1:5.  “The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.”


Here the Lord accommodates the general belief of that distant day when men were unaware of the circular motions of the heavenly bodies, and He uses the imagined rising and setting of the sun to demonstrate the passing of one generation and its replacement with another.  The futility of everything under the sun is illustrated in the fact that for all its endless circumnavigations of the earth the sun never arrives at any destination.


“... hasteth” is connected with the thought of panting, and illustrates the frenzied effort with which man pursues the worthless things of this world.


1:6.  “The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.”


The activity of the wind is used also as an illustration of the successive ephemeral generations: to the natural eye they appear to have as little substance as the wind.


1:7.  “All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full: unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.”


The same seemingly purposeless flow of the rivers into the sea is used also as a demonstration of the futility of every earthly endeavor, because for all the water which the rivers pour into the sea, it remains the same size, evaporation maintaining the volume at a constant level, while the rain replenishes the rivers, thus maintaining the constant monotonous weary cycle.


1:8.  “All things are full of labor; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.”


“All things are full of labor,” is also translated all these considerations are wearisome, tiresome; man can’t recount them.  Unable to comprehend spiritual verities, the natural man sees life as a tiresome round of labor which yields no enduring  satisfaction, but leads him rather in the fruitless pursuit of happiness which always eludes him.


1:9.  “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”


Modern scientific and technological wonders have caused some to question the veracity of this verse, but it has to be understood that the reference is to that which constitutes the natural course of men’s lives, and in that respect nothing has changed.  What marks the life of twenty-first century man is exactly the same as that which marked the life of first century man: each comes into the world by natural birth; each lives his alloted span pursuing virtually the same activities, and eventually each dies; the soul of the believer going to heaven, and that of the unbeliever, to hell.


1:10.  “Is there anything whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.”


This is to be understood in the same context as the preceding verse.


1:11.  “There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.”


In the present context “things” refers to people, so that what is being said is that there is no remembrance of former people by those who succeed them.  This is not to be construed as meaning that we know nothing about them, but rather that we didn’t know those people personally.  We may feel that we know the Apostle Paul, for example, but we didn’t know him personally: we only know of him by what is written about him.  And so is the meaning here: we may know about past generations, but we didn’t know them personally.  Likewise, future generations may know about us, but they won’t have known us personally.


1:12.  “I the Preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem.”


This doesn’t mean that he was no longer king, but that future generations will not know him personally, but only as the man who was once king over Israel, his throne having been in Jerusalem the capital and administrative center of the Jewish nation.


1:13.  “And I gave my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith.”


Solomon had given his mind wholeheartedly to the task of searching out wisely everything that is done under the sun, i.e., on the earth. And concerning what God has “given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith,” he describes it as “this sore travail,” i.e., this vexatious employment; this evil exercise or task; unhappy, sorry business; weary task,” that “sore travail” seeming to be the same task as that which he, Solomon, had himself undertaken.


As to why man should have been assigned this arduous task, the explanation seems to be that by it man will learn the futility of all that pertains to this world, and the wisdom of applying himself with a whole heart to the pursuit of all that pertains to the world to come.


1:14.  “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.”


He had seen and considered all the different things with which man busies himself here on earth, and he had found it all to be as worthless, empty, futile as chasing the wind.


1:15.  “That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.”


The “crooked [which] cannot be made straight” is generally understood to have reference to the inherently corrupt nature with which man is born, hence his need of being “born again” through faith in Christ as his Savior.  The “wanting [which] cannot be numbered” is that evil in man which makes him defective, and which cannot be cured.  He must become a completely new creature in Christ by being born again, that new birth endowing him with Christ’s life and sinless nature, thus fitting him for heaven.


1:16.  “I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.”


Solomon is not taking any personal credit for his riches, or his wisdom and knowledge.  He knew that he was debtor to God for everything he possessed, all his blessings having been given because he asked God for wisdom to rule His people wisely, as recorded in 1 Kings 3:9-13, “Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad .... And God said unto him, Because thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life; neither hast asked riches for thyself ... but hast asked for thyself understanding to discern judgment; Behold, I have done according to thy words: lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart; so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee.  And I have given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches, and honor: so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto thee all thy days,”


1:17.  “And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.”


He had given himself wholeheartedly to the acquisition of wisdom, and to know madness, i.e., to know rightly the ways of the foolish, not to ape their folly, but to avoid it.


“... vexation of spirit” is also translated striving after, or feeding upon wind; futile.


1:18.  “For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.”


Solomon, like many another, had learned that contrary to what might have been expected, increased wisdom or knowledge brought not pleasure, but sorrow, for it is only the right use of knowledge that yields peaceable profit, and those endowed with such knowledge are rare.

[Ecclesiastes 2]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough