Life Is Empty without God
Fear God and keep his commandments, because this is the whole duty of man.
The five Books of Poetry bridge the past of the seventeen Books of History with the future of the seventeen Books of Prophecy. One-third of the Hebrew Bible was written in poetry. The five Poetical Books deal with the present experience of the authors in ways that speak to the experiential present of believers of all time. Though they come from an ancient culture they are timeless in their application. They do not advance the timeline of the nation Israel. The poetry erupts from the hearts of God’s people going through some of the eras and experiences documented in the Books of History.
Ecclesiastes records an intense quest for meaning, purpose and satisfaction in life. I believe Solomon wrote the book during the latter years of his reign (971-931 B.C.), after he turned back to God following years of inattention and even rebellion. The lessons of the futility of seeking happiness from the experiences of “life under the sun” or “life on earth” (2:24, 8:17) were fresh in the experience of the repentant King of Israel. Solomon’s “intent in his writing is to pass judgment on man’s misguided endeavors at mastering life by pointing out its limits and mysteries. He would prefer that man replace such false and illusory hopes with a confidence based on the joy of creation as God’s gift.” (Ernest W. Hengtenberg, A Commentary on Ecclesiastes, p. 15)
The Book of Ecclesiastes exposes the emptiness of seeking meaning in life on earth apart from God. The key word is vanity, also translated emptiness or futile, occurs thirty-seven times. Life under the sun, also translated life on earth, occurs twenty-nine times. Due to the injustices, inconsistencies, and seeming irrationality of life, earthly pursuits inevitably end in dissatisfaction and frustration.
The only way to make sense of this world is to view life from God’s perspective. Solomon refers to God as Elohim (Powerful Creator) forty-one times in the book rather than Yahweh (Covenant-Keeping Redeemer). This emphasizes the universality of the truths for all people, not just followers of the God of the Bible. God will ultimately judge all people. Therefore we should “Fear God and keep his commandments, for that is the whole duty of man” (12:13-14):
Solomon lays out his argument clearly. True satisfaction in life can only be found by looking beyond this world. If life on this earth is all there is, then all is futile (2:24). But for those who fear God and keep His commandments (12:13-14) life is full of meaning and purpose.
I. THE TEACHER’S MAIN IDEA: Following a one-verse introduction Solomon states his theme: Everything is absolutely futile. (1:1-11)
II. THE TEACHER’S PROOF: Solomon proves that he knows what he’s talking about from personal experience. He catalogues his amazing pursuits and his lifelong quest for meaning. He’s tried it all—wisdom, works, women, and wealth. Unsatisfied and empty, he concludes that all life on earth has to offer is disappointment and confusion. (1:12-6:12)
Messiah: A Type of Christ in Ecclesiastes. This book about the emptiness of life on earth constantly refers to the God of Creation (Elohim). Solomon admits that God is the unmoved mover of history, but that men and women remain ignorant of His power (3:11). He concludes that only the “one shepherd” (12:11) can provide real satisfaction, joy, and wisdom. Jesus calls Himself the “Good Shepherd” who offers His life freely to all who believe (John 10:7-10).
III. THE TEACHER’S RECOMMENDATION OF A BETTER OPTION: The best this life has to offer is a self-disciplined life that will bring only temporary blessing or prosperity. The “good life” is only attained by turning to God and trusting Him enough to do what He says. (7-12)
A. THE FUTILITY OF SELF-INDULGED PLEASURES AND ACHIEVEMENTS: Living for sensual pleasure is the worst option. Living to achieve is a somewhat better option. Nevertheless the only way to enjoy the fruit of self-effort is to remember that it’s fleeting. (7:1-9:12)
B. EVEN THE WISEST MUST GET OLD AND DIE: Unlike fools who engage in meaningless talk and pursuits, wise people live the best life on earth. But even the wisest become feeble and wonder what it is all about. (9:13-12:7)
C. ONLY REVERENCE FOR GOD TRULY SATISFIES: Real living begins and ends with relationship with God. Don’t look “under the sun” for meaning in life but beyond the sun to the “one Shepherd.” (12:8-14)
IV. ECCLESIASTES AND YOU: The futility of human pleasure, effort, and achievement directs men and women, boys and girls to the only sane path of life: abandoned trust in and obedience to the God of the Bible!
A. Do you know the “one Shepherd,” the “Good Shepherd” who wants to give you a life that is full of meaning and purpose—His life, eternal life? (John 10:7-10; 6:47)
B. What preoccupies your life right now? Life’s pleasures? Life’s achievements? The Wisdom of Life? Or your relationship with God? Before you answer that, consider these clear indicators of the truth concerning you:
1. Where are you investing your time? What do your schedule priorities reveal?
2. Where are you investing your money? What do your budget priorities reveal?
3. What do your dreams about the future reveal?
4. What do your conversations with others about the church and God’s people reveal?
C. What do you feel God wants you to do about your answer to the last question?
If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy,
the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.