The book of Ecclesiastes can be divided into four parts, with the first part consisting of chapters 1 and 2. In yesterday’s sermon, I quoted a summary of this first section given in 1849 by J.G. Vaihinger:
“[Chapters 1 and 2] show that by the eternal, unalterably fixed course of all earthly things and the experience of the vain and unsatisfactory strivings after earthly wisdom and selfish gratifications, a God-fearing enjoyment of life, and accepting gratefully the present good, can alone constitute the end of our earthly existence. [i]
Others have built on that summary since, and I thought I’d pass along two of them; two which I found very helpful. 8 years later, in 1857, an unsigned article in the Princeton Review said the following about chapters 1 and 2:
“[They are] a preliminary argument from Solomon’s own experience designed to show that happiness is not in man’s own power; that all striving and toiling, though it may surround him with every gratification his heart can desire, is powerless to give that gratification itself. [ii]
And then recently, (in 2013), former Gordon-Conwell professor and president, Walter Kaiser, said this:
“…the purpose of life cannot be found in and of itself for any one of the good things found in the world. All the things that we call the “goods” of life—health, riches, possessions, position, sensual pleasures, honors, and prestige—slip through one’s hands unless they are received as a gift from God. Until God gives persons the ability to enjoy them and obtain satisfaction from them, they simply cannot in and of themselves compensate for the joy that comes from fearing God and knowing Him.” [iii]
You can see the common theme. As we learned yesterday – this first section of Ecclesiastes makes very clear that 1) all of life under the sun is vanity, and 2) only the believer has the power to enjoy it.
[i] J. G. Vaihinger in Christian D. Ginsburg, Coheleth: Commonly Called the Book of Ecclesiastes [1861; reprinted in The Song of Songs and Coheleth (Commonly Called the Book of Ecclesiastes), The Library of Biblical Studies, edited by Harry M. Orlinsky (New York: Ktav, 1970), pp. 221-222.
[ii] “The Scope and Plan of the Book of Ecclesiastes,” pp. 428, 431-2, 433-6, 437-8, 440.
[iii] Kaiser Jr., Walter C. Coping with Change – Ecclesiastes (Kindle Locations 1128-1133). Christian Focus Publications. Kindle Edition.