Man often gets too “big for his britches.” We think a lot of ourselves. This is called hubris.
Solomon cuts us down to size as he opens his epic work of Ecclesiastes.
“’Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher;
‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’
What profit has a man from all his labor
In which he toils under the sun?
One generation passes away, and another generation comes;
But the earth abides forever.
The sun also rises, and the sun goes down,
And hastens to the place where it arose.
The wind goes toward the south,
And turns around to the north;
The wind whirls about continually,
And comes again on its circuit.
All the rivers run into the sea,
Yet the sea is not full;
To the place from which the rivers come,
There they return again.
All things are full of labor;
Man cannot express it.
The eye is not satisfied with seeing,
Nor the ear filled with hearing.
That which has been is what will be,
That which is done is what will be done,
And there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which it may be said,
‘See, this is new’?
It has already been in ancient times before us.
There is no remembrance of former things,
Nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come
By those who will come after” (Ecc. 1:2-11).
Men come and go. One generation rises and then soon falls and is replaced by another generation (1:4). The earth, by comparison, keeps spinning (1:5-7). The sun rises and sets. The wind blows. The rivers run and the oceans churn. Nothing we can do about it – even with our most concerted efforts.
We have almost zero impact on it, though we think we have such great power. It’s laughable to state otherwise.
Man is not satisfied (1:8). The daily grind of life is laborious; cooking meals, washing dishes, going to same job with the same duties – day in, day out. And, for all our intellect, we stand baffled by life. There are things hard for us to absorb and even harder to explain. We want more, but can’t handle it.
We think we are so smart coming up with “new” technologies and making such great advances in science, etc. (1:9, 10). Yet, the basic experience of man is unchanged. Transportation has gone from foot to flight, but it is still transportation. Communication has gone from paper to pixels, but it is still communication. Entertainment has gone from live music and actors to digitized music and movies, but you still can’t beat live entertainment.
The truth is, we are rediscovering a lot of what the ancients knew and lived. We are catching up in many things.
Man is transitory (1:11). Our life is but a vapor (Jas. 4:14). We pursue power, glory, fortune, and pleasures all while steadily, relentlessly, irreversibly hurtling toward death.
Hence, what really matters? “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecc. 12:13).