The Book of Ecclesiastes describes what life is like in a fallen world. It gives an account of man living out his life in temporal terms and God's control over him (Ecclesiastes 3:15; 9:1). The author of this work, traditionally ascribed to Solomon, portrays eating, drinking, and work in a positive light. He says that there is a time for everything, whether it be laughter, joy, or sorrow. These things are beneficial to man in their own way.
This work is distinct from other writings of the Old Testament due to its seemingly pessimistic language in regard to the continued pursuit of earthly pleasures. It would make more sense to approach it with an eternal perspective in mind than our limited human understanding. It is from the former point of view that optimism shines through in our lives. We are hereby compelled to change how we think about things.
Ecclesiastes is similar to Philippians in that all earthly pursuits are subordinate to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:8). The author of this work uses the phrase "under the sun" more than once in writing. He made observations about the transitory nature of our life and achievements. They are as a grain of sand in a desert.
Ecclesiastes illustrates the futility of placing an over emphasis on worldly passions. It destroys the mentality of a materialist by showing him the futility of his own ways. Even if one could find satisfaction in earthly possessions and success, death lies at the door. Compare Ecclesiastes 3:19 to Genesis 3:19. We can honestly say with Abraham that we are but dust and ashes (Genesis 18:27).
The fate of man is the same as that of a beast, death. The fate of the righteous man is the same as that of the unrighteous man, death. We all have the same fate. We will all meet our Creator one day. The only difference lies in our eternal destinies. The righteous will receive eternal life and the unrighteous eternal damnation. Man dies and is forgotten. The events of his life are forever hidden from posterity. Man no longer partakes of things in this world once he passes away (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6).
Ecclesiastes crushes any form of human pride by setting forth a proper perspective of life. The point being made is not that earthly pursuits as such are bad in and of themselves. It is wrong to excessively esteem our abilities. Things that we have accomplished have been done by others who lived before us. Life from a materialistic perspective is futile. That is the reason for the author's usage of the phrase "vanity of vanities."
The human heart longs for something more than this life. That is why man is instinctively religious. He has a strong desire for something that transcends this temporal order. The human heart finds its fulfillment in God. The world and the things therein are perishing. The things of our fallen world are subject to wear and tear. The human heart can only rest content in God.
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