King Solomon – the Preacher in Ecclesiastes – had an astounding gift from God. Because at the time of his ascension to the throne, he was humble and asked nothing for himself, God gave him the wisdom of the ages. No one, before or since, has had the wisdom of Solomon. It’s a strange thing, though, that happened to him. In this expansive gift beyond what any man had ever known, Solomon determined in his heart to better know the things and ways of the world rather than the things of God.
He had a choice. Solomon could have pursued God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. Instead, he pursued the pleasures of the flesh. In so doing, he found much disappointment. By seeking out every delight in the world that God had made, Solomon acquired great knowledge about the earth and all that was in it. The record he left for us in Ecclesiastes attests to this. But, consider the disappointment he had!. Throughout all his searching in every corner of God’s creation, he ultimately found futility.
The interesting aspect of this is that regardless of whether someone was considered wise or a fool, he ended up in the same place. Of course, it was always better to be a wise man during one’s life, but if at the end of his life, he went to Sheol not knowing God, was there any real point in his wisdom?
Solomon gave us much to consider in his reminiscences of life. He found that history essentially repeats itself, as he pointed out in Ecclesiastes 1:9:
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Because of this repetitive understanding of man’s past to his present, this has given rise to some interesting studies and concepts. One that I’ve found particularly interesting is in a book called The Fourth Turning by Straus & Howe: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B001RKFU4I/. The authors studied history and found that there are repetitive cycles of 80-100 years in duration. Each cycle has four roughly 20-year components the authors call turnings. They can be likened to the four seasons of Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. Without making this a book review, the most fascinating season (for me) is the Fourth Turning. It has dire consequences for society and essentially results in the death of that society, or nation, just like winter kills off old plant life to prepare the way for new growth in the spring, i.e. the First Turning.
On first glance one might say this has similarities to the Eastern concept of reincarnation, and that might be true at a surface level. However, from the Biblical perspective, we know that the actuality is the earth and everything in it is moving linearly. As we travel in Scripture from Genesis to Revelation we see that the meta-narrative of God is one of perfection to destruction back once more to perfection. As Solomon put it: What has been is what will be.
I think that the preacher’s next statement in Ecclesiastes 1:11 effectively accounts for the cyclical nature of history:
There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be
among those who come after.
Man has a wonderfully corrupt way of forgetting what has previously occurred throughout his existence. George Orwell in his book 1984 described the idea as a memory hole. Wikipedia notes: “A memory hole is any mechanism for the deliberate alteration or disappearance of inconvenient or embarrassing documents, photographs, transcripts or other records, such as from a website or other archive, particularly as part of an attempt to give the impression that something never happened.” In Orwell’s 1984, the nation had a policy of purposefully forgetting the past so that it could shape the thoughts of its citizens to what it wanted with no remembrance of how things previously were, and how they may have been better. None of that mattered. Thus, as Solomon says: There is no remembrance of former things. Although man in general may not be so deliberate with erasing his past as in Orwell’s book, the general trend of history encompasses this forgetfulness, which leads to the repetitive cycles that Struas and Howe document.
In the wisdom God gave Solomon, he perceived all this. For most of his life, it didn’t matter. God gave him the liberty to do what he would with his freedom of choice. Sadly, as probably most of us would likewise do, he didn’t do a very good job at it. His searching took him far from God. Only at the end of his life did he come to his senses and realize how stupendously foolish he was and how he had squandered this gift from God. The good thing in all this is that he left this record for us to see what happens to someone who pursues a dissolute lifestyle. As Solomon states several times as in Ecclesiastes 2:26:
… This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
At the end of the book we’ll see Solomon’s further conclusions, but the key for us today is contained in Ecclesiastes 3:11:
… Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart …
All of the striving that we do in our human condition is because of this. It goes to that famous God-shaped hole each of us has that can only be filled with the salvation that only comes through a true relationship with Jesus Christ. It is why history goes round and round. Man seeks to fill that hole with everything found under the sun in this world, but he cannot. Without the knowledge of Christ, our ending is exactly what Solomon chronicles in Ecclesiastes 3:20:
All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.
In the absence of Christ in our lives, we simply return to that place of our origin. Man goes to the grave and decomposes into dust. His soul goes to a place of eternal torment without God. All is hopeless and lost. It’s a dreary ending.
But God… The Lord has given us hope that is found in Him alone. In Christ we escape the eventual conclusion that is part and parcel of mankind’s existence without knowing Jesus. This is the joy we have. We transcend the ways of man by embracing all that God has for us. Solomon found this out at the end of his life, We have the opportunity to do so much earlier, and to live in God’s presence through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
His way is higher and better than ours. When we turn to the Lord Jesus, everything changes. Let us not be like Solomon and squander what God has given us. Let us live for God and rejoice in Him now.