Ecclesiastes, Chapter 1

The Futility of Life: Vanity, Repetition, and the Burden of Wisdom in Ecclesiastes

In the book of Ecclesiastes, the Preacher, believed to be the son of David and king in Jerusalem, begins by proclaiming the vanities of life. He repeats the phrase, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity,” emphasizing the futility and emptiness of human existence. The Preacher ponders the value of labor and questions what man truly gains from his toil. He observes the cyclical nature of generations passing while the earth remains constant.

Turning to the natural world, he notes the predictable patterns of the sun’s rising and setting, the continuous movement of the wind, and the constant flow of rivers into the sea. Even as the waters do not fill and the rivers flow again to their source, all things are marked by weariness and insatiable desires. The eye is never satisfied, and the ear is never filled with hearing.

The Preacher concludes that there is nothing new under the sun, as everything that has been will be again. History repeats itself, and there is no true novelty in life. He asks if anything can be considered new, only to conclude that even seemingly new things are repetitions of the past. Thus, the Preacher asserts that there is no memory of former or future things among those who come after.

Having been king over Israel, the Preacher applies his heart to seek and understand all that occurs under the sky. Yet, he finds it a heavy burden and an affliction that God has given humankind. Despite his wisdom and knowledge, the Preacher witnesses all the works done under the sun and deems them as mere vanity and a futile pursuit akin to chasing after the wind.

The Preacher recognizes the limitations of human efforts – what is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted. Although he claims to have obtained great wisdom and experience, he admits that pursuing knowledge has brought him great grief and sorrow. In this philosophical reflection on the human condition, the Preacher exposes the futility of seeking self-glorification through wisdom and understanding, for they only lead to increased sorrow.

From this chapter in Ecclesiastes, it becomes evident that the Preacher is disillusioned, finding life to be characterized by emptiness and a striving for meaning that continually eludes humanity. This existential inquiry explores the cyclical nature of existence and the limitations of human knowledge, providing philosophical insights about the fleeting nature of worldly pursuits. The Preacher’s observations on vanity, repetition, and the burden of wisdom prompt introspection into the spirit of fulfillment and the purpose of knowledge in a world where all is ultimately transitory.

Chapter 1 Text

Verse Verse Text
Ecclesiastes 1:1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem:
Ecclesiastes 1:2 “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher; “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”
Ecclesiastes 1:3 What does man gain from all his labor in which he labors under the sun?
Ecclesiastes 1:4 One generation goes, and another generation comes; but the earth remains forever.
Ecclesiastes 1:5 The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, and hurries to its place where it rises.
Ecclesiastes 1:6 The wind goes toward the south, and turns around to the north. It turns around continually as it goes, and the wind returns again to its courses.
Ecclesiastes 1:7 All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full. To the place where the rivers flow, there they flow again.
Ecclesiastes 1:8 All things are full of weariness beyond uttering. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
Ecclesiastes 1:9 That which has been is that which shall be, and that which has been done is that which shall be done; and there is no new thing under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 1:10 Is there a thing of which it may be said, “Behold, this is new”? It has been long ago, in the ages which were before us.
Ecclesiastes 1:11 There is no memory of the former; neither shall there be any memory of the latter that are to come, among those that shall come after.
Ecclesiastes 1:12 I, the Preacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem.
Ecclesiastes 1:13 I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under the sky. It is a heavy burden that God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with.
Ecclesiastes 1:14 I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and behold, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.
Ecclesiastes 1:15 That which is crooked can’t be made straight; and that which is lacking can’t be counted.
Ecclesiastes 1:16 I said to myself, “Behold, I have obtained for myself great wisdom above all who were before me in Jerusalem. Yes, my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.”
Ecclesiastes 1:17 I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also was a chasing after wind.
Ecclesiastes 1:18 For in much wisdom is much grief; and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.

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