Ecclesiastes 1:9-18 are written poetically and it ends with the conclusion that nothing new happens in life that breaks the pattern established by Solomon in a closed system. His conclusion is based on two evidences first is that there is nothing new under the sun and secondly that there is no remembrance of things that have gone before. These words contradict the words of the prophets who would follow Solomon.
That in the days to come God would do all kinds of new things; God would call His people by a newname (Isaiah 62:2), He will create a newheaven and a newearth (Isaiah 66:22), He will make a newcovenant (Jeremiah 31:31), put a newspirit in the midst of his people (Ezekiel 11:19), give them a newheart (Ezekiel 36:26). He called His people to sing newsongs as these new things happened (Psalm 33:3). The prophets also called God’s people to remember what God had done for them in their past and to walk in His ways according to His word and promises.
The word for “remembrance” “zikkārôn” is used to mark memorable events in Israel’s history like the Passover. The verb that forms its root (zãkar) is found frequently in Deuteronomy to highlight the Lord’s dealings with against her enemies and His call to be obedient to His commands (Deuteronomy 5:15; 7:18; 8:2). But when we forget things become meaningless. We might say that his meaning here is that there is nothing new that is profitable or that is not vanity, that there is nothing of value that transcends the monotony of life.
Ecclesiastes 1:12-15 This passage expresses what Solomon laid out initially in Ecclesiastes 1:2-11: our inability to catch the meaning of life and how it works or to change life in ways that make it more profitable. These verses look ahead as well as back, setting the stage for Solomon exploring the world of pleasure (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11) after he comes up empty in his search for wisdom. If you read Proverbs 3:13-18 the search for wisdom promises more than we could ever ask for; long life, riches, honor, pleasantness, peace, happiness.
But what Solomon is saying here is that there is another side to wisdom. If any person had enough wisdom to assure him blessing and happiness, Solomon did. His prayer to God had been: 1 Kings 3:9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” God answered that prayer beyond all measure as we read in Ecclesiastes 1:12 Yet Solomon here in Ecclesiastes states his case that wisdom is not the solution to all our problems, as is implied by many. Solomon looked into every aspect of life including the study of animal and plant life, the customs of families and individuals so that he might understand all manner of behavior.
As psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists study today so too did Solomon. The extent of his search and studies is detailed in Ecclesiastes 1:13. Having study it all his summation in Ecclesiastes 1:14 is once again all is vanity “grasping for the wind”. It was not the lack of wisdom but the presence of wisdom that bothered Solomon. Wisdom was not a solid rock to build a meaningful life on. Wisdom was as substantial as a vapor, as undependable as a breeze. You may think you have it, and it slips away between your fingers.
His conclusions about the limitations of wisdom were based on two reasons. First, wisdom cannot change reality. Wisdom can do nothing to change the set course of life. Much of what is wrong with life is not wisdom’s fault; it is just the way things are. Injustice, as seen in the suffering of innocents, the weakness of men, the randomness of crime, as we see daily this summer in the streets of Chicago. Life is filled with so much that is dark and evil that wisdom can only observe. Wisdom can is better able to analyze the trends than it is to come up with solutions.
Which leads to Solomon’s conclusion in Ecclesiastes 1:15. We need to remember that God has the power to straighten out what is twisted and supply what is lacking. He cannot change the past, but He can change the way that the past affects us. For those who don’t know the Lord, the past is a heavy anchor that drags him down; but for the child of God, the past, can be a reminder to stay near to the Lord so that He can direct our paths. Over and over again the Lord took what was broken and healed it; God still does that when we come to Yeshua.
Ecclesiastes 1:16-18 – If we try like Solomon to study and seek the answers to life’s mysteries we will like Solomon wind up unfulfilled for at least two reason. First, because on this side of heaven, there are no explanations for some things that happen, and secondly, God has ordained that His people live by promises and not by explanations, by faith and not by sight (John 20:29).
Solomon was better equipped than anyone and yet came to that conclusion. Solomon’s great wisdom only added to his difficulties; for wisdom and knowledge increase sorrow and grief. There is more wisdom than Solomon ever knew found in Yeshua the Messiah: for the Queen of Sheba “came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here” (Matthew 12:42). Through his wisdom we move beyond futility to a true wisdom, a wisdom from above (James 3:17).
Wisdom as Yeshua revealed it was not the work of deep study, it was not written on a scroll, but experienced on a cross 1 Corinthians 1:18ff.
The more we seek knowledge and wisdom, the more ignorant we realize we are. It is interesting to consider that the root of all this frustration goes back to the Garden of Eden and Satan’s offer to Eve that, if she ate of the fruit, she would have the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:3). When Adam and Eve sinned, they did get an experiential knowledge of good and evil; but, since they were alienated from God, this knowledge only added to their sorrows. For some people, life may be monotonous and meaningless; but it doesn’t have to be.
For the person who places his faith in God life becomes an open door, not a closed circle; morning by morning new mercies we see. We may not be able to explain everything; but life is not built on explanations: it’s built on promises, Abraham did not get an explanation of why God was leading out of Ur and to the Promised Land but we see in hindsight God’s plan. There is a tie between “wisdom,” “knowledge,” and the “fear of the Lord”. True knowledge is more than mere information but centers in the seeking of God’s will and ways and includes obedience, as Hosea wrote (Hosea 4:1, 6; 6:3, 6; 14:9).