Special Insights No. 7
First Quarter 2007
(Produced by the Editorial Board of the 1888 Message Study Committee)
Striving After the Wind
Neither fortune, nor family, nor fullness of years bring us joy in and of themselves. Wealth, family, and longevity may bring joy, but there is something much better: the good news of the gospel. After Jesus was born, the angel preached the gospel to the lowly shepherds:
“There were ... shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’ ... ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’” (Luke 2:8-14).
Apart from the gospel all is vanity. Ecclesiastes 6 reveals the experience of Solomon (with the rest of mankind) apart from believing the gospel. The vanity of life is spent chasing the wind.
1. Fortune Does Not Bring Joy (6:1–2).
a. Most wealthy people are unhappy with their possessions in life (6:2a).
b. All wealthy people leave their possessions to others in death (6:2b).
2. Family Does Not Bring Joy (6:3–5)
a. A stillborn child is better off than the unhappy father of 100 children (6:3).
3. Fullness of Years Does Not Bring Joy (6:6–12)
a. Even if a person could live to observe his or her 2000th birthday! (6:6)
In verses 3-6 we observe the futility and grievousness of wealth that is not enjoyed. It is worse than the tragedy of being stillborn. In hyperbolic terms of extreme blessings a rich man is described as with: (1) great wealth (“he lacks nothing his heart desires,” vs. 2), (2) multiplied descendants (a hundred children), and (3) a long life (although he lives many years he does not receive proper burial).
The stillborn (1) has no meaning, (2) it disappears into darkness, (3) it is forgotten, (4) it never saw the sun (“the light of day”), and (5) it never knows what life is like. Solomon obviously exaggerated here in order to make his point: no matter how much you possess, if you don’t possess the power to enjoy it, you might just as well never have been born. Further, a wealthy person and a stillborn share the same fate; “all” (should be translated “both”) go to the same place—the grave (vs. 6). And yet the lot of a stillborn is better because it has more rest (freedom from anxiety and misery) than a person with wealth who is never satisfied. In the end both the stillborn and the old wealthy weary man lies undistinguished in the grave. There is a negative affirmation found in the rhetorical question of verse 6: “Do not all go to one place?” (i.e., to Sheol, or the grave). The answer is: Yes, they do. Contrast Isaiah’s use of a negative affirmation with a positive in connection with God’s power to save: “Is my hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver?” (Isa. 50:2). Here, we have a combined affirmative and negative:—No; my hand is not shortened. I can redeem; and, I have power to deliver.
Ecclesiastes 6:9 is a proverbial saying, within which is a powerful simile: “This also is vanity and grasping for the wind.” What a picture! Is the wind graspable? Have you been chasing and attempting to clutch the wind? If you are grasping and missing the joy of fortune, family, and fullness of years listen for and heed the Mighty Rushing Wind of heaven. Let Him grasp you. Apart from the Spirit of Christ everything “is vanity and grasping for the wind” in a life of vanity. The ability to enjoy life with great finances, family, and fullness of years comes from within. Joy is a matter of character and not circumstances. “You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). The simile, “grasping” and/or “chasing after the wind,” is the last of nine occurrences in the Preacher’s sermon on reflections of the vanity of human life (cf. Eccl. 1:14, 17; 2:11, 17, 26; 4:4, 6, 16). This phrase opened and now concludes the first half of Solomon’s sermon on the futility of human achievement apart from God.
A life of vanity “passes like a shadow” (6:12). A shadow has no substance and leaves nothing behind. It is simply a dark area or shape produced by an object that comes between rays of light and a surface. As the sun moves, the shadow increases, then decreases, and finally disappears into nothingness as the light recedes. The figure of a shadow as used in Ecclesiastes refers to a position of obscurity when the Sun of Righteousness is blocked out of a life because of vanity.
God in His mercy causes both the light of the literal sun and that of the “Sun of Righteousness” to shine upon evil men as well as upon the good (Matt. 5:45; John 1:9). One must head for the shadows to get out of both the light of the star around which our earth orbits and from the beams of the “Sun of Righteousness.” In Christ there are no shadows. And so “He reflects no shadows” (Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, p. 213).
A godly person, in the shadow of suffering, might be tempted to “contend with God” (6:10). But sufferings from oppressors are much better for a child of God than prosperity without clouds. Sinners, of course, are allowed to fill up their measure of guilt. Consequential retribution in part vindicates God’s ways even now. And the coming judgment shall make everything clear. If we choose a world of illusion apart from Christ, we begin to live on substitutes, and there can be no satisfaction in a world of these kinds of substitutes. There is only one Substitute—Jesus.
We may add another “thing” of vanity to the three discussed above, and that is a church family life lived in lovely Laodicea who vainly pretends to be “rich and increased with goods” and has “need of nothing” not aware that she is utterly “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind and naked” (Rev.3:17). This Laodicean experience is a life seemingly devoted to God’s message and cause, but in reality is devoted to the pursuit of happiness here and now. The “counsel” of “the true Witness” of Revelation 3:18 is concerned with our acceptance of the golden faith of Jesus, His wardrobe of righteousness, and the healing Spirit of God in the figure of the “eyesalve.” If we will devote our lives to believing God’s counsel and doing His will instead of our own, we shall find true happiness.
Chapter 6 (vs. 12) ends with two questions (which are not answered until the next chapter): “For who knows what is good for man in life, all the days of his vain life which he passes like a shadow? Who can tell a man what will happen after him under the sun?” Nevertheless, there is a world above the sun where evil dwells not. And one day soon the Light from above the sun will penetrate planet earth and will enlighten it to such a degree that every shadow will be dissolved into nothingness and we will see Jesus only (Rev. 18:1).
“Whatever one is, he has been named already, for it is known that he is man;
And he cannot contend with Him who is mightier than he” (Eccl. 6:10).
—Gerald L. Finneman
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