Thematic Sermon on Ecclesiastes
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 8/6/2022
©2022 by Maylan Schurch

To watch this entire worship service, click the link just below:

Please open your Bibles to First Kings chapter 11.

If you were here last week, or if you watched last Sabbath’s service on YouTube, you might remember that I started preaching on the book of Ecclesiastes. This is part of our preaching-through-the-Bible plan this year, but I found so much on Ecclesiastes that I decided to make a two-part series.

Also, nine of you graciously responded to my challenge to read through Ecclesiastes for yourself, and send me your thoughts on it. I quoted some of you last week, and I’ll quote the rest of you this Sabbath during the sermon.

Even though you didn’t send me any response, if you did read through Ecclesiastes, or part of it, you discovered that it wasn’t like any other Bible book. It’s author Solomon said things like “vanity, vanity, all is vanity,” and how a lot of things we think are worthwhile are just “striving after wind.”

Dick Hammen, in his response to my challenge to read Ecclesiastes and send me his, says, “The reading for Judaism’s most joyous occasion is Ecclesiastes, and the word most associated with that feast is ‘joy,’ where everyone is reduced to the same level and they live in huts for a week. Life is just a breath. “Dust in the wind.”

Gayle Woodruff had this to say: “Ecclesiastes laments the sorrow of increased knowledge. At the end of Ecclesiastes Chapter 1, it mentions that he who increases knowledge increases sorrow. To me this goes back to the beginning of where it all went wrong. Satan promised Eve, in Genesis 3 that the forbidden fruit would give her more knowledge. Ecclesiastes puts on display some of the jarring ripple effects of having acquired that knowledge. This would all be quite depressing were it not for Jesus coming to earth as our Savior.”

I mean, you never hear Jesus saying anything like “vanity, vanity, all is vanity.” You never hear Paul saying that. Jeremiah can get pretty close, but even he – or even Job – never went on and on about how a lot of positive things in life are vanity.
The first thing we did last week, was to do a quick review of Solomon’s life, to try to understand why he may have become this resolutely gloomy. And that’s why I asked you a moment ago to turn to First Kings chapter 11. You remember that early in Solomon’s reign, God asked him what he wanted. And the only thing Solomon asked for was “an understanding heart.” Here in chapter 11, however, we see what happened to that understanding heart.

Chapter 11 tells how Solomon got himself into a perilous spiritual condition– mainly by marrying a lot of unconverted, non-believing women. Verse four sums it up:

1 Kings 11:4 [NKJV]: For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the LORD his God, as was the heart of his father David.

At the start of his rule, Solomon’s heart was loyal. He begged God for an understanding heart. But here at the end, his heart stopped being loyal. And that seems to be when Ecclesiastes was written. Things turn out well in the end, as we’ll see, but as he goes through Ecclesiastes, Solomon has to have a dialogue with his heart. Does he want an understanding heart, or is he satisfied with the disloyal heart?

Last week we looked at two things that can happen to someone who has allowed his or her heart to become disloyal. Let me share with you those first two sermon points, and then we’ll go on and discover two more sermon points.

Here’s the first thing we learned last week about what can happen if you have a disloyal heart. This was Sermon Point One:

A disloyal heart can turn hopelessly discouraged.

This was appallingly true of Solomon’s heart. No matter what he wrote about, especially in the first few chapters of Ecclesiastes, he didn’t seem able to look at anything except through the gloomy glasses of discouragement.

There’s nothing wrong with being discouraged, of course. Many other Bible people faced discouragement. Solomon’s father David sang about his discouragement in many of his Psalms. But he knew where to go for help with his heart. In Psalm 139:23 – 24, David begged: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.”

That’s where David turned when he had a discouraged heart. And that’s where I need to turn too.

The next thing we learned about Solomon’s disloyal heart was the strange and erratic way he started pursuing all kinds of pleasure and foolishness. He said he was doing it as an experiment, and he claimed to be doing this while still maintaining his wisdom. But remember, God perceived that his heart had turned disloyal. In other words (and here was last week’s Sermon Point Two) –

Not only can a disloyal heart turn hopelessly discouraged, but a disloyal heart can turn pleasure-obsessed.

At this point last week I quoted what Paul said in Second Timothy 3 – after mentioning a long laundry list of evil qualities people will have in the last days – said that these people would be “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” In other words, pleasure-obsessed.

God made us able to feel pleasure, but we need to ask Him to mature our pleasures to the pleasures of Eden in the pleasures of heaven.

It seems to me that this is the perfect spot to include a comment by Ruth Lemus, one of those who responded to my request for comments. Ruth believes that one reason the book of Ecclesiastes is included in the Bible is “to show us that without a daily relationship with God and His direction for our time on this planet, we will find no purpose or reason to live a life that will satisfy our souls, quench [the thirst in] our throat, fill our yearning.”

Now let’s go back to Ecclesiastes chapter 2 to discover another direction a disloyal heart can lead us.

Ecclesiastes 2:12 – 23: Then I turned myself to consider wisdom and madness and folly; For what can the man do who succeeds the king?— Only what he has already done. Then I saw that wisdom excels folly As light excels darkness. The wise man’s eyes are in his head, But the fool walks in darkness. Yet I myself perceived That the same event happens to them all. So I said in my heart, “As it happens to the fool, It also happens to me, And why was I then more wise?” Then I said in my heart, “This also is vanity.” For there is no more remembrance of the wise than of the fool forever, Since all that now is will be forgotten in the days to come. And how does a wise man die? As the fool! Therefore I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me, for all is vanity and grasping for the wind. Then I hated all my labor in which I had toiled under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who will come after me. And who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will rule over all my labor in which I toiled and in which I have shown myself wise under the sun. This also is vanity. Therefore I turned my heart and despaired of all the labor in which I had toiled under the sun. For there is a man whose labor is with wisdom, knowledge, and skill; yet he must leave his heritage to a man who has not labored for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. For what has man for all his labor, and for the striving of his heart with which he has toiled under the sun? For all his days are sorrowful, and his work burdensome; even in the night his heart takes no rest. This also is vanity.

Last week I mentioned that I thought that Solomon’s attitude in verses like these was even more chilling than Job’s. Job said a lot of desperate things, such as “Why was I born? It would’ve been better off if I had not been born.” But he always turned back to God, even if it was to ask God about His wisdom, or to challenge God directly to His face.

But there’s no hint here that Solomon is even allowing God to be a part of this discouraging phase. Thinking back on what Solomon is just said, here’s something else I believe that a disloyal heart can lead to. Here comes Sermon Point Three.

Not only can a disloyal heart turn hopelessly discouraged, and turn pleasure-obsessed, but a disloyal heart can turn Darwinist.

Now, as we know, later in Ecclesiastes, Solomon will urge us to remember our Creator. So Solomon eventually came back to the point where he believed that God created us.

But in the verses we just read, it’s like he’s desperately thrashing around, almost in a panic. It’s like he’s saying, “It’s no use if you work hard, do your best, build up some sort of meaningful life project. First thing you know, you will pass from the scene, and somebody else will get what you labored for.”

Solomon visits this theme several times in his book. He talks about how dreadful it is that something that’s been created by your wisdom will be left in the hands of a foolish person who doesn’t know how to handle it.

In this way, Solomon – at least while he was in a state of mind – is a Darwinist. Even though Darwin didn’t invent evolution, he popularized it so successfully that it has become the default way of thinking about our world.

Darwinism says that all we have is right here, right now. If you want to survive, or if you want your descendants to survive, you have to be stronger than other people whose descendants might want what you have.

And there’s another problem with being a Darwinist. (And I believe that is possible for someone to think they believe in God, but to behave as a Darwinist in certain areas of their life.)

For example, some people get really obsessed about their legacy. They want to leave some kind of a monument behind them for people to remember who they were and what they accomplished.

And this can be so tempting. But we need to leave our legacy in the hands of God. By the time Jesus had walked through his earthly life, He had built no temples, created no presidential library. He didn’t make sure the Bethlehem City Council made the stable where He had been born a historic landmark. Jesus left no autographs, wrote no books, founded no universities. Jesus wasn’t a Darwinist.

What else can we do to fight off “creeping it Darwinism”? One thing we can do is to constantly remind ourselves about the heart-thrilling miracles of Creation. Somewhere this week, and I don’t remember where I was reading it, I caught a glimpse of just what needs to happen within a baby who is being born.

Up until the moment of birth, the baby gets oxygen through the umbilical cord. But then, as the cord is tied, something miraculous happens in the lungs so that they take over and allow the baby to breathe real air.

As I say, I did not devote any more than a couple of seconds to read a couple of sentences about this, but I remember thinking, “Okay, Darwin. How are you going to explain this in your theory?”

Over in Romans 1:28 is a statement I had a hard time believing as a teenager reading my Bible. Paul says that there are some people who “did not like to retain God in their knowledge.” Other verses of Romans 1:28 say that “they did not see fit two acknowledge God.”

I guess the reason I had a hard time accepting that was that I thought, “Wouldn’t someone with a mind want to discover whether there’s a God? Maybe some people are just uninformed, and don’t know about God, but wouldn’t they want to if they saw the opportunity? And wouldn’t the owners of the finest minds use those minds to search if there was any truth about God?”

This was when I was very young and idealistic. It doesn’t always work that way. And one of the shocking things I learned, especially the further I got into reading about the flack that God-believing scientists get from non-believing scientists, how frank the unbelievers are about why they don’t want to even look into whether there was an intelligent Designer-Creator. To them, God is not an option.

In other words, if there really is a divine Creator, then it’s just possible that He might have some advice about how we should live, and how we should take care of ourselves and the rest of His creation.

But they don’t want that. They “do not see fit to retain God in their knowledge.” People like this would never believe the comment Joe Winn sent me last week after his own contemplation of Ecclesiastes. In answer to my question, “Why is Ecclesiastes in the Bible?” Joe said the book is in Scripture “to remind us that God is infinite and man is finite. And the best thing man can do in light of this reality is to be content with his lot in life.”

Carrol Grady sent in comments which said basically the same thing. She writes: “I think Solomon is saying that while we may think we have control over our lives, we really don’t. No matter how much wisdom we acquire, we will never understand God’s reasons for the things that happen to us, because His wisdom is so far beyond our understanding. When we try to accomplish something great with our life, it will soon be forgotten after we die, so we might as well enjoy the good things God gives us today. I sense a great deal of disillusionment in his expounding, but I think his conclusions are in the Bible because God want us to know He [God] is in control, not us.”

In other words, we need to not only recognize the power and creativity of God, but also to let God handle our legacy rather than trying to manhandle and manipulate it ourselves. Because if we don’t do this, we might try to become our own survivalist saviors, exalting our own interests above those of other people.

The only tangible earthly legacy Jesus left behind Him was a group of about 120 very timid and frightened followers. The original members of the entire early Christian church could fit easily in this sanctuary, even with the rest of us here.

But this didn’t seem to discourage Jesus. Because Jesus left His legacy in His Father’s hands. In His out-loud prayer in John 17, Jesus committed the legacy of His friends and disciples into God’s care. Jesus was the exact opposite of a Darwinist.

Solomon, in the state of mind he was in in Ecclesiastes 2, seems to conclude that nothing people do outlasts them. He was wrong, of course, and Jesus knew it. It’s true that everything visible, touchable, even walkable-on like the very ground beneath us, all of that will eventually become charcoal, when the elements will melt with fervent heat and the earth and everything in it will be destroyed.

But several things will last beyond it. In Matthew 25, Jesus reminds us that what we do for the less fortunate, for the sick, for the imprisoned, these deeds will last. Jesus insists in this Sermon on the Mount that it’s possible to “lay up treasure in heaven” – in other words, invest our resources down here in ways that will earn dividends in eternity.

When I got paid last week, I wrote a check which covered my tithes and offering, put it into a tithe-offering envelope, and put that into my billfold. And this morning when the offering bag came by, I put it in the bag. Any time you do this—or if you give online, or however you give–you’re following Jesus’ advice and investing in eternity.

Now let’s look for one final thing which can happen to a disloyal heart. This one is good news.

If you had a chance to read all the way through Ecclesiastes, you probably noticed a pattern happening. Solomon starts off saying some really pessimistic things, but then, right around halfway through the book, he starts easing back into the same familiar “Proverbs” pattern that he used in the book of Proverbs. It’s not a smooth transition – he seems to flounder back and forth from being pessimistic to being optimistic. But then, by chapters 11 and 12, Solomon seems to have reclaimed the “loyal heart” he started with. Let’s take a look.

Ecclesiastes 11:5: As you do not know what is the way of the wind, Or how the bones grow in the womb of her who is with child, So you do not know the works of God who makes everything.

Isn’t that interesting? If Solomon did indeed have touches of Darwinism back in chapter 2, they’re gone now. He remembers that God is the Creator.

And basically, the rest of the book is pretty cheerful. Sure, the old king keeps us in touch with reality in chapter 12, but it’s a lot easier reading than the previous chapters were. Let’s take a look at some of it.

Ecclesiastes 11:6 – 12:1: In the morning sow your seed, And in the evening do not withhold your hand; For you do not know which will prosper, Either this or that, Or whether both alike will be good. Truly the light is sweet, And it is pleasant for the eyes to behold the sun; But if a man lives many years And rejoices in them all, Yet let him remember the days of darkness, For they will be many. All that is coming is vanity. Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, And let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth; Walk in the ways of your heart, And in the sight of your eyes; But know that for all these God will bring you into judgment. Therefore remove sorrow from your heart, And put away evil from your flesh, For childhood and youth are vanity. Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, Before the difficult days come, And the years draw near when you say, “I have no pleasure in them”:

And then Solomon tells a poetic little parable about how the human body fails with age, but then he concludes with a challenge:

Verses 13 – 14: Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, Including every secret thing, Whether good or evil.

Do you know what I think is one more thing that can happen to a disloyal heart? Here it is:

Even though a disloyal heart can turn hopelessly discouraged, and can turn pleasure-obsessed, and can even turn Darwinist, I believe that a disloyal heart can turn around.

Solomon’s did.

Ronghua Jin provides a thoughtful summary of Ecclesiastes this way. He writes: “Thank you for encouraging me to read the book of Ecclesiastes. I read it 6 times, from beginning to end, trying to understand the content. Here is my attempt to answer your question:

“1, Why is Ecclesiastes in the Bible? After reading this book, I feel this book provides similar wisdom gems as the book of Proverbs.
“2, What (if anything) does this book tell you about God? Can you see Him anywhere in this book? One of the themes is that “Everything is meaningless”. But after reading the full text, I got the sense that things are perceived as meaningless because “no one can fathom what God has done” (3:11), “you cannot understand the work of God” (11:5) The book encourage me to “Fear God and keep his commandments” (12;13) and to enjoy the simple things as food, drink and work, as “this is the gift of God” (3;13)(5:19), “for God has already approved what you do” (9:7). Trust in God, because “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (3:11)”

As Ronghua discovered, and as you discovered if you read Ecclesiastes, this is a complicated book. And probably none of our comments – including mine – does it full justice.

But it’s very clear that a disloyal heart can turn around. Solomon’s did. David’s heart temporarily turned disloyal several times, and his turned back around. And since all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, we all have hearts that are badly bent toward disloyalty.

So let’s fix that now. This is not a permanent fix, because we’ll have to do it again and again, but let’s do what we need to do to turn back toward our Creator.

What I’d like you to do right now is to keep a marker in your Bible right here, but to turn to First John chapter 1. Then we’ll read the verses we just got done reading, and just afterward we’ll read the First John ones.

First, let’s look at Ecclesiastes 12:13 and 14 again.

Verses 13 – 14: Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, Including every secret thing, Whether good or evil.

Now let’s connect those verses with 1 John 1:8 – 9.

1 John 1:8 – 9: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Do you see the steps toward a pure heart?

First, admit that you are a sinner. Don’t try to deceive yourself into believing that you are spiritually “okay.” We are all sinners.

But then, we need to confess our sins. Some of our sins should be confessed only to God. Others should be confessed personally to those we have sinned against.

And finally, we need to believe in a double answer to these prayers. First, we need to believe that we will be forgiven. And second, that we will be cleansed from all unrighteousness.

Again, because of our sinful hearts, this won’t be permanent. We’ll need to come again and again to the Lord, and express this faith, and ask Him these requests.